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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The best-selling artist of all time

In the spring of 1976 I had the privilege of watching the best-selling artist of all time at work. I was at bible school in St. Légier, Switzerland, not far from Lausanne. One day in the lecture hall a slim grey-haired woman with a vivacious yet serene face was introduced. She walked to the overhead projector at the front of the room and placed her pens on the table beside it.

Then in the lilting French of Suisse-Romande, she began to tell the story of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. As she spoke green palm leaves splashed onto the screen. A path wound through the scene and people took shape at the side. The donkey emerged from fluid lines and Jesus rode on him. Children lay palm leaves in front of the donkey,

    Gloire au Fils de David!
    Que Dieu bénisse celui qui vient au nom du Seigneur!
    Gloire à Dieu dans les Cieux!
And so I first saw the illustrations of the Good News Bible. Annie Vallotton has since then become the best-selling artist of all time.

    Perhaps the most striking physical innovation in Today’s English Version concerned the innovative use of line drawings and illustrations by Swiss artist Annie Vallotton. Vallotton was born in Lausanne, the daughter of a well-known Swiss Protestant writer.
    Her illustrations for a selection of Gospel verses published by the French Bible Society brought her to the attention of ABS officials. Dr. Nida had several conversations with her in Europe early in 1964, and on May 7 of that year the Board of Managers approved the inclusion of the line drawings she submitted in the forthcoming Gospel of Mark, as well as in the full TEV.
    Vallotton summarizes her artistic philosophy in three very basic phrases: “use a simple line; reduce it to minimum; give it maximum expression.” Modern literature, she observed, “is attractive, it is colourful… [it] first solicits the reader to take a glance at it, then entices him to start reading.”
    Traditional Scriptures, by contrast, typically appeared “in dull grey columns of tiny characters and in a language often so terribly archaic.” Vallotton believed that the Bible should be given “a new look” and hoped her illustrations might stimulate modern readers to pick it up, find that “its teaching is always relevant and useful, and to try to find parallels with men of today and their daily experiences.”
    The simple lines, universal movements and gestures, and powerful renditions aimed not to replace the written word, but to force readers to react to and confront the text, viewing the language in a new way. She provided an important visual complement to the linguistic theory informing the version’s production. Bible Resource Centre
    She will always be known as an artist but Annie Vallotton is also a talented story-teller. The only collection of her stories that I can find tonight are here. Annie Vallotton raconte, les animaux et les enfants dans la Bible.


    At Thu Jan 26, 02:14:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

    Thank you for this interesting posting.

    But did she really say that traditional Scriptures were “ a language often so terribly anarchic”? "Archaic" would make much more sense here.

    At Thu Jan 26, 02:23:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

    I am guessing that this article was turned into text by OCR since I did have to correct other odd errors. I will change that.

    At Thu Jan 26, 03:32:00 AM, Blogger KAT said...

    On a sidenote, there was a great edition of the Jerusalem Bible (both French and English versions) printed in the 70's with illustrations by Salvador Dali. Too bad it didn't sell as well or was printed as much as the GNB. Most of the copies available now are coveted by the art community, and sell for $150-$200 (sometimes more) on eBay.

    At Thu Jan 26, 03:33:00 AM, Blogger KAT said...

    Oops, that Dali link was incorrect. Here's the right one:

    At Thu Jan 26, 09:05:00 AM, Blogger Tim said...

    When I was doing Vacation Bible Schools in the 1970's and 1980's we often copied those line drawings onto big sheets of Bristol Board to illustrate the Bible stories we were telling. They are absolutely wonderful. I particularly liked her drawings of cities and villages.

    Another wonderful artist of a slightly earlier era (this is a bit off topic - sorry!) was Pauline Baynes who illustrated the Narnia stories. I mention her because her city illustrations were also amazing.

    At Sat Jan 28, 06:49:00 PM, Blogger David McKay said...

    This link fills out the story a little more:

    At Sun Jan 29, 08:33:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

    Thanks for the link. I enjoyed reading more about her. I wonder when the article was written because it says Vallotton drew her illustrations 20 years ago and it was, in fact, at least 40 years ago.

    Also in the French "Bonnes Nouvelles" edition that I own, Annie Vallotton's name does appear on the front page.


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