A new look at fairy tales

  • Images from "Mirror Mirror," a new book by Corwin Levi and Michelle Aldredge. Courtesy image—

  • Images from "Mirror Mirror," a new book by Corwin Levi and Michelle Aldredge. Courtesy image—

  • Images from "Mirror Mirror," a new book by Corwin Levi and Michelle Aldredge. Courtesy image—

Thursday, June 14, 2018 9:32AM

From a former mill storehouse turned into an art studio on a lake in Harrisville, New Hampshire, comes “Mirror Mirrored,” a new limited-edition artist book by Corwin Levi and Michelle Aldredge. The book collects 25 Grimms’ tales, almost 2,000 vintage illustrations of those stories remixed into fresh collages, visual reimaginings of these stories by 28 contemporary artists including Kiki Smith, Carrie Mae Weems, and a mix of other established and emerging artists, and a new piece of creative writing as introduction by Karen Joy Fowler into a 384-page tome.

When you think about the prince climbing up Rapunzel’s hair, Snow White running through the woods from her evil step-mother, or Rumpelstiltskin dancing by the fire, a picture immediately springs to mind. Indeed, these stories are so visually suggestive that artists and illustrators have been reinterpreting them for two hundred years — not only the narratives of Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White, but the curious tale of how the moon was hung in the sky, the mysterious story about how a ship of sailors drowned on dry land, how man came to steal ten years of life from the monkeys for himself, and other selections from the Grimms’ two-hundred tales.

There are thousands of Grimms’ illustrators ranging from a third Grimm brother, Ludwig, to Heinrich Vogeler, a painter who was discharged from service in World War I after making a written appeal for peace to the German Emperor, to Gustaf Tenggren who later became a principal designer for Walt Disney’s Snow White. For “Mirror Mirrored,” co-author Corwin Levi has combed through this rich visual history, tracking down the most beautiful and singular illustrations, and remixed alformost 2,000 Golden Age pictures from 243 sources into new wonder tale collages. These collages fill the pages of “Mirror Mirrored” and transform these timeless stories into a visual wonderland. Levi scoured New England bookstores, online auctions, and stacks from libraries like Dartmouth College for these old pictures, assembling the largest collection of vintage Grimms’ books in the country. He then spent three years weaving these images together and throughout the book as new artworks he call “repicts”— collages that accompany the same Grimms’ stories as the original illustrations. These old-made-new-again pictures make the words of each story leap off the pages in hundreds of different directions and interpretations.

Especially exciting, however, is how Levi and co-author Michelle Aldredge also commissioned or curated contemporary visual artists to build on this legacy with reimaginings of these old stories that chronicle not just who we are, but show us the possibilities of who we can become.

Rachel Perry looks at a child, maimed by her father, who chooses to stand on her own, Tomokazu Matsuyama paints an old, discharged soldier who takes his revenge by making off with all the crown’s wealth in a giant sack, and Angus McCullough shows us the possibility of deconstructing the traditional patriarchal hierarchy and making a new way forward. But for every happy ending, a shadow lurks beneath it. MacArthur fellow Carrie Mae Weems asks whether there is any place for a black woman in a magic mirror’s fairy tale, Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz remind us that even though we dress in suits and ties doesn’t mean we won’t still cut out each other’s eyes from pettiness and spite, and DJ Spooky suggests that we’re all wandering around in an inescapable forest of consumerism.