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


  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.

    • How lucky you are. When I lived in Vermont, I wanted so badly to meet her, but her health was poor & she no longer had the tea parties. I do have several of her books & envied her lifestyle.

  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.

      • This woman Tasha Tudor lived her life exactly the way she wanted to and offered no apologies. Who can judge another person’s life? Her children by all accounts were well-cared-for and at least had opportunities for creative expression albeit in a comparatively eccentric and isolated place.

  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!

  11. I found it very strange and petty how three of her children took to publicly bashing her after she died because they were left out of her will. Even if they were wronged, it is very immature for grown ass adults to speak like that to the public as though they are still children. What did they think they would achieve? It made me question their validity because seriously, who does that after the death of their parent? Also, I would believe Tasha would has an edge to her, such as stuffing hard and real things out of sight and mind and also just a general edge because she bluntly speaks of this in her books. She has said that she doesn’t get depressed because she’d rather focus her attentions on what interests her and not dwell on how she could of done things differently(aka avoids things that can’t be undone or dwell on worrying but yeah, avoidance. She owns that. ). She talks how she can handle a gun. She even talks about bluntly killing rats and then tosses them on the fire. She is even depicted picking up two of her corgis by the scruff of the neck and dunking them in a barrel of water because they were fighting. And have you read Corgiville? It’s full of stuff like drinking and smoking references that you don’t typically find in children’s books. I don’t think it was ever her intention to be betrayed as a superficial sweet flawless lady. People just tagged her that way because that’s just how people are. Honestly I find the ruggedness of her far more appealing. And if one of my sons built me my replica dream home entirely by hand without any power tools, I’m pretty sure I would leave him my will as well. Especially if my other children decided to stop speaking to me and then freak out when I didn’t give them any cash. This is a classic case of kids who have a rich and successful parent and feel a sense of entitlement for their work because they don’t have their own accomplishments to give them that kind of wealth. No one has perfect parents. As far as the cat and dog quote, I take that as her bluntly stating her kids behave like brats and she’s done with it. Love those photos though, thanks for sharing.

      • Boomer? I don’t know if it is ignorant, silly, or prejudiced to assume a given opinion is automatically that of a person of a particular age or gender or whatever. I agree that Tasha was not the sweet woman she was portrayed to be, and I suspect her children had good reason for their anger. If the children had ‘escaped’ from a religious-extremist lifestyle, I doubt anyone would be calling them brats. Nice photos of her with babies, but she seems to have been a lousy parent.

    • The pictures of her with her babies and children are endearing. It must be deceiving to give that image if that is not what she felt. But some people do prefer having pets instead of babies and children but it is sad for the children as I have seen animals being treated better than the children. Who took all the pictures? Who are the other women and children in some of the pictures?

  12. I got to visit her at her home too. I am a potter and we met a couple of times, once at my home in CT and once when I dropped off some pottery at her house. She invited me in, she made me ice tea in a glass with glass switchel stick. I was introduced to her rooster. We sat in rockers on her back porch and she talked a little of her life. I thought she was an interesting person. I liked her spunk, her way of life, her artistic abilities. It seemed she spent her life making money as she could, her paintings and drawings, but she would have rather just stayed at her house with her dogs and her gardens. It is sad that the family split apart and I often wonder if they are making amends. We all have to life out our childhoods the way others see fit, and then we have to grow up and deal with all that baggage from the past. We all have family issues. We all feel left out or hurt or slighted by our family. A lot of us had real abuse. I hope the family can respect her wishes, remember it is only money, and resolve in their own minds and listen to the other siblings with new insights. Thank you for the old photos, they show love that can easily be misunderstood.

  13. I wonder if her own parental abandonment (she was shuffled off to live with family friends) didn’t affect her ability to bond with her own children.

    Extreme lifestyles are picturesque from the outside, but aren’t always so much fun when you don’t have any say and can’t get away from it.

    • Children lean what they live. She had to deal/be affected by her own childhood and so have her children, like all of us. I see a lot of similarities in her mothering, creativity, preferring sheltering of her children, etc. to my own parents who were raised in an orphanage. I remind myself that they did the best they could with what they had with where they came from. We are all formed from our past. We just have to focus ourselves on what to use as only reminders and what to actually copy and develop.

      • ‘Sorry for the typo: Children learn what they live… and I read this on pinterest, not pinerest. :-/

  14. A person who chooses an unusual way of life for himself must not have a family. He mustn’t force anything on anyone that isn’t normal to say so. Otherwise, the family will always reject him and criticize him harshly. If someone wants an extraordinary life for himself, he should stay alone.

  15. I stumbled across a documentary on Tasha on Amazon Prime today and was immediately fascinated. I had never heard of her surprisingly. Does make me wonder about all the fascinating people and lives that we’ll never know and are lost to history and time.

    Decided to do a bit of searching and ended up here. I was very blessed with a wonderful childhood and wonderful parents. Definitely not the bohemian child that Tasha, and then subsequently her children, had, but idyllic in its own way. I grew up playing in the mountains and streams of West Virginia.

    I think childhood, like much of life, is how you choose to view it. Either you like yourself and take responsibility for who you are and what you do with your life or you don’t like yourself very much, are mired in self-hatred and blame everyone else.

    We’re all in the gutter, it’s just that some of us are looking at the stars.

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