The World of Tasha Tudor

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Tasha Tudor
Children's Author and Illustrator

Originally published in AB Bookman's Weekly (96:20) November 13, 1995
Copyright Wm John Hare, Concord, NH 03303, October 18, 1995

WHO

Tasha Tudor, the octogenarian New England artist/farmer/entrepreneur, has been writing and illustrating children's books since 1938 and now captivates a worldwide audience. That audience is intrigued not only by her stories, but also by her rendering of the traditional New England countryside depicted in those stories.

Over fifty-seven years she has become a publishing phenomenon bringing a quaint and lovely quiet-paced (often) agrarian life to her readers. She has written or illustrated more than eighty books, many of which stand the test of time with numerous printings and re-publications.

Tudor travels to book fairs and other publicity events to meet her fans and autograph copies of her books. To do this at eighty-years of age shows the stamina of a farmer -- which she is -- and the dignity and grace of her Beacon Hill heritage. She is at once a product and a representative of the New England she so loves.

This 20th century author was publicized on March 26, 1924, when the Boston Herald ran a picture of an eight-year-old girl with roses at the launching of the yacht Argyll in Salem, Massachusetts. She was identified as Miss Natasha Burgess, the sponsor at the launching and daughter of naval architect W. Starling Burgess. Her mother was the noted portrait painter, Rosamund Tudor.

Originally named Starling Burgess, her given name was changed to Natasha by her father and brother who decided she should be named after the heroine of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. Her name subsequently changed with marriages and divorces, but Natasha Burgess has been known to the children's book world as Tasha Tudor since her first book Pumpkin Moonshine was published in 1938.1

As a child, Tudor was influenced by two quite different milieu - cosmopolitan Boston, and rural Connecticut. She absorbed the atmosphere of the Tudor house on Beacon Hill, an atmosphere of times past and China adventures. She became enraptured by the era of the 1840s especially and the journey back a hundred years became a vital factor in her art and life. She not only became an illustrator of stories of that time but she adopted the dress and furnished her home with artifacts of daily life 150 years ago.

Tudor spent many of her formative years on a Connecticut farm and her illustrations have always reflected that upbringing. She went on to art education in Boston and London. She married Thomas McCready in Redding, Connecticut, where they lived and farmed and where their two older children Bethany and Seth were born.

In 1945, the McCready family moved north and settled in a large post-Revolutionary frame house in need of repair in Webster, New Hampshire. Children Tom and Efner were born there, and there the menagerie of farm animals continued to increase, as did the books they inspired.2

By 1945, Tudor had published eight books. Her illustrations for Mother Goose paid for the house in Webster. In New Hampshire, Thomas McCready also began to publish children's books about the farm animals. Just as Tasha's early "calico books" had previously captured the imagination with a lamb named Linsey Woolsey and a goose named Alexander, so did McCready's Biggity Bantam, the story of a small and irascible rooster, Mr. Stubbs, a cat with virtually no tail (but many tales), Pekin White and the Adventures of a Beagle. All these were brought to life through the pictures of Tasha Tudor.

Even though the McCreadys eventually divorced, Tudor and the children lived in the New Hampshire house until 1972. Oldest daughter Bethany recalls that "My most vivid memories of my mother in those early New Hampshire years are related to her art. ... At an old-fashioned table by the east window, she would be busily drawing and illustrating...bits of nature collected from field or garden - flowers, berries, and seedpods stuck in a glass, or perhaps a mouse or a frog, captive for a few hours only, in a large glass jar arranged with moss, tiny ferns, and dried grass. I am sure my own passionate love of nature must have been greatly inspired by that wonderful table and my mother's love of beauty."3 Readers find these incarnations from the kitchen table throughout her books.

Tasha Tudor still lives in New England, still with cats and goats and canaries and corgyn. In 1972 she realized a long-time dream of having her own house in Vermont. Her son Seth built her snug Cape Cod cottage and barn near Brattleboro, inspired by another hilltop house in Concord, New Hampshire. Corgi Cottage, as her Vermont home came to be known, appears in Tudor's art and has recently been pictured in books written by Tovah Martin with photographs by fellow-Vermonter Richard Brown (son-in-law of Charles and Anne Lindbergh).

