Lives That Changed Lives

Lives That Changed Lives


Tasha Tudor - Author and Illustrator


ChildrenÂ’s Author and Illustrator

It seems that Tasha Tudor has always known exactly how she wanted to live. From the time she was a little girl, she dreamed of living on a secluded farm where she could surround herself with a garden and a slew of household pets and barnyard animals. She also knew that she wanted to illustrate childrenÂ’s books. Today she can look back on her life with satisfaction that she has fulfilled both of her dreams. Tasha has lived most of her life in the New England countryside and currently lives in a setting of her own creation in rural Vermont, reminiscent of an earlier time.

Tasha is also a much-celebrated illustrator, and has illustrated nearly one hundred books. Among her most famous illustrations are for the books Mother Goose, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, Little Women, and The Winds in the Willows.

In her mid-80Â’s, Tasha Tudor has emerged as a lifestyle icon. She has spent her life cultivating a world of her own making. TudorÂ’s illustrative style is self-taught and is a direct reflection of her own lifestyle and interest in the early 1800Â’s. She lives a simple lifestyle reminiscent of the 1830Â’s, spinning and weaving flax into cloth, sewing her own old-fashioned long dresses, cooking on a wood-burning stove, milking goats and hand-dipping candles to light her rooms. She spends hours working barefoot in both her vegetable and flower gardens and peacefully working on illustrations for current projects.

TashaÂ’s art is a world of beauty and imagination. It also has an old-fashioned charm. The scenes she paints are mostly of happy family outings, animals, sunshine, laughter, simplicity and peace, depicting a way of life many yearn for but few achieve. People seem to be drawn to the sense of innocence and nostalgia depicted in her work. But for Tasha, the scenes she paints represent her reality. She paints what she sees every day - her house, her garden, animals, children, and friends.

It is not just her work as an author and illustrator that makes Tasha Tudor a remarkable woman. Tasha is a noteworthy woman because in this world of mass-produced, Hollywood values, she has had the courage to create her own world and live out her dreams.

Tasha was born Starling Burgess on August 28, 1915 in Boston Massachusetts. Her father was William Starling Burgess, a noted yacht designer and enthusiastic sailor. Her mother, Rosamond Tudor, was an accomplished portrait painter who always used her maiden name professionally. It was Mrs. Burgess who chose to name her after her fatherÂ’s family, but her father did not care for it. He favored the name Natasha, from TolstoyÂ’s War and Peace, and the name stuck. Eventually it was shortened to Tasha.

Both William and Rosamond were nonconformists in many ways. William was a master storyteller and was given to impromptu performances and Rosamond generally favored the Bohemian life of an artist. While they were individualistic, they also had impeccable manners and social graces. Tasha is much like her parents in these respects. While she has chosen to live by her own standards rather than those imposed by society, she has the manners and graces of the genteel. She attended the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts and later continued her training under several prominent artists.

From the time she was born and through a good portion of her childhood, Tasha had a beloved Scotch nanny, Mary D. Burnett, whom she called Dady. Dady was like a second mother to her and Tasha adored her. Dady kept in close contact with Tasha even after she was grown. Being a very domestic woman, Dady helped Tasha learn the art of homemaking with lessons in cooking, sewing, and housekeeping at a very early age.

TashaÂ’s parents divorced when she was only nine years old. Her mother took her with her to live in Greenwich Village in New York City, so Rosamond could work seriously on her painting. But, while Greenwich Village was then a popular place for many important writers and artists that came there to live the Bohemian life, it was not a good place to raise a child. Because of this, Tasha was sent to live with family friends in Redding, Connecticut, visiting her mother on many weekends.

According to Tasha, living with Aunt Gwen and her daughter Rose, though unconventional, was one of the best things that ever happened to her. Aunt Gwen was an aspiring playwright and was too wrapped up in writing plays to spend much time cooking and housekeeping. She often read out loud to the girls far into the night and encouraged them to use their imagination by acting out characters from the books that she read to them. Tasha and Rose, became close friends along with three other girls that lived nearby. They spent much of their time roaming the countryside and were free from formal discipline. Nothing was ever on schedule at GwenÂ’s house, except on the weekend when RoseÂ’s father, Michael, came home from his job in the city. This was a time of great merrymaking and feasting.

Though she is widely read and well educated, TashaÂ’s schooling was not of the usual sort. She didnÂ’t begin school until she was seven years old and never finished past the eighth grade. Her early education was spent at a school taught by a man she called Uncle Henry. School was only from 9 until noon and the rest of her time was free. But as she grew older, she was sent to a nearby boarding school and given a more formal education. Tasha didnÂ’t do well with formal schooling, and hated every minute of it. She was thankful that she only had to endure a few years until she was through with academics.

