Edin Hajderovac Interview, Featuring Stefan Salinas' Book
The chair for the pope was the motive for the children's book in the United States?
We did not expect so much media attention. One American writer (Stefan Salinas) contacted us, and he sought out stories about religions, and he liked that we are Muslims, my grandfather pilgrims, and asked us to write a book about us. Thank God, this book saw the light of day, and I hope that this book is taught as a compulsory textbook in religious education in America.
Stolica za papu bila je motiv za dječiju knjigu u SAD-u?
Nismo očekivali toliku medijsku pažnju. Jedan američki pisac (Stefan Salinas) nas je kontaktirao, a on pravi priče o religijama, i svidjelo mu se što smo mi muslimani, moj je djed hadžija, te nas je zamolio da napiše knjigu o nama. Hvala Bogu, ta knjiga je ugledala svjetlo dana, a nadam se da će u tom dijelu Amerike uči kao obavezan udžbenik u vjeronauci.
Interview (in two parts) in the blog Radical Second Things:
Interview With Bay Area Catholic Author Stefan Salinas
I met Stefan unexpectedly last week while I was at the Bay Area Book Festival. I came across his two children's book - Catholic Churches Big and Small and A Muslim Family's Chair for the Pope - and instantly thought that both were a perfect match for Radical Second Things. I got copies of both and Stefan agreed to an interview. Hopefully it leads to more - he is perfect for this project!
- You told me when we met that you originally sought publication through Ignatius Press, a generally conservative Catholic publisher. What made you decide on self-publishing?
This was for my book on churches. They said, Hurray! They wanted to publish it, and they even sent me a long questionnaire to answer. I had a graphic novel for a much different audience out at the time, so I simply asked them if I could use a pseudonym for the kid’s book. The next day I received a cold rejection. “With the new information you provided to us regarding your other novels, our editors feel that your body of work does not match with our style here at Ignatius Press. Even with a pseudonym, they feel that your two different types of books cannot be separated from one another. Since your graphic novels are not in line with the perspective of Ignatius Press, it cannot publish Catholic Churches Big and Small.”
Furthermore, I was told they would not answer any questions about this. I thought this was a bit odd since the bios they do feature on their children’s book authors are very, very brief, and none have URL’s or links to more of their work. Some kid’s book listings on their sight don’t even mention the author’s name at all! Humf!
So after having sent the book proposal to quite a number of agents and other publishing houses, I looked into self-publishing, just so the baby could finally get to be born. The advantage of that was I have gotten to learn a bit about the nuts and bolts of the process, and it gave me full control of the final product. And hey, the Archdiocese of San Francisco purchased copies for all of their grammar schools, and it sells well at the Cathedral, and at fares and events.
The next book, A Muslim Family’s Chair for the Pope, was also almost picked up by a large publisher, this time Loyola Press. I knew this topic would be a harder sell, as religious children’s book literature is NOT the realm to bust out with any boldly new and potentially controversial ideas. I was happy when Loyola expressed initial interest, as they are one of the only Catholic presses with picture books that seem to have anything to do with the 21st Century. We were in dialogue for a year’s timewhile I was still working on the illustrations. In the end, the editors kept running into a question they could not seem to answer, “What Muslim or Catholic parents would actually buy this book?”
In the words of Tracy Chapman, if not now, then when? Rising tensions here and abroad compelled me to move forward with publishing. It has just been featured in a Catholic summer reading list by a contributor to Catholic News Service (it is not on their site yet, but has appeared on a few other sites). Of the nine books selected, mine is the only self-published one!
(A note from Orion - I had a really similar experience when working for a transcription company last year. Despite great ratings, so good I put them on a resume, I was informed I was fired abruptly and told that no response would get an answer.)
- Why did you call your imprint Camelopardalis?
Somewhere there is a photograph of me as a toddler, holding one of my first toys: a plastic giraffe. I have always loved them – so elegant and unique. They have become a sort of personal totem animal for me; a symbol of my highest self (ha-ha). When I learned that there is a constellation, Camelopardalis, in the shape of one, the image of a giraffe reaching up to the stars popped into my head.
- The art in both “Catholic Churches: Big and Small” and “A Muslim Family’s Chair for the Pope” blended the very simple with complex depictions of things like cathedrals. How did you balance this?
