Barbara Remington, Tolkien book cover illustrator, dies at 90


Barbara Remington, the illustrator who created the most recognized covers for JRR Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and ‘The Hobbit’ – which she quickly executed before she even had a chance to read the books – died Jan. 23 in Susquehanna, Pa. She was 90.

Her longtime friend, John Bromberg, said the cause was breast cancer.

Although the covers of the first editions of “The Lord of the Rings” were illustrated by various artists, including Tolkien himself, those that Mrs. Remington created for the paperback versions published by Ballantine Books were those that achieved the status of mass worship in the 1960s, especially on college campuses.

Ms Remington, who also designed other book covers for Ballantine, was asked to illustrate the 1965 editions of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ on a tight deadline.

“Ballantine was in a hurry to get these books out right away,” she said in an interview for literary magazine Andwerve. “When they asked me to do the artwork, I didn’t get a chance to see either of the books, although I tried to get a copy by through my friends.

“So I didn’t know what it was about,” she continued. “I tried to find people who had read them, but the books weren’t readily available in the United States, so I had sketchy information at best.”

As a result, there were a few missteps in the initial artwork.

“When Tolkien saw the fruit tree, he asked, ‘What are the pumpkins doing in a tree?’ Of course they weren’t pumpkins, but he wasn’t sure what they were,’ Ms Remington said. “He was particularly puzzled about the lion on the cover because there are no lions in the story. He asked Ballantine to remove the lions from the cover, so they painted them for the later books.

Ms Remington also illustrated a fake travel poster, titled ‘Welcome to Middle-earth’, to accompany Ballantine’s ‘Rings’ trilogy.

She then did other cover illustrations, including for children’s books and for Susan Wyler’s cookbook “Cooking From a Country Farmhouse”.

She was also an illustrator for Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in the 1960s and for the popular educational children’s magazine Highlights.

While working as a freelance illustrator, she also did everything she could to make ends meet. She designed costumes for the theatre, did holiday store windows for Tiffany, opened Carnegie Hall and, she told Andwerve, “worked on a yacht to do free trips to Martha’s Vineyard “.

“It was,” she added, “a lot of fun.”

Barbara Remington was born on June 23, 1929 in St. Paul, Minnesota. His father, Heckel Warren Remington, known as Heck, was an artist who painted landscapes. his mother, Marguerite (Robinson) Remington, known as Pete, was described by her family as a political activist.

Mrs. Remington and her brother, Bob, grew up in St. Paul. She moved to Chicago in the early 1950s and later returned to Minnesota for a job as a gallery custodian at Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis. While working there, she met her future first husband, Robert Tweedy, who played timpani for the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.

They moved to Central City, Colorado, where Ms. Remington worked steadily as a freelance artist and illustrator. After divorcing Mr. Tweedy in 1954, she moved to New York and joined the beatnik scene in Lower Manhattan, befriending the likes of poets Allen Ginsberg and Lionel Ziprin.

She married Edward Preston in the late 1960s and they opened the Boggle Shop in the East Village, selling homemade crafts and supplies. Mrs. Remington and Mr. Preston divorced in the late 1970s. She then married Brian Buchbinder in 1983; this marriage also ended in divorce, circa 1990.

While living in a loft on East 17th Street, Ms. Remington welcomed anyone who needed a place to stay – artists, musicians, Union Square Farmer’s Market vendors and members of a traveling circus, among others .

She spent a lot of time at the nearby Max’s Kansas City nightclub sketching artists. In a 2018 profile, The Scranton Times-Tribune wrote that Ms Remington drew Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel rehearsing at the Palladium in Manhattan in 1983 and befriended acrobat Philippe Petit, who became famous for walking the tightrope between the World Trade Center towers in 1974.

After decades of living in New York, Ms. Remington moved to Thompson, Pennsylvania, where she became part of a community of artists and writers in northeastern Pennsylvania.

No immediate family members survive.

Although Mrs. Remington regretted not having been able to read “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” before illustrating them, she was ultimately satisfied with the way her artwork came out.

“After reading his work, I was in awe of Tolkien,” she said. “I knew there was something special about him. If I had read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ first, I don’t think I would have been able to draw the cover.


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