Monday, December 25, 2017

HILDA'S ADVICE TO WRITERS | Letter to ERM, March 13, 1946

Hilda van Stockum painting for her class at the
Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vt., about 1948.
Dec. 25, 2017 – HvS here chortles over surprising  questions about writing from wannabe writers. One of them seemed to think that the needed trick might be in the type of paper she writes on. It is posted here for the first time, just typed up from the original handwritten letter by my son Jay as a Christmas gift to me. John (aka Timmy Mitchell)
Hilda Marlin
3728 Northampton Street NW
Washington, D.C. 15
March 13, 1946
Dearest Husband,
Your presents were brought yesterday and I don't think you've ever bought us anything that was such a hit. The crucifix is beautiful and so is the Sacred Heart picture. Of course Jesus's face is not one hundred percent satisfactory, but how could it be? I only know too well how difficult it is, but it is at least dignified, artistic and in your good taste – a picture you can honor. And perhaps, in time, I shall even get to like the face, for it is not an insignificant or insipid face. 
The medals touched us all very much. You selected them with great love and care – Saint John the Baptist for Johnny (though his patron saint is really Saint John the Evangelist), Saint Therèse of the Infant Jesus for Olga (though her patron saint is Saint Teresa of Avila [Carmelite nun and mystic, born between Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America and the beginning of the Reformation- JTM]. It would have done for Brigid because she took Therèse as her Confirmation name, but she fell in love with The Blessed Virgin, so she took that). Saint Robert for Randal is correct, and he was very pleased with it. So is Saint Cecilia for Sheila and Saint Elisabeth for Lissie. 
I think I shall have to take Saint Michael for no one else wants him and I can use him very well, battle as I have to with the Devil in many forms. I was also very touched with the brooch – The Virgin and Child surrounded by my children. Very appropriate. Only what if I get twins next? You shall have to give me another brooch. 
You have never given me a present that pleased me so well. I have rearranged the pictures in my room to do justice to the Crucifix and Olga now gets the Crucifix May [Massee] gave me. If you should manage to be in Paris again I should like a French and Latin missal. It might be useful in Canada. I've lost my own missal and they seem to make such beautiful art in Paris, perhaps you can get me a really artistic one. I wish we could go to Paris! I am terribly happy with your presents.
We also liked van Heuven very much. He is in trouble, though, for he has thrown up the job he took on account of his mother, who hated his being so far away for six years and now he has got to have a job and he hoped you could get him one at PICAO [the Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization, of which Spike was Secretary]. He is going to see you when he gets back to London. He seemed a more mature and thoughtful person than Biereus. Biereus reminds me a little of the other Biereus I knew (Wim).
Hans Brinker (World Publishing Co.) arrived and looks very nice. I think the colored pictures reproduced beautifully. I also talked before a professional writer's club and had a roaring success. They were in fits of laughter.
There was one lady who asked me a silly question.
"What do you think of ‘Angela’ for a dog's name?"
"It depends on the dog,” I said.
"Oh, it's a sweet dog, but my son won't allow it to have that name."
"Maybe he is embarrassed, walking around with a dog called Angela," I suggested, and everybody roared. 
There was a school teacher who said she had wanted to write all her life but never got so far. I told her to keep a diary of what went on in her class to make a start. 
"Oh!" she said intensely. "Oh! Is that how you do it? Do you use a looseleaf notebook or a plain? Or would a five-year diary be better?" She clutched at me as if I were a lifebuoy, and the questions I had to answer convinced me that it is most unlikely that she'll ever write a best-seller. To tell you the honest truth, I rather wondered what she taught the children. But she was touchingly grateful for my advice. 
Of course I told my usual repertoire of how I started to write and used birth control on my books – and how I became a citizen and said [when asked by the immigration officer why she hadn’t reported that she had a second child when she applied for citizenship a year earlier–JTM]:
"If you wait any longer I'll have three.” 
But there was one part that made them almost faint with laughter and that was especially for the benefit of aspiring writers. I said that you often asked me what I found to write about my most ordinary children and that I told you they'd be no use unless they were ordinary. And I went on to say that the things you gossiped about in real life, and envied and thought thrilling were boring and unconvincing in literature – that it was the normal that is needed in books rather than the abnormal. 
"So," I said, "the duller the life you lead, the less brilliant your companions, the more humdrum your surroundings, the less exciting your occupations, the more successful your books." 
And that was such a paradox to the aspiring writers they simply gasped for breath. Well, I was in my blue heaven. 
Otherwise, I'm a drudge. I managed to make some kind of dinner for Mr. van Heuven but the oven door broke and what with all my temperamental children I have quite a time of it. But I refuse to get flustered and we're very happy, thank you.
Did I tell you that Johnny said: "Jesus is a sport, isn't He?"
Today he said: "I wish Mammy was small, then I could knock her down." 
He came to bring me an onion out of the garden.
"Do you like onions?"
"No," I said. "But when I was a little boy I did." Profound silence.
Then – triumphantly: "You never were a little boy! A little girl you mean!" 
He showed me his doll [my sisters promoted gender-neutral play – JTM]. "I want it to be real,” he said.
"I can't make it real." I told him.
"Then who can?" he asked.
“God," I said.
"Then how do we get it to God?" he said.
Granny. Olga Boissevain van
Stockum, about 1948. (She
died in 1949.)
Randal is getting better. Doctor Deyrup says if we hadn't caught it just then he would have had pneumonia. Yet she had been three days before and judged that he wasn't very sick and if I hadn't checked the symptoms so much she might not even have come again. But I didn't like the sound of his cough. An ordinary cough has a liquid sound – and a croupy cough is a bark. But this was a falsetto cough with a nasty twang, completely dry. It sounded like sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. We really were anxious about him. 
Miffy told a horrible story about a man he knew who had what they thought a "mild" case of flu and suddenly developed kidney complications, was rushed to a hospital and only saved through liberal application of Penicillin. 

