Lyle Hanna knew exactly how to propose to his wife, Mary Diane, 35 years ago: He got two Joan Walsh Anglund dolls, put their hands together and topped it with an engagement ring.
It worked. Because from the time Mary Diane Hanna got her first Anglund card, a thumb-sized card for high school graduation, she has been an Anglund fan.
"I just thought they were really cute and whimsical," Hanna said. "I liked the bright color."
More than a fan. A collector. An enthusiast. A person who describes a find of Anglund material on eBay with an unbounded joy that approaches someone who has discovered original texts from Shakespeare.
Hanna is bringing Anglund, 88, who now lives in Connecticut, to Lexington for a weekend with 70 people from around the United States and world who are fervent Anglund fans. Author/illustrator Mary Engelbreit — a woman with her own distinctive style of portraying a plump, content and idealized life — will speak at the public part of the event, to be held at the Lexington Public Library's Farish Theater on Sept. 20 at 2:30 p.m.
Anglund has sold 45 million books for children and adults worldwide. Her writing, when combined with the illustrations of idealized families, is like sinking into a warm bath: "It is the good way we feel when we talk to someone and they want to listen and don't tell us to go away and be quiet," she writes in Love Is a Special Way of Feeling.
To walk into Hanna's Anglund room is like falling into a vat of cherubs: The too-numerous-to-count items have the signature Anglund style, most of the children with tiny black dot eyes, no nose and no mouth. Hanna has Christmas ornaments, imitation Anglund figures she made in the ceramics lab of East Tennessee State University, Anglund books (such as her signature book, A Friend is Someone Who Likes You) including books in other languages, dolls of all types, pillows, Anglund's holiday stories in magazines such as McCall's and Good Housekeeping, a Christmas cookie jar, mugs, plates, paint-by-number books, paperweights and paper dolls.
Hanna's computer mouse sits on an Anglund mousepad. She once made herself a decoupaged Anglund purse.
When her son Brent, now 26, was born, Hanna did his nursery in Anglund-like textiles and artwork. Now she's grooming her young granddaughter in the appreciation of the Anglund collection.
"I've always said I was her biggest fan," Hanna said.
In 2010, she began talking with her idol. Soon she found herself flying to New York to have lunch with her.
Ebay has helped put her in contact with other Anglund devotees.
For the Lexington event, where attendance is capped at 70, home states include: Nevada, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas.
Anglund has a more than devoted following. The community even knows each other. In an eBay auction, Hanna may know the person she is bidding against.
When she acquired Tubtime for Thaddeus — in its original packaging, with a royal blue sponge — she considered it a treasure. She also saw it as a win over fellow Anglund collectors.
On eBay recently you could find Joan Walsh Anglund plates, a rubber stamp, books, a paperweight, frameable prints, a flower pot and a cream pitcher — and that was just on the first page of current auctions.
Anglund never envisioned herself being so popular for so long with such a reach — and with so many fans, who like Hanna, feel their days are made simply by hearing her voice on the phone.
"I've developed friendship with a lot of them," she said of her fans in a phone interview. "I think of the telephone as a spiritual thing. Your bodies don't have to unite you, but your spirits can unite."
When she started writing, as a homemaker, she did not foresee becoming an industry.
"The books are basically about how we feel about one another," she said. "When I first began publishing, they were doing more Dick and Jane books, and Dr. Seuss, who I met and was a friend of mine. He sent me little notes back and forth."
These days, Anglund is pleased to have made an impact on the lives of others and to continue to have her own rich family life.
"I am so completely happy at this stage of my life," she said.