I have a particular love of the Pacific Northwest. My parents wanted desperately to move to Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, in 1987 but were unable to sell our Northeastern home. Any chance I have to visit the area is one I look forward to with particular enthusiasm. Although I have been to Seattle and Portland many times, I had never been to any of the areas between them (riding the Wimpy Kid tour bus overnight doesn’t count as a real visit).
So when we started planning for the 2013 American Library Association midwinter meeting in Seattle in January 2013, I got in touch with our beloved author and illustrator Nikki McClure, creator of such beautiful books as Apple, Mama Is It Summer Yet?, To Market, to Market, and the spring 2013 title How to Be a Cat, who hails from Olympia Washington, roughly an hour’s drive due south of Seattle. She was thrilled that we would have time to visit, and I was elated to see a new part of the Pacific Northwest. Not so secretly, I was also eager to have the chance to drive a car again, something I don’t get to do much in New York City.
Anyone who knows me knows that the kind of car I get at the rental office is nearly as important the destination I will drive it to. So I was thrilled when the friendly Alamo rental car clerk told me he had a 2012 Volkswagen Jetta. And a black one! How very New York friendly.
A Porsche it is not, but it is a sprightly German sedan, perfect for nimbly navigating both the interstate and back roads. With Laura Mihalick, our trusty associate marketing manager, as my navigator, we left just before rush hour in Seattle in hopes of being able to see Nikki’s home and workspace before dark.
Upon arrival in Olympia, we drove up to a quaint house in a lovely neighborhood, but we knew something was wrong. This wasn’t the house that Nikki had described. Our car’s headlights hitting the front windows prompted the owner to come out and see who was visiting. It turns out that this is Nikki’s former home. We found out later that this house holds great importance in Nikki’s work; many of her books are based on her time here. The navigating error turned out to be a plus! We felt very lucky to have seen where Nikki created her early work.
A quick drive took us to a remote part of Olympia, and to Nikki’s new home and workspace. Some windy back roads led us to a dead-end on the sound. It was now dark, but we were in awe of the wonderfully isolated location. Nikki’s new place is adjacent to a state park and is exactly what we thought her creative space and home would look like. Custom-designed from the ground up by Nikki and her husband, the house abounds in space and has a woodsy, Scandinavian appeal.
After a walk down a small hill to see the sound, which we couldn’t get clear photos of at night, Nikki led us into the house. The library is one of the highlights. Two floors in height, it houses Nikki’s family’s books. The upstairs is particularly inviting, with a slanted celling and comfy chair for reading (or napping).
Behind the upper library is a great gallery-like space—complete with a trap door to their son’s room. If someone had given me a blanket and pillow, I would have been ready to move in.
Nikki’s husband creates custom furniture, so the house is filled with his work. We love the staircase for the upper library. It may look tricky, but it is really simple to master.
Nikki’s house is filled with art of all kind, some from her ABRAMS books. We were proud to see this piece, from her spring book HOW TO BE A CAT from Abrams Appleseed.
We particularly loved this lion, hung in their son’s room.
Moving on through the house, we went to the lower level, to Nikki’s workspace. We got a super-early sneak peek of a book she is working on for 2014. I can’t reveal the title just yet, but enjoy this look at the Nikki’s process for her art. From early sketch, to later sketch, to cut art, seeing the originals up close was a treat.
Nikki loves that her workspace has a full wall on which she can hang her art, so she can get a full perspective of the layout of a book.
She’s also particularly proud of her flat files, which contain all sorts of goodies from projects new and old.
Before heading out for dinner at a local Olympia Italian restaurant, we spotted this gorgeous wall sconce made from Nikki’s art. I want one for my apartment!
As ALA will not be back in the Pacific Northwest for some time, we feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to see Nikki’s home and also see a new part of the greater Seattle area. Hopping back into the Jetta, we navigated the rain-soaked highway back to Seattle proper. It was extremely hard not to keep driving up into Canada to Vancouver instead of returning to Seattle, but the librarians were expecting us the next day at the Washington Convention Center. We could not disappoint. Do you have any favorite places you’d like to visit? Let me know—post a comment.
Jason Wells is Executive Director of Children’s Marketing & Publicity at ABRAMS.