Category Archives: Art

Five for Friday: The Golden Age of Illustration

Today’s post is going to be a little different, a reflection of my newest obsession, the golden age of illustration, which ran roughly from 1880 to 1920. As Artcyclopedia puts it, advances in technology allowed for “accurate and inexpensive reproduction of art,” both in books and magazines.

Nowhere was this more evident or glorious than in illustrations for children’s books. Beatrix Potter, of course, comes to mind, but there were many others, too: Edmund Dulac, Jessie Willcox Smith, Walter Crane, and Sir John Tennial, to name a few.

As chance would have it, there is even a Facebook group called The Golden Age of illustration. I joined the group not long ago, and that’s when I became hooked on illustrations from this period, especially the ones for children’s books. Not surprising as I write books for young people.

Many of the images from this period are in the public domain, which means we are free to use them as we wish. Clif, who is a talented graphic artist, has caught the golden age of illustration bug and is working with some of the pictures. He has been enlarging the illustrations, smoothing the pixels, and retouching the illustrations. We plan to sell matted prints at fairs we go to, and he has done research about the artist and the books the illustrations come from. This information will be included with the prints.

Below are five of the illustrations he has worked on, and they are by Edmund Dulac and Jessie Willcox Smith.

This is one of my favorites. The illustrator is Edmund Dulac, and the picture is from the story “A Little Girl in a Book,” written by Mrs. Rodolph Stawell. Funny to think there was a time when women writers went by their husband’s name, but there you are. Progress has definitely been made on that front.

This is another of Edmund Dulac’s illustrations, and it’s from “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s not a scene I’m familiar with, that’s for sure.

Jessie Willcox Smith did this illustration for The Little Lame Prince by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

As well as this one—Little Red and the Wolf—otherwise known as Little Red Riding Hood.

And finally, here is a Jessie Willcox Smith’s illustration from The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley.

Today, there are many fine artists who create illustrations for children’s books. But for me, there is something about pictures from the Golden Age of Illustration that captures the wonder, magic, and even the dread of fantasy and fairy tales.

I wonder what it was from that period that allowed illustrators to tap into art that goes so beautifully with the stories.


Finding the Unexpected at Colby Museum of Art

On Saturday, Clif and I went to Waterville, to Colby College’s fabulous Museum of Art.

We wanted to see two specific exhibits: Herman Bas: The Paper Crown Prince and Other Works, and City of Ambition: Photography from the Collection.

We did see The Paper Crown Prince, a small exhibit that included a few dreamy, exquisite paintings that symbolically explore the coming of age of teenage boys.

Here is The Paper Crown Prince.

And here is Fitting In.

But we never made it to City of Ambition because I was unexpectedly waylaid by Game Time: The Sports Photography of Walter Iooss. I used the word “unexpectedly” for a good reason. Full Disclosure: There are few people who are as disinterested in sports as I am. For me, watching people pursue, hit, or kick a ball is akin to watching paint dry. Baseball is the worst—do the players even build up a sweat?—but basketball, hockey, and soccer are only marginally better.

I will admit that sports such as skating, skiing, and snowboarding hold my attention longer, say, for five or ten minutes. But to paraphrase Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice—of some pleasures, I believe, a little goes a long way.

So imagine my surprise when Walter Iooss’s sports photographs reached out and pulled me in.  Not literally, of course—I was not, after all, in the middle of one of my own fantasy novels. However, when I intended to just pass through the gallery with his photos, I found that I couldn’t. Every one of Iooss’s photographs told a bright, vivid story, whether it was of someone famous, such as the tennis player Billie Jean King, or of children playing stickball in Havana, Cuba.

Here are a few of the photographs, taken with my wee wonder of a camera, that unfortunately did not do them justice. I had to crop in close to give some idea of the intensity of the pictures, and my reproductions are nowhere near as sharp as the originals. Still, I hope they give some idea of the power of Iooss’s work.

Here is Billie Jean King, Wimbledon, 1979:

Note how petite, almost waifish, Billie Jean King looks. Yet also note the look of intense determination on her face. Here is a woman who wants to win the game, and she has worked long and hard to acquire the necessary skills. Whoever is playing against her had better watch out.

