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.


















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

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Twelfth Night, 2018

January 5, 2018

Tags: Christmas

On this Twelfth Day of Christmas, a last image. Robin Tanner was one of the English artists who were much influenced by a 1926 show of Samuel Palmer’s work at the Victoria and Albert in London. Somehow it seems fitting to catch a final glimpse of the receding holiday from high up and far away. The vantage point might also be the start of a story that moves down into the lit street with evening pressing in from the countryside beyond. And it seems to hold secrets—always a good beginning for art.

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…)

Christmas morning 1908

December 25, 2015

Tags: Christmas, Larsson

As far as I’m concerned, an album of Carl Larsson images is the perfect way to glimpse a world we hope was true. Nostalgia? Sure. Merry Christmas, everybody!

For more strictly Christmas images by Larsson, click here.

Sherlock Holmes for Christmas

December 21, 2015

Tags: Christmas, illustration

I’ve just learned what to read tonight: “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” by A. Conan Doyle. It ran in this December 12, 1908, edition of Colliers. And what fun—Maxfield Parrish! Surely, Mattie is a fan of Sherlock Holmes and probably of Parrish, too.

X in Xmas

December 19, 2015

Tags: Christmas, illustration

Mattie Palmer, my new heroine, is Jeanette’s younger sister. Since Where the Light Falls is set in 1878–1880 and ANONYMITY in 1908, this magazine cover comes halfway between the chronologically. It’s sort of like a Rorschach test: Would Jeanette’s art be leading her this direction? Would Mattie like it? The fact (more…)

Christmas tree

December 26, 2014

Tags: Christmas, women artists

Elizabeth Forbes, Christmas Tree (n.d.)
Whoops! I forgot to hit "Publish" on Dec. 23rd—a bonus from Canadian-born Elizabeth Adela Forbes Stanhope (Jeanette’s contemporary). Happy Boxing Day.

Puck Christmas 1908

December 25, 2014

Tags: Christmas, fashion or clothes, illustration

The true meaning of Christmas may be the opposite of worldly vanity, but I can’t resist posting this image from the period of my present research for ANONYMITY.

San Francisco-based Grant Gordon (best known as a marine painter) provided illustrations to Puck and other periodicals.

I have to assume that my heroine, Mattie, (more…)

Alice Barber Stephens

December 23, 2014

Tags: Académie Julian, Christmas, illustration, women artists

This Christmas shopping street scene is the sort that might have met my new heroine Mattie when she arrived in New York City at the turn of the 20th C. It was painted by Alice Barber Stephens, (more…)

Three more shopping days til Christmas

December 22, 2014

Tags: Christmas, Glackens, New York City landmark, illustration, women artists

The heroine of ANONYMITY, Mattie Palmer, works in an office near Madison Square, so imagine her witnessing crowds like this. I’ve set the novel in warm weather for various reasons, but winter settings have advantages. Cold, snow, and sleet give urgency to action, and respite from misery in cozy havens are among my (more…)

Elsa Beskow

December 11, 2014

Tags: Christmas, children's books, illustration, Scandinavian artists, women artists

Several interests came together for me when I came across Swedish artist, Elsa Beskow (1874–1953)—Jeanette’s future career as an illustrator; my new heroine Mattie’s work in juvenile book publishing; women’s rights; and Scandinavian women artists. As a Christmas present to (more…)

Joyeux Noël!

December 25, 2013

Tags: Christmas, Effie, Jeanette, Vann

On their first Christmas Eve in Paris, Jeanette and Effie go to services at Saint-Germain-des-Prés. On Christmas Day in both 1878 and 1879, they attend services at The American Church in Paris on the rue de Berri, (more…)

Puppets in the Park

December 23, 2013

Tags: Angelica, Christmas, Effie, entertainment

It’s December 23rd, the day Cousin Effie takes Angelica to a marionette show in the park, so I’m going to leave Jeanette and Edward in the summertime Luxembourg Garden and detour into Christmas. Well, I admit it's also summer in Ellen Houghton's picture of a puppet show in the leafy Tuileries Garden, (more…)

O Tannenbaum

December 24, 2012

Tags: Edward, Christmas

On Christmas Eve in Cincinnati, the German Murers would have decorated a table-top tree like the one in this illustration from an 1866 collection, Christmas Poems and Pictures. In 1866, the year after the American Civil War ended, Edward was in no shape to enjoy family festivities; but by the time he spends the holiday in Freiburg-im-Breisgau in the winter of 1878, his German cousins’ celebrations bring childhood memories back to life for him.

May your holidays be filled with joy, good books under the tree, and the makings of happy memories for years to come!