Monday, November 15, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

If you were to dream up the perfect gift for the hardcore book lover, it would look a lot like The Paper Garden (McLelland & Stewart) by Molly Peacock.

Peacock takes a very personal look at the life of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, daughter of the aristocracy, married into wealth at 16 to improve her family’s fortune, widowed by 25. Delany danced, partied, stitched and painted for the next few decades, until she married again in mid-life. Twenty-three years later, when her second husband died, she battled her grief with creativity and, in the process, created a new art-form: mixed-media collage. She was, at the time, 72 years old.

Molly Peacock, a celebrated poet, brings her sharply honed eye and sensibility along to tell Delany’s story. In the process, she embroiders it with her own. The resulting book is more than a beautiful glimpse at Delany’s very interesting life (among other things she dined with Jonathan Swift and fended off Lord Baltimore) but a considered and shared contemplation on art and creativity.

Peacock describes her first encounter with botanical mosaic:
I felt nearly ashamed about how deeply I swooned over her work, because the botanicals seemed almost fuddy-duddy. Somebody like Georges Braque or Pablo Picasso probably would have hated them. They were not shiny, abstract, or hanging in the Museum of Modern Art. They were not avant-garde, even in their own day....How I wished I could love in my heart the art I could love in my mind.
The Paper Garden is just beautiful and, like Delany’s art, it is challenging to categorize. It is the biography of an interesting and creative woman. It is the memoir of another. It includes 35 color illustrations: portraits of Delany at various stages, examples of her (actually not at all fuddy-duddy) art. And, finally, it is a celebration of shared creativity. ◊

Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.

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