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Picturing a World

Mary Rogers Williams

Author and editor Caroline Sloat alerted me to this announcement of the Sarton Women's Book Award for 2019. Thank you, Caroline! And congratulations to Eve M. Kahn.

 

I must admit that although I ought to have known about Mary Rogers Williams (an almost exact contemporary of my Jeanette), I didn't. Luckily, in these self-isolating days when bookstores and libraries are closed, we can all get a foretaste of Forever Seeing New Beauties from excerpts with illustrations available on line. One is on why Williams matters Another is on her European trip of 1891.

 


 
Williams had a moderately successful career as an artist and teacher at Smith College. She experimented in her art. She enjoyed travel and sports. She had a good, if all too short, life. And then she was forgotten.
 
Besides being a reminder that there are probably all sorts of writers and artists whose work would delight us if only we knew about them, Williams is also a reminder that there are circles reaching out from the star practitioners of any field. Not every cellist can play like Yo-Yo Ma; but Yo-Yo Ma could not be at the top of his profession if there were not other soloists around him, other cellists in major orchestras, in minor orchestras, in purely amateur string quartets, in teaching studios, at home in the back room. As artists, we don't always know to which circle we should be assigned. It's silly to think that finishing a short story and posting it on a free platform makes you the equal of Alice Munro. But it's equally silly not to be pleased by what is good in your work, to know what satisfies you, to heed what prompts you to keep writing or painting or exploring music. Yes, fame and fortune are good. Yes, artists really do need to be paid for their work if they are going to survive professionally. But yes also: art very is much its own reward.

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