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

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

by Molly Peacock

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Mary Delany was seventy-two years old when she noticed a petal drop from a geranium. In a flash of inspiration, she picked up her scissors and cut out a paper replica of the petal, inventing the art of collage. It was the summer of 1772, in England. During the next ten years she completed nearly a thousand cut-paper botanicals (which she called mosaicks) so accurate that botanists still refer to them. Poet-biographer Molly Peacock uses close-ups of these brilliant collages in The Paper Garden to track the extraordinary life of Delany, friend of Swift, Handel, Hogarth, and even Queen Charlotte and King George III.

How did this remarkable role model for late blooming manage it? After a disastrous teenage marriage to a drunken sixty-one-year-old squire, she took control of her own life, pursuing creative projects, spurning suitors, and gaining friends. At forty-three, she married Jonathan Swift's friend Dr. Patrick Delany, and lived in Ireland in a true expression of midlife love. But after twenty-five years and a terrible lawsuit, her husband died. Sent into a netherland of mourning, Mrs. Delany was rescued by her friend, the fabulously wealthy Duchess of Portland. The Duchess introduced Delany to the botanical adventurers of the day and a bonanza of exotic plants from Captain Cook's voyage, which became the inspiration for her art.

Peacock herself first saw Mrs. Delany's work more than twenty years before she wrote The Paper Garden, but "like a book you know is too old for you," she put the thought of the old woman away. She went on to marry and cherish the happiness of her own midlife, in a parallel to Mrs. Delany, and by chance rediscovered the mosaicks decades later. This encounter confronted the poet with her own aging and gave her-and her readers-a blueprint for late-life flexibility, creativity, and change.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608196982
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 03/29/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 1,058,103
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Molly Peacock is the award-winning author of six volumes of poetry, including The Second Blush. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and the Times Literary Supplement. Among her other works are How to Read a Poem ... and Start a Poetry Circle and a memoir, Paradise, Piece by Piece. Peacock, a member of the Spalding University brief residency MFA graduate faculty, is currently the general series editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English. A transplanted New Yorker, she lives in Toronto.

Molly Peacock is the award-winning author of six volumes of poetry, including The Second Blush. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and the Times Literary Supplement. Among her other works are How to Read a Poem ... and Start a Poetry Circle and a memoir, Paradise, Piece by Piece. Peacock, a member of the Spalding University brief residency MFA graduate faculty, is currently the general series editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English. A transplanted New Yorker, she lives in Toronto.