One of my influences is the Author and illustrator David Macaulay, who has built his career on creating very detailed, educational children’s books about buildings, houses of worship and cities. For my churches book, I didn’t want to insult the tots’ intelligence with simple, Hallmark card-looking cartoons of churches, nor did I want to present just generic architectural forms. My goal was to share with readers that which excites me about religious art and architecture, and that meant drawing from actual sources and depicting them with as much passion as I feel for them, if that makes any sense. And since they are made of all sorts of materials, I wanted the paint, ink and colored pencil to best translate this. As for the human characters and the rest of the settings, their duty was to charm us and lead us on this delightful journey, so I felt a playful approach would be more effectively endearing. Think of animated films throughout history, where the cartoon characters appear atop more realistically rendered sets.
For the Muslim/Chair/Pope book, my goal was to spotlight the Hajderovac’s craftsmanship, so I was a bit more conservative with my approach to depicting the people. They do have figures carved in their designs, and I wanted my figures to be complimentary to them. I imagined the drawings of the wood products to look like a carpenter’s drawings for such pieces to later carve. Penciling them in brown tones, while painting everything else with black lines and colors, the effect was to make their craftsmanship (as it is the focus of the book) stand out. And I have to admit, I love, love, love the miniature paintings from the Persian and Mughal courts in India. As they are the best example of representational (humans, in particular) art in Muslim paintings, I thought it fitting to give a nod in their direction.
- How did you become aware of the story of the Muslim craftsman who built a chair for the Pope?
Through hours of Google searches! After determining that the silly peace narrative I made up about Muslims and Catholics was too preachy and bland, I looked to the internet for a true and recent inspirational story out there. Something kid-friendly. They hit the international news when the chair was only partially complete, and I caught up with it in April of 2015 (the chair was finished that June). The Lord sure knows how to engage us.
As a lover of religious art, and a person who has been fortunate enough to have been able to make things to be installed in churches, finding this interfaith story about artists who make things for mosques and churches - well can you not see how it’s as if the Holy spirit thought, “Now this story needs to be told to younger generations to come, but who exactly shall I choose for the job?”
- Which churches were your favorite to depict in either book?
For the first book, I do favor modern churches, especially since they are almost never included in children’s literature. As the churches are all located in San Francisco, I have worshipped in some and often pass by others day after day, so they have become architectural friends and acquaintances.
How does one choose a favorite? I do so love the bold statement the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption’s form makes. The stained glass from St. Vincent de Paul was a pure joy to paint, but see I took RCIA and was baptized there, so how can I separate the window’s exquisite beauty from my fond memories of the space?
As for the second book, my choices were limited to the actual structures in Zavidovici and Sarajevo. There’s something positive, formal and approachable about St. Joseph’s church, so that would be my pick. Yellow churches are like sunshine to me. Think of St. Anne’s of the Sunset in San Francisco. Yes it is a tall, imposing structure, but the peach paint softens its personality, as if it is saying, “Hello, please feel free to step inside.”
- What was the reception like toward your work at the Bay Area Book Festival?
Being that it was my first BABF, I am not sure what constitutes a good year from a leaner one. The “Family Activities Zone” as Milva Street was named, featured mostly independent authors, and I think we did pretty well collectively. The experience was worth it.
- interview by Michael
Review from Catholic News Service, appearing in Catholic Philly, (Philadelphia Archdiocese), The Visitor (St. Cloud, MN), & Catholic Courier (Rochester, NY):
This summer explore nature, poetry, saints with new children’s books
By Regina Lordan • Catholic News Service • Posted June 5, 2017
“A Muslim Family’s Chair for the Pope: A True Story from Bosnia and Herzegovina”
by Stefan Salinas.
Camelopardalis (San Francisco, 2017).
48 pp., $16.99.
How did a Muslim carpenter from a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina come to make the chair for the papal Mass during Pope Francis’ visit there in 2015? A brave idea, a skilled worker and more than 2,000 hours of hard work led to a collaborative masterpiece. Written from the perspective of Salim Hajderovac, the cheerful and humble carpenter, this book is a wonderful story about interreligious teamwork. Working closely with his good friend the local parish priest, Hajderovac’s brazen idea came to fruition. Within the context of a true story, children will learn a few basic truths about Catholicism and Islam. Ages 6-10.
(Ok, so the reviewer confused my identity with Salim's... It's all good!)
