Something I enjoy about blogging is getting to know other bloggers. We form a friendship online, and sometimes we get the opportunity to meet in person. On occasion, I discover that someone I already know is a blogger. This happened with Alexandra Wallner, a woman I often see at the symphony and other musical events. I now find out she is the author of a delightful weekly blog – Sylvia Saltwater ( http://www.sylviasaltwater.com )
Alex, as she prefers to be called, was born in Germany after WWII, and at six years of age she immigrated with her family to the U. S. She found first grade torturous because she did not understand English. There were no learning assistance programs – everyone sank or swam – and she was sinking fast. Her father, a doctor working in tuberculosis sanatoriums, already knew several languages, and he came up with a way to improve his daughter’s “F” grades. He read comic books to her and his wife – words and pictures together – Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, Little Lulu, and Katy Keene became learning tools.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, there were fewer new TB cases, and the sanatoriums were closing. Alex told me that her family moved many times, but mostly to towns in upstate New York.
She attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N. Y. for her BFA, and was then accepted to the Tyler Institute of Art’s MFA program at Temple University in Philadelphia. But her mother passed away the summer between her senior year at Pratt and the start of the MFA program. Devastated by her loss, Alex decided to stay put. She knew and loved New York and had friends there who would support her.
Sitting in her first class, on the first day of her MFA studies at Pratt, serendipity stepped in. “I believe my mother was my angel,” she says, “I was wearing a silk dress and alligator pumps, and John sported a coat and tie. Nobody dressed like that in art school during the 1960’s.” Alex and John must have looked like a pair of swans in a pond of common ducks – they married three years later.
Once she finished her MFA, she worked as an associate art director for American Home Magazine and New Ingénue Magazines. And after a few years, she and John found themselves working together in their own place, Greywood Studios.
Collaborating on the illustrations for children’s books made their career. The comic books Alex’s father read to her left a deep impression, and in the 1990s, she started writing and illustrating her own works. Like wet cement sticking to Daisy Duck’s oversized shoes – a love for words and pictures together had firmly adhered to Alexandra Wallner’s alligator pumps.
(See samples of Alex’s books at: www.alexandrawallner.com )
Alex gets her inspiration from real life. She says that when she and John lived in Maine, they belonged to “probably one of the worst homeowner’s associations in the U. S. A.” The couple kept sane by making up humorous stories about Sylvia and Max Saltwater, a retired catering couple who believe they have moved to an upscale island community, only to find out it is anything but.
“It was rough living there,” says Alex, “but the place provided me with lots of material. I tell the story of Sylvia and Max in my as-yet-unpublished book, PINOCCHIO ISLAND.”
Eventually Alex and John left the USA and they now live in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. Every Wednesday she publishes a charming and insightful post, inspired by characters from her novel, but set in her new home. (You can see her latest one today)
Always enthused, Alex is now writing her memoir. She laughs, “I have old family photos and stories to go with them – more words and pictures together,” she laughs. Mornings find her painting angels. “Angels are needed in the world right now,” she states emphatically. That said, she peeks out from under her floppy hat and asks rhetorically, “Aren’t they always?”
“Merida is an excellent place for writers and painters,” says Alex. “The colors, the textures of the city, the warmth of the people, the music, the rich Mayan / Spanish culture all blend to stimulate creativity. Often artists and writers live in a vacuum and being able to mingle with other artistic people and those who support the arts is inspiring and stimulating.”
Alex and John have just celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary. Remembering how they met, she says, “We were two squares meant for each other” – like words and pictures together.