Friday, April 1, 2016

Pampeliška (Dandelion)

Dandelion by Ladislav Svatos. Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1976.

Finding a splendid vintage book with a complex history is so very satisfying when achieved in a bookstore.   However finding a splendid vintage book is infinitely MORE satisfying when you stumble upon it.

And when it comes to stumbling upon books,  I will blushingly suggest that I am a fantastic klutz.

I stumbled upon this treasure-- Dandelion by Czechoslovakian artist and writer Ladislav Svatos--in a Goodwill store in Wheaton, Illinois.

This particular Goodwill store has become one of my favorites.  Thrift stores depend on donations, and this particular Goodwill store seems to be fed a rich diet of library castoffs, attic evacuations and downsizing diamonds in the rough.

Much to my dysfunctional delight.

Finding out more about author Ladislav Svatos proved to be as eye-opening as it was challenging--primarily because most of the information about Svatos is in Czech.  And unfortunately I cannot read Czech.  However I AM quite skilled at plugging  Czech words into translator internet search engines.

And so I did.

Even with the inevitable garble of trying to read computer-translated Czech,  I immediately sensed that Ladislav Svatos was a man with a story to tell.
Ladislav Svatos (2)

Ladislav Svatos was born in 1929 in the Czech Republic. (2)  I wasn't able to dig up much on his early years, mostly I suspect because I cannot read Czech and thus cannot hopscotch between Czech-langauge websites to follow clues and hints as I do in English.

But I was able to uncover one bit of information on a Czech website that seems to be dedicated to former Czech political prisoners of the communist regime. (1)  This regime stretched from 1948 to 1989. (3)  Under this regime, those individuals deemed "dissidents"--including members of the Catholic church of which Svatos was a member (1)-- were removed from society. (3)

According to this website, in 1951 Svatos and a fellow church member were accused of being "agents of the Vatican" and were sentenced to imprisonment. (1)  Svatos was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, while the other man was sentenced to 24 years. (1)

After being released from prison Svatos went on to have a family and to become a well-known designer and graphic artist (1), evidence of which I hold in my hands in the form of Dandelion.

The book Dandelion itself is visual poetry.   The stark black ink drawings on white with just touches of yellow and green  are graceful and  perfectly complement the clean botanical descriptions of the life of a dandelion.

As I read through this book several times, I was strongly reminded of Japanese ink drawings, where the simple elegance of black ink designs on white paper tells a story as much in what ISN'T there as what IS.

The empty spaces are nearly as beautiful as the illustrations.

At times, in fact, there seems to be hidden qualities in some of the drawings.  Take, for example, the drawing below of a dandelion sprout just starting to take root.  The shape of the root itself seems to take the form of a tiny human body, arms outstretched.

Similarly, in one of the last illustrations in the book, of a fully white dandelion flower just starting to release its seeds to the wind, there is something expressive in the way the dandelion is posed--almost like it is standing, tiny green hands perched on hips.  The releasing seed parachutes almost look like tiny outstretched hands.

Dandelion is a beautiful book, melding plant science and poetry in nearly perfect balance.   It celebrates one of the most ubiquitous and humble flowers--a plant that is usually uprooted as a troublesome weed and seldom held up for its simple beauty and usefulness (dandelions have traditionally been used as  food as well as to help treat various disorders). (4)

As far as I can find, while Svatos' work can be seen in various other areas, such as on book cover art, postcards and  in illustrations, Dandelion may have been his only children's book.

I find myself wishing this were not so.






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