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Dancing Princesses: The Picture Book Art of Ruth Sanderson

December 7, 2013 - March 19, 2014

 

Stories about princes and princesses, and quests and bravery in the face of extraordinary odds, have remained an essential part of our culture's foundation, shared by parents and children for many generations -- they have also inspired countless artists along the way. A renowned fantasy artist and illustrator of children's literature, Ruth Sanderson has created imagery for more than 75 picture books, many of which bring such classic tales to life. Norman Rockwell Museum is presenting Dancing Princesses: The Picture Book Art of Ruth Sanderson from December 7, 2013 through March 19, 2014.

This special holiday installation, part of the Museum's "Distinguished Illustrator Series," features more than 60 original illustrations for classic and original stories, including Sanderson's personal favorite -- The Twelve Dancing Princesses (originally published in 1997 by Little, Brown, and Co, Crocodile Books). Now in the permanent collection of Norman Rockwell Museum, the artist's paintings and studies for the fairy tale are accompanied by unique costumes that she commissioned specifically for her work. The exhibition also features original paintings for other princess-inspired books, including The Sleeping Beauty; Cinderella; The Golden Mare, The Firebird, and The Magic Ring; The Snow Princess, The Crystal Mountain; and The Enchanted Wood, an original story.

"The archetypal characters and the symbolism that one finds in fairy tales contain truths that are universal and can be as meaningful for children today as they have been for centuries past," notes Sanderson. " In The Twelve Dancing Princesses, the three magical woods that the princesses pass through are symbolic to me of their rite of passage into adulthood."

"We are delighted to present the beautiful, jewel-like work of Ruth Sanderson," notes Norman Rockwell Museum Director/CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt. "This look at her fairy tale art should enchant us all through the holidays and coming months. We are also grateful for the generous donation of her original art to our growing illustration art collection."

"Inspired by the art of Golden Age illustrators Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, and Norman Rockwell, Ruth Sanderson's romantic, realist paintings capture the sense of wonder inherent in the classic tales that she so enjoys bringing to life," adds Norman Rockwell Museum Deputy Director/Chief Curator Stephanie Plunkett, who helped organize the exhibition.

 

About Ruth Sanderson

Born in the small town of Monson, Massachusetts, Ruth Sanderson (b. 1951) has been a professional illustrator since 1975, with over 80 published children's books, in addition to illustrated book covers, fantasy art, collector's plates, animation concept art, and product design. She teaches writing and illustrating for children in a summer graduate program at Hollins University, in Roanoke, VA, and is a longtime member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Growing up in Monson, Sanderson enjoyed playing in the woods and an abandoned theme park, where her imagination came to life (her original fairytale, The Enchanted Wood is, in great part, a homage to her love of the Monson woods). She also enjoyed visiting the library and reading such books as the Black Stallion series; one of her most treasured possessions was a copy of Grimm's Fairytales, which she read over and over.

Sanderson's love for stories fed into another passion -- drawing and painting. She remembers drawing images of horses since she was very young. At the age of 13, the artist's parents bought her a horse of her own, which she enjoyed trail riding during her teenage years. It was at this time she also decided to pursue a career in art.

After spending a year at a liberal arts college where the art courses were all abstract, she transferred to the Paier School of Art in Connecticut, taking a combination of traditional drawing and painting courses and commercial art. After graduation, she began a career as an illustrator, creating art for textbooks and covers, including the Black Stallion and Nancy Drew series, which she enjoyed as a child.

Sanderson's "big break" was the assignment to illustrate an edition of Heidi with one hundred full color paintings, created in oils. She went on to illustrate The Secret Garden, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Twelve Dancing Princesses, published in 1990 after a year and a half of work.

Other fantasy books followed, including The Enchanted Wood; The Crystal Mountain; Cinderella; The Golden Mare, The Firebird, and the Magic Ring; and Goldilocks.

