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Redding, Connecticut's Famous People :: Tasha Tudor  

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Joel Barlow, Anna Huntington , Charles Ives, Mark Twain

Tasha Tudor had roots in Redding
Written by Rachel Kirkpatrick,

Appeared in Redding Pilot July 03. 2008

Many people know the name Tasha Tudor, the literary luminary who created illustrations for at least 100 published books and wrote several of her own, but many may not know that she spent some of her childhood and young adult life right here in Redding.

Ms. Tudor, who died June 18 at age 92 in Marlboro, Vt., was a young girl when she came to Redding to live with family friends, the Mikkelsens. Her mother, portrait artist Rosamond Tudor, sent her there to live after her divorce from inventor-designer W. Starling Burgess, Ms. Tudor’s father.

“She didn’t want Tasha to grow up in New York City,” Rosamond Mikkelsen said of Ms. Tudor’s arrival to stay with her family in Redding. At the time, Ms. Tudor’s mother was moving to Greenwich Village to try to make a living as a painter.

Ms. Mikkelsen, 97, still lives in the house on Wayside Lane where her family hosted Ms. Tudor. Antiques that Ms. Tudor’s mother gave to the family in lieu of cash to pay for her living expenses are still around the house, she said.

“I remember she came with a beautiful white Persian cat,” Ms. Mikkelsen said.

Born in Boston on Aug. 28, 1915, Ms. Tudor was christened Starling Burgess, according to various accounts. She went by the nickname her father gave her, Tasha, from Natasha, and later changed her last name to Tudor, her mother’s maiden name.

“We had fun together, we used to go skiing,” Ms. Mikkelsen said.

The Mikkelsens, a theatrical family, always performed skits and charades at Christmastime, and Ms. Tudor participated, Ms. Mikkelsen said.

“She was much younger than any of the rest of us, so she would play the dog or something like that,” she said with a laugh.

Reddingite Joan Ensor, Ms. Mikkelsen’s first cousin, said Ms. Tudor was a “very sweet person, and very happy.” “We had a lovely time with Tasha,” she said.

Five girls, including Ms. Ensor, Ms. Mikkelsen and Ms. Tudor, were part of a playgroup as young girls. They formed a secret society called the “PSO.” When asked what the initials stood for, Ms. Ensor quipped, “Well, it’s a secret society, I can’t tell you!”

“We used to meet out in the woods with a bottle of birch beer and some cookies, and we gave plays each year,” she said. “They got more and more sophisticated and Tasha was in most of them.”

“She aspired to be a dancer at that time,” Ms. Ensor added. “She would do a curtain raiser in the form of a dance.”

The one-room school Ms. Tudor attended for a short time was taught by Ms. Ensor’s uncle, Henry Hawthorne. Ms. Tudor’s mother eventually bought a house in Redding and started a tea room.

“From the very beginning, Tasha used to draw pictures all of the time,” Ms. Mikkelsen said. “She also was very much into farming and living in the country, and always going barefoot; she was very much down to earth.”

Her mother fostered her interest in painting and illustrating, her family said. Her first book, Pumpkin Moonshine, was published in 1938. That same year she married the late Thomas L. McCready. The couple lived here in Redding, where two of their four children were born. (Tudor Road in Redding was named after her mother sometime after 1940, said Town Historian Charles Couch.)

“We used to see her a lot then, and her daughter, Bethany, would come over and play with my daughter, Imogen,” Ms. Ensor said. “We were very good friends for a long time.”

By all accounts, Ms. Tudor relished the simple life, developing an affinity for life in the 1800s. In fact, Ms. Mikkelsen said, her friend was known for an obsession that she was really somebody else, perhaps someone from the prior century.

Ms. Tudor has been quoted as saying, “Einstein said that time is like a river, it flows in bends. If we could only step back around the turns, we could travel in either direction. I’m sure it’s possible. When I die, I’m going right back to the 1830s. I’m not even afraid of dying. I think it must be quite exciting.”

A “remarkable” thing Ms. Mikkelsen recalled was a shirt Ms. Tudor made for Mr. McCready “from the ground up.”