Consider this astonishing shot of the diver Julia Cruz, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, 1984.

There she is, in the gray wide open, and she is about to dive backward into water that is way below her. Cruz’s body is poised, muscular, ready. A leap of faith?

Finally, there is Havana Cuba, March 1969.

Iooss writes that the children’s “eyes [are] fixed on the pitch like it’s the only thing in this world. Nothing else matters. To me, that’s sports in one single frame.” Even the dog is sitting in stiff attention.

Yes. For the first time I understand how it is for people who love sports. It’s how I feel about art—in all its varieties—and nature.

Readers, if you live within driving distance of Waterville, Maine, go see this exhibit. Even if you don’t like sports. I expect that you will be illuminated, the way I was, by these terrific pictures.

Fortunately, Colby is close enough so that we can easily return to see City of Ambition. Also, there is no admission fee, which means we can stop in and  just look at one exhibit. We don’t feel as though we have to hurry through the museum, when we are past the viewing point, to get our money’s worth.

The Colby Museum of Art is such a gift to central Maine.



An Illuminating Week

Last week was a week of illumination, where I learned so much and also had so much fun. I guess you could call it a nearly perfect week of good movies, good food, a wonderful play, a fine lecture, and time spent with my nephew and daughter. Who could ask for anything more?

Once again, I am grateful that we live in a rural area with lakes, rolling hills, and forests yet also have access to plays, art, lectures, and independent movies. This definitely falls under the category of having the best of both worlds. We are also three hours away from Boston and seven hours away from New York City. In short, central Maine rocks.

First, the food. When Dee comes for a visit, one of her favorite meals is a waffle breakfast. I know this is bragging, but Clif’s homemade waffles are pretty darned good. We bring the waffle maker and batter to the dining room table, and out the waffles come, hot and fresh. This time, for sides, we had fresh strawberries and veggie sausages. (Dee is a vegetarian.) We had this breakfast not once, but twice.

Dee is a pizza hound as well as a movie buff, and it seems this pairing is not unusual. Next to Railroad Square Cinema is Grand Central Cafe, which makes pizza in a wood-fired brick oven. I am not a pizza hound, but I have to admit that Grand Central’s pizzas are very tasty.  The pizza featured below, which Clif and I shared, had cheddar, chicken, mushrooms, and barbecue sauce and was served piping hot.

And as far as Clif is concerned, pizza and beer go together the way chocolate and peanut butter do. This particular beer came from Bar Harbor.

Now for the illumination. Colby College, a liberal arts college with an incredible art museum that has become a destination, is a major sponsor of the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF). This year, in conjunction with MIFF showing one of Disney’s most beautiful, films—Bambi—Colby hosted a lecture called “Bambi and the Art of Tyrus Wong” presented by the filmmaker and animation historian John Canemaker.

I had never heard of Tyrus Wong (1910-2016), a Chinese immigrant who suffered poverty, discrimination, lack of recognition, and at a young age, the loss of his mother. Despite the hardships, Wong became an animator extraordinaire who worked on Walt Disney’s Bambi. Wong’s luminous, Asian approach of soft, blended backgrounds enhanced the vivid, memorable characters in this movie.

During the lecture, I also learned that Bambi was based on Felix Salten’s 1923 Austrian novel, Bambi, a Life in the Woods. When I came home, I Googled Felix Salten and discovered that his book “was  one of the first environmental novels ever published.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend MIFF’s presentation of the movie Bambi, a 35mm Academy Archive print shown on the huge screen at the Waterville Opera House. It meant leaving our dog buddy Liam unattended for too long.

Ah, well! I really can’t complain as I learned two things I didn’t know about—the animation of Tyrus Wong and the Austrian writer Felix Salten.

And I saw some first-rate movies, which I’ll write about tomorrow.

