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

Flowery insults

December 30, 2017

The phrase petaloid monocot jumped out at me this morning from one of my Christmas presents, a copy of Walter and Graham Judds’ Flora of Middle-Earth: What a great insult! Imagine growling at somebody, “You, petaloid monocot.”

How about concocting a list of similar, offensive-sounding, totally innocuous, botanical phrases for personal use or attribution to a fictional character? As 2018 nears, beware the glaubrous corms.

The Judds’ book satisfies the Tolkien, naturalist, and woodcut geek in many ways. For a discussion by the father-son, author-artist team on why they wrote it, click here.

I take up the challenge

December 26, 2017

Tags: Christmas

Yesterday, I called for feminist meditations or new art based on the appearance of two midwives in the same apocryphal gospel that introduced the ox and the ass to Nativity lore. Well, after writing the post, I took up my own challenge.

Midwives at the Manger

I don’t care who the father was,
The girl could not give birth alone.
So young, both of them.
Shepherds might have known what to do;
They assist their ewes at lambing time;
But they came later.
No, the carpenter begged for a midwife,
And the innkeeper sent for me, Zebel.
I brought Salome along.
(We did have names, but forget
Anything you’ve heard about a withered hand.)
We arrived by starlight,
Angels up in the rafters,
Otherwise a normal birth: pain,
Blood, squalling baby, a bath afterward.
An easier labor than most, I admit,
As though the child would spare his mother then
Inevitable grief.
Behind the manger where I laid him down, swaddled,
A sweet-breathed ox and ass who came in when we did
Were allowed to stay. For millennia.
Only we departed, Salome and me.
All the same, we had been there, were there, are there,
Midwives to transcendence.

© 2017 by Katherine Keenum. All rights reserved

For Giotto’s splendid Nativity with angels in the rafters and the midwives, click here.

Midwives on Christmas

December 25, 2017

Tags: Christmas

In the 2nd C, when the ox and the ass entered Christian nativity lore, so did a pair of midwives for the Virgin Mary. I learned about them a decade ago when I first read A Book of Carols (1966) edited by Eleanor Sayre and illustrated with artwork from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. A note to an engraving says that until the 15th century, the midwives were frequently shown performing various tasks (more…)

Palmer’s Christmas

December 24, 2017

Tags: Christmas, Samuel Palmer

Samuel Palmer’s art has sparked in me a new appreciation of what etchings can do. This tender scene of a shepherd returning home in moonlight was inspired by lines from John Bampfylde’s sonnet, “On Christmas” (1778):

Old Christmas comes, to close the waned year,
And aye the shepherd's heart to make right glad;
Who, when his teeming flocks are homeward had,
To blazing hearth repairs, and nut-brown beer;
And views, well pleased, the ruddy prattlers dear
Hug the grey mongrel …

Hearth, gentle light, loved ones, and the wonder of new interests be yours this Christmas Eve.

Windsor Castle Christmas tree

December 23, 2017

Tags: Christmas

For a story I am writing, I wanted to visualize a long corridor in a palace and went searching for image to aid my imagination. A blog post, Documented Interiors, helped on that score and, as a bonus, provided this watercolor of Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree. The picture is new to me and seems perfect to kick off the run up to Christmas Day. As for the host site, Spencer Alley, oh my, what a wealth of unexpected topics and seldom seen pictures. Gifts galore!

“Christmas Time Again”

December 20, 2017

Tags: Christmas, Scandinavian artists

After running out of Christmas cards, I went today to the Bookloft in Great Barrington, an excellent independent bookstore, where there was one box left with cards showing the the right wing of this triptych. Lovely to discover that the piece dates to 1907 (so close to my magic year of 1908 as makes no difference) and then to find the whole on line where it can be enlarged. (more…)

Gremlin in the ink

December 19, 2017

We all know that gremlins get in computers. Looks like they’ve been mischievous ever since pen was put to paper! Good luck with writer’s block, garbage-in-garbage-out, and all the little vexations that interrupt composition from Christmas card writing to great literature!


December 18, 2017

Tags: crones and witches

Blog tip: I have begun collecting images in a category I call “Crones.” A recent birthday post by Greer Gilman has a dandy. I won’t violate copyright law by reproducing it, but do click here and enjoy.

Thameside panorama

December 14, 2017

Website tip: For a mesmerizing tour down the Thames by way of the digitized Panorama of the Thames Project, click here. I collect images of gardens, and I took this screen shot for my (more…)

Pre-Raphaelite women artists

December 11, 2017

Tags: women artists

Blog tip: This montage of paintings by Kate Bunce, Evelyn de Morgan, Marie Spartali Stillman, Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, Emma Sandys, and Joanna Mary Boyce heads The art of creating a life, a post at Terri Windling’s Myth and Moor blog. Her primary focus in the post is another woman, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, whose life would have been an inspiration to my characters, Jeanette Palmer (for her art) and Mattie Palmer (for activism in the woman’s suffrage movement). (more…)

Paris street light

December 8, 2017

Tags: Paris landmark, light

The absence of the Luxor obelisk, which was erected at the Place de la Concorde and opened to the public in 1836, and the long coats and top hats of the men suggest that Vauzelle painted this picture, when? ca. 1830? Anyway, what really interests me is that lantern strung over the road, presumably an oil (more…)