Monthly Archives: May 2015

A New Source of Books! The dentist’s office…

I found a new way to acquire used books. Go to the dentist. No kidding! My dentist’s office now includes a bookshelf marked “Free Library”. Patients are invited to take or leave a book or two

You never know what you will find in such a situation! Turns out my dentist and his patients own and read high quality books. (I mean, books that appeal to me.) A few bodice rippers tastefully mixed with Folger Shakespeare Library paperbacks and recent literary fiction.

I plunged in and immediately found three books that I wanted. What to do? I picked a book of short stories, just because that’s a genre I seldom read. Stay tuned for a review.

I may unload a few books on Dr. P’s “Free Library” shelf, but it’s going to be hard to avoid bringing home even more.

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“The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady” by Edith Holden.

Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977. 176 pages, plus species lists.

This book is a gem! It is a full color facsimile reproduction, notable for both artistry and scientific accuracy. Edith Holden was known in her lifetime as an illustrator of children’s books. Decades after she died in 1920, a relative showed her “diary” for the year 1906 (which was intended as a teaching tool) to a publisher, who released it in 1977. The book is a combination of field observations (she walked many miles!), the author’s favorite poems and sayings, and beautiful, detailed paintings of insects, birds and flowers.

A second book of Holden’s field notes (The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady) was published in 1984.

I took a careful look at Holden’s entries for the month of May. The month begins with a detailed painting of a chaffinch’s nest with eggs, surrounded by hawthorn blossoms and wild hyacinths.

One of the mottoes listed is “Change not a clout till May be out”. I think this means “keep your winter cloak handy”. Good advice! On May 16, Holden reports cold north wind, thunder and HAIL. She went out none-the-less, and found a thrush’s egg that had been blown to the ground.

Holden includes poems by Wordsworth, Spenser, ap Gwillym and Ingelow among her May entries. There are numerous paintings.

This lovely book would make a fine gift for any nature lover, or a treat for when you want to savor poetry and art at the same time.

Take back the streets! (Pitney Road)

Municipal planners will tell you that a “road” and a “street” are two different entities, despite the interchangeable use of the terms, along with a multitude of other synonyms like “lane”, “drive” and “way”. The difference is summed up as follows: a road is for cars, a street is for people.

I accept this distinction. I live on a road. People (except in their cars) venture onto it at their peril. Where can I go to experience a “street”? In Egg Harbor City, I can at least wander from restaurant to Library to hardware store. Some effort has been made to soften the hardscape with trees and a bench or two. There’s a pub. Let’s call Philadelphia Avenue 15% “street”. Much better than 100% road!

The two big cities I know best (Boston and Philadelphia) have sections where the streets are alive. Alive! Often these are the areas popular with young adults. Lively streets provide shopping and entertainment. There are opportunities to “see and be seen”. You might run into a friend. A street is public, social space.

My Quaker meeting is located on a road – no doubt about it. Pitney Road is, at times, annoyingly busy with cars and a tad dangerous. But we put the “street” back into Pitney Road on Saturday morning with our annual fundraiser. Who would have thought heirloom tomato plants would be so popular?

For a few hours, our part of Pitney Road became “people territory”. Cars slowed down! “Meet and greet” became the order of the day. Joggers and dog walkers materialized. The merits of “Rutgers” tomatoes were debated, the Spring weather analyzed, summer plans discussed.

The tomato plant sale was a successful fundraiser, but better than that, we hosted a neighborhood social event! We turned Pitney Road into a STREET for a few hours. Thanks to ALL for a great Saturday morning!

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts exhibition “The Artist’s Garden”

The full title of this exhibition was “The Artist’s Garden – American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920”. I was taken to this amazing show as a Mother’s Day treat! What a wonderful gift! I love flowers and gardens. I adore Impressionist paintings. What could be better!?

Where shall I begin? I’ve long admired Childe Hassam, and I was thrilled to see his painting Celia Thaxter in Her Garden. It was created on Appledore Island in the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of Maine in 1892. I have visited Appledore and seen the modern reconstruction of Thaxter’s garden! Other works by Hassam were also included in the exhibit.

One section of the exhibit was dedicated to “The Lady in the Garden”. Women and flowers were considered “ideals”, lofty and edifying. Some of the women shown are stylish and passive. Others are active, raking leaves, dining, writing, visiting…

Most of the works were oil paintings, but there was also a room devoted to color photographs created through the autochrome process, the earliest form of color photography. They are very vivid.

Most of the artwork was exuberantly colorful! I love the brightness of the Impressionists. A few wintry scenes provided contrast. At one point, I suddenly had music in my head (vocal music in two parts, if you want detail). This never happened to me in a museum before. One type of joy triggers another? Wow! Was this synesthesia? I’ve heard of this type of sensory mixup. In my case, I doubt it could be triggered intentionally. Just a random gift from the universe!

A significant number of the artists featured had some association with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as students, teachers or prior exhibitors. The Academy was founded in 1805. It is a cultural treasure.

The only downside here is that this particular exhibition ends on May 24, so if you want to see it, you must make haste! However, the extensive permanent collection would also make for a delightful visit, and new exhibits are offered regularly.

“Chrysalis – Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis” by Kim Todd

Published by Harcourt, Inc. 2007. 282 pages. Includes both black/white and color plate reproductions of Merian’s artwork.

This book addresses several of my favorite subjects – nature, science, history and artand the role of women in all of the above! Add to this that the writing is clear and lively, and it’s an all around winner.

Maria Sibylla Merian lived from 1647 to 1717. She was born into a family of printers and artists, and had unusual opportunities for education and training in art. She was a type of child still recognizable today, one totally fascinated by insects! (I meet many such children in various settings and at various ages. How I wish they could all be thoroughly “indulged” in their passion!)

If you investigate Merian on line, you will find many more of her pictures than pictures of her. Her artwork is stunning – colorful, detailed, lifelike and comprehensive, often including all the life stages of a moth or butterfly, plus associated plants.

One unusual feature of her life story is that Merian spent six years living in the “cloistered” religious community of a radical Protestant sect called Labadists or pietists. Merian’s half brother joined the group and a community was established near his remote country manor in Friesland (Netherlands). Merian continued her scientific study and artwork during her time with the pietists.

Returning to the secular world, Merian further established herself as an artist and scientist, then (at age 52) left Europe for an extended stay in Surinam, to continue her studies. After two years, malaria forced her to return home.

I don’t know whether Kim Todd considers herself a biographer or a nature writer. This book combines the two seamlessly, and I found it intelligent and entertaining.