Maria Louise Kirk (1860-1938) was a popular American painter and illustrator. She was born in Philadelphia, the daughter of George H. Kirk and Harriet A. (Craig) Kirk. She studied art in Philadelphia at the School of Design for Women and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and later at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1894 Kirk won the Mary Smith prize at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for best painting by a woman. The Mary Smith prize had been established in 1879 by Russell Smith in memory of his daughter, Mary Smith. The prize was annually awarded “to the Painter of the best painting in oil or water colors exhibited at the Academy by a resident Woman Artist, for the qualities ranking as follows: 1st, Originality of Subject; 2d, Beauty of Design or Drawing; 3d, Color and Effect; and, lastly, Execution.”
Kirk illustrated over 50 books throughout her career, including Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland (1904), The Secret Garden (1911), Heidi (1915) and Pinocchio: The Story of a Puppet (1919).
In 1908 Kirk illustrated The Child’s Rip Van Winkle with 12 full color illustrations. The book was published by the Frederick A. Stokes Company of New York. The book followed the same plot line as in Irving’s classic tale, but substituted simpler words and phrases for those that children could not understand. The result was easier reading for younger children.
The reviews of Kirk’s illustrative work for The Child’s Rip Van Winkle were very positive.
- “This beautiful legend of the historic Catskill Mountains is very elaborate and artistically illustrated in color by Maria L. Kirk.” The Washington Post, October 3, 1908.
- “. . . with some very sprightly and interesting illustrations in most vivid and tasteful colors by M. L. Kirk.” The Boston Globe, October 7, 1908.
- “Miss Kirk’s twelve illustrations in color are unusually attractive, and will intensify the pleasure of youthful readers in the tale itself.” Brooklyn Times Union, October 10, 1908.
- “The colored pictures by M. L. Kirk and the illuminated cover make this a beautiful holiday book.” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), October 27, 1908.
- “The book is illustrated in colors by Maria L. Kirk, who has offered a dozen full-page pictures of a high degree of merit.” Evening Star (Washington, DC), November 7, 1908.
- “Miss Kirk’s pictures are well worth looking at even by the older reader; for children, they will be a delight. Full page, in many bright colors, with a great deal of child interest, and capitally drawn, they are in truth really illustrations of the fascinating old legend of the Catskills.” The Standard Union (Brooklyn, New York), November 15, 1908.
- “The illustrations in color, twelve in number, are full of freshness and charm. They are essentially pictures for children to look at, conceived with an understanding of the child’s imagination, and made to show the little parts in the story that interest a child. This is an element of no little importance and one often slighted. Miss Kirk, moreover, has followed the traditions of the story closely and has not altered any of the familiar characters.” The Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1908.
- “. . .the twelve full-page illustrations in color by Miss Kirk are true to the spirit of the story and most artistic.” The Publishers’ Weekly, December 19, 1908.
The 12 illustrations in The Child’s Rip Van Winkle depict scenes from throughout the story, including:
- The children of the village hanging on his skirts and climbing on his back
- His cow would get among the cabbages
- Like a colt at his mother’s heels
- At the least flourish of the broomstick he would fly yelping
- A strange figure slowly toiling up the rocks
- Odd-looking persons playing nine-pins
- They stared at him with a fixed statue-like gaze
- Surely I have not slept here all night!
- Strange children ran at his heels
- My very dog has forgotten me
- Does nobody know poor Rip Van Winkle!
- People love to hear his stories of old times