Mother said, so tragically: "I don't want to lose a grandson as well as a son, and especially not one who continually reminds me of Willem."
But thanks be to God he is all right now. If all goes well he may get up tomorrow and on Friday I have to take him to Group H[ealth] for an X-ray of his chest. [Randal turns 80 next month, and has six children – three girls including his eldest and youngest, and three boys.–JTM]

Very fondest love from 

Your wife.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

AUCTIONS | Hilda van Stockum Art to Be Sold

Image © by the Estate of Hilda van Stockum, shown here by
special permission.
The art-pricing site askART has just announced that one or more items of Hilda van Stockum art will be auctioned in the near future.

For more details go to the askART siteFull information will require a subscription.

Meanwhile, 33 pieces of art by Hilda van Stockum have been collected together on the Arcadja art-pricing site. To see the prices, a "Pro" subscription is required, but several pieces of art are shown with prices attached.

Here are some recent HvS art works that have been auctioned:

Hans Brinker drawings for the World Publishing edition. Ironically, the artist in this case was a Dutch native, but the author of the famed book (which invented the legend of the boy with his finger in the dike) never even visited Holland. Auctioned by Susanin's, Chicago, March 19, 2016, Lot 7072.

Wildflower with Beech Leaves (1992). Leslie Hindmin, Chicago, March 19, 2014, Lot 2712.

Pears in a Window. DeVere's, Dublin. November 27, 2013, Lot 2. These pears look a lot like the ones in the HvS Europa stamp, although the background is different. Could pears last through two sets of "sittings"? DeVere's auctioned another HvS art work on May 14, 2013.

Another auction house that deals in HvS art: Adams (Dublin).

Another art pricing site: Artprice.

Related Post: Archives and Galleries of Hilda van Stockum

ST NICHOLAS | It's His Day – Buy "Kersti and St Nicholas"! (Updated Dec. 6, 2017)

"Kersti and St Nicholas" – slightly modified by the author's
children to make the book accessible to another generation
of families. The illustrations are classic.
December 5, 2017 – It is St Nicholas Eve, my mother's favorite day of the year when we were growing up. She would put up a Christmas tree and then get out her St Nicholas costume.

With great fanfare at dusk she would arrive as St Nicholas, meting out appreciation for all the good things the children did and remonstrating, in a stern but kindly way, about some example of deeds less admirable.

She did such a good job of it! I remember being so impressed with the deep knowledge St Nicholas had of our family. How could he know so much about so many families?

The next morning we would find our stockings hanging full of small gifts, and sometimes a piece of coal with an explanation, a reminder of some egregious malfeasance or nonfeasance. I was stunned. St Nicholas kept track! Who knew?

Hilda van Stockum herself is full of morality. She came down hard on her evil characters, like Leendert in The Winged Watchman. Some librarians found it disconcerting that Kersti managed to persuade St Nicholas to deviate from his normal mission of giving presents only to good children. In Kersti we find a St Nicholas who listens to pleas and can be merciful. The question of the librarians is where mercy ends and injustice begins.

