the storyteller 


Oil on panel 

26" x 35"

NOW available as a Gustafson Studio Print, please click HERE for more details!

When I was offered the opportunity to design a poster for the Weber Storytelling Festival, I leapt at the chance. I love the idea of doing a painting that tries to convey the concept of storytelling. As an illustrator, I see the main purpose of my work as telling stories with pictures, so this seemed like a perfect challenge. In addition, the idea that these are diverse kids from different backgrounds, telling stories from their lives, their cultures and their imaginations added another interesting layer. Here are some of the thoughts that went into creating this painting, and the symbolism it contains.

The Tree – I knew I wanted these children to be gathered together in a special place, and the base of a grand old tree seemed perfect. Trees represent many things in our combined cultures, and among those are knowledge, learning, constant growth, strong roots and endurance through changing seasons. Years ago, on a family vacation in Northern Michigan I photographed a beautiful old tree with fantastically gnarled roots – this is that tree.

The Raven -  is a significant animal in all cultures. In Egypt, it was the messenger of the gods and in the Old Testament, Ravens brought food to the prophet Elijah. In American Indian culture, he is the Trickster-Hero.

The Spider – is another animal with many influences throughout the world. In this picture, I hoped to conjure the stories of African descent about the wily and clever Anansi who takes on humans, animals and sometimes even outwits the gods.

Elf and Troll – Popular forest spirits in Scandinavian, Teutonic and British lore, these amazing creatures have sprinkled their magic throughout the centuries and into the pages of contemporary writers. Their descendants loom large in  J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

The Lion – is an extremely popular animal in myth, legend and stories. Aesop included over two dozen fables featuring lions and in the Old Testament, lions are mentioned 135 times. While today, Baum’s Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz is beloved by millions, and who could forget Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia.

Jack  - this boy, in the medieval style hat, represents Jack, who is not only of Jack and the Beanstalk fame but also the main character in Jack, the Giant Killer, as well as many other Jack tales. He is the clever youngest son or the unpromising hero, but he is always destined to turn situations and events to his favor.

Native American man – As the children take turns telling their stories, not only do those images surround them but ancestors join in the circle, sitting shoulder to shoulder, and leaning in so as not to miss a word.

Pioneer girl – When I see this girl, I can’t help but think of The Little House on the Prairie and the other Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but in this picture, I mean for her to symbolize more than that. Here, she represents the pioneer spirit of the American west, and in particular, Utah.

The Princess – the character of a Princess has been a constant presence in stories throughout history from Arthurian legend to tales of the Grimm’s and Perrault. Today, she has come to represent an ever widening and complex view of women and girls in society, symbolizing not only beauty, but intelligence, humor and pluck.

Juan Bobo – a popular folk character from Puerto Rico. Through his antics and misjudgments, Juan is a constant source of amusement and the perfect teacher on how not to do things. Here, he is seen with the family pig, which his mother had told him to take to market. Juan dressed the sow up, complete with wig and lipstick, and took her to Mass instead.

Rabbit – the trickster character of South Africa who outwits the treacherous hyena, was brought to Jamaica ad America with the Africans who were forced into slavery. In the New World, he became the clever and resourceful Brer Rabbit, earning his place in the roster of American folk heroes.

.Wolf – a complex figure, representing different things to different cultures. Among the Native Americans, he was primarily revered, and many tribes associated themselves with the wolf. To them, he symbolized loyalty, pathfinder and teacher.

Wizard – the image of the Wizard dates back to Arthurian Legends with the introduction of the world’s most famous wizard, Merlin. Revised in the 20th century as Tolkien’s Gandalf and on into the 21st century as Rowling’s Dumbledore, the image of the magical sage with flowing white beard seems more popular than ever.

Owl – not only popularized as the messenger of Wizards in the Harry Potter books, the owl’s place in myth and story dates back to the ancient Greeks. Symbolizing the bird of wisdom, sacred to Athena, it also was known as the Chief of the Night by the Pawnee, who looked to it for protection.

Dragon – the dragon is probably the most complex and widespread of all mythical creatures. Babylon, Egypt, China, Greece, the Romans and early Kings of England and Wales all revered and feared this wondrous beast. Today, its popularity knows no bounds as the star of books, video games, movies and TV shows.