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The Art and Life of Sulamith Wulfing
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EMG news for February 2008
The Art and Life of Sulamith WulfingArtist Spotlight
by Giovanna Adams
The art of Sulamith Wülfing reveals a hidden mystical world that captures the beauty and spirituality of darkness and light, fairies and angels, and otherworldly spirits. She beckons us to enter a realm of fantasy, rich in symbolism and medieval-style ornamentation.
In 1901 Sulamith was born in Wuppertal-Elberfeld, Germany to Theosophist parents Karl and Hedwig Wülfing. As a child she had visions of angels, fairies, gnomes, and nature spirits. She first began drawing these creatures at the age of four. The visions continued throughout her life and directly inspired her paintings.
Sulamith Wülfing graduated from the Art College in Wuppertal in 1921, and in 1932 married Otto Schulze, a professor at the Art College. Together, they created the Sulamith Wülfing Verlag Publishing House. During World War II, the industrial area around Wuppertal became a bombing target, and Wülfing's home was destroyed, along with many of her paintings. The Wulfing family faced many more hardships during the war, beginning with her family becoming separated after receiving a false report of her husband's death on the Russian front. With her only child and her mother, she fled to France; where they were later reunited on Christmas Day in 1945. During this traumatic time, Sulamith relied on Jiddu Krishnamurti, her spiritual mentor. She believed his influence helped her through difficult times and his guidance kept her out of the concentration camps.
Sulamith paintings feature slender, fair-haired, young fey women with large eyes and sad or thoughtful faces, wearing elaborately patterned gowns or robes, and sometimes veils, snoods, wreaths, or jeweled crowns. These maidens are placed in outdoor settings of twilight woods and moonlit meadows, or in castle-like interiors with Gothic detail and Celtic knot work. Many of the paintings have a "fairytale" feel, with grinning dwarves and gnomes, knights in armor and dragons. Some have a holiday focus, usually Christmas or Easter. In the more spiritually-themed images, radiantly winged beings appear to give comfort or counsel to troubled humans. Several of the paintings touch upon the theme of pregnancy and motherhood, while others echo the experience of loneliness and separation, and still others are indicative of love and fulfillment.
The mood of Sulamith’s works ranges from serene to wistful to deeply melancholy. The subject is often mysterious, with narrative elements whose meaning the observer can only guess; just as the artist intended. In her own words: "To people attuned to my compositions, they may well be mirrors of their own experiences. It is because of this that I have left the explanation of the drawings completely to the viewer, so that they are not bound by my interpretation of what each picture should be."
During the artist's lifetime, over 200 of her works were published in the form of postcards. In 1977, a large-format book with forty color plates called The Fantastic Art of Sulamith Wulfing was published and edited by David Larkin (who also edited Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee). During the 1980s, a series of limited edition commemorative plates featuring Sulamith’s art were issued. Sulamith also created a series of illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen's story, "The Little Mermaid."
Early collections of her illustrations include Der Mond ift aufgegangen (The Moon Has Come Up), 1933; Christian Morgenstern, 1934; Die Truhe (The Chest), 1935; Der Leuchter (The Shining), 1936; Die Schwelle (The Threshold), 1937; and Die Kleine Seejungfrau (The Little Mermaid), 1953.
The Larkin book, plates, and postcards are now considered collectors' items - as are the original publications. However, some items featuring her artwork are still in print: boxed note card sets, oracle decks, journals, a yearly calendar called “Angel Spirits”, and a few illustrated books including Nature Spirits and The Little Mermaid.
Influence on Other Artists
The singer/songwriter Stevie Nicks credited Sulamith Wülfing's art with providing the inspiration for many of her songs, as well as the cover of her “The Wild Heart” album where the painting “Angel and Child” appeared. And in 2005 a concert video screen displayed Sulamith Wülfing art images during Stevie's Gold Dust tour.
In 1973, Pete Sinfield, former lyricist of progressive rock band King Crimson, used Sulamith’s painting “Big Friend” on the front cover of his first solo album, “Still”. He described the illustration as “reflecting his interest in the balance between fragility and power, clarity and illusion”.
In March 1989, at the age of 88, Sulamith Wulfing died. She had this to say about her work: "My drawings are a visual representation of my deepest feelings - pleasure, fear, sorrow, happiness, humor. For me it is not a matter of creating illustrations to fit nursery rhyme themes. My ideas come to me from many sources, and in such harmony with my personal experiences that I can turn them into these fairy compositions. My Angels are my consolers, leaders, companions, guards. And dwarfs often show me the small ironies and other things to make me smile even in life's most awesome events.”
To see more of Sulamith Wulfing fantastical paintings, visit http://wulfing.artpassions.net.
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