History, People, Shopping, UpCountry Living

Finding Tasha Tudor

Beloved illustrator’s work inspires ‘bucket list’ trips to Vermont

Tasha Tudor at work. Photo courtesy of Amy Tudor.

By Bob Audette

The artwork of author-illustrator Tasha Tudor has inspired a passion in people who collect her work to schedule “bucket list” trips to Vermont to visit her homestead in Marlboro, Vt.

“My husband thinks I am cuckoo,” said Barbara Techel, who lives in Wisconsin and recently traveled to Southern Vermont to nourish her Tasha Tudor infatuation. “I have a picture of her in every room in my house and I have all her books.”

Tudor, born Starling Tudor Burgess in Boston in 1915 (and quickly renamed Natasha Tudor Burgess), is most well-known for her watercolor illustrations for children’s books such as “The Wind in the Willows,” “Pumpkin Moonshine,” “A Tale for Easter,” “The Dolls’ Christmas” and “Corgiville Christmas.”

What inspires fans like Techel is that Tudor “lived by the beat of her own drum.”

“I love her philosophy of life, as a woman trying to live on her own terms in a society that can be judgmental about that decision,” said Techel. “She owned the truth of who she was.”

But Techel didn’t originally plan on her travels to Vermont to visit the Tudor museum in Brattleboro, now closed.

“I totally believe in synchronicity,” she said. “We made plans to go to Vermont; it was on my bucket list to visit in the fall. Three to four months before the trip, a friend gave me some old issues of Victoria Magazine. I was flipping through the magazine and I came across this tribute of Tasha Tudor and I became obsessed.”

It was during her trip to Brattleboro, Vt. that Techel discovered something magical.

“When I got to the museum and watched the 45-minute documentary, I felt as if I left my body and entered the world of Tasha Tudor,” she said. “And that’s when I discovered her Advent calendar.”

Ellie Tudor, 8, pulls one of the tabs on an Advent calendar that was created by Tasha Tudor. Photo: Kristopher Radder.

“One of this year’s loveliest Advent calendars is author Tasha Tudor’s new ‘A Wreath of Days,’” wrote Sarah Ban Breathnach in a December 1988 edition of The Washington Post. “Besides being a keepsake sturdy enough to last for more than one holiday, this calendar also includes Tudor’s description of her family’s holiday customs, which even could melt the cold heart of Ebenezer Scrooge.”

Breathnach wrote that over the past four decades, the Tudor family’s Christmas celebration has become justly famous among generations of her many admirers.

“For our family, Advent is the beginning of the Christmas anticipation and begins on the sixth day of December, the birthday of Saint Nicholas,” Tudor told Breathnach. “Greens are brought in to make the wreath and the garlands. The house is filled with the cold, fresh scents of spruce and hemlock, tracked-in snow, drying mittens, wood smoke and baking, all that exemplifies happiness and home. Were one to smell any of these things again in a far country, many years hence, the entire scene would come poignantly alive once more and clutch the heart.”

Original copies of Tudor’s “A Wreath of Days” and “Oh Holy Night Christmas” Advent calendars can be found online and in auction houses, but cost thousands of dollars.

But those who don’t have $10,000 or more to spend on an original copy can take heart, because the tradition lives on in Marlboro.

“We have three available, and two Valentine [countdown] calendars, too, but the Christmas calendars are really beloved,” said Amy Tudor, who is married to Tasha Tudor’s grandson, Winslow. “Tasha used to make Advent Calendars every year for her four kids. She made them for years and produced a handful for sale.”

The Tudor family created several new Advent calendars, which are available at tashatudorandfamily.com, and include “Christmas Festivities,” “Post Office,” “Candy Shop” and the two Valentine countdown calendars, “Thy Love” and “Be Mine.”

Advent images painted for the end papers of “Becky’s Christmas,” which was published in 1961, were used for the new calendars, said Amy Tudor, combining images from other sources to add behind the flaps.

“We went into the books to find period-appropriate images to go behind the Advent windows,” she said.

Amy Tudor and Ellie look over an Advent calendar from a design that Tasha Tudor created. Photo: Kristopher Radder.

According to the Vermont Historical Society, in 1938, Tasha Tudor married Thomas Leighton McCready Jr. in Redding, Conn. The couple moved to Webster, N.H., where they had purchased a 17-room farmhouse on 450 acres that lacked electricity and running water. Tudor divorced McCready in 1961 and later married and divorced Allan John Woods.

According to tashatudorandfamily.com, after the publication of “Corgiville Fair” in 1971, she was able to purchase secluded land in Marlboro. Her son, Seth, helped her secure the land that bordered his and he began building first her barn, then her home, all with only hand tools.

The Tasha Tudor Society ran a museum in West Brattleboro, Vt. up until a couple of years ago, said Amy Tudor. Now, all events and exhibits are hosted in Marlboro.

“We host very limited tours, less than 10 a year,” she said. “Tickets go on sale in January, and the profits support the upkeep of Tasha’s house.”

Amy Tudor said she is always amazed at the passion that Tudor’s fans have for her art and her lifestyle.

“She has the nicest fans. These are people who are drawn to her, who come to visit and have such kindness in their hearts.”

According to Sarah Ban Breathnach’s 1988 article, “The Advent season — the four weeks preceding Christmas — is traditionally set aside for spiritual preparation before the nativity of Christ … During the 1880s European craftsmen made elaborate Advent calendars that families used to tell the Christmas story. Beginning on Dec. 1, one little flap is lifted each day with the story completed on Christmas Eve.”

What draws people to Tudor’s artwork is its simplicity and the yearning for a simpler time, said Techel.

“Not that I want to wear frock coats,” she said with a laugh. “But it helps you to reflect on what is important. There was a simplicity about Tasha; a really beautiful empowering truth of her life.” •


Bob Audette has been writing for the Brattleboro Reformer for close to 15 years.When he’s not working or hanging out with his 6-year-old son, he can often be found on one of the many trails leading to the summit of Mount Monadnock, in southern New Hampshire.

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