I honestly don't remember why I set this image aside for a blog post. True, a 1905 retelling of a Shakespearean story fits into the time frame for Mattie in my work-in-progress to have seen it, and Helen Stratton is one of those forgotten female artists it's fun to rediscover. What strikes me today, though, is the figure of Caliban. When you've just read Kindred, he would!
Picturing a World
As a follow-up to yesterday's post, what fun! Father Christmas calling down the reindeer in a more natural version of his ice palace. This is obviously not the North Pole; but, after all, why not imagine his workshop somewhere in the North Woods? Or take the picture literally and see it as the backdrop for a theatrical production. I'm devouring it like a bon-bon, but if we play this year's story-generating game, there are already three possibilities: a story about Santa Claus, a story about a staged show, a story about a 1951 magazine.
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!
Wouldn't Wells and Wong love it!?! And I expect to. This illustration is from Rachel Cooke's review of The Flapper Queens by Trina Robbins. The idea of jazzy female cartoonists opens a new world for me to think about in connection with my character Mattie's future in the New York publishing world. So, yes, I ordered it from my local independent bookstore. And for more sample pages, click here.
An article in a double issue of American Art Review (June–August 2020) alerted me to Agnes Pelton, whose work was recently shown in the Phoenix Art Museum and will eventually show at the Whitney in New York. I find this image mysteriously evocative. Sun and moon? Eclipse? Steady gaze by an unseen power? Balance, equipoise? Sometimes meaning is felt, not spoken, and best left unexplained.
A post, Undine Love: Reprint, new art, at Kathleen Jennings' blog took me to the reprint of her story, "Undine Love," in full at Tor. What a treat—both the story and the silhouettes! They are a reminder that updating a fairy tale or folkloric motif can be a great way to begin a story of your own. The backbone of plot comes essentially ready-made, leaving you free to work on other aspects of composition—setting, character, dialogue, incidents (as opposed to the underlying structure). The talent to illustrate would be a big bonus—and might just affect the tone and finished piece. Wish I had the talent and the training!
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!
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.
Blog post alert: For International Women's Day, see James Gurney's recent post on the "White Rabbits," the female students of sculptor Loredo Taft who helped him fulfill a commission to decorate the Horticulture building at Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1893. They all went on to distinguished careers themselves. (I love seeing what the working female sculptor wore).