Nonfiction: The Buzz on Bees, Dipping into Chocolate | June 2017 Xpress Reviews
SALINAS, Stefan. A Muslim Family’s Chair for the Pope: A True Story from Bosnia and Herzegovina. illus. by Stefan Salinas. 50p. Camelopardalis. Jan. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780998608808.
Gr 3-5 –Salinas begins this personal narrative with an introduction to his family of woodworkers, his country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and his Muslim faith. While there are mostly amicable relations between Muslims and Christians in his village, his country overall has a long history of conflict between members of these two groups. This truth underscores the significance of Salinas’s story. When Pope Francis planned a visit to the capital city of Sarajevo in 2015, Salinas’s carpentry workshop was selected to design and craft a beautiful wooden chair to honor him. Although Salinas was initially hesitant to dive right in (“As a Muslim making a chair for the Catholic Pope, am I crazy?”), he recognized that loyalty to his own faith was in no way sacrificed by creating an object of beauty for another set of beliefs (“By making this gift…perhaps I am building a bridge.”). The text does meander a bit before concluding with the pope’s arrival and use of the chair during mass. Salinas’s color pencil, ink, and acrylic illustrations are expressive and communicate much of the text well. VERDICT A heartfelt story that simply conveys the importance of positive interfaith relations. An addition purchase for large collections.–Gloria Koster, West School, New Canaan, CT
The Path to Writing a Children’s Book About Muslims and Christians
“This is ecumenical; this is sorely needed in our world today,” said the lady at the gift shop at the cathedral, in San Francisco where I reside. “Pilgrims look at the cover, notice the Arabic script and crescent moon, and recoil. But once I read the title to them — you know, actually read the book — what a concept, right? — They then relax… At least a little bit.”
I added, “And Pope Francis just visited Egypt, for crying out loud. We were all on our knees praying that he wouldn’t be blown to bits, but forward he went, with faith…” Read more
Edin, one of the carpenters, holding a copy of my Muslim-Chair-Pope book, about his family.
The story of the Bosnian Muslim family which in 2015 made a chair for Pope Francis on the occasion of his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina will become a major part of American children's books. February 7, 2017 by MARIO VRANJEŠ
The story of the Bosnian Muslim family which in 2015 made a chair for Pope Francis on the occasion of his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina will become a major part of American children's books.
In San Francisco, the author Stefan Salinas will publish a book, "A Muslim's Family Chair for the Pope." The story follows Salim and only Hajderovac, father and son from Zavidovići who have made a chair for Pope Francis.
Salinas idea is that the book is primarily for children from Catholic families to form a better understanding of, and learn the importance of getting to know people of different cultures.
"I am sensitive to the various stories of other faiths, cultures and people that they generalize," said Salinas, a Texas-born parishioner in a church community. He therefore decided to find a story in which people of different faiths worked together, and hearing all the buzz about the Hajderovac family, contacted them via Skype.
Salinas thinks the the Pope's chair was "divinely inspired" and notes that the work of the family has been blessed by the leadership of the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the Vatican.
Parishioner-artist publishes book about Muslim carpenters’ gift to Pope Francis
February 7th, 2017
By Christina Gray
A book for children about a pair of Muslim carpenters chosen by the Vatican to make a chair for Pope Francis for his visit to war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina in the summer of 2015 will be released in March by San Francisco author and artist Stefan Salinas.
“A Muslim Family’s Chair for the Pope” is the true story of Salim Hajderovac and Edin Hajderovac, father and son woodworkers known for the religious carvings including crosses they produce from their shop in the town of Zavidovici in central Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Salinas, a convert to Catholicism in 2012, was inspired to write the book, his second, to help readers – children and the adults who may read it to them – appreciate people of other cultures and faiths instead of fear them.
“My ear is a little sensitive to when people talk about other religions, cultures or people with generalizations,” Salinas told Catholic San Francisco. The transplanted Texan, now a parishioner at Most Holy Redeemer Parish, says it’s all too easy to do. “What I’ve heard people say about Texans or Californians is not always true.”
Salinas went online to search for examples of both faiths working together and came upon a story in a Bosnian paper about the Hajderovac family, Muslims who hand-carve devotional objects for both Christians and Muslims. The carpenters were among many who vied for an unpaid opportunity offered by the Vatican to make a chair for Pope Francis’ visit to Sarajevo on June 6, 2015.
