When you think of Telluride, a few images may come to mind: purple and white columbines waving in a summer breeze, the snow-capped Wilson range standing proud, or maybe that funky hat you got in the Free Box years ago. There are the gold miners of yore, the charismatic megafauna, and the valley’s original inhabitants, the Ute people.
All of this and more, in a letter-by-letter journey across the alphabet, are springing to life on the pages of a new children’s book by local author Jill Wilson and illustrator Abby Fox. “The Telluride Alphabet,” now available for pre-order through the book’s website, thetelluridealphabet.com, is not only a kids’ book, however.
“I wanted to make it for everybody,” said Wilson, noting that as a longtime librarian at the Wilkinson Public Library, over the years she’d noticed a paucity of picture books about the local area and history. “I think both locals and tourists will be able to connect with the book and learn something about Telluride.”
Each letter represents a part of what makes the box canyon so special, and paired with an alliterative adjective, the book engages readers with a musical ring and colorful illustrations. For younger readers, adjectives like “whimsical” and “captivating” offer fun new words to try on for size, and for older readers, historical factoids provide little-known tidbits to enhance one’s understanding of the local area.
For Wilson, it was an extension of her passion for “lifelong learning,” a way to “encourage curiosity” for kids from one to 99.
The idea for the book actually came to Wilson one night in a dream ― proof, she says, that dreams really do come true. One night, she awoke in the middle of the night with the alliterative adjectives and noteworthy nouns tumbling about in the penumbra of her half-awake mind. She got a pen and started jotting.
“I couldn't go back to sleep until I had written them down,” she recalled.
The idea simmered for a while, until Wilson applied for the Telluride Arts Small Grant program through the Telluride Arts District, which offers small grants to local artists each year to pursue a creative endeavor. She got it, and began working in earnest to bring the dream into the light of day. She enlisted her friend and Colorado-based artist Abby Fox to create original illustrations for the book, and Fox got to work with her pens and markers to create multi-faceted drawings to accompany each letter.
For Fox, creating vibrant illustrations with multiple eye-catching elements helped to include the youngest book lovers in the alphabetic journey.
“Before kids can read words, they read the illustrations,” she said. “Even before a kiddo can read, they can follow the story of the pictures. That’s why it was important to me to include different elements, instead of, for example, just a columbine. It creates a story of a community, an environment, for kids to discover in the illustrations.”
Fox, who in addition to her work with pen and paper is also an accomplished printmaker, is drawn to the analog process of creating art without the use of digital tools. In the 21st century, that’s not only increasingly unique but also time consuming. Each of the book’s illustrations were hand drawn, sometimes late into the night, as Fox coaxed the perfect palette of colors and textures from her refillable Copic markers and black pen on paper.
The porcupine page, she said, resulted in many scattered papers etched with various porcupine drawings as she labored to properly emulate the texture of quills she was seeing in her mind's eye. Her artistic ability, she says, is not simply something she was born with but rather the result of countless hours of careful observation, practice and making art.
“Instead of seeing the actual object I’m looking at when I’m sketching, I see the colors, I see the textures,” she said. “I don’t just see a tree. People have a tendency to think it’s all about talent when someone is good at something, but I think it’s important for both kids and adults to think about it as a skill that involves a lot of time, energy and focus to build that skill.”
Her original art from the books is currently on display for the month of June at the Butcher and the Baker, and she’ll have pieces for sale at the Telluride Arts Summer Bazaar at the Telluride Transfer Warehouse on June 26. On July 11 from 4-6 p.m., Wilson and Fox will debut the book at a book launch at the Transfer Warehouse. The book launch will offer live music, refreshments, kids’ activities and a book signing.
“It’s going to be as much a celebration as a book launch,” Wilson said. “This book is for all ages, for all walks of life, and for anybody who wants to take a little piece of Telluride home with them.”