Kaj Beckman was an artist, illustrator and author. She wrote and illustrated children’s books as well as illustrating other author’s texts for both children and adults.
Kaj Beckman was born in 1913. She grew up in Enköping. Her father was a bank director and her mother was an artist. Having completed her schooling at the advanced school for girls in Gävle she continued her education at Högre konstindustriella skolan (today Konstfack) in Stockholm and subsequently at Konstakademien in the same city. She met Per Beckman there and they married in 1939. They both converted to the Catholic faith later on.
In an article in Signum in 2000, about imagery and the gaze within the Catholic tradition, Astrid Söderbergh Widding mentions the book Mikrovärld, 1998, a selection of poems by Swedish authors and illustrations by Kaj Beckman. Widding characterises Kaj Beckman’s art using examples from the children’s book Måns och Mari om våren, one of the books which Kaj Beckman became most known for. Like the other three books about the siblings Måns and Mari, it is about the seasons of the year. Widding writes that Kaj Beckman “reveals and allows the viewer to discover the hidden life, the secrets which lie within that which is seen. Her entire worldview as an artist invites a sense of awe”.
Kaj Beckman’s art was inspired by nature, by travels to locations such as Greece, France, and Italy, and by artists such as Fra Angelico and Giotto di Bondone. Her interest in nature was very important to her work as an illustrator and artist. One of her joint creations with her husband was a box with puppets and face masks called “Det handlar om djur” for Riksutställningar in 1978. The accompanying information sheet described the animals, made from socks and wool, contained in the box, and included ideas for games and rhymes. Three years later the couple created Årstidsträdet for Riksutställningar, a foldable four-sided tree with spaces for pillows, where children could sit and read or listen to pre-recorded birdsong. This tree toured around schools and libraries. Kaj Beckman also created textile appliqués and beadwork for churches and etchings with motifs including children, flowers and fairy-tale imagery. Examples of Kaj Beckman’s artwork can be found in the Nationalmuseum collections.
Kaj Beckman also created collage illustrations and watercolour drawings for an edition of H. C. Andersen’s fairy tales. She was one of the illustrators of the first five sections of the anthology Min skattkammare, which was released in ten volumes between 1947 and 1949. Kaj Beckman and her husband Per spent 50 years together, and much of their art was created in their individual studios connected by an open door. They also produced a lot of collaborative work. As early as 1942 they worked on drawings for Lasse i Rosengård, a book of fairy tales by Hjalmar Bergman.
Apart from the books about Måns and Mari it is perhaps the children’s book Lisen kan inte sova, 1969, which is most strongly associated with Kaj Beckman. The story is a so-called repetition story where Lisen keeps saying that she needs yet another cuddly toy in bed with her in order to fall asleep. Kaj Beckman also supplied the illustrations for a book from 1964 believed to be the first Swedish children’s book about a day nursery, namely Gertrud på daghem, writteb by Siv Widerberg. Kaj Beckman produced three books with her son, the producer Mikael Beckman, to which she contributed poems and he supplied accompanying photographs. They also made several TV programmes together.
Kaj Beckman is described in her obituary as “gentle and flower-loving” whilst her images and texts are said to testify to “great swings between the dramatic, the elusive, and an almost tremulous sensitivity and perceptivity”.
Kay Beckman died on Ekerö in 2002.