Louise Tessin Roats took great pleasure in sharing and encouraging the joy of art with children. This local artist, illustrator and writer achieved considerable commercial success. Yet, her definition of success and fulfillment was teaching every child, regardless of ability, the skills needed for creative expression. Today’s column is the first installment of a two-part series.
Even though Louise resided in other places over the years, she always considered Napa to be her home. Her life began in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, but Louise was only 6 years old when she and her family moved to Napa in 1900. In addition to her parents, her family included three siblings, two sisters and a brother.
The Tessin children, including Louise, attended the public schools of Napa. From an early age, Louise showed an exceptional artistic gift, which was encouraged by both the schools and her parents.
Wanting their daughter to fully utilize and develop her talents, following her graduation from Napa High School, the Tessins sent Louise to the San Francisco Institute of Art, now the California School of Fine Arts. There, she completed the art teacher’s training program. With her teaching certificate in hand, Louise returned to Napa High School as an art instructor.
During those early years of her career, some of her students were almost her contemporaries in age. While at Napa High, Louise taught, according to the school’s yearbook, “freehand and mechanical drawing.”
She, like many teachers, gave more time than their contract required. Louise assisted the students with various projects including the production of the “Napanee” yearbook. In the 1918-1919 edition of that annual, Louise was recognized by the students for her help, writing: “To our art instructor, Miss Louise Tessin, whose efforts have made possible, to a great extent, the Art Department of this Napanee and previous issues, the staff gratefully dedicates this book.”
Another contribution of her time, talent and energy to the youths of Napa was the creation of some beautiful illustrations. In 1923, Louise painted 32 murals of English fairy tales and Mother Goose rhymes for the Lincoln and Shearer schools’ kindergarten classrooms.
Most of these murals still exist. Before the old Shearer school building was razed to make way for a new campus, the murals were saved and then reinstalled in the present facility. As for the Lincoln school murals, they came close to being destroyed with the old building. But fortunately, Noreen Hanna, a Napan and local educator, managed to save them.
Not long after completing those murals, she received a good job, and career advancement, offer from Sacramento Junior College. At first reluctant to leave her family and the place she called home, Louise accepted the offer.
Before leaving Napa, Louise established a business relationship which would eventually open new doors and worlds for her. This new association was with another talented Napan, Guy Winfrey, who enjoyed entertaining children with his fanciful stories he had originally made up to amuse his daughters.
Charmed by his storytelling, Louise discovered that the children were greatly amused and captivated by Guy and his tales. She successfully persuaded Guy to write down his stories and also offered to illustrate his stories. Guy quickly accepted that offer.
By 1926, their first collaboration was published with the title of “Bearskin Bunny.” Their second book, “Pussy Purr-Mew,” was published in 1927.
Her illustrations in the first book caught the attention and interest of a few big name, East Coast publishers. By the time the second book was released, Louise had begun illustrating a “Number Book” for the Milton Bradley Company. Originally retained for just one project, Louise and Milton Bradley would soon form a long-standing professional association.
Following the completion of the “Number Book” illustrations, Louise was offered a job by that company. The position offered was that of traveling representative as well as illustrator and writer. Louise realized it was a great opportunity, but she did have some initial apprehensions about the requirement to travel extensively for the job. The greatest obstacle for Louise was having to move so far away from her family and friends. Ultimately, with the mustering all of her willpower and courage, Louise accepted the job offer, moved to Springfield, Mass. and embarked on a new life.
Next week, Memory Lane will focus on the professional and personal triumphs of Louise Tessin Roats.