Going to School

I’m honored to be a 2016 Picture Book Month Ambassador…

along with this amazing company: Kwame Alexander, Kevan Atteberry, Phil Bildner, Elizabeth Bluemle, Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Laura Gehl, Matthew Cordell, Pat Cummings, Doug Cushman, Erzsi Deak, Josh Funk, Marita Gentry, Paul Hankins, Verla Kay, Lester Laminack, Minh Le, Adam Lehrhaupt, Sylvia Liu, Ralph Masiello, Laura Lowman Murray, Carmen Oliver, Todd Parr, John Parra, Jan Peck, Alexandra Penfold, Jeanie Ransome, Isabel Roxas, Jodell Sadler, and Andrea Pinkney.

In company with these friends and fellow creators, I’ve been invited to speak my mind about the importance of Picture Books.

On my day the theme is School! My  PiBoMo essay isn’t about school-it’s about risk taking.

But I have plenty of thoughts about school too, since I’m probably best known for illustrating books by Joseph Slate about a talented kindergarten teacher named Miss Bindergarten, based on my 1st border collie Pumpkin.

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Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten

It’s always been easy to be enthusiastic about the kindergarten year of school.

I believe it is where a child learns to love school-a good year can set the stage for a great school career– a bad one can make a child wary.

While illustrating these books I studied the traditions and common elements of modern kindergarten very closely, which led me to wonder how long kindergarten, as we know it, has been an institution.

It was created by the German born Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) Kindergarten in Froebel’s vision meant both ‘a garden for children’, where children meet with environment and also ‘a garden of children’, where they play together and express themselves in a smaller garden world by means of play with their age group.

He believed that “children are like tiny flowers; they are varied and need care, but each is beautiful alone and glorious when seen in the community of peers.”

My dad, born in Germany in 1916, carried a leather “rucksack” on his 1st day of school.

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His class of 19 appears to have all the same kids you remember: the Class Clown, little Miss Goody-Two-Shoes, Mister Hyperactive, the Inseparable Buddies and the Teacher’s Pet.

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Kindergarten had been well established in Germany for close to 100 years when my dad attended in 1921. He is 2nd from the right.

Kindergarten was a great idea and spread around the world, including to the US in the 1850s.

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Me, as a Vermont kindergartner, circa 1961

I went to Mary Hogan Elementary School  about 100+ years later. My teacher’s name was Miss Vondle. Kindergarten is so important in a child’s life that I bet most people can remember the name of their teacher.

My sons went in the 1990s.

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My son Brennan as a California kindergartner, circa 1992. He carries a vinyl backpack. His teacher’s name was Miss Beck.

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My son Rowan as a California kindergartner, circa 1995. He is 3rd from the right, top row–clearly angling for class clown status! His teachers’ names were Ms Ramet and Ms Vaughn.

My, how many things have changed, and how many stay the same!

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What is Handed Down?

My grandfather Dr. Paul Wolff was a well known German photographer.

His son Klaus drew and painted watercolors, Klaus’ daughter draws, paints, illustrates and takes pictures, my sister and sons draw too, though they don’t enjoy it enough to practice much.

A propensity towards written and visual creativity seems to run in our family.

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The cover of a 4 page brochure about photographing children created by my paternal grandfather Dr. Paul Wolff.

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Paul Wolff using a huge view camera, before he was introduced to the new, hand held Leica.

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My grandparent’s wedding in 1914. Helene is 2nd and Paul is 4th from left.

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Paul Wolff published at least 6 books of his photographs. They are mostly written in German, so I have not read all his commentary.

Paul Wolff took fascinating photos of a huge range of subjects. Thorsten Overgaard wrote an essay about one of his photos that is great reading. My favorite quote from this article makes my grandfather come alive for me.

“In his book “My Life with The Leica” Walther Benser recalls the period where he would assist Dr. Paul Wolff. Benser was a Leica employee who had gone through the full technical training in Wetzlar and later spent many years traveling with the Leica Slide Show. He recalls:

“Dr. Paul Wolff had skills which I found myself envying. Without any optical aid from the Leica viewfinder in the new (Telyt) reflex housing, he could dissect the surroundings with his naked eye in the search for a suitable subject and position. He invariably picked out the perfect spot for taking the picture with the focal length he had already selected”.

