Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Rainbow Is a Bridge---Noah's Ark in Peter Spier's Picture Book

..bookS ON THE BRidge..

This wonderful, mostly wordless, picture book has long been a favorite of mine and I wanted to feature it on this site. The illustrator, Peter Spier, begins the story immediately as you open the book: the endpapers are filled with beautiful watercolor art and introduce the visual narrative of the story.  The art for the front endpapers, which is shown below, portrays the state of the world at the time of Noah. The wicked have ravaged the earth and a great army has destroyed an entire city. The fields are left desolate. Contrasted with this on the right page of the painting is an oasis of blessing for Noah and his family and flocks. At the bottom of the page are the words from the Bible: "...But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord."

front endpapers

The next page-spread, the half-title page, (not shown) illustrates Noah and his sons building a great boat in the middle of a large dry patch of earth. A caravan of camels laden with goods flows past the ark and a pack mule is being pulled down from off a ramp that leads up to the ark.  It seems to me that this prophetic mule knows what is coming and desires to be left to the ark. 

The title page is next, shown below, and it becomes clearer that the caravan from the previous page has brought foods, goods, and supplies to Noah for his great endeavor.  The ark is finished and Noah stands on a deck of the ark reaching upward as if he is checking for rain.

title page

The next illustration in the book shows the supplies being carried onto the ship and, on the right-hand page, there is an old Dutch poem entitled "The Flood" that has been translated by Peter Spier and was written by Jacobus Revius who lived 1586 to 1658. Here is an excerpt:

The Flood

High and long,
Thick and strong,
Wide and stark,
Was the ark.
Climb on board,
Said the Lord.
Noah's kin
Clambered in.
Cow and moose,
Hare and goose,
Sheep and ox,
Bee and fox...
Lynx and bear,
All were there.

The story flows wordlessly now to the very end of the narrative with page after page of beautiful watercolor paintings of the life and work of Noah, his family, and his animals.  One humorous small picture shows Noah gesturing away a swarm of bees only allowing two into the ark. Then the rain, the work, the waiting.  The work and the joy of the animals.  The rain, the water, the waiting....

In the poster below, which is based on the cover art for the book, Peter Spier paints a joyous scene of celebration for the animals. The deck of the ark is crowded with beasts that are out for some fresh air.  They are joined by creatures of the air and water, and are surrounded by flying, floating, swimming beasts of all descriptions. The only human presence is a line of clothing drying on the roof of the ark, waving like banners among the animals.

At the end of the story after the animals have left the ark there is another humorous painting which illustrates the tremendous mess that they must have left behind.

The story is completed on the endpapers which show Noah planting a vineyard with a large rainbow arching magnificently over his head. The rainbow is a symbol of the covenant between God and Noah. It is a symbol of the connection between deity and mankind that bridges our desires with God's blessings. The rainbow is a bridge.

Peter Spier

..bookS ON THE a series of articles on this site that will feature literature that includes bridges, actual or metaphorical.

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