Born: March 29, 1945; Died: June 14, 2012.
Wendy de Rusett, who has died aged 67, was an artist and drama teacher who made storytelling her life, narrating stories for children through mime and movement, voice, percussion, song, mask, puppetry and performance. She'd sit cross-legged on the floor, puppet in her lap, hands assuming all kinds of imaginary shapes; enthralled youngsters thronged round her. Or she would appear in sheltered-housing and day-care centres, groups of schoolchildren with the elderly, sharing reminiscing, stories and community singing in Scots.
For all she was raised in Harrogate and as a young woman lived in Leeds, the mither tongue held primary sway for Aberdeen-born de Rusett, and she styled her job description as Scottish Storyteller, complete with capital letters.
If one aspect of her self-created work stood out, it was her enthusiasm. "Storytelling is good for you," she wrote. "Storytelling develops your imagination (and) develops your powers of description". She promoted her belief that storytelling creates self-confidence, makes the teller and the audience laugh, as well as building value about both the natural world and people of varying origins and creeds.
She trained in drama, though she was also a water-colourist of no mean repute. Her storytelling craft came from Duncan Williamson, the Scots traveller storyteller, and this introduction to traveller culture – she later worked with gypsies and Roma as well as travellers – established her credo of using storytelling to combat social exclusion as well as increasing empathy for moral, social and environmental issues.
She was ever drawn to her homeland of north-east Scotland – her mother came from Buckie – and although she studied in London and maintained links with Leeds to the end of her life, she returned north at her earliest opportunity, first to Glasgow, and then Banffshire, the "drama wifie" in primary schools across north Aberdeenshire.
In younger days, she was sporty and outdoor, with a love of canoeing and the hills. Her canoe never quite fitted her Glasgow west-end flat – stacked, she related "wi its neb oot o a press".
Her prodigious memory for stories and folk tales did not always entirely extend to vital kit for hills. Prior to an ascent of Dreish and Mayar in Angus, she was greeted by the company at the early morning rendezvous in Glen Doll with the anxious query: "Wendy, where's your rucksack?". Came the matter-of-fact response: "Oh, I forgot it," adding "Never mind, I'll just sing for the day." And she did, taking a perch on a nearby rock and singing her heart out until the company returned.
Hugely enthusiastic for traditional music in north-east Scotland, she founded Tasc – Traditional Arts for School and Community –an informal agency she operated from her Findochty home organising gigs and sessions, as well as participation in folk festivals such as in Portsoy, Cullerlie, Macduff and Keith.
A favourite story of hers involved the tattiebogle (scarecrow), and her storytelling extended beyond narration into getting bairnies to make their own tattiebogles, then organising a procession with music where the tattiebogles could be paraded, as she did in Huntly.
She loved posing the question: who makes a good storyteller? Then providing the answer "Everybody". Her tips included saying where a story comes from, smiling, casting a spell to create an atmosphere, and looking around with pauses and expectation. "Paint the story like a picture," she would say.
Retirement in 2010 only increased her output, with regular mailings on local traditional culture, and becoming a mainstay of the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival songwriting team. At the time of her death she had been preparing children from several local schools for a presentation of their work at the boat festival in Portsoy at the weekend.
She died suddenly, and is survived by her partner, Ronan Fitzsimons.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.