Ever since (and well before) Godine published her first book, A Farmer's Alphabet in 1981, Mary Azarian has been hard at work cutting soft pine in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Last year she was awarded what she richly deserves: the Caldecott Medal. This retrospective volume is not intended to illustrate a particular story, but to display the full range of her abilities, and it is arranged (as seems logical to us) according to the seasons she celebrates in her art. In all, we have reproduced fifty of her hand-colored woodcuts in full color and an equal number in black and white. The book is large format because that is the way she works and that's what does her work justice. The text, written by her friend Lilias Hart, discusses not only her work, but also what life is like in the rigorous reaches of Northern Vermont.
It would be unfortunate if Mary's acheivement was relegated to the realm of "illustration." She is not an "illustrator" but an artist who works in wood, in a technique that has been all but forgotten by modern practitioners. She does it as well as anyone of her generation, and this ambitious, oversize book will show the full amplitude and genius of her work.
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Mary Azarian, recipient of the 1999 Caldecott Medal for the artwork in Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, works in wood. In her quiet Vermont studio, she coaxes form and feeling out of soft pine, bringing to life the beauty of the landscape she sees and imagines around her. This arresting retrospective displays 50 gorgeous, often full-page reproductions of her hand-colored woodcuts and an equal number of prints in black and white. Lilias Hart, another Vermonter, contributes the brief accompanying text, a mix of the lyrical and the concrete that stands up well to the sturdy, roughly textured pictures. Azarian's work is, perhaps, most appealing when it reflects the homey details of daily life through the year: a cornucopia of summer vegetables, children sledding down a hill, laundry flapping in the breeze. In a final chapter, decorated with more functional woodcuts, Hart introduces a bit of printmaking history and explains the process that links Azarian to artists who used block prints to decorate fabrics more than 1,500 years ago. Stephanie Zvirin
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