Author and MFAC alum Barbara Herkert talks with us about her newest book, Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter. Learn about her writing process for this picture book biography on the life of Mary Cassatt, one of the most celebrated female artists of all time.

Tell us about your new book: 

Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter is a picture book biography, illustrated by the extraordinary Gabi Swiatkowska. It was released in October, 2015 by Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt.
Do you have a favorite part of the book or a favorite character?
I love the first page. That look on Mary’s face is priceless.
When did you first begin work on it? When did you finish?
I think I started it in 2012. It took about two years to complete.
As the work progressed from inception to copy-edited version, what were the major changes? How did those changes come about?
The book was originally entitled Mary and Edgar. It was about the friendship between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, which fascinated me. When I started working with Christy Ottaviano, she asked for it to focus on Mary. So I cut out Edgar’s side of the story. He’s still in there a bit, because he was such a huge influence on Mary.
What research did you do before and while writing the book?
I read and read and read some more! I took copious notes. I met with a Cassatt expert at the Cleveland Museum of Art, who took me on a private tour of Mary’s prints.
Where did you do most of your writing for this book?
At home on the Oregon Coast—my favorite place to write! I also spend writing time at a log cabin in Central Oregon.
Any final thoughts on the book you’d like to share?
Always stay open to revision! I think the book became much stronger after eliminating Edgar’s point of view. I adore Gabi’s paintings. They capture the essence of Mary perfectly.

Barbara Herkert has been a fan of Mary Cassatt every since she stood in front of Mary’s original paintings. She received an MFA from Hamline University, a biology degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and she studied art and art history at Oregon State University. Picture book biographies are her passion—Barbara loves both the research and finding hidden gems that will appeal to young readers. For more information, visit her author’s website at