June Hedge a gram

Happy June,

     Books have inspired me since I was six, bringing on a jolt of excitement of a previously unencountered world. When we want to revisit the feeling of a far away place, or just admire the nuances of the cultural mix from a favorite book, we walk from room to room in our hunting style camp in the Berkshires. Our house sits on a hillside strewn with huge tumbled rocks overlooking a moon shaped lake. It is a large scale, and the landscape tempers the divergent themes inside, as does another constant - the honey colored pine walls, floor and ceiling. Every room has Persian carpet, many from a favorite antique rug store in nearby Great Barrington and they also connect the rooms.
     The whimsical romance of Edward Lear's poem THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT inspired the images and colors in the master bedroom. The poem which I illustrated in my children's book in 1991 was set in Martinique in the West Indies. After a research trip there, I framed the historical postcards of the island and used the tradition plaid of the woman's dress on the bedspread. In my book, I used shells to decorate the borders and I assembled a mirror using shells I collected as well as miniature sailor valentines for their color and wonderful textures. The fireplace is in use in spring and fall for breakfast and on cool nights when the antique owl andiron's red eyes glow.
     My husband, Joe and I have traveled to Africa seven times, with three children's books in mind, NOAH'S ARK in 2003, HONEY, HONEY, LION! in 2005 and THE THREE LITTLE DASSIES slated for 2010. The master bath's shower curtain is Mali, or mud cloth - antique ivory elephants passed down in our family for three generations and a collection of hand carved and clay guinea hens, and baskets from the Okavango Delta decorate the tiny rustic room. One of my paintings of the wildlife in Botswana, a "camp" portrait of my husband Joe and photographs of the African birds we see on safari are on the walls.
     After a trip to China with family member Yun Li for DAISY COMES HOME we came back with a huge vessel that inspired a needlepoint cushion for a pew handed down from my great uncle, Harold Brett, a portrait artist and illustrator who worked on Cape Cod in the 1930's. Family lore says the pew was from one of the oldest churches on the cape, that was destroyed in a storm.
     The expression "toys in the attic" has always intrigued me, and the loft bunk room above the living room has become a repository of children's toys and carved wooden animals from all over the world including some of the characters from my books, like GINGERBREAD BABY. Favorites are from the island of Hokkaido, Japan where my bass player husband, who is a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra traveled on tour. Carvings and Japanese fabric are infused throughout the house from eleven BSO tours, but the Japanese temples and gardens we visited in Kyoto may be the biggest influence. The first sight to greet us in returning home is a Trompe l'Oeil island set in the circular gravel drive. Once a pancake of annuals, the garden was designed and built by Gordon Haywood. Huge lichen covered granite boulders were planted to depict a craggy mountain island, blue green sedum cascade through a rift between them and into a pool where darmera mimic water plants under a lead sculpture of a great blue hereon - the heron is a common visitor to our lakeside and is our totem animal, since my husband Joe's last name is Hearne.
     The house was built in 1994 by the local Carty family who have lived in the Berkshires for generations. I have a collection of antique beaver carvings that salute their craft - they worked under the name, Beaver Builders. Our lake which is surrounded by preserved tracts is connected by a small canal to a wilder lake and the Appalachian Trail. In some years, when I kayak up the lake I pass a beaver lodge where I've heard the beaver kits inside mewing for their mom and dad.
     The small guest house is decorated with Victorian fish plates I collect, and were used to serve smoked trout when we entertained the musicians and Tanglewood fans with a quintet playing, THE TROUT, by Schubert. Two of our children had wedding festivities at the house and our guest house served for in-laws and friends, as well as for friends for Tanglewood weekend.
     One of my favorites pieces is a mid 1800's painted armoire from nearby antique nirvana Cupboards and Roses. The kitchen has a trio of hen paintings from my children's book featuring chickens - there are three, HEDGIE'S SURPRISE, DAISY COMES HOME, and GINGERBREAD FRIENDS. I didn't have far to go for my models, I have a flock of 50 exhibition bantam chickens, Silkies and Polish. Their barn, the third building on our seventeen acre property may be the only chicken house in the neighborhood with portraits of champion poultry, painted by their owner, me. There is stunning competition in the Tyringham Valley one half mile down our dirt road where antique farms and homesteads haven't changed much from the eighteenth century.
     Our house reflects themes from my books, and one character Hedgie the Hedgehog appears in all of them. One of the baths has hedgehog art - ranging from lithographs to my own artwork in Victorian rustic frames. Sometimes the tables are turned and the Berkshire hill where we live hands me a idea I can mine for my books. The beautiful birches that surround our porch gave me the idea to frame the illustrations in THE MITTEN with birch bark - which gave way to a collection of birch bark items. I've scrubbed cast off rolls of birch bark found in the woods to make mats for some of my paintings, wound birch bark around pillar candles and found faux bois china and pottery that looks right at home in our forest. A collection of leaf plates, some antique, and some fun pieces are playful additions to our table.
     When I'm asked why I illustrate children's books, I say that children are a great audience because the line between reality and imagination is so easily crossed. When architect, Jim Kelliher, designed our hunting camp we asked that it melt into the woods with hand peeled great logs and the indigenous stone worked throughout. Like the imaginative children I write and paint for, our house skirts the border between past outside travels and memories and our working life. I paint the birches outside my window, and the birds hear my husband's bass playing! The "hunting" part of our hunting camp refers strictly to idea hunting from troll's caves (across our road), bears which are frequent visitors, to pond turtles - all future book material!

Bye for now,

Your friends,

Jan Brett