this post began when i came across images of Tasha Tudor, a children’s book illustrator whose nostalgic throwback lifestyle (she lived in a replica of a late 18th-century New England farmhouse) included spinning flax into linen to make her own clothes, milking goats and sleeping in a featherbed “with her nose pointing north”. according to her New York Times obituary she “frequently said that she was the reincarnation of a sea captain’s wife who lived from 1800 to 1840 or 1842, and that it was this earlier life she was replicating by living so ardently in the past.”

Tasha Tudor Tasha Tudor as a young girl, Nell Dorr

a young Tasha Tudor

i assumed she grew up on a farm and this had been her life all along, but she was actually born into a well connected Boston family, went to art school and developed a love for all things rural – buying antique clothing at auctions and purchasing her first cow before the age of 15. after marrying her first husband in 1938 they moved to an old farmhouse without electricity and running water, where she pursued her back-to-basics lifestyle: chopping her own wood, pumping water and carrying it in buckets hanging from a yolk on her shoulders, painting by firelight or kerosene lamp… all while barefoot.

if you search on Pinterest you can see that she has quite the online fanbase, and apparently has an ardent following in Japan and South Korea. you can buy her books on Amazon – if you want to learn about heirloom crafts, make old-fashioned gifts, tour her garden or peek inside her dollhouse.

Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor

images of Tasha Tudor in her later years

above all she was a successful commercial artist, and by the time she died at the age of 93 her estate was worth $2 million. this is where the story gets interesting. she raised her four kids in what must have been considered an idyllic rural lifestyle, putting on elaborate marionette shows and floating cakes down the river – without modern conveniences like television or even a radio (or even electricity, for a long time). but, as it turned out, perhaps her children weren’t so keen on the idea.

“I remember strongly disliking the solitude and being different from other people, wanting to play with neighborhood children, but they were miles away,” said Thomas Tudor, now a U.S. Air force lawyer living in Fairfax Station, Va. “I didn’t like wearing homespun clothes or getting my hair cut by my father. But we certainly communed with nature.” Tudor lived in a fantasy world, said her daughter Efner Tudor Holmes, 61, who broke off communications with her mother in 1996. “It’s fine when you’re a child and you have the doll parties and her marionette shows and all the wonderful fantasy things she did. My friends envied me,” said Holmes, who lives in Contoocook, N.H. “But when you grow up and you have a parent who absolutely refuses to talk to you about real-life issues, it’s a problem.” – from The Huffington Post

she ended up disinheriting 3 of her kids and writing them out of her will for “their estrangement from her”. after her death there was a messy legal battle between the siblings who fought over her estate, airing all their dirty laundry in the process. which makes the following photographs quite sad, they are of a young Tasha and her children as photographed by Nell Dorr for her book Mother and Child.

Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor

Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor

Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor

Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor

Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor

Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor

Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor

see all the photos from the book here.

In hindsight, Holmes admires her mother for many of the same reasons her fans do: By her own design, Tudor supported four children with her books and illustrations and ran a 500-acre farm alone. She lived a life that would have broken most women, Holmes said. “She did her best,” Holmes said. “As a woman and a mother, I understand that.” – Boston Globe

she was clearly an interesting, eccentric and complicated woman, a 19th century Martha Stewart of sorts. also, she really really loved Corgis. i’m surprised she didn’t leave her entire estate to her dogs… though she did ask to be buried with her rooster, Chickahominy.

Tasha Tudor, photographed by Nell Dorr Tasha Tudor, photographed by Nell Dorr Tasha Tudor, photographed by Nell Dorr Nell Dorr: Mother & Child, featuring Tasha Tudor

12 Comments

  1. Looks pretty fascinating. Going to research a little bit about her as this is the first time that I encounter this name!

  2. I think its sad that her children were estranged from her. She lived the life she wanted to live and provided them with a happy childhood, what else can you ask for.
    My parents lived a eccentric rural lifestyle as well, and moved us to Asia for it, it is not my piece of cake, but I respect them and their choices. And it gave me a chance to experience the past and the future.

