Photographing Joan Walsh Anglund and Mary Engelbreit
This past weekend a group of amazing folks came together under the direction of Mary Diane Hanna to meet and celebrate children's illustrator and author Joan Walsh Anglund. If you have not yet heard of her, please do your heart a favor and google her wonderful body of work that spans decades. She is so amazing that the ever-talented illustrator Mary Engelbreit decided to come and participate in all the events. Those two in a room together, wow, Joan Walsh Anglund and Mary Engelbreit, it may not be possible to calculate just how many people have been encouraged by their life's work.
Fate would have it that both of these ladies have special meaning to me, and I have treasured work from each of them. One Christmas many moons ago, my in-laws gave me a small red book with soft pencil-like drawings of children celebrating Christmas. I was spending that Christmas in Sweden away from my parents and that simple book by Joan seemed to capture what the season was about. I knew they had searched for something I could have in English. Then we have Mary, whose work of whimsy and wit seems to strike a cord inside you the moment you see it. It just makes sense, reminds you of life's truths. The serendipity is that when I began to really move my photography into a career, I kept a drawing in my office of hers reminding me to keep moving forward. It depicted exactly what it means to go forward with a dream, especially of the artistic nature.
So I began with setting up my camera gear in a cozy part of the house and waited for Joan Walsh Anglund to come in for portraits. I did not expect what happened next, suddenly standing before me was a tall, elegant woman in her eighties, dressed in black with a striking red scarf. She came straight to me, taking my face in her hands, and then, hugging me as if I were one of her beloved grandchildren, she leaned in and whispered to me, "a stranger is just a friend you have never meet before." Suddenly I felt so touched and absolutely loved, instantly I understood that I am in the presence of a very special person. This night was to be a great gift, you know the kind that transcends most other moments and fundamentally changes you, I believe Oprah calls it an "A-ha moment."
I spent the night listening, watching, photographing those who came for this rare event. Some attendees had traveled long distances, even over the ocean from Japan just for this moment with Joan. Each and every person that came into the room, she greeted with the warmth and love of a Saint. I am telling you, Joan Walsh Anglund could teach any of today's celebrities something about being a real star. It is truly a great person who can make others
feel they are the most important person in the room, and listen so intently to them they feel really seen. I learned several things that night photographing Joan Walsh Anglund: school teachers who had been touched by her books and visits to schools would drive across states to thank her; baby blankets cross-stitched with her illustrations had become precious heirlooms; her co-workers from past greeting card companies longing to have another chat would cry tears of joy to see her; Joan would remember the fans who showed up time and time again at a department store book signing by name after all these years; mothers would bring their daughters and granddaughters to sit and be hugged; those who lost loved ones or faced trials and found hope in her words would receive her gratitude; a grandson would see how many people also loved his grandmother; and two beloved illustrators would come together in one moment and recognize each other from the heart, and each hold the other one's hands, hands that have both given so much hope to so many others.