Guest Bible Artist interview #5
You may not be familiar with the name 'Annie Vallotton', but you will almost certainly have seen her pictures! Which is not surprising as a press release I came across recently from publisher HarperCollins claims that Ms Vallotton is the "Best selling artist of all time!" What you might find surprising though is that this 'best selling artist of all time' is famous for her Bible pictures! Swiss born Annie Vallotton, who now lives in Paris, provided the line illustrations for the 'Good News Bible' back in the 60's. According to the press release from HarperCollins, Ms Vallotton's picture sales are in excess of 70 billion-!!
last month, the 'American Church in Paris' dedicated a new library to Ms Vallotton called the 'Annie Vallotton lending library' and Ms Vallotton attended the service. (see picture above courtesy of Mike Norris).
Our 'Contact in Paris' Paula Taquet-Woolfolk, who attends the ACP, very kindly offered to interview Ms Vallotton on behalf of the Bible illustration blog, and conducted the interview in both French and English.
Before we go into the interview I would like to share with you a little bit about Annie Vallotton that Paula discovered while having lunch with her.
Annie, fresh from her art studies, didn't launch herself into a career, but worked in the refugee camps during the second World War painting frescos on the walls making them more welcoming to the refugees who included families from Poland, Estonia, and the Baltic region. Annie worked through the night on the murals and slept during the day!
It was while working in a refugee centre in Toulouse that AV met her lifelong friend Jeanne Bulté. Jeanne Bulté was a social worker, who was assigned to work in the same refugee center in Toulouse. During the war, both Annie and Jeanne worked in the Resistance. Annie's Swiss nationality helped her when she transported mail back and forth. While working in the camps Annie and Jeanne met Bertie Albrecht, (the leader of the Résistantes - the female part of the Resistance). Bertie told Annie that Annie's grandfather, Paul Vallotton, had baptised her many years before!
Later, Annie saw Bertie Albrecht on one of the streets of Paris, heavily disguised. Bertie told Annie that she had acted insane while she was in prison so that she could get out. Bertie continued to work in the Resistance until she was killed by the Germans.
Annie comes from a very talented family. Her father, Benjamin Vallotton, was a well known writer and wrote 55 books. Her father's cousin was the well known painter Félix Vallotton. Annie's brother Pierre followed in the footsteps on his Grandfather and became a minister. He also built by hand many magnificent church organs! Annie herself is also very musical and plays the violin.
How did you come to illustrate the Good News Bible, and how many illustrations did you complete for it?
In the early 60s, a man from the American Bible Society, American Eugene Nida (currently living in Brussels), contacted me from Germany to ask me if I could come to Stuttgart where he had ten minutes only during which he wanted to see me. Was I willing? Yes I was willing. I met him at the airport and he had one of my very first books with him. He wanted me to make illustrations for the Good News Bible (GNB) an edition for children, and he wanted the same kinds of illustrations that I had done in this book. He said "I want very much to have Your illustrations because your illustrations are very simple, and we love them!"
He said "Are you ready to do this?" I replied "Yes, I am quite ready!" I was very excited. Then I started doing the Bible illustrations and I've been doing them all of my life! (AV laughs). I believe I did around 510 drawings!
All in Black and white?
Yes, all in black and white unfortunately. I have recently received a new edition published by the Korean Bible Society with my illustrations in color. I was very surprised to see it in colour! I believe this is the first edition of the GNB with all illustrations in color. I asked the American Bible Society to make one, they agreed, but I've been waiting for three years!
Can you remember how long it took you to illustrate the Good News Bible?
I can't remember. It took me a long long time I must say, I didn't want to have illustrations with many lines. My desire was to have just the main lines. This is why I did some of the drawings 80-90 times before I achieved the one I wanted. I wanted to simplify them the most I could. I wanted to get to the truth...the most important thing!
Did you have an interest in the Bible before you were asked to illustrate the GNB?
