Cynthia von Buhler's passion (and patience) for pets shines through in her new book, The Cat Who Wouldn't Come Inside. The story, about a young girl who tries to convince a kitty to come in from the cold, is taken from Cynthia's own life.
"One winter day when I was living in Boston in a large purple Victorian house, a cat appeared on my porch," the author recalls. Over the course of the next four years, Cynthia developed a relationship with the cat, who she named Olympus. "I asked him to come inside every day, but he wouldn't budge from that porch." Only at the end of his life did Olympus finally come inside to die in Cynthia's arms. She chose a brighter ending for her book, but the message is the same: "This true story is about love and trust and how gaining trust takes time."
While her story may be simple, her illustration technique is extremely elaborate. For this book, she departed from conventional methods and chose to work in 3D. She used Sculpey clay to create the characters. Cynthia's sister designed their clothing; her mother then sewed it by hand. The action takes place in and around a dollhouse that her father first built for Cynthia decades ago, and then renovated to meet her storytelling needs. Many of the props are those her grandmother gave her when she was a little girl. The set was then meticulously photographed to create 15 separate scenes.
The youngest of six children, Cynthia grew up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where she lived a comfortable suburban life. Her father worked as an electrical engineer. Her mother, a talented artist whose parents were unable to send her to art school, poured her creative energy into her children. "As soon as we could hold a scissor, we learned every kind of craft imaginable, and worked in three dimensions, not just two."
"My mother was very supportive but also my greatest critic. She taught me to look for creative solutions to boring problems." When she was in 4th grade, Cynthia entered the annual Create-an-Ad contest hosted by the local newspaper. Children were assigned to pitch a product made by area businesses. The winners then had their ads printed in a special edition of the newspaper. "I was given Charleston Mills, an outlet that sold sweaters and clothes. Boring! I was stumped. But my mother suggested an octopus wearing a cable-knit sweater with many armholes and the slogan ‘We make sweaters for everyone.' I won Honorable Mention! It was my first illustration assignment. I still have a copy of it."
Growing up, Cynthia's household included many animals. "We had a sweet collie named Taffy, a parakeet named Pepe, hamsters, and gerbils." But it wasn't until 5th grade that Cynthia had a pet of her very own. "My parents basically bribed me with, ‘if you learn math, we'll get you a pet.'" Cynthia did her part, and her parents came home with a pet skunk! "Jasmin, the skunk, was my own. I took care of her by myself. Having animals as a kid, and taking care of them, helps you learn responsibility and gets you to focus on something else that's not you."
Today, Cynthia lives in "a castle" on Staten Island, New York, with seven indoor cats, another that won't come inside, a lot of fish, two rats, and a bunch of doves. She's rescued, and found homes for many more. "I love all animals. I would never think of going to a pet store to get a pet. They've always come to me. I've rescued and found homes for twenty-seven cats and one dog!" Among her many accomplishments, Cynthia says, "I think that rescuing the cats is one of the most worthwhile things I've done in my life. That's why this project was so fun."
For more information on Cynthia, her art, and her rescue efforts, check out her Web site.