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Picturing a World

Bridge tallies

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!

These two tallies were painted for a party in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, given on July 25, 1929.  "Mrs. Grieve" is Jeanette Smith Greve, the "real Jeanette" whose story inspired Where the Light Falls. Late in her life, Jeanette bought a cabin in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where she and her daughter, Harriet Cone Greve, spent summers. Harriet Greve was the first dean of women at the University of Tennessee, which explains the jokey telephone and schedule. And that little country store on the left is Gatlinburg before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Grainger, who taught in the art department of the University of Tennessee, is remembered for her landscapes of the Great Smoky Mountains, which makes these two little pictures special treasures. Her love of the Appalachians was shared by Jeanette, who published The Story of Gatlinburg in 1931, and by another attendee at the party, Laura Thornburgh, whose most famous book was The Great Smoky Mountains (1937). Grainger, both Greves, and Thornburgh all attended the party and signed the backs of these cards. I wish I could have been there, and I wish I could see the tallies for the other guests. NB: The female society of Gatlinburg is a topic that should be investigated by a women's studies scholar or an historical fiction writer.


For that matter, hand-painted tally cards for a bridge party might be a perfect detail for a story about artistic and literary ladies in the 1920's, or high society ladies, or as clue in a period murder mystery, or, discovered in a trunk, as the prompt for uncovering a family secret. If you have an idea, run with it. And for those of you who paint, perhaps now is the time to try your skill in devising a set for a bridge enthusiast.

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