Jane Campbell Bannerman — now a sprightly 103 years of age — embarked on her first trip abroad in 1929, long before there were iphones or digital cameras. Instead, she carried sketchbooks and watercolors to record the scenes and people she encountered. Colorful, personal, quirky, and utterly unique, Bannerman’s 74 sketchbooks capture the quintessential spirit of the places she visited, and also reflect her own appealing personality.
At the time of her inaugural trip, Jane Campbell was a graphic design student at Parsons School of Design (then known as the New York School of Fine and Applied Art). She spent the academic year of 1929 abroad, studying at Parsons’ recently opened (in 1921) Paris Atelier. The experience sparked a lifelong love of travel: “I hadn’t seen any of the world up until that time,” Jane says, “Paris started my life.”
It also marked the start of an enduring habit of sketching the people and places she visited. “Jane’s jaunts,” however, did not begin in earnest until the 1950’s. Until then, Jane, who married Charles Bannerman in 1938, was occupied with raising her daughter and pursuing a career in interior design. (A collection of Bannerman Family Papers, relating mainly to Jane’s grandfather-in-law Francis Bannerman VI, and to his namesake Bannerman Island, is held in the library’s manuscript department).
In 1955, Jane resumed her travels with a vengeance, embarking on a dizzying succession of trips: Sweden, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Russia, Hungary, Japan, China, Thailand, Sri Lanka (“the most fun”), India — even a brief layover in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) during the height of the Viet Nam war! In 2003, at the age of 93, she visited the Azores, producing two sketchbooks and a series of paintings depicting those Portuguese islands.
Although Jane’s travel sketches include all the usual tourist fare — famous attractions, beautiful scenery, “local color,” native characters, fellow travelers, hotel rooms, and tasty (or not) meals — her characteristic whimsy takes them out of the ordinary, and makes them unmistakably her own.
Even when at home in New York City, Bannerman often traveled with a sketchbook, capturing the essence of city life in the period 1955 to 2010, from jury selection to homeless beggars to the collapse of the World Trade Center.
Bannerman’s sketchbooks were recently added to the library’s permanent collections, and are available for viewing during regular library hours by advance appointment (to schedule an appointment, email email@example.com). An exhibition of selected sketchbooks will also be held in the library from July 29th to August 26th, 2013.