Learn more about Ruth Sanderson's work at her website: www.ruthsanderson.com

 

Distinguished Illustrator Series

Norman Rockwell Museum's Distinguished Illustrator Series honors the unique collaborations of outstanding visual communicators today. Presented by the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, the nation's first research institute devoted to the art of illustration, the Distinguished Illustrator Series reflects the impact and evolution of Norman Rockwell's beloved profession, exploring a diverse and ever-changing field.

 

 

Wall text and object labels from the exhibition


Dancing Princesses: The Picture Book Art of Ruth Sanderson
 
"As a child I played in the woods a great deal, and I remember how mysterious they can become with a little imagination."
-- Ruth Sanderson
 
Stories about princes and princesses, and quests and bravery in the face of extraordinary odds, have remained an essential part of our culture's foundation, shared by parents and children for many generations. A renowned fantasy artist and illustrator of children's literature, Ruth Sanderson has created imagery for more than seventy-five picture books, many of which bring classic tales to life.
 
Inspired by the art of Golden Age masters Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Arthur Rackham, and Norman Rockwell for its strong narrative content and emotional power, Sanderson's romantic, realist paintings capture perfectly the sense of wonder inherent in the fairy tales that she so enjoys portraying. This special installation featuring original illustrations for classic and original stories, includes her personal favorite -- The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Now in the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum, Sanderson's paintings and studies for this enchanting tale will be accompanied by the opulent costumes that she commissioned specifically for inclusion in her work. Dazzling paintings for other princess-inspired books, including The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella; The Golden Mare, The Firebird, and The Magic Ring; The Snow Princess, The Crystal Mountain; and The Enchanted Wood, an original story, are sure to delight in this magical exhibition.
 
 
The Sleeping Beauty
 
A battered copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales that had belonged to her father was one of Ruth Sanderson's favorite books while growing up. In 1985, she illustrated her first fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty, beautifully retold by author and folklorist Jane Yolen, who also posed as the sleeping cook in the story. Interested in working in a painterly style when illustrating for children's books, she wanted to create images for all ages, particularly since fairy tales were never meant to be for children only.
 
"Oils have always been my favorite medium, perfect for the depth and the sense of light that I was planning to depict in the illustrations," Sanderson said. "Having a long deadline helped with planning for drying time." The artist has always been interested in fairy tale retellings for older readers, and how writers expand these stories in interesting ways. "Fairy tales can be read and understood on so many levels, and that is one of the reasons why I love to illustrate them."
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Slowly, He Touched Her Hair 1986
Cover illustration for The Sleeping Beauty, retold by Jane Yolen
(New York: Ariel Books/Alfred A. Knopf, 1986)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
Ruth Sanderson sets the stage for this story by framing the Prince and Sleeping Beauty in a castle window surrounded by vines_one a briar rose in reference to the young woman's name. Two birds that are perched on the vines act as witnesses as the Prince leans forward toward the beautiful sleeping Princess. Behind the couple, a draped rose-patterned curtain provides the perfect backdrop to the scene.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Each of the Wise Fairies Stood to Give a Magic Gift to the Little Princess
(The Yellow Fairy) 1986
Illustration for The Sleeping Beauty, retold by Jane Yolen
(New York: Ariel Books/Alfred A. Knopf, 1986)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
Ruth Sanderson's illustrations for The Sleeping Beauty are full of wonderful details that enliven the story. When the royal couple introduces their baby to the assembled crowd, each of the Wise Fairies gave a magical gift to the princess. Notice that pots at either side of the dais are filled with roses, which are also featured as a pattern on the carpet runner before the throne, reflecting the child's name, Briar Rose.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
"My Gift is a Curse" (The Thirteenth Fairy) 1986
Illustration for The Sleeping Beauty, retold by Jane Yolen
(New York: Ariel Books/Alfred A. Knopf, 1986)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
When the thirteenth fairy casts her curse on the child in this illustration, curtains flutter, candles are snuffed out, and a haze of smoke fills the scene, reinforcing the drama of the moment. In contrast to the other characters in the room, the thirteenth fairy is hunched and haggard; her walking stick is twisted and her necklace is strung with bones. "I always have a grand time enlisting friends and family to pose as characters in my books," the artist said.
I had to apologize to Nan Hurlburt, the fabulous costume designer who has created the costumes for many of my books, for turning her into the malicious fairy in The Sleeping Beauty."
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Briar Rose Grew Into All the Gifts the Fairy had Given Her (The Lily Pool) 1986
Illustration for The Sleeping Beauty, retold by Jane Yolen
(New York: Ariel Books/Alfred A. Knopf, 1986)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Stairs Went Round and Round and Up and Up (Briar Rose on Stairs] 1986
Illustration for The Sleeping Beauty, retold by Jane Yolen
(New York: Ariel Books/Alfred A. Knopf, 1986)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
The Twelve Dancing Princesses
 
