anna brones

writer + artist

Mapping Imaginary Islands

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About a year ago I met my friend Paula Flach. We were both at a film festival together, and somehow our paths had seemed destined to converge. Since that initial meeting she has challenged me to see the world a little differently, to appreciate things a little more. She has become an essential part of my own creative process.

Paula and I both have an obsession with islands. In fact we had even applied for a collaborative artist residency on an island this summer. We won’t be going to that residency (obviously), and when I forwarded her the email from the residency she responded with this: “I guess 2020 is an island in and of itself.”

It’s true. This year does feel like an island. Remote, disconnected, solitary.

There are dark and bright sides to islands, they are full of allure and of fear. They are harbors of restorative solitude but also isolation. But they are also magical, special places.

When I first started writing these challenges, I reached out to Paula to ask if she would write a guest prompt that involved islands. She is really good at imaginative mapping, and I thought that this could be useful in pushing our own creative boundaries, in particular during a moment of separation and isolation. If you can’t meet with your friends, if you can’t travel to the places you love, if you can’t find a sense of normalcy, you do the next best thing: you create that place—you make your own island. 

We put together this guide to help you do just that. I hope you enjoy

Imaginative Mapping: Making Your Own Island
By Paula Flach

An island is an easy concept and can yet be infinitely complex. A world unto itself, an island can hold all the opposites, all the lightness and all the darkness within one confined space.

These days, we are required to spend our time exactly there—a confined space. But what could be a claustrophobic idea, can also hold boundless creativity. This is where an imaginary island comes in. A place that you can escape to in your mind, and on paper, and maybe even one where you want to invite others.

  • What would an island for you and your friends look like?
  • What does the island of your social distancing look like?
  • What does an island of solidarity look like? Is it really an island or rather a peninsula?
  • Or what does the feeling of isolation look like?

I have used imaginary mapping to scrutinize my inner life and literally map out my emotions, thoughts and beliefs. Unsurprisingly, it helps to see things a little clearer and creating maps of common places also elicits a feeling of togetherness which is essential for the human spirit.

Today we are going to map our own islands, as an exercise of imaginary travel to get us out of the confines of quarantine and social-distancing, but also to create the worlds we want to exist within.

Island Mapping Inspiration
Whatever island you choose to draw, here are a few  things to think about

  • Is it a single island or an archipelago? Will there be bridges that perhaps connect smaller islands?
  • Are there any ferries going to and from the island?Is the island in the tropics or in a colder climate?
  • Are there mountain ranges on the island? Or lakes? Rivers and bays?
  • Are there any roads, paths or is it all wild?

Naming Your Island
Run wild with ideas when it comes to the name for your island. The name of the island, and the ensuing names of all of the island’s elements, all build a family.

Naming Elements on the Island
Now we get to the details and inner workings of your island. Start by thinking about if there is a  feeling/a sensation/a sight that you long for. Make a bay that bears the name of it.
Then think of natural resources that can be found on the isle. What flora and fauna resides on the island? What kind of weather can you expect there? What is the sea around it called? Any straits that one can sail through?

How to Draw Your Island
If you are drawing with just a pencil you might add some contour lines to give your island an elevation profile. Maybe indicate some mountains, river deltas or lakes.

If you work with watercolors, play with the coincidental flows of liquid on the page. It might produce a wonderful mountain range or a natural bay.

Go Further
Drawing your island and naming it and all of its elements might be enough. But you also might want to go a little further. Here are some ideas:

  • Write a description of the island
  • Write the island’s history
  • Make a list of the flora and fauna on the island, turn it identification chart

Let us all meet on our imaginary islands and watch the waves crash against the shores and the sun set on the horizon.

A version of this post appeared in Creative Fuel Challenge, a newsletter full of prompts/projects intended to inspire creativity and art-making. 

Written by Anna Brones

April 24, 2020 at 13:09

How to Fika (A Zine You Can Print and Color at Home)

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Happy book birthday!

