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.”
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.
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.
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.