The Invisible Made Visible: A Gathering of Franco-American Writers, Artists, and Creatives

Last weekend, I went to the Franco-American Centre at the University of Maine at Orono, which hosted “its sixth annual gathering (or Rassemblement) of Franco-American writers, artists, and creatives. The annual event, organized by UMaine’s Franco American Programs, aims to create a culturally supportive space in which members of the Franco-American creative community can share their work.” (The quotation was taken from an invitation sent by the Centre’s director, Susan Pinette, and I used this because it states so well the raison d’être for the event.)

I’ve been going to Rassemblement from the beginning, and what a treat it is to spend time with so many creative Franco-Americans.

In the past on this blog, I’ve written a brief history of Franco-Americans in Maine and how they comprise about a third of the state’s population. (Most of our ancestors migrated from French Canada in the mid- to late 1800s.) Because of the history of discrimination and repression, many Maine Franco-Americans feel invisible, and I understand this is also true for Franco-Americans in other parts of New England.

When we come together for Rassemblement, we Franco-American creatives no longer feel invisible.  We read our poetry and fiction. We present our research projects. We perform our pieces, many of them centered on what it means to be Franco-American in all its various aspects. We listen attentively to each other, so grateful not to feel invisible anymore.

This year, there were a number of young Franco-American students who either read poetry or spoke about being Franco-American. What a treat to have them there! Most of the “regulars” who come to Rassemblement are what might be considered, ahem, mature. To have so many younger folks there was like having a fresh breeze blow through the event.

There were so many terrific presentations at Rassemblement, and I feel bad that I can’t describe them all. However even brief descriptions would make this post much too long.

Here are a few highlights from the Rassemblement:

Susan Pinette, the wonderful director, kicking off the event on Saturday morning.

The fabulous Susan Poulin, reading about her extraordinary aunt who was a nun.

Mitch Roberge, a UMO student, reading “Speak White,” a poem he wrote in French.

Steven Riel, a very fine poet, before his reading. Here’s an especially beautiful line from one of his poems: “Moonlight enters without knocking.”

And the talented Greg Chabot, performing one of his pieces about being Franco-American. Chabot maintains that “visibility comes from creation.”

I, of course, read from my novel Maya and the Book of Everything, and I was so proud to see it displayed on the table with other books and CDs.

And as a cherry on the sundae, I stayed at a nice little hotel down the road from the Franco-American Centre. By gum, it even had a room with a view.

A weekend with Franco-American creatives. A room with a view.

Who could ask for anything more?

Well, perhaps one not-so-little thing. I wish that you, readers, could have come to the event to hear all the talented Franco-American creatives present their work, to see the invisible made visible.

Off to the Colby Museum of Art

Let’s just say that Clif and I are beginning to enjoy these anniversary outings very, very much. As a matter of fact, today I told Clif that I’ll be a little mopey when these celebratory excursions are over.

But never mind about that! We will enjoy these outings now and not think too far ahead. (A blizzard is predicted for next Tuesday. Oh, joy.)

Yesterday we went to the Colby College Art Museum for a noontime talk about the artist George Bellows (1882-1925) and the propaganda war-series lithographs he did for the United States during World War I. At Colby, some of these lithographs are featured in an exhibit called Graphic Matters: George Bellows and World War I. (To see a sample of Bellows’s work, click on the link.)

This is from the museum’s website: “His depictions of reported German atrocities on the Western front were used by media outlets and the federal government to stoke anti-German sentiment. Bellows’s ‘War Series’ highlights the complex and porous relationship between art and propaganda.”

The speakers, curators Justin McCann and Diana Tuite, concluded that Bellows’s images were overwrought and over the top. McCann and Tuite are not wrong. However, during the Q & A, I did note that after seeing the images from the current war in Syria, I would have to say that war itself is over the top. Maybe Bellows wasn’t wrong to portray war that way. The violence and destruction are so terrible that it’s a wonder that people ever recover.

Or maybe Bellows went too far with the propoganda. Anyway, not exactly the cheeriest of talks, but interesting nonetheless, and the small gallery was packed with seniors and students.

After the talk, we had lunch at the museum’s cafe, where we had some of the tastiest and most reasonably priced food we have ever eaten at a museum. When I asked the woman who served us where the food came from, I was not surprised to learn that most of it comes from Colby’s own kitchens. Long ago, I worked in the kitchen at one of the dorms, and the food was very good, made from scratch.