Making contact with and communicating with the carpenters about his idea of a book was itself a story of divine providence and cultural goodwill.
Salinas emailed an Islamic community of Bay Area Bosnians in San Jose for help and a woman originally from a neighboring town managed to produce the carpenters’ website and email address.
A Facebook contact led to another neighbor now working as a baker in Los Angeles. He helped coordinate and translate a three-way Skype call between Salinas and the carpenters to discuss the book idea and has continued to act as a bridge between them.
Through that same translator, the carpenters told Catholic San Francisco that their offer to make a chair for the pope received not just a blessing from Muslim leaders but encouragement. Their proposal was then taken to the Vatican where the pope himself “gave us his blessings.”
The chair for the pope from BiH motive for child book in the US
Al Jazeera Balkans February 7, 2017 by Malden Obrenovic
Children in America will get the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the book about Salim Hajderovac and his family who have made a chair for Pope Francis.
The story of the life and work of the Hajderovacs, carpenters from Zavidovici for a visit by Pope Francis Sarajevo two years ago made the chair on which the head of the Roman Catholic Church rested, became the main motive of the book for American children.
Children's writer Stefan Salinas from San Francisco is soon to publish a book titled: “A Muslim Family's Chair for the Pope” it is in a way, a children from Christian families, a story about the importance of getting to know the other and different cultures, peoples, religions.
"I'm glad it was when the man answered. He found out about us through the story from the media, call us and we started talking. Through Skype we explained how we came up with the idea, as we all do, and what significance this story not only for us but for the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also people of different faiths, "said Edin Hajderovac Al Jazeera.
The idea for a unique venture Edin and his father Salim came suddenly, as soon as they heard the news of Pope Francis coming to Sarajevo, one of the most important and the most popular people of the world in which we live. They wanted to make a ceremonial chair for moments of rest during their stay in the capital city of BiH. And that they did.
Since then, the last two years, and word spread, even to the west coast of America.
"It's such a beautiful story and I am glad that there are still positive echo although much time has passed since we made the chair. It was not only the honor of the Pope, nor us, but even more than that. We could not imagine such a positive reaction, not only in the media but also person to person. Everything is positive and we have not heard any negative words, "continued Edin.
This book is important in the difficult times that have befallen us all, says Edin Hajderovac
The author himself confesses that he is "sensitive to a variety of stories about other faiths, cultures and people who generalize them," quoted bh. Media, so he decided to find a story in which people of different faiths working together.
"I am pleased that we have someone who has decided to make a children's book was an inspiration, but it is especially important that it be a book for children. The author, father and I agreed that the positive, smarter and better to make a book for children because they will be so close to the reality of the young ones, especially that there are other and different, but that we need to help each other because we are all, in the end, only people " , witness Edin.
The author explained that the book will go into use in the schools where they will be used as a teaching tool in the cases studied religious facilities.
"It's better and more beautiful than to write a whole book, especially in these difficult times passing Muslims not only in America but also elsewhere in the world," says Edin Hajderovac.
Finally, one more beautiful message left in the world from Zavidovici. The work of two masters of the Muslim faith, the son and grandson of Hajj Suleiman Hajderovac, who have done honor to the religious head of Catholics will be something that will be talked about and in many American homes.
Source: Al Jazeera
New Marian mural adorns Church of the Visitacion
May 8, 2015
San Francisco artist Stefan Salinas created new devotional artwork to adorn the facade of Church of the Visitacion in the city’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood. With manufacturing and construction by Tile Mural Creative Arts, Jesus Lara and Miguel Campos, “The Mural of the Visitation” was ceremonially blessed April 26 after the 5 p.m. Vietnamese-language Mass. Salinas shared these images and a description of the project with Catholic San Francisco. The pastor of the parish is Father Thuan V. Hoang.
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Luke 1:39-45: Mary Visits Elizabeth
Here we have a printed tile mural proposal to accompany a very modern church structure. What ceramic and pottery adornments outside church buildings have we to look to for inspiration? Very striking examples can be found in Italy, and date from the 15th century: the glazed terra cotta works of Luca della Robbia. With the gentle, classically posed figures and compositions, glazed in palettes usually limited to two to five colors, the tableaus sit well with tradition and yet are bold and easy to read from a distance. I felt that referencing clayware for porcelain tile work was apropo. Plus, employing the European technique of trompe de l’oeil and having the pop art movement of the 1960s somewhere in my mind (since the church that stands today was erected in the 1950s, with windows made within the next few decades) – it all came together.
