Tag Archives: collage

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

23rd May 2011

**UPDATE** Giveaway over. Using Random.org, number one commenter, Yvette, won! Congrats. I have sent an email to you to get your address. Thanks to all who left comments!

I can[not] conceive of how a person can process the material of a life, and by that I mean love and death and every insect bite in between, without practicing an art.

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock is and isn’t a biography of a woman, Mary Delaney. What it is about is the quote above, about making art in the everyday, about life itself being a work of art.

As a young girl, Mary Granville is married off to a much older man. She is unhappy; he is a jealous (but wealthy) drunk who dies, leaving Mary to blossom in the independence of widowhood. She is unwilling to take another husband until Dr. Patrick Delaney proposes many years later. He is of low birth; her family does not approve, but Mary knows her heart, and as Peacock writes, Patrick encourages her craft: “She became his brilliant focus – and he became her vista, the expansive background that his generosity of spirit provided.”

The subtitle, though, is misleading for two reasons: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72. First, as I mentioned, this book is and is not a biography because Peacock inserts herself into the writing, tracing the origins and processes of her research. To be frank, I could have done without this aspect of the book, but let me get that out of the way now because I adored this book. Second, I would argue Mrs. Delaney is an artist from a young age, designing dresses, embroidering, painting, even letter writing extensively (though Peacock is referring to the work for which Delaney is remembered).

Mary’s artistic endeavors remain in these areas for most of her life, but in 1772, “she noticed how a piece of colored paper matched the dropped petal of a geranium. After making that vital imaginative connection between paper and petal …. she began … carefully cutting the exact geranium petal shape from the scarlet paper. Then she snipped out another.”

To me, the magic of this book is in moments like this. What is Mrs. Delaney hadn’t snipped a second petal? Peacock deftly extricates the moments in Mrs. Delaney’s life she wants to highlight, and in the same breath, she reflects on the creative process.

For example, each of Mrs. Delaney’s collages is cut paper on top of a black background, like so, and Peacock observes:

But whatever the composition of the dry crystals she ground … its source is something burnt …. Is being burnt a requisite for the making of art? …. It is a privilege to have, somewhere within you, a capacity for making something speak from your own seared experience.

And, noting Mary’s copious notes and letters to and from her sister, Anne:

In a way, Mary’s letters to Anne are a paper mosaick of days and weeks, hundreds into the thousands of sentences cut in organic shapes to form the art of living.

And aren’t her letters art? As Peacock points out to a friend who asked why Mary Delaney “really” made these mosaicks:

It evolved, first from silhouettes, and then from handiwork and collecting shells … and then from drawing and painting and gardening….and lastly from not being able to paint, from a feeling of the world dimming…

And from the last page, referring to the artistic spark when Mrs. Delaney spies the geranium petal:

Her whole life flowed to the place where she plucked that moment.

Isn’t that an incredibly beautiful thought?

jenn aka the picky girl

P.S. Thanks to TLC Book Tours and specifically Lisa Munley for seeking me out for this tour. Lisa, you were dead on with this recommendation.

P.P.S. If you would like to enter for a chance to win a copy of this gorgeous book, please leave a comment below (by June 1) and answer this question: What is artistic and beautiful in your own life?