N.B. artist celebrates whimsical style of beloved Madeline creator

Geoff Slater works on Madeline and her classmates, shown here out for a walk in two straight lines, as they normally do.  (Submitted by Jeff Lively - image credit)
Geoff Slater works on Madeline and her classmates, shown here out for a walk in two straight lines, as they normally do. (Submitted by Jeff Lively - image credit)

Geoff Slater, an artist from Bocabec near Saint Andrews, has helped transform a room at Drewhaven Town & Country in Saint Andrews in the style of a New York City bar named for the artist who painted its iconic murals.

That artist, Ludwig Bemelmans, also wrote the famed children's book series Madeline, whose main character also makes a number of appearances on the walls of Drewhaven, a Saint Andrews bakery, cafe, caterer and event space.

Madeline joins other whimsical Bemelmans's characters, including picnicking rabbits, dressed-up giraffes and escaping art thieves.

Slater said it isn't easy to emulate someone else's style, "especially something that's so iconic."

WATCH | Artist creates whimsical murals on café's walls

"So what I've really tried to do is channel and recreate as best I can the whole feel of his illustrative work. It's kind of a celebration of Bemelmans himself really, right down to the brush strokes of how that mural looks."

Drewhaven owner Lee Wells asked Slater to recreate the style and atmosphere of Bemelmans Bar, which is still located inside New York City's Carlyle Hotel.

Submitted by Jeff Lively
Submitted by Jeff Lively

At the time he painted the bar's walls, Bemelmans was already a successful illustrator with magazines such as the New Yorker and Vogue, according to the hotel's webpage. And instead of being paid, he worked in exchange for 18 months of accommodations at the hotel for himself and his family.

Slater said he was already familiar with Bemelmans and his work when Wells asked him to recreate the murals from the bar.

Like Bemelmans himself, Slater dabbles in a variety of styles and techniques, including mural painting.

Submitted by Jeff Lively
Submitted by Jeff Lively

He said he soon learned not to "overdo it" because "as soon as you do that, it doesn't look like Bemelmans's work anymore." He said it was "almost an exercise in restraint."

Slater said Bemelmans often omitted features, like leaving off a nose — so Slater did the same thing.

"It's fun. I learned it's always neat to go down these rabbit holes and try and live in someone else's shoes for a little bit."

While Bemelmans took 18 months to complete the much-larger Carlyle Hotel lounge, it took Slater two months to complete the room at Drewhaven.

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

His favourite section of the mural is painted on the door to the washroom. Under the flag of France, it depicts three thieves running off with stolen artwork and being pursued by policemen in full stride wielding billy clubs.

The thieves are actually heading straight for Madeline and the other little girls from her boarding school in Paris.

The Madeline books were written and illustrated by Bemelmans and each one started with the same rhyming sentences "In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines."

Seven-year-old Madeline is the bravest and most daring of the girls and often finds herself embroiled in adventures and misadventures.