A Legend, in Her Own Time

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature, Nostalgia

Tasha Tudor 1Today would have been the 100th birthday of beloved children’s book author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. During her long and fruitful career, she illustrated close to 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.

Tasha Tudor 2Unlike 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.

Tasha Tudor 3Beginning 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 Tudor 4Tasha 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!”

Tasha Tudor 5Although 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.

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Tasha also had an affinity for animals, but 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 Tudor 7Tasha’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 appropriated for a pair of short documentaries about Tasha’s life.

Tasha Tudor 8While 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 right now (or, rather, then), tending her garden and gathering wood for the stove.Tasha Tudor 9

Later today, I plan to enjoy afternoon tea—a daily ritual for Tasha—with a slice of cake 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 1800s.

Happy 100th Birthday to Tasha Tudor: a legend, in her own time.

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Tasha Tudor

 

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. Explore the Tasha Tudor Museum to learn more about her life and art.

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On the Mehndi

Author: Kirsten K., Beauty, Books, Literature, Nostalgia, Synchronicity

Mehndi 1Mehndi is the ancient art of applying a paste made from henna powder to the skin in intricate patterns, which creates a reddish-brown stain that can last for one to three weeks. Even though this form of ornamentation has been practiced in India, North Africa, and the Middle East for thousands of years, it didn’t become popular in the United States until Madonna and other celebrities started sporting henna designs in the 1990s.

Mehndi 2At the time, I was working for a skin and hair care company. We sold a book featuring cosmetic practices of different cultures around the world, which included pictures of mehndi designs. A co-worker and I were fascinated and wanted to try it for ourselves, so we picked up some black henna hair powder (not to be confused with PPD “Black Henna”, which can be dangerous) at a health food store, mixed it with water, and applied the paste to our feet to test it out. Nothing happened. We’d figured that black henna would create a darker stain, but without the Internet as a resource, we had difficulty finding answers to our questions, so we gave up.

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photo credit: Christina Chico, model: Payal Patel, makeup: Shirley J. Arcia

In 1997, the movie Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love was released to much controversy over the erotic nature of the film. The trailers featured Indian women covered in mehndi, so I knew I had to see it. I sat alone in the theater with a bunch of pervy-looking men and, while they were salivating over the racy love scenes (which actually seem quaint by today’s standards), I was swooning over the henna designs on the women’s hands and feet.

Mehndi 4Earlier in the year, I’d read an article about mehndi in the January 1997 issue of Los Angeles magazine, which mentioned that henna artist Loretta Roome would be setting up The Mehndi Project at Galerie Lakaye in West Hollywood that month. When my friend Maggie was visiting from Seattle a short time later, I told her about it and she was interested, so I took her there to get a henna “tattoo”. I observed the process and took mental notes. It turns out that you must use red henna and you should mix the paste with lemon juice or a similar acidic substance to properly activate the lawsone dye in the plant, which produces the stain.Mehndi 5

When I got home, I searched out the tiny plastic bottles with their fine metal tips that I’d seen the artist use on Maggie, then bought some red henna from my local Indian market. I mixed it with water and lemon juice and applied a simple design on the palm of my hand. When I washed it off a few hours later, there was a pale orange stain, which developed into a dark reddish-brown over the next couple of days. I’d done it!

Mehndi 6I played around with mehndi off and on for a few years, reading some books on the topic and even making mehndi cookies at one point, but I’m no artist. I eventually became frustrated with my limitations and abandoned it, but I never stopped appreciating the beauty and artistry of the practice, so it was an act of serendipity that brought Prashanta from Divya Henna into my life.

Mehndi 7I met her three years ago and we discovered immediately that we had many interests in common, among them a love of mehndi. Unlike me, Prashanta is actually a talented artist who had been practicing mehndi informally for years, but wanted to do it professionally. She was just getting her career underway and was looking for a guinea pig on whom to practice new designs and techniques, so I volunteered. One of the things that Kirsti and I find the most swoon-worthy is synchronicity—that magical moment when things line up perfectly in ways you could never have planned or foreseen. After years of wanting to wear beautiful mehndi designs myself, I had a professional henna artist who couldn’t wait to paint me up one side and down the other!

