(Photo: My own tribute to Annie – here, she blesses the world with her Bible illustrations.)
I didn’t know her name until many years later, but a Swiss artist called Annie Vallotton played an important role in getting me interested and engaged in the Bible.
My story with Annie started when I was a child, when my parish church gave me a copy of the illustrated New Testament in “Français Courant” (contemporary French). It contained a real treasure in addition to the Gospel words – Annie’s 500+ rather modern and sober illustrations.
Our Sunday School teachers encouraged us to underline, highlight and write our comments on the text as we studied it. But what really caught our eyes were Annie’s drawings, which, in their simplicity, were perfect canvases for our young creative minds! We took our pens and pencils to them, adding details to bring out a certain aspect of the story. It’s true that not all our additions were biblical – we did add moustaches and sunglasses to some of the characters! But there’s no doubt that Annie’s illustrations helped us engage more deeply with the text.
A decade or two later I was working at the French Bible Society when a colleague came up with the idea of a project based on children’s natural urge to ‘complete’ Annie’s drawings! I thought it was a great idea! So, working closely with Annie, we developed a set of Scripture colouring books, which encouraged children to carefully read the Bible stories that went with each illustration, and add their ideas to the drawings. The books were accompanied by a teacher’s handbook. It was a hugely successful project and a very special one to me, personally.
As I got to know Annie, and had the privilege of working with her, I realised how much thought and prayer she put into each and every illustration, opening her soul to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As a result, even if we don’t take a pencil to them, our mind sees more in the illustrations than what Annie actually drew. And, having been involved in the publication of many millions of New Testaments containing her drawings, and using her work in Bible exhibitions and countless other settings, I have seen the powerful effect her work has on people.
Majestic and elegant
Almost half a century after her illustrations first appeared in the Good News Bible, thanks to the evolution of printing technology, Annie’s last and huge contribution was her drawings being printed in colour in a full colour Bible. It is a majestic and elegant piece of work, beautifully expressing the real love of Annie’s life: the Word of God.
(Annie Vallotton died in December 2013, aged 98. Click here to read more about Annie – one of the world’s best-selling artists.)