My mom was a school teacher before my sister and I were born. When we were a little older she started a pre-school at our house called Kid’s Garden. (Sara got to attend the first year but I did not. I’m totally over it…obviously because I don’t even have to mention it anymore.) My early life was filled with children’s books, arts and crafts. There is a book I know is one of her favorites, it is one of mine too. It is called Miss Rumphius.
It is a beautiful illustrated story about a little girl named Alice. She grows up in a city by the sea (from the illustrations it is most likely an East Coast city) She helps out in her grandfather’s shop. He is an artist who carves prow figures and statues for ships and stores. In his youth he traveled the world before he settled by the sea, and at night tells her stories of these far off palaces. She declares to him that she too will travel to far off lands and when she is older she will settle down by the sea.
He tells her “that is all well, little Alice… but there is a third thing you must do.”
“What is that?” asked Alice.
“You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”
“All right,” said Alice. But she did not know what that could be.
The story goes; that she grew up and traveled far. On one of her travels she falls off a camel and hurts her back. It is then she decides it is time to find her place by the sea. She settles into a small cottage. It looks like the Maine coast. There are few other places that look like it!
One winter, she is bedridden from her old injury. In the spring, the seeds she planted outside her bedroom grow and bloom giving her great joy. She decides that her act of beauty will be to plant lupine seeds far and wide. She takes long walks casting seeds in the rocky soil wherever she goes (see, has to be Maine 🙂 )
She becomes known as the Lupin Lady and lives out her days telling tales of travel to her own great niece and the niece’s young friends. In the end she makes her great niece (also named Alice) promise that she will also do something to make the world a more beautiful place.
It is a REALLY good book.
I love it for so many reasons. First, that it shows a woman who traveled the world alone set in a time when such things were not the norm. It also shows a woman contently uncoupled for her whole life. She never marries or has children of her own and yet is whole, the only thing missing is an act of beautification.
As is often the case with childhood books read over and over again it has been a touchstone in my life. When I was a child I promised that I would do something to make the world more beautiful. I haven’t done it yet but I keep trying. I think it is this directive that inspires most art or attempts at art. The endeavor to leave something pretty behind.
I remember my dad once giving a talk on art at the Unitarian Fellowship my Oma and Opa attend. He argued that a definition of art is hard to find but that one aspect is that it has no purpose, except to be. Its function is to be beautiful, nothing more and nothing less. Since beauty is a subjective thing, art too is subjective to the perceiver. It explains modern art quite well in my opinion.
I find myself often creating things with no purpose whatsoever. The only reason for their creation is, I find them pleasing to look at. My attempt to make my world more beautiful. Recently, I find myself preparing crafts and projects for a little girl. For a long time now most of my efforts in sewing, crafts and often in art projects have been filled with superheros, Star Wars and weapons. I enjoy all of these things but it is a nice change to be making ribbon flowers. (If anyone is interested I will do a post on making them.)
and sparkly things.
The baby’s name has inspired some snowed-in watercolors. One for Persephone the Goddess of Spring.
And one for Persephone Queen of the Underworld.
Like the little girl at the end of the book, I still have no idea what I will do to make the world a more beautiful place. The first spring after we moved I was amazed at the lupins that bloom everywhere along the roads here.
They are truly one of my favorite parts of spring now, since they are few and far between back home. The first time I saw them something instantly clicked. THIS IS WERE THE LUPIN LADY LIVED!!! There have been a few times when I have discovered things from my youth here in Maine, a place I never thought I would ever be. The lupins and the setting for the book Miss Runphius are two of them.
It is one of those childhood things. A thing that seems to have been with you your whole life and keeps on becoming more and more profound to your own story. Another thing I am eternal grateful to my own mother for making a part of my life. A goal to achieve and a simple thing to try and live up to. When I am old I too will live by the sea and I will do something to make the world more beautiful…