Hancock artist illustrates new children’s book ‘Sam, Fisherwoman’

  • A page from 'Sam, Fisherwoman,' a new children’s book written by Maggie Kemp and illustrated by Melody Zahn Russell of Hancock. Courtesy image

  • Pages from ‘Sam, Fisherwoman,’ a new childrens’ book written by Maggie Kemp and illustrated by Melody Zahn Russell of Hancock. Courtesy image

  • COurtesy image—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, June 06, 2018 5:1PM

Melody Zahn Russell had a lot of familial inspiration as she illustrated the new children’s book “Sam, Fisherwoman.” The Hancock artist saw plenty of her daughter in the titular spunky heroine, Sam, and some of herself, too. But her thoughts kept returning to her mother.

“My mother would always say to me: ‘You should be doing children’s books,” and I said ‘I’ll do that when I’m old,’” Russell said. “Now I have pure white hair and I’m 70! I thought about my mother a lot during the process.”

It’s the process that stands out most in Russell’s illustration work. You’ve probably seen her cards — crafted by cutting potatoes into stamps and using them to apply acrylic-paint graphics to paper — around the Monadnock region or at the Toadstool Bookshop.

Russell explained that her unique potato stamp artwork is a fusion of a craft she learned in the Girl Scouts and her study of Japanese gestural painting. She applies that technique to “Sam, Fisherwoman,” and the result is a rough-hewn primal feel that sets the artwork apart, one gesture enough to convey a feeling in what’s been called a “visual haiku.”

The book was authored by Russell’s longtime friend Maggie Kemp — the two met when their children were in kindergarten together — and Russell understood the gravity of interpreting another author’s vision.

“She really trusted me,” Russell said. “If you write a story, of course you're going to be attached you know in your own mind the memories and she had to hand her little baby over to me.”

The result was satisfying. Russell said she found plenty to identify with in the story, which follows a little girl who gets up early to go fishing, without the aid of adults, and the resulting chaos.

“This story, in a really simple way, tells a big tale,” Russell said. “I respect her sense of adventure and her determination. She was stubborn and she had a goal and she accomplished it.”

Russell and Kemp will appear at the Toadstool Bookshop in Milford on Saturday at 3 p.m. and then at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough on Saturday, June 16 at 11 a.m.