Though it was not a conscious plan, I've added a number of different red decorative elements to my room over the years. The result is a richer, more tonal effect than I would have achieved with one shade — or texture — of red. I've also layered objects that draw the eye away from the walls making the red function as a neutral background color. Like the furniture, most of the objects in the room have a story and a history unique to me. They are decorative, but never mere decoration.
I've included the shot above as a reminder of the layout of my red room (or at least the east and south walls). The wall above the desk is covered with art. My initial impulse was that all the images would be garden related, since I already owned a Beatrice Parsons watercolor of a garden path as well as a long color etching of views of a garden.
Over time the collection has grown more eclectic and includes everything from a photo (printed by my sister from a glass plate) of an American Indian couple at a 19th century world's fair to a 1950's magazine ad that was a gift ("I dreamed I was a lady editor in my Maidenform bra!") to a Japanese print I bought in San Francisco during my student travels, and a tiny brooch sporting a scene right out of the Italian Renaissance. I found it at my favorite Door County gallery in the years when Mark was showing his work there.
I have an array of textiles that rotate in and out of this room: contemporary pillows in red felt and suede and a rectangular one made from a felt banner from Mark's high school, paisley shawls, and a pair of antique patchwork pillows (one is visible in the photo). Among my favorites is this needlepoint pillow I made as a wedding present for Mark. The design is based on one of his woodcuts, which in turn is based on a photo from the Wisconsin State Historical Society. The embroidered textile draped over the back of the chair is an Indian head covering for a donkey — the holes are for the ears! We found it many years ago on a drive in the country where we discovered a 1903 hay barn converted into a multi-floored, multi-cultural shop.
I mooned and swooned over this 19th century Spirit House for a couple of years until one day Mark decided that if I liked it that much, I could have it as a birthday splurge. The central display niches have hand-painted details on the rear walls; and the spaces behind the grillwork contain tiny vases with hydrangeas. There are pairs of working drawers and doors behind which I store jewelry. On the top of the house sit two pairs of twins: carved wood figures from Tanzania and Ecuadorian Shigras (bags), made by looping yarn spun from fibers of the Cabuya (Agave) plant.
This little origami couple come out for Valentine's Day. If you look closely (click to enlarge any photo), you can see that the woman is held in the man's embrace. But she can also be removed from his arms to stand on her own. They were made by local artist and quilter extraordinaire, Rumi O'Brien. She rarely makes anything for sale anymore, so I feel fortunate to have had a chance to purchase some of her origami work and small textile items.
The objects with the highest sheen are these lacquered boxes, providing essential storage for small items. I love their glossy good looks and their Crate & Barrel price tag. They hold more jewelry and a collection of holy cards and obituary notices of friends and family, including both my parents.
The location of these boxes amidst antiques — the Spirit House, the gilded English mirror and my grandmother's beaded bag from the 1920's — belie their mass market origins. People just assume they are the same quality as the surrounding objects.
I used to use the top of the black bookcase as a display surface — until it became the resting place for the Spirit House. I switched to playing with objects on top of my china cabinet which is located on the wall opposite the window. There's less room but it still allows me to bring out favorite items seasonally, as in this Christmas display above and the row of Persephone books and other gray-blue items below.
But most of the time, the top of the china cabinet is the home to more mundane and utilitarian collections, like my eternal TBR pile of books — glitzed up with a crown.
The china cabinet is actually used to hold china — dishes that I've collected over the years as well as those that belonged to my mother and her mother. It's also home to a few wedding presents and Mark's much-dented silver baby cup. One shelf displays the tea cups that were featured in this month's GBBD post.
I am a big fan of the work of British artist/designer Eric Ravilious and feel fortunate to own one of his delightful Wedgewood coronation mugs. I discovered the work of Angie Lewin while searching online for more information about Ravilious. Turns out printmaker Lewin used the same Ravilious-designed mug in one of her prints (pictured below). Alas, it also turns out that I cannot afford to buy Lewin's lovely print, nor can I afford any of Ravilious' work that is still on the market — no matter the media.
