Rick Hoblitt


The life of a freelance illustrator, workshop teacher, and self professed amateur naturalist does not come with fringe benefits, at least not the monetary kind. Hannah Hinchman is characteristically candid about the drawbacks of such an existence: "I've never thought much about money in the bank. As long as I had enough for cat food and coffee, that was plenty. But now here I am at fifty with no appreciable assets."

And yet she has accumulated assets that many people would envy. Since she was seventeen, Hinchman has been keeping journals. She's now approaching volume seventy. The books provide wry critiques and sun-dappled illustrations of a life led largely in rural and wild places. Some are worn with silver electric tape holding their spines ("I don't take very good care of them," she admits). Several have blowsy covers that look like they were purchased at a stationery store in the mid-eighties. Newer ones are handmade by Hinchman of thick, creamy paper and silken bindings. All of the journals have carefully made title pages with Hinchman's name and usually a dedication, a date, and a return address.

The earliest books are attributed to Hannah Woodthrush, the name she took as a teenager while trying to hammer out an identity for herself apart from her family and peers. "It was a bulwark, keeping out the messy common world," she says of her nascent journal. "I fought within myself so as not to get sucked into adolescent stuff, ambition, grades, having life mapped out." Inspired by Thoreau and Emerson, as well as by a book of illustrated woods lore by Ernest Thompson Seton, Hinchman dedicated herself to immersion in the natural world and "soul-filled experience." The journals were more than just a place to record back-to-nature experiments. They imbued experiences such as camping trips and bird watching with meaning, helping her to understand what she was seeing.

Though Hinchman has since filled plenty of pages with soul-searching prose, she is proudest of the pages resembling a scientist's field book. "The most excitement I get from the journal is from on-the-spot recording of things that are happening," she says passionately. "I think of myself as an amateur scientist and take pleasure in the artistic, scientific, and intellectual convergence." Indeed, Hinchman has the rare ability to capture the power and grace of nature's details in her art. She dives into the sublime without coming out the other side covered in sap.

Read as single, continuing oeuvre, Hinchman's trove of journals provides a beautiful visual example of a woman growing older. Over time, she's become less self-absorbed and more self-reliant. She is increasingly more

.nterested in what the journals can help her learn about the world than about herself. Today, her observations are surgically precise, the work of one who oned the skill for decades. Her pen-and-ink sketches and watercolors, th ined with graceful calligraphy, remind one of illuminated manuscripts.

ther gh than being saturated with the spirit and hues of religious scripture, er pages glorify a spring meadow or the multi-hued stones collected ld, western river.

Aware of the evolution, Hinchman revisits her old volumes sparingly.

"When I actually look over the juvenile pages, I cringe to appear so bloated with clich├ęs, so obviously running on pure idiot idealism," she confesses. Perhaps this is why so many people start journals but do not continue them: ghosts of younger selves are not always pleasant company. Hinchman knows, though, that the attention to detail she so values in the field has undoubtedly been sharpened through her unyielding, ongoing personal examination. The two are now tangled symbiotically.

Hannah Hinchman Sketch

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