Skip to main content

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky, illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault

My Favorite Narrative Non-Fiction of 2016


I first learned of artist Louise Bourgeois as a freshman at art school, although I did not learn about the role of fabric in her life. However, even if you know nothing about the art and life of Louise Bourgeois, Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois is a must-have picture book biography that is a stunning work that illustrates the links between childhood, creativity and artistic inspiration. Author Amy Novesky has written several picture book biographies of artists, from Billie Holiday to Geogria O'Keefe to Me, Frida, a book about Kahlo's time in America with Diego Rivera. Novesky's biography is brought to life beautifully by a favorite of mine,  Isabelle Arsenault.

Born outside of Paris in 1911, Louise and her siblings were raised by a river. As a child, she spent much of her time in nature, sometimes spending the night in a tent, lulled to sleep by the "rhythmic rock and murmur of river water." Arsenault's illustrations immediately bring to life this idyllic world, layering in a woven feel to her artwork that echoes both Bourgeois's heritage and future work. Novesky's well crafted, poetic text makes Bourgeois's experience and artistic influences immediately understandable.




Louise's family restored tapestries and her mother would often work outside in the sun, "her needle rising and falling beside the lilting river, perfect, delicate spiderwebs glinting with caught drops of water above her." When Louise is twelve, she learns the family trade as well and decides that drawing is "like a thread in a spider's web." Novesky incorporates passages from Bourgeois's diary into Cloth Lullaby, which are printed in red.



Louise comes to think of her mother, who is her best friend, as a spider, "Deliberate . . . Patient, soothing . . . Subtle, indispensible . . . And as useful as an araignée (spider.)" Louise's father would bring home cloth scraps from his travels and her mother would take the two halves of cloth, reweaving them to make a whole. Louise heads to the Sorbonne to study mathematics, but the death of her mother leaves her feeling, "abandoned and all alone. A thread, broken." 


Louise turns to art. First painting, then sculpture. As a tribute, she creates giant spiders made of bronze, steel and marble that she names, Maman (mother). Eventually, Louise begins to sculpt in cloth, using fabrics from her life - childhood clothing, her new husband's handkerchiefs, napkins from her wedding trousseau - to make books. Novesky writes, "Weaving was her way to make things whole." Bourgeouis spends the last years of her life weaving her childhood memories into works of art. 


Novesky's authors note is wonderful, putting Bourgeois's career into context, including the prestigious retrospective of her work at the Museum of Modern art when she was seventy-one. More quotes, photographs of the artist and her work as well as sources make learning more about the artist a must. Arsenault's illustrations bring to life a world that I'm sure readers will want to know more about. Cloth Lullaby is a book that I know I will be reading over and over, taking in the beauty and the sadness of the childhood that inspired a creative life, and inspired this superb book.

Source: Review Copy

Comments

I, too, love this book (Bourgeois is perhaps my favorite artist) and seeing that spider spread reproduced here is so arresting!

Popular posts from this blog

The Seeing Stick, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Daniela J Terrazini

The Seeing Stick is an original Chinese fairy tale written by the prolific (and prolifically award winning) Jane Yolen. First published in 1977 with illustrations by Remy Charlip (author and illustrator of the brilliantly fun picture book Fortunately and friend and muse to Brian Selznick, who asked him to pose as George Méliès while he was working on the Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo CabretThe Seeing Stick was reissued with new illustrations by Daniela J. Terrazini in 2009. I have not seen Charlip's version, but Terrazini's is a beautiful work of art and the book itself is yet another magnificently packaged book published by Running Press, the house that brought us Steven Arntson's The Wikkeling, yet another superbly and uniquely packaged children's book with artwork by Terrazini. Interestingly, both The Wikkeling and The Seeing Stick were designed by Frances J Soo Ping Chow.

The Seeing Stick begins, "Once in the ancient walled citadel of Peking there l…

POP-UP: Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by Ruth Wickings, illustrations by Frances Castle RL: All ages

POP-UP:  Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book with paper engineering by Ruth Wickings and illustrations by Frances Castle is THE COOLEST BOOK EVER!!!  I know that I haven't dedicated much time to pop-up books here, but they have always held a special place in my heart, and the phrase "paper engineering" is a favorite of mine. Although I didn't know what it was at the time, I did go through a paper engineering phase when I was ten or so. I would sneak off to the back of the classroom during independent work periods and go to town on the construction paper and glue and make these little free-standing dioramas. A huge fan of The Muppet Show (the original), I reconstructed the all-baby orchestra from an episode, drawing and coloring each baby and his/her instrument then gluing them onto a 3D orchestra section I had crafted out of brown construction paper.  I also made a 3D version of Snidely Whiplash throwing Nell off a cliff with Dudley Do-Right wa…

Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! by Scott Bedford

On his personal website, Scott Bedforddescribes himself as an "Award Winning Online Creative Professional" working within the advertising and design industry. What is more interesting (and applicable here) is how hisWhat I Made website came to be. While sitting in a Starbucks with his restless young sons, trying to enjoy his latte, Bedford created something out of coffee stir sticks that ended up keeping his boys entertained, finishing his coffee in peace and sparking (re-sparking, really) his creative drive and reminding him of the "enormous joy gained from making things, even simple things, and that this joy is not the complexity or quality of the finished project but in the process of making itself. On Bedford'sWhat I Made website, he even shares Six Cool Coffee Shop Crafts for Kidsthat you can try out next time you want to enjoy your coffee and your kids are making that difficult. I've shared two below - be sure to check out the website and see the rest!

Be…