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Picturing a World

Badger oracle

Sometimes a picture gives a lift to the heart. I had a dog, Badger, named for the white stripe up his black face. Because I loved him dearly, badgers have become my totem animal. This morning I was cheered to run across this image in illustrator Danielle Barlow's new Green Wheel Oracle. Whatever helps you through the day (let alone the night)! For more of Barlow's Dartmoor landscapes and evocative mythic illustrations, click here. And thank you, Myth and Moor, for Telling stories back to the land, which puts Barlow's work in context.

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Cover, Marilynne Robinson, Jack (2020)

Jack is Marilynne Robinson's newly published fourth novel about characters she introduced in her Pulitzer-prize winning, rightly beloved novel, Gilead. I haven't read Jack yet, only the excerpt published as "Jack and Della" in The New Yorker. But I was glad to be directed by the Guardian's coverage of the new publication to a remarkable interview from 2015, President Obama & Marilynne Robinson: A Conversation in Iowa, in the New York Review of Books. Imagine—a living president intelligently conversing at length with a thoughtful fiction writer! The present is a discouraging, scary time. It's good to be reminded of what we must try to hold onto. For a probing review of Jack, click here.

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Planting a tree in Paris

A blog post, The Spectacle of Paris Streets, has just alerted me to a book I wish I had known about when I was researching Where the Light Falls: A Travers Paris par Crafty. For instance, I'd never thought of large trees being planted on a Parisian boulevard until I saw this image. It's the sort of sight that could cause a character to loiter, or spark a train of thought, or even somehow play into the action of a story. Or it could prompt an imaginative excursion: what if there were a world where a steampunk technology was used by trees to facilitate their own migration? The whole book is worth exploring.

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Bilbo Baggins' birthday

For those of us who love Tolkien's Middlearth, September 22nd is a red-letter day not only as the first day of fall but as the shared birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. In a recent Myth and Moor post on The Mythic Art of Alan Lee, the illustrator is quoted as saying "I don't think I've ever seen a drawing of a hobbit which quite convinces me." All I can say is, this 15th C bas-de-page detail is a good place to start! And if you can, sit out under a tree and have a little something in honor of Bilbo and Frodo.

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Potted plant saucer

Howzzibout an angel on Sunday while we ignore all the ghastly news? With those gorgeous wings and the sumptuous brocade cope, I can't resist including him/her (them?) in my detail of a bas-de-page illumination in the Spinola Hours. And I like the illustration of typical rectangular ornamental beds and recognizable flowers, not to mention the fence and its built-in table. But it's the potted plants that interest me at the moment: Last night with a freeze predicted, I brought in potted plants and their saucers from the porch. I keep an eye out for potted plants in medieval and Renaissance paintings. This is the first one I can remember that shows a saucer. Such a useful bit of crockery! If you ask me, its history needs investigating.

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Emma Bell Miles

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.

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Hokusai fantasy drawing

This picture of a mythological subject by Katsushika Hokusai is one of 103 drawings recently acquired by the British Museum. They were preparatory sketches for a book that was never published. In a way, they fit into Jeanette's Parisian art world, because the set was acquired by Henri Verver (1854–1942), a jeweler and early collector of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. What struck me immediately, though, was how the image relates to a Japanese word, komorebi for those dawn sunbeams radiating through trees on a misty morning. Or, for that matter, to comic books—ka-pow!

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A character, a character!

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!

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Monster saws books

I am reading Christopher de Hamel's wonderfully genial and informative Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts. In searching on-line for a particular image reproduced in it, I came across a different one—this monstrous centaur attacking a stack of books with a saw. It made me laugh, ruefully. What better emblem of the current attack on learning and expertise?

Image via British Library.

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Dimples for President

What a difference a decade can make! Contrast Nell Brinkley's Dimples in 1928, daydreaming of becoming President, to yesterday's stalwart defender of Labor. (And, Kamala Harris, get a load of the pantsuit!) Yep, my copy of Trina Robbins's The Flapper Queens arrived, and it's terrific. I'm tickled to learn that Brinkley came to New York in 1907, so sure enough I can add a break-out female cartoonist to the publishing world my Mattie inhabits. Mostly, though, I'm getting a kick out of the visual energy and cheekiness of Brinkley's art work.

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