Obituary Note: Nonny Hogrogian

Nonny Hogrogian

Writer and illustrator Nonny Hogrogian, "who mined her Armenian heritage to bring diversity and wonder to her woodcuts and watercolors, an approach that helped expand the world of children's literature and made her a two-time Caldecott Medal winner," died May 9, the New York Times reported. She was 92.

Hogrogian received her first medal in 1966 for the book Always Room for One More, written by Sorche Nic Leodhas; and her second, in 1972, for One Fine Day, based on an Armenian folk tale she retold and illustrated. She also received a Caldecott Honor for The Contest (1977), inspired by another Armenian folk tale.

Hogrogian was a close friend of illustrators Maurice Sendak and Ezra Jack Keats, "and like them she drew on the old-world European artistry and traditions of her immigrant family to broaden American children's literature, starting in the 1960s," the Times noted.

"Nonny helped kick open the door for today's multicultural movement in children's books," noted Richard Michelson, a friend and fellow children's author. "She proudly explored her Armenian heritage in her many books--mining its folk tales and her own history--at a time when most books were more interested in creating a 'melting pot' than a 'patchwork quilt.' "

Much of her work was done using woodcut prints, though she also used watercolors, charcoal, and pen, depending on the project. She said she started by studying the text to see which medium it called for, rather than imposing a single approach to all her work, the Times wrote. "Regardless of the medium, her books impressed readers with a deceptive simplicity, which on close inspection revealed a complex richness of color and tone. Her works stood on their own as art even as they brought to life the stories being told."

In her acceptance speech after receiving her first Caldecott, Hogrogian described how she decided to illustrate Always Room for One More, based on a Scottish folk song about a poor man who keeps welcoming guests into his home. "Woodcuts, long my favorite medium, were too strong for the gentle folk in the heather," she said. "So I pulled out my watercolors and chalks, some ink and a pen, and before long, in an almost effortless way, the drawings seemed to flow."

Hogrogian studied fine arts at Hunter College in Manhattan, and after graduating in 1953 she found a job designing book covers for publisher Thomas Y. Crowell. Allowed to provide artwork for some of the books, she wanted to be a full-time artist and studied woodcuts at the New School before eventually starting a freelance career. She returned to working for publishers occasionally, but her first Caldecott win erased any concerns she had about a future as an illustrator.

She met her husband, poet David Kherdian, when she was hired to design the cover of his 1971 book, Homage to Adana. They married that year, and she went on to illustrate several more of his books.

Hogrogian often said her next book would be her last, and referred to herself as retired, even as she continued to work. "I have probably been busier in retirement than out of it," she wrote in an autobiographical sketch in 2001, adding that the word retirement "indicates more a time in my life when I need to live as I really wish to live, and work is a large part of what I take joy in doing."

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