Accomplished painter and children’s book author-illustrator Leonard Everett Fisher, widely known for his atmospheric, realistic artwork in books focused on American and world history and world mythology, died on March 2 in Westport, Conn. He was 99.

Leonard Everett Fisher was born in the Bronx, N.Y. on June 24, 1924, to Benjamin and Ray Mera Fisher and grew up in the Bronx and in the Sea Gate area of Brooklyn. His father was a former ship designer who became a draftsman and civil engineer for New York City. The elder Fisher was an art lover and worked on his passion at a drafting table in the family’s apartment. In his autobiographical essay for Something About the Author, Fisher recalled how, even at age two, he sought to emulate his father. “I had an itch to do what Dad was trying to do—make pictures,” he wrote, describing how he impulsively grabbed a bottle of India ink and a brush and made marks on one of his father’s unfinished watercolors. The move resulted in Fisher’s parents creating a mini art studio for him in a front hall closet, where “liquids were barred.”

In 1931, second-grader Fisher began to establish himself as an artist. He won prizes for his drawings entered in several local art competitions, including for Wanamaker’s department store and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Float Design Competition. And by age eight, his mother had enrolled him in Saturday morning art classes at the Heckscher Foundation in Manhattan, sessions that were followed by mother-son trips to the Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or some other cultural venue. Fisher noted that he was an early reader and that his parents read to him every night. “My mother’s idea of bedtime stories was Compton’s Picture Encyclopedia, and she went through the whole thing, A to Z,” he told PW in 1982. “I loved listening to articles about how airplanes fly, about monkeys, mostly about people everywhere—not realizing that, years later, the knowledge would come back and inform my books.”

Fisher graduated from Brooklyn’s Abraham Lincoln High School in January 1941 at age 16 and enrolled in Brooklyn College to study art. His art education there was not to last, however, as he became a U.S. Army reservist in December 1942 and subsequently requested active duty. “Being an artist even dictated my life in the army,” he wrote in a 1988 essay for the Horn Book. He was selected for the 30th Engineer Topographic Battalion where he received highly classified training as a cartographer drawing battle and navigational maps. He was stationed in Algiers and Hawaii and won first prize in an Army art exhibition for a piece he completed in his rare spare time. Fisher was interviewed about his military service for the 2018 documentary GI Jews: Jewish Americans in World War II, which aired on PBS.

After the war, Fisher returned to his art studies, this time at the Norfolk Art School of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., earning his BFA and MFA degrees. While at Yale, Fisher kept what he called “a quiet professional life” going and his work was included in several Manhattan gallery exhibitions. He wrapped up his formal studies by earning the William Wirt Winchester Traveling Fellowship from Yale’s School of Fine Arts in 1949 and the Joseph Pulitzer Painting Fellowship, given by Columbia University and the National Academy of Design in 1950. The prize monies funded Fisher’s trip to Europe to see the world’s art masterpieces and take a course at the American Academy in Rome.

Fisher returned to the U.S. in 1951 and was offered the position of dean of the Whitney School of Art in New Haven. In early 1952, his first solo exhibition in Manhattan received solid reviews, including from the New York Times. Later that year he married Margery Meskin, with whom he would go on to raise three children.

By 1953, Fisher had resigned from the Whitney School and sought out a new opportunity when he met with Oscar Ogg, a designer at Book-of-the-Month Club who set him on a path toward children’s books. Ogg introduced Fisher to Louise Bonino, a children’s book editor at Random House, who would offer him his first book project, illustrations for The Exploits of Xenophon by Geoffrey Household, which was published in 1955. That first book quickly led to others, beginning with a six-volume anthology called Our Reading Heritage for Henry Holt. He then found steady work illustrating educational materials for SRA Reading Laboratories. Simultaneously, Fisher gained traction with trade projects, beginning with To Unknown Lands by Manley Wade Wellman (Holiday House, 1956) and The First Book of the American Revolution by Richard B. Morris (Franklin Watts, 1956). He maintained long relationships with both publishing houses.

In 1957, the family moved to Westport, where the three Fisher children would have open access to their work-from-home-dad’s studio—a scenario that inspired Margery to write and Fisher to illustrate two picture books: But Not Our Daddy (1962) and One and One (1963), both published by Dial. And just prior to those volumes being released, Dial published the first book Fisher both wrote and illustrated, Pumpers, Boilers, Hooks, and Ladders (1961). At this time, Fisher had begun to change up his art medium, transitioning from egg tempera to gelatine tempera and scratchboard drawings.

In the 1970s, Fisher turned to brighter acrylics in his artwork and the children’s book projects came at a steady pace, as did book fairs, lectures, and workshops across the country. He was additionally commissioned to create a series of 10 U.S. postage stamps between 1972 and 1978, mostly depicting American history and crafts.

Fisher was civically engaged in the town of Westport throughout his life. He was a founding member of the Westport-Weston Arts Council, which evolved into the Westport Arts Center, now the Museum of Contemporary Art Westport. He had been a longtime member, and served three terms as president, of the Westport Public Library board as well.

Over his career, Fisher illustrated roughly 250 books for young people, writing 88 of those himself. His numerous awards include the Regina Medal, given by the Catholic Library Association, and the Kerlan Award, from the University of Minnesota, both in recognition of his distinguished contributions to children’s literature.

“I am an illustrator of children’s books of all age levels because there are things to be said pictorially to young people that must be said—and that must come from above—not necessarily from their level,” he told SATA. And, he noted to Jean Mercier, his PW interviewer, “I’m never going to retire. This is my life.”

John Briggs, former owner and publisher at Holiday House, offered this tribute: “Leonard published over 50 of his books over a period of 50 years with Holiday House and was a mainstay of the list. During that time, he became a dear friend. He not only delivered exquisite work, but he always delivered on time—without exception.”

Margery Cuyler, Fisher’s longtime editor at Holiday House, “Editing Leonard’s books was a pure joy. His energy, intelligence, and boldness informed everything he wrote and painted. His artwork was unlike anyone else’s. He never ‘dumbed’ it down for young readers. He was indeed one of a kind.”

Author Eric A. Kimmel, a frequent Fisher collaborator, shared a remembrance. “I knew Len Fisher decades before we actually met,” he said. “He was one of my favorite authors when I was in elementary school. I first met him through his brilliant series about colonial craftspeople. Margery Cuyler and Kate and John Briggs introduced us in person, and we hit it off right away. I was honored and awed when Len asked me to collaborate on our first book, Don Quixote and the Windmills. ‘Why do you need me?’ I asked him. ‘You can write as well as I can.’ Len said, ‘I’m done with writing. I don’t want to write. I want to paint. You write the story. I know you’ll do a good job.’ I must have, because book followed book for many years. Throughout the ups and downs of the publishing industry, we remained fast friends. Rest in peace, Len. You were a fine writer, a great artist, and a treasured friend.”

And children’s literature consultant Connie Rockman, who largely knew Fisher through his work with the Westport Public Library, recalled: “From 2000 to 2010, he worked diligently on the committee for the Rabbit Hill Festival of Children’s Literature at the library, creating art exhibits to accompany each program. At the first of those festivals, Len presented a retrospective slide show of his 50 years producing children’s books of all kinds—history, fiction, mythology, picture books. He once wrote, ‘This diversification is a reflection of my interest in everything that goes on in this world... the images that I produce–whether they be paintings, illustrations, or designs for United States postage stamps—all stem from my creative passions.’ Leonard Everett Fisher’s greatest accolade is that his was a life well-lived in every sense of the phrase.”