And now for the rest of the elements:
God the Father is represented by the Eye of God at the upper left corner, shining down upon Mary. The sun is backing the triangle, as there are many references to Christ, God and the Holy Spirit as being sun-like. To the right is the starry sky, with the Star of Bethlehem shining brightly.
Across the top, starting from the corner of the Eye of God (Have you heard the saying “when you were just a twinkle in your father’s eye”?) are seven spheres = the seven days of creation. Each is divided into more sections, and the sphere’s increase in size, alluding to a human embryo developing, and traveling through the fallopian tube.
White roses = Mary’s purity.
Easter lilies: In early Christian art, the Angel Gabriel offers pure white lilies to the Virgin Mary, and this symbolizes that she will be the mother of Jesus. Purity; hope; life; Easter.
Daffodils = Eternal life; the resurrection.
Egg-and-dart motif in the frame: It is a pattern that has been in use from ancient Greek times, through the Renaissance and to the present day. It is a classical design celebrating life and death; the life cycle.
The tiles are made of very durable porcelain, kiln-fired at 1,800 degrees, able to withstand the elements for decades to come, and were manufactured by Tile Mural Creative Arts, out of Calabasas. They make the tiles featured in the Monastery Icons catalog. Amid the blood, sweat and tears, working on this image has been a true blessing.
– Stefan Salinas
Convert commissioned to paint new school mural
Convert commissioned to paint new school mural
August 14, 2015
Stefan Salinas’ signature style as an illustrator, seen last year after the publication of his children’s book, “Catholic Churches, Big and Small,” is turning heads instead of pages this time with a whimsical wall mural outside of St. Philip the Apostle School at 24th and Diamond streets in Noe Valley. Pastor Father Tony LaTorre commissioned Salinas, a friend and parishioner at Most Holy Redeemer, to paint the mural showing an academic procession led by “‘faith” and the Holy Spirit. Salinas’ collaboration with Father LaTorre is not the first one. Salinas designed and donated a large stained-glass depiction of St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio for the parish chapel last year.
Included in the colorful scene are little historical, religious, regional and personal details, such as Father LaTorre’s “Scotty” dog and a Giants baseball (the pastor loves the Giants). There are golden poppies, symbolizing California, and shamrocks, a nod to the largely Irish congregation led by a redheaded altar girl who is stepping on a snake, a symbol of the triumph over Satan. Architectural details include the Golden Gate Bridge, Mission Dolores, St. Philip Church and St. Mary’s Cathedral.
New York Review of Books - Independent Press Listings
Book Review: Catholic Churches Big and Small
A few months ago a lovely book called Catholic Churches Big and Small arrived on my doorstep. The book is a richly illustrated story about two children their father and a nun who go visiting many different Catholic churches. The tour consists of taking the children to old churches, modern churches, small churches and cathedrals. Along the way the children learn about things they will see inside a Catholic church and the ways in which these sacred spaces are utilized by the faithful.
The story itself is simply told in a way that is just right for young children. Most pages only have a line or two of text which is great for kids with short attention spans, but more importantly, the minimal text leaves more room for discussing the gorgeous illustrations found throughout this book. I really don't think I can say enough about the illustrations to do them justice. They're simply beautiful and many are filled with lots of vivid color that will catch the eyes of young children. The churches illustrated in this book are all part of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and they're listed in an index at the end of the book. If I lived anywhere near this Archdiocese I'd certainly want to go and visit some of these churches after reading this book and looking at these gorgeous illustrations.
My three year old and I have read through this book many times and she's always pointing out the things that she recognizes from church and she will ask questions about the pictures. Sometimes she just likes to sit and page through the book and look at her favorite pictures, which are usually the most colorful pages.
This book is really a lovely way to teach young children in the 3-8 year old range about the various items you will find inside a Catholic church. I am looking forward to sharing this book with my kindergarten religious education class. I know they'll enjoy learning about the things they see in church and I'm sure they're going to love the pictures as much as my younger daughter does. I'd absolutely recommend this book if you're looking for something to teach your child about the items he or she sees in the church. With this book, you could very easily bring it with you on a visit to your church and ask your child to find some of the items listed in the book in your church, such as the altar, the tabernacle, holy water fonts and so forth.
