Wednesday, September 14, 2011



To look at the bare bones of Mary Azarian’s biography is to learn that she is an American woodcut artist and children’s book illustrator. In 1999 she won the Caldecott medal winner for her book, SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY, a picture book of the life of photographer Wilson Bentley. She produces original prints and has illustrated over 50 books. Azarian attended Smith College, where she studied printmaking and painting. Before beginning her career as a full time artist, Azarian taught in a one-room schoolhouse for three years. She lives in Plainfield, Vermont. But to clothe those bones in layers of pure enchantment, one needs to see Azarian’s illustrations and to see how she interprets the gentle strength of pastoral Vermont and its people. Each of her woodcut is delicately colored by hand and each serves as a portal to world that is achingly beautiful. My favorite of Azarian’s work, is the SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY , for the subject and for the way she captures the fairytale beauty of Vermont winters. However, I could live with a roomful of her art and never grow tired of it.

Painter Serge Strosberg has said that he paints flowers because they are eternal. Does that quality ever enter your mind when you choose your subjects?

The work that interests me is based on how intriguing and beautiful I find
it. I don't ascribe any particular spiritual qualities to it.

What was your most satisfying project? Why?

The most challenging illustration project I have worked on was Tuttle's
Red Barn. The story of the oldest family farm in the country spanned almost
400 years and so required a great deal of research and left less room for
imagination that the stories I usually work on.

What was your most satisfying project? Why?
The most satisfying project has been The Hound Dog's Haiku, a book which
featured a haiku for each of 20 breeds of dogs. The haiku were vague enough
to allow for imaginative treatment of each breed and, since I am a dog
lover, the project was lots of fun to do.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in the Vermont landscape and in the gardens that
surround my old farmhouse. There seems to be a limitless number of subjects
that catch my interest.

Do household chores, gardening, running a farm conflict with your creative work or do they complement it?

Domestic chores, gardening, etc. have always complemented my work, in fact
my work has depended on such things. Sometimes the demands of the garden
take me out of the studio, but I consider the garden and household to be art
as well as woodcuts or paintings.

Some artists work for years without realizing any financial gains. Would you have continued your work under similar circumstances?

I would probably do art even if it didn't provide a living for me and my
family, but probably not as much. The idea of an audience that wants my work
inspires me to a certain extent. Regular practice of the discipline hones
the skills and expands the field of ideas for new work. I almost always get
ideas for new work when I am working the hardest on daily production.

Have you ever considered having an apprentice/?

I have never seriously considered having an apprentice. I have
occasionally hired part-time work but it always seemed to eat up more of my
time than it saved.

If you chose a single goal as an artist, what would it be?

My goal as an artist is to always find a subject or idea that catches my
interest and keeps me enthusiastic about my work.

Is there a book you would have like to illustrate, but haven't?

I always wanted to illustrate an old English ballad, The Wife of Usher's
Well, but it is such a dark story that my regular editors didn't think it
was suitable for a picture book.

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