Don Freeman

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For the basketball player, see Donnie Freeman
Don Freeman
Don Freeman
Born (1908-08-11)August 11, 1908
San Diego, California
Died January 1, 1978(1978-01-01) (aged 69)[1]
Nationality American
Area(s) Cartoonist, Penciller
Notable works
Awards Caldecott Honor Book

Don Freeman (August 11, 1908 – January 1, 1978) was an American painter, printmaker, cartoonist, children's book author, and illustrator.

Early life[edit]

Freeman was born in San Diego, attended high school in St. Louis, and later went to New York, where he studied graphic design and lithography at the Art Students League with John Sloan and Warry Hickey.


Frequent subjects of Freeman's included Broadway theater, politics, and the circus. Freeman was known for carrying a sketchbook with him wherever he went. His images depicted New York City, and the faces of the people he observed on the streets, in the theaters, and in the subways. They often included images of showgirls, Bowery Boys, drunks, apple sellers, window washers and numerous citizens of the city that were down on their luck. Freeman was also a jazz musician and the brother of hotel entrepreneur Warren Freeman.

As Freeman's career progressed, he lightened his palette and depicted more upbeat subjects. In 1951, he began illustrating children's books. His wife, Lydia, who was also an accomplished artist, authored some of the books Freeman illustrated. The Freemans eventually moved to Santa Barbara, California, where they spent the remainder of their lives.[2]

Don Freeman was first introduced to children's literature when William Saroyan asked him to illustrate several books. However, his greatest influence came from the artist Honoré Daumier. Freeman studied many of Daumier’s works as well as possessing a large collection of books on the artist.

Throughout Don Freeman’s career he was the author and illustrator of over 20 children’s books. He is best known for his publication of Corduroy. Although he came up with many of his ideas on his own, his wife Lydia Freeman contributed greatly to his success, having co-authored two books with him, including Chuggy and the Blue Caboose and Pet of the Met. She was very influential on her husband's work, as he relied on her for inspiration for his pieces. He would read his work aloud to her as well as any children around in order to gain feedback on a particular piece.[3] Lydia too became a well-known artist in her later life. In his autobiography "Come One, Come All![4] Don humorously admits that of the two, she was the better (watercolor) artist.

“Simplicity is the essence of children’s-book stories, not simple-mindedness,” Don Freeman once stated when speaking to an audience that was interested in writing, illustrating, and publishing children’s books.[5]

Freeman also drew cartoons for magazines and newspapers, including the Herald Tribune, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and Theater Magazine.

When Don Freeman lived in New York during the 1930s, 40s, and early 1950s, he was a brilliant illustrator of New York City life in the best traditions of Social Realism. His subjects were the actors and actresses of Broadway—from Orson Welles to Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine to the man in the street or the charwomen who scrubbed the stage after the actors and the audience went home. Freeman’s illustrations appeared regularly in the New York Herald Tribune, and also in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Theater Magazine, and more. Freeman also self-published Don Freeman’s Newsstand, a short-lived quarterly magazine, each page of which was an original lithograph.[6]

In 1976, Don Freeman was recognized by the City of New York for his body of work portraying the city. The New York Daily News reported on the Citation from Mayor Abraham D. Beame, which was presented to Freeman at the opening of a one-man retrospective exhibition.[7] In a measure of Freeman's national fame, The Christian Science Monitor covered the 1976 exhibition, as well as a 1978 retrospective, both of which showcased Freeman's drawings, oils, prints, and his limited-edition self-published periodical, Don Freeman's Newsstand.[8][9][10][11]


Book titles include the following:

  • Corduroy
  • A Pocket for Corduroy
  • Bearymore
  • Space Witch (1959)
  • Tilly Witch
  • Beady Bear
  • Dandelion
  • Flash the Dash
  • Fly High, Fly Low
  • Inspector Peckit
  • Mop Top
  • Norman the Doorman
  • A Rainbow of My Own
  • Earl the Squirrel
  • Manuelo the Playing Mantis
  • Dandelion
  • Chuggy and the Blue Caboose
  • Hattie the Backstage Bat
  • Pet of the Met (coauthored with Lydia Freeman)
  • The Guard Mouse
  • The Turtle and the Dove
  • Ski Pup
  • Come Again, Pelican
  • Cyrano the Crow
  • The Night the Lights Went Out
  • Penguins, of All People
  • There's a Canary in the Library
  • The Seal and the Slick
  • Will's Quill

Illustrations only[edit]


  1. ^ Don Freeman biography at Good Reads; Accessed August 2, 2010
  2. ^ Anderson, Alissa J., Don Freeman (1908-1978), Anderson Shea Art Appraisals
  3. ^ See Don and Lydia working together to create a book in the documentary film "Storymaker" on YouTube:
  4. ^ Rhinehart & Company, Inc, New York, 1949, p. 244-45.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Leogrande, Ernest (March 30, 1976). "Back when Big Apple was Ripe". New York Daily News. 
  8. ^ Beaufort, John (April 28, 1976). "Artist in Residence of the New York Stage". The Christian Science Monitor. 
  9. ^ Beaufort, John (February 24, 1978). "Freeman's Art Caught Stream of Life in Bygone New York". The Christian Science Monitor. 
  10. ^ "Goings On About Town," The New Yorker, April 12, 1976, p. 11
  11. ^ "Goings On About Town," The New Yorker, March 13, 1978, p. 14

External links[edit]