The one and only complaint I have about this book is the paper used for the pages is a bit too thin for my liking. I think a sturdier paper would ensure that the book will be able to withstand children paging through it often.
I was provided with a review copy of this book by the author in exchange for my honest review. You can order a copy of this book from Amazon.
The beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., or a simple country church attract those who enter, introducing them to the grandeur of God. Stefan Salinas’s book, “Catholic Churches Big and Small” (Camelopardalis, $15.29), introduces even the youngest child to the varied beauty of Catholic parishes with illustrations that will delight the oldest reader. Two children and their father are taken on a tour by a nun, where they see both very traditional churches with elaborate décor and modern, minimalist churches. Through the diversity of the churches they encounter, they are taught, along with the reader, about the common elements of all churches. In straightforward language, the basic fl oor plan of a church and its furnishings are shown, from the rose windows, baptistery and bell towers, to the holy water font, paschal candle and tabernacle. Salinas’s lovely illustrations capture both the immense beauty of the whole and the charming details. Features such as chandeliers, Stations of the Cross and the ambry are emphasized; these details may prompt the older child to question the purpose of each object and to locate the objects in his own parish church. Images and sculptures of holy men and women, unique to particular churches, also are displayed. Salinas recreates tile mosaics, banners and tapestries of biblical and historical scenes. These images include a sculpture of Jesus carrying loaves and fi shes, a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a stained glass window of the wedding at Cana. Each drawing is from the Diocese of San Francisco, which consists of an array of churches — big and small, Gothic and missionary, traditional and modern. Through the variety and range of the churches Salinas presents, the variation within the church is displayed; the common elements in all churches point to the universality of the faith. Through the illustrations, the child encounters both the diversity and unity of the Catholic Church. The nearly 50 pages may intimidate some parents, but the pictures will prove captivating for a 3-year-old. The precise, plain language makes the simple story accessible to the young child, while allowing for the illustrations to remain central. The unique introduction to churches is highly recommended for elementary-age children.
Anamaría Scaperlanda Biddick is a freelance writer for the Sooner Catholic.
I've got a birthday coming up this month, so over the next couple of weeks, I'm pleased to be able to offer you, my dear readers, some hobbit-style birthday presents in honor of the occasion. First up: a book and a fine art print!
I am really excited today to introduce you all to a lovely little picture book that I'm pleased to have in our home. Catholic Churches Big and Small by Bay Area artist and Catholic convert Stafan Salinas is unlike any other book in our family's collection. The illustrations are detailed yet whimsical. The story is entertaining yet informative. Each page is a little work of art.
I liked it so much, I asked Stefan if he'd answer a few questions for us today. And he agreed. So here comes my first ever blog interview with someone who does NOT live in my house.
First, thank you for creating your book, Catholic Churches Big and Small . We've had it here for a couple of weeks now and my kids love looking at it. You've found a good balance of entertainment and information.
From your website, it appears that you have "real" artist credentials. What made you want to create a children's book?
I have been sending picture-book proposals to publishers, little by little, for almost twenty years. The first ones make me wince -they are so bland! Attending author/illustrator conferences and taking classes on children’s books has helped with my development, but what taught me the most has been reading lots of picture books and listening to authors’ interviews. To me, a children’s book is like a mini exhibition of paintings, or a small movie. They engage our imagination and sense of wonder about the world. The best books speak to children and adults alike, with a deep simplicity. My hope was that this book would appeal to children, along with their older siblings, parents, grandparents, teachers, clergy… everyone. And so I am delighted to learn that children and adults like it!
How long did the book take to complete? Which part took longer, the writing or the illustrating?
It took almost two years to create. A few summers ago, on weekends and days off, I visited churches with my camera and sketchbook. Little by little, between a retail job and other projects, it took shape. Once I decided to self-publish, I kept my nose to the grindstone after work, almost daily for over three months. Each illustration took one to three evenings to produce, which doesn’t take into account figuring out the compositions and choosing the right images to depict. The writing made me nervous, for visual art is my strong suit. I rounded up a friend to edit it and a few priests to check it for ecumenical accuracy and advice. The paintings took the longest.
One of my favorite things about the Catholic Church is how, well, catholic it is. I love that there are so many different kinds of saints, from so many different backgrounds. Men and women, rich and poor, married and single, famous and obscure. Do you have a personal favorite saint?
