“This charming narrative of a determined girl’s artistic talent and will to succeed in the family business makes a compelling story on an unusual topic.” – Kirkus Reviews
“This picture book seamlessly blends factual and fictional information into an engaging narrative. Thérèse’s story is inspired by real tapestries, real people and a real place, and Hinrichs has done her homework, researching the workings of the Gobelins Manufactory and the lives of the people whose work we still marvel at today.” – L.A. Parent
Happy New Year! It’s 2016, the year of Thérèse! The official publication date is March 8th of this year, woohoo! But right now I’m here to actually share some of my experience from the end of 2015 when the first small wave of publication occurred. Thérèse Makes A Tapestry became available for purchase from the J. Paul Getty Museum — on site and online — in mid-December. I was fortunate to be able to travel to Los Angeles for this initial “soft launch” as well as the opening of Woven Gold, the exhibit to which Thérèse is tied.
The Getty Museum (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)
Most of my trip was spent at the Getty Center, and honestly I would go back and do the same thing all over again. What an incredible museum! I couldn’t get over the fact that it is free to the public–you just have to pay for parking if you drive (which obviously, in LA, you do). The site alone is spectacular: the architecture, the views, the gardens. Then there are the exhibits. I had a single track on repeat in my head: “Wow.” In another landscape it might all be sensory overload, but weaving in and out of the museum was completely relaxing. The breaths of fresh air, the sunshine, and the glimpses of hills and ocean built pauses into the days. Except at night where the cold wind was more a shock to the system, but that was a different story.
On Sunday I stopped by the main bookstore to sign copies of Thérèse. Walking into a bustling store and seeing my book on the shelf was an event in and of itself. My father and my cousin and their friends were with me which brought on all the oohing and aahing I could hope for. If you want fanfare for things like the publication of your first book, it’s best to travel with family.
These are the things I learned from signing copies:
- I should have a favorite pen I like to use. I do not yet. I’m working on this. (That’s not entirely true–I have a type of pen I love to use and I fondly recall the experience of writing with it, but I can’t remember what kind of pen it actually is and whether I own it. I have tried unsuccessfully to reproduce this writing experience.)
- I am clearly a newbie at this because I plowed through the towering stack of books and even signed another towering stack and laughed off a comment about my hand cramping. As if hand cramps could stop me from signing! I was so excited! Some day I hope to be a really famous, hand-cramped author who cannot bear to sign another copy. Or at least who will do a better job a playing it cool.
- where to sign my name on the title page.
- that it is actually possible to misspell my name.
On Monday I finally got to meet members of the book team in person! This included my wonderful editor for Thérèse, Elizabeth Nicholson, who took us on a tour of Getty Publications. The set-up brought me back to my American Girl days and I felt right at home, except there were wall to ceiling windows that let in the most incredible amount of natural light everywhere and had some unbeatable views. Then it was off to the big press event up the hill.
The highlights, not in chronological order, from the press event were:
- meeting Renée Graef in person. I can’t state enough how in love I am with Renée’s illustrations of Thérèse, and I was glad to finally be able to give her the hug I’d been hanging onto for so long! In fact, I’d actually met her briefly back in Madison at a Wisconsin Book Festival Event after an illustrators’ panel (that also included Kevin Henkes). Funny that our next encounter should be in Los Angeles, and amazing that it should be after working together on a picture book! Things worth noting: she wears fabulous hats.
- meeting Charissa Bremer-David in person. Charissa is another person about whom I can just gush. Curator of sculpture and decorative Arts at the Getty, she is an expert on French decorative arts, and her expertise shines through in the new exhibit catalog Woven Gold as well as her other books on French tapestries. Charissa is so knowledgable and gracious with her time and willingness to share that knowledge. She always took time to talk to me on the phone or by e-mail, answer questions and even to do original research when we ran across a stumbling block over how gilded thread was made, all while organizing this monumental exhibit, working on two books of her own, and contributing to goodness knows how many other projects.
- signing more copies of Thérèse for various reporters and especially signing copies to each other (Renée, Charissa, Elizabeth, and I called this our “yearbook signing,” and it was full of smiles and laughs).
- the chocolate peppermint cookies.
- and finally…seeing the tapestries.
