From start to finish this beautiful book communicates inspiration in the best sense --- hope, love, faith --- strength for the journey. Open to any page and you find full-color art and full-bodied words, both presented by the hand of a truly original Victorian woman.
Who was Lilias Trotter (1853-1928)? As a young gentrified woman in London, she grew dissatisfied with her privileged life and helped establish a hostel for poor women, which eventually led to the founding of the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association). On the side she was drawing and painting. Her artwork came to the attention of --- and quite astounded --- art critic John Ruskin. As Ruskin pushed her to “give herself up to art,” Trotter responded rather to a spiritual nudge to abandon art training and its potential fame and move to Algeria to share the light and love of Christ in the North African desert. (For more details, see my review of Miriam Huffman Rockness’s 2003 biography of Trotter, A PASSION FOR THE IMPOSSIBLE.)
Yet Trotter never lost her appreciation for the beauty of creation and architectural forms. She never stopped her eye and hand from artistically interpreting what she viewed, whether on holiday in the Alps or at home in the desert. For 30 years Trotter “kept” a page-a-day diary in which she reflected on and painted her world. From these diaries, sketchbooks and some illustrated booklets, Rockness has produced this stunning devotional scrapbook, organized in three sections: light, love and faith. Each two-page spread features one or more watercolors, along with a Bible verse and a Trotter reflection.
The words: The most delightful selections are short lessons and parables drawn from nature. “The daisies have been talking again…” “‘I came into deep waters’ took on a new meaning this morning…” “Have we learned the buttercup’s lesson yet?... Are all things --- even the treasures that He has sanctified --- held loosely…?” Then there is the spot-on simile or metaphor: “The baby new moon was hanging in the sunset tonight like a boat for the little angels.” The reflections declare God’s presence and tender care, even in times of loneliness or discouragement.
The art: Many landscapes are squared and “finished.” Some florals are more like marginal notes or doodles on a page. (Sometimes Trotter’s fountain-pen script has seeped through a diary page, but I did not find this distracting; rather, it served to portray her personality and draw out her spiritual presence.) It is occasionally disconcerting to have an Alps mountain scene directly follow an arid desert landscape. When reading the book straight through, I quickly learned to pause and take a breath before turning the page; in terms of the book’s progression, art clearly follows text and theme.
A BLOSSOM IN THE DESERT is a beautiful gift book (for lovers of art or metaphor) and more. It is a devotional to inspire and savor.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on November 13, 2011