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Mary Gernat

Mary Gernat (1926 - 1998) was probably one of the most prolific cover artists of the 1960s. She was born in Ewell, Surrey in 1926, and trained at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in Kingsway and at Regent Street Polytechnic. Mary had a large family, and combined looking after them with working as a freelance illustrator from home via an agent. Her family of four sons and a daughter were often, her son told me, “pressed into service as models”. Although she did not ride herself, she particularly enjoyed painting ponies. During her time as a illustrator, she provided many paperback covers for Collins’ paperback imprint, Armada as well as for the Atlantic Publishing Co (Dragon) in the 1960s. Mary’s son Roger told me she met Enid Blyton, whose paperback editions she illustrated, but she was not enamoured by her, and found her an “odd person”. Mary Gernat suffered from multiple sclerosis during later life, which though it affected her mobility, did not affect her art. After she stopped working commercially, she carried on painting around Lymington, where her family lived. Her son Roger said:


“Painting was my Mum's life and even when she stopped commercial painting, she carried on around our area, producing 1-2 paintings a day for 30 years or so. I am a woodworker and it is very common to see my mum's pictures hanging in the houses that I get work in.”


Mary Gernat’s sketchy, energetic style is probably familiar to nearly every child who bought a paperback book in the 1960s. The range of titles she provided covers for was wide, from Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s, Mallory Towers and The Mystery of... series through countryside stories like Monica Edwards to Malcolm Saville’s adventures. It’s probably fair to say she is better known as a cover artist than as an illustrator, although she did illustrate many children’s books. As an illustrator of Sheila McCullagh’s Pirate and other early reader series, her illustrations were probably an intrinsic part of many children’s early reading efforts.


She had a very distinctive, sketchy style, which was well suited to situations full of action. I am particularly fond of her cover for the 1960s Armada printing of I Carried The Horn, which I think wonderfully captures the awful tension of the moment. Mary Gernat was good at capturing that moment, if not always so good at anatomical accuracy!


Tracking down which covers Mary Gernat was responsible for is complicated. The fact she produced covers rather than internal illustrations means it is particularly difficult to track down exactly what she did, as for many books Armada and Dragon tended to keep the original internal illustrations, and it’s the internal illustrator who tends to be listed at the copyright libraries, and rarely a separate cover artist.


Her covers are often confused with those of Peter Archer, an artist frequently used by Collins/Armada, so it’s worth checking if it’s important to you who did what. The two styles are quite similar, and the cover artist is not always credited, or even, in the case of Monica Edwards’ Cargo of Horses, credited to the wrong artist: although the artist credit is Peter Archer, the style looks much more like Mary Gernat. Tracking titles down then can sometimes be a case of simply following your instincts.


Thank you to Roger How for giving me permission to use these images of Mary Gernat’s work.


Links and sources

Many thanks to Mary Gernat’s family for providing biographical information.

A picture of the author


British Pony Books Home

Pony books illustrated by Mary Gernat


Diana Pullein-Thompson: Janet Must Ride

Collins, London, 1953


Dorian Williams: Wendy Wins a Pony

Burke, London, 1961


Monica Edwards: The Outsider, 1962 (cover)

Armada, London, 1962

Christine Pulleiln-Thompson: Riders From Afar (cover)
Armada, London, 1962


Ruby Ferguson: A Stable for Jill (cover)

Armada, London, 1963


Monica Edwards: Wish for a Pony (cover)

Armada, London, 1963


Monica Edwards: Summer of the Great Secret (cover)

Armada, London, 1963


Ruby Ferguson: Jill Has Two Ponies (cover)
Armada, London, 1963


Diana Pullein-Thompson: Riding with the Lyntons (cover)

Armada, Lonodn, 1963


Monica Edwards: The Spirit of Punchbowl Farm (cover)

Burke, London, 1963


Josephine Pullein-Thompson: I Had Two Ponies (cover)

Armada, London, 1963


Josephine Pullein-Thompson: All Change (cover)
Armada, London, 1963


Monica Edwards: Black Hunting Whip (cover)

Armada, London, 1964


Christine Pullein Thompson: We Hunted Hounds (cover)
Armada, 1964


Christine Pullein-Thompson: I Carried the Horn (cover)
Armada, 1964


Christine Pullein-Thompson: Goodbye to Hounds (cover)
Armada, London, 1964


Christine Pullein-Thompson: Stolen Ponies (cover)
Armada, London, 1965


Monica Edwards: No Mistaking Corker (cover)

Armada, London 1965


Monica Edwards: Cargo of Horses (cover)

Armada, London 1965


Monica Edwards: Frenchman’s Secret (cover)

Armada, London 1965

Monica Edwards: Punchbowl Harvest (cover)

Armada, London, 1966


Monica Edwards: Dolphin Summer (cover)

Armada, London, 1966


Christine Pullein-Thompson: A Day to Go Hunting (cover)
Armada, London, 1967


Monica Edwards: Fire in the Punchbowl (cover)

Armada, London, 1967


Christine Pullein-Thompson: Ride by Night (cover)
Armada, London, 1967


Christine Pullein-Thompson: The First Rosette (cover)
Dragon, 1967


Christine Pullein-Thompson: The Second Mount (cover)

Dragon, 1967


Christine Pullein-Thompson: Three to Ride (cover)

Dragon, 1967


Christine Pullein-Thompson: The Empty Field (cover)
Dragon, 1967


Christine Pullein-Thompson: The Open Gate (cover)
Dragon, 1967


Christine Pullein-Thompson: The Pony Dopers (cover)
Dragon, 1967


Gillian Baxter: Jump to the Stars (cover)
Dragon, London, 1967


Gillian Baxter: Tan and Tarmac (cover)
Dragon, London, 1967


Gillian Baxter: The Difficult Summer (cover)
Dragon, London, 1967


Gillian Baxter: Ribbons and Rings (cover)
Dragon, London, 1967


Gillian Baxter: Horses in the Glen (cover)
Dragon, London, 1967


Gillian Baxter: The Perfect Horse (cover)
Dragon, London, 1967


Pat Smythe: Three Jays Lend a Hand (cover)

Armada, London, 1967


Monica Edwards: The Wanderer (cover)

Armada, London, 1968


Pat Smythe: Jacqueline Rides for a Fall (cover)
Armada, London,1968


Pat Smythe: Three Jays Go to Rome (cover)
Armada, London, 1968


Pat Smythe: Three Jays Over the Border (cover)
Armada, London, 1968


Pat Smythe: Three Jays on Holiday (cover)
Armada, London, 1968?


Pat Smythe: Three Jays Against the Clock (cover)
Armada, London, 1968?


Diana Pullein-Thompson: Horses at Home/Friends Must Part (cover)
Armada, London, 1969


Primrose Cumming: Penny and Pegasus (all illustrations)
Dent, London, 1969