Oh my goodness. Walking into a room full of these enormous tapestries is truly spectacular. Breathtaking. There is nothing that compares to seeing them in person. No photographs or descriptions can possibly do them justice, because their grandeur in size and in material cannot be adequately captured. I felt extra lucky to be seeing them with Charissa as a tour guide. She is quite the storyteller herself. For me, seeing the tapestry called The Chateau of Monceau/Month of December was particularly emotional. This is the tapestry that inspired Thérèse, and Thérèse weaves its likeness. I had looked at this tapestry in books, on computer monitors and iPhone screens, and lived with it in my head for a couple of years. So when we entered the final room of Woven Gold and there it was…well…my eyes weren’t exactly dry. The gold threads glint in the light in a way they just can’t in pictures. The range of colors and the minute details are extraordinary.
The textures beg to be touched. I wanted to touch it. I didn’t. But I really really wanted to. The Chateau of Monceau/Month of December was actually cleaned in Belgium and conserved by weavers at the Gobelins Manufactory (now part of the Mobilier National) over a period of 9 months in preparation for the Woven Gold exhibit.
Across the room in mirror image is another smaller version of the tapestry. The first was made for Kind Louis XIV, the other for a private patron at a slightly later date. Both these versions of the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December are depicted in Thérèse Makes A Tapestry. In between the two tapestries in the exhibition room is a table with a couple of books on display, including Thérèse. I love that she is there, hugged by the tapestries she “made” and that made her.
By the time we went to the exhibit opening that night, I didn’t think I could feel much happier. Champagne toasts with the book team and another visit to the tapestries proved me wrong. And this time I got to show my family– my dad, my cousin, and my brother– the tapestries, too.
Tuesday we returned to the Getty one last time in the morning. It’s hard to explain the connection I felt to the tapestry, it wasn’t something I anticipated to be honest. But I found myself wanting to see it one last time. Chances are I will never see the tapestry again, and I wanted to feast my eyes on it one last time and say goodbye. I did, and felt satisfied even if a bit sad. However, then I got to go to another exhibit and get some inspiration for a new book. And my dad, brother, and I spent the afternoon in Santa Monica, which was the perfect note to end the trip on before heading back to the hotel to pack up for early flights.
Throughout the visit what struck me most was how special this whole project really was. I mean, of course I like to think everyone loved this book. It was my first book! But meeting everyone in person– Elizabeth, Renée, Charissa, designer Jim Drobka, production manager Elizabeth Kahn, and others– I kept thinking, “Wow, they all loved this project, too!” It’s hard to gauge that from a distance (or at least a distance of Maine to California). The reminder of their investment meant the world to me.
If you are anywhere near the Getty or planning a trip to the area between now and May, I urge you all to run to the Woven Gold exhibit. Some of these tapestries have not been together in centuries, and most have never been so accessible to view as they are often hung at lofty heights and not at eye level. It is remarkable and luxurious and the stories within the tapestries are a treat.
For more information about the exhibit and the history of tapestries, take a look at the articles below:
- Review: ‘Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV’: Splendid pomp and circumstance at the Getty (LATimes)
- Tapestries of Louis XIV Are ‘Woven Gold’ (Forbes)
- Weave through Woven Gold at The Getty (Examiner)
- Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV (HuffingtonPost)
- Getty Center’s ‘Woven Gold’ centers on Louis XIV tapestry masterpieces (SCPR)
Also be sure to watch The Art of Making a Tapestry, a video that shows the weaving process at the Gobelins Manufactory. (Getty Museum)
Explore the full gallery of photos from the trip
Check out Bruce Dean’s website to see even more of his photography and artwork.
Early reviews of Thérèse Makes A Tapestry are beginning to emerge. They are all positive so far (yay!), but I know that I already have the best review I could ever receive.
My mother gave me her official review last spring. She passed away in July. The dedication of the book to her was supposed to be surprise when it came out in print. I remain grateful to the team at Getty Publications for overnighting a final draft for her viewing in the days before she died. So yes. Thanks, Mom. I’ve already won the review game.
I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week at the Maine Library Association’s Annual Conference: Engage 2015. This was my first time attending, and my first conference in the last five years. My conclusions were: librarians are the best. MLA welcomed me with open arms. In fact, they actually sponsored my attendance. I had called to see if they might be willing to still give me the early bird discount even though I had missed the deadline given that I’m looking for a job and finances are a bit tight. Their response was incredible. They quickly replied that they would be delighted to sponsor my attendance this year and in exchange I could volunteer at the registration table. Well, really, that was the best thing I could have done anyway. It immediately put me at ease talking, and I met so many people right away. From this whole experience I learned that a) it never hurts to ask and b) librarians are awesome. I already knew both of these things, but boy did this confirm it for me. Oh, and c) volunteering is a great way to network.
