Close-ups (Mary’s lamb)

It’s lambing season, so the closeups are all from my 1995 children’s book, Mary Had a Little Lamb.

MHALLcoverWMThe 32-page hardcover first edition is out of print, but Mary Had a Little Lamb has been re-released as a board book. (sorry, it too is out of print) Read further to learn how some of the illustrations were made.


The barn wall is made from an old weathered shingle and the straw bed is a mixture of real straw and embroidery floss.


The lamb is made of wool felt, then covered in wool french knots. Mary’s dress is made of a cotton sock and the furniture hinge is a hook and eye.


The lamb’s ears are made from kid leather and the garden wall is beach stones glued in a circle


The tree trunk is wool tweed and Mary’s toes are made of wire, wrapped in embroidery floss.  


The leaves are cut out of artificial leaves and the wood pile next to the house is made of wooden beads.


 This scene inside the schoolhouse has desks sawed out of wood and a real slate black board.

Note: See other posts in the Close-ups series archive here.

Treasures (Foreign Paper Dolls)

We had this set of Foreign Paper Dolls when we were children. It was one of the things I was rummaging for when I fell and broke my wrist, 6 weeks ago. The cast just came off and I’m starting physical therapy to get my frozen wrist moving again. This feels like great progress toward being able to sew again! The box of paper dolls says, “Copyright MCMLVII (1957) by The Platt & Co., Inc.”. I can remember cutting out the clothes and playing with them. The dolls include Toshiko (Japan), Ingrid (Sweden), Yongtu (Korea), Yvonne (France), Juan (Mexico), Hans (Germany), Juliane (Holland), Liat (Tahiti). They certainly had a lot of outfits to choose from! 


Here is picture of us about the time we would have cut out their paper clothes. We were driving our white station wagon with the wooden roof box across the country.

my mother, Anne, Salley and Jimmy 1960

Toshiko, Juliane, Yvonne, Yongtu, Juan, Ingrid. Liat, Hans

paper doll clothes

Hans (Germany), Toshiko (Japan), Juan (Mexico), Liat (Tahiti), Yvonne (France)

Hans (Germany), Toshiko (Japan), Juan (Mexico)

Yongtu (Korea), Yvonne (France), Juliane (Holland), Liat (Tahiti), Ingrid (Sweden)

Hans (Germany), Toshiko (Japan). Juan (Mexico)

Noah’s Ark

At 26″ x 30″, Noah’s Ark is the largest piece I’ve ever made.  Everyone has their own scale and mine tends to be small. Even if the outside dimensions of a piece are large, I will fill it with smaller items. Looking at this picture now, I see large areas that would not escape my present-day appetite for embellishment.  It’s tricky to keep the all over design working, so that it draws you in first and then you can appreciate the detail up close. At this time, in 1985, I had stopped making the pins, but was still designing small animals of the same size to use in my fabric relief pictures. You can read a 3 part story about my pins in earlier blog posts here. Showing the story of Noah was an opportunity to continue figuring out how to make a variety of animals. It was also a way to play around with arranging them together in a landscape.

“Noah’s Ark”, 26″ x 30″, fabric relief 1985

 The background fabric is cotton velveteen, which I dyed with a spray bottle, building up layers of  color, giving it a variegated, stippled appearance. The border is made from an upholstery fabric remnant that I remember finding in a bargain bin at a fabric store in Berkeley, California.   

dyed velveteen

Detail of "Noah's Ark", 9" x 12", 1985

sketch of Noah's Ark

During this time, I was hand embroidering the leaves on the trees and adding some leaf beads as well. The fabric is machine appliqued, something I would give up shortly after this in favor of hand stitching. I came to dislike the uniform, flat stitches and put my sewing machine away for years at a time. It’s fun to look at this piece and see early examples of human figures and animals that I will continue to rework and develop for another 25 years.  

Noah and his wife

Detail from "Noah's Ark"

detail from "Noah's Ark"

detail from "Noah's Ark"

Close-ups (snow)

In the bleak midwinter Frosty wind made moan,   

Earth stood hard as iron,   

Water like a stone;   

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,   

Snow on snow,   

In the bleak midwinter,   

Long ago.   

by Christina Rossetti, English poet (1830 – 1894)   

drawing by Salley. age 6

 With snow falling and lingering in many parts of the country this winter, I’ve found some  snow pictures to show you. First, here’s a crayon drawing saved from my childhood by my mother. Then we skip ahead to 1995, with a detail from the title page of the 32-page edition of Mary Had a Little Lamb. It’s the scene where Mary, her brother and her father are trudging through the snow to visit the lamb in the barn.  

detail from "Mary Had a Little Lamb" 1995

 The next scene is from the illustration for the poem “Snow”, which is in the poetry anthology, You and Me: Poems of Friendship. The snowman is made of felt, painted with an acrylic based bumpy liquid medium. In the background is an old linen tablecloth.  

detail from "You and Me: Poems of Friendship" 1997

 Here are some wee folk dolls that were brought out to play in the snow. 