But a recent Persephone Post alerted me to the fact that there are versions of the work of these two artists available in my price range. They are among the many items of interest for sale at the aptly named Ancient Industries. The business focuses on objects that have a timeless appeal and are made in traditional ways by (usually) long-established companies. Among the items featured are hot water bottles, tea pots and mugs, hand made brushes of all sorts, bike baskets; just a marvelous assortment — including a few Persephone titles.
THE PERSEPHONE POST
Ancient Industries also carries Ravilious' Wedgewood Alphabet set of dishes in blue or pink for $60. This charming group includes a plate, bowl and mug with rows of Ravilious' black and white motifs alternating with bands of alphabet letters printed over a pink or blue stripe. And they also sell a 6.5" x 5.5" linocut greeting card with Lewin's coronation mug on it — exactly like the print at the top — for a mere $4.00. There's also a 4" x 8.25" card by Lewin of the Alphabet mug.
The folks who run Ancient Industries, however, are very up-to-date and even have a blog that is worth visiting.
"I'm an artist by training, a journalist by trade, and a gardener by choice." That's how I describe myself on my "About" page. I am also a feminist, foodie, history buff, fiber and design devotee; the list is endless. Thus, I am not a single subject blogger. Gardening may be the emphasis much of the year (and I've found gardeners to be among the most friendly and responsive readers) but I have too many interests to limit myself to one.
Thus I'm especially drawn to those bloggers who don't limit themselves either. The blogs I've mentioned (in alphabetical order) may have themes but they often present them in refreshingly different ways, if not actually veering off topic occasionally. I don't know for sure what I will find when I arrive, which is what keeps me coming back.
Mark posted his "significant" list yesterday; you can read it here. I should mention we had some overlaps in our individual lists, but decided to not cover the same territory. Julie Siegel (see below) took this photo of Mark and me on a very hot day last summer when the three of us toured the Allen Centennial Garden on the UW-Madison campus.
I've been following Becky Holmes' A Book A Week for a couple of years, which is strange in a way since we don't really read the same kind of books. I looked at her annual lists posted on the blog, and discovered I read one of her titles from the 2008 list, three from 2007 and four from 2006. Despite that discrepancy, I will read perceptive, well-written, succinct reviews — like Becky's — of books I probably will not read as a way to keep current with literary offerings. She keeps me in the know. She also lives in my town and we share the same library but we've never actually met — which makes me feel like a kid with a secret pal.
I love Les — A Tidewater Gardener — because almost everything on his blog is new to me. Sure, he lives in an area of the country that I barely know, but he's also a history and architecture buff, is not afraid to jump on a soapbox and consistently wows me with his photographs. I am hoping to meet him at the 2010 Garden Bloggers Fling in Buffalo. Yes?
Jim Charlier, of the Art of Gardening, keeps me current on the architectural and horticultural highs and lows of my former hometown, Buffalo NY. He has a gem of an urban garden but travels widely, offering inspiration on many fronts — always with a strong dose of opinion and wit.
I began gardening as a result of an interest in horticultural history. Garden History Girl feeds that interest with memorable images and intelligent commentary on subjects rarely seen elsewhere. She's not a garden snob so you'll find information on the gardens in the film, "Gone With the Wind," as well as the best list of gift ideas for gardeners I saw in the blogosphere this holiday. And her name is Arcady — how perfect is that?
Julie Siegel is one of the first people that Mark and I discovered on-line. We investigated her Web site while debating about taking a garden design workshop she was teaching in Madison. Her site was — and is — both logical and beautiful, letting Julie's personality and interests shine through. After taking two classes with her, we all became fast friends.
Certainly I follow Julie's blog — J. Siegel Designs Blog — because of that relationship. But also because she is deeply committed to social justice issues, especially where they intersect with environmental concerns. It's an area I'm interested in from afar; Julie's in the field. She's a role model, a font of information, an artist raised in a family of artists and a great garden tourist and guide.
