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

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

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Picturing a World

Elizabeth O'Neill Verner

September 21, 2017

Tags: women artists

What we see is partly a result of what we are taught to see. Elizabeth O'Neill Verner must have encountered the kind of 19th C paintings of flower sellers that have been the topic at It’s About Time in recent weeks. My guess is that familiarity with the motif contributed to her noticing and championing the flower sellers and basket weavers in her own town of Charleston, S.C. A move was afoot in the early 20th C to have these African-American vendors banned from the street, but Verner led the effort (more…)

Flower sellers and models

September 20, 2017

Tags: flower seller, model

The characters in Where the Light Falls buy flowers variously from street peddlers, at stalls in big outdoor markets, and in an upscale florist’s shop. I have posted some of the beautiful depictions of the motif in the blog. Doré’s painting brought me up short, however, with its reminder of (more…)

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…)

Pantsuit

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!