The Lives and Art of Harry and Wende Devlin: A Marriage of Two Extraordinary Talents


  • Reeve History and Cultural Resource Center 314 Mountain Avenue Westfield, NJ, 07090 United States

The Westfield Historical Society and the Devlin family will present an exhibition of the lives and art of Harry and Wende Devlin at the Reeve History and Cultural Resource Center at 314 Mountain Ave. in Westfield, New Jersey. The exhibit will be opening on September 17th from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM continuing on September 18th, 24th and 25th at 3:00 PM to 5:00PM and by appointment during the week. (If you are able to volunteer as a docent that would be very helpful too - contact the office on 908 654 1794).

Residents of Mountainside since 1950, the late Harry and Wende Devlin were beloved and multi-talented artists whose 28 children’s books made them famous worldwide. Their storied union began at the fine arts college at Syracuse University and they married in 1941. Harry began his career as a magazine illustrator at the end of the golden age of magazine illustration. When World War II broke out, Harry enlisted in the Navy where he created illustrations of enemy aircraft used by members of our armed forces. After his service, Harry worked at Collier’s and other magazines in advertising and other illustration and also became a political cartoonist — with a conscience. After landing a job at The New York Daily News he was asked to do a pro-Joe McCarthy cartoon. He refused, and was promptly fired. With a growing family with 6 children and a 7th on the way, Harry turned to book illustration. Noting that the artist took away only a fraction of what the author earned, Harry enlisted Wende to write children’s books which he would illustrate.
 
Wende was already enjoying artistic success with her beautiful portraits, mostly of children. She had also begun writing humorous poetry for Good Housekeeping Magazine. In the mid-fifties Wende and Harry created a comic strip, entitled “Fullhouse,” inspired by the antics of their growing children in their large Victorian farmhouse, plus a barn, sitting on three acres of idyllic hilltop . Adding to the “creative chaos” were pets which included a pet donkey, a pair of geese, and poodles.
 
Harry began painting fine art, focusing on his love of American architecture, rendering realistic portraits of historical treasures.  In the late fifties, he gathered his paintings to illustrate and write his first book, “To Grandfather’s House We Go.” These and many other paintings were featured at the Morris Museum, as well as in countless other museums and exhibits. Harry's magnum opus was “Portraits of American Architecture: Monuments to a Romantic Mood, 1890-1900,” featuring 95 of his original paintings.  “Old Black Witch,” written by Wende and illustrated by Harry, was this talented couple’s first collaboration and it was a runaway success. A movie called “Winter of the Witch” was based on this book and became a cult favorite in the ’60’s, appearing on PBS for many years. Their most successful books were the “Cranberry” series. "Cranberry Christmas" was made into a 1/2 hour cartoon by Ocean Spray Cranberry for ABC’s 25 Days of Christmas.
 
On view will be their original paintings, comic strips, children’s book illustrations, military illustrations, and books.  Wende and Harry's partnership of love and creativity continued for 60 years of marriage. They had seven children, and many inherited their artistic talents. Artworks and books of 5 of their children will also be on view. A short movie about the Devlins will play in a separate room. Harry drew a wonderful series of illustrations of downtown Westfield which are permanently housed at the Westfield Historical Society. Remembered for their gracious, generous hospitality locally, and for their influence on the children they continue to touch through their books throughout the world, Wende and Harry Devlin were consummate artists in an extraordinary marriage.
 
Suggested donation of $5 per person. For more information, please contact the Westfield Historical Society at westfieldhistoricalsociety.org or call 908-654-1794. Refreshments will be provided compliments of Coldwell Banker West, Westfield, NJ.