The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72

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In 1772, upon the death of her second husband, Mary Delany arose from her grief, picked up a pair of scissors, and, at the age of seventy-two, created a new art form: mixed-media collage. Over the next decade, Mrs. Delany produced an astonishing 985 botanically correct, breathtaking cut-paper flowers, now housed in the British Museum and referred to as the Flora Delanica. As she tracks the extraordinary life of Delany—friend of George Frideric Handel and Jonathan Swift—internationally acclaimed poet Molly Peacock...

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The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72

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Overview

In 1772, upon the death of her second husband, Mary Delany arose from her grief, picked up a pair of scissors, and, at the age of seventy-two, created a new art form: mixed-media collage. Over the next decade, Mrs. Delany produced an astonishing 985 botanically correct, breathtaking cut-paper flowers, now housed in the British Museum and referred to as the Flora Delanica. As she tracks the extraordinary life of Delany—friend of George Frideric Handel and Jonathan Swift—internationally acclaimed poet Molly Peacock weaves in delicate parallels in her own life and, in doing so, creates a profound and beautiful examination of the nature of creativity and art. This gorgeously designed book, featuring thirty-five full-color illustrations, is to be devoured as voraciously as one of the court dinners it describes.

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  • The Paper Garden
    The Paper Garden  

Editorial Reviews

Publishers 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.)
From the Publisher
“An intriguing, evocative aesthetic experience. A lyrical, meditative rumination on art and the blossoming beauty of self that can be the gift of age and love.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Poet Peacock’s hymn to Delany weaves in her own life and discovery of her subject.”—Publishers Weekly

“If ever a subject and a biographer shared a sensibility, it is the bond between esteemed poet Peacock and the artist Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700–1788)… In this lapidary work of creative immersion, Peacock does with words what Delany did with scissors and paper, consummately constructing an indelible portrait of a late-blooming artist, an exalted inquiry into creativity, and a resounding celebration of the ‘power of amazement.’” –Booklist, starred review

“This book layers Delany's life and work over Peacock's. It is organized by flower — forget-me-not, thistle, poppy, etc., each a metaphor for a different phase in Delany's life. In this way, the book itself is a complicated, delicate and beautiful collage.” – Los Angeles Times

“[A] remarkable biography.” – More

“Affecting and engaging, Peacock’s own candor combines with Delany’s wit and honesty to prove that it is never too late to make a life for oneself and to be sustained by art. VERDICT: This marvelous 'mosaick' makes an indelible impression.” – Library Journal, starred review

“[A] fascinating and beautifully made biography … It is filled with wonderfully detailed information about history and art—from the dog wheel that churned butter to the way rag paper was made… [Peacock is] interested in the pathway to art—how Mary's interests in gardening and collecting, and her practice in needlework and painting, laid the groundwork for that moment of revelation… Possessed of a discerning eye, Peacock…lavishes attention on Mary's life, both social and artistic, drenching us in vivid, sensory language as if we were adrift in champagne. The Paper Garden is perfect for the art lover, and for the reader who revels in rich digressive layers that imitate the contours of our lives.” – Cleveland Plain Dealer

“In this lush, humane book, noted poet Molly Peacock shows a terrific hand for crafting prose as she delves into the life of Mary Delany… Peacock bravely uses her exploration of Delany to sidestep or upend the conventional place of the feminine, the craftsy, the domestic… Just as Delany makes a cosmos out of flowers, Peacock makes a cosmos out of her interest in Delany's world. In a remarkable act of observation, recuperation, and assemblage, Peacock weaves her own collage—cutting between Mary Granville's early life and times, her later flowering into art, and Peacock's own journey as a 21st century sympathizer with Mary's loves and ambitions. What emerges is fascinating both because it is surprisingly and keenly observed… To call this book small or quiet would be somehow to belittle what Peacock has so beautifully magnified and made resonant—the triumph of art as a human pursuit, and the curious webs from which both art and craft spring. This book is not flashy, but it is one of the more beautifully constructed and deeply engrossing books I have read in some time. It is a keen reminder of what the fruits of vivid watching—and passionate living—can offer.” – Barnes & Noble Review

Library Journal
"A life's work is always unfinished and requires creativity till the day a person dies." Here, Toronto-based poet Peacock (The Second Blush) interleaves details of her own life with that of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700–88) for an affecting joint memoir/biography. Delany was married off at 17 to a drunken older widower; she then was widowed herself and moved into London society. Delany's voluminous letters (liberally quoted here) deliciously detail life in London and are filled with references to Lord Baltimore, Handel, Hogarth, Swift, George III, and Queen Charlotte. It was after an intensely happy but brief marriage to an Irish clergyman (widowed again) that she began her real life's work—creating exquisite paper collages of English flowers, which she termed "mosaicks." These stunning images effectively bolster the elevation of "women's work" from craft to high art. Affecting and engaging, Peacock's own candor combines with Delany's wit and honesty to prove that it is never too late to make a life for oneself and to be sustained by art. VERDICT This marvelous "mosaick" makes an indelible impression. This could catch on with female book groups of a certain age and Jane Austen lovers.—Barbara A. Genco, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews

Acclaimed poet Peacock (Second Blush, 2008, etc.) chronicles her fascination with the life of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700–1788), a largely forgotten aristocrat who, at the age of 72, created a series of beautiful cut-paper botanical mosaics.

The author entwines the story of Delany with private reflections on her own life as an artist and a woman. As Peacock undertook her eccentric quest to discover the life of the woman who created the beautiful paper mosaics that she so admired, she discovered resonant parallels. Both struggled as women and artists; both had failed first marriages and deeply satisfying second marriages; both confronted the possibility and, in the case of Delany, the reality, of the death of those cherished lovers; both worked to free themselves in adulthood from the bonds and obligations of painful family histories. Chronicling Delany's first abusive marriage and her struggles to preserve her independence as a young widow in a repressive era, Peacock reflects on her mother's oddly similar challenges with poverty and childrearing two centuries later. Throughout, the author elegantly reflects on the idea that certain works of art belong to certain moments of our lives; it is possible to encounter some works too early to understand them fully, and it is equally possible to find one'smétierwell into late adulthood. In a lightly managed running metaphor, Peacock examines the botanical life and reproductive cycle of the flowers depicted by Delany. Curiously and somewhat digressively structured, the book provides an intriguing, evocative aesthetic experience.

A lyrical, meditative rumination on art and the blossoming beauty of self that can be the gift of age and love.

Andrea Wulf
…Peacock takes the reader on a journey that, however obscure or strange the link might be, is a graceful meditation on botany, nature, life and age…Delany's story abounds with energy as Peacock brings her alive. Like her glorious multilayered collages, Delany is so vivid a character she almost jumps from the page.
—The New York Times
Michael Dirda
…a beautifully designed, eye-catching book…it's also as intricately made as Mary Delany's paper flowers. Peacock doesn't aim just to retell the sometimes chattellike, sometimes independent existence of an upper-class woman whose acquaintances ranged from Jonathan Swift and the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks to the King and Queen of England. Nor is she content simply to set up a counterpoint with her own background, career and second marriage…Instead, she weaves in and out between the two, using Delany's flower mosaics as the starting points for reflections on love, family, art, friendship, illness and vocation…Here, then, is not only an introduction to a unique artist, but also a whole bouquet of thoughts and observations about the flow of life…
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608195237
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 4/12/2011
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 8.08 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 1.53 (d)

Meet the Author


Molly Peacock is the award-winning author of five volumes of poetry, including The Second Blush, and a memoir, Paradise, Piece by Piece. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and the Times Literary Supplement. A transplanted New Yorker, she lives in Toronto.
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