Knitting Letters: A to Z is an abcdarium in which the letterforms being celebrated are knit. It's a mind-boggling concept to someone like me who does not knit. But as one who collects alphabet books, doodles alphabets, and loves fiber, it's a natural fit nevertheless. The knitted letters are stunning gems but what makes this blog so valuable is the informative essays, links and sources that accompany each letter. The most recent letter "T" is all about Turkey (the country, not the bird) and is a rich compendium of that country's textile history. The knitting will wow you, but you'll stay for the mini-courses.
Martha B. took a break from her blog — Nibs: My Points of View — last year that left me devastated. Now she's back and better than ever. Nibs has carved out a number of niches: Weddings (particularly the clothing), "Shop Your Closet," and (visual design) Vocabulary to name just a few. She has a stylist's touch with her fashion photos while her images of personal landscapes are timeless. Her posts range from whimsical to thoughtful but always with a palpable sense of her warmth and charm.
As a woman who has purchased a plenitude of Persephone Books by post, I was particularly pleased when the UK publisher started a blog, The Persephone Post. It's always one single image with a brief text — "a parallel in pictures" they call it — making it the perfect way to start my day. If you are not yet a fan of Persephone books, do visit the company's site where bookish types will also enjoy the fortnightly letter.
Style Court is one of the first blogs I ever read and I continue to follow it consistently. Courtney concentrates on interior design with an emphasis on textiles (new and antique), emerging regional artists and galleries, how to frame/group/display artwork, gracious living (a Southern specialty) — all topics I find endlessly fascinating. A Style Court post may range from the texture of handmade paper to the flounce on a curtain to the lighting in a film. All beautifully connected and presented in such a way that those in the know will benefit as much as those just being introduced to the topic.
WISCONSIN BLOGS: Suffice it to say that I buy local and read local, too. In addition to A Book a Week, I find the following blogs especially appealing as a state resident, but you don't have to live here to enjoy them. Letter From Here is written by a Madison guy who's a superb photographer with something to say, literally and visually. Outside the LIne is the offering of a newly transplanted Madisonian who is also a font designer and alphabet doodler. Reading her blog, I get to see my city in a whole new light — and realize all that I am missing by being — perhaps — too much of a homebody. The Impatient Gardener is a sailor, magazine editor, gardener and designer of the interior and exterior of her home. Lots of projects and inspiration to get me jazzed about my own home and garden.
There's no better way to start the New Year than with a visit to some of these great blogs!
Reminding all readers (of books, not blogs) that Read a Persephone Book Week — sponsored by bloggers Paperback Reader and The B Files (Baking & Bibliophilia) — starts tomorrow. In case you've forgotten the plan, the two will be spending the coming week exclusively reading books from the estimable English publisher, Persephone Books. I discovered Persephone in early 2008 and have sung their praises ever since in both print and cyberspace (check out my categories list).
Since I easily have a week's worth of Persephone titles on my shelf, this challenge may be the impetus I need to finish the half-read ones and get started on the unread ones, like "Greenery Street."
And maybe, like Roses Over A Cottage Door, I'll even dress in gray (above). I'm sure I have a t-shirt like hers somewhere in the back of the closet. Thus, suitably attired, I can curl up on my gray-damask-covered couch, surrounded by my piles of gray-covered books, and hope for gray skies so I'm not tempted to put down my book and pick up my trowel.
Miss Buncle's Golden Boy graces the cover of this early edition of the book. Persephone's reprint, of course, is clothed in its distinctive discrete grey covers.
Two bloggers are having a Read a Persephone Book week next month for all you fans of the publisher. I still have a couple of unread titles on my shelf so I may try to join in.
If you're lucky enough to be in London today, then you can stop in Persephone Books in Lamb Conduit Street to celebrate this delightful publisher's birthday. "There are cute books, there are beautiful books," said the Irish Times, "and then there are Persephone books." Quite so.
