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Picturing a World

Clearing the Clutter (4): Writer in library

 
Oddly enough, I remembered this watercolor as "Lady Pole in Her Library." Nope, the artist was Thomas Pole, an American transplant to Bristol, England, a doctor and Quaker preacher—no titled lady involved. Still, you know me: it's all about using images to prompt story ideas. And quiet as it is, In the Library has some suggestive clues.

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Tanaudel’s TV sketching

Blog post alert: Something I would never have thought of: jotting down quick sketches—graphic or verbal—of what you see in the background while watching television series. Kathleen Jennings did. Read her post on TV Sketching—Backgrounds. Then try it!

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Rachael Robinson Elmer

In my work-in-slow-progress, "Anonymity," I have given my main character, Mattie, an apartment near 110th Street in New York and sent her walking through Morningside and Central Parks. In order to do so, I've looked at lots of historic photographs of the area, which was being built up in the first decades of the 20th C. It looked raw. By contrast, this postcard by Rachael Robinson Elmer makes it look lush and glamorous in a very urban way.

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Billiken

Blog post alert: I've been reading a diary from 1909. Its author's sister had a baby, which the diarist described as "looking like Billiken." Okay, I Googled and was delighted to find that the artist who invented this odd little good-luck figure was a woman, an art teacher, Florence Pretz, and the year was my magic 1908. The best account of the phenomenon is 1908: Behold The Amazing Billiken—worth a detour if you are interested in how an oddball invention became St. Louis University mascot and a god in Japan.

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Helen Stratton's Tempest

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!

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Sphere 1951

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.

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Tennant and Blackwell

Blog post alert: Emma Tennant's Wild Nights is a novel I love, and Su Blackwell's paper sculptures astonish. For more about both artists and many imore mages, check out The Books That Shape Us: Emma Tennant at Terri Windling's blog, Myth and Moor.

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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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Flapper Queens

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.

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Agnes Pelton

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.

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