Tudor takes pride in her flower gardens which have been featured in many magazine articles. She obviously does not mind publicity although Horticulture, August/September 1995 carried this 'Word from Tasha Tudor." "Since the May 1995 publication of "A Spring Visit with Tasha Tudor," Tasha Tudor has received so many requests to visit her garden that she cannot possibly respond to them all. Although she was delighted to share her garden with kindred spirits through Horticulture, she regrets that she cannot entertain the public at Corgi Cottage.-Ed.'4

WRITINGS

Tudor's experience of Connecticut farm life as a young girl is reflected in her first books, published just before World War II. She portrays strong farmers, small children, sheep, goats, cows, pumpkins, geese and dogs. Her earliest "calico" books are miniatures of color and charm - Pumpkin Moonshine, Alexander the Gander, The County Fair, Dorcas Porkus and Linsey Woolsey - and are in great demand today, commanding prices in the hundreds of dollars for fine copies from the used book trade.

One of the most charming of Tudor's farm books, Thistly B, features a yellow canary, one of numerous birds who lived in the McCready/Tudor home. Thistly B actually makes his home in Tasha's enormous doll house which was a famous feature of the New Hampshire farm house. The doll house's other inhabitants appear in several of Tudor's works. The 1950 book The Dolls' Christmas features favorite dolls and the Tudor puppet shows which also recur throughout Tudor's books.

A fanciful article from Life magazine reported the wedding of McCready dolls Lieut. Thaddeus Crane and Melissa Shakespeare, ably assisted by real children of the neighborhood. A set of postal cards recounted daily events in the lives of the 6 dolls in the Shakespeare family. These cards were published and distributed through Tudor's home business The Ginger and Pickles Store. Here she sold farm produce and her books and other paper products. It became a favorite stop for her early fans, and, as a home enterprise, it provided revenue to help pay the bills of a growing family.

All this activity around the house is well documented in Tudor's watercolors, for example, the greening of Spring in the barnyard as depicted on the endpapers of Biggity Bantam, and the birthday cake glowing at night as it floats down the Blackwater River in Becky's Birthday. Tudor's drawings throughout her books record mountains, flowers, animals - the scenes from the artist's dooryard and the myriad details of domesticity in her farm home.

Tudor's books have sometimes re-appeared in many forms. Three of her early books were later published as an anthology Tasha Tudor's Sampler. A book about the five senses has been simplified and rewritten for younger readers. She has designed and illustrated Christmas cards for many years and has illustrated post cards, tin cans, jig-saw puzzles and soaps. There are posters and many prints of her art. She designed porcelain figurines for The Franklin Mint, and porcelain boxes for other companies. Her toys also have been recreated that others might try the magic that touched the Tudor children as they were growing up.

Tudor has allied herself with kindred spirits wherever she found them. She appears in The Family of Man, photographed by her friend Nell Dorr. Many people have long enjoyed her collaboration with Mary Mason Campbell which produced the New England Butt'ry Shelf Cookbook and ...Almanac. Tudor provided illustrations for a Peterborough, New Hampshire, publisher to issue 1967/1968 editions of the "Plupy" Shute books, Brite and Fair and The Real Diary of a Real Boy, both stories of New Hampshire of a hundred years earlier.

Tudor illustrated Little Women and The Night Before Christmas. A Brighter Garden, a selection of Emily Dickinson's poems was a 1990 addition to Tudor's canon, and is also available on audio and video cassette. In all of these we see the authentic clothing and sense the times of New England life in the nineteenth century.

Tudor's influence was a powerful one in her family. Her children (and now grandchildren) appear throughout her books. Both daughters have written books, naturally enough about animals with whom they have lived their lives. Bethany wrote about ducklings and owls in Skiddycock Pond and Samantha's Surprise. Teaming up with her mother, Efner has given us the tale of a cat lost in the winter, The Christmas Cat. Her mother's paintings in this book introduce Efner's family to readers. More recently, Efner has written of horses in My Sadie, and Deer in the Hollow, although Tudor did not illustrate these books.

TUDOR BIBLIOGRAPHY

Like the bibliographical experiences of many other folk, my involvement with Tudor began innocently enough. Mrs. Hare admired the paintings! And so, we bought some books, enjoyed them and put them on a shelf. After duplicating a few purchases, we began to discover that some books were near-duplicates, but there were small and interesting differences.

