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Picturing a World

Tailoring vocabulary

Blog post alert: Spitalfields Life has a great vocabulary list for The Language of Tailors. It's always fun to have characters use a bit of lingo, and glossary lists can even supply names. My favorite from this one is Mungo—sounds like a hobbit and the meaning (cloth cuttings, which can be sold to a rag dealer) also suggests a subplot.

image via 18th C Tailoring Slang

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Shaun Tan's Creatures

When I was a child, my mother had a rule that you couldn't buy a book unless you had first borrowed it from the library and knew you wanted to read and reread it. Well, as soon as I got wind of Shaun Tan's new book, Creatures, I borrowed it through interlibrary loan. The art work, of course, is terrific. I turned each page. At his comments in the final section, I started flipping back and forth. The more I got out of the pictures, the more I knew I wanted to study them again and again—and also to think more about what Tan has to say, not only about these pieces in particular, but about art and stories in general. Right. I bought a copy (from an local independent bookstore, natch).

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Medieval mice take the castle!

The solid black silhouette startled me first when I saw a stick figure in a 14th C bas-de-page illustration. I can't remember ever seeing anything like it in a medieval manuscript. Then I realized it was a mouse. A mouse with a catapult! A mouse attacking a castle! A castle held by a cat? Turn the page and there's more. It's really like a cartoon strip running along the bottom of eight pages of this 14th Book of Hours. The sense of humor is recognizable from the period; so is a narrative sequence in these decorations. But those black mice! Something for fantasy or historical fiction, for doggerel verse or a children's book (provided, I suppose, that you brought the cat back to life), or, for that matter, a little serious historical research.

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Gorey frogs

Many years ago, my husband and I saw an exhibition of beanbag frogs made by Edward Gorey with short mottoes embroidered on their chests—phrases like "Why not?" and "If Only." We've chuckled over them ever since.  So imagine my delight in running across recently the froggy image shown here and then an article, Edward Gorey's Toys, in a recent The New Yorker. Maybe I should invent a character who was so inspired by them that he/she …, well, what?

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Twelfth Night, or what you Will

I don’t much like 19th C caricatures, but I love the punch drinker’s salute to William Shakespeare’s bust here. As you probably know, the play Twelfth Night was written by Shakespeare in the winter of 1601–1602 (the first recorded performance was on Candlemas Night,  Read More 

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Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner

How marvelous to see Asians, African-Americans, a native of the First Nation, and women among those invited to Uncle Sam’s 1869 Thanksgiving Dinner—with universal suffrage as centerpiece! Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Read More 
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Fluffy Ruffles

And now for a working woman of a different sort: Meet Fluffy Ruffles, heroine of a weekly syndicated feature of the New York Herald. An heiress who has lost her fortune and keeps trying out new jobs to make a living, she first appeared in 1906. By 1908, she'd had musical written about her—with music by Jerome Kern, no less. Read More 
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This not an April Fool …

This is not an April Fool’s joke, but a genuine double-page spread. Anyone care to speculate on the sex of author and illustrator?
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Varnishing day

Without explaining the ins and outs of the annual state-sponsored art exhibition known as the “Salon,” I wanted readers to experience how important it felt to most professional artists, students, critics, and journalists. As Robida’s illustration for La Caricature (7 mai 1891) suggests, the last day before the official opening was a mad frenzy as painters varnished canvasses already hung or showed their works to special guests. Charlie Post's breakdown and Jeanette's horror were intended to dramatize the intensity of emotions. I also hoped that Chapter Thirty-Five would be vivid enough to carry over and intensify the reader’s experience of the Salon of 1880 in Chapter Forty-Eight.

For an article on the official annual art exhibitions in Paris and London, click hereRead More 
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From the sublimity of Friday's Rembrandt to the absurdity of Punch today! Punch was my model for Noggins, the humor magazine to which Robbie Dolson contributes his satirical article about lady painters at the Breton seacoast. I read enough passages to have fun writing a pastiche, but I did not go so far as to mock up Noggins pages. Are any of you historical fiction writers also re-enactors? If so, what you have done and how has it affected your writing?

To read many volumes of Punch on line, click hereRead More 
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