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Deborah Kogan Ray In her own words...
THE FLOWER HUNTER: William Bartram, America's First Naturalist

William Bartram was a naturalist and artist best known for Travels, his 1791 account of his journey through eight states chronicling the natural environment and various plant specimens. Deborah Kogan Ray's new picture book biography, THE FLOWER HUNTER (Frances Foster Books / Farrar, Straus and Giroux / April 2004), introduces young readers to Bartram, tracking his lifetime love of nature from his days as a young boy following in the footsteps of his father, botanist John Bartram, to his adulthood.

Told in the form of first-person journal entries, beginning on William "Billy" Bartram's eighth birthday, this is the story of a person with a fervent and passionate interest in the natural world, an interest to which Bartram dedicated his life, paving the way for the environmental movement and future efforts in conservation and ecological studies. Award-winning author/illustrator Deborah Kogan Ray's vibrant and lush paintings beautifully portray the natural world that Bartram explored, and the extensive back matter- including maps, an author's note, an afterword, a catalog of Bartram's plants, a glossary, a biographical note, and a bibliography-will intrigue readers of all ages.

Bartram was greatly influenced by his first long journey with his father to the Catskill -Mountains in New York in 1753. It was on this trip that Bartram told his father, "I wish to spend my life portraying nature's beauty." Resolute on his mission in life, Bartram went on to explore such locales as Cape Fear, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; St. Augustine, Florida;o Savannah, Georgia; and his home state of Pennsylvania. As Ms. Ray explains, Bartram ' s expedition was "the most extensive exploration of America made by any scientist at that time." His findings went on to influence such scientists, philosophers, and writers as Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, and Samuel Coleridge, and his work continues to be relevant today.

Ages: 8-11

[The Travels of William Bartram]
[Historic Bartram's Garden]

A Look Inside the book...

The Flower Hunter

The Flower Hunter

THE FLOWER HUNTER (c) 2004 by Deborah Kogan Ray. Used with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


The story of the life of Japanese artist Hokusai (1760-1849) and how he rose from poverty to become one of the most important and influential artists of the world. Includes: Chronology, biliography, and biographical notes.
Ages: 7 Up

[Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) ]
[Hokusai's Paintings ]
[The HOKUSAI Museum - Extensive]

Dinosaur Mountain : Digging into the Jurassic Age  by Deborah Kogan Ray
Dinosaur Mountain: Digging into the Jurassic Age
Ages 8 and up

Earl Douglass was a teenager when he first heard about the Bone Wars—the frenzied race between paleontologists to unearth and classify dinosaur fossils—and he remained fascinated with these prehistoric giants for the rest of his life. As a geologist and botanist working at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Douglass had a hunch that the vast untouched rock strata in northeastern Utah just may have been a haven for Jurassic fossil beds. In 1908, he set out by mule team to the Uinta Basin to dig and discover. Find me “something big,” Andrew Carnegie instructed.

Little did Carnegie know exactly how well Douglass would heed those words. Sixteen years and 350 tons of fossils later, Earl Douglass emerged as one of the most prolific and successful dinosaur hunters of his time.

Using entries directly from Douglass’ diary along with her own evocative storytelling and artwork, Deborah Kogan Ray paints the life of this adventurous bone hunter in memorable detail.

Deborah Kogan Ray
My approach to making books is from the perspective of a painter.

I studied the fine arts, painting and printmaking, at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Illustration courses were not offered and, at the time, they were of no interest to me. I wanted to be a pure artist, free of outside constraints, true to my inner vision. It never occurred to me that there were other ways to express oneself, than to paint canvasses to hang on walls.

Economic necessity and serendipity brought me to book illustration. It was not something that came about by plan or design. The life of an exhibiting artist is very unstable and I had two small daughters who were addicted to regular meals. I was also reading lots of books to them, and saw how much attention they paid to the pictures. A chance meeting with the famous painter and illustrator, Ben Shahn, who I admired, set my course. I asked him what I would have to do to learn how to illustrate.

Ben gave me a word of caution and very good advice, as well as casting the art of illustration in a whole new light. He told me to take a story and to see if the words spoke to me in pictures - only then would know if I had the potential to become an illustrator. He said that an artist could choose any subject and portray it in any manner for a painting, but that an illustrator must possess a special ability- the gift to take words and turn them into pictures.

I discovered that I had that gift for storytelling in pictures. I found that I loved the process of working from a story, making my own scenario, and creating images that expanded the meaning of the words.

In illustrating books for children, I found another audience for my work.

I began to write books when I found that I could take the images that I saw in my mind, and translate them into words. To the distress of my editors, I still have trouble plotting a story. I write a full manuscript, but my process is one of layering words and images. It is more akin to movie making, than traditional written works. I am a *picture* person.

Whether painting a picture, illustrating a story, or writing a narrative, the impetus for my work always comes from the same place; a need to tell the truth about what I feel.

At times, I've been asked how I find the subjects for my stories, especially for my picture biographies because they are not the usual people who are written about in books for children. Strange as it may sound, my subjects find me. I never consciously think about what would make a good topic or whose life history should be told. I recognize a kindred spirit in the people I write about, something that is part of me.

My interests trigger my stories. I wrote the biography of Hokusai, the great Japanese artist, because his work inspired me to become an artist. LILY'S GARDEN evolved from my love of growing things, and years spent on the coast of Maine. THE FLOWER HUNTER is about America's first naturalist, William Bartram. It grew from my interest in the natural world.