Five years ago, Johanna Kindvall and I released our book Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. In honor of our 5th book birthday, we decided to put together a zine devoted to the basics of fika.

Maybe you have our book on your shelf, maybe you’re a fika aficionado, or maybe you’re entirely new to fika, the Swedish coffee break. Regardless of what your fika background is, we made this zine so that you can easily print it at home, color it in, and add your own drawings. There’s a recipe for chokladbollar, Swedish chocolate balls, too. We wouldn’t want you to go without a fika treat.

Why fika?

In this time when a lot of us are at home and socially distancing, fika seems like a good ritual to remind ourselves to take a little break from the onslaught of news, and find a little space to just be present.

Slow down.

Take a deep breath.

Recalibrate.

Why not plan a virtual fika?

Fika is often a social affair, but you can fika and still practice social distancing. Why not use this as an excuse to call a friend and have a virtual fika? Call a friend, plan a time to chat (maybe on video?), and then each of you brings your coffee and treats. It’s that simple.

Make “stay home and fika” your new mantra—click here to download and print the How to Fika zine.

This zine is designed to print on a 8.5×11″ piece of printer paper.

How to Make Your Zine

If you’ve never made a one-page zine before, it involves a little cutting and folding. See where the dotted lines are? That’s where you are going to fold. Then you’ll cut and refold into the zine.

Here’s a video that breaks down the process, and there’s a visual guide here.

Planning a virtual fika? Share it with us! We have been using the hashtags #virtualfika and #stayhomeandfika. You can find us @johannakindvall and @annabrones.

Illustrations by Johanna Kindvall

Interested in other books? Here are a few more that I have written

Written by Anna Brones

April 7, 2020 at 09:04

Five Lessons on Art and Creativity from Women Artists

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“Habits gradually change the face of one’s life as time changes one’s physical face; & one does not know it.”

-Virginia Woolf, diary entry, April 13, 1929

This Virginia Woolf quote is printed in the first pages of Mason Currey‘s book Daily Rituals: Women at Workan exploration of how creative minds get to work.

The book is a follow up to Currey’s first book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, and is a concerted effort to focus on women artists and in the process, as well as offer up some sense of guidance to readers who might be struggling with their own creative practice. Sometimes, in order to do the work, it’s helpful to know how the people who came before you did theirs.

There are 143 different women in the book, from writers to fashion designers to choreographers. Women artists have—as many women artists still do—experience a particular set of battles when it comes to expressing their creativity. This shines through in the book, and encourages an even greater sense of respect for the creative work that these women were able to produce.

“Most grew up in societies that ignored or rejected women’s creative work, and many had parents or spouses who vigorously opposed their attempts to prioritize self-expression over the traditional roles of wife, mother, and homemaker,” writes Currey. “A number of them had children and faced excruciating choices in balancing the needs of their dependents with their own ambitions. Virtually all of the, confronted sexism among their audiences and among the gatekeepers to professional success—the editors, publishers, curators, critics, patrons, and other tastemakers who, over and over, just happened to find men’s work superior. And this does not even take into account the woman artist’s internal obstacles, the various species of anger, guilt, and resentment that come with forcing the world to make space for you and your achievements.”

I like both of Currey’s books because they get to the heart of what is essential to the person’s creative practice. But as a woman, Daily Rituals: Women at Work particularly resonates, and every time I pick it up I feel like I get something new from it. In fact, it is the kind of book that you can turn into its own daily ritual, reading one entry with your morning cup of coffee.

Inspired by the book, I asked Currey if I could create a few papercuts based off of some of the women he had profiled. He chose the women, and I in turn worked to figure out the main “lesson” that Currey had documented, and that the rest of us could take to heart. These “lessons” are by no means the one takeaway from these women, but I think that they are lessons that can resonate for all of us.