“He was a master at keeping his photographic intentions undetected for as long as possible. He never carried the camera in front of his body in the usual manner but kept it, suspended on its strap, hidden behind his back with his right hand. This had become second nature to such an extent that he kept his right hand behind his back even when he was not holding a camera”.

I’ve chosen just a few of my favorite images of his to share, focusing on ones that remind me most of the way I, too, see the world.

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I can see where I’ve acquired the habit of framing a view with foreground objects, and my fascination with close ups of nature.

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I love the shallow focal field in this photo of my Dad at play as a child.

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This one-lit by car headlights-is my all time favorite. Oh, to have snows like this again!

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I never knew my grandfather. He and my grandmother divorced and he and my father became estranged. I did learn that he went on to marry a fellow photographer Annette Beiger and they had another son in 1943. If anyone reads this and can put me in touch with my half uncle Stephen Wolff and his family I’d be grateful.

If you enjoyed this post, please  follow me here: Ashley Wolff Art on Facebook, my webpage , my Etsy shop, or Instagram. You can follow the blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at the top of the sidebar. 

 

Wreathes, lit with Candles

Four lighted candles, standing precariously upright on a wreath, hung from ribbons, swinging from the roof beam. 

Not a typical holiday sight but normal for me since earliest childhood.

adventwreath_webBehold a family Christmas picture, circa 1958. That’s me, kneeling.

In the cradle is my new baby sister, a newborn from mid-November. The German Shepherd’s name is Lumpy. He is still a big puppy, acquired recently to get me used to the idea of sharing my parent’s attention with another being.

Above my father’s head is a wreath, hanging from four, red ribbons and holding 4 candles.

It is an Advent Wreath and I took these for granted growing up.

So much so that I drew one in one of my earliest knock off stories, a version of Rumplestiltskin.

Trust me, that is an Advent Wreath.

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A drawing from 1962                                                                                                  It looks a lot like this one , but ours never had 24 candles on it!

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And my parents were not religious either. This was a custom that my dad had grown up with that he brought with him when he emigrated. Our candles were red, like most Protestants use.

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Catholic wreath with 3 purple candles and one rose candle

When I grew up and made my own home, I took the advent wreath custom with me. Here, my friend Denise lights a candle for the second Sunday in Advent. DeeAdventWreath_web

She wears the ceremonial Chinese Santa Hat to do it.

I did not grow up with Swedish Lucia Day, but the similarities to the Advent Wreath are striking, so I include  her in this round up of Wreathes, lit with Candles.

One of the prettiest images is this one by Carl Larsson, called Lucia 1908

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Lucia traditionally bears a tray with sweet, saffron-flavoured buns (lussekatter) shaped like curled-up cats and with raisin eyes. You eat them with glögg or coffee.

Look how sweet these contemporary Lucias are–with their LED candles!

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Saint Nicholas and Santa

My Dad was raised in Germany and always celebrated St. Nicholas Day on December 6th.

I made him this card, back when we had a German Shepherd named Thumper, and before I fell in love with Border Collies.

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The European tradition he grew up with is for children to put out their shoes on the night of December 5th and for St Nicholas to leave a small gift in them overnight.

As children my sister and I did not put our own shoes out, but we would put a gift into one of our daddy’s big shoes.

He loved candy, so it was easy to please him. KitKat Bars were his favorites.

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But my sister and I believed in Santa Claus: the belly, the beard, the boots and the red hat.fakebeard:web

In 1986, I visited China. In a street stall in Beijing I bought a red satin hat trimmed with sequins and rabbit fur.  It looked just like Santa’s hat, only exotic.

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Here is how it appeared in a postcard I painted while still in China.

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Nowadays I keep it safely stored for most of the year, but bring it out at Christmastime and wear it pretty much non-stop for a few weeks, especially to paint in.

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Today a bronze bust of Klaus as a child is wearing the hat.

Happy St. Nicholas Day, Klaus!

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Thanks.