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THE PAPER GARDEN: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 ~Molly Peacock

Monday, May 14th, 2012

The Paper Garden was/is a must read book for me, I was drawn to it from our first encounter and have not been disappointed by it even after reading it two times.  This book has its own unique story of how it arrived in my hands, even as it is a unique story about a unique artist.

An Extraordinary Book a Wonder Full Read

I first encountered The Paper Garden when I was searching for a gift for my artist friend Jane’s 60th birthday.   I have written about Jane before, actually several times, for you see, Jane  was waiting to hear if she would be “pink slipped” or if she would be moved to a new state project for less pay and retain her health insurance.   Her optimism was infectious as she sorted our whether or not to start her own art business yet hoping to make it to retirement on what she could earn; that seemed an exciting but worrisome leap.

Jane is one of the long term members of one of my book groups.  I wanted the gift to be just right and knew it would need to be a book.   I went to the TLC online book tours site and started reading reviews.

tlclogoThere it was, The Paper Garden, as I read that it is a biography of an artist who beings her life work at 72 and realized it was about second chances and opportunities, I knew I needed to choose this book and wrap it with care.

Nine months after the purchase, TLC book tours emailed and ask if I would consider reviewing the book. Bloomsbury sent me a copy.  Of course! I would love to read this book and it was a lovely and memorable read.

The author, Molly Peacock  is a poet and teacher, who has included memories of her own life and second chances which parallel the artist’s life.   They were meant to be friends I am sure of it.  Peacock used all the historic references she could find and visited London and Ireland numerous times to research and touch base with the still existing works of art, which are treasures of the Royal Museum – all 900 some paper collages.  Much of her primary work involved reading the thousands of letters written to the artist’s sister and preserved by family members over time.  Both the biography and the memoirs are remarkable stories and how they weave renders them more endearing.

Mary Granville Pendarves Delany was born in England on May 14, 1700.  Her Aunt trained her to be a member of the royal court, but she was never chosen and rather at age 16 married off to an older, alcoholic, insecure fellow with a castle.   Mary Granville Pendarves was confined to the castle with a huge hole in the roof, and so she mastered her embroidery, designed incredibly stunning gowns for herself and ladies of the court.  She sewed and embroidered with mastery.  Her other endeavors included rebuilding and designing the castle gardens into a remarkable show piece.

Pendarves died of a heart attack before he could change his will, so the estate went to a niece and Mary was left with a widow’s stipend.

She married a kind and loving man, who was a clergy in Dublin, Ireland and they had a delightful time together. Mrs. D as she was called in the book, painted the walls of the new chapel; she and her husband designed and built a remarkable and stunningly beautiful garden for their home.  Mr. Delany was older also and he died a few years after Mrs. D’s beloved sister died.

In her grief, Mrs. D became a sort of companion to a Duchess, the King, and Queen and though she had a house in London spent a good deal of each year with the Duchess.  It is here as she grieved the loss of her sister and husband and with 72 year old hands and eyes, she began making her botanical collages.  These intricate layers of cut paper also served as a record of what was in the garden preserving the botanical names that were being assigned to the flowers.

Mrs. D not only cut and sculpted the paper into works of art, which are still revered; she also made the paper, the paint and the flour and water paste which was used to produce the pieces.  There are 14 chapters each beginning with a template of one of the collages she cut – even in my paperback edition.

The beauty of this book from the words, the lives and livings shared, the art, history, science, and the blooms makes this volume  a gallery showcase.  This story was strikingly told by the poet and it is masterful.

I have put my copy by my reading chair, so that anytime I feel as though I am too old or that I have not accomplished something worthwhile, I can open it and discover it anew.  Just as I am full of wonder for each flower I experience, it is thus with this fine book and awesome read; I think I shall never grow tired of it.

“But in life our routines are the sign posts of destiny.” ~Molly Peacock

I feel privileged to be writing this review on the anniversary of Mary Grenville Pendarves Delany’s  Birthday

A stunning book

If you purchase anything from Amazon or Powell’s I will receive a few beans in my bucket.  Thank you.

British Edition also available at Powell’s for $1 more.

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Related Reading:

The Paper Garden website – with Peacock sharing her own words and thoughts about the Artist along with music and a power point presentation of the mosaics and painting from the book (2 minutes)
Walter’s Muse
The Swan Thieves
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay