Inside the colorful world of illustrator Mary Engelbreit

    A St. Louis native and world-wide legend, Engelbreit has illustrated three New York Timeschildren’s best sellers, been featured in The Wall Street Journal and served as editor-in-chief of the award-winning creative lifestyle magazine Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion.

    Engelbreit’s style is unmistakable: drawings of sweet-faced characters in brightly colored clothing with a vintage look about them, and cute, witty captions, on cards, calendars, and in books.

    “I’ve always had that kind of look, and I think it’s because I taught myself to draw by copying the illustrations in my mother’s and grandmother’s old books from when they were children. So, the drawings look a lot like 1920s, 1930s drawings,” said Engelbreit.

    Growing up in St. Louis, Engelbreit never had any form of art training.

    “I did not go to art school,” Engelbreit said. “I, frankly, couldn’t wait to get out of school and start to work.”

    Engelbreit actually started working as a professional artist when she was still in high school.

    “I illustrated a lot of songs that were popular – totally illegal,” Engelbreit said. “But, the store owner would call and say, I need three, four dozen cards, and I would just sit down and draw and sell them to her.”

    Engelbreit’s work has changed over the years, including the content.

    “I’ve always been a little left-leaning,” she said. “And Michael Brown broke my heart. And, I thought ‘I have a voice and I need to say something about this.’ I’ve been doing this a long time, and if it hurts the business, it hurts the business. I’m fine.”

    But, by using her voice to speak out about injustices through her illustrations, Engelbreit said she gained about three times as many followers.

    “It gave me so much hope. That people were good and wanted to do the right thing,” Engelbreit said. “My art is part of my life, so I express what I believe.”

    Most recently, the Muny in St. Louis is taking inspiration from Engelbreit for their production of Matilda.

    “When I imagined our Matilda at The Muny, I instantly thought of many of Mary’s iconic and magical young women,” said Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson.   “What if our Matilda looked like one of them, and our production felt and looked like her world? I was so grateful that she was willing to take this leap with us, and to work with Johnny and the rest of this incredible team.”

    Matilda will be running at the Muny Aug. 5-11. Click here for tickets.