Yes, I became a Christian at one month of age, (AV laughs), so I've always been interested in the Bible. My younger brother, Pierre Vallotton, is a minister, (now retired). He was at the Reformed Church of Saint-Dié, in the Vosges (Église Réformée de Saint-Dié). He built the organ there and asked me to design six stained-glass windows depicting the Creation. It was a fascinating job to do! (see windows below). Also on one of the inside walls of the Église Réformée de Saint-Dié, there's a large painting by the French painter and Pastor Henri Lindegaard (1925- 1996).
Can you remember having any difficulty depicting any Biblical characters, or a particular Bible story?
No particular difficulties - I wanted to illustrate everything, even if it was very difficult. My desire made it easy. I wanted to reach the youngsters.
Your style has a timelessness about it due to its simplicity, and yet at the same time, you manage to get so much expression
into each picture. Did you illustrate the GNB in your own style, or did you simplify your own style?
Yes, yes. Exactly so! I wanted to be as simple as I could, especially for the youngsters, but also for the adults too!
Many people have commented that your pictures never distract from the text, and never try to interpret the story. Was his difficult to accomplish?
I did not find this difficult to accomplish, because I tried to find total simplicity.
Did you find yourself having to do much research into Bible clothing, buildings, customs etc?
I had no need to research clothing or buildings, you see, I wanted drawings that were 'out of time'.
What did you use to illustrate the pictures with? Also, did you add colour to any of the pictures yourself?
I used a pencil to do the roughs and a pen to ink them. I never added color, someone else did that.
Do you still do any Bible illustrations?
Yes! What I am doing a lot now is speaking to children in many different churches. On 21st September I will be speaking at 'Temple du Foyer de l'Âme'. I am going to this church to speak to the children about the Lord, and to draw for the children. I hope to have a lot of children there. I will teach them a song also! (AV sings a little chorus for Paula, she's very musical!)
Have you illustrated any other Bible related books?
Yes, several. 'Priority: Jesus' life in 60 drawings', 'From the Apple to the Moon', 'The Mighty One and Sam', 'Who Are You Jesus', 'The Man who said No: Story of Jonah' also 'Blessed Are the Peacemakers'. I also worked with author Claire-Lise de Benoit. Our books were published in Africa in many different dialects. Over one hundred I believe!
Bible artists rarely get recognized for their work, but this month saw the opening of a library in Paris dedicated to you! (At the American Church in Paris)
Was this a big surprise to you?
Nothing coming from the Americans surprises me! (AV laughs). I was very, very touched, I love the American people.
I read on the internet recently that, according to the publisher Harper Collins, you are the 'Best selling Artist of all time'. Do you have any comments on that?
(Ms Vallotton laughs) Laughter is the king, and saves one's life! You especially need humor! Too many people read the Bible with a severe face! I say no, the Bible is not that! The Bible is life, and it is wonderful! (Paula agrees).
The photo above was taken in the church which Annie attends and shows her speaking to the children with the aid of an overhead projector. Annie Vallotton clearly loves children, and has dedicated her life to presenting the Bible message in the clearest possible way to them. It's fitting that the illustrator of the 'Good News' Bible is still active presenting the Good News in person! I would like to close with a quote from another interview with Anne Vallotton conducted by Annie Biroleau-Lemagny. (kindly translated by Paula Taquet-Woolfolk).
"She (Annie) attributes the success (of her pictures) to the simplicity, and the absence of ethnocentrism which permits each person to project his own face and his own culture onto her graphic suggestions".
Thank you so much again Ms Vallotton for agreeing to the interview. A big thank you also to Paula Taquet-Woolfolk for conducting the interview, and Mike Norris, also from the American Church in Paris, for providing the photo of the dedication service.
As Ms Vallotton has no internet access, I will send a selection of the comments that readers leave on this post for her to see.
Update: December 2009
Just received a Christmas card from Annie in which she writes:
"I love very much all what is said in the comments on the Bible illustration blog...... All the comments go in my heart because they look so sincere."
Annie goes on to say that she wants to write a reply to each comment which she is doing slowly. I will add these comments as soon as I receive them.
Black and white photo © Eglise Réformée de l'Oratoire du Louvre 2008.
Annie Vallotton illustrations © Bible society 2008
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Interview with Keith Neely
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Interview with Dr Leen Ritmeyer