January 17th, 2012
I love William Steig’s little moments, like the line above, about a mouse out picnicking with his wife on an overcast day in Abel’s Island.
I would not normally look to Steig for big pronouncements. But this one, from the man who wrote Shrek flies my kite.
“Art has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe; and unlike science, which often gives us the illusion of understanding things we really do not understand, it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mystery of things. It enhances the sense of wonder. And wonder is respect for life.”
–William Steig, in his Caldecott Medal acceptance speech for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
January 17th, 2012
One day, when I was too despondent to remember I couldn’t do it I began to write a book and make my own pictures to go with it. An editor, who was wise and brave, said she would publish it, and helped me along the way. Before very long kids were checking it out of libraries and people like Helena were saying things like “This book expresses so many different feelings at the same time. You know what Cinderella’s feelings are no matter what. When I got this book, it was like I was holding a piece of gold in my hands.When I finished the book I felt so sad that all the story was already gone.” If that’s not a happy ending I don’t know what is and the best part is it was only the beginning.
December 11th, 2011
In this season of letters to Santa here are some exerpts of letters addressed to Cinderella that recently arrived in my mailbox.
“I know how it feels to write your dead mother. I still talk to my Great Grandma Marie.”
“I wish I was there for you when you were little.”
“Do you get paparatzzi?”
“I’m so dearly sorry your mom died.”
“it was nice of you to take in all those animals at the end.”
“I loved your last note to your mother. It made me cry histaricly.”
“You are a very nice girl and everyone likes you just the way you are.”
May 10th, 2011
BARBARA ENSOR’S PRIMORDIAL HYBRIDS ON VIEW IN THE GREAT ROOM GALLERY AT THE OLD STONE HOUSE THROUGH JUNE 22, 2011
Creatures part human and part animal gaze out from carved frames in Primordial Hybrids, an exhibit of three dozen new silhouettes on paper by Barbara Ensor. “He had climbed out of the primeval muck,” “She was not like the others” and other wry comments are written below in civilized antiquarian hand, but with enough tics and ink splats to suggest a chaos lurking just beneath the surface. No stranger to folkloric imagery Barbara Ensor is author of Cinderella (As If You Didn’t Already Know the Story)? and Thumbelina, Tiny Runaway Bride, both published by Random House Children’s Books. She makes the pictures for these books, as well, cutting them out of black paper with a pair of sharp scissors in a style that is part history, part magic. “Even a child who had never heard these stories before will sense they are familiar,” says Ensor, “because they echo the way it feels to be alive.”
The same could be said of the hybrid creatures in this exhibit. “I immediately felt like I was looking in the mirror,” says Ensor “when timidly these odd creatures began to show up in my work.” At first, she admits, “I thought it was just me.” Ensor speculated that maybe she identified with the creatures because of a sense of not fitting in as a result of frequent moves when she was growing up. When she began to realize how wrong she had been, “It was comical,” says Ensor, “ how suddenly I couldn’t get away from them. I’d turn on the television and there’d be Mickey Mouse with those human hands in the white gloves or I’d glance up at a building and see a winged lion with the breasts and face of a woman staring down at me.” Even the earliest cave paintings mix up humans with animal parts it turns out, “and don’t forget the devil has horns,” says Ensor.
The process of making the art for this solo exhibit (her third in as many years) “was like searching for something that was already there—almost like an archeological dig,” says Ensor. “With the paper cut-outs I’m literally removing (with scissors) what isn’t the picture, like sifting through the sand to find a skeleton.
The Old Stone House, a modern reconstruction of the Vechte-Cortelyou House, a 1699 Dutch stone farmhouse, is an active, not-for-profit cultural site and presenting organization dedicated to creating a strong sense of community through place-based history, environmental education and the arts. It is located in Washington Park, mid-block on 3rd Street, between 4th and 5th Avenues in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The House is accessible by the R and F trains, as well as the B63 Bus. Gallery hours are 4 pm – 6 pm on Friday afternoons, or by appointment. A reception will be held on Tuesday, June 7, from 6-8 pm.
For more information, visit www.theoldstonehouse.org or call (718) 768-3195.
Barbara Ensor’s website is BarbaraEnsor.com; she can be reached at (917) 604-8732
May 9th, 2011
I hope you’ll get a chance to check out an exhibit of about three dozen new works on paper. The solo exhibit (my third in three years) is called Primordial Hybrids. If perchance The Old Stone House (theoldstonehouse.org ) in Park Slope Brooklyn is a little out of your way check out a selection of pictures by clicking on that framed picture to the right of this post—the one with the lizard who has a human face. You can send me an email telling me what you think by pressing that button to the right–the one that looks like a real button.
May 8th, 2011
May 7th, 2011
The Lascaux caves used to define prehistoric—you just couldn’t get any older than that. Then in the early nineties the Chauvet caves were discovered, also in France, and turned out to have paintings that were about twice as old. Fortunately audiences of Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams don’t have to switch off their cell phones, put on 3-D glasses and begin to grasp what a leap of sixteen thousand years might mean to enjoy the movie— there is so much else to wonder at. Besides so little changed during all that time. On the cathedral-like walls of Chauvet as at Lascaux we inhabit certain animals as though we become then, rarely glimpsing any mundane details of life like actual people or plants or even planets. These fevered escapist dramas, (some scholars believe drug-fueled) often star hybrid creatures. At Chauvet for example there’s a lion with a man’s feet, at Lascaux a man has the head of a bird.
In later civilizations these half and half creatures went on to populate nearly every myth and fairy tale. They became the Disney cartoon characters, the Hindu gods, the angels of the Catholic church, and the monsters lurking in the depths of the ocean that people stubbornly insisted they had seen. So it should come as no surprise that the earliest people, when they had a choice, chose hybrid creatures to stare at. After all, as the French like to say,
the more things change the more they stay the same.