In an unpublished diary from 1901, written by a graduating senior of Chattanooga (Tenn.) High School, a girl named Dorothy records a week spent on Walden's Ridge visiting well-to-do friends whose families had summer homes above the heat of the city. A search for illustrative images led me to this atmospheric watercolor of Lookout Mountain (on the other side of the valley, but, hey!). Also to the artist, Emma Bell Miles. An educated woman who had studied art a writer, a poet, and a naturalist, she married a laborer on Walden's Ridge. Their life was hard. For anyone seeking to write historical fiction that encompasses the whole society of Walden's Ridge, her diary and her work are invaluable. And she's a reminder to researchers: Follow those tangents! They may lead to great discoveries.
Picturing a World
I'm reading The Fairest of Them All by Maria Tater (2020), and naturally the first thing I did was look at all the pictures. The blue-and-white vase in this one caught my eye because I have a friend who is an expert on blue-and-white china. It amuses us both to come across it in odd contexts—in this case, a picture of Snow White's stepmother by Katharine Cameron from Louey Chisholm's In Fairyland (1904). That date for a children's book puts it squarely in my character Mattie's world, and Cameron just might be someone for Amy Richardson to know if I decide to follow Amy's story.
Blog post alert: For those of us still self-isolating at home, the excuse for an occasional ride through the countryside is welcome. Also always welcome to me: discovery of a new artist contemporary to Jeanette! In this case, check out Mildred Anne Butler (1858–1941), via GurneyJourney.
Another Jennings blog alert: What did I tell you? Kathleen Jennings' Tanaudel blog is always worth looking at. I love her post this week on Inkblots as creative stimuli. You wouldn't even have to be as good an artist as she is to make blots, doodle pictures, and then string a few together to make a story—at least as an exercise. (Though, let's be honest, some of us might want to keep the results private instead of giving them to the world!)
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!
Oh, serendipity! A recent letter to the editor of the Berkshire Eagle about windows at the First Church of Christ (Congregational) in Pittsfield, Mass., reminded me of Clara Miller Burd, one of the women artists who designed stained glass for Tiffany & Co. Burd was also a children's illustrator, and a search for images of her work turned up examples at a site that features another of my enthusiasms, jigsaw puzzles (yea!)—and to the Children's Art page of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Wouldn't I love to visit that wonderful, futuristic building when it's done. Well, closer to my home is the Norman Rockwell Museum, which has featured article about a Burd magazine cover at its website. We all want to get back to physical, three-dimensional life when it's safe, but meanwhile, the internet does make armchair exploration easy.
Blog post alert: Rebecca Wright At Dennis Severs' House at Spitalfields Life has several of illustrator Rebecca Wright's interiors of the historic Dennis Severs' house on Folgate Street in London. The house belonged to Huguenot silk weavers. My character Jeanette would love to see 21st C versions of her "portraits without people." Check it out!
Blog post alert: How's this for Valentine's Day? Instead of romantic daydreams, what about treasuring the objects and tools that enable you to fulfill your creative impulses? At her lively blog Tanaudel, one of my favorite illustrators, Kathleen Jennings, has an stimulating recent post, Loving the tools, on a notebook into which she dabbed colors and then free associated to capture her personal responses to them. It was a way of getting back into painting after an illness. In conclusion, she says: "Anyway, I've been talking with a few friends who have stalled on projects or pursuits recently, and this is for them. Perhaps, with no project in mind, just get out, handle, order, comment on, your tools and materials. Make friends again." And if you don't know Jennings' own work, do visit her website and get to know her!
From the dust jacket: "Tatterdemalion is a collaboration between writer Sylvia V. Linsteadt and painter Rima Staines. Together they have created a vivid post-apocalyptic novel in which the northern California of the future is imagined through images and stories rooted deep in the traditions of European folk tales."
I bought a hardback copy of the Unbound edition of Tatterdemalion because I love Rima Staines' art but can't afford an original painting. If I understand Linsteadt's post, A Needle, An Egg, A Novel Being Born at Folklore Thursday, she, too was responding to the pictures but the two of them created the novel together. Certainly, their contributions combine synergistically to elicit dreams, fears, imaginings of what the future holds for the human and more-than-human world. It's a book that haunts me.
Throughout December, I treated myself to slowly working through Jackie Morris's Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow, which was as wonderful as I had hoped. Now with Christmas behind me, I am going through it again, and it's better than ever.
In a post at Folklore Thursday, Some Words about the Quiet Music, Morris tells how the book originated in designs for Christmas cards in support of Help Musicians UK and how the imagery led to stories. And not only hers: "The cards began to gather their own stories, connections made between those who sent them, received, later found cards."