Persephone's first book came out in March, 1999. But they note that — like the Queen — they are celebrating in June; today, in fact. There will be all sorts of tempting taste treats on offer as well as a special offer for visitors: three books for the price of two — today only and only in the shop.
But Persephone has kindly extended that offer to those of us who must buy from abroad for this whole week. I had been thinking about how lovely it would be to have something new from Persephone to read this summer and now here is my chance! Great titles at a great price. The free book will ship surface mail no matter what method you chose for your other two titles. I've discovered on past orders, however, that surface mail is virtually as quick as airmail and in some cases has actually been faster.
What did I order, you ask? One of the most recent titles, "Miss Buncle's Book" by DE Stevenson (No. 81); one of the early titles, "A Woman's Place:1910-75 by Ruth Adam (No. 20, endpaper shown above); and one from the middle. "The Runaway" by Elizabeth Anna Hart with illustrations by Gwen Raverat (No. 37, endpaper shown below). At least that's what I meant to do. I had a bit of difficulty this time deciding which titles to pick, and seem to have messed up my order in my confused state. So I am currently corresponding with Lydia at the shop to be sure I am getting the books I intended!
When it comes to the printed word, I still prefer the printing to be on paper. You could call me a Luddite; I prefer traditionalist. So, there's nothing I love more than Persephone Books. That's the U.K. publisher who's virtually cornered the market on literature by, about and for women; reprinting a variety of "lost" titles for contemporary readers. Last year I ordered a dozen titles even though the exchange rate was not in my favor.
Persephone introduced me to numerous new authors as well as Frances Hodgson Burnett's works for adult readers. Shortly thereafter, I found an unknown FHB title in a second-hand bookstore while on vacation. Imagine my chagrin when I reached the end of the book and discovered it was continued in a second volume with a different title.
The only way I could finish the book was on-line from Project Gutenberg. It was a less than satisfactory experience because Gutenberg doesn't seem set up to satisfy those who love books. The covers, the layout, the font, the logic that readers take for granted in print is often lacking on-line. Certainly that was the way I felt exploring and reading a book from Gutenberg.
At last that's changing, especially for those of us who can't get enough of Persephone's titles. The British publisher now has a worthy competitor: Girlebooks. Say it again slowly, with the emphasis on the "e" — electronic. Yup, it's "free ebooks by the gals."
The Web site is the work of one woman, Laura McDonald, and her mother, Joyce McDonald. They describe Girlebooks' mission as making "classic and lesser-known works by female writers available to a large audience through the ebook medium. They note they like books by men, but feel that "women's most loved and re-read books are generally books by other women." And they point out the same likely holds true for men. It works for me.
But what really works is the attractiveness of the site and the ebooks themsleves. You can search the site by title, author, or kind of lit (British, American, young adult and new releases). And the titles are wonderful. Many I'm completely unfamiliar with, like "The Female Quixote;" old friends like "Persuasion" and "My Antonia" have perfect cover images. I don't care if it's electronic; I still want an evocative cover. Or the cover that is on my own 1911 print copy of "The Secret Garden."
If my husband can read Thomas Hardy on his iPhone then I am willing to give ebooks a try on my laptop. I have to: Girlebooks hooked me with "The Leavenworth Case" and I'm not about to find a copy anywhere else. It looks to be a quirky mystery story told in the first person. But what is even more interesting is that the author, Anna Katherine Green, was one of the first to include scientific evidence as part of her dramas.
Even more interesting is the fact that the McDonald's discovered this author via an article in Antiques Magazine about the unique Arts-and-Crafts-era furniture designed by Charles Rohlfs with an unknown degree of collaboration by his wife — Anna Green. You can see some of their work in this slide show from Antiques Magazine.
But what hooked me is the discovery that Rohlfs and Green lived in my hometown — Buffalo — in one of my favorite neighborhoods where Rohlfs built them a Craftsman house, now in some disrepair. Thus, on my very first visit to Girlebooks, I discovered an unknown author, got a design and history lesson and a nostalgic link to the hometown of my childhood. And I haven't even started reading yet!
