Editor’s note: Part 1 of this two-part series ran on Sunday, Jan. 22.
Last week, Louise Tessin Roats had just begun to venture into the world of book illustration in 1927. As her story continues today, this local artist and writer takes a leap of faith into what would become a successful career.
As part of her job with the Milton Bradley Company, Louise traveled to colleges and educational conferences throughout America. She lectured and demonstrated the methods of teaching art to children using Milton Bradley products. However, Louise also incorporated her own philosophies regarding children and art into her lectures.
She said, “Creative work should be made as simple as possible so that all children, not only the gifted ones, might learn to express themselves in some form of creative artistic achievement.”
While performing her job, Louise had the opportunity to view exhibits of European art. This exposure inspired her to explore the European method of teaching art to children. This led Louise to spend every other summer in Europe to study and train with European art instructors and artists. Frequently, during those trips she would also visit her relatives in Germany.
As for the summers she stayed state-side. Louise continued her quest to expand her knowledge and refine her gift by attending art programs offered by various American colleges, maintaining her enrichment routine until her retirement in 1945.
During this same time frame, 1927-1945, Louise also freelanced for other publishers. Her illustrations complemented numerous children’s publications, especially the monthly magazine “American Childhood.” By 1945, Louise had illustrated and written 14 children’s books of her own.
While living in Massachusetts, Louise met and eventually married Olin D. Roats. The actual year of their marriage is uncertain as each Tessin biographical source quotes a different year, either 1932 or 1936.
Olin was the attorney, general counsel, for the Federal Land Bank of New England as well as for the Farm Credit Administration in New England, New York and New Jersey. Olin retired in 1945 so he and Louise could move to Napa.
Prior to her homecoming, Louise received an esteemed accolade for her artistry. Louise had designed a Christmas card and seal for the Society for the Relief of Children in Serbia and Northern France. Her card was an overwhelming success and raised substantial funds. This accomplishment and her artistic gift to the campaign were recognized with a special award. Louise was one of only three American artists to ever receive that medal.
Once all that fanfare had subsided, the Roats settled down in Napa. Their first home was on West Laurel Street with her two sisters as neighbors. The Roats eventually moved to Shady Brook Lane in the Coombsville area.
She described their new home at length in a Christmas letter. “Our little house is a homey, simple structure. It is built low to the earth. Our country kitchen invites one to linger. The living room is warm and spacious. Our little acreage has a quiet, unharried air about it. Stroll to the terraced creek-edge to explore the daffodils cropping up among the ferns and tree roots, or to examine the wild strawberries, where even in winter there is an occasional blossom or a berry tinted pale pink.” There, Louise also indulged in her favorite past-time, gardening.
Although their home was quiet, Louise led an active life in Napa and contributed regularly to the community. For example, she decorated the Lutheran school rooms, created the Nativity scene and figures once displayed every Christmas at Cudaback’s Nursery, formerly located on South Jefferson Street.
She also lent her talents to regional facilities, such as the St. Frances Hospital in San Francisco where she painted decorations in the children’s rooms.
In 1959 Louise designed and built a very special doll-house. Designed in the Bavarian villa style, Louise created the doll-house as a contribution to the annual Heart Association fundraiser in Napa.
Christened the “Happy Hart,” the hand-crafted doll-house was meticulously detailed with miniature furniture imported from Germany. It also had running water for the kitchen and bathroom sinks; the faucets actually turned off and on. The “Happy Hart” was eventually auctioned to the highest bidder, just in time for Christmas.
A few years later on Friday June 22, 1962, Louise Tessin Roats passed away at the age of 68. Her ashes were placed in rest at Tulocay Cemetery.
Of her life’s work and gift, Louise said, “My work has always been for children. And whether I got any money for it or not hasn’t seemed to enter into the joy of creating something where before there was nothing.”
She humbly added, “Everyone in my family has been artistic for generations.”