Lilias, from the age of five, recorded her world in sketchbooks or scraps of paper. Her first sketchbook captured in pencil her house, her cats, the steamship that would carry her parents across the sea to the “new world” – and a host of fanciful images drawn, literally, from her childish imagination.
Later, during the next two decades of her life, sketchbooks capture in vibrant water colors her broadening world – journeys by horse-drawn carriage throughout the British Isles and beyond to the Swiss Alps through Italy to destination, Venice.
Her subject matter changed radically when, at the age of thirty-five, she set forth to Algeria where she would spend the remaining forty years of her life. Travel journals, pocket sketchbooks, page-a-day diaries are filled with exquisite watercolors: flora and fauna of North Africa, exotic landscapes and habitats, faces and figures of Arab friends and acquaintances in regional garb. Often she sent depictions of land and people to friends in the UK – labor-intensive multiple copies – to make them “living & bright” to encourage prayer support.
Now, over a century later, Lilias’s life and her watercolors will be featured in film for an even broader viewership than she might ever have imaged! Spring of 2015, a 70-minute documentary of Lilias’s life and vision, “Many Beautiful Things,” will be released by Kurosawa Productions and Emblem Media under the direction of Oscar award-winning film maker, Laura Waters Hinson, of Image Bearer Pictures. (More details about the release and access of the film will be posted in the weeks to follow.)
In the meanwhile, I am left to muse and marvel how, in the words of Lilias, “in God’s time and in His way” her life and legacy has been “resurrected.” And I discover that everyone who has come alongside this venture shares with me the sense of wonder and privilege that we have been permitted to be “collaborators” with God’s Purposes.
Sometimes I wonder: What would Lilias think of all this?! Would she think it presumptuous for a person who never met her to write out her story in a biography? Would she feel violated to see her diaries and journals on public display? And what would she think of her life portrayed on screen? Would it be faithful to the essence of her being?
These questions and more dogged me as I settled in the first private viewing of the “rough cut” with film maker and patrons. Then I watched her life unfold through filmed images of her homes and haunts, photographs, paintings, interviews. . . I experienced once again the tension of her life-defining decision concerning the role of art in her life as Ruskin scholars detailed the measure of the man and the significance of his offer to further her art and career. . . I arrived with Lilias to the lights of the Algiers harbor and walked into North Africa through her paintings, many animated to enfold the viewer into the Casbah of Algiers and the mountains and villages and desert beyond the coastal city. . . I observed a life poured out in bringing the light and life and love of Jesus to the Arabs of her adopted homeland. . . and I saw a person for whom the joy far outweighed the sacrifice. . .
I would like to think that Lilias, who was on the cutting edge of communication, would appreciate this venue unknown to her in her times. I do know that she herself did everything she could to present her beloved people and land to others – writing in her final years her published love story of North Africa, Between the Desert and the Sea.
Finally, and perhaps most compelling, was her belief that what is sown on this earth for eternity, will continue to bear fruit – even, possibly, beyond ones own lifetime. Her final words paired with the painting of a wood-sorrel, in Parables of the Cross, are to me a true perspective of “time and eternity” from God’s point of view – and prophetic in terms of God’s intention for her legacy of faith.
“The results need not end with our earthly days. Should Jesus tarry, our works will follow us. God may use, by reason of the wonderful solidarity of His Church, the things that He has wrought in us, for the blessing of souls unknown to us: as these twigs and leaves of bygone years, whose individuality is forgotten, pass on vitality still to the new-born wood-sorrel. God only knows the endless possibilities that lie folded in each one of us!”
Sketch made by art director, Austin Blasingame, from a photo and watercolor of Lilias