Yes, I love the variety! What did James Joyce famously say about us? “Here comes everybody.” I must admit, I admire qualities in many saints, but find it difficult to pray to any one in particular, besides Mary. The mystical ones intrigue me, like St. Hildegard of Bingen. Those individuals trying to balance the traditions of their day with fantastic messages they receive from the Holy Spirit, and are deemed insane because of them.
You show us in your book that there is a similar variety in physical Catholic churches. They are big and small, humble and grand, but they all get the job done. Do you have a favorite among the churches you've illustrated in the book? Did you visit them all, or did you draw them from photographs?
A favorite church? Oh boy, that’s a tough one. I even like churches I don’t like, if that makes any sense. Do you see why I had to write this book? Currently, St. Paul’s is my favorite. It was the one featured in the movie Sister Act, and is nestled in Noe Valley. It’s tall, pointed spires quite strikingly take command of the neighborhood, like antelope or gargoyle horns. And the body of the building is a thick, stone fortress. Once inside, you are surrounded by a regal setting, full of delicate details. Gold stenciling, painted portraits… But I also love, love, love the deep blues in the windows of St. Vincent de Paul. I could swim in that ocean for hours.
It was important for me to personally visit every church, with open eyes and an open heart. I believe I got to notice things many parishioners may not see anymore, and outsiders know not of. I live in San Francisco, and since there is a fairly good variety of architectural styles here, this city seemed perfect. Books tell kids about St. Peter’s in Rome and other grand sites in exotic locations, but what about the value of their own neighborhood church? They too are special, and are here to help serve the families’ spiritual needs.
Were you raised Catholic? Or did you convert? Or both?
My parents raised me in the Modern Spiritualist tradition. Then, after college, I joined the Unitarian Universalists. Although I originally dreamt up this book idea five years ago, I didn’t convert to Catholicism until 2011. I truly believe this project was one of the devices God used to draw me closer to Him. From clerical mentors, to Catholic volunteer work, to “coincidences beyond coincidence”…
Is your book self-published, or did you have a traditional publisher? Why did you choose to publish it in the way you did? Would you recommend doing it that way to others?
I sent this book proposal to publishers far and wide. One major house accepted it, then changed their mind a few days later. It was then when I decided this baby needed to get out into the world by hook or by crook, so I looked into self-publishing. It is too early for me to recommend either road to anybody else, but either way, an author still has a lot of footwork to do. At least with self-publishing, I am gaining an understanding of the nuts and bolts of the business, instead of simply letting somebody else figure it out. Now that I’m building an audience, a “platform”, I am beginning to send the book out to publishers again. Who can beat their lower production costs and wider distribution?
You have generously offered to give away a copy of your book and a fine art print to one lucky winner among my readers! What can you tell us about this print?
I designed Communion in 2010. This giclée print has gold paint detailing. Some spiritual healers claim that their hands warm up when they perform a laying on of hands, so Christ’s hands are red. Also, the red in His hands and white of His garment are reflected in the red wine and white host. He speaks, and the Holy Spirit flies out of His mouth. This was influenced by a famous sculpture of a Buddhist priest, who’s chanting is depicted as a line of tiny monks marching out of his mouth. Christ’s body is like an hour glass. He is with us and within us, during all of our life, from generation to generation, and He is eternal, just as the hour glass can be turned over again and again. His eyes stare at us intently, like the figures do in Ethiopian icons. Other influences include the sculptures by Benny Bufano and the graphic works of Virginia Broderick.
Thanks for your time!
Thank you for this opportunity, and for all your hard work with Catholic All Year!
You'll find more information about Stefan's book: Catholic Churches Big and Small, including more illustrations, and some Easter eggs to find inside the book (including Pope Francis' 1984 Renault 4), at the book's blog.
You can see more of Stefan's art at his website.
You can buy his book at Amazon . (Affiliate link alert.)
But one of you won't have to, because ONE of you will WIN a copy, along with a beautiful, high-quality giclée print of Communion (pictured above). All you have to do to win is leave a comment telling Stefan the name of YOUR favorite church.
I will randomly select one winner, to be announced in a blog post NEXT Wednesday, September 17th. Please make sure your blogger comment profile is hooked up to an email address, so I can also email you if you're the winner!
Linking up with Jessica at Housewifespice for What We're Reading Wednesday!