[an error occurred while processing this directive]from pp. 279-280, The Junior Book of Authors, Second Edition, Revised, edited by Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, New York, The H.W. Wilson Company, 1951.


Armstrong Sperry

November 7, 1897 -

Author and Illustrator of
Call It Courage, Hull Down for Action, Storm Canvas, Etc.

Autobiographical sketch of Armstrong Sperry:

I was born in New Haven, Connecticut. As far back as I can remember, I scribbled and drew pictures. But my real interest in story telling comes from my great-grandfather, who had followed the sea all his life, and used to tell me hair-raising yarns about his adventures in the remotest parts of the world.

In particular, he told about being wrecked on the island of Bora Bora, most outlying of the Society group, where he spent some months among the savages who lived there. He used to say: "That was the purtiest little island I ever did see. I hope you'll see it for yourself someday, young 'un!"

My first academic training was at the Yale Art School. This was interrupted by World War I, when I enlisted in the navy. After the war I went to New York and put in three years at the Art Student League, in the days of George Bellows and Luis Mora, following up with a year in Paris.

A couple of years in an advertising agency seemed to be the logical progression; but always in the back of my mind was that island my great-grandfather had talked about when I was a kid. That's how, one day, I found myself in Tahiti looking for a schooner to take me there. I found the schooner, and I found the island. And that fact explains why I have used the South Pacific and the Polynesians in so many of my books for young people.

At present I divide my time between New Hampshire and Vermont. In the latter I have a small farm where I put in a good many hours, between writing and illustrating, in trying to grow good crops out of rocky soil. But every once in a while the ghost of my great-grandfather jogs my elbow and says: "A farm's all right for a landsman, but the sea's the place for you!"

It doesn't take too much persuasion! And whenever I feel that jog of the elbow, I pack my belongings and take to the sea and usually come back with a new book -- or the material for one. It's an honest way of earning a hard living, but I wouldn't exchange it for any other.

* * *

In 1925, after one of those jogs of the elbow, Armstrong Sperry joined the Kaimiloa expedition as an assistant ethnologist for the Bishop Museum of Honolulu. He sailed among the least known islands of the South Pacific, and learned the languages, the legends, and the music. He drew pictures and stored up memories that have found their way into many of his published books. between trips he lives on the farm with his wife and two children.

Armstrong Sperry is an artist and a craftsman who labors over each tiny detail, in both his pictures and his writings. The results certainly justify his efforts, for every one of his books is an artistic achievement.

In 1941 his Call It Courage was awarded the Newbery Medal.



This page last updated Friday, 04/03/09, by Margo Burns, margo@ogram.org
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