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Jason Olson, Deseret News
Sherry Meidell's "The Howling Followed Us" from Faye Gibbons' "Emma Jo's Song."

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but there are some words that are worth — oh, at least 32 pictures. That's about the average number of illustrations included in many children's books.

"Just think how much work is involved in doing just one picture," says Margy Layton, and then multiply it 32 times. "I've always been one who respects people with talent, and these illustrators have so much talent."

The illustrators she's referring to are part of an exhibit at Springville Museum of Art called "Unbound: Original Picture Book Art by Utah Illustrators," curated by Layton, a former bookstore owner and now teaching at Utah Valley University. The show runs though Dec. 28.

Back when she had the bookstore, "I was surprised how many illustrators had local connections. As we put this show together, we found even more. What a fabulous opportunity to show them off," she says. The exhibits features works by 27 artists. "You see the different styles, how versatile they are. We wanted to show people the range of styles in children's books, but there's also amazing art," she says.

Illustrations in children's books don't just help tell a story, Layton says. "A child's introduction to art is usually through picture books. The first time you see well-done art, you connect on an emotional level." That's true at any age, she says.

The art children see in picture books often inspires them to create pictures of their own; to tell stories of their own. "Plus," Layton says, "we hope they connect the art they love with finding something to love at a museum. We are planting seeds, hoping they will become museum lovers."

In fact, the gallery features a couch where parents and children can sit down together and read any number of books by the featured illustrators. On Saturday mornings, a special storytime features one of the illustrators talking about his or her books. (For a schedule of appearances, visit unboundsma.blogspot.com.)

"We get a lot of comments from the kids about how they love that area," says Shelley Williams of the Springville Museum of Art. "Parents love it, too." Reading together is so important, she says, and what could be more fun than reading the book with pictures you just saw on the wall?

Layton has another purpose in staging the exhibit. She also wants people to know how many illustrators are living and working in Utah. "The national publishers, the people in New York, have Utah on the radar screen. It's a bright spot between the two coasts," she says.

Not all the illustrators actually have a home in Utah. Some were students at Brigham Young University; some have gone to live in places such as Idaho, Maine and New York. But they all have a Utah connection. And many are really making a name for themselves.

Brett Helquist, for example, grew up in Orem and graduated from BYU. He now lives in New York, where he is perhaps best known for his illustrations for "A Series of Unfortunate Events," by Lemony Snicket. But he's also done illustrations for books by Blue Balliett, and he now has written a book of his own, "Roger the Jolly Pirate."

Matthew Armstrong is a relatively new illustrator, but he has hooked up with the C.S. Lewis estate and has done illustrations for a "Chronicles of Narnia" series, including a pop-up book with Robert Sabuda. Armstrong is from Salt Lake City and has studied at the Visual Art Institute in Sugar House. He also draws and paints for video games and comic books.

Richard Hull teaches at BYU and has done work for Judith Viorst's books, among others. Hala Wittwer teaches at BYU and BYU-Idaho and has worked with folk writer Jane Yolen and others.

Mark Buehner is another of the "we knew him first" artists, Layton says. "There was a time when Harvey Potter was more famous in Utah than Harry Potter — OK, it wasn't long, but 'Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm' was very popular. And who knew his 'Snowmen at Night' would become such a big success?"

Layton notes she was surprised to find out that Lily Toy Hong lives in Sandy. "We sold her books for years, and I always loved them." Fumi Kosaka grew up in Japan, went to BYU, lived in New York and then moved back to Utah. "She has a totally different style. I love her humor."

Robert Barrett teaches at BYU and "is well known in the art world outside illustration. He did the art for 'Silent Night: Holy Night: The Story of the Christmas Truce,' and is now working with a publisher in the Midwest on a series of Bible stories," Layton says.

Ben Sowards, who teaches at Southern Utah University, has also done work locally with Shadow Mountain, including the artwork for "A Christmas Dress for Ellen," with story by LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, and the Leven Thumps books by Obert Skye.

Will Terry grew up in Washington, D.C., and now lives in Cedar Hills. "Of all the illustrators here, I think he is the least afraid of color," says Layton.

Greg Newbold, who teaches part time at BYU and is working on a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Hartford, "does the most wonderful landscapes," she adds. "An illustrator not only has to create characters, he has to create the environment. I just love Greg's sense of nostalgia."

Robert Neubecker, who has worked for newspapers and magazines for some 30 years, "is probably the most classical illustrator," says Layton. "Then he decided to do children's books, and his first book won an ALA (American Library Association) Notable Book award in 2005. He's now working with the actor John Lithgow on a book."

You look around the gallery, and "there is so much diversity," says Layton. There are watercolors, oil and other mediums. "Some illustrators do a lot of work on the computer. Cambria Evans does a lot of work by hand and then brings in the computer at the end. Howard Fullmer uses the computer to create art that looks like it is from the 1500s. I love that juxtaposition."

You look around the gallery and you can also appreciate how much work goes into illustration. One special exhibit shows how the art goes into a pop-up book. Another takes a look at an illustration from start to finish. "From the time the artist gets the manuscript and starts coming up with ideas, it's a very complex process," says Layton. "There's a lot of back-and-forth with the publisher."

But it is an endeavor well worth it, the illustrators say in the artists' notes that accompany their work. "Previously, I saw picture books as mostly an artistic endeavor," Kosaka writes. "But now that I have children, I realize how much reading picture books enriches not only the lives of children, but also the lives of the adults who read to them."

Some pictures are worth a thousand hugs and kisses.

If you go ...

What: Unbound: Original Picture Book Art by Utah Illustrators

Where: Springville Museum of Art, 126 E. 400 South, Springville

When: Through Dec. 28

Cost: Free

Web: www.sma.nebo.edu

Also: Storytime, every Saturday, 11 a.m., through Dec. 27

E-mail: carma@desnews.com