woman from the valley to share the personal story of the children’s author | News

WILLIAMSPORT – British author and illustrator Beatrix Potter is best known for her highly successful children’s book, ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’. But there was a lot more to the woman behind this beloved tale, and on Thursday evening, March 31, local presenter Meg Geffken, will portray Potter and share some of her personal story, along with samples of her writing and writing. his art.

The presentation, which is free and open to the public, will take place at 7 p.m. in the Community Hall of the Thomas T. Taber Museum in Williamsport.

Gary Parks, the museum’s executive director, said the presentation was aimed at young children, but could also be nostalgic for those who grew up reading the Potter books, like Parks himself.

“I used to watch them at the local library,” he recalls, “and they were so nice and cute.”

Beloved animal characters, with human features, capture childhood imaginations: Peter Rabbit, Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, Jemima Puddleduck, Jeremy Fisher and more. The characters were undoubtedly formed from Potter’s upbringing in an upper-middle-class family. Educated by governesses, she lived an isolated life and turned to nature, where she found companions in the small animals she encountered.

Parks said he thought the presentation would be especially heartfelt this Easter. “It’s light, cute, sweet, and I think people will enjoy (Geffken’s) portrayal,” he said.

And maybe they’ll be inspired by her, just like Geffken was.

“The money she made from the books allowed her to buy her first farm,” Geffken said, and later, with her husband, they were able to buy 15 farms – well over 4,000 acres – in the purpose of preserving the Sawrey countryside. , England. Because she never had children, Potter’s assets were placed in the National Trust. Known locally as Mrs. Heelis (her husband’s surname), few identified her as the famous children’s writer of their time. When her fans reached out, Geffken said Potter turned down most of their requests, though she wrote letters to children, which she also illustrated.

Potter also had a scientific mind and particularly enjoyed drawing mushrooms, like mushrooms. She attempted to publish a botanical book, but was rejected by publishers because in the late 1800s, Geffken explained, it was “inappropriate” for women to draw and write anything scientific. . His work, however, was rediscovered and praised decades later in the 1970s.

Despite the obstacles she faced in a world dominated by male editors, Potter stayed true to her beliefs and found success. Geffken said Potter was adamant that children’s books contain bigger words that would encourage children to learn and grow. She also wanted the books to be the right size, so they could fit in a child’s hand.

Passion for the theater Geffken, from Columbia County, attended Northwestern University, where his teachers included Charlotte Lee and Lilla Heston, sister of Charleton Heston. There, Geffken took a course called “Letters and Journals,” which further ignited his passion for acting.

“It totally changed the way I looked at performance and understood characters,” she said.

Geffken then joined summer theater, which she loved, but then devoted her life to something a little safer: teaching. However, his upbringing and experience impacted his methods as an English teacher.

“I found that the students really connected more with the characters than they could understand the story or understand a writer – if they knew something personal about them,” she said. Many of his students even disguised themselves by doing a book report. Geffken also coached games. When she retired, she turned to portraying historical women, which she has done for the past 20 years for church groups, women’s clubs, college campuses and more. In addition to Potter, she has portrayed women like Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Clara Barton, Queen Victoria, and famous local woman, Abigail Geisinger.

“The older I get, the more I admire him,” she said. Geisinger was 85 when she founded the hospital.

“It’s all research-based,” Geffken said, “but my main research is their own writings — the letters they wrote, their journals, things like that.”

Geffken said she also tries to make the costumes as authentic as possible, basing them on photographs she has of the women.

Geffken said she hopes her audience gets to know Beatrix Potter better on Thursday and sees her not just as the “old lady” as many called her in her day, but as someone who was once young too and who knew how to relate. connect with the younger generation.

“He was someone who cared a lot about the kids,” Geffken said. “She wanted to communicate a story, and she used both her art and her language to do so.”

The Lycoming County Historical Society’s Thomas T. Taber Museum is located at 858 W. Fourth St. Parking is available behind the museum or along the street. For more information about this event and others, call 570-326-3326 or visit tabermuseum.org.

The museum will also host a free children’s workshop from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday in the Community Hall. The workshop is aimed at children aged 6-12 and includes creating bunny suncatchers for younger children and choosing one of three imaginative painted suncatchers for older children. Registration is encouraged to ensure an adequate supply.

Lola R. McClure