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.

A small sample of the images that inspired me appears below. Click on these or any images in the posts to see enlargements. In the text, click on colored words 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

A Tenth Street studio

August 28, 2014

Tags: Chase, studio

Does the romantic ideal of the impoverished artist, unappreciated yet dedicated to the authenticity of his vision, survive into the commercialized 21st C? Its heyday may have been the 19th C, yet the 19th C also saw artists striving to be taken seriously as professionals. When William Merritt Chase painted his studio at the Tenth Street Studio Building, he wanted the viewer to recognize the opulence of his furnishings. An 1880 photograph shows the same chest and many props, framed pictures, mounted fans, etc. (more…)

Advertising placards

August 25, 2014

Tags: Hopper, illustration, suffrage, transportation

This summer, my husband and I went to an exhibition, The Unknown Hopper: Edward Hopper as Illustrator on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, through October 26, 2014. Night on the El Train was not among the work we saw. It is, in fact, one of the freestanding etchings that Edward Hopper made in an effort to support himself beyond magazine illustrationat the start of his career. The Rockwell show, however, demonstrates how much drama and focus he brought to his commercial drawings.

And don’t we all wish it was still the custom to commission illustrations for books and magazine stories! It happens, of course, for children’s picture books and deluxe editions of books some fiction for adults (For two examples, click here and here.) (more…)


August 23, 2014

Tags: transportation

Website tip: One last day on the water before summer's end? Howzabout this Ms. Fowler in 1878? The craft is a podoscaphe, a new word for me. For more, click here.


August 22, 2014

Tags: frames

Website tip: In Framing "Christina's World" by Andrew Wyeth, Peter Perez of MoMA discusses how he chose wood and design to reframe a masterpiece.

Learning by blogging

August 21, 2014

Tags: Hassam, Paris landmark, dogs, transportation

To complement Bellows’ Steaming Trains, I was looking for one of Hassam’s American urban landscapes when I came across this image of Paris. Aha! One of the Wallace water fountains I didn’t know about until this summer. Well, well.

My experience is that you don't leave a fictional world behind even after you finish a story. Things keep reminding you of it and adding to your understanding of characters, setting, and motives. And there’s nothing like blogging to make you bring together bits of this and that!


August 19, 2014

Tags: pigment

Website tip: A nifty interactive website, Pigments through the Ages lets you explore colors, how pigments are made, the history of individual pigments, and various painting techniques. Informative time-sink!

Urban energy

August 18, 2014

Tags: Bellows, street scene (NYC), transportation

As I said in last Thursday’s post, Bellows' painting of a horse being brought under control conveys complex information and energy. It has attitude. It helps me imagine life in the city at the start of the 20th C. Can't you just feel how the cold, wet nastiness makes the frustrated driver’s task harder, the danger greater? The gaping child and other spectators are also reminders of the theatricality of life on the streets.

Jeanette is always conscious of her good fortune to be in beautiful Paris. Mattie is aware of the rawness and challenge of New York. What she finds in her city is power and newness, unending change and demand that she make herself over, make her life her own.

George Bellows was from Ohio. His eyes help me imagine how my Ohio character sees what is around her. For several more of his paintings of the city, click here.

Watercolor kit

August 16, 2014

Blog tip James Gurney has a new post on what you need for a portable watercolor kit. He provides a short instructional video and a detailed discussion of materials. How Jeanette would have loved one!

Almanac art et al., 1908

August 14, 2014

To visualize Mattie’s world, I’ve been collecting images from 1908. They don’t have to illustrate anything in the story, just help me sharpen my understanding of the period. This almanac cover, for instance, calls attention to pride urban architecture coupled with a Gibson-Girl style allegorical beauty, to modes of traffic, and the (more…)

Henry van Ingen

August 11, 2014

Tags: Vassar, rooms

During my research, it was a delight to discover that there was a popular art teacher at Vassar. If I had known when I was writing that Henry van Ingen was so romantically sensitive in appearance, I suppose I might have given Jeanette a full-scale crush on him. It might have helped prepare for her interest in an older man. Then again, the student author of Letters from Old-Time Vassar, Written by a Student in 1869–70 (Poughkeepsie, 1915) wrote home that “we never think of our teachers as men or Miss Lyman wouldn’t have them here” (p. 70).

A photograph of van Ingen, cigarette in hand as he talks to a girl in the art gallery, captures some of the sly humor I believe the man had. I admit, however, that I pictured him as pudgier and more avuncular. (more…)

Truly, deeply felt

August 8, 2014

Blog tip: Do a double-take at Lucy Sparrow's Felt Corner Shop. Oh, how I hope I can incorporate such playfulness and dedication into something one of my characters does!

Vassar dorm room

August 7, 2014

Tags: Vassar, rooms

“We had two of the dearest rooms, opening into each other, with four windows in the larger. That was mine—absolutely darling!—embroidered pillows all over the couch, and easy chairs, and a tea-table … and photographs stuck up everywhere … and a border of posters at the top of the wall, and signs which (more…)

Guns of August

August 5, 2014

Tags: women artists

Website tip: In this centenary of the start of World War I, the Imperial War Museum in London has mounted a page devoted to 6 Stunning First World War Artworks by Women War Artists.

Back to a future restaurant

August 4, 2014

Tags: Robida, cafés and restaurants, illustration

Oh, what fun! I thought when I saw a Public Domain Review post on Albert Robida’s Leaving the Opera in the Year 2000. I keep an eye out for cafés and restaurants and will cheerfully add this one to my directory of imaginary eating places. The verve and wit of Robida’s style carries well from Jeanette’s 19th C into Mattie’s 20th C—for that matter, as a chic French version of steampunk right into the 21st C. (more…)

Suffragists in England

August 3, 2014

Tags: suffrage, work-in-progress

Blog tip For ideas about what Mattie's suffragist group might be up to, I read about the suffragist movement in England as well as America. Today's Spitalfield Life's East End Suffragette Map caught my eye.

Martha Walter

August 1, 2014

Tags: women artists

Blog tip: A post on Martha Walter introduced me to this American artist who studied in Paris. She spent time in Chattanooga, Tenn., at a time when the real Jeanette lived there. If anybody has an idea how to learn more about Walter's connection to Chattanooga, please let me know!