The Twelve Dancing Princesses was Ruth Sanderson's favorite fairy tale growing up. Her first retelling, it took a year-and-a-half to write and illustrate. "I combined elements from both the French (Perrault) and German (Grimm) versions to arrive at a story that was satisfying to me as both an artist and a writer," she said. "This is a coming of age story, and the three magical woods that the princesses move through are symbolic of their rite of passage into adulthood."
 
Sanderson creates a range of visual effects in her paintings for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, from dramatic lighting to the dazzling shine of jewels and period costumes, which she had designed and sewn for use in her illustrations. The artist's focus on the many details of character and setting make a wonderful story even better. Notice the stone Pegasus figures atop the pillars, the beautifully-rendered ivy and rose vines climbing the palace walls, and the sweet greyhound that heels to the king and accompanies the princesses. Making their way through the golden wood, Sanderson's elegant princesses appear almost as a frieze from the pages of an illuminated manuscript or an elegantly-designed medieval tapestry. First published in 1990, this timeless story was released again in 2012 with a re-imagined cover design.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Twelve Dancing Princesses 1990
Cover illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Twelve Dancing Princesses 2012
Revised cover illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Twelve Dancing Princesses 1990
Title page illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
Ruth Sanderson's decorative title page border for The Twelve Dancing Princesses hints at the story's content. Look closely at the twelve sets of shoes, and you will see that their soles have separated from their elegant uppers. Though the King locks his twelve daughters in the bedroom each evening, their shoes are mysteriously worn through by morning, as they have been danced in all night long_unbeknownst to him.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Once Upon a Time the King Had Twelve Daughters 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Where Are You Bound This Day, My Son? 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
A Young Commoner Named Michael 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Michael's First Task Was to Give a Bouquet to Each of the Princesses
(The Terrace) 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Michael Followed Them (Trap Door) 1990
illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Who is Holding My Dress? 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Princesses Hurried Down a Lamp Lit Path 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
They Soon Came to a Large Lake 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Michel Hid in the Corner 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
They Passed Through the Wood with the Diamond-Strewn Leaves 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Michael Hid the Branch with the Silver-Spangled Leaves in the Flowers for Lina 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Michael Followed Them and Crossed the Lake in Lina's Boat 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Lina Found a Branch 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
How Could You Wait so Long to Tell Me? (The Discovery) 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Michael Danced with Each Princess in Turn 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Don't Drink It (The Goblet) 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Michael and the Twelve Princesses Went Straight to the King 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Wedding Was Held on the Very Next Day 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Crumbling Castle 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Shoes on the Sill 1990
Illustration for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Oil on canvas
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Twelve Dancing Princesses 1990
Cover study for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Pencil on paper
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Twelve Dancing Princesses 2012
Revised cover study for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Pencil on paper
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Twelve Dancing Princesses 1990
Studies for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Pencil on paper
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
After completing the manuscript for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Ruth Sanderson sketched out the progression of her story in a series of drawings that would allow her to envision the book as a whole. Each image was refined in a series of increasingly detailed drawings, models were selected to play character roles, and costumes were commissioned to lend authenticity to her work. The artist captured each model's expression and pose in a series of photographs that provided important visual reference for her final paintings.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Twelve Dancing Princesses 1990
Studies for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Pencil on paper
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Twelve Dancing Princesses 1990
Book dummy for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Pencil on paper
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Twelve Dancing Princesses 1990
Book dummy for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Pencil on paper
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Twelve Dancing Princesses 1990
Reference photographs for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, retold by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1990; Crocodile Books, 2012)
Pencil on paper
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Gift of Sanderson MacLeod, Inc.
 
