Monday, March 3, 2014

Ursula Koering (1921-1976)

According to the book Illustrators of Books for Young People by Martha E. Ward and Dorothy A. Marquardt (1970), Ursula Koering spent part of her childhood in Indiana. By my estimate, that makes her part Hoosier. If she would allow it, we would welcome her as all Hoosier.

Ursula A. Koering was born on December 22, 1921, in Vineland, New Jersey. She grew up on a small farm populated by "many dogs, cats, goats, pigs, pigeons, chickens, [and] even canaries and parakeets." Remembering her youth, Ursula wrote, "It seems to me that for years I drew only horses and more horses." Later the winner of many prizes, she collected her first for a drawing of Popeye even before she entered school. She made her first sale to Our Sunday Visitor, published in Huntington, Indiana.

Ursula came from an artistic family. Her father, Eustachius W. Koering, and her mother's father, Amour LeFevre, were glassblowers. Her grandfather, Louis Koering, was a wagon maker and wood carver. Ursula's mother, Mariette H. LeFevre Koering, was a native-born Hoosier and a painter. When Ursula was a child, Mariette began taking her to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for Saturday art classes. Ursula attended Sacred Heart Grade School and High School and later graduated from the Philadelphia Museum School of Art. 

Ursula Koering loved working in clay and took post-graduate classes in clay modeling and ceramics. Unfortunately, she found out there weren't many opportunities for a woman in the field of sculpture. Instead she became an illustrator, first with Jack and Jill magazine (which is today published in Indianapolis), later for publishers of children's books. Her greatest achievement as an artist is surely the more than 200 books she illustrated in her brief life. One of her first was Petar’s Treasure: They Came From Dalmatia by Clara Ingram Judson (1879-1960), a prolific author of children's books and an Indiana author of note.

A partial list of books illustrated by Ursula Koering:
  • A Cabin for Crusoe by David Severn (pseudonym of David Unwin) (1943)
  • Petar’s Treasure: They Came From Dalmatia by Clara Ingram Judson (1945)
  • Slappy Hooper, the Wonderful Sign Painter by Arna Bontemps and Jack Conroy (1946)
  • Trucks at Work by Mary Elting (1946)
  • The Adventures of Winnie and Bly by Anne H. White (1947)
  • Trains at Work (1947)
  • The Trolley Car Family by Eleanor Clymer (1947)
  • Wagon for Five by David Severn (pseudonym of David Unwin) (1947)
  • Worzel Gummidge: The Scarecrow of Scatterbrook Farm by Barbara Bower (1947)
  • Patch by Mary Elting and Margaret Gossett (1948)
  • The Picture Story of the Philippines by Hester O'Neill (1948)
  • Celia's Lighthouse by Anne Molloy (1949)
  • The First Book of Indians by Benjamin Brewster (pseudonym of Mary Elting) (1950)
  • The Picture Story of Alaska by Hester O'Neill (1951)
  • The Picture Story of Norway by Hester O'Neill (1951)
  • The First Book of Eskimoes by Benjamin Brewster (pseudonym of Mary Elting) (1952)
  • The First Book of Negroes by Langston Hughes (1952) 
  • The Picture Story of Denmark by Hester O'Neill (1952)
  • Shaken Days by Marion Garthwaite (1952)
  • This Boy Cody and His Friends by Leon Wilson (1952)
  • Red Sails on the James by Leone Adelson (1953)
  • Machines at Work (1953)
  • Peanut Butter Mascot by Helen D. Olds (1953)
  • Rosemary's Secret by Irmengarde Eberle (1958)
  • Antelope Singer by Ruth M. Underhill (1961)
  • The Loner (1963)
  • Mystery at Squaw Peak by William D. Hayes (1965)
  • Spacecraft at Work by Mary Elting (1965)
  • A Place by the Fire by William MacKellar (1967)
  • The Long Year by Ester Wier (1969)
  • Wilderness Winter by Mary Wolfe Thompson (1969)

Ursula's favorite subjects were people in costume, "any kind of costume, from caveman days up to the nineteen hundreds; and animals, any kind of animals." For The Picture Story of Norway, she and the author, Hester O'Neill, went to Norway and "traveled up and down fjords, climbed mountains, walked in the snow in June, and saw the midnight sun." Ursula later created coin faces for the Franklin Mint. She also taught at the Villa Rosella and the School of Industrial Arts and drew editorial cartoons for her local paper. 

"I hope I may always be able to illustrate books for children," she wrote for More Junior Authors, "and I hope boys and girls will always like to see my drawings." My hope is that children still love books as we all do when we are young and that Ursula Koering's books will always be available to young readers.

Ursula A. Koering died on December 22, 1976, her fifty-fifth birthday. Her mother remembered: "There was nothing that she could not do. But now, her beautiful hands are at rest."

Quotes are from More Junior Authors, edited by Muriel Fuller (1963) and Something About the Author, edited by Donna Olendorf, Vol. 64 (1991). There is a small collection of Ursula Koering's papers at the University of Minnesota Libraries Children's Literature Research Collections.

Ursula Koering got her start as an illustrator with Jack and Jill. Here's an illustration for "The Bulls of Altamira," an article by Ursula for Jack and Jill from many years later (March 1969). 
Here is a two-page spread--a fascinating picture--from one of her first books, Trucks at Work by Mary Elting (1945). From a website called "We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie" by Ariel S. Winter.
Ursula A. Koering
"She was tall, blond, so graceful. She walked like a ballerina. Salesgirls asked me [her mother] if she was a model."

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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