Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tasha Tudor and Shaping A Life

I reread The Private World of Tasha Tudor yesterday, a book that never fails to inspire me.

If you are not already aware of the awesomeness of Tasha Tudor, she was an illustrator and, well, what you might certainly call an eccentric. She believed she had lived before, in the 1830s, and still lived on a Vermont farm wearing 1830s dresses (some authentic), spinning wool, raising goats, cultivating a lovely garden, and doing all manner of artsy and folksy things...marionette shows, teas, dollhouses... She also had quite a collection of antique clothes and she believed in WEARING them to pieces, not packing them away. In the book there are pictures of young women and children sporting some of her Victorian clothing collection and lovely as they are, you can see a spot where the dress is disintegrating. I kind of love that.

Tasha says in the book, If I do have a philosophy, it is best expressed by Henry David Thoreau, "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." (Yes, it's a quote within a quote, I know that's a little weird.)

And yes, I've heard that Tasha Tudor could be prickly or that her quaintness was calculated and commercial or that her children were fighting over her estate after her death or whatever, but...well, that sort of thing is their business. What I love about people like Tasha Tudor and David Bowie and countless other artists of the ages, people who were artistic eccentrics first and successful people second, is the important reminder that one can't just sit around and wait for an amazing life to be handed over to one. No matter how poor a person is, how small their home, how limited their time, we still have the power to choose a direction to head toward. We can gather bits of our dreams, cultivate them and let them grow.

As I read the book, I saw things I desire and still don't a house of my own, in a state with seasons and history and fresh apples in the fall and cherries in the summer. But I also read about Tasha Tudor's Christmas tree, decorated with beautiful ornaments handed down from her great-grandmother, and I thought with a smile about my own collection of Christmas ornaments--shiny 1960s orbs from an estate sale in my neighborhood. A woman named Susan had died, and her taste was very like mine, and she had clearly traveled and had money. Her house was full of lovely things. I have several of them now. Sure, they aren't 19th century ornaments, but you can't buy them anymore (except on Ebay and such of course), and they have a history that I don't know but imagine I feel.

60s Christmas ornaments. Quirky shoes with a work uniform. Herbs grown on a stoop. An hour dedicated to writing or art or music. Fresh baked bread. Small things matter.


  1. The estate sale ornaments make me smile. Like Olivia and the set of grandparents she bought at such a sale.

    I always liked Tasha Tudor's illustrations, although I never knew much about her. She certainly sounds interesting!

  2. Great post. I still have a book of Tasha Tudor's fairy tales I got for my birthday when I was six. I had never known anything about her until now. I want to dig that book out and look at it all over again with brand new eyes.

  3. I have always admired her art but knew nothing about her. Thank you so much for this lovely portrait! It is a perfect reminder for all of us--to tend our eccentricity, to welcome and feed our differences.