As a guest artist at the Montreuil Children’s Book Fair in Paris a decade ago, I was struck by the European appreication for articulate text combined with beautiful pictures to tell a great story. I noticed this appreciation was often directed towards the books of a small American publisher, Creative Editions — Exquisite books that were art directed and designed by Rita Marshall. Rita’s picture books have a certain European sophistication that belies her roots in Indiana, her design degree from Purdue, and her advertising work in Colorado. This could be explained by her move from Denver to Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1981 to work on international accounts for the ad agency TBWA.
While in Lausanne, Rita began designing upscale photo books for European publishers and she also began her personal and professional partnership with Swiss artist Etienne Delessert. Not only, as the Gangel award implies, is Rita an advocate for the illustrator, she’s married to one.
After four years onthe shors of the beautiful Lac Leman. Etienne and Rita relocated their partnership to the U.S. and the shores of t beautiful Lake Wononskopomuc in Connecticut. About this time, she began designing books on a freelance basis for Creative Editions, a division of The Creative Company. Then, in 1988, she went to work on retainer for Creative’s publisher, Tom Peterson, and has been their art director and chief designer ever since.
In addition to designing all of the company’s collateral and identity materials, Rita is responsible for its Creative Education division’s considerable list of non-fiction pcture books for children. Although these are always very handsome productions. Rita’s esteem as an illustrator’s art director has been built on a small and select list of children’s storybooks she does annually for Creative Editions. Some are classic texts by the likes of Poe, Maupassant, and the Brothers Grimm. Some are the works of contemporary writers such as J. Patrick Lewis and, on occasion, the artist provides his or her own text. Rita herself has written two books: I Hate to Read and I Still Hate to Read, both illustrated by Etienne.
In addition to the dozens of titles she’s collaborated on with her husband, Rita has worked with a list of artists thats reads like a Who’s Who of American and European illustration. All of these contributors would agree that Rita takes very good care of their art. As an art director, her matching of artist and project is sometimes curious but always right. Her guidance through a project is a reflection of her personality — understated but with substance.
Awards and especially award ceremonies are not something Rita embraces so I’ll simply say that she has won most major prizes from European book fairs and American art director shows, as well as a number of medals from the Society of Illustrators. Her publisher, Tom Peterson, says of Rita, “In this era of endless self-promotion, she avoids tooting her own horn. Her inner faith dictates that if she pleases herself, everything else will be okay.”
As long as we’re dropping quotes, here’s another from one of the authors published by Creative Editions, Ray Bradbury: “Poring through the pages of illustrations from the hundreds of books published by The Creative Company is seeing a history of metaphors that have filled the air like a deck of cards, manipulated by a fabulous magician.”
That magician is Rita Marshall.
Portrait by Etienne Delessert