“She grew the flax, she spun the threads, she wove the shirt; it was a perfectly beautiful, old-fashioned shirt,” Ms. Mikkelsen said. “That’s the sort of thing she got into.”

The royalties from Mother’s Goose, a book she illustrated that was published in 1944, allowed Tasha and Mr. McCready to purchase a large old farm in Webster, N.H., where their four children, Bethany, Seth, Thomas, and Efner, were raised. “The house lacked electricity and running water, but did have 17 rooms and 450 acres,” Douglas Martin wrote in The New York Times this week. Many books were written and illustrated from the happenings during her time in this house, her family said, such as Linsey Woolsey in 1946 and Thistly B in 1949.

“We went up one summer for one of the puppet shows that Tasha did,” Ms. Ensor said. “She did these wonderful puppet shows, and she made them herself; she wrote the stories for them, pulled the strings, and did it on a stage in the barn.

“I can remember we watched these puppets for a long time in a dark barn, and when the lights came on there were bats flying around in the barn, and the bats looked so huge — we were watching these puppets for a while and our whole perspective changed; relative to the puppets, they were so large.”

In 1955, Life magazine reported on the “wedding” of the McCready family dolls “Lieutenant Thaddeus Crane” and “Melissa Shakespeare,” which took place at the McCready’s farm in New Hampshire. The dolls were introduced to the public five year earlier in The Dolls’ Christmas.

After her divorce from Mr. McCready, who later died, and from a second husband, Allan John Woods, she “fulfilled her dream of living in Vermont,” her family said, and moved to Marlboro, Vt., in 1972 to be near her son Seth Tudor. Her son built the house using only hand tools. There she enjoyed her gardens and having family close by, themes that inspired books such as Springs of Joy in 1979 and A Time to Keep in 1977.

Her self-sufficient “1830s lifestyle” was captured in two documentaries, The Private World of Tasha Tudor in 1992 and Take Joy! The Magical World of Tasha Tudor in 1996.

Over the years, Ms. Tudor was featured in countless newspaper articles and many magazines, her family said, including Early American Life, Victoria, Horticulture, Better Homes and Gardens, People, Places and Plants, and many Japanese titles. Her work has been shown in many museums, including Conner Prairie, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Colonial Williamsburg in 1996, Pierpont Morgan Library, Norman Rockwell Museum in 2005, Henry Ford Museum, and extensively in Japan.

The family business, Tasha Tudor and Family (www.tashatudorandfamily.com) was co-founded by Ms. Tudor and her daughter-in-law Marjorie in 1999, “over a cup of tea.” According to that site, Ms. Tudor excelled in cooking, canning, cheese making, ice cream making, and many other home skills.

“As anyone who has eaten at Tasha Tudor’s would know, her cooking skills are unsurpassed,” it states. “She collects eggs from her chickens in the evenings, cooks only with fresh goat’s milk, and uses only fresh or dried herbs from her garden.”

Ms. Tudor also created hundreds of Christmas cards for the Irene Dash Greeting Card company over a period of many years.

Her last book, Corgiville Christmas, in 2002, brought the number of books written and/or illustrated by Tasha to nearly 100, her family said. Her books have been published in Japan, Korea, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden. Ms. Tudor received many honors, though she never kept track of them, her family said. “It is only through other sources that we know of them.”

They included the Catholic Library Association’s Regina Medal, Caldecott honors for 1 is One in 1956 and Mother Goose in 1944, and the Walter Cerf Award for Lifetime Achievements in the Arts from the Vermont Arts Council (June 18, 2004).

“My favorite book of hers is the Corgiville Fair, and that was based on the Danbury Fair,” Ms. Ensor said. “It was a Tasha’s favorite book, too.”

Corgiville Fair was published in 1971 and introduced everyone to the wonderful, idiosyncratic world of the corgi dog, the family’s Web site states. Ms. Tudor kept Welsh corgis for many years.

“I have her advent calendar, which is delightful. It’s full of humor and rampaging raccoons and mice in the cellar; she had a wonderful sense of humor which came out especially in her early books like that of the Corgiville Fair,” Ms. Ensor said. “That was full of humor and wit, just delightful.”



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