I originally knew Tasha Tudor through the many books she illustrated, some of which she also wrote herself. “Pumpkin Moonshine” was her first published book, followed by the “calico” books, then her illustrations of classics, including those of Louisa May Alcott and Frances Hodgson Burnett, along with cookbooks, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and a host of other illustrative endeavors.
It wasn’t until the late 1990′s that I discovered Tasha Tudor herself when a series of books about her idyllic lifestyle on a hill-top “west of New Hampshire and east of Vermont” were published. A happenstance discovery of “The Private World of Tasha Tudor ” in a bookstore soon took me on a remarkable journey of learning about Tasha Tudor – and a little bit about myself in the process.
A diminutive woman steeped in old Yankee ways, Tasha’s book, “The Private World of Tasha Tudor” took me inside her Vermont farmhouse, Corgi Cottage, out to her gardens, and into her unique imagination. Tasha Tudor led much of her life steeped in the 1800′s, wearing clothing of that period, weaving her own cloth, making her own candles, and eventually building a house in Vermont that visitors were hard pressed to believe was built in the late 20th century.
In her lifetime, Ms. Tudor was asked by President Johnson to make ornaments for the White House Christmas tree, her hand crafted dollhouse with its furnishings and dolls, made by Tasha, were on display at the Abbey Aldrich Rockefeller Center, and Life Magazine once photographed the wedding of two of her dolls. (The dolls, being quite modern, eventually separated.) After a television interview, Tasha Tudor became an icon for those who sought the simpler life of getting “back to the land”.
It was “The Private World of Tasha Tudor” that took me in, made me feel at home, and spurred a rather large collection of all things Tasha Tudor, as well as an appreciation for the photography of Richard W. Brown, who lives in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
“Tasha Tudor’s Garden” is where I often go for garden inspiration. I long to grow foxgloves six feet tall like Tasha Tudor did, and I wish I could encourage my roses to ramble with wild abandon as those in her garden. I’ve given up on sweet peas – well, almost given up, we’ll see. I’ll try them one more time. The point is that Tudor’s garden is lush, a bit whimsical in nature and all that a cottage garden should be. Some of the seeds sown in it are ancestors from two centuries ago. Richard Brown collaborated with Tovah Martin on this book. I love her style of writing and would not be stretching the truth at all to say that she has influenced how I “talk” about my own garden.
Together, Brown and Martin produced a third book, “Tasha Tudor’s Heirloom Crafts”, which is a unique glimpse into the many ways Tudor adopted a 19th century lifestyle into the modern era we all live in. It is chock full of pictures and words about Tasha’s kitchen, the extensive collection she amassed of 18th and 19th century clothing, her well utilized barn that connects to the house in the manner New Englanders use, and the marionettes that led to “A Dolls’Christmas” and helped keep her growing family fed with the performances they starred in. It is a book in which to find Tasha weaving and painting and making candles and all manner of other crafts that she continued to employ into her eighth decade.
Tasha Tudor died a few years ago, just before her 92 birthday, if memory serves me correctly. Some of her clothing sold for handsome sums. A museum is underway in her memory. There is still a family website for all things Tasha Tudor, as well as those of her family.
I first learned of a tin kitchen from books about Tasha Tudor. I was determined to try roasting a chicken in front of fire from the moment I saw her doing so using a tin kitchen. I looked at antique malls, fairs, and searched the internet for about six years before literally stumbling upon one at an antique fair one afternoon. My giddiness was a dead give-away to the seller if there ever was one as my foot brushed against it, I looked down to see what was in my path, only to hop back in pure glee, exclaiming “it’s a tin kitchen”! I lugged it home and before much time had passed, I cleaned it up and managed to roast a whole chicken in it in front of an open fireplace. I can’t begin to tell you how delicious it tasted, or express my sense of accomplishment at having figured out how to cook with it. How I miss that fireplace of our old house. How I miss that roasted chicken.
Well, I rambled about much like Tasha Tudor’s roses. When Juliet mentioned she knew of Tasha Tudor’s books, but not much about her, I thought it might be a good spot in time to share some of the books I have that illustrate the life of such a well-known illustrator, thinking they might interest some of you as well.
It is very cold here, with the temperatures hovering around 16° F. Snow is dancing about, looking for trees and bushes and rooftops to cling to. I think I’ll make a cup of tea and invite Tasha Tudor to visit me for a spell. Which book will I select?