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

Diligence

May 13, 2016

Tags: Bridgman, Pont Aven, transportation

My husband is transcribing 19th C correspondence at the American Antiquarian Society as a volunteer project. In his last batch of letters, he found two from Frederick Arthur Bridgman to one of the lenders who helped (more…)

Winter in New York

January 26, 2015

Tags: Cornoyer, transportation, Académie Julian

Given the recent snow and ice here in the Northeast, I’ve been thinking about why books set in winter appeal. Even though the action of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is directed toward delivering Narnia from the grip of the White Witch, it’s the snow you remember, the (more…)

Women on an omnibus

January 19, 2015

Tags: Cassatt, women artists, transportation

It’s hard to know why some topics fascinate us. I ride public transportation whenever I can; maybe that's why depictions of riders in a train or on an omnibus always catch my eye. For my fiction, moreover, it just seems part of world-building to know how my characters get from one place to another and how long it takes them. Mary Cassatt's In the Omnibus" reminds me of crossing the Charles River on the Red Line in Boston during the day when the cars are sometimes uncrowded. For Daumier's more typically crowded omnibus, click here. (more…)

Newsstand

November 10, 2014

Tags: fashion or clothes, magazine, offices, transportation

One of the gee-whiz pleasures for me in researching New York City at the turn of the 20th C is gawking at high-resolution photos on line. In the full view of this one at the Shorpy site, you can read ads on the El staircase and titles on the newsstand. I'm delighted with the (more…)

Banlieues

September 29, 2014

Tags: Marville, Paris landmark, transportation

By the time her train reaches Paris, Jeanette is feeling scared, and this moody photograph helped me think about what was outside the window as the day darkened. Baron Haussmann’s remaking of Paris not only changed the physical look of the city, but also distorted (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…)

Podoscaphe

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.

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!

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.

Mattie suffragist

July 21, 2014

Tags: suffrage, transportation

As my new novel opens, Mattie Palmer is at breakfast, skimming the morning newspapers. Her eye is caught by the story of a cross-country automobile trip (more…)

Taking pictures to the Salon

June 5, 2014

Tags: Jeanette, Salon, exhibition, kiosk, transportation

When I ran across this illustration early in my research, I knew Jeanette must ride in an omnibus when she delivered her Salon entry. Omnibuses, in fact, became a minor motif in the novel for no particular thematic reason; I just like them. But the tension involved in submitting work to the Salon, its importance (more…)

View from a train station

April 14, 2014

Tags: Cézanne, Edward, Provence, transportation

Originally, I had intended to give the Renicks’ a house in Aix-en-Provence, where I spent a semester my sophomore year in college, and place Dr. Aubanel’s sanatorium near its thermal springs. Jeanette and Effie were to stay for a longish visit and encounter Edward swimming in the river Arc, where Paul Cézanne and Êmile Zola swam as boys. (more…)

Asleep on a train

February 6, 2014

Tags: Amy, Effie, Jeanette, photograph, transportation, work-in-progress

For my new novel, I’m investigating early 20th C photography and print processes. This picture of a girl asleep on a train appears (more…)

Angelica/Demonica

January 27, 2014

Tags: Amy, Angelica, transportation

“Her mother calls her Flora/ She doesn’t know her papa …” The illustration by Théophile Steinlen of a fatherless little girl on her way to school is way too innocent for my Angelica (the child Amy Richardson calls Demonica). All the same, I was delighted (more…)

Arc de Triomphe

December 16, 2013

Tags: Paris landmark, Adeline, Jeanette, transportation

This loosely painted detail of the distant Arc de Triomphe in the background of Hassam’s
painting of the Champs Elysées
is the kind of thing I had in mind when Jeanette sarcastically suggests sketching Adeline Vann in the Tuileries Garden with the arch just (more…)

Moving pictures!

September 7, 2013

Tags: fashion or clothes, transportation

Blog alert: Yesterday, Two Nerdy History Girls posted a YouTube clip of "Victorian Era Actuality Footage 1896." Visit several European cities and one North African site by clicking here. As a bonus, you will be able to (more…)

Pont Aven

May 16, 2013

Tags: Pont Aven, transportation

This is a view of Pont Aven from the estuary looking back inland to the town. Ragland and Nagg have their studio near here, where Charlie Post is working on his huge painting of an oncoming wave.

