ARLINGTON, Virginia — According to her mother, Mia Sasscer was drawing before she could talk.
When she got a little older, she would sketch on paper, staple the pieces together and write words at the bottom to make little booklets. As a teen, she would crochet eco-friendly yarn into scarves and sell them, saving the money to pay for art school.
Today, the latest illustrations of the 21-year-old parishioner of Our Lady of the Valley Church in Luray, Virginia, can be found in “Our Lady Undoer of Knots,” a children’s book recently released by Tan Books. The devotion to Our Lady Undoer of Knots, a patroness for those facing difficult problems, was popularized by Pope Francis.
The author of the book, Sylvia Dorham, was Sasscer’s neighbor. Dorham’s daughter and Sasscer’s sister practiced ballet at the same studio, where Sasscer often brought her sketchbook and drew while waiting. “That’s where she introduced me to the idea,” Sasscer told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.
Their first project, a collaboration with a group that fights human trafficking, was a workbook called, “Avoiding the Octopus: A Family Guide to Standing Strong Against Human Trafficking.”
For “Our Lady Undoer of Knots,” Dorham would send the text to Sasscer with suggestions for illustrations. Sasscer would start with line art on paper, then scan the drawing into the computer to touch up the lines and add color. She would send the finished page with the words positioned around the illustration back to Dorham to review.
Their finished project tells the story of a boy who turns to Mary when he gets into trouble or causes an accident. “I thought he was quite a character,” said Sasscer.
When she read picture books growing up, illustrations of children speaking to Mary depicted them as angelic, not like the rambunctious boy Dorham described. Sasscer’s simple and expressive images bring that quality to life.
She hopes readers appreciate the book’s message. “I love how it encourages young children to go to Our Lady with whatever problems they’re having, even something as simple as ‘I argued with my brother and we’re not getting along,'” she said.
In the future, Sasscer plans to finish her degree at the online Sessions College for Professional Design and continue illustrating books like “Our Lady Undoer of Knots.”
Sasscer’s faith animates her art. “I always think that the act of creating is somewhat sacred,” she said, citing a J.R.R. Tolkien quote about humans being created in the image and likeness of the Creator.
“I think it’s cool that the reason why people are creative is because God is creative and we reflect God,” she added.
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Maraist is a staff writer at the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.