Grimms’ Fairy Tales

An example of the layering process used to create a single collage for Mirror Mirrored. One collage can take days to complete (Image by Corwin Levi)Remixing has a long history, from Picasso and Andy Warhol to hip-hop and dance music. The idea of applying this to wonder tales, of taking existing illlustrations for a story and transforming them into new pieces scattered throughout the texts, has the potential to make reading these fairy tales newly extraordinary–just as it was when we were children. To compare endless variations of Snow White’s stepmother, Rapunzel, or Red Riding Hood is to appreciate how fluid and exciting old fairy tales can be.

To see how other publishers and artists visually represented the Brothers Grimm from the early 19th century onward, I began combing through old editions of the tales. Ultimately, I combed through more than 300 illustrated Grimms’ books—all in the public domain here in the United States—on a quest for images to remix and weave through the text of the 25 tales in Mirror Mirrored. In the process, I fell under the spell of some remarkably diverse wolves, dwarfs, and wicked stepmothers, everything from gilded Art Nouveau masterpieces, to simple line drawings, to exquisite illustrations by obscure, unknown artists.

The depth and variety of illustrations that have been created through the centuries is stunning, and after collecting more than a thousand illustrations, I embarked on the collage process for these Grimms’ tales. The resulting repicts, where I take illustrations for a particular story and remix them into illustrations for the same story, are visual compendiums of the history of fairy tale illustration that stretch across time and space. A collage may combine two striking vintage images, or it may be comprised of dozens of depictions from various sources.

A single collage can take days to complete because each illustration—collected from a book purchased for the project or from helpful librarians at institutions like Dartmouth or Stanford—must be scanned, meticulously cleaned and cut (or redrawn) in Photoshop, and then layered with other images. (You can see an example of the layering process in the “Rapunzel” animated gif on this page.)

What really excites me about this part of the book is that such a massive undertaking has never been attempted before. Artists continue to create new works inspired by Grimms’ fairy tales (and the contemporary artists in Mirror Mirrored have done an amazing job), and editors will occasionally comb through old fairy tale books for illustrations and republish them, but to specifically search for vintage illustrations of these tales and remix them together into brand new collages is, as far as I know, a singular project. I hope you enjoy these pictures as much as I enjoyed making them.

-Corwin Levi