Philadelphia artist reimagines ‘Alice’ as cherished story marks 150th year [photos]


The celebrated author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, published the story of a girl who fell down a rabbit hole 150 years ago.

To mark the anniversary, a new edition of the original manuscript was published last week, with drawings by Philadelphia artist Charles Santore.

Santore has been working in his studio above a pizza shop in Rittenhouse Square for 52 years. This is where he painted portraits of celebrities for “TV Guide” covers, where he illustrated “The Wizard of Oz,”  “Tales of Peter Rabbit,” and “Snow White.”

For the last two years, he has been rereading “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” with a sketch pad nearby.

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“I sit here and do doodles. It’s like putting your hands on a Ouija board,” said Santore, 80. “Certain images jump out at you, are an absolute must. The tea party is a must, the Cheshire Cat is a must.”

Carroll wrote the story — in longhand with his own pen-and-ink sketches — as “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” for Alice Liddell, the 13-year-old daughter of a friend and inspiration for the story.

Then Carroll set about expanding the story — adding the Mad Hatter and a tea party, for starters — and got cartoonist James Tenniel to draw pictures. He changed the name to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” published in 1865.

Carroll never liked Tenniel’s depiction of Alice, thinking she looked strange, like the face of a stunted adult on the body of a little girl.

Santore faced the challenge of updating “Alice” without eradicating those original, iconic images.

“You need to be able to deal with caricature and realism at the same time,” said Santore. ” Alice is a real little girl in very unusual circumstances. She is dealing with characters that are other-worldly. You have to do it with wit and humor, but she is a real little girl.”

Santore, whose work is in collections at the Brandywine River Museum, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Museum of Modern Art, said he wanted to do “Alice” for the same reason he wanted to illustrate “The Wizard of Oz” — both have little girls forced to overcome a bizarre array of characters.

“She does it in a classy way,” said Santore. “They never get the best of her. Sometimes they get close. That spunk is what drives me.”

Santore began composing illustrations for the new “Alice” before he and his publisher realized the 150th anniversary was near. They decided to publish the manuscript version — Carroll’s preliminary text — with Santore’s preliminary drawings. It seemed artistically fitting, as well as savvy marketing.

He did not want to rush his final paintings to accommodate the anniversary.

“In for a penny, in for a pound,” said Santore. “If I’m going to spend two, three years on a project, I want it to be the way it should be so I have no apologies. A book is around for along time. The worst feeling in the world is to look at a book and say, ‘If only I had more time.'”

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