It felt good to be back among librarians. Here were some of the highlights:
Maine State librarian Jamie Ritter spoke about democracy in libraries and the importance of maintaining our shared core principles of intellectual freedom and privacy. He described silence as an incredible phenomenon, and despite the stereotype of librarians with a ready “shh” on their lips, the reason and importance of quiet is for thinking. As he explained it, “libraries are deliberate in providing opportunities for [the experience of thinking].” The library is a place to exercise our right to think and the right to our privacy in those thoughts.
Of course, I (and I’m sure other youth services librarians) could not help thinking of the youngest patrons who often think out loud and process through noise. Thankfully the two thought-provoking experiences can peacefully coexist in a library!
Another noteworthy session featured Gardiner Public Library Director Anne Davis (winner of this year’s Outstanding Librarian award) and Belfast Free Library Director Steve Norman as they discussed advocating for libraries. They championed local advocacy as the best way of creating change. By attending community meetings, getting involved with local organizations, and making your library a site for civic debate and civic events, you gain allies and establish yourself as an active and vocal member. Other suggestions they made: Always have a story to tell, and when possible have someone else tell your story. When advocating at a state level, contact your representatives. They
don’t hear from people about most bills, and when they do, it matters! Go to the state house and testify. Likewise, to advocate at a federal level, contact your legislators! It makes a difference.
My favorite speaker was ALSC President Andrew Medlar. He transformed us, a tired audience (it was
the last presentation at the end of the day), to singing, clapping, laughing, and feeling playful and inspired once more. He mentioned that the majority of the kids being born this week are expected to live into the next century. He spoke about ALSC’s big mission — ensuring that libraries are recognized as vital to all children and the communities that support them — and some of its initiatives towards this goal (“Media Mentorship”, Every Child Ready to Read, Building STEAM with Día, and Día! Diversity in Action, for example). He concluded by asking us to think of one person we’d reach out to in the next month to tell them how awesome libraries are — and you, if you’re still reading this post, should do the same!
Tuesday began with ALA President Sari Feldman — a fellow UW-Madison SLIS alum (woohoo!). She spoke of the ways libraries transform people and communities, and of librarians as change agents. We need to take calculated risks. We do change people’s lives! She pondered how libraries can tap into the sharing economy more. She too emphasized the need for libraries to continue to protect the right to privacy and freedom of inquiry when there is so much before Congress right now chipping away at those ideals. One of the most interesting points came out in the Q&A (doesn’t it so often happen that way?), and that was that in traveling around the globe, Feldman has come to understand and appreciate that libraries are very American institutions–the large number of public, school, and academic libraries all over this country are unique and greatly respected around the world.
The last session I’ll talk briefly about was on Whole Person Reader’s Advisory, and included many useful suggestions, but in particular was the tip to say to a reader, “Tell me about the book,” that they have read or that they are looking for even if it is a book you know. Doing so gives them the opportunity to relive their experience of the book and helps them connect to you, but chances are their choice of words will also tell you something more about what exactly they liked about the book and offer clues towards the next book they’ll love.
And on that practical note, I will end my MLA conference recap. Okay not quite. I have to say again: librarians are awesome.
One month. That’s how long before I am sitting in a bookstore at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, signing copies of Thérèse Makes a Tapestry— a picture book that I wrote–for the very first time. This book is close to my heart. It is my first, so there’s that. It is the book that made my long held dream of becoming an author come true. It is the story of a girl who finds a way to accomplish her own dreams. It is a story dedicated to my mother, who passed away this past summer. It is a book that I have been working on in one form or another over the last two years.
Like all picture books, it is a story made complete only by its beautiful illustrations by the masterful Renée Graef, who rendered Thérèse with such thoughtfulness and care that I recognized her the instant I first saw her! It is also a story tied to history, art, and an exhibit at the Getty Museum.
While writing Thérèse’s story, I was neck-deep in research on weaving and tapestries produced at the Gobelins Manufactory, but this will be my first time seeing the tapestries in person. Thérèse Makes a Tapestry will be available on site at the Getty starting next month, but its larger release will come in March, and then you will hopefully be able to find it at a bookstore near you! In the meantime, keep checking here for all things related to Thérèse and yours truly.