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The Last of the Mohicans

NOVEMBER 3, 2010
I wanted to work with the Folio Society when I saw Sam Weber's great work on Lord of the Flies a little over a year ago, so I was very excited when Art director Sheri Gee asked me to take on the task of illustrating their edition of the first fiction novel ever published in the United States, The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper.
Anyone who ever has illustrated a book has been asked the question by someone: "Do you actually have to read the books?" There were 11 interior illustrations as well as a cover.

I had to do one illustration in advance for marketing purposes and to establish the direction of the art. For this illustration I showed multiple sketches...
The first illustration was to be the fight at Glen's Falls waterfall.

The "elephant in the room" for this project was NC Wyeth, who created an iconic series of illustrations for this book in 1919. You can't help but feel like he's standing behind you. He's extremely intimidating.

Waterfall Fight. The finished paintings are 18x28 inches oil on linen.
A detail

My process is as follows: I usually work out compositions and ideas in a sketchbook or on post-its, then do a more finished series of drawings, then go to finish. This was my first thumbnail for the first illustration in the book, when we first see Magua, the villiam of the story. He's sort of a spy when we first see him, and Hawkeye alone recognizes him to ba a Huron, the enemy of his Mohican compatriots. At first I envisioned them all in the scene, but showing Magua from Hawkeye's point of view started to make more sense as I went along.
Last of the Mohicans in a nutshell: Hawkeye (a white scout who has lived extensively with the indians) and his two Mohican friends Uncas and Chingacook, meet a party of English soldiers escorting the daughters of a general to the the Besieged fort  William Henry during the Seven Years War. Hawkeye realizes that their guide Magua is a spy who plans to lead them into an ambush. Hawkey and friends lead them to temporary saftey at Glen''s Falls but following a battle the girls and some companions are captured, and a series of fights, catures, and escapes cumulates in the party reuniting and reaching the Fort. The French offer amnesty to the English for surrender, but their Huron allies massacre the English as they leave the fort. More escapes,fights, trials and tribulations ensue. Eventually one of the girls, and Uncas  is killed by Magua before himself being killed by Hawkeye. Chingacook, Father of Uncas, is the last survivor of his tribe, the Last of the Mohicans.
Magua. He's not your friend.

Thumbnail of the girls being discovered in the cave behind the waterfall
Finished art
Canoe chase. Hard to avoid doing this scene.

The French General Montcalm prevents Magua from shooting at Hawkeye. (He wants his Huron allies to wait and massacre everyone in the morning).

Fight club
Chingacook in disguise.

Uncas captured

Thumbnail for the final illustration, the funeral of Uncas and Alice.
One of the more poetic moments of the book. I think this is the most successful of the illustrations.

Thanks to Sheri, Jo and the Folio Society for giving me a chance to indulge myself on this project. The nicest thing about working with them was the sense that we were all on the same page, with the simple  goal of making a really beautiful book.
© 2022 Robert Hunt