Diligence

May 13, 2013

Tags: Pont Aven, sketches, transportation

After reaching the train station in Quimperlé on their way to the Breton seaside town of Pont Aven, Jeanette and her friends continue their journey in a French diligence or stagecoach. For van Gogh’s vivid painting of a southern example, click here.

Is she …?

May 2, 2013

Tags: Parisiénne, dogs, fashion or clothes, street views, transportation

One more on the streets, this time walking alone. She is well dressed and carries the sort of bouquet that last Thursday’s shopper might have bought at the florist. But is she a respectable Parisiénne or a kept woman? A source of social unease in Paris in the latter 19th C was the difficulty in distinguishing the two on sight, for they dressed very much alike. The gaze of the man in the cab might be the male painter Gervex’s signal that this woman is no better than she should be. For the modern eye, it also illustrates the annoying reality that a single woman in public risked impertinent notice from strangers—though not the working woman crossing the street in the other direction. What stories do you think each of these women would tell?

Dog lovers’ note: another of those confident canines on the loose.

Showboat

April 18, 2013

Tags: Cornelia, Edward, entertainment, transportation

When Edward tells Cornelia Renick about taking Jeanette and Effie to the Cirque Fernando, they are reminded of a childhood escapade when they watched horses perform aboard a showboat on the Ohio River. In a slightly longer draft of this passage, I specified that they kept watch over the building of Spaulding and Rogers' spectacular Floating Circus Palace, which seated 3,400 and was launched in Cincinnati in 1851 when they would have been about ten or eleven years old. As far as I'm concerned, the escapade happened. (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!

Fiacre

March 12, 2013

Tags: transportation

Look at what I just came across! I had not seen this image when I wrote Where the Light Falls, but I can’t resist posting it. It belongs with Jeanette and Effie’s first arrival in Paris, when Effie pays the driver of their fiacre a tip or pourboire, but let’s assume that Edward and Eddie rode to the zoo in a fiacre. (more…)

Omnibus

January 31, 2013

Tags: Effie, Atget, Jeanette, photograph, transportation

In their first week in Paris, Jeanette and Effie explore the city on foot and by omnibus. When I first began sinking myself into the Paris they would see, I spent a lot of time with Atget’s photographs even though they were taken a generation later. It was revelatory to be guided by Atget's eye. As for the omnibus, comparison of this photo to an 1877 etching in a set by A-P. Martial shows that the design had changed little if at all in forty years. The entire set will take you on a tour of the city that Jeanette and Effie saw.

Entering Paris

January 7, 2013

Tags: transportation, Paris landmark

Jeanette and Cousin Effie enter Paris from the west, passing through this tunnel to reach the Gare Saint-Lazare, painted famously by Claude Monet but also by other artists, including Norbert Goeuneutte. The station was in a new section of Paris, energetic and smart rather than romantic and quaint. Photographs even more than paintings conveyed to me the rawness and newness, and the weird sensation of entering the city below street level.

Out a train window

January 4, 2013

Tags: transportation, Monet

I came across Springtime while tracing the route between Dieppe and Paris. It showed me what Jeanette might see from her train window. The speed of train travel made the countryside seem to unroll continuously outside the frame of a window. Moreover, railway beds serve only to carry trains, and scrub brush along their banks can screen the view for miles. Monet’s sketchy, broken brush strokes allowed me to catch a glimpse of a half-seen house with an orange roof and imagine Jeanette’s seeing it for an instant. In words, all that remains of that moment is the phrase “red-twigged coppices on riverbanks” on p. 66, but, believe me, she saw the house!

All aboard in a New Year!

January 1, 2013

Tags: Jeanette, transportation, fashion or clothes, fans

Because I love building fictional worlds, early in my research I spent time investigating exactly how Jeanette would get to Paris. To my delight, shipboard scenes on passenger liners were a popular painting genre in the mid 19th C. Tissot here catches the glamour attached to sea travel—not that Jeanette and Effie were wearing such clothes on board ship! Still, the fashion details are reminders of how important hats and fans were in the 19th C, and what sexual signals attire that covers every inch of the female figure can send.