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Barbara Remington, illustrator of Tolkien book covers, dies at 90
Barbara Remington designed paperback covers for all three books of “The Lord of the Rings” without having read them. “I didn’t know what they were about,” she later admitted. “I had sketchy information at best.”

by Julia Carmel

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- Barbara Remington, the illustrator who created the most widely recognized covers for J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit” — which she quickly executed before she even had the chance to read the books — died Jan. 23 in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. She was 90.

Her longtime friend John Bromberg said the cause was breast cancer.

Though the covers of the first editions of “The Lord of the Rings” had illustrations by various artists, including Tolkien himself, the ones that Remington created for the paperback versions published by Ballantine Books were the ones that achieved mass-cult status in the 1960s, particularly on college campuses.

Remington, who designed other book covers for Ballantine as well, was asked to illustrate the 1965 editions of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” on a tight deadline.

“Ballantine was in a hurry to get these books out right away,” she said in an interview for the literary journal Andwerve. “When they commissioned me to do the artwork, I didn’t have the chance to see either book, though I tried to get a copy through my friends.

“So I didn’t know what they were about,” she continued. “I tried finding people that had read them, but the books were not readily available in the states, and so I had sketchy information at best.”

As a result, there were some missteps in the initial illustrations.

“When Tolkien saw the fruit tree, he asked, ‘What are pumpkins doing in a tree?’ Of course they weren’t pumpkins, but he wasn’t sure what they were,” Remington said. “He was especially perplexed about the lion on the cover because there are no lions in the story. He requested that Ballantine remove the lions from the cover, so they painted them over for later books.”

Remington also illustrated a mock travel poster, titled “Welcome to Middle-earth,” to accompany Ballantine’s “Rings” trilogy.

She went on to do other cover illustrations, including for children’s books and for Susan Wyler’s cookbook “Cooking From a Country Farmhouse.”

She was also an illustrator for Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in the 1960s and for the popular children’s educational magazine Highlights.

While working as a freelance illustrator, she also did whatever else she could to make ends meet. She designed costumes for the theater, did holiday store window displays for Tiffany, ushered at Carnegie Hall and, she told Andwerve, “worked on a yacht to go on free trips to Martha’s Vineyard.”

“It was,” she added, “a great deal of fun.”

Barbara Remington was born on June 23, 1929, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her father, Heckel Warren Remington, known as Heck, was an artist who painted landscapes; her mother, Marguerite (Robinson) Remington, known as Pete, was described by her family as a political activist.

Remington and her brother, Bob, grew up in St. Paul. She moved to Chicago in the early 1950s and later returned to Minnesota for a job as a gallery guard at Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis. While working there, she met her future first husband, Robert Tweedy, who played timpani for the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.

They moved to Central City, Colorado, where Remington worked steadily as a freelance artist and illustrator. After divorcing Tweedy in 1954, she moved to New York City and joined Lower Manhattan’s beatnik scene, befriending people like the poets Allen Ginsberg and Lionel Ziprin.

She married Edward Preston in the late 1960s, and they opened the Boggle Shop in the East Village, selling homemade crafts and supplies. Remington and Preston divorced in the late 1970s. She was later married to Brian Brughbinder; that marriage also ended in divorce, after 13 years.

While living in a loft on East 17th Street, Remington welcomed anyone who needed a place to stay — artists, musicians, Union Square Farmers’ Market vendors and members of a traveling circus, among others.

She spent plenty of time at the nearby nightclub Max’s Kansas City sketching performers. In a 2018 profile, The Scranton Times-Tribune wrote that Remington drew Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel rehearsing at the Palladium in Manhattan in 1983 and befriended aerialist Philippe Petit, who became famous for his tightrope walk between the World Trade Center’s towers in 1974.

After decades of living in New York, Remington moved to Thompson, Pennsylvania, where she became part of a Northeastern Pennsylvania community of artists and writers.

No immediate family members survive.

Though Remington regretted being unable to read “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” before illustrating them, she was ultimately happy with the way her artwork came out.

“After reading his work, I was in awe of Tolkien,” she said. “I knew there was something special about him. If I read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ first, I don’t think I could have drawn the cover art.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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