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Picturing a World

Oak Street house

During the pandemic, a good project for me has been sorting through family papers. The Real Jeanette, like her fictional counterpart, spent the first years of her married in Cincinnati; but after a few years, the family moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Woodward family lived around the corner; and lo and behold, when I Googled, up popped this picture of Mrs. Woodward and her children. I love being able to see the daughter's dress, the shutters closed against the heat, that trumpet vine on the porch, and most of all, of course, a glimpse of the neighborhood. Does it inspire me to send my fictional Jeanette and Edward to Chattanooga? Naaah. Could a story grow out of finding an old photo? Maybe!
Via Old Tennessee.

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Bridge tallies

During Massachusetts' stay-at-home order, I have been sorting family papers and came across these two vibrant, witty little watercolors by Knoxville artist, Mary Etta Grainger (1880–1963). I knew they were souvenirs from a bridge party; but, not being a bridge player myself, I did not know what to call them. A little poking around on the web introduced me to "bridge tallies." They are like dance cards. At a bridge party, guests sign each other's cards to assure a rotation at different tables. Sets of printed tallies were all the rage in the 1920's, and you can see scads of them at the Laura M. Mueller Bridge Tally Card Collection. But how much more delicious to receive a unique, individualized card!

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Jeanette at McCall’s Magazine

After the death of her husband in 1904, the real Jeanette had a career in journalism, first at the Chattanooga Daily Times and then, from 1911–1921, at McCall's Magazine in New York City, where she was an associate editor. I believe she was an art editor; in any case, she would have known the art department at 236 W. 37th St. and would, I think, have been pleased with the self-possessed look on this reader's face. The lap robe and tea cup appeal to me, too; and I'm happy to imagine my fictional heroine Mattie settling down with this issue four years after the conclusion of ANONYMITY.

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Carolus-Duran (3)

Sargent’s portrait of his teacher—mon cher maître, as he has written across the top of the canvas—hangs at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Seeing it there and recognizing the name as that of the real Jeanette Smith’s teacher was what set me off investigating the whole topic of American women art students in Paris. As I got into planning the novel, think what a gift it was to learn that this portrait won an Honorable Mention for Sargent at the 1879 Salon, the very year that Carolus-Duran won the top prize for his portrait of Countess V— discussed in the previous post. I knew at once they would both have to go into the novel. Read More 
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Jeanette Sterling Smith

This is the Jeanette Smith whose expulsion from Vassar and subsequent studies in Europe set me investigating women art students in Paris. The photograph, taken in Dresden, is my only concrete memento from her time abroad. After I had written the early chapters of Where the Light Falls, I looked at it again and thought, "Nah, not Jeanette Palmer." A girl with this face and these clothes didn't fit into my story as I told it to myself (though I did adopt her plumpness). The image I have in my mind of Jeanette's face is much closer to that of Eleanor Norcross.

Readers, for you is it the mysterious girl on Rita Frangie's alluring cover for the novel? How do you form your mental images of characters in books? Read More 
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