Kendal artist Lela Harris commissioned to illustrate The Color Purple

A SELF-TAUGHT artist from Kendal has created the drawings for the first ever illustrated edition of a Pulitzer Prize winning book.

Lela Harris said she was ‘flabbergasted’ when she was approached to create images for the first illustrated edition of Alice Walker’s acclaimed novel The Color Purple, after being discovered on Instagram by the artistic director of publishers The Folio Society.

The 42-year-old stationery designer, who has only been drawing for three years, was personally approved by Walker and the project marked her first professional commission.

“Because I’m someone who just enjoys drawing I thought it was a scam at first,” she said.

“But I did some research and got back saying I would love to and that’s when they told me the book I would be drawing for and I was flabbergasted.

“I was hugely excited and slightly overwhelmed at the prospect because it’s such an epic novel.

“It was surreal, because I draw for a hobby the thought of her [Alice Walker] looking through my drawings and deciding she wanted me to illustrate her book is something I never dreamt of.”

Considered one of the greatest works of modern fiction The Color Purple explores the extremes of human nature through the eyes of Celie, a young African American woman in 1930s Georgia.

Deemed controversial on publication, it was banned from American school libraries until 2013.

Celie’s harrowing story of sexual and domestic abuse, entrenched racism and gender discrimination, is revealed through letters written to God – and later to her sister Nettie – as she overcomes her struggles.

Ms Harris’s illustrations depict the key characters in Walker’s novel and each black-and-white charcoal drawing includes a flash of purple in homage to the book title.

The Westmorland Gazette: CHARCOAL: Illustration © Lela Harris 2021 from The Folio Society edition of The Color Purple

Her artwork continues to the binding, which is a collage inspired by the female quilt makers of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, who have crafted quilts since the early 20th century and whose history resonates with Celie, whose sewing gave her independence.

“I wanted to get across the emotions of the characters because they go through so much in the novel and discover so much about themselves,” said Ms Harris.

“To see them in the book was fantastic.

“I would love to exhibit the drawings and it’s certainly given me a taste for commissions.”

The Folio Society’s art director Raquel Leis Allion said: “It was just on a day I was looking on Instagram.

“I love portraits so when I spotted Lela’s charcoal portraits, they really made me stand still. They had life in them and yet they were so beautifully simple.

The Westmorland Gazette: POWERFUL:Illustration © Lela Harris 2021 from The Folio Society edition of The Color Purple

“Once I started reading The Color Purple, all I could see was Lela’s work so I suggested her for the book and she got approved by Alice walker.

“I later found out that she is a self-taught artist – she’s amazing.”

The Westmorland Gazette | News