German-born author, painter to inspire creativity in Lanesboro residents
Wednesday, July 02, 2014 3:54 AM
The Lanesboro Summer Reading Program holds many exciting opportunities for the residents of the community. One of these is the chance to visit with German-born Agnes Maria Trifontaine.
Author, artist and poet Agnes Maria Trifontaine will be featured at Beste Byen in Lanesboro on July 17 and July 18. Her paintings are currently on display in the Beste Byen gallery. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Trifontaine will be visiting with Lanesboro residents on Thursday, July 17, at 6 p.m. and Friday, July 18, at 4 p.m. in the Beste Byen gallery in Lanesboro. She will be reading her poetry and showcasing some of her paintings.
She is a writer, painter and poet who grew up in Munich, Germany, after World War II. Times were trying during that period with the reconstruction of a war-torn country that was divided between the United States and the Soviet Union.
As she grew up, she developed a love and appreciation for books.
"Books were my escape," she said. "If I had not had books, I don't know what I would have done."
Primarily a writer, Trifontaine began writing at 10 years of age. Since German is her native language, she initially wrote in German and had several of her stories published in Germany at a young age.
Years later, she came to the United States where she eventually married an American citizen, finally settling in Vasa, Minn. She began to learn how to write in English.
"Starting to write in English was a painful process in itself. I knew how to write well in German. I needed to learn how to write well in English," Trifontaine said.
As time went on, she succeeded in learning how to write in the English language.
"Now I can translate my books into German," she declared.
Her most well-known works are a series of books featuring two young girls named Gitta and Pompom who are "detectives." Each book is like a little novel in itself. Gitta is half German and half American. Pompom is all German and the more adventurous of the two. While working to solve mysteries, Pompom is determined to be the best detective ever. As the series of four books progresses, both girls become more educated. Eventually, Pompom goes to the same university as Gitta, earning her money to pay for the schooling through her detective work.
Adding to the multicultural flavor of the story, each book is focused on a different culture. Beginning in Germany, the girls travel to the Czech Republic and Austria. In the fifth and upcoming book, they have made it to Japan.
Incorporating all these different ways of life into her books dictated experience immersed in those cultures. Trifontaine has lived and studied in each of the countries and places at some point in her lifetime.
But why does she focus on children? That answer goes back to her own childhood.
"I am on a mission for children to understand that they matter. If they are talented, they need to be supported. I was not when I was a child. Kids are my business," she stated.
Many years ago, as a child, she took a class on painting. At the time she was supposed to paint a flower. Due to her inquisitive and creative mind, however, she deviated from that goal and painted a story. Unfortunately, rather than complimenting her for her progress and creativity, the teacher told her she was no good and had no ability.
This criticism remained with her for years to come. She did not dabble in painting again until she started painting as a career when she was in her 40s because of this experience, though she still primarily writes.
While still in Germany, her books sold successfully.
"I do not understand marketing, but I did sell books. I sold a quarter of a million books back in Germany," she said.
The legacy she left with those books caught up with her in, of all places, Japan. One day she met a young German girl in Tokyo. Upon inquiring who Trifontaine was, the girl told her she had all of the books and loved them.
Trifontaine loves sharing herself with children. And her favorite part of writing is seeing her characters come to life.
"It seems like they are waiting. I can't deviate because they know exactly what they want to be," she said.
Though most of her attention is focused on children's books, she is also a poet and a novelist. She has written many poems, but only some of them are published. And she is working on publishing a full-blown novel she has been writing for the past 35 years.
"I probably have rewritten the novel about 20 times," she laughed. "It might be a record."
Much of her work comes from seeing something beautiful and involving a more complex story behind it.
"It is a continuing process in my head. If I see something beautiful, I want to record it in paint, poem or story. I am very much in love with beauty in any form. And it does not have to be pretty," she stated. "I love dealing with color. It is great relaxation and its fun to see life show up in the background while I am painting even if I didn't intend it to happen."
In her view, the artist in each person will walk away with their own story for the art. Her hope is to teach children, parents and grandparents that human beings are creative, so they ought to be creative.
Trifontaine does this through events where she demonstrates her exhibits, signs her books and reads them to children and adults in certain businesses, generally because someone she knew referred her to the business. This is where Lanesboro comes in.
One day, not long ago, Trifontaine became acquainted with a woman in the hospital. As she described her books and what she did as an artist, the woman excitedly told her of Lanesboro. Through this woman, Trifontaine connected with Jennifer Kimbel-Olsen at Beste Byen and arranged for an exhibit to be displayed in Lanesboro.
Trifontaine currently has several of her paintings hanging in Beste Byen's gallery and in July, she will be gracing the town with her presence for a Literary Tea. There she will talk about being a writer and how to write children's books. She will also read poetry and talk about her paintings.
For her, though she is not really familiar with marketing procedures, she longs to market more for her children's books. Her hope is to create a blog where Gitta and Pompom can talk directly to kids.
"I enjoy talking to the kids and listening to them. I once got this darling note from a little girl about my artwork. She encouraged me to keep alive my German heritage in it," she shared.
For those interested in finding the literary and artistic creativity within themselves, Trifontaine's Literary Tea will be Thursday, July 17, at 6 p.m. and Friday, July 18, at 4 p.m. in the Beste Byen gallery in Lanesboro.