“Before us all dawned, I think a new horizon – of the glory of the task to which God has called us – a glory in its every hardness & in the sense that we are working for the future & its coming day. ‘We were dreamers dreaming greatly.'” 23 October 1911
May, 2013, five women met in Mt. Dora, Florida, under the name Trotter Trust (chosen more for its alliteration than any legal standing!) charged with the mission to 1) select a filmmaker for a documentary about Lilias Trotter; 2) to determine the site for the “care & keeping” of the Egerton Collection, the Trotter family collection of Journals and Sketchbooks containing over 200 original watercolors; 3) explore broader venues to present the unique legacy of Lilias Trotter.
With open hearts and minds, we prayerfully sought God’s direction for this task, focusing each day on one question: Day 1) “How did you ‘meet’ Lilias and how has she impacted your life?” Day 2) “What, if any, is Lilias’s value for today’s world?” Day 3) “How do we connect Lilias and her work to our world?” Day 4) concluded with the challenge “Dare to Dream” – and the final question “What would you dream for her legacy if there were no known restrictions?” We departed with a prayer of dedication for her life and legacy and a heightened sense that Lilias Trotter did, indeed, have relevancy to culture today.
Now, three years later, we look back with nothing short of awe and wonder upon the events that followed. The most immediate task was finding the filmmaker, Laura Waters Hinson, who early established her giftedness winning a Student Academy Award for her documentary, “As We Forgive.” For the next two years, top priority was given to the development of the documentary which Laura carried out with vision, skill, and artistry beyond our greatest expectations. The end result was, “Many Beautiful Things,” a 70-minute documentary augmented with a lavish presentation of her art (some of which was highlighted with deft animation), poetic re-enactments of her life, and readings from her Journals and her letters from Ruskin – read respectively by Michelle Dockery and John Rhys-Davies.
The process of film making – gathering resources, connecting with people and places of significance to Lilias’s life and legacy, developing an evolving story-line – likewise became catalyst for many wonderful Trotter-related experiences and relationships. One highlight, for me, was returning to Brantwood, Ruskin’s home in the Lake District, where Lilias, pressed by her mentor/friend, made the great decision: the role of art in her life. There, on that sacred site where she made this life-affecting decision, I was privileged to tell “The Rest of the Story,” to “The Friends of Ruskin” fortified by slides of Lilias’s art from Ruskin’s collection, deposited at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Another highlight was meeting with Eva Longley (at the tea room at Selfridges in London) – on the day of an underground strike! – and hearing her stories of organizing and sending the Lilias Trotter memorablia (Diaries, Journals, and papers along with North Africa Missions archives) out of Algeria eventually to the UK – an endeavor that took almost one-and-a-half years and without which most of her visual legacy would have been lost.
The official release of the film was, internationally, at the Manchester Film Festival (Summer, 2015) and, nationally, at the Heartland Film Festival (Fall, 2015). Our “February Launch 2016” of the film was initiated at the Smithsonian National Gallery in Washington D.C. with 750 people packing a 500 seat auditorium! The following week(s) saw one-night-only screenings in 30-plus theaters across the country with as many more screenings in churches, universities, and community centers. We have been amazed at the creative ways in which the film has been presented: an Art Show with Local Artists “Inspired by the Art of Lilias Trotter;” church banquets with a “North African” theme, university screenings followed by round table discussions about the role of “Faith & Art” and/or “Vocation;”: Mission Festivals with the theme of “Surrender, Sacrifice and Service.” I’m still waiting for the Trotter Tea – themed with all things Victorian!
We have, likewise, been gratified by wonderful media coverage of the film or, more to the point, the life and legacy of Lilias Trotter – which is, after all, what this is all about. We recognized, from the beginning, the unique opportunities to share widely her legacy through her art. Wonderful articles by the Chicago Conservation Center, Ruskin scholars and, most recently, The New York Times have carried her story to an ever broadening audience and, in a sense, validated Ruskin’s high opinion of her art! (See below) And, of course, we likewise value positive articles and reviews that have been published by various Christian media sources, many of which can be accessed on Facebook: Many Beautiful Things.
What about the future? What lies ahead for the film and for the legacy of Lilias Trotter? A number of additional screenings at universities, seminaries, and churches are scheduled for the future – most immediately a Fall Conference at Wheaton College (details to follow). “Many Beautiful Things” DVD (and streaming) is now available on Amazon along with Discovery House publications of her biography, A Passion for the Impossible, and compilation of her writings and watercolors, A Blossom in the Desert. Additionally, Oxvision has published a picture book, Lily: The Girl Who Could See, as well as facsimile editions of three of her out-of-print works – Parables of the Cross; 1876 Sketchbook: Scenes from Lucerne to Venice; 1889 Sketchbook: Scenes From North Africa, Italy & Switzerland (also available on Amazon) – with more in the line-up along with several new books which draw upon her watercolors and writings: A Way of Seeing; Images of Faith. And we have good news for those who desire to have prints or notecards of Lilias’s watercolors! Check out the Fine Art American site for prints and quote cards of various size and surfaces. http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/oxvision-media.html?tab=artworkgalleries&artworkgalleryid=629437
So, what is the future for “Many Beautiful Things”? For Lilias?! While these many venues have provided wonderful exposure we, nonetheless, go back to the start of our common venture: “dreamers dreaming greatly.” The answer? Only God knows. Everything that has happened from the beginning (which was long before my discovery of Lilias) has been initiated and implemented by God. From Lilias’s “call” to North Africa (“strange soundings in my heart”), to the Band of men and women who joined her in Algeria (and those who continue the work to this day), to the saint who secured the archives gathered, eventually, at the Arab World Ministry Headquarters in the UK, to the two women who gifted their treasured books by and about ILT to the then young minister’s wife in Lake Wales, to the individuals who commissioned and underwrote her to write a current biography, to those who came alongside to implement and advance the research, to the visionaries who have taken it from there to a broader world: each and every person and transaction was initiated by God. Each and every person felt privileged to be, in some way, collaborators with God for His Purposes. No one had any idea how their role – great or small – would contribute to the whole.
And that is where we are today. We have no advertising campaign for the film – only Facebook and website presence. But we are confident that God will use the legacy of Lilias in ways unknown to us today or, probably. . . ever. We are “dreamers dreaming greatly!”
RESOURCE LINKS Chicago C0nservation Center:http://www.theconservationcenter.com/article/2084427-lilias-trotter-missionary-artist
Facebook: Many Beautiful Things