The very real need to close bookstores and libraries during the coronavirus pandemic has been a frustration. It will be a while before they can reopen, but, hurrah! I have now discovered Bookshop. It's a way to buy books on line and support independent local bookstores at the same. I've just placed my first order.
Picturing a World
My sister mailed me Daniel Mendelsohn's An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic just when I had run out of library books (yea, Janet!). I was primed for it because, as it happened, I had recently read Emily Wilson's 2017 translation of the poem (more about that in a minute). Mendelshohn has written a multi-threaded memoir of his teaching Homer's Odyssey to a freshman seminar at Bard College, his eighty-one-year-old father's attendance in that class, a Mediterranean cruise the two men took together afterwards, explorations of the poem's themes, and many circlings back to each of their earlier lives. It is artfully written, deep and rich, while all while seeming (only seeming) to be a candid, easy retelling of one unusual semester. I recommend it highly to anyone who has ever taught, or grew up on Long Island, or loves the classics, or is fascinated by the relations between a father and a son.
But, wait, isn't this blog mostly about women's creativity? Well, yes, and that's where An Odyssey pointed me in the end. Enough of fathers and sons! Let's reframe the picture to highlight wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, lovers, and slave girls.
The small New England town where I live operates as a pure democracy. Every year, we have (1) a caucus to place the names of candidates for boards and committees on a ballot for (2) the town election, which is followed by (3) the annual Town Meeting at which every citizen votes on every bylaw and the budget. In these coronavirus days, our weekly newsletter just announced how we'll proceed with Step 1:
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.
Website alert: An update on the Getty Challenge. For everyone trapped at home by the coronavirus (or at work in hospitals!), Artnet offers Here Are 27 (More) Ridiculous Images of Bored People Around the World Using Household Objects to Recreate Famous Historical Artworks to supplement its earlier See 15 Ways Bored People Around the World Have Used Household Objects to Recreate Famous Paintings From Art History.
In this troubled time, those of us who live in country towns are lucky to be able to get outdoors safely for exercise or contemplation or, oddly enough, a little sociability. One of my regular walks takes me down a back road where I see neighbors, working in their yards or walking like me. We chat as usual—only six feet apart. A couple of days ago, a friend from a different part of town stopped his car beside me. From the back seat, his nine-year-old son said, "This is the first time I've been in a car since March 8th." The last time I had seen them they had been on bicycles.
Experiencing real physicality directly is important for knowing the world fully, and slowing down helps. Terri Windling has pulled together what several writers have said about Living at a walker's pace.
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.
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.
Website alert: In 1852, Francis N. Watkins wrote of his grandmother in Virginia that she was possessed of great ingenuity "as displayed in her original calico prints (in advance of her time), of her silk manufactures, of the loom made by her directions, and of her homemade gamut for teaching her daughters the elementary principles of music." Well, doesn't that raise topics for research by an historical fiction writer?! Local manufacture of textiles? The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg seemed a good place to start looking this morning, and sure enough, they have an on-line exhibition, Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home, with loads of high-rez fabric samples to help visualize the culture and possibly inspire a story. One more resource in these self-isolating days! If you like fabric, fashion, and everyday objects made of cloth, take a look.