Commit to your craft

Creativity requires work, and no one understood this better than Coco Chanel. Born into poverty, she ended up building an iconic fashion empire, the result of an incredible commitment to her craft.

Welcome dissatisfaction

When we are satisfied with our work, there is nothing to push us forward, something that choreographer Martha Graham knew well. Despite a lifetime of achievements and recognition, Graham was driven by what Currey calls a “chronic dissatisfaction.” We want to be able to revel in our work, to enjoy the process. But a little dissatisfaction will always help to challenge us to continue to evolve in our creative practice.

 

Prepare intensely

Even when creative work flows, when we hit that stride that’s somewhere between magical and mystical, it is on the back of countless hours of preparation. If we don’t lay the ground work, we can’t let go and let serendipity take over. Nina Simone spent countless hours not just practicing, but understanding the spaces where she played. She would spend the afternoon before a show in a music hall, to get an understanding of where people would sit, how close to the stage they would be, what the lighting would be like, where the microphones would be placed. Simone took in every single detail, so that “by the time I got on stage I knew exactly what I was doing.”

 

Be relentlessly curious

As Currey writes in his book, Susan Sontag “succeeded, in large degree, thanks to her seemingly boundless energy.” That energy led to the consumption of books, film, conversations—essentially an insatiable curiosity of everything that was around her. That curiosity helped to shape her world, and her broad amount of references. If we stay curious, we can do nothing but keep learning.

Use art as relief

Art helps us to process, to heal, and who better to exemplify this than Yayoi Kusama. She checked herself into the Tokyo mental hospital in 1977 and she still lives there today, continually creating art as a way to fight her pain, anxiety, and fear. As she calls it, “art medicine.” A reminder that no matter where we are in our lives, we can all tap into this restorative element of art making.

Want to win a copy of Daily Rituals: Women at Work?

In honor of Women’s History Month, I am giving away a couple of copies away. To enter to win, sign up for my newsletter. I’ll be pulling two names at random and announcing them in my next monthly installment of Creative Fuel.

Written by Anna Brones

March 31, 2020 at 09:35

How to Make a Zine

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Zines are part of a long history of self-publishing, a way for people to get their thoughts, ideas, and manifestos out into the world. Essentially since the invention of the printing press, people have been finding ways to publish things that are outside of the mainstream. There are even zine libraries.

You might perhaps remember the feminist punk zine riot grrrl from the 1990s. Or maybe you’re a fan of the zines that indie publisher Microcosm Publishing is behind. Or maybe you’ve seen a stack of zines at your local coffee shop or bookstore.

Maybe you have never heard of zines at all, but are itching to tell a story or get a thought out into the world.

Then making a zine is for you.

The simplest way to make a zine is with a single piece of paper.

To help out with this project, I reached out to visual artist, journalist, and author Sarah Mirk. She spent the last year making a zine every single day! She was kind enough to share her top five tips for zine-making below, and she also has this easy-to-print free PDF that shows you how to make one.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Anna Brones

March 23, 2020 at 09:05

Keep Making Art

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Keep. Making. Art.

Art and creativity can help us through our darkest moments, and I hope that you will keep this mantra in your head. Now that many of us are at home because of quarantine and social distancing measures, it might be just be time to add a little art practice to your every day.

I started a campaign this week called Creative Fuel Challenge (you can sign up here) and I am so inspired by all of the artists who are sharing their creativity in a variety of ways.

Here are some (free) resources if you are looking for art challenges and prompts:

I will keep updating this list, so if you know of others please feel free to contact me so that I can add them!

Written by Anna Brones

March 17, 2020 at 11:46

Lessons from Making 100 Papercut Portraits of 100 Women

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Two years ago I set out to make 100 papercut portraits of inspiring women, calling it Women’s Wisdom Project.

100 is a lot. But it’s also very little. 
Making 100 portraits is a large endeavor. There’s a lot of work that went into creating this series.

