A.K. Smiley Public Library to honor painter of Redlands imagery

10:00 PM PDT on Sunday, April 20, 2008

Special to The Press-Enterprise

Author and illustrator Leo Politi will be honored on the centennial of his birth later this month at Redlands' A.K. Smiley Public Library.

The local recognition is part of a yearlong, cross-country celebration that features programs from Los Angeles to Princeton University, said library Director Larry Burgess.

This year also is the 25th anniversary of the publication of "Redlands Impressions," Politi's book of watercolors featuring Redlands scenes. A number of his paintings hang in Smiley Library, along with a mural in the Young Readers' Room.

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Special to The Press-Enterprise
A painting by Leo Politi hangs in Redlands' A.K. Smiley Public Library. The library will honor Politi on Saturday and Sunday.

In recognition of the author's connection to Redlands, his biographer and family members will make appearances at the library, Burgess said.

Library visitors can pick up brochures and maps for a self-guided tour of Politi's art and books beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday. Original watercolors published in the Redlands book will be available for viewing.

Ann Stalcup, author of "Leo Politi: Artist of the Angels," is set to present a children's program at 2 p.m. Stalcup wrote her 2004 biography of Politi based on a decades-long friendship with the artist and author, Burgess said. She will have copies of her book available for sale and will sign them after the program.

At 3 p.m., a brief awards ceremony is planned for participants in the "Write a Mural Story" contest. Winners will receive a Politi book.

Stalcup and Paul and Suzanne Politi, children of the author, are set to offer a program for adults at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Beginning Saturday and continuing through May, free bookmarks featuring Politi's mural in the Young Readers' Room will be available.

Caldecott Award Winner

Born in Fresno in 1908, Politi wrote and illustrated about 20 books, most for children, during a 30-year career. His works often celebrated cultural diversity, and many were published in both English and Spanish.

His 1949 book "The Mission Bell," about the annual return of the swallows to the San Juan Capistrano mission, earned him the Caldecott award, the highest honor for children's book illustration.

In 1980, a Fresno Public Library branch was named for him, and in 1991, Leo Politi Elementary School in Los Angeles was dedicated. His watercolors were shown at Los Angeles City Hall in 1984, when Mayor Tom Bradley designated April "Leo Politi Appreciation Month."

Politi first came to Redlands in the 1950s, Burgess said.

"When I first visited Redlands I fell in love with the place, with all the beautiful old mansions and wanted to paint them," Politi wrote in the foreword to his 1983 book "Redlands Impressions."

"Incredibly, his activity was virtually unknown to people in Redlands," Burgess said.

Paintings in Redlands

He recalled a 1979 conference at the Mission Inn in Riverside where Politi spoke.

"Among the many topics he discussed was a series of paintings he had done in Redlands," Burgess said. "He had one of them with him and showed it to a delighted audience."

During the question and answer period, a woman from Redlands asked Politi if he ever gave away or sold his paintings to institutions, Burgess recalled. She said the painting would fit well in Smiley Library.

Burgess then contacted Barbara Wormser, president of the Friends of the Library, about Politi's works and told her the artist would be happy for the library to have the painting.

Esther Mertins, then president of the Friends, arranged for Politi to exhibit his paintings in January 1980. In the meantime, the Friends started a Leo Politi painting fund to acquire some of his Redlands scenes, Burgess said.

"Fourth- and fifth-grade classes at Smiley elementary school viewed the exhibit of the paintings and were so impressed they raised $72.73 for the fund," Burgess said.

When Politi later presented a program at the library, he drew a sketch of young girls that hangs in the Young Reader's Room.

The Redlands book was published in 1983, underwritten by the Moore Historical Foundation, which also paid for the children's room mural in 1984. The author donated the Redlands paintings used in his book to the library.

Politi said his Redlands book was an effort to make the city's residents more aware and appreciative of their Victorian homes, Burgess said.

For more information, e-mail Burgess at admin@akspl.org or call 909-798-7565.