Friday, August 29, 2008

ANOTHER BEATRIX POTTER

Last month, we managed to slip in at the end of the Arts and Crafts Show in Gatlinburg, TN to view an incredible show of jewelry, paintings, wood carvings and other wood work, tools, quilts, rugs…My son-in-law, Brad, who had come up from New Iberia, LA and who builds beautiful furniture, surveyed all the objects of art and ended up buying a homemade broom to put on his hearth in New Iberia. I came away from the show with a large children’s book entitled HOPALONG JACK AND THE BLUE BUNNIES, written and illustrated by Jeri Landers.

The author’s illustrations of animal characters in paintings and books leaped into my sight and caused me to stop abruptly in front of her display. “Beatrix Potter reincarnated,” I said to the author. She was sitting at a table in front of the display, signing copies of the HOPALONG book. “My mentor,” she told me, knowing she had a sale after seeing the delighted expression on my face. I stood before her display, turning the pages of the large book for at least fifteen minutes, awed by the detailed drawings of bunnies pushing wheelbarrows, watering grapes, swinging, riding roosters and encountering a magnificent peacock surrounded by mockingbirds and wrens. Coons, owls, elk, bears – all types of wood folk appear in the magical illustrations that I’ve not seen in a children’s book to equal Beatrix Potter before finding this bit of serendipity. I walked away from the display, enjoyed all the exhibits, then went back to Jeri Landers table where she was beginning to pack up HOPALONG and her paintings. She gave me a look as if to say “I knew you’d be back,” and inscribed my copy of HOPALONG with an on-the-spot verse.

Landers’ mentor, Beatrix Potter, the 20th century British author/illustrator, observed animals for hours and produced 23 fascinating children’s books featuring animals she observed. She privately published 250 copies of her first book TALE OF PETER RABBIT, but her work was then picked up by Frederick Warne and Co., London, and subsequent book sales gave her enough money to have an independent income. Potter’s books featuring bunnies, squirrels, pigs, and other creatures in the animal world are still popular with children and adults throughout the world and have expanded their imaginations for over 100 years.

In addition to Jeri Landers’ Potter-like books, she specializes in painted paper cutting and European scherenschnitte which requires skill to paint detail meticulously. The end papers in HOPALONG JACK, as well as two pages of the book, were originally rendered in paper cuttings. Scherenschnitte is a German word meaning the art of paper cutting, and the process originated in China when paper was invented. Germans who settled in Pennsylvania created paper cuttings for Marriage and Birth Certificates, according to Jeri Landers. After viewing the work of some of these artists, Landers decided to use the German and Swiss style of paper cutting in her art work.

Storehouses of jellies, pumpkins, peas, cabbages, and carrots fill the pages of HOPALONG – again, they are very reminiscent of Beatrix Potter’s work. In one illustration rabbits sip tea while sitting under a bower of bluebells near the 19th century restored farmhouse where Jeri Landers lives in northeast TN. The author’s own menagerie includes cats, dogs, goats, and sheep, and the woods nearby provide models for the beautiful watercolor drawings. Over 108 small blue bunnies are hidden in this fascinating book and add to the charm of a volume that received “Book of the Year for Children’s Picture Books” awarded by “Foreword” magazine. Jeri Landers’ newest book, THE JOURNEY OF BUSHKY BUSHYBOTTOM, includes a CD of Landers reading aloud, giving the characters their own voices. She also has a line of greeting cards and provides lesson plans for students to learn the art of paper cuttings. This artist’s affection for animals, unique imagination, and ability to capture details of nature in faultless perspective in her rich drawings would certainly challenge her mentor Beatrix Potter!
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