Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Real Amazing Crocodile!

Of all the stories in Holy Crocodile! the one I found hardest to believe was the legend of St. Pachome and the crocodile -- the story that gives the book its title!

I wouldn't want to get close to a living crocodile unless it was in a zoo; they are dangerous creatures, who I think would rather snack on me than make friends. So when I first heard of Pachome riding on the back of a crocodile, I thought of the story had to be embellished -- to show the goodness of the saint. I had trouble believing it was literally true.

Then I came across the story of a Costa Rican fisherman who rescued a crocodile that had been shot in the eye and left to die. They developed a friendship that lasted more than twenty years, until the croc's death.

Click on this video link to see the fisherman swimming with his friend, the crocodile:

Who knows, maybe Pachome did a good deed towards his crocodile too... one that earned him the croc's love. Or maybe the croc just recognized Pachome's goodness, and returned it in kind.

Even though I now believe crocodile/human friendship is possible, 
I still say "Kids, don't try this at home!"

Monday, April 8, 2013

Book Launch a Great Success!

About 70 people crowded into Magers and Quinn Booksellers (the photo doesn't show the people standing down nearby aisles) to hear some stories, buy some books, and eat some Cracker Jacks! The launch was a great success! Thanks to everyone who came and contributed to the excitement.

(The arrow in the picture is pointing to Holy Crocodile! displayed on an end shelf.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Taming Foxes

In the story of St. Brigid and the Fox, there are two semi-tame foxes -- one is the king's pet, who is killed by a woodsman. The other is St. Brigid's fox. Only recently had I heard about a Russian experiment to domesticate foxes. As it turns out, the project has been highly successful and within only a few generations, they have created foxes who behave much like dogs. (Of course, this gives insight into the domestication of dogs too.) Read an overview about fox taming by clicking here:

The above bronze sculpture (which I did years ago) shows a fox jumping through a hoop made out of St. Brigid's skirt.

You can easily see the influence of the sculpture on the second St. Brigid drawing from Holy Crocodile!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dem Bones!

Returning to the illustrations of Lagos Segner; when I was a child, I loved this image of Daniel in the lion's den. What made it potent was the bones in the background. The bones proved that Daniel had been part of something miraculous -- if God hadn't protected him, he'd have ended up just like that unfortunate skeleton.

Like many children, I was fascinated by the symbols of death -- especially the pirate's skull and crossbones. Somehow taking on the power of the symbols, made me -- as a relatively powerless child -- more powerful in my imagination.

While I would have wanted to wear skull and crossbones duds as a child, I don't think I could bring myself to dress an infant in such imagery; but if you Google skull and crossbones baby clothes, you'll find thousands of images... and some are pretty cute.

Perhaps we're using the death images on baby clothes as talismans against death.

As a child, wearing such images felt like flirting with danger, as well as owning power over death by not fearing it. Of course, what I really wanted was protection danger -- that's what I saw in the Daniel story. The bones showed the danger was real, but Daniel's presence among them proved that God's salvation was just as real.

When I drew the story of St. Prisca being thrown the lions, I was liberal with sprinkling bones around the arena.

I hope that children reading about Prisca will find her tale all the more compelling, because the bones in the arena signal the expected outcome -- sans miracle. Prisca, like Daniel, so clearly survives because of God's intervention. The bones are also intended to add enough edge to induce pleasurable goosebumps in a small child.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ravens to the Rescue!

When I was two, I was given a book titled Bible Stories by my grandmother. It was a collection of Old Testament stories, with wonderful illustrations by Lajos Segner, that completely captured my imagination. Here is the one of my favorite pictures from the story Elijah Is Fed.

The cover of my Bible Stories has been missing as long as I remember. It's stained and torn, and there are some pencil scribbles over the text -- in other words, it was completely loved. I remember asking my mother to read me stories from this book, over and over, long before I learned to read.

In many ways, Bible Stories, was an inspiration for Holy Crocodile! The Old Testament animal stories were among my favorites, and the lush illustrations drew me in, while I listened to the words being read aloud. The format is similar too -- a collection of short stories, each matched by an illustration.

Here is the illustration to my own story Raven to the Rescue, from Holy Crocodile! What's missing from this picture, is the continuation of the image on the opposite page, which shows a little monk running to warn St. Benedict that his bread has been poisoned.

These two raven stories are almost mirror images of each other. Elijah is given bread by the ravens, to save his life. Benedict has his bread snatched away by a raven, to save his life. In both cases, the ravens act as a guardian angels, fulfilling the will of God.


A note about Bible Stories. This book was published by Whitman Publishing Co., Racine, WI. Whitman published children's books from the early 1900's into the mid 1970's. Bible Stories was originally copyrighted in 1950, and my addition appears to be from 1959. It's a slim book, and possibly was part of the "Golden Book" series (which Whitman published) -- but since I'm missing the cover, I can't be sure. The inside title page (and my de facto cover) says "Illustrations by Lajos Segner." Segner is credited with being the author and illustrator on the OCLC website. This book can still be found in a few libraries around the country:

Sadly, an Internet search turns up no information about Lajos Segner, except the above link.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Saintly Dog and a Favorite Saint

Saint Roch is very popular in Europe. You will see little statues of him and his dog, tucked in niches on street corners and in churches, across the continent. You can always recognize St. Roch because his dog is with him, holding a loaf a bread in his mouth. In addition, St. Roch always wears a shell the symbol of pilgrimage to Santiago, Spain (though he was a pilgrim to Rome, the Spanish shell is, and was, a more recognized pilgrim's symbol). He also typically points to a wound on his leg, symbolizing recovery from the Black Plague.

