Artist Hodges Soileau Painted Nearly Every Cover of ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ Book Series. Meet the Real-Life Models Behind the One-of-a-Kind Works
"I remember thinking, 'am I holding this flashlight right?'" said one of the models who posed for Soileau.
Recently, fans of “The Baby-Sitters Club” series discovered that the artist behind most of the iconic 1990s book covers, Hodges Soileau, had been selling the original art. Soileau produced oil paintings for each novel—which serially recounted the adventures of a group of babysitting teens—for a total of 131 books in the original series. He also created the artwork for spin-off books, like Super Specials and Mysteries, as well as calendars.
The long-running series ran from 1986 to 2000, and was published by Scholastic and written by Ann M. Martin. The idea for “The Baby-Sitters Club” was borne out of Scholastic Book Clubs, where sales indicated a high interest in any books that featured babysitters. Scholastic employee and writer Ann M. Martin was tasked with creating the series about a club of friends who ran a babysitting business. It was an instant hit.
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The oil painter studied art at the University of Southwestern Louisiana and began his illustration career in 1971. Soileau worked for most of the major book publishers, not least Scholastic. While his body of work is dominated by serene landscapes and still lifes, his illustrations for “The Baby-Sitters Club” are remarkable for capturing the characters’ personalities, fashion, and expressive spirit. To capture that, Soileau worked with child models to pose for sketches that he turned into paintings.
Artnet News spoke with two cover models—who portrayed the characters Dawn Schafer and Mallory Pike—about their experience embodying the members of the Baby-Sitters Club.
Katherine de Vos Devine, who most likely posed for blond-haired California native Dawn Schafer, in the 1980s, grew up in Greenwich Village in New York City. De Vos Devine attended the Grace Church School, in the heart of the East Village. In fourth or fifth grade, she recalled being asked if she wanted to model for an artist.
“There were a lot of artist parents at my elementary school. A friend’s mom was an artist. She was helping a friend find a model with a specific description. My friend thought I’d be a good fit for the job,” she said.
After signing a release form, de Vos Devine went to her first posing session at Soileau’s studio, accompanied by her grandmother. Once she got settled, Soileau directed her to hold poses while he sketched freehand. “I remember holding poses for a very long time. I would be very still and pay attention to what he asked for,” said de Vos Devine. Her mother remembered de Vos Devine spending entire afternoons at the sketching sessions.
She fondly recalled Soileau as kind and quiet during sessions. No other kids were present. “He was very quiet. His studio was quiet. You could’ve heard a pin drop.”
One distinct memory from a session is being asked to hold a flashlight. “I can’t remember if there was actually a prop or not, but I do remember thinking, ‘am I holding this flashlight right?’” she said. Looking at past covers, it’s very possible that de Vos Devine posed for book #9, The Ghost at Dawn’s House (1988), where the fictional character holds a flashlight at the bottom of a secret passage in her house.
She shared that other classmates at Grace Church School were also enlisted to be models for “The Baby-Sitters Club.” De Vos Devine recalls there was a lot of speculation on the playground about who played which character; her own childhood best friend portrayed one of the youngest babysitters, redheaded Mallory Pike.
She added: “Claudia was a girl a year ahead of us. I don’t know about [who posed for the other characters] Kristy, Mary Anne, or Jessie. They might have been from other schools.”
De Vos Devine, now an art lawyer, grew up obsessively reading the books. Now, her daughter is a huge fan of the graphic novel and T.V. version of the series.
In a sign of how Soileau’s method evolved over the series, Suzanne Lucas recalled a vastly different experience posing as Mallory Pike for books #59-126 in the early 1990s, taking over the character from the previous model. Lucas was 11-years-old when she got a call from her talent agency, Generation Model Management, for a go-see for “The Baby-Sitters Club.”
She remembered showing up to a photographer’s studio and hanging out with other 11- and 12-year-olds. “We would watch each other get their pictures taken. Sometimes, you’d be there for 15 minutes total,” said Lucas. She never worked directly with Soileau, just the photographer.
The first time she posed was for book #59, Mallory Hates Boys and Gym (1992). To get into character, Lucas wet her red hair and teased it to make it really frizzy to match the character description of Mallory Pike. She also donned fake glasses for the photo shoots. For that particular cover, Lucas and three boys were asked to wear shorts and white T-shirts.
“The photographer had a vision for what they wanted. For this cover, they wanted the boys to be making fun of Mallory,” she said. After trying a few different poses, her job was done. “I used to joke that it was the fastest hundred dollars I made in my life. It took longer to prep my hair, put on the glasses, and get changed than it did to take the pictures.”
Years later, Lucas’s work in the education technology industry would land her in her current role as an account executive at Scholastic. It’s been a dream job for Lucas: “I fell in love with our mission and the goal that we have for kids. We really believe that reading is a civil right.” In 2010, during an international reading association conference, Lucas even got to meet Ann M. Martin, the original creator of the series. The two posed for a photograph together, which Martin posted on her public Facebook page.
Today, Lucas remains proud of her involvement in the company’s iconic series. She said: “Whenever I play the game Two Truths and One Lie, I always say that I’m Mallory from ‘The Baby-Sitters Club.’ To this day, I get big reactions form people. I always tell them that I wasn’t the first Mallory though.”
Both Lucas and de Vos Devine expressed interest in purchasing an oil painting from Soileau. Lucas mentioned that she only has two copies of the books she was on. “You don’t always get the copies of what you’ve done. My portfolio was stolen out of our car so I’ve gone online to digitally keep as many as I can find,” said Lucas.
“I grew up to be an art lawyer and my daughter is obsessed with the series,” said de Vos Devine, “so owning a painting would be both logical and really special.”
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