Wee Folk Tales Illustrated

Kristín Linnet from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures spoke to artist Annalisa Salis about her forthcoming exhibition Storie di terra at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

Wee Folk Tales is a ground-breaking collection of stories by Donald Smith, TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) director and founding director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre. This collection includes 18 Scottish tales about the wee folk or the little people (not to be called fairies), such as ‘The Selkie Bride’ and ‘The Black Bull’. First of it’s kind, these tales are written in Scots, the language variety spoken in Scotland, particularly the Lowlands. Smith collected and published these tales as he felt there was a lack of classic, unaltered versions of these stories, previous publications being either contemporary, comic adaptions or academic, ethnographic transcriptions. When collecting these stories, Smith met with various Scottish storytellers, and his tales are affected by the people he heard the stories from. Being a storyteller himself, Smith also told and performed the stories for others. In the spirit of that, the main intention of this collection is for people to read the stories and re-tell them to others. The book has been a long time in the works and is undoubtedly a good addition in the bookcase of admirers of folk tales, and those interested in Scotland and its folklore.

Sardinian artist Annalisa Salis made the illustrations that accompany the tales. Her depictions of the stories are clean and straightforward and focus on the smaller details of the tales. When she began working on the project, Salis decided not to draw any human characters; so, the illustrations include animals, nature and objects of various kinds instead. An example of that is the sketch for the story Johnnie and the Mermaid. The story tells of a fisherman who finds a mermaid’s comb, meets its owner and marries her; the accompanying illustration shows the decorated mermaid’s comb. Salis did a lot of research for her work, for example studying the behaviour of hares in March and looking at a heart decorated spade in a Glasgow museum.

After her work on the illustrations for the Scottish folk tales, Salis turned her focus towards tales from Sardinia in Italy, her homeplace. Initially thinking not many Sardinian tales existed, Salis managed to collect 18 tales and worked on finding connection to the Scottish tales. The connection, according to her, is not always obvious; the stories are not all the same but can share various motifs such as the kidnapping or killing of infants by either little people or vampire women. As with the Scottish tales, Salis made illustrations for these tales, again focusing on the details and non-human characters or objects.

From 7 April to 27 May, Salis’ illustrations will be on show at the Scottish Storytelling centre; an exhibition titled Storie di Terra. The name derives from the nature in those stories, Earth as a place as well as soil. This exhibition will focus on the illustrations, assigned into 8-9 groups depending on common themes and motifs. Limited information will be included to guide visitors, as Salis wants guests to use their own imagination, although a program will be included in the exhibition, giving guests some idea of the connection between the stories in each group.