Home » ARTSY FARTSY » SHEP’S KID STORY BOOK Intro Part 3 & (39) ARTSY Artists’ Books-Warja Lavata 1 of 2

SHEP’S KID STORY BOOK Intro Part 3 & (39) ARTSY Artists’ Books-Warja Lavata 1 of 2


Shepherd claimed that he created some of his stories as metaphors, and indeed, we can find them in many of his kid stories.  Not all of his kid stories have morals to teach us, yet more of them do than we first suspected.  Those morals can lurk inconspicuously even in the most innocent-seeming kid story.  In addition to metaphors and frequent disasters that were incorporated into A Christmas Story (which you can discover yourself, dear movie-watcher), one might consider his story, found in this collection, of kids popping pills from a newly discovered medicine cabinet as a comment on the1960s drug culture. Then there’s Shepherd’s story of being defeated in a Morse code contest, entwined in an exquisite monolog with the dangers of Mark Twain’s treacherous Mississippi—a mighty, metaphorical river of life with hidden impediments.  It’s one of Shepherd’s masterpieces in this book, and it deserves reading and re-reading.

Many of his stories are simply humorous.  Most are funny, some are educational, and some merely show us what life is really like for a kid.  Which is another way of saying that they show us an intriguing point of view regarding life’s little realities.   Expect some disasters.  Disasters descended from the heavens, disasters perpetrated by fellow-kids, and disasters self-inflicted.  Many provide morals of sorts–education is what life is about, and is indeed, a major attribute of many Shepherd stories about kids. While he makes us laugh he tickles the better parts of our minds.



artsyfratsy 10010



I became interested in artists books (which I’d never heard of before), when, in MOMA’s bookstore, I pulled off the shelves a small boxed book depicting the story of William Tell. Other than the opening titles for the symbols used, it didn’t have words—only abstract compositions manipulating the symbols into simple and elegant story-telling. The creator was Swiss artist, Warja Lavater. I eventually bought a couple dozen of her books from various sources, most of them accordion-fold so that, when opened out, they show, left to right, the entire colorful imagery of the story. Articles about much of her work refer to her “folded stories,” “images as words,” and “pictograms.”

The stories are so well-depicted in symbols that, with some general idea of the fairy tale/fable, one can usually understand what’s happening just by the way she tells it with color/shape/composition. I’ve been struck by the esthetic effect as well as by the ability to tell a story without words. Introductory text in an exhibit of her work described her thinking:

Convinced that the imagination of the reader must be allowed free reign, Lavater declared that “fairy tales must not be illustrated.” In order to provide these tales with the open flow and ambiguity of oral narratives, Lavater developed abstract pictograms to represent rather than illustrate the characters and main features of the stories. In New York’s Chinatown, she came across folding books—leporellos—that allowed for a continuous flow of images, uninterrupted by the cut of pages as in traditional bound books.

several showinf accordian-

Many of her small books of fables and similar subject matter are 5”tall X 4” wide, that when opened form a continuous artwork over 9’ long. (It’s only practical to show just parts of several. Many of her complete books are still available for sale through the Internet.)

RedRiding begin

           Red Riding Hood with its Opening Symbols           

WarjaWillT2 (5) Warja WillTell (7)                  





William Tell Aiming at the Apple                        William Tell has Pierced the Apple!

 On his Son’s Head. Soldiers Hold

Back the Crowds of Citizens.


Through her agent, Warja and I met at the Museum, where she wanted to see and discuss with me my earliest Invertebrate Hall exhibits that use graphic layout to help diagram the information. We both recognized, that in our approach to conveying information/story, we shared an affinity.

Part 2 on Warja’s work to come–with her masterpiece.ARTSY ARROWS0010




  1. Dangerspouse says:

    I’m really enjoying your musings on Shep’s kid stories. I always had a particular fondness for them, perhaps moreso even than his Army stories. I remember once stealing a copy of Playboy from my buddy’s dad, not because of the babes (well, mostly not) but because of the Shep story “Lost at C” printed inside. (If you’re not familiar, it’s about him being called on in class to solve a math problem.) Great write-up, E!

  2. Dangerspouse says:

    Regards “art”: I’m reminded of this quote of some years back by, I believe, an art critic in the mid-50’s. “Modern art happened when somebody looked at a naked woman and said, ‘I can do better than that.'”

    I share his disdain for abstraction 🙂

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