Alidz Agbabian and Artist Vachag
Team Up for New Christmas Book
Los Angeles–Dzil-u-dzar Publications announced the release of a new children’s book by Alidz Agbabian, entitled The Silver Web (Ardzat Tel Vosdaynu). The book features illustrations by acclaimed Los Angeles artist Vachag (Vachik Ter-Sarkissian) and includes a compact disc of traditional Armenian Christmas carols. The Silver Web is published in separate Armenian- and English-language editions.
In the style and format of a folk legend, The Silver Web is based on the story of the birth of Jesus Christ and his subsequent rescue from the wrath of King Herod.
On learning of a prophecy that the infant Jesus will grow up to become a “king,” Herod orders to kill all newborns in Bethlehem. Hearing of Herod’s orders, Mary and Joseph spirit the infant Christ out of his birthplace. On their way to Egypt, they take refuge in a cave, where a tiny spider, fascinated by Christ’s innocent and lovely features, weaves a great, protective web. When Herod’s soldiers arrive on the scene and notice the massive web at the entrance, they decide to continue on their way, assuming that nobody could be hiding inside the cave. Thus the good spider helps save Jesus’ life.
Agbabian said that she is particularly fond of the spider character in the book. “I love the juxtaposition of the spider’s intricate, lovingly woven web with the brute force of the soldiers. Children associate themselves with the tiny spider, and they are also intrigued by his skillful weaving, which is a metaphor for creativity and resourcefulness.
“Incidentally,” Agbabian continued, “up till the last century, women in Kharpert, where the spider legend comes from, brought their lace handiworks to church on Christmas Day, in honor of the spider whose web shielded the infant Jesus.
To give the text an authentically traditional texture, Agbabian has incorporated narrative images and linguistic patterns from the Bible, the tenth-century Armenian poet, philosopher and musician Krikor Naregatsi, and traditional Armenian Christmas carols.
“The Silver Web is thus an homage to the wonderful tradition of Armenian Christmas carols,” Agbabian said. “When I was a child, I used to hear the word ‘Avedis’ in my grandmother’s singing of carols on Christmas Day. And I thought, she must love my grandfather so very much, because his name was Avedis. Years later, of course, I found out that ‘Avedis’ means good tidings, in reference to the birth of Jesus. By extension, ‘Avedis’ has also come to mean an Armenian Christmas hymn.
“I think The Silver Web is unprecedented in the sense that during the Christmas season, when our youths are exposed to the traditions of many other cultures, the book puts in the hands of Diaspora children and their families a specifically Armenian Christmas legend and a number of authentic carols.”
Agbabian, who lives in Los Angeles, specializes in Armenian oral traditions. Her multimedia storytelling events, held at major venues in California and nationwide, bring Armenian folktales and songs to Armenian as well as non-Armenian audiences of all ages.
The color illustrations appearing in The Silver Web are reminiscent of Armenian illuminated manuscripts. But commenting on the style of his illustrations, Vachag explained that he wasn’t interested in simply replicating illuminated manuscripts. “Rather,” he said, “the idea was to emulate their intense colors and compositional rhythms for a modern look. I tried to create a dream-like quality through evocative textures and fluid human forms, a visual space that would naturally draw young readers in. I think humor and a certain visual transparency are very important in making a spiritual story approachable to children.”
Agbabian also commented on Vachag’s work. “Vachag’s illustrations are mysterious, penetrating, and his childlike manner evokes a gentle humor throughout the story,” she said.
The compact disc accompanying The Silver Web features Armenian folk carols from the historic Armenian regions of Shadakh and Aintab, as well as a religious folk song and a beloved excerpt from Gomidas’ Divine Liturgy, “Soorp Asdvadz.” The a cappella songs, performed by a quartet of female singers led by soloist Areni Agbabian, are intertwined with rythmic chants which reinforce the melodic and rythmic patterns of the carols.
The Silver Web was produced by Michael Nahabet, chief designer at the Los Angeles-based company Square One.
Printed on high-quality glossy stock in soft cover, the English- and Armenian-language editions of The Silver Web (Ardzat Tel Vosdaynu) are available from all Armenian book services nationwide as well as Dzil-u-dzar Publications.