Wee Folk in the Snow 2002

 This snowflake covered bed spread is part of an illustration from Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes. The bed frame is made from some hollow dried plant parts, maybe thorns, with the sharp points cut off. I bought them a long time ago in a bead store. The original illustrations will be shown in a traveling exhibit when the book is released next September. Find out about it here.  

detail from "Pocketful of Posies" 2010

Note: See other posts in the Close-ups series archive here.


This might look like something a child would do, but I painted “The Laplander” while a 21-year-old art student at RISD. My illustration teacher, Judy-Sue Goodwin-Sturges, gave me a roll of brown paper and told me to work big. She could see that I was struggling to find my way artistically and this was her way of getting me to see other possibilities.    

The Laplander, tempera and pastel, 1977

 The assignment was to illustrate a story about a Laplander. So, I bought some tempera paint, wide brushes and some children’s pastels and taped the 6 ft. long sheet of paper to my apartment wall. I can remember how exhilarating it was to move the wide brush across the paper. It felt as loose and playful as a finger trail on a foggy car window. As part of the excercise, I tried not to think too hard or overwork the painting.    

detail of "The Laplander", 1977

 When I brought the rolled up painting to class and hung it up with the other student’s work, it was by far the largest piece and was highly visible from across the room. During the critique, another teacher walked past the open doorway and poked his head in. He pointed to my picture and called out, “What is that?” I don’t remember if anyone responded to him, but he soon walked away. Now I must tell you that every art school student has bad critique experiences, but this was very unusual behavior for a teacher who has no connection to the class. This man, whom I shall not name, no longer teaches and has gone on to become a very famous illustrator. I can remember being shocked at his rudeness, but also felt excitement because he noticed my work. You see, I had previously decided not to register for his class because my friends had complained that his class was torturous unless you were willing to draw in his style. I’ve never spoken to him about the incident and for years held a grudge against him. It wasn’t until I saw him 20 years later at an art show that I experienced his human frailty, that I could see him for what he was, just an insecure man who is vulnerable like everyone else.    

I’ve kept The Laplander painting for 30 years and recently unrolled it, ironed out as many wrinkles as possible and photographed it outside. Seeing it today reminds me of a time when I was unsure about how to make my mark and how, with the help of an insightful teacher, pressed forward into unknown territory. There have been other moments of uncertainty, but I continue to strive for qualities like sincerity, strength and vulnerability in my art and in my life.    

"The Laplander" with Salley today

My teacher, Judy-Sue Goodwin-Sturges still teaches at RISD and encourages students to develop their own individual styles and find new ways to extend themselves artistically. Thanks, Judy-Sue, for helping me find new possibilities, then and now! Here she is in the early 90’s with some of her former students who are children’s book illustrators, Salley, Ashley Wolff and Holly Berry.  

Judy-Sue (back), Salley, Ashley and Holly 1992

Fish Tattoo

My niece, Danya, looked through her grandmother’s portfolio from RISD and really liked this drawing of three fish in a circle. It’s dated Feb. 4, 1944, so my mother was 19 years old when she drew it, the same age her granddaughter was when she chose it as the inspiration for her tattoo.    

drawing by Mary Hartwell (Mavor), 1944

Mary and her mother, Louise Hartwell, 1944

Danya is my brother Jim’s daughter, the youngest and only girl out of 5 grandchildren. She worked for me for a few summers, putting kits together when I still made them at Wee Folk Studio. She is now a sophomore in college, where she is discovering art history. For her tattoo, Danya traced one of the fish from the drawing and made a black ink copy complete with bubbles. She brought it with her to the tattoo parlor and had the fish tattooed to the inside of her right arm. Now, she has a constant reminder of her grandmother, whom I think would be quite amused at the idea.     

Danya showing her fish tattoo

Danya's tattoo

Danya with her grandmother, 1990

Pink House

I can still remember how much fun The Pink House was to make, even though it’s been almost 15 years. I had finished the 2 year project of making  illustrations for Mary Had a Little Lamb and was ready to burst out with something bold and unplanned. I sorted through boxes of objects that I’d been collecting, selecting parts to use.PinkHouselowWM

The hair pins and costume jewelry were from grandmother’s things.  The key and New York subway token were found in her desk drawer. I try to find things that can be sewn. Even the shells used for the breasts were earrings with convenient holes already drilled, making it easier to sew them down. I prefer to sew things in place and not use glue, which is messy and unpredictable. With stitches, if somethings doesn’t work, you can always rip it out and try again.

hair pins

pinkhouse2detailWM Some of the objects I’ve sewn on include a miniature silver lock, man and dog buttons, a girl with umbrella charm and a bakealite flower button. The woman”s headdress is a pin made of a cluster of shells.

sketch for “The Pink House”


The Pink House  was one of the first pieces I made with wool felt. The red felt is from an old maternity top my late mother had from the 50’s.  The woman is holding a doll house sized plastic frying pan from my childhood. Queen With Duster is another piece I made with my grandmother’s found objects during the same period. You can see it on this post here.


I’m so glad that my mother saved some of her children’s artwork. I don’t remember this childhood drawing and just found it when I was cleaning my parents’ house.  I can’t help notice some similarities between this drawing done when I was seven and The Pink House. They both have a bold central figure in a dress, with arms raised, gesturing hands, a head-piece and circle cheeks.

drawing by Salley at age 7