Clif and I shared a tasty homemade chicken soup and shrimp sushi rolls.

Naturally, we also had dessert, a brownie big enough for at least three people.

Refreshed, we went to another exhibition—No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki. This couldn’t have been more different from the Bellows exhibit.   Zao’s big, bold abstracts jumped with color. They reminded me of representations of the Big Bang, and they filled me with joy. Zao (1920-2013) was a Chinese-French artist. I’d never heard of him, and I was grateful to have the chance to see his work.

While I’m on the subject of gratitude…I am so grateful to have a college with such an excellent art museum within easy driving distance. This museum is free, as are the many lectures and talks that go with the exhibits.

I love nature, but I love art, in its various aspects, with equal intensity, and both are of vital importance to me. Clif is the same way. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we’ve been married so long.

Whatever the case, we both feel fortunate to live in a rural area that has access to so much good art.

Along Came a Spider…

The meal on Jill's deck
The meal on Jill’s deck


The week with our daughter Dee was bookended by two outdoor meals with friends. The first was with Jill on her deck in the trees. (The back of her house sits high on a slope, and on the deck it really does feel as though you are in the trees. ) We had an absolutely fabulous appetizer meal. As we ate and talked, I watched the tree tops sway in the wind. I also watched the birds that came to the many feeders Jill has in her yard. All in all, a magical meal.

Then, this past Sunday, after Dee left, we had another absolutely fabulous meal—salads and salmon and grilled bread—with our friends Cheryl and Denny. (Alas, I did not think to bring my camera. The hot and humid day must have clouded my mind.) Their deck is low and overlooks a sweep of lawn with flowers and a bird bath. Another magical place.

In between, we went to two movies—Star Trek and Captain Fantastic—and two plays—The Illusion and Henry V.  In central Maine, which has a low population, we are extremely lucky to have the Theater at Monmouth, which calls itself the Shakespearean theatre of Maine. Each summer, equity and nonequity actors perform four or five plays in repertory, and two of them are usually Shakespeare’s plays. While I love all the arts, theater is at the top of my list, right up there with books. In short, I can never go to too many plays, especially if the actors are good.

This year, the troupe at the Theater at Monmouth is very good indeed. So good, in fact, that when, in The Illusion, a huge spider decided to descend from the heights and join the fun, the actors—bless them—never skipped a beat, never once indicated that a giant arachnid was hovering nearby. Up the spider went, and then down again it came, nearly running into one of the actresses as she was in mid-speech. An audible ripple of dismay  spread through the audience, and I covered my eyes with my hands.

But the actress never flinched, and on went the show. That darned spider finally dropped to the stage, and we didn’t see it again. Thank goodness!

This unpredictability is one of the reasons I love theater so much. Who knows what will happen in any given performance? As the house lights go down, I always get a little shiver of anticipation, and sometimes, just sometimes, there is even alchemy in the theater.

Our week with our daughter is over, and back to our normal routines we must go. However, thanks to Dee, who for Christmas bought us season passes to the Theater at Monmouth, we have two more plays to see next weekend.

I wonder if there will be any more unexpected visitors.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens: The Sculptures

At the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, the beds of beautiful flowers with their snappy color combinations would be enough to please most people. However, what makes these gardens really special is the attention that has been paid to the aesthetics of place—the use of stone, water, and sculpture. I know it is hyperbole  to call any place magical, but the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens really fits that description. Going through these gardens and taking pictures becomes a sort of mediation, a celebration of the beautiful now.

Here are some pictures of the sculpture at the Botanical Gardens. They only give the barest glimpse of what it’s like to be there and walk along the pathways with the drifts of flower, the expanse of blue sky all around, the many, many pieces of art, the dappled shade, and the solid yet lovely stonework.

Readers, there is only one solution. If you live within driving distance, go visit these gardens and see for yourself. If you don’t live within driving distance, then you can follow Botanical Gardens online.







A wonderful interlude, but now it’s back to Maya and the Book of Everything. I have a deadline of August 3 to get certain materials ready, and I am making good progress.