campus news & events

Exhibition at Colby-Sawyer College Features Illustrations by Robert Childress from Dick and Jane Reading Primers Popular in 1950s-1960s

NEW LONDON, N.H., Oct. 12, 2007 — A new exhibition at Colby-Sawyer College will feature the illustrations and advertisements of Robert Childress, best known for his contributions to the Dick and Jane reading primers used in American schools from the 1930s though the 1960s.

The “Fun with Dick, Jane and Sally: Robert Childress – Illustrations and Advertisements” exhibition opens Friday, Oct. 12, and will continue through Monday, Nov. 5, at the college's Susan Colgate Cleveland Library/Learning Center. Admission is free and open to the public.

The Childress family was introduced to the New London area in the early 1970s, when their daughter, Susan, enrolled in Colby-Sawyer College. The family moved to Warner in 1977 and Robert continued to produce illustrations for Yankee Magazine (similar to Highlights) and other periodicals until his death in 1983.

Robert Childress was born in 1915 in South Carolina, where he showed an early childhood interest and talent in art. He paid his way through Clemson University by going door to door and offering to paint families' coat of arms. After graduation, he worked for advertising agencies, and during World War II, he promoted agricultural and farming products through his illustrations.

In 1949, Childress joined the Neeley Art Agency in New York City, where he created ads for Coca-Cola, Mobil, Frigidaire, Wonder Bread, Campbell's Soup, Buster Brown Shoes and many other companies.

A decade later, the Scott Foresman Company was looking for an artist to update the Dick and Jane reading primers, which had been published since 1930, and tapped Childress for the job. As the exhibition reveals, Robert used his children and family pets as the subjects of his artwork for the series. The children often posed for him, photographs were taken, and then he drew pencil sketches that led to the finished art work.

Childress worked on the primers for 10 years, from 1958 to 1968, when the books were at the peak of their popularity. An estimated 80 percent of first-graders in the United States were using the primers to learn how to read with the “look, say” method. As time passed and new educational theories came into vogue, the primers became outdated, and the series was discontinued in 1970.

This Childress exhibition was drawn from an earlier show hosted by the Warner Historical Society last summer. The Historical Society's Executive Director Rebecca Courser worked with the college to share the displays, while Nancy Childress gave the college permission to exhibit her father's sketchbooks, original magazines, camera and books.

Colby-Sawyer, founded in 1837, is a comprehensive liberal arts college located in the scenic Lake Sunapee Region of central New Hampshire. Students from 25 states and five foreign countries learn in small classes through a select array of programs that integrate the liberal arts and sciences with pre-professional experience. Visit us on the World Wide Web at

Colby-Sawyer College, 541 Main Street, New London, N.H. 03257 (603) 526-3000