I can’t say we were close friends, or even that I knew her well. Though we collaborated on three books, we met just twice. The first was a signing for On the Farm during Christmas at the L.L. Bean mothership in Freeport, ME. The other, a year or two later, when Barbara and I visited her studio in Blue Hill, also Maine.
Years before On the Farm, Holly turned down another of my Candlewick books, And Here’s to You! -- ultimately illustrated to perfection by Randy Cecil -- so we were thrilled when she said yes to the farm poems. The book’s continuing success is due to her. It was followed by In the Wild, and then In the Sea. She was already signed up for the next two in the series, On the Wing and In the Past, when the terrible news came that she was ill. We were willing to wait for as long as it took her to recover. It was a sad day when she wrote to say she could no longer work.
In our guest room, hang three of her illustrations, one from each of the books we made together. Gifts from Holly, they arrived in the mail from Blue Hill, the plain cardboard tube in which they were rolled a humble disguise for the brilliance they were protecting. I make a point to look at them every day. But even more precious are the Christmas cards she sent. Five of them, arriving mid-December, each individually printed and ready to hang on the tree. And each with a hand-written quote on the back, sometimes original, sometimes attributed. The holiday season hasn’t begun until I retrieve those cards from the red box in which we store them, separate from the shine and glitz of the other decorations.
Once or twice in your life, you might find yourself in the presence of someone who seems to be living on a different plane, someone for whom the wall between the inner and outer life is very thin. These rare individuals make us feel more grounded, safer, more hopeful, more like ourselves. For me, Holly Meade was such a person, and this was as much a gift as her incredible art. I will always be grateful for having known her, however briefly, and for the rare privilege of our collaborations. Thank you, Holly.
Next Week. On the Wing.
(Credit for picture of Holly in her studio to Julie Danielson)