Artist Frances Hook
has been called "the Berta Hummel of America" for her ability to capture the emotions and expressions of youngsters in everyday situations.
Frances Arnold Hook was born just outside Philadelphia in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Her artistic talents manifested themselves at an early age. Her studies throughout high school earned her a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Museum School of Art where she worked with the noted illustrator Harry Pitz. Even at that early stage in her career, Hook favored both the subjects and medium which would later become her hallmark — children captured in soft pastels.
"Sometimes I'll spend days just being with the children that are my subjects,"
she once explained. "I study them at play as well as during their quiet times. After awhile they don't realize I'm there, and I can capture their naturalness with my camera. When I'm lucky, I find I've been able to get that quizzical tilt of a head or facial expression that's special. Then I get down to work in the studio."
Following graduation from the Museum School, Frances married fellow art student Richard Hook
and then embarked on a highly successful commercial art career by accepting freelance commissions from a distinguished group of corporations, magazines, and publishers. Frances' first assignment was a two page ad for General Electric which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post
. Following that auspicious beginning, Frances Hook illustrated for such distinguished advertisers as Kiddie Kraft, Steinway Pianos, A&P, the National Guard, General Mills, Hallmark Cards, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, Readers Digest
, Travelers Insurance Company, Ideals Publishing Company, American Greetings, Good Housekeeping
, Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, and Benefit Life Insurance Company. Hook's artwork also was familiar in the promotion
of Kraft's Sealtest ice cream, Nabisco Brands' Milkbone dog biscuits, and Proctor and Gamble's Ivory soap. However, the most well-known creations from her early career were the adorable children she created for Northern Tissue in the late 1950's and early 1960's. Art prints sold by this paper company ended up hanging in millions of children's bedrooms.
As the demand for commercial art waned with the growth of television, Frances and Richard Hook focused their attention on the inspirational market. This move ended up being a major turning point in Frances' career. The sensitivity with which she portrayed children received wide acclaim from such publishers as Broadman Press, Concordia Publishing House, David C. Cook Publishing Company, Standard Publishing Company, and the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention which commissioned her to illustrate their children's books.
In many instances, Frances worked with her husband; she would paint the women and children while Richard would paint the men. Their most famous joint venture was the Living Bible
for Tyndale House Publishers. This particular collaboration was so successful that Tyndale rewarded Richard and Frances Hook with a trip to the Holy Land. Mrs. Hook was fond of recalling her trip to Israel as one of her happiest memories. The couple worked closely and well together, yet they both battled cancer. Richard lost his battle; however, Frances' recovery marked a rewarding stage in her career, unlike any of the others.
In 1979, Frances Hook was commissioned by Roman, Inc. to apply her genius to limited collector editions. Her creations included plates, prints, and figurines that were soon collected by thousands nationwide. She was especially excited about the fully dimensional nature of the figurines and was delighted that collectors shared her enthusiasm for these sculptures as she made scores of guest appearances throughout the country. Working with fully dimensional figurines posed a challenge she hadn't addressed for some years. The sculptures "force me to think about what's on the other side of a painting,"
she said. "If a little girl's wearing a dress, and she is facing you, you don't even bother to think if it's tied in a bow in back or has buttons. With a sculpture, you have to."
Among the most noteworthy of the artist's creations for Roman, Inc. was her heralded portrait of Christ entitled The Carpenter
. This image, which started out as just a simple chalk drawing on brown wrapping paper, has been referred to as the definitive portrait of Christ created in this century. Hook said she tried to capture "His humanity as much as His divinity."
All of Hook's collectibles and much of her earlier work is showcased in the Frances Hook Museum, appropriately called "For the Love of Children" which was established in 1982 when Father's Day weekend was designated as the official Frances Hook days. Located in Mishicot, Wisconsin, this museum was opened in the Old School, the village's abandoned elementary school which Lyle and Carole Anderson bought and converted into a group of craft shops and art centers.
Frances Hook died of an unoperable lung tumor on July 23, 1983. All editions since her death have been approved by her daughter, Barbara Hook Ham.