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Picturing a World

Emma Bell Miles

In an unpublished diary from 1901, written by a graduating senior of Chattanooga (Tenn.) High School, a girl named Dorothy records a week spent on Walden's Ridge visiting well-to-do friends whose families had summer homes above the heat of the city. A search for illustrative images led me to this atmospheric watercolor of Lookout Mountain (on the other side of the valley, but, hey!). Also to the artist, Emma Bell Miles. An educated woman who had studied art a writer, a poet, and a naturalist, she married a laborer on Walden's Ridge. Their life was hard. For anyone seeking to write historical fiction that encompasses the whole society of Walden's Ridge, her diary and her work are invaluable. And she's a reminder to researchers: Follow those tangents! They may lead to great discoveries.

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Hokusai fantasy drawing

This picture of a mythological subject by Katsushika Hokusai is one of 103 drawings recently acquired by the British Museum. They were preparatory sketches for a book that was never published. In a way, they fit into Jeanette's Parisian art world, because the set was acquired by Henri Verver (1854–1942), a jeweler and early collector of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. What struck me immediately, though, was how the image relates to a Japanese word, komorebi for those dawn sunbeams radiating through trees on a misty morning. Or, for that matter, to comic books—ka-pow!
 

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A character, a character!

I took this image from a Sketch by Sketch blog post, which gives no source and no date for it. For my purposes, that doesn't matter. I don't even need confirmation that this really is Nell Brinkley. What electrified me when I saw it was the way it feeds into a character I have invented for my work-in-progress: a young, talented, ambitious, and reckless writer. I've given her Willa Cather's dedication to her work combined with Edna St. Vincent Millay's dangerous boozing and partying. This image gives me a face, an expression, and maybe the hair to spark a visualization. Or maybe she'll suggest a giddy, funny friend. I don't know yet, but hurrah for anything that sparks imagination!

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Monster saws books

I am reading Christopher de Hamel's wonderfully genial and informative Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts. In searching on-line for a particular image reproduced in it, I came across a different one—this monstrous centaur attacking a stack of books with a saw. It made me laugh, ruefully. What better emblem of the current attack on learning and expertise?

Image via British Library.

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Dimples for President

What a difference a decade can make! Contrast Nell Brinkley's Dimples in 1928, daydreaming of becoming President, to yesterday's stalwart defender of Labor. (And, Kamala Harris, get a load of the pantsuit!) Yep, my copy of Trina Robbins's The Flapper Queens arrived, and it's terrific. I'm tickled to learn that Brinkley came to New York in 1907, so sure enough I can add a break-out female cartoonist to the publishing world my Mattie inhabits. Mostly, though, I'm getting a kick out of the visual energy and cheekiness of Brinkley's art work.

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Labor Day, 1908, 2020

'Nuff said? Not quite: a special Labor Day thanks to the essential workers who have put their lives on the lines for the rest of us during the pandemic. They should be paid what they are worth. (One other message this year: vote.)

Via the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

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Pop-up concert

Oh, look at this!—what a creative, generous response to the pandemic! Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emmanuel Ax played pop-up concerts for essential workers at various sites in Pittsfield, Mass., on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. That remarkable stage traveling stage was designed and built by artist Mike Rousseau. It put me in mind of Sylvia Linsteadt's Tatterdemalion or the folks at Hedgespoken. Imagine traveling players performing A Midsummer Night's Dream within its confines. Or shrink it to twig-fairy size for a sly tale. Or send it into a strange future. And meanwhile join these world-class artists in thanking the workers who are somehow keeping our world together.

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Gurney on imaginative fiction

Blog post alert: Author-illustrator James Gurney has posted a Q&A on his world of Dinotopia well worth reading. He makes the point, for instance, that fully illustrated books are immersive and provide triggers to deepen the reader's involvement in imagining that world. One answer to a question, however, startled me.
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Jacket design

Website alert: I'm a sucker for Philip Pullman's fiction and Chris Wormell's art, so I was tickled by a Pullman tweet on a 25th Anniversary edition of Northern Lights. But what really interested me as I poked around from there was an earlier website piece on How Tom Sanderson designed Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage. Authors and illustrators get a lot of attention. Jacket designers don't, but their craft is essential to an attractive book. If you're interested in how it's all done, read the article!

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Katharine Cameron

I'm reading The Fairest of Them All by Maria Tater (2020), and naturally the first thing I did was look at all the pictures. The blue-and-white vase in this one caught my eye because I have a friend who is an expert on blue-and-white china. It amuses us both to come across it in odd contexts—in this case, a picture of Snow White's stepmother by Katharine Cameron from Louey Chisholm's In Fairyland (1904). That date for a children's book puts it squarely in my character Mattie's world, and Cameron just might be someone for Amy Richardson to know if I decide to follow Amy's story.

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