Tasha Tudor
(b. 1915)
Don’t let the frail stature of this woman fool you. Her interminable spirit has not only seen her through the rigors of farm life, but also through a fruitful career. Her style, which harkens back to a bygone era, has made Tasha Tudor a household name.

Childhood

Born as Starling Burgess on August 28, 1915 in Boston, Tudor’s father preferred  the name Natasha from Tolstoy’s War and Peace and called her Tasha for short. Her parents were both well read and lived unconventional lifestyles; her father, William Starling Burgess was a yacht and airplane designer and a sailor, her mother, Rosamond Tudor was a portrait painter, preferring to retain her maiden name. A Scottish nanny nicknamed ‘Dady’ taught Tasha to cook and sew. She later had her name legally changed to Tasha Tudor.

Tudor’s family, though not of wealth, was well placed in Bostonian society, and counted among their acquaintances Mrs. Gardner, Abigail Adams, Maxfield Parrish, John Singer Sargent and Mark Twain.

When Tudor was nine years old, her parents divorced, her mother relocating to pursue her painting career in Greenwich Village. Feeling that New York City in the 1920’s was not a proper place to raise a child, Tudor was sent to Redding, Connecticut to live with friends, spending weekends with her mother in New York City. She describes this experience as being unconventional but the best thing that ever happened to her. They lived a simple life with none of the confining disciplines she encountered in Boston. Her ‘Aunt Gwen’ would write plays and Tudor and her friends would act them out. She enjoyed the freedom of living in the country and yearned for the day when she would have a farm of her own.

Education

Tudor started school at seven years old and claims to have never passed the eighth grade or a single test, preferring to draw in her books. When she was done with school, she spent her winters in Bermuda with her mother and her aunts, where she taught nursery school. She later studied at the Boston Museum Fine Arts School for about a year but credits her mother with teaching her more.

Tudor’s decision to become an illustrator came when her mother gave her a copy of The Vicar of Wakefield, illustrated by Hugh Thompson.

“I just loved Hugh Thompson’s work, and right then and there decided I would be an illustrator!”
Professional Career

Tudor met her husband Thomas Leighton McCready, Jr. in 1936 and they married in 1938 at her mother’s farm in Redding, where she wore her Great-Grandmother’s wedding dress. The young couple farmed there for a few years, but farming life did not agree with her new husband as he was brought up in a New York suburb. It was McCready who encourage her to get together a portfolio and show it to the publishers in New York and Boston. 

Tudor was not fond of writing but mostly did so in order to have something to illustrate.
She prepared her first book for publication by hand binding it in blue calico fabric. It was called Pumpkin Moonshine and made the rounds to many publishers, each one turning it down. She returned it again to Oxford University Press in 1938, where a new editor there, Eunice Blake, saw it and accepted it as her first book in her new position. The publisher liked the calico binding so much that they produced five of her books with a calico-looking binding which became known as her calico books.

With her career in full swing, Tudor’s Mother Goose was named a Caldecott Honor book in 1945, and 1 Is One in 1957.

Two children had now joined the family, Bethany and Seth, by the time they moved in 1945. With her royalties from Mother Goose, Tudor had bought a decrepit old farmhouse in Webster, New Hampshire with no electricity, running water or heat, except for wood stoves. She furnished the house with antiques. Soon another son and daughter came along, Tom and Efner. Tudor enjoyed country living and all it entailed; cooking, cleaning, gardening, sewing and knitting. She even took to wearing antique clothing and was inclined to walk around with bare feet. In time, the children were able to help out with the farm chores.

Holidays were always a treat in the Tudor household, made special by Tasha’s craftiness. She also enjoyed basket making, spinning, weaving, and making dolls and marionettes. One summer, she was given a field of flax. She spun and wove the fabric, making a lovely shirt for brother. She tried to live as self-sufficiently as possible by growing all their food and making the children’s clothing.

From Drawn from New England: Tasha Tudor by her daughter Bethany Tudor: 

“As children we seldom perceived my mother’s tiredness from the demands this life made on her both physically and mentally. That was kept private. But she taught us early to assist her. And despite her appearance of fragility, she was indomitable of spirit and naturally cheerful . . . . We enjoyed our lifestyle very much. This is not to say that daily living was easy and pleasurable at all times, but my mother presented us with a happy and optimistic light which could not help but have its influence. Children need to grow up surrounded by love, and my mother had much of that to give. Busy as she was, she found time to enrich our lives. I do not recall that there was ever a dull moment!”
From 1954 to 1959, Tudor illustrated five books written by her husband but there is little else mentioned about him anywhere. It is clear that they divorced, probably after 1959. In Illustrators of Children’s Books: 1957—1966 (copyright 1968), her husband’s name is listed as Allan John Woods and her four children, as the offspring of a previous marriage. Yet in their next volume, Illustrators of Children’s Books: 1967—1976 (copyright 1978), she is again listed as being divorced.

