The first thing you will notice about Sallie Lowenstein’s Art Marks is the book itself, by which I mean the artisanal uniqueness of its production. It’s a book of art, i.e. a handcrafted volume the likes of which you seldom encounter these days. It’s hand-bound and stitched with thick covers and corners like an old photo album, fittingly, since this is a book of memoir, of travel, of family, and of artistic discovery as Lowenstein relates and provides drawings from her childhood spent in Burma and India. As she writes on the opening page, “I wish every child a trip like mine to change their worlds and minds forever.”
Focused on a (magnificent!) road trip to Delhi in the late 1950s, she recalls the driver who sketched for her, opening the cosmos of art she has since pursued. It is a treat to see her drawings from decades ago—talented and observant child! She notes and draws the peacocks surrounding one of their hotels, camels and elephants elsewhere—all the swirling wonder of South Asia recalled in the grown-up’s reverie, a respite of cherished memory interspersed with the “hectic scramble of America.”
Constructed as it is, the book opens flat to numerous double-truck pages of gorgeous, vibrant illustration. Evidenced in her many other picture books, Lowenstein has a gift of both design and replication of, for example, the intricate decoration of Muslim art in Jaipur, in Agra, and of little known but poetically-named places like Fatehpur Sikri. These painting are sometimes on half pages; each page is thick, sensuous paper and the chosen font looks like beautifully-written print on old-style lined notebook sheets.
Lowenstein’s prose matches her art and honors the memory of her journey through descriptive words that convey not just sights but smells and touch, like the feel of sand. The words equal her topic and honor that turbaned driver of long ago who took the time to entertain and instruct a little girl from far away. The cover of the book and an inside illustration show his hand sketching a bird for her---- reminding us all that random acts of kindness can have lifelong benefits for those who receive them, including the creation of this truly lovely memoir.