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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 10:31 am

Lindsay’s ‘Little Turtle’ comes back to life

Two famous locals’ work united in new book

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Charming pastel illustrations by George Colin accompany “The Little Turtle” poem by internationally known early 20th century poet Vachel Lindsay.

Vachel Lindsay, a lifelong resident of Springfield, internationally renowned poet and author of 20 books of poetry and stories, was born in 1879. Two years before Lindsay’s death in 1931 came the birth of George Colin, now an acclaimed artist who lives in Salisbury. Today the two central Illinois men have their works united in a colorful hardcover children’s book, The Little Turtle.

The book features Lindsay’s engaging short poem, “The Little Turtle,” written in 1918 for his young niece, Martha Wakefield. Lindsay’s grandson, Nick Lindsay, approved the poem’s use in book form to be published by the Vachel Lindsay Association. The Little Turtle includes a foreword letter by an older Martha that provides the background story to the poem – why Vachel wrote it for her. The book also includes short bios of both Lindsay and Colin.

Artist George Colin of Salisbury
George Colin owns and operates the Colin Folk Art Gallery in Salisbury, on Route 97 between Springfield and Petersburg, with his wife of 50 years, Winnie. The pair is a work of art themselves. Winnie remains a bright star who has brought light to her husband’s vibrant work. There’s history and color in both their union and their shop and stories – the letter and acclaim from President George H.W. Bush, the portrait of the couple by a famous Chicago photographer, an unusual expression on a Lincoln portrait commissioned for a large electric company, a deer painting with a sold sign and a $1,500 price tag. Colin’s work is also displayed in Chicago and Kansas City galleries and one piece is even in the Smithsonian. In the new book, Lindsay’s text is propelled to magical by Colin’s vivid pastel illustrations.

When the Vachel Lindsay Association board, under the enthusiastic direction of President Lisa Higgs and Vice President Deborah Huffman, was floating around an idea to publish a children’s book, Huffman suggested the turtle poem. It had always been Huffman’s favorite. A longtime Lanphier English teacher, Huffman had shared it with her students in the same way poem-recipient Martha Wakefield had years before her, after Martha grew up and became a Springfield kindergarten teacher.

Deborah Huffman also shared it with her daughter, Katherine. Katherine even ended up doing her master’s thesis on Lindsay. Later, Katherine would be the one to suggest to her mother that they phone a favorite local artist, George Colin, to see if he would illustrate the book. Colin agreed to the venture, painted three prototypes and the VLA readily approved his commission. Higgs set out to tackle all the publication duties, hiring Judy Gilats of Peregrine Graphic Design for the book’s design and receiving funding from The Katy Barker Philanthropic Fund of the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation.

The Little Turtle makes a great gift for any child in your life, and one that art or poetry lovers will treasure. It is a “collector’s item” for children or, as Higgs adds, “for anyone who loves Lindsay’s work, regardless of age.” The jacketed volume sells for $12.95 and is available at the Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site, 603 S. Fifth Street, and Tinsley Dry Goods, 209 S. Sixth Street. For more info, visit vachellindsayhome.org. Better yet, stop by the home just south of the governor’s mansion. Longtime site director and passionate Lindsay advocate, Jennie Battles will guide you on a tour and to the books.

Contact Anita Stienstra at astienstra@illinoistimes.com.

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