Thus began my bibliographic study of the fifty-seven years of Tudor books. I have attempted to unravel details which publishers seem not to have recorded, or at least have long since discarded. My research into Tudor's publishing history began to reflect the personalities and general activities of publishing in the last half of the 20th century. A brief summary runs likes this.

Under Eunice Blake's editorship, Oxford University Press published Tudor's first book Pumpkin Moonshine in 1938 from their New York office. Oxford averaged more than a book a year for the next twenty years until its manager-president Henry Z. Walck left to establish his own firm.

With his 1958 departure, Walck bought the inventory, authors' contracts and copyrights of Oxford's 250 children's titles. These included, of course, all the work Tudor has produced for that house.5 Henry Z. Walck, Inc. produced books with moderate success until publishing's massive corporate reorganization of the 1970s caused him to merge his firm with the David McKay Co., then owned by Ken Rawson. Rawson, like Walck, had begun his publishing career at Putnam's in the 1930s. Walck initially managed McKay's list of children's books, but he had left McKay by 1980, even though his imprint was still a McKay subsidiary.6

Tudor's books follow this corporate path and Pumpkin Moonshine can be found in various printings with the Oxford/Walck/McKay imprint. It is one of the titles anthologized in McKay's Tasha Tudor's Sampler. Random House was still issuing Pumpkin Moonshine in paperback in 1989. And a recent Tudor venture, the Jenny Wren Press, Mooresville, Indiana, issued a 55th Anniversary Edition in 1993, including a limited number of leather-bound copies.

Henry Z. Walck's exodus from Oxford with its children's list created one of the more damnable and tortuous aspects of Tudor bibliography. Walck, quite naturally, began issuing books with his own imprint. But to the consternation of collectors and book sellers, he failed to renew copyright in the name of his new company. Instead, the company prints its copyright year as though it were the original Oxford edition. Thus, to the uninitiated, these books seem to be legitimate first editions dating from the 1930s, '40s and '50s, when in fact they are reprints from the 1960s and 1970s, generally on whiter paper. Other clues to their later production exist in ISBNs and Cataloging-In-Publication data, neither of which was used in the 1940s and 1950s. Although Library of Congress card numbers can be found in post-war books, their inclusion in books did not become common until the 1960s.

Walck's misstated copyright appears in many of Tudor's books such as this one found in various printings of Pumpkin Moonshine: Copyright by Henry Z. Walck, 1938. It is even more distressing to find that The Jenny Wren Press, itself, in which Tudor recently had a stake with Beth Mathers, continued to cite the error in its 55th anniversary edition of the work in 1993. Here again, the error is repeated on the verso of the title page: 1st Edition Copyright 1938 Henry Z. Walck, Inc. Walck didn't exist in 1938; in fact, no books could have been published with the Walck name until after 1957. Yet, many booksellers and unsuspecting book buyers, ignorant of this vagary routinely trade Walck's Tudor books as "first editions" not suspecting their true age. (We found them being offered this way at a reputable book fair in September.) No wonder their condition seems so good and their paper so white!

The error also appears in at least two recent title lists published by Philomel in Drawn from New England (1979), and in the Tasha Tudor Bibliography from Elaine's Upper Story, Rogers City, Michigan (1989). Let all book people know, "It ain't so!" Oxford is the name to prove a first edition of most Tudor books to 1958. Furthermore, Oxford University Press carefully numbered its successive printings, another point which Walck failed to follow.

With the dispersal of children's books at Oxford, Eunice Blake brought Tudor to J. B. Lippincott & Co. where Tudor illustrated new editions of the perennial sellers The Secret Garden and A Little Princess.

Despite their lasting popularity, or actually because of it, these books are particularly problematical to the bibliographer. They carry no statements of print date nor number and have been continuously in print since 1962 and 1963. Indeed, the greatest clues to their age come from the jacket price and text. One is driven to observing the color of paper and binding, and the thickness of the book to place printings in order. I have nineteen copies of The Secret Garden sitting on my shelves. I think they are all unique printings.

Tudor illustrated Rumer Godden's The Dolls' House issued by Viking Press in 1962 (although after the retirement of their famous children's editor May Massee). Viking had already published Becky's Birthday and Becky's Christmas and would next issue A Round Dozen, an anthology of Louisa May Alcott's stories.

