November 26 was presentation day for Colborne artist, Jirina Marton.
Jirina won the coveted Governor General's award for her illustrations in the children's book, Bella's Tree.
The book tells the story of a little girl who overcomes all obstacles in order to have a Christmas tree. Bella lives with her aging Nan who has given up hope of having a tree. Nan feels Bella is too small for the task.
Bella volunteers, and the story tells of her exploits leading to the finding of a tree which meets Nan's approval.
The plot follows a familiar path and one which is metaphoric to the career of the artist.
Despite earning an earlier nomination for a GG, five years ago Jirina was sending off proposals to publishers with little success. Now, through persistence and perseverance, she has won the prestigious award which she received last week.
In a lengthy interview posted in Cramahe Now earlier in November, the illustrator had not considered the parallels with her life, but pointed to the dedication at the front of the book. Jirina beamed as she told of her wonderful 10-year-old granddaughter, Katrina. Only a child, she has transformed the lives of those around her as she has challenged the limits of a genetic deficiency.
Jirina's grew up in Czechoslovakia and in France, before she immigrated to Canada about 30 years ago.
She started work on the book about two years ago after getting a call from her publisher, Groundwood Books, about the story set in the winter. The publisher knew she "knew how to do snow".
Jirina admits it wasn't an easy task to produce the illustrations. Four times Bella went out in search of the perfect tree. Each journey required a different illustration. Jirina feels that the illustrations in a storybook should augment the story line - a difficult task when you're illustrating the same scene repeatedly.
But she must have succeeded. Her efforts were rewarded with the award.
People who have read the book, and know Newfoundland have asked Jirina if she has been there. She hasn't. She visited the Maritimes once, briefly, and she researched thoroughly before embarking on this project.
It took about a year to complete about 23 full-size colour illustrations. She first worked with rough drawings which she showed to Groundwood for approval. When the illustrations were submitted, the publisher chose the 20 which were used in the book.
Jirina credits some of the success of her illustrations to living in Northumberland County where she is a member of the Colborne Art Gallery cooperative. "Living here allows me to see nature and the environment evolving," she remarks. Even elements of her home are entwined in the evocative artwork of the story. She admits she was inspired by the tree she sees from the kitchen window in her century home.
The artist is excited to have won the award. The three-member jury reviews close to 100 children's books before making its final determination
Asked how winning this year's award would affect her career and future earnings, Jirina was reflective. The income from sales of the book are relatively small. She acknowledges that she does the work for the love of it. She has no idea how her life will change; perhaps she will get more work.
An artist works by herself. She does something because she hopes it will please somebody. Jirina smiles as she recounts times when readers were overwhelmed or surprised by the authenticity of the illustrations.
The award is recognition that she is doing something right. "There are lots of good-quality illustrators. It's good to be among them." She chuckles as she says that Goodwood got her in her prime.
Copies of the Governor General's Award-winning Bella's Tree are on sale at the Colborne Art Gallery for $19.95.