The Happy HollistersIllustrator Helen S. Hamilton (1921 -2014)

Helen Stroud Hamilton created more than 1,100 illustrations for The Happy Hollisters book series, between 1953 and 1969.

Born in Philadelphia, PA in 1921, Helen Stroud began drawing and painting as a child. Her mother, who worked full time, was also an accomplished painter and often took her daughter on weekend sketch sessions in the hills outside the city. After high school, Helen studied art history at Wellesley College and continued to draw and paint on her own. After graduation, she returned to Philadelphia, where she was appointed as an instructor at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (Now University of the Arts). There, she met a WWII veteran, William H. Hamilton, and they married in 1950. Both artists embarked on careers as illustrators. One of the first contracts she received (in 1952) was to illustrate the nascent Happy Hollisters book series. There were times when Bill would help by drawing images that were particularly hard for her to render (like bicycle wheels in perspective!). Over the years, both artists illustrated many textbooks magazines and books for Prentice Hall, Doubleday, Winston, Lippincott and other publishers.

The couple lived in a house in the hilly Pennsylvania woods, on the border between Lafayette Hill and Philadelphia. There, they raised four children while both worked full time (plus!) in workspaces they set up in the house. Helen worked in a large studio on the third floor of the house. It was lined with bookcases and file cases filled with visual reference materials. Her studio also housed a large loom, a gigantic antique desk, her childhood dollhouse and many boxes of paper. A sofa and several armchairs invited the children (and others) to curl up with books to read. The children were also invited to create freely in the space, using her stock of paper, scissors and paint.

The Happy Hollisters

For each illustration in the Happy Hollister book series, she first made a draft drawing with pencil, then finalized it with pen and ink. For the covers, she would create and submit watercolor compositions. Once it was approved, she would create a larger, final version in watercolor or gouache paint.

The Happy Hollisters

Having established the look for each character in the book, over time she playfully designated each of her children as one character, and often asked them to hold a certain pose, so she could make a sketch for a particular drawing. She maintained many sketchbooks, drawing people, animals, objects and landscape, for practice, reference and enjoyment. She and Andrew Svenson (the author) were in frequent contact by phone and mail. He often sent visual reference to her for the specific themes and locations of each different project. She used this material as well as images from her own reference files to visually portray his mystery stories.

In addition to her illustration work, Helen was an accomplished painter, collagist and weaver. Her work has been shown in museums, and is part of the permanent art collection of the Library of Congress.

The Happy Hollisters