In Philip Pullman's new novel, The Secret Commonwealth, while on board a train, our heroine Lyra Silvertonguewatches an old man use a pack of pictorial cards to tell a story to a little boy. After a while, he tells the child to draw a card from the pack. "As before, the picture seamlessly continued the landscape of the previous one, and Lyra saw that the whole pack must be like that, and it must be possible to put them together in an uncountable number of ways" (p. 534). What a wonderful device! I thought when I read the passage. Had Pullman made it up? No: he names that kind of card pack on the next page: MYRIORAMA. Read More
Picturing a World
Reviewing some old files, I found these sketches by Edgar Degas, which I had labeled "Effie studies." It made me smile. Ordinarily, I like to highlight female artists in this blog, but who can resist the occasional work by the other sex? In this case, I remember thinking that it was as if I were seeing dimensions of my own character revealed to me by an artist who had seen her in a slightly different way. The seated woman in the middle one is, self-effacing, but not unintelligent. The one on the right—unself-consciously clutching her bag or a book and her umbrella—catches aspects of the Cousin Effie who made her way around Paris on her own while Jeanette was in class in Where the Light Falls. And, of course, they really pertain to Degas' depiction of Mary Cassatt in the Louvre (ca. 1880).
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!
Website tip: A very useful, illustrated booklet, Medieval & Early Modern Manuscripts: Bookbinding Terms, Materials, Methods, and Models, is available from Yale University in a high-res pdf. I've been using it for accuracy in my fantasy novella, which involves two libraries and a printer's shop.
The home page, Traveling Scriptorium, has links to related information, such as Species Identification of Animal Skins in Books & Manuscripts.
A propos of nothing—it's just that it tickled my fancy—I'm posting this image from an 1897 children's book. In a series of unrelated full-page illustrations, the book purports to depict England as it was when Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837 and as it was sixty years later. Interesting to see which inventions added up to the latest word in modernity in 1897 (also to see what books grown-ups bought for children). Via the superb blog, Art and Artists.
To aid a description in my fantasy novella-in-progress, I wanted a good image of a volvelle or "wheel chart" and had the fun of searching for one on the 'net. How about this example?!? Of course, in the real book, the device lies as flat as so many layers can, but bravo to the digitizers at the Berlin State Library for creating such a delicious, virtual, pop-up version. For links to additional pictures and resources, read on.
Website alert: Via a History Blog post, I got to this YouTube tutorial from English Heritage on how the Romans prepared and applied cosmetics. Imagine a tiny, curved mortar with a curved pestle that doubled as an applicator for eye-liner! Don't just imagine—watch. (With bonuses on Roman fabric dyes and wig-weaving.)
Blog alert: A post at Lines and Colors on Louis Béroud has images of copyists in the Louvre, scenes of Parisian life, and an anecdote about the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911.
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.
Yesterday, I attended a meeting about changes to a Massachusetts program to promote solar energy in the Commonwealth and then came home to read Terri Windling's blog post on Art and Activism. The post is illustrated by absorbing gouache and watercolor paintings by the wonderful artist, Kristin Bjornerud. Her pictures can inspire writers, maybe by literally suggesting a story line, maybe by leading to idiosyncratic explorations of what she calls "dream logic."
Windling quotes Bjonerud as saying, "My aim is to create contemporary fairy tales that act as a medium through which we may consider our ethical obligations to the natural world and to each other. Retelling and reshaping stories helps us to understand how we are entangled, where we meet, and how our differences may be viewed as disguises of our sameness."