But the number 100 is minuscule compared to how many inspiring, insightful women have come before us, are around us today, and who will lead us tomorrow. What do we lose when we disregard their stories? When we don’t give them a platform?

To me, these have become essential questions as I have worked on this series. Our stories carry power, so do our questions.

Life is made up of complexity and nuance
History, stories, and wisdom are complex and nuanced, in stark contrast to the simplicity of my medium’s black and white nature. We do not live in this simplified duality. Our lives are messy, gritty, chaotic.

Each of these papercuts has involved quotes, and I have also constantly been reminded of what we lose when we only focus on tiny snippets of what someone once said. After all, quotes are simplified, clean versions of otherwise complex stories. Not to mention how many quotes are misattributed, or entirely fabricated.

It is important to do our homework. To not take everything at face value. Certainly, there is power in a condensed statement of wisdom. But there is always so much more behind.

I hope this work sparks a conversation, that it is a springboard for learning more, not just about women in history, but about the stories of women around us.

You need a support team
We often view art as the work of an individual. We have a cultural vision of the lone, struggling, tortured artist, one who uses their medium to work through their pain and emotions. But art doesn’t only come out of pain, and it’s certainly not created in a vacuum.

Creativity can require solitude, but it also needs collaboration, and it certainly needs support, some emotional scaffolding if you will. If you are going to embark on a creative journey, you need people to love and support you, to cheer you on when you can’t cheer on yourself.

We move forward together.

We have so much to learn and so much share
The word “wisdom” can feel loaded. Something that’s unattainable, something that requires a lifetime to achieve. And yet as I have asked women where they have gotten memorable pieces of wisdom, it is often from the people closest to them. A parent, a sibling, a friend, a teacher.

It is perhaps natural that we look to changemakers and leaders for guidance. After all, these are the people who have a fantastic and beautiful ability to distill the human experience into bits of understanding, be it through words, through pictures, through film, through speeches. But most often, the answers that we seek are nearby. They are held by people close to us. Available just by asking.

If so much wisdom is carried in those around us, imagine how much lies with ourselves? How much do we have to offer?

Life is a series of asking questions
There is so much that we don’t know, and so much that we’ll never know. Every time I have sat down to research another woman to profile for this project, it has led me to many other stories, many other threads. It is physically impossible for me to pursue all of them, just as it is physically impossible for us to have a grasp of everything around us.

We can’t read every book, we can’t watch every film, we can’t keep up on every current event, we can’t have a deep understanding of every moment in history. But what we can do is to constantly ask questions.

We can sustain the curiosity to continually drive us to ask questions. This is what creates progress. It’s what keeps us alive.

The Anonymous and the Untitled have power
I debated a lot over the 100th piece in the series. Who would it be? What wisdom did I want to showcase?

Several years ago, my mother and I were at an art museum, and I started paying attention to the number of “anonymous” labels. In an exhibit devoted to folk art, there were several quilts, some of them attributed to the artist, but many of them by “anonymous”—the stories of their creators (most likely women) lost to history. The same was true in a gallery with pieces of Native American art. Stunning pieces of art and craftsmanship, simply with “anonymous” on the label below.

#100 in Women’s Wisdom Project is therefore devoted to exactly that: the unheard, the unseen, the unrepresented, and the stories, wisdom, and power that they have carried, do carry, and will carry. Let us all have the wisdom to pay attention and listen.

The Women’s Wisdom Project is up at Vashon Center for the Arts March 6-29. 2020.

A version of this post appeared in my monthly newsletter Creative Fuel

Written by Anna Brones

March 6, 2020 at 10:28

Anna Frost

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“If I trip and fall, I want to be able to jump up, brush off the dust and set off to fly again.”

-Anna Frost

Throughout working on Women’s Wisdom Project, I have been reminded that wisdom is most often passed to us by the people we are closest to—a parent, a sibling, a teacher, a friend.

This profile is about just that.

