A! Magazine for the Arts

The frontispiece of "Tales of Earthsea" depicts Jed arriving on the island of Roke to attend wizard school.

The frontispiece of "Tales of Earthsea" depicts Jed arriving on the island of Roke to attend wizard school.

'Earthsea' artwork on display at William King Museum of Art

December 26, 2018

Beginning Jan. 17 all the illustrations from “Tales of Earthsea” go on exhibit at William King Museum of Art, Abingdon, Virginia. This is the last time they will be on display before they are donated to their permanent home at the University of Oregon.

The collection of 54 illustrations is the result of a four-year collaboration between Ursula K. Le Guin, the author of the “Earthsea” series and Charles Vess. They were recently published in “Tales from Earthsea,” a collection of all of Le Guin’s works about Earthsea. The book celebrates the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first book in the series, “A Wizard of Earthsea.”

Le Guin’s “Earthsea” fantasy and science fiction novels are some of the most acclaimed works in American literature. They have received prestigious accolades such as the National Book Award, a Newbery Honor, the Nebula Award and many more honors, commemorating their enduring place in the hearts and minds of readers and the literary world alike.

Award-winning fantasy artist and illustrator, Vess is known around the world and calls Abingdon, Virginia, his home. His career has spanned more than four decades.

His illustrations as a fantasy artist include many for Marvel Comics, including the cover art for “The Amazing Spiderman;” an 11-issue run of “Swamp Thing” for DC Comics and illustrating the “Sandman” series written by Neil Gaiman. In addition, he illustrated Gaiman’s book “Stardust” and Charles de Lint’s “The Cats of Tanglewood Forest.”

In addition to his illustrations, Vess is a sculptor. He co-designed and co-sculpted the 16-foot-tall Barter Theatre fountain titled “Midsummer Play,” dedicated in Abingdon in 2009. His most recent sculpture, titled “Bristol’s Cultural Heritage,” was installed at the Bristol Public Library in 2014.

Vess has won four World Fantasy Awards, two Eisner awards and other recognitions. His works have been exhibited in New York City, San Francisco, Spain, Italy and more.

The exhibit runs until Feb. 24. When the exhibit is complete, Vess is donating the illustrations to the University of Oregon, where they will join Le Guin’s papers.

“If I hadn’t decided to donate them, they would have been sold piece by piece. When I want to exhibit my work, the art is all over the world. Some of it has changed hands several times, and I have no idea where it is. When I have an exhibition, I want to have my best work - not what is still left in the studio. There are many nice pieces here, but this way I’ll know where they are. And as you get older, you start to think more about your legacy. Since they have Le Guin’s papers, it seemed like the right place for it to go,” he says.

He donated some work to his alma mater Virginia Commonwealth University’s library. “I worked in the VCU library while I was in school, and it’s named after James Branch Cabell, one of my favorite writers,” he said.

He also donated 150 pages of “The Book of Ballads” material to the Library of Congress. The material comprises 132 original art pages as well as notated scripts and preliminary layouts for each story. Martha Kennedy of the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division says “[Vess’s] style of contemporary drawings illustrating narrative comic art is only sparsely represented in the Library’s collections and will go a long way towards filling this particular gap in its holdings.”

'Earthsea' prints available