    • i think there’s way more to it than that, read the Boston Globe and Huffington Post pieces…

      “Some of the last words she said to me were, ‘Oh, will there ever be a cat and dogfight when I die. But I don’t care. I won’t be here to see it,’ ” Holmes said in an interview in her rustic farmhouse. “It bothered her – but not enough to do anything about it. I think there’s a side of my mother that was very cruel. And that’s the side of her that I’m wrestling with to this day.”

      … But Tudor disliked babies; she often said she would rather hold one of her beloved Corgi dogs, said Holmes. And while Tudor worked on the art that sustained her family, the children ran wild. “There was no structure whatsoever,” recalled Thomas Tudor, who learned early how to make his own dinner. Holmes recalled that their mother discouraged them from playing with neighborhood children and frowned upon the modern ways of outsiders. Later, she despised her children’s spouses and was critical of her grandchildren, said Thomas Tudor. In her will, Tudor acknowledged only five of her biological grandchildren, leaving out five adopted ones – as well as three born to her estranged daughter, Holmes.

  3. Wow, I’ve never heard of her. Super fascinating (and almost kind of disturbing)… Thanks for sharing!

  4. I hadn’t heard of her and found this incredibly interesting; thank you for posting! I also learned of Lucy Hilmer from you. Your profiles on interesting, little-known people, combined with your taste in design and photography, make your blog my favorite to follow. I always get a little feeling of excitement when I see you’ve posted because I know it will be something very cool that I haven’t seen anywhere else. You da best, Moss.

  5. Really fascinating, especially reading those articles you linked too in which the comments brought up narcissistic mother disorder. Really enjoyed this post Diana.

  6. I had the pleasure of spending a morning with Tasha. She graciously invited my daughter and I to arrive early before the crew from the PBS series The Victory Garden arrived to tape a show at her home in Vermont. She served us tea and strawberries and to my daughters delight a bowl of sugar to dip the berries in. She opened up her doll house (now at a museum in Williamsburg VA) and let my daughter play in it. I have many photos from the visit. We received a card and package from her several days later with my daughters finger knitting basket that was left on her porch. The visit was delightful. FYI My husband Kip Anderson was the gardener for The Victory Garden, that was our in.

  7. what an interesting person and to hear her children’s POV on their childhood and mother… really makes you think about that rural fantasy life and the realities that come with it. thanks for sharing this fascinating story!

  8. As a long-time admirer of Tasha Tudor’s illustrations and seemingly idyllic lifestyle, I truly appreciate seeing these photos from Mother and Child. I had the opportunity to hear Tasha speak some years ago and enjoyed the experience. She seemed an accomplished, creative, complicated woman – but, she brought much beauty into the world. Thank you for posting this vintage post.

  9. I wonder why the family broke apart, seems in 1996? I have thought perhaps the children felt robbed of a childhood they wanted. It’s often the case with children of parents who have strong views on how the family should live. The surfer Paskowitz Family who traveled along beaches, were homeschooled and taught to surf and lived what seemed an idyllic life to a kid have bitter emotions regarding their childhood. The best thing you can do for your child could just be following their lead, in terms of interests and passions, rather than force them into a lifestyle that keeps them from a world they are curious about. Tasha Tudor was extreme so I can understand her children carrying a bitterness. Did they go to prom or wore clothing they chose to wear? I wonder. While she has stated she has no regrets, I wonder how many experiences her children didn’t have and would have liked to. Very sad, she obviously loved them very much but maybe her intense and extreme passions blinded her to what her family’s true needs were. The same intense and extreme passions that made her such a wonderful artist.

  10. Thank you for this lovely article and insights. There is always two sides to a story..yes?
    It seems like children most often do not want to do what their parents did and want to branch out on their own, like the arrow from the bow, and trying to hamper or control their natural interests usually creates resentment and anger. She was certainly an independent woman with full time career of her, which was highly unusual in her day as women were expected to full time wives and mothers. I find her own mother’s career and aspirations very interesting and most likely inspired Tosha to take it one step further!

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