Every year in our local Mennonite community there is a tradition most children grow up with. Most of us, at least in my generation, will remember receiving a coloring book in your “Komm” on christmas morning.
After the school program on Christmas Eve we were allowed to find a “nueddlesup” bowl in our mom’s kitchen and place it on a table or living room bench. Then the following morning it would be magically filled with gifts and most importantly a coloring book with pencils. Before breakfast I usually had managed to color in several pages while eating some candies too. For many years I lost track of this celebration while living in Canada in a non mennonite community. Then when moving back to the Plautdietsch Mennonite heart in north Mexico it became clear to me how important these practices are and specially in the topic or arts and crafts. It felt to me time had somewhat stood still with these local traditions. This fascinated me to find the artist behind these books and rescuing the value of these practices. My grandmother also hand drew “tuschbeekja” according to my mom since I have never seen a page. Sadly due to not cherishing this and other creative and having inherited her artistic talent as well as having studied art in a world city, it has become my homework to find local talent and specially those who are often not seen.
According to my mother, I inherited my grandmothers drawing talent but sadly, growing up, I never saw her illustrations since at the time those traditions were considered out dated and we often received modern illustration books imported from Germany then photocopied to keep the costs down. This was sadly also my experience when I started the search for our local “tuschbuik” artist. I was steered heavily away from that topic at a local bookstore and motivated to buying their photocopied versions of mandalas and computer illustrated scenes not representing any culture in particular. Sadly, I found many different kinds of coloring books but rarely the kind where the artist is local and include local scene, and not to mentions giving credit to the creator. This is what made the search so difficult.
It took several years to find one artist who makes a living illustrating coloring books and handcrafting mennonite dolls. A former art student of mine, Laura Diana Klassen, listened to me on how important it is to find our artists and respect them. Her father runs a printing business and for years has her coloring books and that is how I finally found Lena Klassen and her series “Aus den Menoniten Leben”.
“Aus den Mennoniten Leben” is a series of illustration books focusing on the every day lifestyles a fair amount of folks still practice here in the “darpa” of north Chihuahua. The pages represent a depictions on the lifestyles, gender roles and even multicultural relationships as they are. I find that Lena is true to herself when choosing her topic and that makes all the difference when a client is searching for her product.
Recently at our annual Local Cuauhtemoc Christmas Market I had her books for sale at my booth and the sweetest lady, who is my friend, came specially to find them for her grandchilren. She described these books as compositions that remind her growing up in the traditional “darpa” . She is excited to gift these books to her grandchildren who come to visit as far as Canada. She expressed how much she cares for these particular books since they are not drawn with a computer, rather by hand and you feel the truth behind every scene. She purchased seventeen books as she said for everyone grandchild, but then later she confessed and said “I don’t have seventeen grandchildren but I include myself as one ” since she enjoys coloring in the pages prior to giving them away on christmas family reunions.