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November 2011

Inspiring Women: Phoebe Traquair & Jane Yolen

Love's Testament by Phoebe TraquairPhoebe Anna Traquair (1852-1936), who is celebrated today as "the first important professional woman artist of Scotland,"  was actually born and raised in Ireland, and studied art at the Royal Dublin Institute. She moved to Edinburgh, at the age of 21, upon her marriage to Scottish palaeontologist J. Ramsay Traquair (whom she'd met on an assignment drawing fossil fish), and it's there that she established her long, productive art career, and raised her three children.

A central figure in the Scottish Arts & Crafts movement at the end of the 19th century, Phoebe is often associated with "Glasgow Girls" (despite being a generation older than that group of artists, and based in a city farther north),  for her work was shaped by some of the same influences: the Pre-Raphaelite art movement in England, the Art Nouveau movement on the Continent, traditional Celtic illumination and design, and the mural paintings of the Italian Renaissance. Like Jessie M. King or the Macdonald sisters, Traquair pursued her creative vision through a variety of fields: easel painting, mural painting, manuscript illumination, illustration, leather tooling & book cover design, enamelling, and embroidery among them. Although the range of her work is impressive to us today, the ease with which she moved between fine and applied arts counted against her back in 1900, when her nomination to the all-male Royal Academy was abruptly turned down. (She was not, they informed her, "an artist by profession.") Twenty years later, she was finally named the SRA's first honorary woman member.

Angels Kissing (mural detail) by Phoebe Traquair


A panel at Kellie Castle painted by Phoebe TraquairMy own introduction to the art of Phoebe Traquair came, years ago, from another Inspiring Woman: writer, editor, folklorist, teacher, lecturer, storyteller and "mythic mentor"  Jane Yolen. Like Phoebe, Jane followed a scientist husband to Scotland (albeit somewhat later in life), where she now makes her home for part of each year; like Phoebe, she raised three children while simultaneously building a distinguished career; and like Phoebe, she works her singular vision into a wide variety of creative forms. I can't imagine that anyone reading this blog needs an introduction to Jane's glorious, multi-award-winning work; your bookshelves are probably already packed with her mythic novels for children and adults, her story and poetry collections, her picture books, her anthologies, her folk and fairy tale compilations, her books about writing and the importance of stories...over three hundred volumes in all. (If, however, through some strange chance you've not encountered Jane Yolen's work before, you can read one of her fairy-tale-inspired stories here , and her poetry here, here, and here.)

I was inspired by Jane before I ever met her, awed by her ability to create original fairy tales that read with the understated lyricism and emotional power of the classics, re-told for generations. A publishing colleague introduced us in the early 1980s, knowing me to be an admirer of Jane's tales for children. I was a painfully young book editor back then, still wet behind the ears and trying desperately not to show it. When Jane kindly agreed to write a story for an an adult fantasy anthology I was working on (and, eventually, a novel based on that story: the extraordinary Cards of Grief), I was thrilled beyond measure. It was the start of a working relationship that has continued to this day. (Better still, it was the start of our long friendship.)

Mural detail by Phoebe TraquairHere is why Jane inspires me most: She lives an art-filled and vibrant life, one that is richly colored by family and friends, full of travel and worldy experience and deep, daily communion with nature...and yet, despite this full and busy schedule, Jane never strays very far from her core as a writer. She is always spinning tales, always weaving words and images together on the page or screen, always transforming the things she thinks about, feels, and imagines into stories and into books. She teaches, she mentors, she raises kids and grand-kids...all the things that could so easily drain her of the time, energy, and focus needed for creation...and yet she never stops writing. She honors her Muse. She honors the tales that build up inside her by giving them the time and serious attention that they deserve. And that, dear Reader, is not always easy for women. Hell, that's not always easy for anyone. Yet Jane has been doing it steadily, expertly, and beautifully for four decades now.

After all these years, I still don't quite know how she does it. It's a kind of magic, I suppose...which Jane (true to her word) touches lightly, and then passes on to the rest of us.

Mural detail by Phoebe Anna Traquair

All of the images above are by Phoebe Anna Traquair. Visit the Mansfield Traquair Trust page to learn more about the preservation of her famous murals at the Catholic Apostolic Church in New Town, Edinburgh; and the National Library of Scotland site to view her illuminated mansuscript of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Sonnets from the Portuguese."

Counting Crows

Nosy Crows

I'm running a little late this morning (or, rather, hopping-on-one-foot a little late, because I stupidly managed to sprain my ankle over the Thanksgiving weekend), so I'm afraid the promised "Inspiring Women" post will go up tomorrow morning instead. In the meantime:

All readers living here in the south-west of England are cordially invited to gig above. The Nosy Crows consists of song-writer extraordinaire Jenny Dooley (vocals), painter Steve Dooley (on percussion), book illustrator David Wyatt (on lead guitar, mandolin, and bouzouki), and my husband Howard (on vocals, rhythm guitar, and additional percussion), with an occasional surprise guest sitting in.

Perhaps we'll see some of you there on Friday night? I'll be the one with the limp....

Counting Blessings

A little canine healing

As I work from the living-room sofa today (with my swollen foot propped up and a little black dog close by, performing her healing magic), I am amazed, moved, honored, and humbled by this, organized by close friends and colleagues who have the biggest hearts in the Whole Wide World. Once again I am reminded of what an extraordinary community we're all a part of (including you, dear Reader) here in the Mythic Arts/Fantasy/Speculative Fiction field. In the middle of what has been, admittedly, a very rough season for me and my family, I feel incredibly blessed today. A heartfelt thank you to all involved.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Above: Rich Thomas, lead singer and song-writer for Brother & Bones, performs his gorgeous song "Gold and Silver" on the BBC .  Based here in the West Country (on the coast of Cornwall), Brother & Bones is a shape-shifting group of musicians, artists, and film-makers who come together for a variety of creative projects, with music at the center. On stage, the band ranges from an accoustic three-piece to an electrified five-piece and all the way up to a 12-piece mini-orchestra, performing songs whose influences range from roots and folk to blues and rock.

In the video below, the three-man core of Brother & Bones (Rich Thomas, Si Robinson, and Robin Howell-Sprent) perform an accoustic version of their song "Back to Shore" on the BBC 

For more Brother & Bones, at the electrified end of the spectrum, try their new video for "Hold Me Like The Sun" (directed by Luke Pilbeam) and the plugged-in version of "Back to Shore" (recorded earlier this year at a farm in Cornwall).