Frasier, Debra 1953–
Frasier, Debra 1953–
PERSONAL: Born April 3, 1953, in Vero Beach, FL; daughter of George (stepfather; in marine sales) and Mildred (an artist; maiden name, Carter) Bunnell; married James V. Henkel (an artist and photographer), March 17, 1991; children: Calla Virginia Frasier-Henkel. Education: Florida State University, B.S., 1976; attended Penland School of Crafts, 1976–81, and Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota, 1988–89.
CAREER: Author and illustrator. Director of visual arts department for Project CAST, Tallahassee, FL, 1974–75; participant in various national "Artist-in-Education" programs, 1976–; artist in residence, Penland School, 1981–83; sculptor, projects for cities in the U.S., 1981–86; sculptor in residence, American Cultural Center and Cite des Arts, Paris, France, 1986–87; artist in residence, Department of Community Services, St. Paul, MN, 1989. Guest artist at University of Wisconsin, 1985. Lecturer at conferences and workshops. Exhibitions: Frasier has exhibited her works in one-woman and group shows in the U.S. and Europe, including "Salmon Run" in Alaska, "Windwalk: A Wind/Poem Environment" in Minnesota and Pennsylvania, "Windwalls" in New York, "Windtent" and "Window" in North Carolina, and "Layered Windows" in Switzerland.
MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Endowment for the Arts project grant, 1980; Parents' Choice Illustrators Award and American Graphics Society honor list citation, both 1991, both for On the Day You Were Born.
(And illustrator) On the Day You Were Born, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1991.
(Illustrator) William Stafford, The Animal that Drank Up Sound, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1992.
(Illustrator) Kim R. Stafford, We Got Here Together, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1994
(And illustrator) Out of the Ocean, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1998.
(And illustrator) Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2000.
(Illustrator) Richard Lewis, In the Space of the Sky, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.
(And illustrator) The Incredible Water Show, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2004.
(And illustrator) A Birthday Cake Is No Ordinary Cake, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2006.
Also created On the Day You Were Born: A Photo Journal, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2001, in which children can save photos, drawings, and writings as a way of remembering their birthday.
ADAPTATIONS: A tape recording of On the Day You Were Born was made in 1992; Frasier collaborated with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre in producing On the Day You Were Born, a play that toured the United States in 1992; Steve Heitzeg composed a symphony based on On the Day You Were Born that was performed in 1996 by the Minnesota Orchestra and that was accompanied by a video narrated by Frasier. Frasier also designed a Braille edition of On the Day You Were Born, where each visual illustration has a tactile counterpart. A Quest and The Late Great American Picnic, both by Dan Bailey Films, document two of Frasier's outdoor collaborative pageants.
SIDELIGHTS: Perhaps best known for her book On the Day You Were Born, artist and children's book author and illustrator Debra Frasier was born and raised in Vero Beach, Florida, where her family has lived since her great-grandfather helped to lay out the streets in 1911. "Vero Beach faces the Atlantic Ocean," Frasier once commented, "and I grew up looking out at the great curved line made where the ocean meets the sky. Summers were my favorite time and often my brother and I would crawl into bed with our bathing suits hidden under our pajamas so we did not have to waste time changing for the beach the following morning! Swimming and walking the beaches were our daytime pastimes, along with collecting shells, drawing with mangrove seeds, and building sand castles and forts out of driftwood. Around fourth grade I discovered books and began reading with a passion. I remember keeping a flashlight under my pillow so I could creep into the bathroom to read at night."
"I loved art from the beginning," said Frasier. "My mother is an artist and she was always collecting shells and bits of surf-worn glass to glue into collaged pictures. She also painted on driftwood and taught me how to paint canvas when I was about twelve." Frasier nurtured her love of art and eventually received her college degree in textiles. "I studied batik, an ancient wax resist process, with the idea of designing for interiors. But, upon graduation, I gave a final party that changed my life—I staged a giant puppet show in my backyard, drafting all of my neighbors into an improvised version of the story of Persephone. I loved making the characters and figuring out the staging, and that led to years of building large, outdoor puppet pageants." Her outdoor pageants have integrated fabrics, words, and even wind; her sixty-foot puppets have danced on a North Carolina mountaintop, and an exhibit called "Windwalk" led viewers through an outdoor trail lined with thousands of strips of cloth blowing in the breeze, interspersed with quotes about the wind.
