Saturday, November 12, 2011

Time for a Book Review

The Paper Garden
by Molly Peacock

Pancratium Maritinum

No, this is not a painting. No, it was not recently done. No, it is not the work of some agile, bright-eyed student of the fine arts or avid botanist. This is an exact botanical reproduction entirely constructed of cut paper. It was made in the late 1770s or early 1780s. The artist, Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) began creating such works in the 72nd year of her remarkable life. After the death of her second husband, a much older man with whom she had a most affectionate marriage (very unlike her first), she distractedly picked up paper and small scissors in an attempt to create an exact replica of a geranium blossom. With this creative act and she became the originator of the art of paper or mix-media collage. She produced 985 of these works in an eight year span. These breath-taking botanically correct cut-paper flowers are housed in the British Museum. In 2010 a large exhibit featuring some of her works was mounted at the Yale Museum of British Art. 

Molly Peacock's book, The Paper Garden: An Artist {Begins Her Life's Work} at 72, NY: Bloomsbury, 2010, is an unusual combination of biography of the subject with a smattering of the author's autobiographical material. Although her family had good connections they were forever concerned with having enough money. However, the good connections served Mary Delany well so the book is sprinkled with great historic figures such as the composer Handel whom she met as a young girl and in adulthood was invited to sit-in on his rehearsals!

Her story appeals to the artist in me. Her pursuit of beauty and art throughout her life, her ingenuity and application and skill in her seventh decade sets her up as quite a heroine. Even more encouraging is that a lifetime of fine work in the needle arts seems to have prepared her for this tour de force. Twelve of her works appear in the book, some with additional detail images. It is worth looking for the book at your public library (where I found it by pure chance) just to examine and mediate on the blossoms.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


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I hope they are helpful