 
Nan Hurlburt DesignWorks Studio
 
Costumes designed and constructed for use in The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Ruth Sanderson 1990
 
 
The Enchanted Wood
 
For Ruth Sanderson, the woods represent our life's journey, the divergent paths reflecting the many choices that we must make along the way. Many of her favorite fairy tales are about quests, impossible tasks, magical helpers, and happiness that is won through sacrifice. An original fairy tale, The Enchanted Wood is the tale of three brothers who seek to deliver their father's kingdom from drought by discovering the Heart of the World, a mythical tree in the center of an enchanted forest that is fraught with danger. Though all set out, only the third remains on the appointed path despite temptation, winning his father's throne and the affection of the girl who helped him along the way. "I wanted the story to have both a hero and heroine, and to be appealing for both boys and girls," the artist said.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Enchanted Wood 1991
Cover illustration for The Enchanted Wood by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1991; Ware, MA: Golden Wood Studio Edition, 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
A Knight in Black Armor Appeared at a Distance (The Black Knight) 1991
Illustration for The Enchanted Wood by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1991; Ware, MA: Golden Wood Studio Edition, 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
What Do You Seek in the Enchanted Wood? (Rose and Galen) 1991
Illustration for The Enchanted Wood by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1991; Ware, MA: Golden Wood Studio Edition, 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Two Travelers Walked for Hours (The Misty Wood) 1991
Illustration for The Enchanted Wood by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1991; Ware, MA: Golden Wood Studio Edition, 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
A Riderless, Wide-Eyed Horsed Galloped Along 1991
Illustration for The Enchanted Wood by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1991; Ware, MA: Golden Wood Studio Edition, 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Suddenly Owen and the Black Knight Emerged from the Trees, Locked in Endless Combat
Illustration for The Enchanted Wood by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1991; Ware, MA: Golden Wood Studio Edition, 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
In the Center of the Clearing Stood a Wonderful Tree (Heart of the World) 1991
Illustration for The Enchanted Wood by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1991; Ware, MA: Golden Wood Studio Edition, 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
"When I decided to write an original fairy tale," said the artist, "I knew I wanted it to take place in the woods, my favorite place to play as a child. The story of The Enchanted Wood was inspired by both childhood memories and my continuing love of old trees and the dappled light of the New England woods." From the curling bark of a fallen birch to the moss covered roots of an old tree, Ruth Sanderson conveys the weight, shade, and even the smell of a deep old wood. The tree at The Heart of the World was visualized as a composite of real trees that inspired her. "An old tree can have such character and majesty," she said.
 
 
The Crystal Mountain
 
In creating this fantastical tale, Ruth Sanderson melded elements of a Norwegian fairy tale, The Glass Mountain, with a Chinese folktale, The Magic Brocade-weaving together a new story about the creation of a tapestry and its theft, recapture, and transformation. On the surface this would appear an unlikely match. However, Sanderson said, "the Chinese tale about a weaver of brocades whose work is stolen by fairies transferred nicely into a story about a European weaver of tapestries. I added the three magical horses from the The Glass Mountain, took the weaving theme and much of the plot from the Magic Brocade, set it in 15th century Europe, and The Crystal Mountain was born."
 