Around the age of 15, Tasha began spending winters in Bermuda with her mother, where two aunts lived and offered them a place to stay. Tasha didnÂ’t really care for Bermuda, but longed to get back to the Redding farm. As she grew older, her love for farming was growing. Her teen years were spent on a farm with her mother in Redding, Connecticut in the summers, while wintering in Bermuda. It was here that her love of a farm life flourished. She also spent most of her summers drawing and painting wildflowers and the lovely countryside.

As stated before, from the time she was a little girl, Tasha new she wanted to be an illustrator. And, though she wasnÂ’t fond of writing, she began writing little stories for children so she would have something to illustrate. At the age of nineteen, she wrote and illustrated a complete almanac storybook, carrying the reader through the life of Hitty Fillow, a young girl who lived on a farm. While this book was never published, it gave Tasha the encouragement to pursue her dream of becoming an illustrator.

In 1936, Tasha met Thomas Leighton McCready, Jr. Though he spent much of his life living in a New York suburb, he now lived in Redding, also. But, while he liked the country, he enjoyed city life more. They fell in love and were married in 1938 at her motherÂ’s house. Tasha felt that she could turn Thomas into a farmer and in order to please his new bride he attempted that way of life once they were married. They lived and farmed her motherÂ’s farm for quite a few years while her mother was away painting in Guatemala. They had cows, geese, ducks, and a flock of hens. Thomas ran a milk route, selling cream, milk, butter, and eggs to nearby people. Tasha got up early to milk the cows by hand and take care of all the household chores, including tending a huge garden. This she did without the conveniences of running water or electricity.

It was also in 1938 that Tasha had her first book published. Pumpkin Moonshine was originally written as a Christmas present for her niece and after it was published it was a great success. The publishing of this book set the stage for others that Tasha would write and illustrate in the ensuing 60 plus years. Like her mother, Tasha used the name Tudor as her professional name. She eventually had her name legally changed to Tasha Tudor.

As the young couple began a family, Connecticut did not seem rural enough for Tasha. She had always wanted to live in Vermont. Thomas, however, felt Vermont was far too remote, so when it came time for the McCreadyÂ’s to move, they settled for a place in New Hampshire. They found an old farm that had been sadly neglected, and over the years, Tasha brought it back to life. While there was no running water and electricity on the farm until the youngest was five years old, it was here that she raised her four children, Seth, Bethany, Efner, and Thomas.

Tasha seemed to thrive on difficulty and hard work. Besides her regular household chores, Tasha also wove her own cloth on a loom and made her childrenÂ’s clothes. Because of her love for this kind of labor, this country life suited her well. Thomas, however, did not fair well in this environment. So, like her parents, the couple eventually divorced, leaving Tasha to raise her family as a single parent.

In this role, she worked with even more determination to make a living for her family, and the sales of her books gave the family financial support. Tasha loved illustrating and especially loved illustrating fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and stories concerning holiday celebrations and farm life. Her style of illustration has frequently been characterized as Victorian and nineteenth century.

While her children were young, her family learned to entertain themselves by reading aloud for hours from classical literature, going on long walks along the countryside, and developing various hobbies. Being homeschooled, they developed a wide range of skills which included carpentry, writing, sewing, and cooking. From an early age, they learned to help Tasha in running the household, which relieved some of the stress of living without modern conveniences. Her children also added to the family income by constructing marionettes, writing scripts, building scenery, and performing marionette shows with the help of their mother.

Once her family was grown, Tasha decided that the large farmhouse was too large and empty for her to live happily in. So in 1971, Tasha sold her house in New Hampshire, and decided to fulfill her dream of living in Vermont. Her son Seth had already moved to Vermont, and Tasha decided to try to find land near him. With her usual good fortune, the first day she went looking for land in Vermont, Tasha found a nice-sized piece of property for sale adjoining SethÂ’s property. It was just what she was looking for and Seth built the house and barns according to her plans. She went on to landscape the property just as she had envisioned as a child with gardens, orchards, and a lovely deep woods.

Almost 30 years have past since Tasha moved to Vermont, and the buildings have aged sufficiently to trick any visitor into feeling as if theyÂ’ve crossed the boundaries of time, back to the 19th century. You see, Tasha has chosen to live as one in the 1830Â’s. It is here, living in surroundings she had always wanted, that Tasha continues to work from dawn to dusk, milking her goats, making her own cheese and butter, spinning and weaving cloth from her own flax, painting, and above all else, working in her beloved gardens.

Tasha has no regrets in life. She doesnÂ’t spend time thinking of past mistakes, but lives her life in the present, enjoying the life sheÂ’s made for herself, living out her dreams.

About the Author

Patricia Chadwick is a freelance writer and author of History's Women- The Unsung Heroines available at www.historyswomen.com

Read Tea Time With Tasha Tudor by clicking here!


 
 
 

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