Kay Draper (Kayren Draper)
(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.