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Kids book illustrators donate their art to healing

“We didn’t expect it to all take off like this,’’ says Susan McKendry of Brookline (with husband Joe), at Boston Children’s Hospital with a Mo Willems illustration for their online and outdoor benefit auction this month on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF/Globe staff

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Joe and Susan McKendry of Brookline wanted to do something to help. They love Boston, and have children close in age to Martin Richard, the 8-year-old Dorchester boy who was killed in the bombings, and his 7-year-old sister who lost a leg.

Joe, an artist who teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design, thought he could auction off a couple of paintings he did for his first book, “Beneath the Streets of Boston: Building America’s First Subway.”

But then he realized he had something more valuable: connections to other artists. Why not make it a group project? We Art Boston (www.weartboston
was born, with dozens of artists contributing paintings or illustrations to the cause: the emergency and trauma fund at Boston Children’s Hospital.


The fund helps children and families get the treatment they need “when faced with a tragedy,” says Stacy Devine, an associate director with the Boston Children’s Hospital Trust. What began as a response to the Marathon bombings expanded to include all traumatic events. Some of the art is currently on display at the hospital, on a rotating basis on the first floor as well as in the hallways where children are hospitalized.

“They’re on a very busy patient route where pre-op patients get escorted to their surgery,” says Jessica Finch, the hospital’s art program manager. “It’s a positive distraction tool. We are excited to be working with We Art Boston.”

The McKendrys chose the hospital because they wanted something beneficial to children. “There were so many children waiting at the finish line at the Marathon, and the more we talked about it, we decided to focus on children and the healing process,” says Susan McKendry. They hope to raise $20,000 to $30,000.

Joe McKendry contacted several artists, many of them strangers to him, and so far, has more than 60 works donated for an online auction that runs from Oct. 10-24. Most are original paintings or drawings from books, including some from David Macaulay, MacArthur award winner and Caldecott medalist who illustrated the best-selling, “The Way Things Work.”


McKendry also did an “art party” at the hospital for patients and their siblings, using watercolors to help the kids paint their own designs, as well as custom-drawing some of their requests, such as a panda and a race car.

Macaulay, who taught McKendry at RISD, says he was eager to join the effort. “In an event like [the bombings], you feel completely powerless and it’s on your doorstep, which makes it worse in a way,” he says. “So this is an opportunity to do something positive in the face of a senseless act.” He’s donating a couple of “whimsical drawings” from “Shortcut,” published in 1995.

Matt Tavares donated a painting from his 2012 book “There Goes Ted Williams.” The painting shows Williams at bat. “I picked that one because Ted Williams did so much to help kids in Boston hospitals,” says Tavares, who grew up in Winchester and now lives in Maine. “I feel he would want to be a part of this if he was around.”

Artist Grace Lin moved from Somerville to Northampton in April, just before the bombings. She is donating a painting from her book “Olvina Swims,” about a chicken that learns how to swim.


“It’s nice to feel like there’s something that you can do,” says Lin. “We’re artists, not doctors or first responders. Sometimes, you feel that what you do may not be as important, so it’s nice to know that you can help people.”

The McKendrys also wanted to hold a community event for children to get more directly involved. On Oct. 20, We Art Boston is hosting a family day on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, right across from the New England Aquarium.

All of the donated artwork will be framed and on exhibit, and people can bid on them through volunteers who will place the bids online using iPads. Several of the illustrators will be there and will sign books or, for a donation to the cause, draw portraits of stuffed animals for children who bring their favorite one along.

Henry Cole’s “Penguin Pride” (l8-by-12 inches, framed) has a value of $550 and a suggested bid of $250.

“The kids will be walking away with signed art,” notes McKendry, whose latest book, “One Times Square,” was recently named by The New York Times as a Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2012.

At the family day, the Boston Center for the Arts will run an activities tent with three art stations: watercolor, collage, and book-making. At the watercolor station, various artists will talk about their work and help children paint. At the collage table, artist Rebecca Emberley will work with kids, paper, scissors, and glue. At the book-making station, Macaulay and others will talk about how to do books. “We’ll have blank paper stapled into books where kids can start drawing their own ideas,” says McKendry.


Three children’s bands will perform and between sets, artists will read from their books or discuss illustration.

“The response from people has been overwhelming,” says Susan McKendry. “We didn’t expect it to all take off like this.”

Macaulay says the other part of the contribution comes from the public, which he expects will support the project. “I think people are wondering is there anything they can do, because a lot of people [from the bombings] are still healing. This is an opportunity to help.”

For Scott Magoon, who has written and illustrated several children’s books, the opportunity is personal. He had just finished running the Marathon, beating his time from last year by 30 minutes, when he heard a boom go off. “I saw people running and screaming. I was so much luckier than so many people,” he says.

His wife and two young sons were on the opposite side of the street as the bombs, and within seconds, they had connected by cellphone. Magoon, who lives in Reading, is donating a large giclee, a high-quality digital print, of the cover of “The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot!”

Though Magoon has participated in other charity events as an artist, he can’t remember an effort as large as We Art Boston. “This cause is so urgent,” he says. “This is the very least I can do.”

Bella English can be reached at