The unexpected turn of the plot surely reflects the impact on van Stockum of Hitler's ruthless invasion of the Netherlands in May of the year of publication, 1940. 

That was van Stockum's country of birth and most of her relatives were deeply threatened. Many would die because they worked in the Resistance. Some died of hunger. One of her two brothers died during the war piloting an RAF plane to fight Hitler. The other brother died of an illness contracted in Holland during the war.

This is a "Speculaas Moulin" – a Dutch windmill 
cookie, with almond and ginger spices. In 
Belgium they are called "Speculoos" cookies. 
They are a specialty of St. Nicholas Day.
One can understand why at that time van Stockum was yearning for benevolence from those with the power to dispense mercy. 

The book Kersti and St Nicholas was originally a hard-cover book published by Viking. The reprint edition is a paperback. Her children edited the text slightly to ensure that the good children did not suffer from the mercy shown to naughty children. 

The illustrations in the book are universally admired, and every year the products offered by Boissevain Books get a little better as reprint technology improves and our ability to ensure quality increases.

Here is a review of the reprint edition:
A beautifully illustrated book for the Holidays about Kersti, a mischievous little girl who is always misbehaving, much to the dismay of her six older sisters and parents. As St. Nicholas Day approaches, Kersti worries that she won't receive any gifts and sets out on an adventure. First published in 1940, this new edition has been abridged and adapted by the author's family to make it more accessible to young readers today. – Fantastic Fiction.

The book has a rating of 4.8 out of 5 on Goodreads and 4 out of 5 on Amazon. So:

More about St Nicholas

St Nicholas is the patron saint of millers and sailors, Holland and New York City. St Nicholas appears the evening before his feastday, i.e., the evening of December 5.

Above is a photo of a cookie my wife Alice Tepper Marlin purchased in Belgium. It is a St Nicholas Day specialty. It has a windmill on it because it's a specialty of Holland and other low countries threatened by floods.
First published in 1962, The Winged Watchman
 has sold 55,000 copies in reprint since 1997.
 It has been optioned for a movie and a 
television mini-series.

Hurricane Sandy a year ago shut down much of New York City and reminded us of the Dutch skill at keeping out water. Much of Holland is at or below sea level and the windmills pump out the "polders", the areas surrounded by dikes (Dutch embankments).

The Port of Rotterdam is a great example of Dutch engineering to keep water at bay. It is also where my Hilda van Stockum was born. Her father was a naval captain and she grew up near ports and naval bases. Her book, The Winged Watchman (1962), was republished in 1997 after 20 years being out of print. It has sold 55,000 copies in the reprint version, has been optioned for a movie, and is currently under option for a television miniseries. The book by my mother has special relevance in light of Hurricane Sandy, which caused most of its damage because of flooding and caused most of the lost economic activity because of the electricity outages.
The story is about a family that lives in an old windmill during the Nazi Occupation. Two boys aged 10 and 14 join the Resistance. The book shows how the windmill did their work when the electric mills were starved for fuel during the Dutch famine.

New York City has lost the skills of its Dutch colonists and Hurricane Sandy did major damage to the areas of NYC near water. If the Dutch were still in charge this might not have happened. Bring 'em back!

Seal of the City of New York. Note windmill 
"wings" and two beavers.
The Dutch first came to New York when the Dutch East India Company in 1609 sent English navigator Henry Hudson to explore the river now named after him. He went far north into what is now Canada and wrote back to his sponsors that beavers lived on the river in abundance. A Dutch settlement, New Amsterdam, was founded in Manhattan largely to support trapping beavers and sending them to Europe for women to wear. The New York City coat of arms has two beavers on it as well as a four windmill wings in honor of the Dutch settlers.

The Dutch have been facing these flooding problems for many centuries. Their world preeminence in building windmills to pump out water also made them experts in making sails for the mill wings and this helped make them a global naval power for a time.

After the English took over the Dutch colony in 1664, they renamed it New York. The city grew most rapidly when the Hudson River became the gateway not only to upstate New York but also, after the Erie Canal was built, to the Great Lakes.

The Dutch have developed many kinds of technology to deal with today's challenges to their flood-threatened system of polders. New York needs to get their advice. The Winged Watchman provides both a history of the importance of windmills in Dutch history and an education in the ways to deal with flooding.