New Yorker Features Chatham Illustrator's Notre Dame Cover

By: Tim Wood

Topics: local artist

Bob Staake's cover of The New Yorker's April 29 issue.

CHATHAM – “If history teaches us anything,” illustrator Bob Staake says about his cover of the April 29 issue of The New Yorker, “it's that out of flames can come rebirth.”

The cover, titled “Our Lady,” depicts the iconic view of the Notre Dame towers against a background of flames which shine through the cathedral's Rose Window, indicating, as arts editor Francoise Mouly wrote on the magazine's website, that although the roof and spire collapsed, the heart of the building remains intact.

As soon as he saw the cathedral burning, Staake, a Chatham resident, began sketching.

“You try and find some way to go ahead and replicate the emotions that we're all going through,” he said. He tried several approaches—including featuring the building's classic gargoyles, which he rejected as “just not right”—before settling on the window as the focus, which he said represents “the hope that we do persevere.”

Staake has been to Notre Dame several times and said the building is “just ethereal, just amazing.”

“It truly is impossible to be in that building and not feel what they meant when they built the whole place,” he said.

Staake has done numerous New Yorker covers, including the magazine's most popular cover poster, “Reflections,” which appeared on the Nov. 17, 2008 issue marking the election of President Barack Obama. Many are rooted in architecture, which he said are symbols for “what we believe in, who were are as people. That's important, I really think it's so important.” With New Yorker covers, there's usually very little turn-around time. From initial concept to finished product, the “Our Lady” cover took about 18 hours, he said. When something like that comes up, he puts aside other projects and dives right in.

“That's what I was trained to do: short order, get it done journalism, which I love,” he said. “You never know what's going to happen. You've got to be ready with a pen.”

In this case, Staake said he put aside “like three books” he was working on to do The New Yorker cover. A prolific writer and illustrator of children's books, he works in a studio which sports a quarterboard reading “Imagine.” From his drawing board and computer pour several books a year along with illustrations for The Washington Post, MAD Magazine and many others. His children's books have won numerous awards; his latest are a Dr. Seuss Beginners book “Can You See Me” and “The Runaway 18-wheeler.” He's currently working on a chapter book for older kids.