by Len Lear
An animal lover, adult or child, cannot help but fall in love with the charming, captivating artistic likenesses of the most beautiful animals created by Kate Garchinsky. This illustrator of numerous award-winning books about wildlife will appear in a panel at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, at Mt. Airy Nexus, 520 Carpenter Lane, as part of the Mt. Airy Kids’ Literary Festival.
During school visits, in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) programs and in private classes, Garchinsky, 45, helps students use illustration to discover the wonders of the natural world. She is an expert at helping young illustrators to design their own animal books.
Garchinsky, who grew up in Norwood and Clifton Heights, both in Delaware County, and attended Archbishop Prendergast High School in Drexel Hill, is known among her friends and family as “the bird girl,” “penguin lady” and “the one who makes loud bird calls.” The first word she ever spoke was “bird,” and if you ask her kindly, she’ll speak to you in raven, crow, blue jay, cardinal, white-throated sparrow, parrot, penguin or gull. (You might want to hold your ears.)
Garchinsky won her first art award in the fourth grade and knew right away what her career path would be as an adult. “My mom taught me to draw pumpkins and snowmen as soon as I could hold a crayon,” she said. “She was a painter before I was born, and I am blessed with her talent.”
Garchinsky began studying art at Rosemont College but left in her freshman year. “Their art program at the time was wonderful if you wanted to be a teaching artist. I was more interested in illustration.” She proceeded to earn a BFA in illustration in 1997 from the University of the Arts.
Garchinsky draws her inspiration from the natural world, from glacial lakes on mountaintops to dandelions crawling through cracks in the sidewalk. Before illustrating books and writing stories, she created toys for Zany Brainy and FAO, Inc., and trail maps and brochures for Winter Park Ski Resort. In her non-creative time, she loves to play outdoors, especially in the snow.
Now she illustrates award-winning books about birds and other wild creatures, including “The Secret Life of the Little Brown Bat,” “The Secret Life of the Red Fox” (Boyds Mills Press) and “Belle’s Journey: An Osprey Takes Flight” (Charlesbridge).
In 2015, Garchinsky was awarded the Eckelberry Fellowship for nature artists at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Her earliest and deepest influence as an artist was Muppets’ creator, Jim Henson. “As for painting and illustration, I gravitate toward artists who employ drama in their light and shadow, such as Philadelphia masters Henry Ossawa Tanner, Jesse Wilcox Smith, N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish; master of bird illustration, John James Audubon; impressionists Degas, Monet and Cézanne; German expressionist Käthe Kollwitz…”
Of all the books Garchinsky has illustrated, does she have a favorite?
“‘The Secret Life of the Red Fox’ was my first book, and so it will always be special. Laurence Pringle and I met at The Highlights Foundation as mentor/mentee, and the way ‘Red Fox’ came together was somewhat magical.” (Pringle, 83, is an acclaimed author of dozens of books for children about wildlife and the natural world.)
What was the hardest thing Garchinsky ever had to do?
“To ignore my inner critic monster and listen to my intuition.”
What is the best advice Garchinsky ever received?
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease! That came from my ‘Pop- Pop,’ Maurice Longen.”
Which talent that Garchinsky does not have would she most like to have?
“To fly through the air like a figure skater and land on my feet, not my knees. I have ADHD, so the ability to complete important tasks without a struggle would also be nice.”
If Garchinsky could live anywhere on earth, where would it be and why?
“I loved living in the Rocky Mountains, and I would go back there in a second. But anywhere on Earth? Then I’d choose some place with more penguins than people. The Falklands or the Auklands, even Antarctica. I can deal with the cold.”
What is Garchinsky’s most impressive characteristic?
“I am far younger at heart than I am in years.”
If Garchinsky could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, who would it be?
“Jim Henson, but he’d have to bring Kermit with him.”
When asked if she would like to mention any family members, Garchinsky quickly replied, “My dad, Hugh Garchinsky, who deserves more love than any man I know on earth.”
Kate Garchinsky lives with her husband, Brian, her beagle, Maggie May, and two kittens in Newtown Square. Follow Kate on her walks through the woods on Instagram or on her website. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org