Many Things Begin With Seeing

Lilias_Portrait_Build_01 (1) Come and look. . .  the colour plates and letter press are with one and the same intent – to make you see.  Many things begin with seeing in this world of ours.  Between the Desert & the Sea

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

This entry was posted in art, Faith, joy, Lilias Trotter, love. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Many Things Begin With Seeing

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful and sensitive article. I look forward to the documentary.

  2. jerie Artz says:

    I anticipate the release of this documentary after ready her biography and devotionals. What a gift to us all to be able to see her life in this way. Thank you

    • mhrockness says:

      It really is thrilling to see her life and her art “come alive” on screen. I look forward to the release of the film – and will keep readers posted through my blog (and an eventually website). Thank you for your comment. Miriam

  3. Lisa Case says:

    I live in Tokyo I really hope we can find a way to see it here!

  4. mhrockness says:

    How interesting! This film was first intended, by the patron, to be shown in Japan. There are preparations being made to have Japanese subtitles to make it easier for those whose primary language is Japanese.

  5. Kathryn Pugh says:

    I am familiar with Laura Hinson Waters film, As We Forgive, and the accompanying book. I hope this film will be shown in northern Virginia or the Washington, DC area as I would so love to see this. Bless you for this labor of love – but labor all the same!

  6. Kathryn Pugh says:

    I am familiar with Laura Waters Hinson’s film, As We Forgive, and the accompanying book. I hope this film will be shown in northern Virginia or the Washington, DC area as I would so love to see this. Bless you for this labor of love – but labor all the same!

    • mhrockness says:

      We are so fortunate to have Laura’s artistic eye and ministering heart focused on Lilias’s story. I’m sure it will be shown, eventually, in the DC area. I’ll post updates when I learn them. Thank you for your interest. Miriam

  7. Hello Miriam, I am very interested in Lilias Trotter as part of my PhD on colonial Algerian history, and I would particularly like to look into the North Africa Mission’s archives in Loughborough to see what their relationship with French authorities were like. I figure this is the best way to contact you! It would be great to hear how you went about getting access to the archives and to talk a bit about Lilias Trotter over email if you had the time.

    Best wishes,


  8. Zoe Myers says:

    What wonderful news! I will be joyfully anticipating the film’s release. Thank you, Miriam, for the many years’ work to tell our world about Lilias, her faith in the impossible, her art & her life for Christ.

  9. Laura Bouffiou Jacobson says:

    It blesses me to even contemplate viewing the upcoming film!
    Thank you, Miriam, for all you have done to bring her life to us who bear the Spirit in a similar way. So very, very encouraging.

  10. mhrockness says:

    It is hard to believe all that is happening. I can only quote Lilias’s words: “God’s way in God;s time.” He has this all in His Plan! What a privilege it is to be a collaborator (along with so many others) in His Purpose for the “resurrection ” of Lilias’s life and legacy in this time.

  11. angelrays says:

    I hope that this will reach you because I am so excited about the work you have done/are doing on the life and art of Lilias Trotter.
    I stumbled across the book A Blossom in the Desert several years ago, I guess not long after it was published, and was immediately drawn to it because of both my Christian faith and my love of art journaling. The facsimiles of her work just drew me in and then I was richly blessed by the text. What a treasure!! I’ve since shared the book with several others and bought copies as gifts.
    So, thank you for writing that. I’ve just learned of the documentary via Facebook and though I do not live near enough a screening venue to be able to see it on the 11th, I am delighted that it will be available on DVD, and will be purchasing it as soon as I can.
    My question is this: I’m hoping that since you have seen the original journals that you can help me understand a little about her techniques. First of all, I’m wondering about the type of paper she used. In A Blossom in the Desert the paintings look like they were done on coloured paper, like pastel paper. Is that true? and if so, what media did she use primarily? So much of it looks like watercolor, but sometimes it looks more opaque than watercolor. And sometimes it looks like she was using soft pastel, or a combination of pastel and paint. Was the paper heavy like w/c paper? And, lastly, are the facsimiles reproduced to scale? Were they actually painted the size that is represented in the book?
    If you do not have time to answer these questions, is there possibly a place where I could find the answers myself? Are there close-up photos somewhere of her journals?
    Thank you again for your work, and thank you for reading this and considering my questions.
    Sincerly, in Christ,
    Rosanne Haaland

    • mhrockness says:

      Rosanne, I’m so glad that you have been blessed by Lilias’ art and text. There were many “surfaces” upon which she painted! Sometimes directly on lined Diary or Journal pages, sometimes on a piece of watercolor paper which she applied to her Journals/Diaries. Her sketchbooks were standard volumes with watercolor paper – the small pocket-sketchbooks (of which there were at least 5) did have different shades of paper bound in the hardcover books. She even drew on scraps of paper – brown craft-type paper or as with the desultory bee a jade-colored paper – or what was available at the moment for her purposes. For the color plates of her large book, between the Desert & the Sea she did use a soft aqua color background – and a number of the paintings from the Blossom book were taken from that volume as well as all the above. All her work was in watercolor – and the Ruskin Scholar, Stephen Wildman, thought it safe to assume she followed her mentor, John Ruskin, in using Winston-Newton (I should check on the exact name) block paints. The reason you understandably thought that she might have used pastels was her use of Chinese White/Opaque-white, considered unorthodox by the Royal Watercolor Society then (and by purists now) but. . . this was a practice that the Pre-Raphaelites used and John Ruskin defended and even championed “if used sparingly and with a deft touch as needed.” The paintings in the Blossom book are rarely the exact size. If you look at the post, Resources, (my most recent) you will see an arrangement of her large journal, and some open Diary pages, as well as pocket sketchbooks. This gives you a better idea of how very small most of her paintings were: a partial page of a notebook, or scattered images on a larger page, even postage stamp size paintings on headings of her Diaries. Another comment made by the Ruskin art “experts” was that she had an amazing ability to capture grand spaces – mountains, deserts, sky – in a very small space.

      I am not an artist so my technical vocabulary is limited but I think this at least begins to address your questions. When you see the documentary you will note in some of the visual re-enactments the type of paints/paint box that she most likely used. I hope this gives you a better idea.

      Thank you for your encouraging comments! Miriam

  12. Hi you have a fine website It was very easy to post I am impressed

    • mhrockness says:

      Thank you for your affirmation. We have put a lot of thought into it – it is still a “work in process” – so it means a great deal to have positive feedback. Miriam Rockness

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