My paintings are inspired by observation of the landscape. They tell stories about growth and change, the seasons, and time and place. When I explored and painted in the Canadian Rockies, I was captivated by the profusion of flowers growing in the harsh climate of the high peaks. To me, they became a metaphor for the tenacity of life. In the Sierras of California, I hiked a trail into the clouds. The experience became a series of paintings and a book I wrote for children called THE CLOUD.

Themes overlap, whatever form of expression I use.

When I am asked to write about myself, I always approach the subject with a bit of trepidation, and great surprise. The child I was, is still very much a part of me. I still can't believe that I could have painted all those pictures and written and illustrated all those books. It's been a long and wonderful journey, but I ask myself how did this happen, how did I get here?

Geographically, I haven't gone a long way. I grew up in southwest Philadelphia, not far from the Bartram Gardens, where William Bartram, the subject of THE FLOWER HUNTER, had lived two hundred years before.

Mine was a tight urban neighborhood of row homes where children played in the street or behind the houses in the long alleys. There were no organized activities- no girl or boy scout troops, no little leagues.

I was very small and excelled at hide and seek because I could climb into tight places. I liked the challenge of learning intricate jump- rope steps and spent hours practicing cartwheels, but I had no inclination to play competitive games. I preferred to go off to a corner to draw or read. I have no memories of being taught to read. It seems to me that it is something I always knew. By first grade I was reading long stories.

My favorite book was PETITE SUZANNE, the story of a French- Canadian child, who loved to draw, and was encouraged by an "artist lady", who gifted her with a box of watercolors. I read the story over and over, pouring over the details of her world on the Gaspe peninsula in Quebec; dreaming of that box of watercolors. The story so resonated with me that when I vacationed in the area several years ago, I insisted on searching for all the places mentioned in the book.

At eight, I discovered Cobbs Creek Park. Until then, visits to the park had been limited to walks with adult family members.

Now I was on my own.

First, there was the playground. As any child can tell you, playground can be a misnomer. Testing ground would be a more appropriate term. Very often it is survival of the fittest. And being very small- I was not viewed as fittest.

The first day I went to the playground, I was pushed off the jungle gym and my money for water ice was taken.

I ran home crying, but I did return to the playground the next day. By the end of the summer I had gained acceptance on the basis of pure physical courage in my death defying leaps off the swings.

Turf or woodchips in playgrounds was unheard of in those days. Concrete was the decor of choice. A short fall would have been terribly painful, though it probably would have earned me the sought after plaster cast for a broken limb that was viewed, by the playground crowd, as a sign of true grit; a badge of honor and heroism. Had my mother known what I was doing, I would not have been permitted near that playground.

The world of children is not always what adults would like to think it is.

From the playground, I explored further into the park. When I was older, I rode my bike into the marshlands near the airport, where egret and heron lived in the reedy grass. Bartram Gardens was on my route; beyond the factories with tall chimneys that sent brown smoke into the sky. By some magic, when I entered the garden gates, I forgot about that world outside. I explored the paths and daydreamed by the river. On the green hillside, I learned to recognize and love flowers.

Years later, while exhibiting my paintings of flowers in Pittsburgh at Carnegie-Mellon University's International Exhibition of Botanical Art, the curator, knowing that I was from Philadelphia, asked if I were familiar with the travels and botanical discoveries of John and William Bartram. I wasn't. To me, the gardens were a lovely memory, but I had never given a thought to the history. I decided that I would find out what it was.

Things have a way of coming full circle.

As a child, I dreamed of becoming an artist. It filled the need of a lonely child to know that she was choosing to be different. I was awarded an art scholarship when I graduated from high school, and enrolled at the Philadelphia College of Art, which is now called The University of the Arts.

I had vague thoughts of fabric design as a career, but within a few months, I knew designing textile patterns was not what I wanted to do. The next year, I transferred to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to study painting. I supported myself waiting on tables, modeling for art classes and fitting corsets in a lingerie shop. I finished art school with my infant daughter attending classes with me. She was, without doubt, the youngest class member in the long history of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

I have painted and exhibited my work since leaving art school. I paint in watercolor and acrylics and draw in pencil. I use the same media for my illustrations.

My early paintings were bright, colorful pictures of imagined places. So were my early illustrations. Over the years, my interests shifted to portraying real world things.

When I write or illustrate a story, I draw on feelings from my childhood and relive them as a child. Whether describing everyday childhood experience, or recounting the life of a famous person, my stories are about what happens inside us. These are the things that are important to me.

In HOKUSAI: THE MAN WHO PAINTED A MOUNTAIN, I wrote about a poor boy, living in 18th century Japan, who became one of his country's great artists. The time and place is historically significant, but the essence of the story is his belief in his art and in himself.

William Bartram is most famous for writing TRAVELS, a journal of his explorations, as an adult, throughout southeast colonial America. When turning his life into a story that would relate to today's children, I began with the premise - suppose he kept a journal from the age of eight? What would he have said and done?

It became the concept for the manuscript, and the book design.

Doing research and learning about another time and place is a delicious pleasure. I am a research junky. I go far beyond fact gathering for a story, I totally immerse myself in another world.

When learning about Hokusai's world, I read countless books on the culture and customs of Japan in the time of the Shogun's rule. I studied the art of Ukiyo-e and the plays of the Kabuki theater. I learned to draw Japanese costumes and architecture, and how to read and form the symbols of the Chinese picture writing called Kanji.

To tell William Bartram's story, I taught myself elements of botany. I read old letters written by the Bartrams and their best friend, Benjamin Franklin. I studied the history of colonial America, and traced William Bartram's path through the wilderness with the old maps of the period that I found in archives.

Each book that I write or illustrate is an adventure- a discovery for me.