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Mehndi by Divya Henna from an original design by Ravie Kattaura.

Whenever I am adorned in one of Prashanta’s designs, I get stopped in stores, restaurants, and even on the street by people who want to admire her artwork and ask questions. She loves and respects Indian culture and prefers traditional Indian mehndi designs over the types of henna tattoos you typically see offered at fairs and along boardwalks. Nowadays, she is in demand as a mehndi artist for Indian weddings, doing elaborate and exquisite designs on brides that cover the hands, arms, feet, and legs and can take hours to complete.Mehndi 9

She doesn’t have much free time anymore to practice on me, but I’m still fortunate to get mehndi from her on occasion and to enjoy her company in the process. I am also routinely stunned by the precision and creativity displayed in the pictures she posts online of designs she has completed, a few of which are featured here. If you don’t live close enough for Prashanta to paste mehndi on your skin, seeing her masterful handiwork will definitely paste a smile on your face.

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Divya Henna – Facebook
Divya Henna – Instagram

 

The book Mehndi: The Timeless Art of Henna Painting by Loretta Roome can be purchased at Amazon.

Visit Christina Chico Photography and makeup artist Shirley J. Arcia online.

High and Dry

Author: Kirsten K., Flowers, Home & Garden, Inspiration

Whatever is the opposite of a green thumb (a black pinkie?), I have it. I’d love to surround myself with live plants and flowers in my home, but, like those people who have trouble growing long hair or nails, I simply can’t grow them. They eventually give up and die in my presence. It’s a curse (in fact, my nickname rhymes with cursed, but that’s another story).

Purchasing cut flowers from a florist or market is an option, but can be pricey to indulge in on a regular basis. Plus, I always forget to change the water until the putrid funk of decomposing greenery escapes the confines of the vase, nearly causing me to swoon (and not in the good way). But the alternative—artificial plants and flowers—is so joyless. Even high-quality versions can gather dust and fade with time, and they won’t decompose in a vase…or a landfill.

High and Dry 1The solution: dried flowers. They’re already dead, so I can’t kill them. They’re already faded, so they won’t change with time. And if they gather dust, I can throw them in the compost bin with a clear conscience.

There are a number of rose bushes in my yard that are far enough away from my aura that they haven’t been affected by the curse. When they’re in bloom, I like to cut the best specimens for drying. I hang them from the rafters in my garage, but you can hang them in a closet, a laundry room, or anywhere that’s relatively warm and dry where they can be suspended upside down and undisturbed for at least two weeks.

High and Dry 2When I first began drying flowers, I tied them with twine, but some of the stems slipped their moorings as they shrunk. I came up with a quick fix by threading the twine through the handles of small binder clips before tying them to the rafters. After that, it was an easy task to hang the stems, and the clips held tight throughout the drying process.

Since the flowers in my yard that dry well are limited to roses, and since I don’t have much of a knack for arranging bouquets (my horticultural handicaps are legion), I appreciate a vessel that does most of the work for me. I snagged a Wedgwood for Williamsburg Restoration five-finger vase on eBay, but the Williamsburg Marketplace sells a similar version, along with beautiful tulipieres that also make flower arranging idiot-proof.

High and Dry 3Waiting until after the roses have dried to remove the thorns makes snapping them off a snap. I also removed the leaves, because I was going for a flowers-only theme, but you can use your own creative license. I grouped bunches of blooms in similar hues, arranged them in a symmetrical fashion, and put them in each “finger” of the vase, working from the center outwards…et voilà! I have a simple, yet swoon-worthy arrangement that requires no more care than occasionally blowing off the dust with a hairdryer.

With spring here and summer on its way, I’ll have plenty of blooms to dry and arrange for the next few months. I may even attempt something more ambitious without the crutch of a special vase. Who knows? It might just blossom into a new talent.

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Williamsburg White Five-Finger Vase
Williamsburg Blue In Bloom Tulipieres

 

Binder clips can be purchased at Staples and Office Depot.