Illustration Alumna, Berenstain Bears Co-Creator Jan Berenstain Passes Away at 88

Tree House cover: pen and India ink, transparent watercolors; included in the 2011 ArtUnleashed Exhibition and Sale.

February 27, 2012

Jan Berenstain BFA '45, a University of the Arts Illustration alumna who with her alumnus husband, Stan Berenstain BFA '45 (Illustration), wrote and illustrated the Berenstain Bears books that have charmed preschoolers and their parents for 50 years, has died. She was 88.

Berenstain, a longtime resident of Solebury in southeastern Pennsylvania, suffered a severe stroke on Thursday, February 23, and died the next day without regaining consciousness, her son Mike Berenstain BFA '73 (Illustration) said.

The gentle tales of Mama Bear, Papa Bear, Brother Bear and Sister Bear were inspired by the Berenstain children, and later their grandchildren. The stories address children's common concerns and aim to offer guidance on subjects like dentist visits, peer pressure, a new sibling or summer camp.

"Who doesn't remember as a child, standing in front of those spinning carousel displays of Berenstain Bear books at a store and picking one out to take home?" said Mark Tocchet, associate professor and chair of the University's Illustration program. "What makes the Berenstain Bears so vital is that they played a part in the moral upbringing of generations of children."

The first Berenstain Bears book, The Big Honey Hunt, was published in 1962. Over the years, more than 300 titles have been released in 23 languages — most recently in Arabic and Icelandic — and have become a rite of passage for generations of young readers.

"They say jokes don't travel well, but family humor does," Jan Berenstain told The Associated Press in 2011. "Family values is what we're all about."

Stan and Jan Berenstain, both Philadelphia natives, were 18 when they met on their first day at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) in 1941. Both were Illustration majors.

They married in 1946, after Stan Berenstain returned home from serving as a medical illustrator at a stateside Army hospital during World War II. During that time, Jan Berenstain worked as a draftsman for the Army Corps of Engineers and as a riveter building Navy seaplanes.

Before their family of bear books was born, the young couple had already built a successful career in periodicals. A cartoon series they produced called "All in the Family" ran in McCall's and Good Housekeeping magazines for 35 years, and their art appeared in magazines including Collier's and The Saturday Evening Post.

Stan and Jan Berenstain created hundreds of books until Stan Berenstain's death in 2005 at the age of 82.

Jan Berenstain is survived by her two sons and four grandchildren.

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