M A R I A N N E ' S     P U Z Z L E S

When Marianne and I started living together way back in '84, I was surprised and impressed by her unique hobby: creating hand-painted wooden puzzles. I mean, how many people do you know who do that?

She would meticulously copy illustrations from old books onto a square of fine plywood, carefully paint them in a larger format, then saw them up into lots of little pieces. Rough edges were sanded and smoothed, every piece shellacked front and back, and finally reassembled into a nifty work of art you could play with. Being a kindergarten teacher, she took the finished products to the børnehaven to entertain the kids, so they were even practical. They are durable and made to be used.

The concept developed from when she began teaching in a børnehaven and was irritated that all the puzzles in the institution were missing pieces, the kids could never finish them. So she fixed them one by one, making new pieces that fit into the old holes, painted them to resemble the missing chunks, and voila, good as new.

Marianne had especially enjoyed wood workshop at the børnehaven seminar, where students are introduced to various handcraft techniques to use as teachers, so she's a whiz with a saw. Her seminar project was wooden cutout figures, and she went on to teach kids how to make their own at the børnehaven. She had the children making wooden toys, like plywood pistols, doves with flapping wings, and eventually simple puzzles.

Finally she started making original puzzles as personalized gifts for her nieces and nephews. Here's a puzzle made for her own little boy, when Mads was about 4 years old. It's taken from a children's book Marianne used to read to him, known as "Peter Pedal" in Danish (translated from an American story about a monkey called "Curious George").

Marianne was especially fond of old illustrations of stories by Hans Christian Andersen, the great icon of Danish culture, such as this easily recognizable scene from "The Emperor's New Clothes". And below that an episode from "Big Klaus and Littls Klaus".

This one copied from the popular Swedish books about a little boy called "Alfons Åborg" and his father.

I liked the concept, and Marianne liked my drawings, so of course we had to team up and make puzzles together. Pretty romantic, eh? Our first mutual project was a drawing of a little family in a spaceship (who suspiciously resembled Marianne, Mads and me, the ID number on the wing also being our address on Tagensvej at that time).

Marianne has probably averaged about 2 pieces a year since then. The target audience was kindergarten kids, so she also did puzzles of popular European comic figures, such as this replica of the cover of Belgian Herge's "Tin-Tin on the Moon". Marianne actually copied this, I inked it over for her afterwards.

Of course, once I started drawing for her, an American influence began to creep into the puzzles subject matter, taken from the comic book world. Spider Man, Disney's Hercules, brightly-colored super heroes. Because that's what kids like, right? Naw, because that's what I like to draw.

They are kind of special, people like them, so sometimes other teachers or parents commission Marianne to make a personalized puzzle. She's settled on 600 kroner for a puzzle, which is about $100 US, which probably sounds expensive for a puzzle, but it's not even minimum wage when you count the hours it takes to make one of them. Usually it's an institution that orders one, børnehaven or school.

For instance, a few weeks ago Marianne had a request for a puzzle featuring "knights in armor," which means that she came home and asked me for such a drawing. Since I don't just happen to have one, that means I have to make it magically materialize out of nothing, which is work. I usually groan, being involved in some other project, but end up doing sketches and research, warming up to the concept. It took me a week to finally know what to draw, after extensive academic research about costumes, castles, etc (finding what I needed in some old Prince Valiant comic books, they're great).

We wanted the picture to be dramatic, interesting, with lots of details spread out over the image so that all the pieces had some individuality to them. Exciting, but not violent... okay, violent but not mean, like war or anger. So we settled on two knights sportingly contesting at a tournament, big figures in front, with a deep perspective scene containing king and queen and princess, with teeming masses and a castle in the background. Took 3 days to draw it. Then I traced the drawing onto the plywood square with carbon paper and a wooden dowel sharpened like a pencil.

Then it was Marianne's turn to start painting. We'd discuss colors, but it was her show now. Took most of a week-- we both go to work every day, so hobby-time is all we have for this stuff. Anyway, this is what we ended up with (this picture taken before she cut the puzzle into pieces). That brings us pretty much up to date.

However, you can also read about the next project we're working on:

the Tarzan and Jane Puzzle

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