Henri’s Scissors is a picture book bio of artist Henri Matisse featuring burgeoning creativity in old age–and the cherry on top? Author/illustrator Jeanette Winter is herself past midlife—a veteran artist showing us her own talents.
She traces the early life of the renowned French painter, but quickly zooms in on his later years when he created enormous, brilliantly colored paper cutouts. (Ages 5-8; Beach Lane Books, 2013.)
Ever the innovator—Matisse led the way in avant-garde painting. He painted from childhood—all over his schoolbooks, and later in his law books and contracts. Abandoning law, he forged an art career in Paris.
“But when Matisse was an old man, he fell ill—
so ill he couldn’t paint,
so ill he couldn’t sit up,
so ill he could only lie in bed and sleep.
His paintings floated by in his dreams.”
Winter’s illustrations burst with color, simple lines, and artful squiggles that evoke the artist’s paintings. They show Matisse initially discouraged as he contemplates life in bed or wheelchair. Recuperating near the sea, he resumes drawing—even using chalk tied to a pole, but then picks up a pair of scissors for a new discovery.
Matisse “draws with scissors’ by cutting sinuous shapes from colored paper. “Leaves, fruits, a bird”—they soon cover his walls, surrounding him with a garden that thrills him. Quotes gleaned from Matisse’s letters to an old friend illuminate his joy, “My pleasure in cutting things out grows even greater. Why didn’t I think of it earlier?”
It’s rare I recommend a picture book with images of physical decline—unlike this one, most do not represent the real resilience of older adults. This books ends with the end of Matisse’s life—but in a soothing and magical way. Positive Aging is not about denying death or life’s challenges, but it emphasizes the value to be found in later life stages.
Creativity and happiness are the focus here, despite the challenges Matisse faced.“I am deeply contented, happy,” says Matisse of this period of his life filled with improvisation, joy, and beauty.
Late Life Creativity
“Old age that adds as it takes away” is an apt theme for this picture book—a phrase coined by Dr. Gene D. Cohen in his book The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life (Avon Books 2000). He adds–
“Adversity challenges our creativity; it serves as a prompt for innovative thinking in that we instinctively seek relief from it. A creative response enables us to view our situation in a new way or do something different.”
In my past life as a stroke educator I saw this many times. My friend Herb likes to share that four heart attacks did nothing for him. It took a stroke to wake him up and change his life for the better, despite a forced early retirement.
Herb took up photography and crafts gorgeous greeting cards that showcase natural landscapes and flowers. His creative spirit transformed a volunteer job at the famed Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Herb donned a top hat and tails on his own initiative and now adds his personal warmth as their iconic doorman.
Author Gene Cohen shares many ways that we use our creative energy beyond art, including activism. He says,
“Creativity has the power to alter the darkness in our lives, whether we paint with it, draw with it, write with it, sing with it, work or play with it, or even just think about it.”
(Tip: Show kids that adaptation to disability also represents creativity. Kids love this trick taught to stroke survivors coping with weakness on one side. To open a jar—prop it in a drawer, jam the drawer closed with one hip, and use a single hand to loosen the lid…voila! Show them Matisse drawing on the ceiling with chalk tied to a pole–scroll down this page for the image.)
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See this Pinterest board for images of Matisse and the art produced by him over his lifetime.
An interview of author Jeanette Winter on The Mighty Girl blog.
Cover and author images courtesy of Simon and Schuster website. Used with permission. Drawing by Jeanette Winter.
Disclosure: I reviewed my copy of this book. I was not required to write a review and I received no payment for this post.