One of Tudor's favorite and most endearing subjects is the Christmas season. She first worked with editor Ann K. Beneduce on Take Joy, an anthology of poems, stories, songs and activities centered on this Christian holiday. They would produce a number of books together.

Corgiville Fair, the most inventive of Tudor's books was published by Crowell when Beneduce was head of their children's book department. Corgiville...gives us a world with no people, although there is plenty of action carried on by Welsh corgi dogs, one of Tudor's trademarks, other animals and Tudor's own 'boggarts,' - trollish creatures who "smoke cigars and are apt to be wild.7

Beneduce helped provide us, too, with Bethany Tudor's Drawn from New England - the only biography to date. This came from William Collins Publishers where Beneduce worked following Harper & Row's takeover of Crowell. This was a short venture, and in 1980 Beneduce was able to set up her operation as a new unit, Philomel Books, of the Putnam Publishing Group.8

Philomel continued to publish a number of books by Tudor during the 1980s, including several mechanical books derived from the Tudor family tradition of Advent calendars complete with opening doors and surprises. Capitalizing on the public's recent interest, Tudor designs appear on several pop-up books.

Betty Crocker's Kitchen Gardens presents country recipes for native foods and herbs. ...Kitchen Gardens is also a good example of a book reprinted in several sizes from the original. One solution enlarges the book, and the dust jacket by adding an olive band at top and bottom edges of the previous jacket. In paperback Golden Press printings the page size is first reduced, and then in a 1979 reprint enlarged with a new cover.

One of the truly fascinating aspects revealed by Tudor bibliography is how many forms her art, and even her books, have taken. We have already mentioned pop-up and other mechanical books and puzzles. She has shown her floral knowledge in a number of almanacs. Two small leather books, The Twenty-third Psalm and The Night Before Christmas were issued by the press of miniaturist Achille St. Onge in Worcester, Massachusetts. These are small lovelies which would be wonderful holiday gifts for young children were it not for their now fetching thirty-five dollars and up.

My effort at a Tudor bibliography is to record all printings of her work, with distinguishing points. The task is daunting to say the least. I have decided that I can only attempt to record English language United States publications in a first volume. I also have a "ghost" to locate. The American Book Publishing Record says of More Prayers that it was "originally published in paperback in 1965." 10 But, I have yet to see a copy. I appeal to my colleagues in the trade who might help locate one.

Fifty years ago, Tasha Tudor created a delightful and entirely understandable cow jumping over the moon in her Mother Goose. Today, Tudor remains as active as ever, although she is often curiously overlooked in discussions of major 20th century children's authors/illustrators. Ms Tudor announced her plans to continue playing an active role in publishing in this recent letter to her collectors: "As an artist, I have long lamented the fact that, quite often, the artist sends her work out into the world with very little control over how it is presented or distributed. I wished that I could oversee what happened to my work once I had completed it. My wish has been granted, or to be more precise, I have made my wish reality. I have created a new company, Corgi Cottage Industries, which will produce fine quality art prints, cards, books, and a great variety of other items - all personally overseen by the artist -me!" 9

With the notice she also included announcements of a new print, new Christmas cards, and a sketchbook, each copy of which will be autographed. The latter seems to be a reaction against the inflation of her signature on many recent books. Her autograph is not rare, and has even been found recently on adhesive stickers applied to books as they were sold.

As many dealers have begun to discover, Tasha Tudor is a durable seller in antiquarian shops. Her books, while certainly common, still do not often appear; and when they are offered on dealers' shelves or in catalogs, these books move quickly. They are collectable and they are sought just as they have been since 1938.

1 (Tudor, Bethany, DRAWN FROM NEW ENGLAND. Collins: 1979, pp. 10-13)

2 (Ibid., pp. 26-29)

3 (Ibid., p. 33)

4 HORTICULTURE: THE MAGAZINE OF AMERICAN GARDENING, August/September 1995. 73:7 p. 6.

5 (Tebbel, John, A HISTORY OF BOOK PUBLISHING IN THE UNITED STATES. Bowker: 1981. IV:479)

6 (Ibid.)

7 (Tudor, Tasha, CORGIVILLE FAIR. Crowell: 1971, p. [viii])

8 (Tebbel, IV: 217)

9 (Undated letter postmarked Richmond, Va., September 30, 1995)

10 AMERICAN BOOK PUBLISHING RECORD. Bowker: 1967, p. 88.

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