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The Art of Portraiture

Ellen Roth Cover (4)In Ten Fingers Touching, after the Princess disappears, the Kingdom is in chaos. Everyone, including Evil, searches for the missing child. Marianna, her governess, runs into a group of village children and asks them if they have seen the Princess. They all reply negatively. Then she shows them a miniature portrait of Princess Rosy. The children are shocked at seeing the face of a girl who comes to the village and plays with them.

Miniature portraiture evolved from the art of illuminated manuscripts and was popularized in 16th century France and England. The earliest portraits were painted in watercolor on stretched vellum, a form of parchment. The subjects centered on the court. Portraits served as personal mementoes bestowed on court favorites, such as the one given to Marianna by the King and Queen, but they were also used to provide introductions between a young man and lady of noble birth destined to be betrothed for political or economic reasons. The first Queen Elizabeth’s wealthier subjects wore her image as a sign of loyalty to the crown.

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Miniature portrait of Princess Rosy

Portrait painting on ivory was adopted around 1700. Over the years, miniature portraits appeared in jewelry (e.g., lockets, brooches) and on snuff box covers that were available to the affluent middle class. Miniature portraits were cherished as intimate tokens of affection because they could be kissed or held close to a lover’s heart.

The art of miniature portraiture began to decline with the birth of photography in 1839. The new technology produced portraits that were quick, accessible to the general public, affordable and ensured an accurate likeness.

The portraits in Ten Fingers Touching were created through digital art combining the beauty of painterly images with the latest in computer technology.

Best wishes for a joyous holiday season!

Ten Fingers Touching, a story about true love, makes a special gift when given as a token of affection during the holidays. It can be ordered through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, as well as from local Pittsburgh bookstores and gift shops. Click here for more information.

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Ten Fingers Touching is a fairy tale for grownups. It tells the story of how two lovers, Martak, the Master of the Forest, and Marianna, a beautiful maiden, are drawn into the epic struggle between Good and Evil. Martak is the victim of two assassination attempts. Marianna is abducted by a rogue knight; the Princess is manipulated by a disguised destructive force. Evil appears in many unanticipated forms, but in fairy tales good ultimately triumphs over evil.

The First Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving

This is the week of Thanksgiving, an American tradition that began in 1621 when the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians shared the bounty of the Fall harvest. Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday in 1863 by President Lincoln, three months after the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg, when the war’s outcome became more certain and he sought to unite the nation.

Awaiting the arrival of family

Awaiting the arrival of family

Families travel far and wide to be together on Thanksgiving. As we gather for festive dinners with our families and celebrate the blessings in our lives, let’s also remember the world-wide victims of the evils of terrorism. Having a moment of silence for those who tragically lost their lives makes the gathering of loved ones all the more precious. In a world with uncertain outcomes, use the element of surprise to do something good for someone else. Give an unexpected hug or tell another that you admire him or her. Send gifts. Volunteer or make a donation. Share food or medical supplies. There are boundless ways to give thanks, to do good and to offer prayers for peace on our planet.

Best wishes to all for a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monarch Butterflies

macro monarch butterfly wallpaper62986

Monarch

In Ten Fingers Touching, Martak, the Master of the Forest has the ability to communicate with animals.

After rescuing his beloved, Marianna, Martak takes her to a secluded valley. He summons butterflies and swarms of the beautiful winged creatures magically appear. They nestle together forming a soft blanket as the lovers sleep beneath the stars. In the morning, the butterflies that had warmed and comforted Marianna during the night meld together into a magnificent shimmering gown. Upon awakening, she looks as radiant as a fiery opal.

Butterflies have always been important to me. They symbolize beauty, freedom and a touch of magic in the real world! Sadly, the monarch butterfly is at risk. The population has declined by an alarming rate of 90% over the past two decades.

The monarch’s annual migration goes from Canada to “wintering” in the mountain forests of Mexico. The long journey requires four generations of butterflies to complete one roundtrip.

During the breeding part of their migration, the only plant that the monarch caterpillar can eat is milkweed. In Mexico, tens of thousands of monarchs stay warm by clustering on trees.

Thousands of monarchs clustered on trees

Thousands of monarchs clustered on trees

Reasons for the monarch’s disappearance include: Loss of milkweed due to chemicals used in modern agriculture, climate change, land development, and deforestation from logging that destroys their natural habitat.

