Who Am I? Children's Book by Lily Swann Saarinen. Artifact of the Month for January 2013

January 01, 2013 Posted by: Jennifer Clark, Archivist

Who Am I? children's book by Lily Swann Saarinen
Cover of Lily Swann Saarinen's book, Who Am I?
This charming children's book by Lily Swann Saarinen showcases the free flowing, organic animal shapes that were characteristic of her work. Each page has drawings of adult and baby animals of a species, with descriptions of their characteristics and special qualities. Published in 1946 by Raynal & Hitchcock of New York, the book is difficult to find today. This particular copy belonged to Adeline Smith Boyd, the daughter of Luther Ely Smith, the man who spearheaded the movement to found the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The book was presented as a gift from the author in thanks for a dinner given by Mrs. Boyd when the Saarinens were in St. Louis. The inscription from Lily reads: "To Mr. and Mrs. Boyd and their family, with warm thanks for a memorable evening in St. Louis. Feb. 4, 1948. Lily S. Saarinen." The book is also inscribed: "Thank you again, Eero Saarinen."

Who Am I? Title page

Inscription page of the book

Lillian Swann Saarinen started her career in art early in her life, drawing animals from childhood on. In an oral history conducted by Robert Brown in 1981 for the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art, Lily recalled that when she was a child, "my mother was always very affectionate and tender about my love and interest in animals and in drawing" and  "I was drawing all the animals I came in touch with." (Smithsonian Oral History) She studied with prominent sculptors Alexander Archipenko, Harry Kreis and Heinz Warneke in New York and Connecticut, then travelled to Europe and continued to study sculpture there.  Eventually, she came to study at the Cranbrook   Academy of Art under Carl Milles, where she met Eero Saarinen, a promising young architect and son of the president of the school. They were married in 1939. The Saarinen family believed in sharing their talents and working together-Lily collaborated with Eero on projects such as the Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois.

For the Crow Island School, Lily created 23 glazed tiles. These tiles are mostly animals; they are very appealing to children with bright colors and winsome forms.

Crow Island School Tiles by chicagogeek

Crow Island School tiles by Lily Saarinen, photo credit: chicagogeek

Crow Island School tiles by chicagogeek

Crow Island School tiles by Lily Saarinen, photo credit: chicagogeek

When Eero Saarinen put together his team for the Architectural Competition for the Arch in 1947, Lily played the part of sculptor. Her part of the design included plans for enameled bronze pieces with a very fluid and flowing form to represent the rivers flowing west, including a canoe with Lewis and Clark, horses, bison and other animal forms along the riverside - you can see the idea in this detail from one of the team's competition boards. This display would have gone in the arcade along the river's edge.


Sketch of sculptures from the architectural competition submission

A detail of the Saarinen team's competition board

Many years passed between the competition and the actual construction of the Gateway Arch. In that time, Eero and Lily divorced and the design for the Gateway Arch changed substantially and eliminated the arcade where Lily's sculptures would have gone.

Some of Lily's other work includes Bagheera, a fountain featuring the panther from the Jungle Book, in the Boston Public Garden,  and illustrations for Picture Book Zoo for the Bronx Zoo.  She also did some work for the WPA, creating reliefs for a post office in Bloomfield, Indiana.

Who Am I? was exhibited in the 2005 Jefferson National Expansion Memorial exhibit, The Creative Spirit of Eero Saarinen, and one of Lily's most appealing drawings, a figure of a young boy that appears at the end of the book,  was used as the main graphic for the entrance of the exhibit.


The entrance to the Saarinen exhibit at the Museum of Westward Expansion in 2005

Lily's book and her drawing of their family were featured in a display case and copies of the book's pages were made available so that visitors could read the book and see the illustrations.

Case from the exhibit

Display case from the exhibit

On the final page is a small drawing of a dark-haired woman-a self-portrait of the author? In any case, the book is a wonderful example of Lily's art and a valued piece in the museum collections.


Self Portrait, perhaps

the final illustration in the book

Lily Swann Saarinen

Lillian Swann Saarinen, c. 1947


Lillian Swann Saarinen.(n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved January 29, 2013, from


Oral History Interview with Lillian Swann Saarinen, 1976-1981, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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