As I was looking through materials for the exhibit on Russian children’s book illustration, I came across a surprising number of squirrels in the illustrations. One of the images is now on most of the promotional materials for the exhibit.
The most famous squirrel, chosen by illustrators for its ability to crack golden nuts and sing songs, is the magical squirrel in Pushkin’s “Tale of Tsar Saltan, of His Son, the Glorious and Mighty Knight Prince Guidon Saltanovich, and of the Fair Swan-Princess.” The squirrel was given to Prince Guidon by the Swan-Princess, a magical creature herself.
“…There, beneath a fir–behold!–
Cracking nuts all made of gold,
Emeralds left and right a-flinging,
Sat that wonder-squirrel, singing:
‘Through the garden there she goes,
Tripping on her dainty toes.’
With its tail the squirrel sweeps
Shells and stones in tidy heaps,
While a charmed and happy throng
Listened to the squirrel’s song…”
(Translated by Louis Zellikoff)
Other squirrels, usually red and with long tassels on their ears, come from much later animal stories or appear as a small detail of a larger forest scene. These are just a few examples of the large and beautiful Russian squirrel population in Special Collections. Please, come enjoy the many visual interpretations of their magical and mischievous character.