Two biographies in one, The Paper Garden was more than I expected.
I don't usually read non-fiction or biographies unless it is about a person I am already interested in. So, why did I choose to read The Paper Garden? Like the author, I was intrigued by the idea of these beautifully intricate paper collages crafted by a woman at 72 years of age - a time when I imagine a person's fingers to be less than deft and eyesight unclear. Even more interesting was Mary Delany's life that lead her to this point in time.
Author Molly Peacock is better known for her award-winning poetry, but when she came face-to-face with Mrs. Delany's paper mosaics, she was so moved by the work and its creator that she was inspired to write The Paper Garden.
Unlike any biographies I have read before, Molly Peacock not only sheds light on Mrs. Delany's life before and after her creation of this new art form, she also lends us an unabashed look into her own life and the parallels she makes to her subject.
I have to be completely honest. At first, I rolled my eyes when the author started making comparisons between her own life and that of Mrs. Delany. Even more so when she began talking about the sexuality of the flowers Mary Delany created. A few weeks ago, I was in a little Italian restaurant in the Bronx. On the walls, I saw photographs of orchids, and, for the first time in my life, I saw just how erotic those images were. Molly Peacock did that. She made me look at a flower in a new way!
I picked the book again and continued to read, appreciating more and more the connection she felt to Mary Delany. Artists draw inspiration from other artists and art forms, and never is this so clear as with The Paper Garden.
Unfortunately, the copy I have of The Paper Garden was in black and white, so I had to search out the color images that are in the finished book. I think this also allowed me to appreciate these images. When I saw them in black and white, it was in the beginning of a chapter, before I read Molly's insight and fluid architecture of Mary's life. After I saw them in color, it was as if I was seeing them for the first time, as if Molly turned the light on.
This book inspired and amazed me, and when I travel to London (hopefully in the near future) I will be sure to stop at the British Museum because I NEED to see Mrs. D's paper mosaics in person.
From Publisher's Weekly: Intelligent and well read, a quintessential member of the British aristocracy but with a mind of her own, Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700–1788) was a late bloomer. Born to a noble family of moderate fortune, she was married, first at 17 to a much older, drunken aristocrat, in midlife, more happily, she married a loving Irish clergyman. Widowed, she began at age 72 her remarkable art of cutting and creating the 985 floral "mosaicks" as she termed them—a precursor to collage. Delany rubbed elbows with Handel, Hogarth, Jonathan Swift, King George III, and Queen Charlotte. But Delany was even more fortunate to come under the wing of a duchess who brought the cutting work to the attention of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Horace Walpole. Poet Peacock's (The Second Blush) hymn to Delany weaves in her own life and discovery of her subject and of course all the viewings of those astonishing orchid "mosaicks." 35 color illus. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Book: The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72 by Molly Peacock
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (April 12, 2011)
About the Author: Molly Peacock, a poet and a creative nonfiction writer, is the author of The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72 (McClelland and Stewart, October 2010, in Canada; Scribe Publications, October 2010, in Australia; Bloomsbury USA, April 2011, in the US; Bloomsbury, July 2011, in the UK) and six books of poetry, including The Second Blush (W.W. Norton and Company, June 2008, in the US and McClelland and Stewart, March 2009, in Canada) and Cornucopia: New & Selected Poems (W.W. Norton and Company in the US and UK and Penguin Canada, 2002). Among her other works are a memoir called Paradise, Piece By Piece and How To Read A Poem and Start A Poetry Circle (1998, 1999; both published by Riverhead Penguin in the US and McClelland and Stewart in Canada). She is the editor of a collection of creative non-fiction, The Private I: Privacy in a Public World (Graywolf Press) and the co-editor of Poetry in Motion: One Hundred Poems from the Subways and Buses (W.W. Norton, 1996).
Peacock also wrote and performed in a one-woman staged monologue in poems, The Shimmering Verge, produced by Femme Fatale Productions, which she performed in theatres throughout North America, including a showcase production at Urban