Katherine Keenum

A blog about how paintings, photographs, and prints have helped me visualize my fiction—both Where the Light Falls and works-in-progress—with a hope that they will stimulate other writers and readers, too.

Click on images to see enlargements. In the text, click on words in color to activate links.

Selected Works

An American woman art student meets a Civil War veteran in Belle Époque Paris.


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Picturing a World

Asta Nørregaard

September 15, 2017

Tags: Jeanette, Effie, Scandinavian artists, studio, women artists

I saw this painting by the Norwegian painter Asta Nørregaard at an exhibition while I was researching Where the Light Falls. At the time, I was unable to find an image on line, but memory of it influenced how I imagined Jeanette’s first studio of her own. Its spareness and gray walls, in contrast to the lusher studios so often depicted during this period, seemed specially appropriate to Jeanette’s pocketbook and her mood at that point in the novel. At the time I was writing, I thought that it was Cousin Effie’s love of Whistler’s decorative schemes at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878 that made her to want to paint the walls yellow; I suspect now that the colors in this painting also subtly influenced my imagination of how the two characters would react to a studio space. (more…)

Rules are made to break

September 10, 2017

Tags: Sargent

One of my hobbyhorses is “rules” for writing fiction, e.g., “Never begin a story with a line of dialogue”—say, what?!? In response to a gorgeous James Gurney post on Sargent’s watercolor technique for alligators, a commenter remarks, “I remember when (more…)


September 8, 2017

Tags: fashion or clothes

Website tip: An article by fashion researcher Laura J Ping, Clothes as Historical Sources: What Bloomers Reveal about the Women Who Wore Them explores the implications of an unusual “reform dress” outfit that is not really an example of bloomers at all. It reminds us that history at close grain modifies generalizations. Personally, I now feel that if a character of mine wants to make an innovation in dress, I may just let her!

Thanks again to the Two Nerdy History Girls Breakfast Links.

Lucy Stone’s milk wagon

September 7, 2017

Tags: suffrage, work-in-progress

I have set ANON in 1908 partly to avoid the need to account for all the glorious woman’s suffrage activity of 1912 and partly because the anxieties, tensions, and precursors to major historical events provide uncertainties that give room for fictional exploration. I try to avoid anachronisms and stay within historical constraints. All the same, (more…)

News of the World

September 2, 2017

My public library book group is reading Paulette Jiles’ award-winning News of the World. Its protagonist makes a living by riding around Texas in 1870 to give public readings from newspapers in small towns. To my delight, I learned that Jiles had based him on a real person. It’s from such nuggets (more…)

Suffragist banner

September 1, 2017

Tags: suffrage

Website tip: Today's History Blog post tells how the People's History Museum in Manchester, England, purchased this banner from a private collector who had bought it at a charity auction in June. Suffragists, textiles, people and government agencies working together to preserve history—yes!

Calligraphic ♥♥

August 18, 2017

As some of you know, I’ve been spending time looking at medieval manuscript images to stimulate my imagination. Today, my mouth dropped open when I came across these hearts inserted in a line of poetry. I can’t make out all the text, but the line in which they occur does really and truly use the heart symbols to take the place of the word coeurs: “By which the high hearts of those who …” Best I can tell, this shape came to symbolize love or the heart in the 15th C, but I’d never before seen it used this way. I ♥ medieval art!

Anna Ancher’s flower arrangers

August 3, 2017

Tags: Scandinavian artists, women artists

Blog tip: At It’s About Time Barbara Wells Sarudy has been posting a series of paintings under the title of “Arranging Flowers around the Globe.” This one by Anna Ancher is clearly a study, not a finished work (note that the artist did not sign it). Artists can treasure each other’s studies, and collectors often like to own them. (Not so likely for first drafts of short stories and novels!)

Emma Lambert Cooper

July 31, 2017

Tags: women artists

Where do you suppose this picture was painted? I would guess either Italy or California. Emma Lambert Cooper and her husband, Colin Campbell Cooper, spent time in both places. (The Chianti bottle might tip the scales for Italy; then again my research for ANONYMITY indicates that Chianti wine with straw baskets for the bottle was popular among American Bohemians at the turn of the 20th C.) (more…)

Manet, Monet, and the Gare Saint-Lazare

July 28, 2017

Tags: Monet

In contrast to Colin Campbell Cooper’s painting of New York’s Grand Central Station, discussed in my previous post, the ground-level vantage point of Monet’s painting helped me imagine the Saint-Lazare train station as Jeanette and Effie experienced it upon their arrival in Paris.

It is one of many images discussed in (more…)