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The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
whitreidtan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Looking at the rose on the cover of this book, I knew I had seen it before, reproduced on a variety of items. I might even have written letters on notecards printed with its likeness. What I didn't realize was that this is not a painting, it is in fact a paper collage, intricately scissor-cut and botanically correct. And more even than that, I had zero idea who the artist was and would have been shocked to find out that Mary Granville Pendarves Delany worked her gorgeous craft only starting at the age of 72 so long ago in 1772 had I not been coveting this book for a while now and so learned a bit about it and the artist behind it.Poet Molly Peacock has written a fascinating part biography of Mary Delany, part personal memoir, part art criticism, and part introduction to her obsession and role model. Delany's life and the fact that she created her seminal work, now housed in the British Museum and called the Flora Delanica, a collection of 985 detailed, painstakingly constructed, accurate, and magnificent flower mosaicks, creating the art of mixed media collage (paper, paint, and sometimes actual plant parts), at such an advanced age and at a time when she was trying to overcome the grief of having lost the two people dearest to her, first her sister Anne and then her second husband Patrick Delany, is impressive and inspiring indeed.Each chapter is fronted by a color plate of one of the flower mosaicks from the collection. Drawing parallels between the mosaicks themselves and the events of Mary Delany's earlier life, Peacock uses each flower to tell the story of Mary's life and expose the general life of 18th century women of a certain social standing in England. Delany's life is meticulously researched and interpreted, from her unhappy first marriage to a significantly older, personally repulsive husband to whom she was essentially sold by her guardian uncle through her deep and emotionally satisfying relationship with her sister and lifelong friends to the fulfilling and happy union late in life with her second husband. At the end of each chapter, Peacock interweaves her own biographical portions, drawing parallels in her own life to that of Mrs. Delany. In addition to these two very personal stories, there are also fascinating bits of history and botany and the details of the actual physical composition of the mosaicks as well.Although the flowers were created long past many of the defining events of Delany's long life, Peacock uses them to illustrate each stage, each restriction, each revelled in independence therein. Coming from a very twenty-first century perspective, Peacock describes the flowers in terms of extreme sexualization. Even readers today will be taken aback by some of the language she uses, especially when considering that she is describing the life of an 18th century aristocratic woman, one to whom these blunt comparisons to female body parts would almost certainly never have occurred. And Peacock certainly reads more into the placement of flowers, stems, and other botanical parts than Delany likely ever intended, not that Delany's conscious intentions necessarily define as far as interpretations of her artwork should go.Her interpretation of the mosaicks is not the only place that Molly Peacock as author intrudes on the text. Unlike in traditional biographies, she does not remain hidden behind her subject. Her own thoughts and pieces of her own life weave into the narrative as well, accompanying clearly stated opinions. Sometimes the weaving is fairly seamless and other times it comes across as a bit forced. There are rather broad strokes of comparison between the long-dead artist and the modern day poet, because closer examination shows their lives to be more dissimilar than not, although the fire of inspiration burns bright in both of them. And Peacock's tale of discovering Delany's works and then years later finding the awe-inspiring importance in them to herself as an artist and creator is interesting.
BrokenTeepee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a non-fiction book telling the life story of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany. A young woman of the 18th century, living in London she is basically sold into marriage by her uncle to an old drunk. This man is her uncle's friend and his money will keep Mary's family solvent. After he dies Mary, a young widow comes into her own. But it is not until she reaches the age of 72 that her extraordinary talent truly comes to the fore.Mary invented the paper collage or as she called it the "mosaick." Using intricately cut pieces of paper she created beautiful works of art using flowers as her motif of choice. The author chooses one of Mary's works to start each chapter using the flower as a metaphor for that stage in Mary's life.The author also weaves her own life story into the tale. This part was a bit odd for me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Mary and her life but the comparison's to the author's life pulled me out of time and place and were confusing at times. There were no clear breaks from her life to Mary's life at times and it led to some paging back and forth to figure out who was who and what century I was in.That being said, the book is written in a delightfully easy to read style for a non-fiction book. Ms. Peacock weaves her words in a way to make Mary's every day come to dramatic life. The details of 18th century life and the peak into the court of King George III and Queen Charlotte are fascinating as Mary became quite close to both of them.This book sent me off to google Mary's "mosaiks" as my advanced reader's copy had them in black and white. The colored versions are stunning.To think that she started them at 72 years of age and they required her to cut little pieces of paper. Her accuracy is lauded by botanists and her legacy is awe inspiring.
JoyfullyRetired on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First, let me say that this actual, physical book is a treat. It's exactly what I want when I spend money on a hardcover book. It's just a bit heavier than most books and it's printed on high-quality paper. There are colored prints of some of Mary Delany's flower "mosaicks" and other pictures throughout. The book is the type of treasure that I feel compelled to wash my hands before opening it. I want it to last. The story of Mary Delany is true but it reads like a great historical novel. The New York Times said it read like a Jane Austen novel. I'm not sure I agree. Mary Delany was a strong-willed woman who managed to do very well in spite of whatever negatives life may have thrown at her. It's a life to be examined and works of art to be enjoyed. Every word, sentence, and paragraph of The Paper Garden reads like a well-crafted prose or poem. This is Molly Peacock's art form, her craft, and she's very, very good at it. In this book Ms. Peacock talks about the art of Mary Delany but also about the importance of art or craft in one's life that I completely agree with. Here's what she said: "Craft is engaging. It results in a product. The mind works in a state of meditation in craft, almost the way we half-meditate in heavy physical exercise. There is a marvelously obsessive nature to craft that allows a person to dive down through the ocean of everyday life to a sea floor of meditative making. It is an antidote to what ails you." In The Paper Garden the author tells us in great detail about the life of Mary Delany and a little bit about herself. I liked that. Molly Peacock made this biography personal and linked it to herself and to me. Speaking of personal, there's the fact that Mary Delany's best known work didn't begin until she was in her seventies. You can be sure I saw the parallels to my own life. Who can say that a person in their seventies or eighties or nineties can't do intricate art work? Thank goodness Mary Delany didn't believe that. Every time I open a new book I wonder what kind of new friend I'm going to meet inside. In The Paper Garden I met two new friends that I like equally. I want to spend more time with them. In the book I have lots of passages with sticky notes for re-reading. This book is thought-provoking as well as meditative. I also want to find some prints of Mary Delany's flower collages. And then, I'm going to read more of Molly Peacock's writings. Yes, it was that kind of book for me - a window-opening book. And I want more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago