Nicholas Allan donates archive to Seven Stories

Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books is incredibly honoured to be home to the complete archive of British author and illustrator, Nicholas Allan. A distinctive voice in the world of British children's books since the early 1990s, Allan’s archive includes titles such as Jesus' Christmas Party (1992) and The Queen's Knickers (1993).

Allan’s acquisition is the first time a living artist has been able to donate their work through the Arts Council’s Cultural Gift Scheme. This enables UK taxpayers to donate important works of art to be held for the benefit of the public or the nation. In return, donors receive a tax reduction based on a set percentage of the value of the item they donate.

The Nicholas Allan archive is a rich and coherent body of work, representing Allan’s entire oeuvre as an author-illustrator for children to date. It includes not just near-complete final artwork for 21 titles but also a large volume of preparatory materials such as sketches and dummy books, which reveal the whole creative process - sometimes from quite different starting points.

Nicholas Allan said: “Handing over the archive was a double relief, (though I'll miss it). The first was the more immediate - that they wouldn't go up in flames due to the precarious age of Lambeth Tavern, where I live. The second sense of relief was that the work will be always preserved and available in such a perfect setting.”

Highlights from the archive include:

• A dummy book of Granny’s Longest Holiday, an unpublished story about a child’s eye view of her granny’s funeral that inspired The Queen’s Knickers (1993) a firm favourite internationally as well as in the UK.

• Artwork, published material and material relating to the TV show of Hilltop Hospital (1997), which drew from his own experience of living with a congenital heart condition. The TV show aired 52 episodes and won a BAFTA for pre-school animation in 2003, recognising both the quality of the work and its importance as a source of re-assurance for children facing issues associated with illness and hospital.

• Finished and preparatory artwork for Jesus’ Christmas Party (1992), a frequently used text to introduce children to the Christmas story.

• Finished and preparatory artwork for Picasso’s Trousers (2011). Nicholas studied as an undergraduate at Slade School of Art, and belongs to a literary and artistic tradition that values skill, training, and an understanding of the ‘masters’, and is passionate about engaging children with ‘real’ art. Picasso’s Trousers (2011) is a genuinely accessible and engaging introduction to modern art in general and Picasso in particular.

• 36 pieces of finished artwork (pen and ink and oil paint) from Father Christmas Needs a Wee (2011). Allan is well known for his toilet humour.

Allan’s ability to introduce big questions in a light hearted way has endeared him to both teachers and parents too.

Nicholas Allan said: “When I was at school I promised myself I would never write or draw for money, as it was what I enjoyed. I like to do books that are subversive. Writing about the Queen's underwear seemed a good way to do this. It's just fun for me, and it's an added bit of fun that children respond to it.”

Sarah Lawrance, Collection Director at Seven Stories said: “‘We’re very excited about this! Nicholas Allan's humorous treatment of serious subjects is unique within our illustration holdings, and a substantial body of work such as this creates numerous opportunities for exhibitions and programming. We’re also proud to be the recipient of the first artwork to be offered as a gift to the nation by a living artist through the ACE Cultural Gifts Scheme. Seven Stories has a track record of exciting ‘firsts’ so this feels very fitting!"

Nicholas Allan adds: “Before my donation I'd sold work, or donated some illustrations to charity auctions. I didn't like the idea of the illustrations being dispersed. On a visit to Seven Stories to do a performance I thought what a wonderful place for it was for children to enjoy. So eventually decided I'd like to donate my work there. Sarah Lawrence suggested I apply for The Cultural Gift Scheme. It had never been given to a living artist, and I thought it was a long shot. I'd just had seven years legal hassle with the Picasso Estate over Picasso's Trousers. However, I persevered and it certainly paid off. I'm very grateful Sarah suggested the idea and nudging me to persist.”

Jane Tarr, Director North, Arts Council England said: “I’m delighted that Nicholas Allan has been able to donate his impressive body of work to Seven Stories through the Arts Council’s Cultural Gifts Scheme. As the National centre for children’s books this seems like the perfect fit. Not only will Nicholas’ archive now be available for people to access and enjoy, it will also be preserved for future generations of young readers. It’s a great asset to have in the North East.”

Edward Harley, Chairman of the AIL (Acceptance in Lieu) Panel said: “I am delighted that the first cultural gift by a living artist has been secured for the nation and will now be available at Seven Stories. Nicholas Allan, the award-winning children’s book author and illustrator, has donated his archive so that future generations can continue to access, engage with, and learn from this rich and diverse collection. We are grateful to Nicholas Allan for his generosity.”

Seven Stories collects artwork, manuscripts and archives associated with British children's books from the 1930s to the present day. The Collection already has strong holdings of illustrative material including work by such influential figures as Edward Ardizzone and Judith Kerr. Seven Stories mission is to save, celebrate and share Britain’s rich heritage of children’s books.


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