The Black Plague, or Black Death, was probably the worst pandemic in human history: killing an estimated 450 million people around the world; peaking in the 14th Century. It's estimated to have killed 30-60% of Europe's population -- causing profound religious, social, and economic upheavals.

St. Roch interrupted his pilgrimage to nurse people who were sick with the plague, until he himself became infected. He recovered in large part because his dog brought him food and wouldn't give up on him. (Luckily, nowadays the plague is treatable with antibiotics.) It's because he's a patron saint against the plague, that his statue is found throughout Europe. He is also a patron of pilgrimage, and dog lovers like him too!

Here is a painting I did St. Roch and his dog. The model for the dog was my beloved dog, Joop.
Joop was kind-of greedy... I doubt he would have shared his bread gladly. But under extraordinary circumstances, he might have risen to the occasion; because despite his naughty ways, he was a good dog... like most all dogs... and a saintly presence in my life, by just being himself.

Here's the picture of St. Roch and his dog from Holy Crocodile! Notice how in, both my painting and my drawing, the loaf has a little bite taken out of it. Even though the dog is pretty much a saint to share it's bread -- it couldn't resist having a nibble first. And who can blame it? I'm sure St. Roch shared whatever he had with his dog... just like the dog shared with him.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Saved by Sea Otters

Probably the first story I ever heard where an animal helped a saint was the story of St. Cuthbert. Cuthbert developed hypothermia and would have drowned if sea otters hadn't come to his aid.

This legend planted the seed for a series of saints and animal paintings, and lead to my researching and writing Holy Crocodile! 

The painting above of St. Cuthbert Saved by Sea Otters, is done in egg tempera paint on a wooden panel. (The moon in the painting was cut off in this picture, but he glows from the moonlight.)

Here's the drawing of St. Cuthbert from Holy Crocodile! The story still takes place at night, but the sky above St. Cuthbert is white because that where the text of the story goes.

It's hard to see in the painting, because the photo is so dark, but what I like best in both the painting and the drawing are the sea otters little pink tongues!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ever thought about medieval ships?

Two of my stories required drawing medieval ships. Above are a few of the images I found for references. I like the one with the flying fish best!

St. Modomnoc only had to sail across the Irish Sea in his boat... Good thing too, or his bees would have gotten too tired, and maybe drowned.

St. Brendan, on the other hand, had to spend seven years sailing his ship. It must have been stinky and crowded, but at least they stopped often in wondrous places... including their yearly Easter mass on the back of a whale! Here's a detail of his ship, anchored around the whale's tail.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bee Inspired!

On the wall of my studio is a pastel drawing by my friend, Francesca. It combines a quote from St. Ambrose with images of bees. Ambrose is another saint who had a bee encounter. As an infant, bees supposedly swarmed in and out of his mouth without stinging him. People took this as a good sign -- that he would have a honeyed tongue and be a great talker... which came true. He became archbishop of Milan and had the guts to threaten the Roman emperor, Theodosius, with excommunication after a massacre. Theodosius was forced to do months of public penance before Ambrose readmitted him to the Eucharist.

The words on the drawing read (capitalized as in the art):
QUANTUM PHYSICS: "it is Not possible to predict the OUTCOME of aNY situatioN."
"god is the author of NatuRe; NatuRe CaN be chaNged." AMBrOSe

When it came time to draw the bees for St. Modomnoc's story in Holy Crocodile, all I had to do was look to the left of my drawing table for inspiration.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Inspiration for Roch's Dog

Wire Fox Terriers are a relatively new breed (1800's), so they weren't around in St. Roch's time; but they have been an inspiration to me. The form, though not the coloring, of Roch's dog is modeled after Alfie. Alfie is a fine, loyal friend... but I don't know if he's saintly enough to share his food. Though he is saintly enough not to take my food away, when he sits on my lap, while I eat!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Wolf Inspiration

Years ago I purchased a tin wolf, cut out of a diet coke can, at a craft fair in Boston. I've always loved this wolf. So when I was thinking about the wolf I wanted to draw for the story The Tot and the Wolf (St. Ailbe), I turned to my tin wolf for inspiration. You can easily see the connection.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Saint Felix being hidden by spiders, from Roman soldiers, is the story that would have appealed to me most as a child. I was fascinated by everything about ancient Rome, and enthralled by the bravery of persecuted Christians (especially those being thrown to the lions). Add to that, spiders and spiderwebs are just cool. And spiders take on good, bad, and even god-like forms in legends from around the world. To read some interesting spider tales-- including how they were part of a Christmas miracle-- check out this website:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Book is Out!

Click here to order: Holy Crocodile on Amazon!

Click on the above link to go to Holy Crocodile! on Amazon... or order it from your favorite small bookseller.