A good friend of mine Sarah Menzies had recommended that I reach out to Anna Frost for a Women’s Wisdom Project Q&A. A professional runner originally hailing from New Zealand, Frost has built a life out of adventure and challenges. She has a long list of accomplishments in the trail running world that have earned her global respect. For Frost, running provides a sense of connection, to nature, to community, and to herself.

I was touched by the short film Frosty, which documents Frost as she approaches motherhood. That connection that she feels through running becomes the stage for passing the baton of wisdom. As she puts it in our Q&A, “I want to encourage her, as my mother encouraged me to spread my wings and fly.”

Her own connection to adventure, nature, and movement is one she seeks to pass along, not just to her own daughter, but others. She does so through her organization Sisu Girls, which works to encourage “sisu” in girls (and boys) through sport and adventure and by showcasing strong, healthy and positive role models. Sisu is a Finnish word, that Frost defines as “Determination and persistence in the face of adversity.” It’s a concept Frost believes strongly in, both as something she embraces herself, but also to cultivate in others. Check out her TEDx talk on raising adventurous children.

Thank you to Frost for taking time to answer a few questions related to wisdom, the sport she loves, and motherhood.

What does wisdom mean to you?

Something that you gain through experience, learning from your mistakes, falling and getting back up again time and time again.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

My Mum. To have high expectations, to spread my wings and fly, to say yes to love and life.

When did you start running and when did you know that’s what you wanted to dedicate yourself to?

I was always active and in the outdoors. It is where I learned life lessons, where I find my energy, where I feel the most at ease. Running was just a natural progression of my passion to explore the outdoors.

What does running give you that you can’t get anywhere else?

It gives me a huge sense of freedom, clarity and calm.

Gender inequality impacts every profession. What inequalities have you experienced in the trail running world and how have you worked to change them?

The sport has been around for a long time and therefore has underlying inequalities. However, there are a lot of people doing a lot of work to demand equality in our sport. From race directors to athletes, I personally have stood up to organisations and demanded equal prizes for equal finishers.

How do you see the state of women’s sports right now? Why is it important to you that we support them?

It is awesome and so inspiring to see more and more women competing at all levels. It is important to support all runners – male and female. To encourage everyone to have a go. The beauty of running is that we all stand on the same start line together, we all run the same course and we all (try to) get to the same finish time. That is equality.

You recently became a mother. I want to ask you how that has changed your relationship to your body and your sport (which also is your profession), but I also want to acknowledge that this is a very gendered interview question. We so rarely see men being asked “how has being a father impacted your professional life?” There are physical reasons for that of course, but also cultural expectations that are put on mothers. So I guess what I really am asking is: what changes have you experienced becoming a mother, both in how you view yourself and your expectations, and the expectations of the outside world?

Being a mother has flipped my life upside down. It is the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done. I look back at my running career and it all now seems like a dream. I won’t lie – it has been really hard to not expect and want to be back where I was, running free, far, fast and light. But, it has also been a wonderful learning opportunity, everyday, to be reminded of the small wins, the simple gratitude of being a mother, of letting little Skylar teach me and show me a whole new world.

You’re an advocate of raising brave and adventurous children, and involved in the Sisu Girls Project. I love the line from your TedX talk that “we need to show our children that falling is not failing.” Why does the Finnish word “sisu” resonate with you and how are you hoping to share that with your daughter as she grows older?

Sisu = “Determination and persistence in the face of adversity.” This was something I grew up with. I was surrounded by role models such as my family, my teachers, my friends who were all inspired and empowered to succeed, to try and try again, to reach their potential. It was a way of living. This is something that I hope will be instilled in Skylar. I want to encourage her, as my mother encouraged me to spread my wings and fly. And if I trip and fall, I want to be able to jump up, brush off the dust and set off to fly again.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

Do as you did, make mistakes and learn from them, open doors of opportunity and jump through them, share compassion and kindness and explore all the world has to offer.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

March 5, 2020 at 11:44

Women’s Wisdom Project Exhibit – March 2020 at Vashon Center for the Arts

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If you have been following along here, you know that for the the last two years I have been working on my Women’s Wisdom Project, a collection of papercut portraits and profiles showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women.

