Friday, 31 July 2009

Mary Gernat

Mary Gernat was probably one of the most prolific cover artists of the 1960s, and her sketchy, energetic style is probably familiar to nearly every child who bought a paperback book in the 1960s. The range of titles she provided covers for was wide: from Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s, Mallory Towers and The Mystery of... series through countryside stories like Monica Edwards to Malcolm Saville’s adventures. It’s probably fair to say she is better known as a cover artist than as an illustrator, although she did illustrate many children’s books: as illustrator of Sheila McCullagh’s Pirate and other early reader series, her illustrations were probably an intrinsic part of many children’s early reading efforts.

She had a very distinctive, sketchy style, which was well suited to situations full of action. I am particularly fond of her cover for the 1960s Armada printing of I Carried The Horn, which I think wonderfully captures the awful tension of the moment. Mary Gernat was good at capturing that moment, if not always so good at anatomical accuracy!




You would think, from the many paperback pony book covers she did that Mary Gernat was responsible for complete illustrations, but I have been able to find only three pony books for which she provided all the illustrations: Diana Pullein-Thompson's Janet Must Ride, Dorian William's Wendy Wins a Pony and Primrose Cumming's Penny and Pegasus. It's interesting seeing how her style developed in the seven years between the two:




Wendy Wins a Pony is a much more conventional, painterly production than Penny, which is in the instantly recognisable Gernat style.



Her covers for Dragon were even simpler than the ones for Armada: most of the backgrounds are simple blocks of colour, and there is much less background detail, though all the usual action and vigour.



So far, my search for biographical information on Mary Gernat has been pretty unproductive. She was presumably employed by Collins/Armada as a house artist, as she did many, many paperback covers for them, as well as for the Atlantic Publishing Co (Dragon) in the 1960s. I can find no books illustrated by her after 1969, so assume she either retired or died then.

Tracking down bibliographical information hasn’t been straightforward either: the fact she produced covers rather than internal illustrations means it is particularly difficult to track down exactly what she did, as for many books Armada and Dragon tended to keep the original internal illustrations, and it’s the internal illustrator who tends to be listed at the copyright libraries, and rarely a separate cover artist.

Her covers are often confused with those of Peter Archer, another staff artist for Collins/Armada, so it’s worth checking if it’s important to you who did what. The two styles are quite similar, and the cover artist is not always credited, or even, in the case of Monica Edwards’ Cargo of Horses, credited to the wrong artist: although the artist credit is Peter Archer, the style looks much more like Mary Gernat. Tracking titles down then can sometimes be a case of simply following your instincts.
To see all her pony book covers in one glorious go, click here.

4 comments:

Altius Directory said...
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Sitabhra Sinha said...

Thanks for the write-up about Mary Gernat - I was looking for some information about her as she is credited as the internal illustrator for most of the Armada/Dragon reprints in the early 70s of the Enid Blyton Five Find-outers series. The covers of these books were by Paul Wright (quite a different style from the internal figures) - but I know what you mean when you say that Peter Archer's style can be easily mistaken with that of Mary. Peter Archer did the covers for the late 60s reissue of the same series by Dragon, and I thought it was also by Mary till I came across a site that informed me otherwise. Mary Gernat's pictures and Paul Wright's covers are an integral part of my memories of growing up - unfortunately the recent reprints of the series by Mammoth don't use either and it's very difficult to get hold of intact old copies from the 1970s.

Jane Badger said...

Good luck with finding copies. I do see sets every now and then on ebay, if that's any help. I'd love to know more about her life, but so far haven't found anything. I'll keep looking.

Justin How said...

Hi
I am Mary Gernat's son - if you are interested please email at mary@justinhow.com.
Justin How