Illustrator Charles Santore, widely recognized for the realistically detailed paintings in his interpretations of beloved children’s stories, died on August 11. He was 84.
Santore was born March 16, 1935 in Philadelphia, where he grew up in a working-class neighborhood not far from the Liberty Bell. According to a profile for Communication Arts, Santore began smoking at age 11 and began hanging out at local pool halls at about the same time. He enjoyed drawing from an early age as well, and earned some notoriety—and eventually some money—by drawing portraits of his neighbors.
Santore accepted a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (now University of the Arts), where he honed his talent and created images influenced by such artists as N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle, founder of the Brandywine School style of illustration. After graduating in 1956, Santore served in the U.S. Army and then returned to his hometown, where he began working as a commercial illustrator.
Throughout the 1960s, Santore established himself with advertising agency work, soon graduating to book covers and editorial illustrations for such publications as the Saturday Evening Post. Among his high-profile magazine covers, he created more than 40 covers for TV Guide, which featured his portraits of celebrities. His body of commercial work spanned more than two decades.
Philadelphia-based Running Press approached Santore about doing a children’s book in the mid-1980s, and the resulting project was his rendition of The Classic Tale of Peter Rabbit and Other Cherished Stories. From that point, he entered a fruitful period as a children’s book illustrator, a pursuit he ultimately preferred to commercial illustration. “An advertisement runs in a magazine today,” Santore told Communication Arts, “and someone wraps fish in it the next day. With a book, you know it’s going to be around.”
Santore went on to reimagine classic texts with his dramatic images in such titles as The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (Jelly Bean, 1991) and Paul Revere’s Ride: The Landlord’s Tale (HarperCollins, 2003) as well as works by Aesop and the Brothers Grimm. In addition to illustrating well-known favorite tales, Santore wrote several picture book texts of his own, including William the Curious: King of the Water Lilies (Random House, 1997) and The Silk Princess (Random House, 2007). Over the course of his career, Santore produced more than a dozen titles for children. His newest picture book, Jabberwocky, is slated for the Running Press Kids spring 2020 list.
In a 2015 interview with Peter Crimmins for WHYY public radio in Philadelphia, Santore reflected on the care and time he put into his illustrations for a new edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Underground (the title of Carroll’s original manuscript for what became Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), published by Cider Mill Press that same year. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” Santore told Crimmins. “If I’m going to spend two, three years on a project, I want it to be the way it should be so I have no apologies. A book is around for a long time. The worst feeling in the world is to look at a book and say, ‘If only I had more time.’ ”
Among the accolades for his art, Santore received the Hamilton King Award and the Society of Illustrators Gold Medal in 2000 for A Stowaway on Noah’s Ark (Random House), and some of his pieces are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa.
Running Press Kids creative director Frances Soo Ping Chow, who worked with Santore for more than a decade, offered this appreciation: “Charlie Santore was an artistic treasure in the industry. He created worlds that were familiar but elevated them beyond the scope of our imagination. Each extensively researched and composed illustration was created with an eye to detail that was uniquely his. His lighting, reminiscent of Maxfield Parrish, enveloped colorful characters with lush atmospheres to create stunningly beautiful landscapes. Charlie will be greatly missed by everyone who had the honor of working with him.”