We can help save the monarch! To learn more about monarch conservation and butterfly gardens see monarchjointventure.org

Fashion and Fairy Tales

Vogue, Sept. 2015 Photograph by Mikael Jansson

Vogue, Sept. 2015
Photograph by Mikael Jansson

The clothing illustrated in Ten Fingers Touching, a fairy tale for grown-ups, is reminiscent of garments made during the Middle Ages. Long ago, fashion was governed by Sumptuary Laws that reinforced social status by dictating what one could wear. For example, The English Sumptuary Law of 1363 legislated that “The wife or daughter of a knight was not to wear cloth of gold or sable fur.”

While clothing today is an expression of one’s taste and budget, fairy tales impact the fashion industry. In July 2014, The Wall Street Journal ran a story entitled Fairy Tales Inspire Fall Fashion that featured designer clothes influenced by “the magical and decorative world of Snow White and Red Riding Hood.“

Disney’s delightful movie Into the Woods (2014) intertwines the plots of several fairy tales including Jack and the Bean Stalk, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and others. This fantasy film has captured the imagination of fashion designers as well as galvanized the world of advertising.

Vogue currently has a spread entitled Into the Woods showing fairy tale inspired haute couture against the backdrop of a lost, sunken forest (see Briar Rose left). From a more informal perspective, Pittsburgh’s lifestyle magazine, WHIRL, portrays Into the Woods by highlighting Fall casual clothes in the heart of Western Pennsylvania’s beautiful woodlands (9/15).

While the real world is filled with many harsh realities, the more I immerse myself in the world of fantasy and imagination, the clearer it becomes that the fairy tale muse influences our daily lives.

The Feudal System/Labor Day

Les_Très_Riches_Heures_du_duc_de_Berry_octobre_detail

From Les Très Riches Heures 15th c. French illuminated manuscript

Ten Fingers Touching takes place during the Middle Ages where life was hard under the feudal system. Nobles were granted land by the King in exchange for their loyalty and protection. Peasants worked for the lords, laboring in their fields. They were bound to the land, paid high rents and were beholden to the nobles who protected them. Peasants were also required to pay a tax in cash or in kind (e.g., seeds) to the church. They were poor, conditions were harsh and there were no laws to protect them.

Fast forward to the 19th century. Working conditions were dangerous, and the average laborer was underpaid and worked 10- 16 hours per day.  The eight-hour day was envisioned by Robert Owen, a Welsh-born social reformer who coined the  slogan: 8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest (1817).

One of the first companies to implement the 8-hour work day in the U.S. was the Ford Motor Company.  In 1914, Henry Ford cut the working day to 8 hours and also doubled the worker’s pay.  The auto company’s productivity, employee loyalty and profit margin soared.

We just celebrated Labor Day, a holiday that recognizes the social and economic achievements of American workers.  While proud of our unparalleled prosperity, let’s still be mindful of the inequalities in our workforce.

Women represent almost half the workers in the U.S., but they earn considerably less than men in almost every occupation. A woman makes 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man representing a 22 percent wage gap. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “the poverty rate for working women would be cut in half if women were paid the same as comparable men.”

Thoughts about Forests

Loki__s_Forest_by_lucias_tearsAlmost every fairy tale has a forest which plays a key role in the story. Typically located at the edge of towns, forests are depicted as hiding places, scary environments, sanctuaries, or enchanted lands filled with mystery and adventure.

In Ten Fingers Touching, Martak gains survival skills in the woods as well as the ability to speak to animals and to soar like an eagle. He is nurtured and groomed to become the Master of the Forest and to fulfill his destiny. In the two instances where an assassin attacks him, he is outside the protection of his forest home and refuge.

Forests cover one-third of all the land on Earth and we could not live without them. They absorb the carbon dioxide we exhale and produce the oxygen we breathe. They are habitats for animals and nearly half of all known species. They provide natural medicines and remove air pollutants. They serve as watersheds catching rainfall and funneling it into streams and rivers.

Forests are beautiful and inspiring. Their magic is real and with us every day as they promote a healthy ecosystem and biodiversity. Yet “some 46-58 million square miles of forest are lost each year―equivalent to 48 football fields every minute,” according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Forests are among the natural world’s greatest miracles and essential for life on our planet.  Thank you, Mother Nature!

