Kay Draper (Kayren Draper)

Added on by Doug Dowd.

(1904-?) American Illustrator.

Obscure today and never well-known, Kay (who also published as Kayren) Draper seems to have worked primarily for the educational market. I once saw her signature on a sheet music cover, but aside from that her work appears in the pages of readers and math books. We know that Draper was born in Randolph, Vermont, and more or less when. That's about it.

Most of the illustrations which appear on this site have been excavated from the tear sheet collection of the Walt Reed Illustration Archive at Washington University in St. Louis. Not Kay Draper's work. Draper does not appear in Reed's files for an obvious reason. Reed ran an auction house. His tear sheet files were focused on illustrators who worked in the magazines, because they were likely to have a following among collectors. Draper did not have access to those markets, either because they were out of reach or because she did not bother to try–or a combination of the two. Predictably, she went unnoticed by Walt Reed.  (I have ended up with some of her readers and math texts–first by happenstance, now by design.)

Even the most celebrated women illustrators of the "Golden Age" period (1880-1930, a term which I dislike) were strictly limited by feminine expectations. All but a few found success creating images which depict the nurturing, socialization or education of children, in accordance with the doctrine of "separate spheres" for men and women (externalizing, "natural" men, active in the wider world of work; interior, "civilizing" women, queens of the domestic realm). The fertility-rite illustration career of Jessie Willcox Smith–professional, childless, partner in a "Boston marriage" with Henrietta Cozens–proves the point. [Two exceptions to this rule: Violet Oakley, a muralist of historical themes, and Neysa McMein, a celebrity and portraitist. All three women mentioned are lightly profiled on this site.]

Kay Draper got the memo about there being "no small parts, only small actors." Her pictures are charming and well-wrought. I find her two-color work more persuasive than her watercolors. It may be that the analytic sensibility required to succeed in a restricted palette engages the viewer's mind. For whatever reason, regardless of the (fairly repetitive) depictive content, I find Draper's Quinlan reader watercolors treacly even as I am won over by the two-color illustrations for other projects. 

I would love to know more about Kay Draper and her interactions with the educational publishing industry. How did these jobs work? How much negotiation was there as the books came together? How well was she compensated? 

Finally there are questions to be raised about the representation of American schoolchildren in these books. They are unfailingly white. Typically the illustrations conform to gender stereotypes that shaped the career of the woman making them. Likely she had little choice in the matter. 

Kay Draper, Living Arithmetic: Grade 3. Written by Guy T. Buswell and Lenore Joh. The book also contains illustrations by artists Herbert Paus, Florence Heyn, and George van Werveke. Published by Ginn & Co. These images were scanned from the 1947 edition. The book was first published in 1938, and I believe that the illustrations would have been executed for the first printing. Herbert Paus was doing Collier's covers in the late 1930s, and his work for Buswell and Joh's book consisted of fully modeled genre scenes in color and black and white. Draper's efforts, by contrast, were limited to these one- and two-color images that ran atop pages; such images provide visual breaks, but are sometimes referred to as decorations, a gendered term. 

Kay Draper, Title page with spot illustration, The Alpha Individual Arithmetics, Book One, Part II. Ginn and Company, 1929. 

Kay Draper, The Toy Shop, from The Alpha Individual Arithmetics, 1929. Draper's two-color work for this schoolbook project is more subtly manifested, due to specifications permitting modulated optical values and tonalities. 

Kay Draper, Living Arithmetic: Grade 3. 1938.

Kay Draper, Living Arithmetic: Grade 3. 1938.

Kay Draper, Living Arithmetic: Grade 3. 1938.

Kay Draper, Living Arithmetic: Grade 3. 1938.

Kay Draper, Living Arithmetic: Grade 3. 1938.

Kay Draper, Living Arithmetic: Grade 3. 1938.

Kay Draper, illustrations for Day by Day, a Quinlan Basic Reader. Written by Myrtle Banks Quinlan. Published by Allyn and Bacon, 1950.

Kay Draper, Day by Day. 1950.

Kay Draper, Day by Day. 1950.

Kay Draper, Day by Day. 1950.

Kay Draper, Day by Day. 1950.

Kay Draper, Day by Day. 1950.

Kay Draper, Day by Day. 1950.

Kay Draper, Day by Day. 1950.

Kay Draper, Day by Day. 1950.