To create her new tale, the artist also studied the imagery of the past, from medieval tapestries to the diverse styles of clothing and architecture of the period. Her wonderful eye for detail can be seen in the carefully wrapped skeins of colored wool beside the rug loom, the accurate depictions of horse armor on the black steed and white charger, the splash of the sea, and the horse's iron-studded hooves, which send out a spray of crystal fragments as it makes its way up the translucent mountain.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Its Iron-studded Hooves Left a Spray of Crystal Fragments as it Leaped Up the Mountain 1999
Cover illustration for The Crystal Mountain by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Anna Dreamed of a Place More Beautiful than Any She had Ever Seen
(The Tapestry) 1999
Illustration for The Crystal Mountain by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Horse Leaped into the Icy Sea (The Sea Ride)
Illustration for The Crystal Mountain by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
I Have Come for My Mother's Tapestry (The Fairy Hall) 1999
Illustration for The Crystal Mountain by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
She Looked from Anna's Tapestry to Perrin Sleeping Nearby (The Red Fairy) 1999
Illustration for The Crystal Mountain by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Wind Swirled Around Them and Lifted Horse and Rider into the Air, Tapestry and All (The Flying Horse) 1999
Illustration for The Crystal Mountain by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Perrin Unrolled the Tapestry . . . . Then an Amazing Thing Happened 1999
Illustration for The Crystal Mountain by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1999)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
Retelling is the art of weaving threads of different stories together, creating a unique tapestry of words and ideas. A thread that Sanderson often searches for is one that involves a character making a sacrifice. In this story, in order to aid the hero, the red fairy of the Crystal Mountain chooses to transfer all her magic to the tapestry, sewing into it a picture of herself. When the hero returns the stolen tapestry to his mother, it magically transforms into the actual scene depicted in the weaving. The hero gets to marry the now-human fairy, and his mother secures the place of her dreams.
 
 
The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring
 
Brave deeds and wondrous magic come together in this tale inspired by a classic Russian folktale. In The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring, a young huntsman named Alexi leaves home seeking adventure and fortune, and instead finds the Golden Mare, who pledges eternal loyalty in exchange for her life. With the mare's help, Alexi becomes the Tsar's best huntsman, but the jealous Tsar presents him with several impossible tasks, threatening to have him killed if he fails. Each time, Alexi secretly enlists the help of the Golden Mare, but his final task to win Yelena the Fair, a lovely young maiden whom the old Tsar wants as his bride, requires an extra dose of cleverness to achieve.
 
Magical creatures appear in many classic fairy tales, often as common animals that ultimately reveal unique characteristics, such as having the ability to speak and carry out impossible tasks. In this tale, a magical talking horse helps the story's main character Alexi at every turn. Together, they capture the firebird, a mythical creature that the Czar wishes to display in a gilded cage.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring 2001
Cover illustration for The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring
by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 2001)
Oil on clayboard
Collection of the artist
 
Ruth Sanderson has always loved to draw, and horses have been her passion. These majestic creatures have made frequent appearances in her art; in addition to The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring, she has illustrated many other horse stories, including The Black Stallion Series, Buck Wild, The Mystery of Pony Hollow, The Poetry Horses, The Mystery of the Missing Pony, The Enchanted Wood, The Crystal Mountain, and since 2002, the popular Horse Diaries series.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Alex Noticed Something Glowing Brightly on the Path Ahead (The Feather) 2001
Illustration for The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring
by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 2001)
Oil on clayboard
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Tsar Greedily Took the Feather 2001
Illustration for The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring
by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 2001)
Oil on clayboard
Collection of the artist
 
From opulent costumes to the intricate details of a medieval Russian palace, Ruth Sanderson transforms her knowledge of art and cultural history into illustrations that convey a sense of real places and the people who inhabited them. Notice the Tsar's jewel encrusted crown and mantel, the decorative onion domes in the palace complex, the brass and copper samovar that provides hot water for tea, and the intricate painted icons_engaging details that are brought together to create a sense of believability in her art.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Firebird Came Flying, Wings Aflame with the Reflected Light of the Sun 2001
Illustration for The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring
by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 2001)
Oil on clayboard
Collection of the artist
 
