Friday, January 31, 2014

Winter Selections from Mary Azarian's "A Farmer's Alphabet"

The atmosphere of a rural winter in her home state of Vermont, comes through clear in these woodcuts by Mary Azarian. Each scene featured here is a tribute to a way of life connected to the land and seasons.

In addition to the more common winter activities of sledding, shoveling, and building snowmen, there are mittens drying over an ornate, wood-burning stove, where an old-fashioned tea kettle boils. In another scene an adult pulls on a set of one-piece long johns with a buttoned back flap. These subjects, so varied in their patterns and textures, so colorless and harsh in their lighting, are particularly well-suited to the mark-making abilities of a master carver. 

The series was commissioned by Vermont's State Board of Education for display in classrooms. Maurice Sendak, one of the most acclaimed picture book illustrators in history, was often quoted as saying that he didn't make his work for children. For example, in one of his last interviews, he said,
I don't write for children. I write. And someone says, "That's for children."
Azarian was a teacher before she took to illustrating books with her stunning woodcuts, so she certainly must have had a sense of what interests children. That said, when I look at these images, I never feel that they are particularly made for children.

Certainly I can enjoy this book with my children. They are excited to point out scenes that relate to their experiences, and inquire about anything unfamiliar. But the level of sophistication found in these images make them captivating for any age.

Godine Press published it as a beautifully bound, large gift book in 1981, and it continues to sell. It is definitely worth either buying or finding a copy in a library. It isn't enough to see it on a screen. One must leaf through the heavy, archival paper and really take in the exquisite details found in each lovingly carved image.

To borrow another quote from Sendak:

A book is really like a lover. It arranges itself in your life in a way that is beautiful. 

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