I am honored that all 100 original papercuts are going to be displayed at Vashon Center for the Arts on Vashon Island in honor of Women’s History Month.

The show will open on March 6, 2020 and run through March 29, 2020. There will be an opening reception from 6 to 9pm on Friday March 6th, and if you are in the Seattle/Tacoma area, I hope that you will consider attending and interacting with all of this artwork in person. And celebrating the completion of the project of course!

If you can’t come, be sure to check out the digital versions of all the papercuts here, as well as some of the profiles. I’ll continue to update the site with more stories and profiles over the coming months.

Written by Anna Brones

February 25, 2020 at 16:25

Tove Jansson

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“It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent—lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It’s as simple as that.”

Tove Jansson (1914-2001)

Beloved Tove Jansson. A woman who wore flower crowns and plunged into the sea. A creative woman who gave us the gift of stories through the world of Moomin. A woman of wisdom and insight.

Jansson was born into a creative family, her mother an illustrator (she designed Finnish postage stamps for over three decades) and her father a sculptor. She learned to draw almost before she could walk, and later she would attend art school in both Stockholm and Paris. Her world was one built of curiosity, and navigating her way through it by way of expression–she wrote, she drew, she painted, she thought. As was noted in The New Yorker, “home was continuous with studio, at night filled with music and the couple’s creative friends. While freedom exists in principle, when you grow up in such a setting, and one of your family pets is a monkey named Poppolino, chances are you will become an artist yourself. In an emergency, mother asked if daughter could fill in on an illustration job, and daughter obliged.”

Winters were spent in the art studio and summers on an island. If you have read any of Jansson’s work, you know the power an island holds—they were woven into her work and personal life. As is noted on the website devoted to her work, islands were “hives of adventure and the setting for rebirth and change – places where you can build your own world.” Symbols of freedom, she and her partner (and fellow artist) Tuulikki Pietilä found their own: Klovharu in the Finnish archipelago, where the two women built a small house where they enjoyed over 30 summer seasons together.

Sometimes deliberate people look for their island and conquer it, and sometimes the dream of the island can be a passive symbol for what is one step beyond reach. The island—at last, privacy, remoteness, intimacy, a rounded whole without bridges or fences. 

Sheltered and isolated by the water that is at the same time an open possibility.

A possibility one never considers.

From Jansson’s essay “The Island

Capturing the Nordic landscape and spirit, at the heart of Jansson’s work, there is a world of tension and contrasts, whether it’s contentment versus restlessness, safety versus security, the fear yet exhilaration of the unknown versus the comfort yet mundanity of home. As Tuula Karjalainen wrote in Tove Jansson: Work and Love, excerpted in The Independent:

The inhabitants of Moominvalley often stray from their valley and are subject to storms and disasters on the raging sea. Tove loved the sea in its various manifestations. She described it in her life, in her painting, in the Moomin books and also in her other writing. The Moomins live in these two contrasting worlds: on the one hand, a luxuriant, marine landscape, with brooks, flowers, houses with tiled stoves; and on the other, the unpredictable sea with its barren islands, archipelagos, caves, mussels, sea creatures and boats. In the tension between these worlds, the Moomin family settles down.

That made Jansson’s work layered, which appealed to both children and adults. Karjalainen continues, “even in these early works, it is plain that Tove’s narrative operates on several levels. It is a quality that lies at the basis of all the Moomin books and makes them quite unique in children’s literature. It was also the case that some bewildered publishers were unable to conceive of books that might be suitable for both children and adults.”

Of course, Moomin wasn’t Jansson’s only world. She created an impressive body of artwork, and penned stories specifically for adults, like The Summer Book and Traveling Light. 