Ruth Sanderson's spectacular firebird was modeled on an old stuffed pheasant in the flying position, making his wings and tail more elegant, and painting him with a fiery red glow.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Boat of Yelena the Fair Sailed Upon the Lake of the Sun 2001
Illustration for The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring
by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 2001)
Oil on clayboard
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Yelena and Alexi had a Merry Time, Eating and Talking of Many Things (Under the Tent) 2001
Illustration for The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring
by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 2001)
Oil on clayboard
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Alexi Presented the Ring to the Tsar, Who Gave it at Once to Yelena the Fair 2001
Illustration for The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring
by Ruth Sanderson (Boston: New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 2001)
Oil on clayboard
Collection of the artist
 
In The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring, the golden ring has the most powerful magic because it can grant wishes. Unhappy with the prospect of marriage to the Czar, Yelena convinces the older man that a cauldron of boiling water is literally a fountain of youth capable of transforming him into a younger man. As the Czar jumps into the cauldron, Alexi makes a wish on the ring and pulls him out_in the form of a baby. Now too young to marry Yelena, he is given the opportunity for a fresh start, the chance to begin life all over again as a young child.
 
 
Cinderella
 
When researching Cinderella, Ruth Sanderson discovered that the story's beloved Fairy Godmother appeared only in Charles Perrault's version of the tale, and that a white bird acted as a magical helper in the Brothers Grimm rendition. "I decided to combine these two elements in my retelling of the story," said Sanderson. Her portrayal emphasizes the importance of kindness through the inclusion of gentle starlings, doves, and finches that help Cinderella gather scattered lentils so that she can attend the ball. The white bird in Cinderella's garden transforms into a dazzling platinum-haired fairy godmother, complete with translucent wings and a magic wand.
 
Though Cinderella's unkind stepsisters eventually get their due, the artist decided to soften Grimm's bloody conclusion, making the story more palatable for children. In Sanderson's version, the three stepsisters are chased into the house by birds rather than having their eyes pecked out by them for their "wickedness and falsehood."
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
"Fix my Hair! Fetch my Fan! Hurry! Run! You are Too Lazy for Words!" 2002
Illustration for Cinderella by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2002)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Starlings, Doves, and Finches Flew in the Window and Alighted Among the Ashes, Picking out the Lentils and Returning them to the Dish that Cinderella Held 2002
Illustration for Cinderella by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2002)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
With a Touch of Her Magic Wand, the Fairy Transformed the Pumpkin into a Golden Coach 2002
Illustration for Cinderella by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2002)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
As Cinderella Looked Down to Admire the Beautiful Gown, She Noticed that Upon Her Feet Were Dainty Slippers Made Entirely of Glass 2002
Illustration for Cinderella by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2002)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Evening Passed So Quickly that Cinderella Forgot Her Promise Until the Clock Began to Strike Midnight 2002
Illustration for Cinderella by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2002)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Cinderella Ran from the Room and Dashed Down the Palace Stairs so Quickly that She Stumbled and Lost One of Her Slippers 2002
Illustration for Cinderella by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2002)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Sprinkled throughout the story is the visualization of sparkling fairy dust from the Fairy Godmother's magic wand, which animates the characters and contributes to a sense of enchantment throughout the story.
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Are There No Other Young Ladies in This House? 2002
Illustration for Cinderella by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2002)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Cinderella's Dress Became a Gown of Shimmering Silk 2002
Illustration for Cinderella by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2002)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Cinderella's Dress Became a Gown of Shimmering Silk 2012
Illustration for Cinderella by Ruth Sanderson
(Boston: New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2002)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
For the new edition of Cinderella, published ten years after the first, Ruth Sanderson decided to create a new cover based on the familiar and iconic midnight stairway scene in which the protagonist makes her hurried escape from the ball.
 
