Local Writer Inspired During COVID

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, June 10, 2021
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Courtesy photos
Marie Shirley Jones, a retired Red Lodge art teacher, announces two new books she has written and published to delight both children and adults.

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Marie Shirley Jones wrote this book after being inspired by a letter she found at a yard sale that had been written in 1913.

As people tried to cope during the past 16 months or so while COVID-19 raged, there were breakthroughs for quite a number of people forced into isolating conditions they had never expected prompting inspiration. Some lost weight, some created more art, some played for a growing online audience, such as performers, musicians, comedians and pundits. For a writer, the isolation can be a boon, as it was for one local woman.

Marie Shirley Jones has been a teacher for decades. She’s lived in Red Lodge about 30 years, taught special ed and then K-8th grade as an elementary art teacher at the local school. “It was fun!” Jones recalled. She has been retired for six years. 

Her love of art and lots of time to contemplate brought her thoughts to a future project that was always in the back of her mind. “About 25-30 years ago, I went to a yard sale in Red Lodge.” She found a book she liked on geography and bought it. Inside, however, apart from the book, was the real treasure. 

“There was a letter written by a young girl to her girlfriend dated 1913!” It wasn’t just the age of the letter that excited her. “It was not ordinary-it was crazy! Imaginative!” She knew someday, she would have to write and share the story. The period was also one of great change as she describes. 

Jones realized during this period of COVID isolation the time had finally come to write about the letter. “I kept the letter as much as I could. I had to change the flow a little bit.”

The book is called “Dear Friend Alberta,” as the letter goes. She was not satisfied to just tell the story. She was an artist and decided to illustrate it. “I’m a fiber artist,” Jones explained. I do illustrations with fabric. I thickened the dye and paint it on. I added pieces of lace by hand.” When told it didn’t sound at all like a book she had to explain further. 

“I first wanted to make a quilt!” So, she did. She knew the method for transferring print to fabric and added the letter’s contents. “The original pieces are in the quilt! I made the quilt first (before the book).” Her husband took photos of the series of illustrations portrayed on the quilt. Upon completing the quilt and seeing the photographs, her desire to keep the story going and get it out there evolved. She realized after her husband took the photos that there was a story that actually should be printed. 

The pictures were put into the book. “It’s for 6 year olds and up. But it’s even for adults,” she said as she described its contents. 

The year, 1913, was a time of adventure and marvels some of which are portrayed in the letter and the book. “There is talk of waiting at a roadhouse in Alaska for her friend to come back from climbing Mount McKinley. The mountain was climbed that year! She talks of airplanes and it was also the time of early flights!”

With the book self-published and time to spare, Jones decided to write another book on her bucket list. “My daughter, Kate, is 27 now. When she was younger, we used to backpack a lot. There was always this white fluffy stuff high in the spruce trees! We would wonder about it all the time in the mountains.”

Eventually, Jones discovered that when the snow piled high in the Beartooths, the mountain goats would lay on top of the snow, often snuggled close to the tops of spruce trees-because the snow was so high, that was all that was showing. It was their fur that was still clinging to the treetops when the snow melted! 

Hence, it was only natural, thought Jones, to call her second story of this adventure with her daughter, “Kate’s Beartooth Mountain Mystery.”

For this one, she was creative with the illustrations she did as well. “I had all these scraps of paper used in different art projects from past work. I tore and cut them up to make a collage.” But she said, she used them to portray the scenes, “realistically but artsy looking!”

These two adventures in writing have spurred her on. “It was really fun and I have lots of ideas!” she said. Next, she would like to do a book about pikas, a tiny mountain dwelling animal related to the rabbit with lots of character. “They’re threatened or a species of concern,” she observed, ever the teacher seeking to illuminate.

Jones says she has been highlighted in several local magazines like State of the Art and Quilting Arts. Her books are in Kids’ Corner and she hopes to do a presentation at the Carnegie Library this summer. Stay tuned for notices of local book signings.