In researching Jansson, I came across some old film interviews with her. In one (fyi it’s in Swedish, if you decide to try to watch), she spoke of the impetus for The Summer Book, a book that I read at the beginning of every summer. She describes hitting a creative wall, that she couldn’t work or write, and she went to her mother. Her mother challenged her to write about a very old person and a very young person.

The idea reignited a desire to sit down and write.

This entire project of documenting women has been about wisdom. The wisdom we seek, the wisdom we carry, the wisdom to challenge, the wisdom to ask. In this interview, I found it so touching that the idea for one of Jansson’s most seminal books, the one that feels like her truest story, was one that was sparked by the wisdom of an important woman so close to her.

There is so much to give, so much to find, so much to enjoy, so much to seek. There is wisdom in tension, in layers, in curiosity, in the novel and in the mundane. For that, I find Jansson’s words so powerful.

Stay curious.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

February 12, 2020 at 11:54

Pura Belpré

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“Don’t forget the magnificent sweep of the imagination and dreams of youth…”

– Pura Belpré (1899 – 1992)

 

Pura Belpré was the first Latina librarian in the New York Public Library system, devoting her life to the writing, telling and translation of stories, sharing her culture and Puerto Rican folklore, and becoming an advocate for bilingual children.

Born in Puerto Rico, Belpré came to New York in 1920, and while she never intended to stay, just a year later she started working at a branch of the New York Public Library in Harlem. On the shelves, she found fairytales and stories from around the world, but didn’t find her own culture represented. So she took it upon herself to share it. She would travel across the city performing puppet shows for children in English and Spanish, bringing stories to life, and reminding her audiences that they had a place. As the New York Public Library noted, Belpré “served as a kind of library ambassador to New York’s newcomers, making sure that Spanish-speakers knew the library was meant for them, as well. ”

While at the time New York’s Puerto Rican population was growing, when Belpré first became a librarian, she couldn’t find any books for children written in Spanish. She penned her own, Perez Y Martina, a Puerto Rican folktale passed on to her by her grandmother, and it became the first Spanish book for children in mainstream U.S. publishing. Today, there’s even a book award named after her.

Stories hold power, as does language, which is why Belpré’s work is so essential. She opened up a bilingual world for Spanish-speaking children, not only ensuring that they had access to books and stories in their own language, but that they learned about their culture and gave them a sense of belonging. She once wrote, “I wished to plant my story seeds across the land.”

Lisa Sánchez González, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut, wrote a comprehensive study of Belpré’s work, The Stories I Read to the Children: The Life and Writing of Pura Belpré, the Legendary Storyteller, Children’s Author and NY Public Librarian, and was kind enough to share a copy with me so that I could learn more about Belpré’s story, and her importance as a cultural figure.

Sánchez González summarizes why Belpré’s work was so essential:

“…as a nation colonized for over half a millennium, we might well argue that our only sovereign territory is our cultural production, and this may be why our music, our poetry, our film, our plastic arts, and our orature are so richly textured and perpetually reworked. Generation after generation, we Boricuas work out the complications of our own cultural identity in our own uniquely inclusive and exclusive ways. Those performances, like our existence, also covertly and quite carefully confuse, straddle, and trespass generic and essentialist boundaries at will, by whatever means necessary,” writes Sánchez González. “Our clandestine presence—the deliberate occupation of sovereign and creatively politicized spaces otherwise denied to us—is the way we make sense of ourselves, for ourselves, often secretly, beyond the eyes of outsiders who have the power to disturb our aesthetic process by projecting the colonists’ fears and neuroses onto us.”

The quote I used for Belpré’s portrait is part of a longer one that I find so beautiful, and speaks to the importance of writing for children.

“Don’t forget the magnificent sweep of the imagination and dreams of youth; when a boy comes only to a man’s shoulders, his dreams are tall,” wrote Belpré. “Through all the hardships and heartbreaks, these dreams often become realities.”

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

February 7, 2020 at 10:28