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Published: Sunday, 4/20/2014

Bid, Dick, bid: Sale set for ‘Dick and Jane’ art

Renderings for reading series being auctioned

A watercolor by Robert Childress depicts Dick of the Dick and Jane series. The photos are of Mr. Childress’ young neighbor, who modeled for the illustrator. A watercolor by Robert Childress depicts Dick of the Dick and Jane series. The photos are of Mr. Childress’ young neighbor, who modeled for the illustrator.

BROOKLINE, N.H. — In the portrait, the little boy’s blue eyes twinkle as he looks straight ahead. His apple cheeks shine. There’s a gap in his teeth, and his reddish-brown hair is just slightly tousled.

He’s an All-American boy.

He’s Dick of the illustrated Dick and Jane series that helped teach generations to read from the 1930s to the 1970s.

He’s also Nancy Childress’ childhood neighbor and the model for the drawing by her father, Robert Childress, that along with Jane, Sally, Spot, and others brought the pages of the reader to life.

Nancy Childress is selling her father’s artwork at auction in New Hampshire at the end of April.

Along with Dick, there are other portraits, black-and-white drawings of John F. and Jackie Kennedy, and offerings from his collection of pastel paintings of college buildings around the country.

“This was the day of the illustrator, Ms. Childress said. “What’s different about my father’s illustrations is that most could either do landscape or people, and he had the uncanny ability to do both equally well.”

Mr. Childress’ realism will remind the viewer immediately of Norman Rockwell’s illustrations. That’s not a coincidence: The two were friends.

Ms. Childress said her father, who died in 1983, never took an art class, learning to paint with a set given to him as a gift from an aunt and uncle before he was 10.

He didn’t just use the neighbor boy as a model for the series that he illustrated during the 1950s and 1960s. Nancy was Sally, her sister Susan became Jane, and their mother was also one of Robert Childress’ inspirations.

Mr. Childress was living in Ithaca, N.Y., when he was commissioned to paint a portrait of H.E. Babcock, a former chairman of the board for Cornell University. Through his connection with Mr. Babcock, he met Duncan Hines, the home food entrepreneur whose cakes and other products still stock grocery shelves. Mr. Childress painted the portrait of Hines that would adorn his product packaging and Mr. Childress launched a career in advertising.

Auctioneer Ronald Pelletier of Brookline Auction Gallery said estimates for the roughly 50 lots of Childress art run from $100 to $2,000 and because it is an “absolute auction” there is no reserve bid, meaning the lowest bid wins.

The live online auction will be held April 30.

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