Ann Kissane Engelhart (www.annkissaneengelhart.com) is a watercolorist based in Long Island whose paintings have been featured in the Empire State Building, St. Francis Hospital, the DeMatties Center, Brooklyn College and Wagner College and in private collections.
She has won numerous
awards, she has exhibited in galleries on Long Island and New York, and her
illustrations have been published in a variety of magazines and periodicals.
She illustrated the children's book, Friendship
With Jesus: Pope Benedict XVI talks to Children on Their First Holy Communion, which featured Benedict
XVI's answers to questions put to him by children in Rome; the book was edited by
popular author and blogger Amy Welborn.
Ann and Amy recently collaborated again
recently in the creation of Be
Saints! An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI. She recently spoke with Catholic
about her artwork and illustrating two books about the Holy Father.
CWR: Your first book with Amy Welborn was Friendship With Jesus:
Pope Benedict XVI talks to Children on Their First Holy Communion, which featured Benedict
XVI's answers to questions put to him by children in Rome. How did you and Amy
decide upon the focus of this second book? What was the creative process like for you and Amy Welborn, who edited
Engelhart: In both instances we were inspired to create picture books
after hearing the Pope speak to young people. We felt that it was important to
find a way for more children to hear these wise words of the Holy Father.
Pope Benedict visited England two years ago, he made a trip to St. Mary’s college
in London where he met with young students. His beautiful and encouraging
address was broadcast to every Catholic school throughout Great Britain. Of
course when the pope speaks to the people of one country, the message is
intended for the whole world. We were confident that his lesson, inviting them
to be the saints of the 21st century, would resonate with all Catholic
English publisher, The Catholic Truth Society, was happy to make the book
available after the great success of the Pope’s visit. We are delighted that
Ignatius Press/ Magnificat decided to collaborate with CTS once again, making
the book available in the United States and Canada.
Amy and I have developed a friendship after working on the two books, so
we informally send ideas back and forth, mostly through emails. We had a
similar vision for how to communicate the Pope’s important message, so it was a
joy to work together again.
CWR: You’ve produced many pieces of art for collections and public
displays. What is different about creating artwork for a children’s book? Are
there unique compositional challenges involved in illustrating a book?
Engelhart: Every painting,
even a simple still-life or landscape tells a story to some degree, but there
is a challenge in creating a dozen or so paintings in which the elements of
design, line, shape, color, texture, etc., develop in a coherent manner. They
should have continuity while maintaining enough variety to keep each page
transition interesting. In an independent piece, the composition is concerned
with directing the eye to the focal point and creating an illusion of space. A
book illustration has the added challenge of requiring room for the text and
arranging the images to accommodate the centerfold, while preserving a well-balanced
CWR: What is striking to you about
how Pope Benedict XVI communicates with children?
Engelhart: When Pope Benedict meets with children
and young adults his energy always appears to be renewed and he seems genuinely
delighted to be with them. He
respects them. With the wisdom and love of a gentle grandfather, he challenges
them. He doesn’t talk down to them but rather speaks to them on their level. His
talks to children are so beautifully constructed that you sense he recognizes
how important it is that the Pope communicate directly to young Catholics...the
CWR: Be Saints! contains quotes from several different saints. Why did you include
quotes from saints (and blesseds) in addition to the Holy Father’s remarks? Do
you have a favorite saint or quote?
Engelhart: Amy and I thought that the quotes would
compliment Pope Benedict’s remarks. It would be helpful for the children to
receive the wisdom of people who have been recognized as having achieved the
extraordinary holiness that the Holy Father encourages. We included saints with
whom they could identify, like the young Pier Giorgio Frassati, familiar people
such as Mother Teresa and John Paul II, as well as great Englishmen like
Blessed John Henry Newman and St. Thomas More since the setting for the Pope’s
meeting was Great Britain.
One of the
wonderful things about the saints is that there is a saint for everyone, in
every phase of life. I have great admiration for Beato Fra Angelico, the patron
of artists, for his deep faith and for the humility with which he used his
renowned talent as a great painter of the Renaissance. I am always touched by
the simple but profound message in Mother Theresa’s quote that is included in
this book, If you have a sick or lonely person at home, be there. Maybe just
to hold a hand, maybe just to give a smile, that is the greatest, the most
CWR: You were able to give a copy of the first book, in person, to the
Pope. What about this second book? Has he seen it?
Engelhart: As a matter of fact, I do know that he has seen it! The German journalist Peter
Seewald had a copy of the book. This past spring he wrote me to let me know
that he would soon be seeing Msgr. Ganswein, the private secretary of the Holy
Father and would like to give him a copy of Be Saints!
After the meeting he wrote to let me
know that he gave it to Msgr. Ganswein and that he was delighted with the book
and that he would certainly give it to the Pope. A few weeks later I received a
beautiful letter from Pope Benedict via the Secretary of State. He said that he
was grateful for our efforts to bring his words of encouragement to a wider
audience of children and their families.
CWR: Watercolor is a fascinating
medium. On one hand, it is often the first type of painting experienced by
children; on the other hand, it can be very difficult to master. What are the
unique challenges to painting in watercolor? Why do you prefer it over, say,
acrylics or oils?
Engelhart: To be honest, it isn’t that I prefer it
over oil paint, a medium that I love and I primarily worked in as an art
student. Teachers and gallery owners recognized that I had an affinity for
watercolor and encouraged me to concentrate my work in the medium. Eventually I
began to teach watercolor classes myself.
struggle with the fact that unlike oil or acrylic painting, watercolor is
unforgiving due to the difficulty in making changes or corrections. There is
something exciting about working in a medium that is so unpredictable. I try to
strike a balance between allowing the paint colors to blend and spread freely
through the water into the cotton fibers of the paper while simultaneously
attempting to control it enough to describe something accurately.
This can be
seen in the detailed painting of St. Mary’s College on the endpaper of the book
and in the final painting of Pope Benedict waving to the children. In both of
these, the background is loosely applied paint, which is effortlessly dropped
onto a wet surface, contrasted by a carefully rendered portrait of the Pope and
complex Gothic-Revival architecture.
CWR: Do you and Amy plan on
further collaborations? How can people find out more about your work?
Engelhart: Yes, we are currently working on a
Christmas-themed storybook and have plans for future projects. You can see
examples of my portraits, landscapes and still-life paintings as well as my
other children’s books and illustrations at my website, www.annkissaneengelhart.com .