[RAVILIOUS, Eric] POWERS, Alan & RUSSELL, James. The Story of High Street. Norwich: The Mainstone Press, 2008.
Small 4to., original cloth lettered in silver on spine with paper label on upper board. A mint copy in slipcase.
"Seventy years ago Country Life Books published High Street, a children's book of shops, featuring twenty-four exquisite lithographs by the English artist Eric Ravilious (1903-1942). Although the book was not a limited edition, the destruction of the lithographic plates during the Blitz meant that only 2000 copies were ever printed. Subsequently High Street has become one of the most highly-prized artist's books of its time.
This new limited edition includes not only the original shop fronts and text of High Street but also two extensive essays and an eclectic range of illustrations, preparatory drawings and sketches, many of them published for the first time.
In a substantial and wide-ranging examination of the making of High Street, art historian Dr Alan Powers places the book in historical context, giving new and significant insights into its conception, production and publication. Initially Ravilious approached the Golden Cockerel Press with his 'alphabet of shops', but the book, with text by J.M. Richards, was eventually published by Noel Carrington, brother of the artist Dora Carrington and editor at Country Life Books. His enthusiasm for autolithography and children's books - he also launched the famous Puffin Picture Book series - made him the ideal publisher for High Street, although Ravilious also benefited from the invaluable support of the Curwen Press.
In the second essay, writer and historian James Russell describes a quest to identify and locate each of the shops depicted by Ravilious. These twenty-four businesses were, as J. M. Richards pointed out in the foreword to the 1938 book, all real places, but in many cases we are given only tantalising clues as to their name or location. You can still buy cheese at Paxton and Whitfield, a shop that has changed little in appearance over the years, but in most other cases the quest has proved much harder.
The Story of High Street traces the journey Ravilious took to create his idiosyncratic masterpiece, discovering the people he met on the way and finding out what became of the shops themselves. Ravilious created a historical document, a brightly coloured snapshot of England on the eve of World War Two, a unique portrait of a nation of shopkeepers. Exploring the fate of his twenty-four shops, The Story of High Street offers an intriguing commentary on that nation's subsequent history."