When the United States entered WWII, Aldren served as a conscientious objector with the American Friends Service Committee, where he met his future wife, writer and poet Nancy McLeod Dingman. They married in 1941, and moved to southern Vermont after the war.
In his studio on the third floor of a bustling household, he created over 175 books for children and adults, while he and Nancy also raised milk goats, chickens, eight children, and a vegetable garden to feed them all. In addition to his illustrating work, Aldren found time for the woodworking he loved, creating the cabinet work for the old Vermont home he and Nancy purchased; designing and making many wooden trucks, bulldozers, boats, and cars for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; inventing and creating numerous tools, gadgets, and implements. He carried on the print-making and book-binding traditions his parents had begun. He was a patient, enthusiastic, and supportive teacher and mentor for his children, passing on his many skills and knowledge to the next generation.
In his last years, Watson had turned his attention to painting, creating a series of detailed watercolors of the Brooklyn waterfront based on photographs taken by his father, and enriched by Aldren’s memories of their joint explorations of the New York waterfront on foot, by ferryboat, and by tugboat. These paintings form the body of his last published book, Waterfront New York: Images of the 1920's & '30's, and are enhanced by Aldren’s reminiscences describing life at the time in an evocative, informative style. The book was published in November 2014 by Quantuck Lane Press, and is distributed by W.W. Norton.
Aldren A. Watson was born in 1917 and grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the son of two pioneer color block print makers. His mother, Eva Auld Watson, was also a mural painter and bookbinder. His father, Ernest W. Watson, taught design and composition at Pratt Institute for 19 years, and with Raymond P. Ensign, opened one of the first summer art schools—the Berkshire Summer School of Art in Monterey, Massachusetts. Ernest was founder and editor of American Artist magazine, and, with Arthur L. Guptill, co-founder of Watson-Guptill Publications.
In addition to the extensive training provided by his parents, Aldren Watson studied at the Art Students League of New York under painters Robert Brackman and Charles S. Chapman, caricaturist William Auerbach-Levy, anatomist George Bridgman, and illustrator William McNulty.
As a painter, some of his commissions included a mural for the liner S. S. President Hayes, five mural panels for the offices of publisher Thomas Y. Crowell, and a set of maps for Time Magazine’s Atlas of the War.
Watson is best-known for his distinguished career as book illustrator, with a total output of over 175 books for children and adults (see Bibliography). He is the author-illustrator of Hand Bookbinding: A Manual of Instruction; The Blacksmith: Ironworker and Farrier; Hand Tools: Their Ways and Workings; Furniture Making Plain and Simple (with Theodora A. Poulos); Katie’s Chickens; and A Maple Tree Begins. His illustrations have appeared in many magazines including Country Journal, WoodenBoat, American Artist, Vermont Life, The Boatman, and Fine Woodworking.
1917 - 2013