Girlebooks appears to have done the impossible: they've created a catalog of ebooks that will appeal to readers of Persephone's esoteric titles and whose design will keep those of us who love print happy on-line.
All book covers from Girlebooks. Image of the Rohlfs house (above) from the Web site: Buffalo As an Architectural Museum.
"Then she slipped through the door,
and shut it behind her, breathing quite fast
with excitement and wonder, and delight.
She was standing inside the secret garden."
— Frances Hodgson Burnett
When it comes to stories centered on gardens, one title has stood above all the others for almost 100 years: Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Secret Garden." Regardless of age, it has the power to transport the reader to a degree that few works of fiction can claim. That power comes from the timeless nature of the story as well as from Burnett's own story and the garden at the center of her tale.
Burnett was born in England but spent her childhood in the U.S. after the death of her father. Though her first husband was an American, Burnett wound up spending much of her married life in England, including the years during and after a disastrous second marriage. That partner's abusive and threatening personality are considered the basis for the fictional tyrant, Sir Nigel Anstruthers, one of the central figures of Burnett's 1907 novel, "The Shuttle."
"The Shuttle" looks at the trans-Atlantic weaving together in marriage of impoverished British aristocrats and wealthy American young women and the culture clashes that ensue. Burnett profiles a new kind of woman: wealthy, brainy, loaded with initiative and not about to take a back seat to anyone — including her husband.
"The Shuttle," reprinted by the U.K. feminist publisher Persephone Books, is an enthralling read. It's also the place where you can begin to see the importance Burnett assigns to gardens as places of beauty, nourishment and especially, new life. Burnett wrote most of "The Shuttle" at Maytham, a Georgian house near Rolvenden in Kent where she lived for about ten years beginning in 1898, according to Anne Sebba's introduction to the book. The village is still there, virtually unchanged, though the house was demolished in 1910 and replaced by the current Lutyens creation.
Burnett wrote on the wide terrace of the house; there were woods crowding by, and a walled rose garden that one entered through a wooden door. In "The Shuttle," Burnett begins the theme that this landscape suggested and that she will explore so deeply: "One feels so much in a garden ... One is so close to Life in it — the stirring of the brown earth, the piercing through of green spears, that breaking of buds and pouring forth of scent."
Four years later — in 1911 — "The Secret Garden" was published. There was surprisingly little attention paid to the book — nothing like that for her popular adult novels nor for her children's tales like "Little Lord Fauntleroy." Its renaissance seems related to the release of the first (silent) film version of the story in 1918 and to the increasing notice given to children's literature as the 20th century progressed.
"The Secret Garden" revolves around three children: Dickon, a local Yorkshire lad; Mary Lennox, the orphan come to England from India; and her sickly cousin, Colin Craven, whose father is the master of Misselthwaite Manor where the story takes place. It's a forbidding and mysterious house, filled with long corridors, strange sounds and people who have little time for a cranky orphan. The story revolves around the discoveries the children make about themselves, each other and the healing power of Nature, and the abandoned, hidden garden they bring back to life.Inga Moore's illustrated edition of "The Secret Garden," published in 2008 (above left) may be the best version since the book was originally published in 1911 (above right).
Last winter, just after I discovered Persephone Books, I discovered book bloggers. Or rather, a book blogger discovered me. I suppose it was inevitable given the fact that we live in the same town and are both fans of the U.K. publishing house, Persephone.
Becky aka A Book A Week sent me a note about a newspaper column I wrote about Persephone and I've been reading about what Becky's reading ever since. Sometimes I've read the title she's covering; other times I've been inspired by an unknown title.
But mostly I've been inspired to follow Becky's lead and read a book a week, something she's been doing for 25 years! It helped when I realized that — though I haven't managed to make it through 52 books in 2008 — some weeks I easily make it through a book or three. The problem is that a number of weeks may pass before I pick up another, let alone finish it. Or I read the same one twice — which isn't fair to count as two books (is it Becky?).