Today would have been the 100th birthday of beloved children’s book author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. During her long and fruitful career, she illustrated nearly one hundred books and produced thousands of original paintings, many of which have been turned into cards and prints. Her work is highly sought after by collectors, but—despite having received numerous awards for her books and critical praise for her art—Tasha’s personal life began to eclipse her artistic life when she became equally, if not more, famous for her 19th-century lifestyle.
Unlike many children who grew up in the second half of the 20th century, I was not raised on Tasha Tudor’s books. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that I was first introduced to her through the pages of Victoria magazine, which has done a number of features on Tasha’s life and work over the years. I became captivated by this artist and author who, with her talent and resources, could have enjoyed every modern convenience, but chose to live her life as a woman of the 1800s.
Beginning with The Private World of Tasha Tudor, a series of books about her lifestyle was released in the early 1990s with elegant photographs by Richard W. Brown showing Tasha going about the daily business of milking her goats, cooking on a woodstove, spinning wool into thread, and quilting in front of the fire. Blurring the line between life and art, she found beauty in the simplest tasks and once said, “I’ve never worked a day in my life!” Convinced that she’d lived before in the 1830s, Tasha said that everything from that period came easily to her. She seemed to excel at any craft she attempted, whether basket making, woodworking, knitting, or weaving, but her favorite pastime was gardening.
Tasha lived in rural Vermont in a house that was built by her son. Although constructed in the 1970s, her home was modeled on a 230-year-old house and erected using hand tools, so it looked—like Tasha herself—as if it belonged to another century. The magnificent garden she cultivated on her vast property was her pride and joy. It was celebrated in the book Tasha Tudor’s Garden by Tovah Martin and featured on an episode of the ABC news program Primetime Live in 1997. She called it “Paradise on earth!”
Although she was in her early 90s when she passed away in 2008, Tasha never lost her childlike spirit and sense of wonder. She had a lifelong love of marionettes and dolls, and the contents of her immense dollhouse were put on display at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in 1996. Christmas was her favorite holiday, for which she began preparing months in advance. She wrote and illustrated several Christmas books and created annual holiday-themed images to be made into Christmas cards and Advent calendars.
Tasha also had an affinity for animals and was especially fond of birds and Welsh Corgis. She produced a popular series of books about the fictional town of Corgiville and christened her home Corgi Cottage in honor of her beloved dogs. Animals appear frequently in Tasha’s art, which she drew from life. With inspiration all around her, images of Tasha’s home, garden, children, pets, and household items can be found in the works of art she created by a window in a small corner of her kitchen.
Tasha’s conversation was peppered with quotes from books she’d read or people of note. Her favorite came from a letter written by Fra Giovanni in 1513 and included the lines: “No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present moment. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take joy!” It is from this quote that the titles Take Joy! The Magical World of Tasha Tudor and Take Peace! A Corgi Cottage Christmas were taken for a pair of short documentaries about Tasha’s life.
While she enjoyed quoting others, Tasha was highly quotable herself. She once said, “I think I’ve done a good job of life,” which is more than evident to anyone who has read her books, seen her paintings, or had a glimpse into the idyllic world she created in the New England countryside. A believer in reincarnation and the fluidity of time, she declared, “When I die, I’m going right back to 1830.” For all we know, she’s there (or, rather, then) right now, tending her garden and gathering wood for the stove.
Later today, I plan to enjoy afternoon tea—a daily ritual for Tasha—with a slice of cake made from her “receipt” book to celebrate a woman for whom life itself was a work of art and whose indomitable spirit didn’t let a little thing like the 20th century interfere with her desire to live in the mid-1800s.
Happy 100th Birthday to Tasha Tudor: a legend, in her own time.
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:
Books by and about Tasha Tudor can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For original art, prints, rare books, and other Tasha Tudor collectibles, visit Cellar Door Books. Join the Tasha Tudor Society to learn more about her life and art.