When I am asked what art exhibit has meant the most to me over the years, I always talk about the Tasha Tudor exhibit I saw at the Abby Aldridge Museum of Folk Art in Williamsburg, VA. We were down there on vacation with my parents and extended family. The month was August. I am going to guess that it was just this side of ten years ago. My mother is a huge fan of The Secret Garden. Her library includes many copies of the Francis Hodgson Burnett classic by many different illustrators, but her favorite is the one illustrated by Tasha Tudor. That's how she came to learn about this marvelous writer/artist. As we journeyed south for our vacation, my mom, still in her Tasha discovery phase, was reading a book about her life that included wonderful photography. Imagine my mother's surprise upon arriving in Williamsburg to discover the Aldridge Museum was featuring a huge exhibit of Tasha Tudor's life and work.
For the unitiated, a little background (and make sure to click on the above link): this remarkable lady lived in Vermont. She raised four children on her own in an era that was not easy on single mothers. To make money, she illustrated and wrote books. Her children put on plays and elaborate puppet shows as a way to make money. They made all the puppets and sets themselves. I hate to try to condense Tasha's life in this place, but I want to give a sense of the woman. She lived simply and off the land. She collected and wore a wardrobe of dresses from the 1830's--her favorite time period. Her idea of making a shirt was to grow her own flax. She ate a diet that included goat's milk from goats she raised. She drew upon her life for her illustrations which included several children's books featuring her beloved corgis.
The exhibit, my introduction to Tasha Tudor--other than an article I saw in our local newspaper; included short films; reproductions of rooms in her home; the huge dollhouse that she and her family created, furnished and decorated for each holiday (including the tiny valentines the dolls exchanged). There were dresses from Tasha Tudor's antique collection. Original illustrations. A display of the technique for turning flax into a shirt. The colors of the walls were rich to hold in the lushness of the displays. My heart sang as I rounded each corner to find a new discovery. This was a woman who lived creatively, lovingly, outside of society's dictates, and inside of her own imagining.
I have been on the Tasha Tudor e-mail notification list for many years. Today I received an email that told me that Tasha Tudor, at age 92, had died at her Vermont home surrounded by loved ones. I am in awe of the woman, and happy that she touched my life as a mother, an artist, and a writer. Last week I cleaned my bookshelves (a byproduct of a painting project which is the byproduct of new carpeting) and came across the book A Time to Keep: the Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays. It reminded me again the importance of pausing to notice and mark the seasons of our life with ones we love.
I hear that the Tasha Tudor foundation is working on a permanent museum to house the collections and exhibits. I for one, will be making a pilgrimage to see it one of these days when it is completed. Road trip to Vermont anyone? I promise, you will not be disappointed. As for today, I will pay homage to Tasha by enjoying my dog, spending some time in my garden, rereading her books, and spending a slowed-down dinner with my family in enjoyment of the season.