 
The Snow Princess
 
Inspired by The Snow Maiden, a character from Russian folklore featured in nineteenth century adaptations for ballet and opera, The Snow Princess is the tale of a young woman who sets out from her home in the icy north to see the world. Father Frost and Mother Spring warn her never to fall in love, lest she lose her immortality, and she journeys alone through barren deserts of ice and snow through many lands, keeping her heart cold. Despite her parents' warnings, she finds herself drawn to a kind and handsome shepherd named Sergei and falls in love with him, deciding her own fate in the chaos of a powerful snowstorm that threatens his life.
 
"In the Russian version of the story, the main character ultimately dies, but since my story is for children, I decided to resolve the ending differently, adding a twist," the artist said. Like her parents, The Snow Princess is an immortal being, but she becomes human when she fell in love. "Change of any kind can feel like a death of sorts, which is why people have created ceremonies marking life's transitions from one stage to the next, filling a basic human need. Perhaps we are attracted to stories, whether in book, movie, or video game format, that simulate an experience we have missed in real life, or which help to prepare us for a coming transition. I find it interesting to reflect that I wrote this story when both of my girls were becoming young women. Perhaps it served to help with my own rite of passage into 'the empty nest.'"
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
The Snow Princess 2004
Cover illustration for The Snow Princess by Ruth Sanderson
(New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
They Called Her Their Snow Princess Because She Could Call up Snowstorms at Will 2004
Illustration for The Snow Princess by Ruth Sanderson
(New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
She Longed to See the World, So She Bid her Parents Good-bye
Illustration for The Snow Princess by Ruth Sanderson
(New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
She Crossed Barren Deserts of Ice and Snow with the Polar Bears 2004
Illustration for The Snow Princess by Ruth Sanderson
(New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
It Was Sergei Who Turned to Her and Said, "It Would Be Much Easier to Walk on the Path" 2004
Illustration for The Snow Princess by Ruth Sanderson
(New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Sergei and His Friends Played, and Couples Danced by the Light of Bonfires 2004
Illustration for The Snow Princess by Ruth Sanderson
(New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
As Sergei Played for Katie, She Felt a Warmth She Had Never Experienced 2004
Illustration for The Snow Princess by Ruth Sanderson
(New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
At Long Last the Snow Revealed Her Love, Half Buried and Unconscious 2004
Illustration for The Snow Princess by Ruth Sanderson
(New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Katia Watched in Amazement (Spring)
Illustration for The Snow Princess by Ruth Sanderson
(New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2004)
Oil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
Nan Hurlburt DesignWorks Studio
 
Costumes designed and constructed for use in The Snow Princess by Ruth Sanderson 2004
 
 
Ruth Sanderson
Illustrations for The Golden Key by George MacDonald 2013
Scratchboard
Collection of the artist
 
First published in 1867, The Golden Key is a Victorian fairy tale by novelist and poet George MacDonald (1824-1905) that has always been one of Ruth Sanderson's favorite stories. The allegorical narrative features a girl and boy, Tangle and Mossy, who meet and travel together to a mysterious land, hoping to find the keyhole that fits the rainbow's golden key. For a while their paths diverge as Tangle encounters three Old Men of the Sea, of the Earth, and of the Fire growing wiser and more beautiful at each stage of her journey. Tangle is finally united with Mossy, who carries the golden key, and they reach the rainbow, climbing along toward the "country whence the shadows fall."
 
"Full of dreamlike events and exquisite images, The Golden Key is rather long and would not fit successfully into a picture book format," noted Ruth Sanderson, "so I almost gave up on the idea of illustrating my own version of the story. Still, when anyone asked what my dream project might be, it was always The Golden Key." Recently, she decided to return to the idea, formatting the story as a 128-page chapter book illustrated in scratchboard, a style well-suited to the subject matter and the period in which it was written. She is currently proposing the idea to publishers.
 

Above text ©Norman Rockwell Museum. Used with permission.

 

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