Cecil & The Lion King

aaron-blaise-cecil-the-lion-kingAs a tribute to Cecil, the magnificent lion who was senselessly killed in Zimbabwe by a hunter who lured him out of a wildlife preserve, I wanted to say a few words about The Lion King.  Both a magical animated film and my favorite musical,  The Lion King was released by Walt Disney Pictures in 1994 and the musical debuted in 1997.  As reported by Playbill, “it is the top-earning title in box-office history for both stage productions and films, according to the Associated Press.”

The Lion King is the story of Simba, a young lion who is tricked by his wicked uncle into believing he is responsible for his father’s death.  In shame, Simba flees the Pride Lands but later returns to defeat his uncle and become king.

As children, we are all taught that the lion is the king of the jungle, a fierce, majestic creature to be revered and respected.  There is a lion in Ten Fingers Touching and at the end of the story he proudly carries Marianna on his back to the harbor.

The extensive outrage over the brutal death of Cecil is understandable.  Pictured is a tribute portrait of him by Aaron Blaise, one of the animators of The Lion King.

Castles

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

Castles feature prominently in fairy tales. Just think of the residences of Beauty’s beast, Cinderella’s Prince, the jealous queen in Snow White and Sleeping Beauty’s resting place. The Castle Neuschwanstein in Germany (left) was the inspiration for Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

There are two contrasting castles in Ten Fingers Touching. One belongs to the royal family and the other to an evil knight.

Medieval castles were typically built on high ground. They were designed for protection, military operations and served as symbols of power for the nobility. Castles eventually became obsolete as defensive structures in time of war (16th c.), when gunpowder allowed cannons to blow through stone walls.

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom

While castles in the Middle Ages were damp, dark and drafty, today they are popular places to visit. Castle tours and romantic castle hotels are available throughout Europe.

Speaking of traveling, I am thrilled that the Fairytale Traveler just published a glowing review of Ten Fingers Touching and declared it her “good read” pick of the month. Click here to read.

Inspiration

Princess Rosy

Where does inspiration come from?

One of the main characters in Ten Fingers Touching is Princess Rosy.  She is a charming but headstrong child.

The Princess is described as having a round face and a head full of curly, chestnut-brown hair with long locks that cascade down her back.  She doesn’t enjoy her school lessons but rather prefers music, theatrics and exploring the world on her own terms.  While lovable, the Princess’ independent spirit and impetuous nature often get her into trouble.

Charlotte, who passed away 7 years ago at the age of 81

Charlotte, who passed away 7 years ago at the age of 81

Illustrator, John Blumen, created the image of the Princess that appears on the top left.  When I first saw the picture, I was shocked at how much the illustration of Rosy, age 7,  resembled the portrait of my mother, Charlotte, at age 11!  It also struck me that Rosy embodied not only my mother’s beauty but her forceful personality as well!

Sometimes inspiration is obvious, sometimes it’s not.  It seems clear to me in retrospect that the Princess was subconsciously based on my mother’s appearance and attributes even though at the time I was not aware of the connection!

Interpretations of Good and Evil

ae70ec6bf9af7415647518f3bbcdf839I was delighted to receive as a gift this beautiful stained glass window pictured on the left. The artist very cleverly transformed the cover of Ten Fingers Touching into colorful pieces of glass, while still evoking the tender emotional content of the story.

It made me think about other transformations and how the images of Good and Evil are portrayed in the book. The story opens with a dramatic picture of Good.  Good is described as “a handsome woman with natural beauty etched by years of wise governing and maturity.”  Good is represented symbolically as a woman, albeit with magical powers. We can all recognize and identify what is good.

Evil, however, appears in many forms.  He “quickly morphed from a small, spiky reptile into one of his infinite incarnations―a fierce, 50-foot-tall dragon that reared on two legs….Just as suddenly the dragon twisted like a corkscrew…and then spiraled downward into a new form― a thin, angular man….” Evil further transforms himself throughout the story because symbolically Evil can be anything and appear anywhere at any time. Evil is deceptive and we can’t always recognize its presence.

To hear more of my thoughts about Ten Fingers Touching, you may wish to listen to this online interview with Author Magazine. Click here.