I took this image from a Sketch by Sketch blog post, which gives no source and no date for it. For my purposes, that doesn't matter. I don't even need confirmation that this really is Nell Brinkley. What electrified me when I saw it was the way it feeds into a character I have invented for my work-in-progress: a young, talented, ambitious, and reckless writer. I've given her Willa Cather's dedication to her work combined with Edna St. Vincent Millay's dangerous boozing and partying. This image gives me a face, an expression, and maybe the hair to spark a visualization. Or maybe she'll suggest a giddy, funny friend. I don't know yet, but hurrah for anything that sparks imagination!
Picturing a World
Wouldn't Wells and Wong love it!?! And I expect to. This illustration is from Rachel Cooke's review of The Flapper Queens by Trina Robbins. The idea of jazzy female cartoonists opens a new world for me to think about in connection with my character Mattie's future in the New York publishing world. So, yes, I ordered it from my local independent bookstore. And for more sample pages, click here.
An article in a double issue of American Art Review (June–August 2020) alerted me to Agnes Pelton, whose work was recently shown in the Phoenix Art Museum and will eventually show at the Whitney in New York. I find this image mysteriously evocative. Sun and moon? Eclipse? Steady gaze by an unseen power? Balance, equipoise? Sometimes meaning is felt, not spoken, and best left unexplained.
A post, Undine Love: Reprint, new art, at Kathleen Jennings' blog took me to the reprint of her story, "Undine Love," in full at Tor. What a treat—both the story and the silhouettes! They are a reminder that updating a fairy tale or folkloric motif can be a great way to begin a story of your own. The backbone of plot comes essentially ready-made, leaving you free to work on other aspects of composition—setting, character, dialogue, incidents (as opposed to the underlying structure). The talent to illustrate would be a big bonus—and might just affect the tone and finished piece. Wish I had the talent and the training!
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!
More fun imagining Mattie's New York: My last post included a link to a jigsaw puzzle set made from Clara Miller Burd illustrations. I followed up the clue and learned from Bob Armstrong's website that the craze for jigsaw puzzles for adults began in Boston, moved to New York in 1908, and was dominated early by—get ready for this—women puzzle cutters! An important one, Margaret Hayed Richardson, called her company Perplexity. Just making up names for an imaginary company would be a hoot. And clearly, if Mattie's immediate artist and publishing friends aren't directly involved in it, they'll know people who are.
Blog post alert: For International Women's Day, see James Gurney's recent post on the "White Rabbits," the female students of sculptor Loredo Taft who helped him fulfill a commission to decorate the Horticulture building at Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1893. They all went on to distinguished careers themselves. (I love seeing what the working female sculptor wore).
I love it when (a) I find a new woman artist; (b) a picture widens my imaginary world; or (c) there's an overlap between my stories via an illustration. This etching by Mary Nimmo Moran shows me a possibility in the New York City that Jeanette visits when she goes to her Aunt Maude in Where the Light Falls. Since it seems to be up a hill, it may also illustrate a view Mattie might have up in Morningside Heights in "Anonymity"—although by 1908, the farm would likely have vanished. Best of all, I have learned that Mary Nimmo Moran was a female artist who was actually encouraged in her work by the artist husband who had been her teacher. Three cheers!
Before settling in to work on my fantasy novella this morning, I made the mistake of skimming the news. After that, I needed a better picture in my mind's eye, for sure, so I visited Terry Windling's Dartmoor Mythic Arts page, which, in turn, took me to Virginia Lee's home page and this mysterious landscape. I allowed myself to poke around at her website and found her illustrated edition of The Frog Bride by Antonia Barber, one of my favorite children's book authors. At Better World Books, I found a copy and ordered it. If you don't know that venue, its profits go to literacy programs, and it provides a carbon offset feature for shipping (at the grand cost of $0.04 in this case!). It's much more worth supporting than the behemoth Amazon. Sales of used books do not profit authors (don't I know!), but they do help circulate work on the budgets that so many of us book lovers can afford.
Sketches, studies, and unfinished work of any kind have an appealing immediacy. They are good for characterizing artists, and good reminders that rough drafts, false starts, and revision are all part of writing any sort of story. Cecilia Beaux's autobiography, Background with Figures, was a key source for me when I was researching Where the Light Falls. Wouldn't I have loved to have this image then! For anyone who wants a quick look at Beaux and the Breton art scene, the blog my daily art display has a good post on Beaux in Concarneau, the summer of 1888.