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Picturing a World

Image seller stumbles

Blog post alert: Once you notice something, you start seeing examples everywhere. The street-seller of plaster images was new to me a few weeks ago—now here's one from Spitalsfield Life.

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Bertha Newcombe’s model

I'm always on the lookout for images that reveal something about the life of Parisian artists' models. Bertha Newcombe was an English suffragist, who studied at the Académie Colarrossi in Paris. Here, her woman's-eye sketch of the end of a day captures how tired the hardworking her fellow art students were and how matter-of-fact the model was in putting her clothes back on. More of Newcombe's work can be found at Wikipedia Commons, including a nifty women's suffrage poster.

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Shaun Tan is one of my favorite artist-authors—brilliant, sly, offbeat, insightful. When I saw an advanced review of Cicada, I pre-ordered it from a local independent bookstore on the assumption that anything Tan did would be wonderful. I picked it up. Read it. Reread daily. Feel throb. Laugh out loud. Tok tok tok. My advice? Seek it out!

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Valentine’s Day, 2019

The real Jeanette published a short story in the December 1915 Young's Magazine. In trying to run it down, I came across this image. 1908? Pulp fiction? Perfect for my fictional Mattie and for Valentine's Day!


Aubrey Lanston, a graduate of Georgetown University and member of the bar in the state of Washington, wrote historical fiction. He called The Harvesters "My first accepted, but by no means my first seriously intended novel." (See The Book News Monthly, Volume 22 (1904), p. 319) We'll assume he was more than happy to have A Roman Holiday appear in this breezier format. And don't most of us writers know about those unpublished novels in the drawer!

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Hanging wallpaper

Blog post tip: On October 15, 2014, Rodama: a blog of 18thC & Revolutionary French Culture posted a series of six rare drawings of 18thC techniques for manufacturing and hanging wallpaper. They were probably intended as submissions for Diderot's Encyclopédie. For the historical fiction writer, can't they stimulate the imagination from the point of view of either the workers or the householder who ordered new decoration?

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Buying wallpaper

This detail of an advertising poster published in Cleveland, Ohio, appears in The Papered Wall, ed. by Lesley Hoskins, and illustrates the choices offered a buyer at the turn of the last century. I love seeing the woman customer out shopping for her "house beautiful," the expression on the salesman's face, and, of course, the patterns being offered at the time. Another example of not-great art that can be immensely helpful to the historical novelist.

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Italian plaster-cast sellers

When I wrote Where the Light Falls, I knew that Italians worked as bus conductors and artists' models in Paris, but nothing about them as sellers of plaster-cast images. Von Stetten's painting opens up a new topic for investigation, and just a few clicks have already landed me on an article about the plaster figure trade in London. More concrete detail for a story about the intersection of commerce and art!
For an etching of an itinerant plaster cast seller in London, click here.

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