Monday 25 April 2011

An Erudite Eccentric and the Attraction of a Red Umbrella

I can't remember the first time that I saw her but I'd often noticed a rotund elderly lady. Usually dressed from head to toe in green and always accompanied by a multitude of bags. I was intrigued to find out her story when I saw the long rolled up papers that looked like maps or charts protruding from them. I'd see her in book shops, or sitting on a bench in Christchurch Meadow which is where I spotted her on Good Friday.

I was walking into town with a visiting friend enjoying the 25 degrees sunshine, shaded by a little red Japanese umbrella. It was the perfect day for promenading and conversation and so I smiled and said good morning. Attracted by my umbrella she asked it's origin and a conversation began. I discovered how much we had in common. But I suspect that this lady is so knowledgeable that she has a common interest with almost everyone.

One of the large sheets of paper was unfurled on her lap revealing lovely drawings of skeletal trees. Then she showed us her sketchbook, and her poetry, the small books that she sells in envelopes made from silk and a card designed for a student's wedding with little empty acorn cups that said 'Full Cups.' She told us a story of a party somewhere exotic, I can't remember where but it ended with people drinking champagne from acorn cups.

We talked about the trees that I draw and my inspiration from Omar-Khayyam and Persian miniatures, and Fitzgerald's translation in the Bodleian. She directed us to a book on Persian and Chinese mythology, and the symbolism of the mulberry tree, then told us about her project. The early mornings spent drawing trees in the Botanical and college gardens,lecturing for the remainder of the day.

She showed us a card of a delicate bird sitting on a tree who asked why we humans don't use our wings. I bought one with the acorns because it was simple and pretty, but mostly because I wanted to have some kind of contact with her. Her name, Zoe Peterssen was printed on the back with a little copyright symbol. I think she would have given the card to me but I also think she needed the money for her work.

She asked to see my drawings but seemed reticent to give any contact details, she told me where I can leave a message for her...Like a little bird M/s Peterssen has flown away and is happy to perch on the edges of society like a little plump starling observing nature and all that surrounds her...An inspirational woman.

image via


  1. What a lovely story ... and yes, an inspiration indeed.

  2. I'd love to draw her...she would be the perfect subject for a children's fairy tale surrounded by all her lovely trees...

  3. This is such a wonderful story, sensitively told. The world is made much richer just by the very presence of people like Zoe don't you think. I hope this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship...Love the umbrella by the way!

  4. Thank you Caz. I could have talked to Zoe for ages, she has a wealth of knowledge and is so creative too. I think she may be a little creative with her story telling as well but that only adds to her charm.

    I got the little umbrella in Florence on another really hot day....I burn so easily...and somehow can never find sun-hats that I like...