Corgiville Fair, published in 1971, is Tudor’s favorite book, the only one that she has kept all of her sketches and colored originals in tact. Her love of Welch Corgi’s came about from a trip to England. Her son Tom had become enamored with them and vowed to save up enough money to buy one. When the family returned home, Tom stayed behind to attend boarding school. When he had enough money, he bought a puppy and sent it home to his mother’s care until he returned. Unfortunately, it was too late as the dog and his mother had already bonded. With her profits from Corgiville Fair, Tudor bought a piece of land in Marlboro, Vermont, across the Connecticut River from her farm.

In 1972, Tudor sold the old New Hampshire farm and moved onto her property near her son Seth in Marlboro, Vermont, where he built her a new ‘old house’ of her own design, completely by hand, unreachable by car. While this ‘new’ house has electricity, it does not have running water.

In 1989, Tudor became a partner with Mrs. David Mathers in Jenny Wren Press, a small publisher in Mooresville, Indiana.

Some of Tudor’s work is included in the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota. She is the recipient of an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Vermont.

Influences, Style & Technique

As a young child, Tudor was exposed to the illustrations of Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, and Beatrix Potter. The illustrations of Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac were also a great influence on her.

She received praise and many awards for her soft watercolor and ink illustrations that evoked the sentimentality of a bygone era, often being compared to British illustrator Kate Greenaway. In truth, she drew her life around her, her country home, her children, the animals—both wild and domestic—and the plants and vegetation outside her door. The fact that her style resembles her 19th century lifestyle is neither surprising nor unexpected. Yet, like Beatrix Potter, the knowledge and appreciation she had for her subjects came shining through.

Her studio is her kitchen table where she sits, balancing her work in her lap. She is best known for her finely detailed watercolors with intricately painted borders. From her biography written by her daughter Bethany Tudor:

“My most vivid memories of my mother in those early New Hampshire years are related to her art. Many were the happy hours we spent with her in the big farmhouse kitchen. At an old-fashioned table by the east window, she would be busily drawing and illustrating. The table was always arrayed with 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 large glass jar arranged with moss, tiny ferns, and dried grass. “
Raison d’Être

Tudor had been interested in drawing since early childhood so it seems natural that she would turn to illustration as a profession. In the words of Tasha Tudor herself:

“Motivation was the wolf at the door and four small children to raise and educate. I draw almost entirely from my surroundings—the children are either mine or my grandchildren and the animals are all the animals I own or have had the privilege of caring for.”
“Everyone who likes my illustrations says, “Oh, you must be so enthralled with your creativity.” That’s nonsense. I’m a commercial artist, and I’ve done my books because I needed to earn my living.”
From Drawn from New England: Tasha Tudor by her daughter Bethany Tudor: 
 “. . . The four of us children grew up enriched by her self-determination and ever-flowing spring of inner resources. Times were not always easy during the period of my early recollections. Looking back now, I can fully appreciate my mother’s strength of character and her tremendous will to succeed.”
Books Written/Illustrated by Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor and Family Home Page
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Cellar Door Books; The World of Tasha Tudor
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The Tasha Tudor Papers—de Grummond Collection at USM
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Tasha Tudor eGroups ListServe
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Pumpkin Moonshine,
Oxford University Press,
1938.
Fairy Tales from Hans
Christian Andersen, New
York, Henry Z. Walck,
1945.
The Dolls’ Christmas,
Oxford University Press,
1950.
The Dolls’ Christmas,
Oxford University Press,
1950.
Tasha Tudor’s Favorite
Stories, Lippincott, 1965.
Take Joy! The Tasha
Tudor Christmas Book,
Lippincott, 1966.
Tasha Tudor’s Favorite
Stories, Lippincott, 1965.
Endpaper for Tasha
Tudor’s Favorite Stories,
Lippincott, 1965.
Shute, Henry A., The Real
Diary of a Real Boy, R.R.
Smith, 1967.
Corgiville Fair, Crowell,
1971.
Corgiville Fair, Crowell,
1971.
Holmes, Efner Tudor,
The Christmas Cat,
Crowell, 1976.
Corgiville Fair, Crowell, 1971.
Sources
Commire, Anne, editor, Something About the Author, Vol. 20, Detroit, Gale Research, 1980.
Kingman, Lee, et al, Illustrators of Children's Books, 1957–1966, Boston, The Horn Book, 1968. 
Kunitz, Stanley J. and Howard Haycraft, The Junior Book of Authors, Second Edition, Revised, New York, H.W. Wilson, 1951.
Olendorf, Donna, editor, Something About the Author, Vol. 69, Detroit, Gale Research, 1992.
Tudor, Bethany, Drawn from New England: Tasha Tudor, New York, Philomel, 1979.
Tudor, Tasha and Richard Brown, The Private World of Tasha Tudor, Boston, Little, Brown and Co., 1992.
© 2000–2002 Denise Ortakales
All Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page last updated on 24 June 2002.

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