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.

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

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Picturing a World

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…)

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…)

Grand Central Station

April 3, 2013

Tags: transportation, World's Fair, Paris landmark, Vassar

A recent post in the fascinating blog Daytonian in Manhattan describes the building of Grand Central Station in New York City, where Jeanette and Cousin Effie arrive from Poughkeepsie in Chapter Two of Where the Light Falls. Isn’t it interesting how both the brick station and the glass-walled Great Exhibition Hall at the Paris World's Fair used domes over the central entrance and at the end of wings? In fact, you can relate them both to the symmetrical architecture of the Tuileries Palace and Vassar College if you want to pursue echoes in the novel!

The Shrine of Shakespeare

December 13, 2012

Tags: painting in the novel, Vassar

Jeanette carries her unfinished copy of Gifford’s Shrine of Shakespeare from Vassar to New York City. After she, her mother, and Cousin Effie visit the Tenth Street Studio Building, she brings it out to show the family—thereby provoking the quarrel that sends her to Paris. At Vassar’s Frances Lehmann Loeb Art Center, I was able to view works from the college’s earliest collection, the Magoon Collection. It helped me think my way into Jeanette’s situation to look at works she might actually see. The catalogue of an earlier (more…)

Morning

December 3, 2012

Tags: painting in the novel, Vassar

This is a version of a painting at Vassar that Jeanette ruefully knows she may never see again when she runs upstairs to the art gallery after being expelled. I could feel her grief and her love of beauty as she gazed at it. But for me as the author, the painting also symbolized the bigger, more light-filled future that lay ahead for her across the bay. New York! Paris!

Vassar College

November 30, 2012

Tags: Vassar, schools, Jeanette

Where the Light Falls opens as Jeanette Palmer is being expelled from Vassar College. To imagine what the college meant to her, I read a lot about the campus and student life. With its Mansard roofs and symmetrical wings, the original main block was said to have been based on the Tuileries Palace in Paris (a nice echo for the novel). It embraced Old World grandeur and intellectual aspirations at the same time that it kept the girls contained within its protective walls. I like the way this print shows how impressive the college was in its rural setting and also hints at the surrounding beauties of the Hudson River Valley countryside where Jeanette's art class could go sketching.

For an image of a Vassar sitting room like the one in Jeanette's suite, go to dorm room.