Frank C. Papé and the Age of Forgotten Artisans

Frank C. Papé (1878 – 1972) was an English artist and illustrator who primarily worked on fairy tales, and legends. His life seems somewhat obscure, and the popularity of his work seems to have declined over the years, but there is something valuable in a number of his works.

Many of his images show a vision of a fairy world that was antiquated in his own time, and even more antiquated now, but which goes back to the time of the brothers Grim. They also challenge the divide between illustrator and artist.

Art, it increasingly seems to me, is a product of the academy. Long ago it separated itself from the “simple” labour of artisans to become part of high culture. And nowadays, like any good academic, school trained artists delimit what is an is not their domain. They do not make houses, or food, but feel that they are making the most important thing in the world.

I don’t think I disagree, but tend to be more critical of modern performance art and abstract works.

The new artisans are illustrators like Papé, who do not make a living based on prestige in quite the same way, the rows and rows of animators working away in near anonymity. Some do achieve a fair amount of fame, Dave McKean is a good example of this success. And yet I feel that some day we’ll look back on these illustrators and count a lucky few among the Michelangelos of an age that thinks it has long since moved beyond its artisans.

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