Frasier has devoted a great deal of time to introducing art to children in the classroom through various "Artist-in-Education" programs in Minneapolis and elsewhere. One of her programs, titled "Walk around the World," integrates art, storytelling, and academic material into a unified curriculum "where art plays a major part in the learning process rather than its usual minor role," she stated. Students are asked to use factual information and their imagination to understand how people in other countries live. The experience is "aimed at tolerance," Frasier told Mike Steele in the Star Tribune. "The geography, architecture, languages [we study] are different from [the children's] experience. Instead of being afraid of that, they learn to enjoy the differences."
A desire to explore the ways that children understand the world gave Frasier an idea for writing a book, but experiencing a difficult pregnancy provided the special motivation that she needed to actually complete it. "I hoped my baby would be born safe and sound, and, while I was hospitalized, I began the notes for the book, On the Day You Were Born. I wanted to write about all the things that would welcome my child if she could just get here. I started making notes of things that defied boundaries, that were everywhere and could be counted on to welcome all children. After my daughter was born, I began writing those notes into a manuscript. All of the illustrations were made with cut paper. I was influenced by the work of Matisse and the clear, clean shapes in Japanese textiles."
The best-selling On the Day You Were Born is "exceptionally simple and marvelously deep. It's simply a welcome to the world and to each reader's place in it," declared Steele. The poetic text describes the welcome that the sun, the trees, the moon, and other natural forces extend to every newborn child. The illustrations are bold paper cutouts vividly portraying that welcome, and depict children of all colors dancing in the natural world. Michele Landsberg, writing in Entertainment Weekly, stated that the award-winning book "will make each child feel linked to planet Earth in a thrillingly personal way." On the Day You Were Born has been a bestseller across the country, with over five hundred thousand copies in print just five years after its original publication. The book was so popular that it was also adapted as a children's play and as a symphony composed by Steve Heitzeg.
Frasier has continued to illustrate and write children's books, including Out of the Ocean and Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster. The first work tells of a child's trip to the ocean with her mother. The mother encourages her daughter to go beach combing, asking her to collect impossible items such as sea turtle tracks and the sounds of waves; the child is more practical, however, gathering instead feathers and shells. Miss Alaineus is about one girl's embarrassing mistake at a spelling bee. In addition to these works, Frasier has also illustrated children's books for other authors.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Entertainment Weekly, April 5, 1991, pp. 72-73.
Five Owls, March-April, 1991.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2004, review of The Incredible Water Show, p. 741.
Publishers Weekly, February 15, 1991, Susan Stan, "New Textures in Children's Book Art," p. 61; March 22, 1991, Diane Roback and Richard Donahue, review of On the Day You Were Born, p. 79; November 16, 1992, review of On the Day You Were Born (sound recording), p. 24; March 14, 1994, review of We Got Here Together, p. 73; January 29, 1996, Bridget Kinsella, "Strike Up the Book," p. 33; February 16, 1998, review of Out of the Ocean, p. 209; August 21, 2000, review of Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster, p. 71; April 2, 2001, "Keeping (or Collecting) Memories," p. 66; April 1, 2002, review of In the Space of the Sky, p. 81; June 3, 2002, "Yeah, Baby! (Children's Notes)," p. 91.
Reading Teacher, December, 1991.
St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 16, 1991.
School Library Journal, June, 1991; December, 2004, Lynda Ritterman, review of The Incredible Water Show, p. 106.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), March 17, 1991, pp. 1, 7F; April 21, 1991.
Twin Cities Reader, March 20, 1991.
Debra Frasier Web site, http://debrafrasier.com (November 23, 2005).