Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Paper Garden: Review and Giveaway

Nearly everyone has heard of Grandma Moses, a popular American folk artist who began painting in her late 70s and enjoyed a long and lucrative career.  But have you ever heard of Mary Delany before?  I had not.  Mary Delany (1700 - 1788)  began her special art, constructing intricate paper collages or mosaicks* of flowers at the age of 72.  Although her work did seem a bit familiar to me when I first viewed it in the book, and I did wonder where I'd seen it before, I didn't know anything about this artist.

"How can people say we grow indifferent as we grow old?  It is just the reverse . . . "
~Mary Delany to her sister Anne Dewes, Dublin, 1750

The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72 by Molly Peacock is an impressionistic portrait of a woman who was truly ahead of her time. Married at the age of 17 to a much older man, Mary Delany (nee Granville) became a widow at a young age and remained unmarried for many years, in spite of having several suitors, and in spite of the times, in which women were expected to marry.  She did not marry again until she was forty-three, and this time, she married because she was seeking a true companion, and she found one, in Patrick Delany, who had a beautiful garden.

Poet and author Molly Peacock traces Mary Delany's late-blooming (pun intended) career as an artist in part to her second husband's garden, where she observed the forms of flowers, and refined her sense of aesthetics.  Mary Delany developed great powers of observation, and an unwillingness to compromise in important matters, such as marriage.  Although I don't see flowers or pictures of flowers as particularly sexual, the author draws some connections in The Paper Garden.  (When I see flowers, I see beauty and color and grace; I don't see their forms as having much to do with sex or genitalia, although a garden could be a lovely, secluded spot for love-making.)  However, she presents her ideas well throughout the book, and I truly enjoyed it.  I was cast back in time to England in the 1700s, and saw this artist as her life unfolded, as she matured and bloomed and began her collage work (after Patrick's death), with incredible precision, delicacy, and tenacity, which could only have been achieved with a sharp eye, nimble fingers, and the type of incandescent mind Virginia Woolf spoke of (a mind unfettered by constraining conventions, and instead lit by an unwavering inner light).  If I'm fortunate enough to have a long life, I hope to possess the ability to begin creative work late in life, and to create well into my old age.

I've included both covers for The Paper Garden not because I couldn't decide which one to use in this review, but because I wanted to showcase two examples of Mary Delany's exquisite paper flower collages, featured on the covers.  Do they seem familiar to you, too?  These delicate yet bold pictures of flowers were made by cutting tissue paper into shapes and then gluing them onto black paper, where they really stand out.  They're remarkable in their finery, detail, and botanical accuracy.  Mary Delany took great care to make sure that each of her flowers were correct, in number of stamens and petals.  During her life, she became well-known, and many donors sent her flowers to cut. Today, her flower mosaicks can be seen at the British Museum, and occasionally in special exhibitions elsewhere around the world.

I languished over both the narrative and pictures of her exquisite work in this book. (I'm certain this book would be nothing short of spectacular in hard cover, a beautiful "coffee table" book to linger with.)  The author attempts to reveal what it takes to begin a career in art at an advanced age, or at least provides the background of Mary Delany, often called "Mrs D." in the book.  Molly Peacock added bits of her own life into the book, so it forms a collage of thoughts, recollections, and ideas, centering around a bounty of biographical information about the artist. 

I do think that Mary Delany's ability to create this art (which stemmed from decoupage, but which was a new art), especially at an advanced age (with diminishing eyesight and limited light), in the era she lived, is nothing short of remarkable, and also inspiring.  After her second husband died, she began working on these collages, and created nearly 1000 of them. She was quite prolific, becoming more proficient as time went on.  The author shows that much in Mary's life contributed to the creation of these flower mosaicks: her awful first marriage, her time to herself after she became a widow, her second, happy marriage (which featured a lovely garden), as well as her bright personality and need to connect with others (she was an avid letter writer, and had many friends).  The author also emphasizes that the creative life is of paramount importance, and an expression of our own innate joy. 

Wonderful news! Originally published in Canada in 2010, Bloomsbury is celebrating the 2012 release of the paperback version of this book by offering a copy of The Paper Garden as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only) to a lucky reader.

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment. 
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, June 4.  One lucky winner will be randomly selected and announced on Tuesday, June 5.  Good luck!

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book.  For more reviews please visit the other stops on TLC's The Paper Garden book blog tour.

* I've adopted the spelling that's used in the book, which fits as a more artful version.


  1. Her work looks so detailed I can't imagine starting something like that at 72! Delany must have had a lot of spunk! The book sounds great and beautiful. No need to enter me.

  2. Certainly inspiring to begin something new but rewarding at age 70! A book I'd love to read.


  3. What an inspirational woman. I have to say I actually prefer the second cover to the first. Good luck all who enter your giveaway.

  4. I have heard that this is a very unique book, and I love the way that you capture the beauty of the story in your review. It seems as though this would be the perfect book for summer, and I would love to be entered in your giveaway. Thanks for hosting it, and thanks for the great review, Suko!


  5. It is fascinating what some people achieve in their golden years. Truly amazing!

  6. Her story sounds so inspiring … and it makes me want to see her work in person. I imagine it is just lovely.

  7. Would love to read it!

  8. This does sound like a unique book. I like the idea of finding your creativity later on in life. It really is amazing and inspiring she did all that at an older age. I'm sure Mary Delany's work is just lovely, I like both the covers. Wonderful review Suko!

  9. This sounds really interesting! I hadn't heard of it until your review. I don't associate flowers with sex either...unless they are being given as a gift in order to get some lovin' LOL.

  10. This book sounds like such a good one! I would love to read it!

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  11. Wow! What an incredible woman indeed! I can't imagine doing anything this good now, let alone at 70!

  12. Such an inspiring story. I really want to see her work.

  13. Excellent review and it sounds like a great book.

  14. This sounds like a fantastic story and one I'd enjoy.

    I posted the giveaway on my blog.

  15. what a wonderful gift !
    ty for reviewing and sharing with us & ty to Bloomsbury !
    the therapy and health of creativity is amazing and well detailed in this example... would love to read more!

  16. I had seen reviews of this book and it sounds like it would be very enjoyable --- my kind of reading. So I would love to win a copy!


  17. I forgot to leave my email! dkwbrw@aol.com


  18. "Mary Delany's ability to create this art ..., especially at an advanced age ... is nothing short of remarkable, and also inspiring." I couldn't agree more!

    Glad you enjoyed this one. Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

  19. Both of these covers are absolutely gorgeous! I'll admit that I'm not sure that this is my type of read but I couldn't resist commenting on those covers! I don't need to be entered in the contest though :)

  20. Thank you, Suko for this wonderful post ! A beautiful life ! It's so encouraging to think we could "create an art" in advanced age. I think we always need to read about such people. They help us !

    1. Annie, thanks for your kind words. This book is quite inspiring, in many ways!

  21. thanks for this wonderful giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  22. An exceptional book which I would enjoy greatly. Many thanks. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  23. So excited to let you know the book has JUST ARRIVED !!
    TY Suko :)
    It's Gorgeous !


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