Picturing a World
Website alert: Artists in the Archive celebrates the work of artists who have been given fellowships to incorporate materials at the American Antiquarian Society into their creative work. The Society, located in Worcester, Massachusetts, holds the world's largest collection of materials printed in America between 1640 and 1876. Since 1995, it has offered fellowships to creative and performing artists to explore these resources and incorporate what they find into new works. The results have included, not only historical fiction like The Age of Phillis, but book art by Stephanie Wolff, comics by R. Sikoryak, music by Lisa Bielawa, and much, much more. The sample at this retrospective website alone will set your mind dancing off in new directions.
In tidying up some computer files, I came across this whiz-bang drawing of a moving house by Albert Robida. It made me laugh all over again. Look at the lass pointing an umbrella on the lower porch balcony—she could be Myrtle in Philip Reeve's very funny steampunk novel, Larklight! In fact, David Wyatt may well have been partially inspired by Robida for his wonderful period-flavor, Larklight illustrations.
Impressionist painters let the canvas show through their paintings. Writers call attention to their own narrative devices. The interplay between the materials of a craft and an art's illusions is beguilingly embodied in Myles O'Reilly's film of Des Dillon's puppetry, performed to a selkie tale sung by John Spillane: All the Ways You Wander.
Via Myth and Moor.
A man goes into a boarding house … The lead-in to a joke? a short story idea? Research led me to a Tennessee landlady in 1850 and her boarders: a lawyer, a doctor, a music teacher, a minister with his wife and child, and a daguerreotypist. A daguerreotypist! Marvelous! There were nineteen daguerreotypists in the whole state at the time. I can't learn any more about mine, but a search turned up this image at the Getty, which certainly could supply a character and a flavor to—no, not a joke (not with that intense stare). Maybe a ghost story? How about an historical murder mystery?
A terrific post, Mapping the 16th century garden, at The Gardens Trust's blog, pointed out the trees on the 1588 map of Luca in Braun and Hogenberg's Civitates Orbis Terrarum. Trees planted along the ramparts of a walled city—like a boulevard! Characters could stroll in peacetime. Could soldiers take cover during hand-to-hand fighting if the wall were overtopped by an invading army? For historical fiction, further investigation is called for; for fantasy, imagination. Meanwhile, a little moment of research rapture.
Sometimes a picture gives a lift to the heart. I had a dog, Badger, named for the white stripe up his black face. Because I loved him dearly, badgers have become my totem animal. This morning I was cheered to run across this image in illustrator Danielle Barlow's new Green Wheel Oracle. Whatever helps you through the day (let alone the night)! For more of Barlow's Dartmoor landscapes and evocative mythic illustrations, click here. And thank you, Myth and Moor, for Telling stories back to the land, which puts Barlow's work in context.
Jack is Marilynne Robinson's newly published fourth novel about characters she introduced in her Pulitzer-prize winning, rightly beloved novel, Gilead. I haven't read Jack yet, only the excerpt published as "Jack and Della" in The New Yorker. But I was glad to be directed by the Guardian's coverage of the new publication to a remarkable interview from 2015, President Obama & Marilynne Robinson: A Conversation in Iowa, in the New York Review of Books. Imagine—a living president intelligently conversing at length with a thoughtful fiction writer! The present is a discouraging, scary time. It's good to be reminded of what we must try to hold onto. For a probing review of Jack, click here.
A blog post, The Spectacle of Paris Streets, has just alerted me to a book I wish I had known about when I was researching Where the Light Falls: A Travers Paris par Crafty. For instance, I'd never thought of large trees being planted on a Parisian boulevard until I saw this image. It's the sort of sight that could cause a character to loiter, or spark a train of thought, or even somehow play into the action of a story. Or it could prompt an imaginative excursion: what if there were a world where a steampunk technology was used by trees to facilitate their own migration? The whole book is worth exploring.
For those of us who love Tolkien's Middlearth, September 22nd is a red-letter day not only as the first day of fall but as the shared birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. In a recent Myth and Moor post on The Mythic Art of Alan Lee, the illustrator is quoted as saying "I don't think I've ever seen a drawing of a hobbit which quite convinces me." All I can say is, this 15th C bas-de-page detail is a good place to start! And if you can, sit out under a tree and have a little something in honor of Bilbo and Frodo.