Senior Anna Mathews’ picture-book illustrations bring the Hillwood Estate to life

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Anna Mathews

Senior Anna Mathews at the Hillwood Estate.

Ali O'Brien, Features Editor

The appeal of children’s books is largely derived from the all-encompassing illustrations that create a magical new world in the minds of readers. Senior Anna Mathews’ illustrations do just that, bringing life to the Hillwood Estate in Washington, DC. The Hillwood Estate is the former residence of Marjorie Merriweather, a businesswoman, socialite, and philanthropist, and it is famous for its extensive French art and orchid collections.

 Mystery in the Hillwood Mansion follows the story of Scampi, a young puppy who searches for a missing Fabergé, a Russian egg. It also serves an educational purpose, as it teaches young readers about the history of the Hillwood Estate. 

Anna was initially approached by the authors of the book, Caroline Morehouse and Caroline Hamilton, after Intermediate School art teacher, Hillary Steel, recommended her.

“At first I didn’t really understand what it was all about, but Ms. Steel said it was a project that was right up my alley,” Anna said. 

Ms. Steel said that “I thought about Anna specifically because I know she takes her art very seriously. Her commitment to art outside of school is huge, whether in summer programs or just extra practice. I knew her talents from working with her in the IS, and she also stood out because she is very easy to work with and great with follow-through.”

Anna first started working on the illustrations during quarantine. “I totally wouldn’t have had time to do this if it wasn’t for corona because each painting takes about 9 hours, and there are 16 of them,” she said. “During the school year, I don’t have an extra 150 hours to paint.” Each painting began as a sketch, was projected onto larger paper, and then painted.

During the beginning of COVID, Anna sketched from pictures of the Hillwood Estate, which was closed to visitors. After it reopened, by appointment, she was able to paint on site. “It was really cool when I first got to the estate and I realized that I already knew those places,” she said. 

Anna sees illustrating books as an opportunity to turn her passion for art into a career opportunity. “I have always wanted to illustrate a book,” she said, “It has been a childhood dream of mine. I can’t believe that the dream is coming true and I might be able to do this as a job.”

Mystery in the Hillwood Mansion, published by McCabe printing, is set to release around the new year.