Mrs Delany’s Paper Garden
Last weekend I listened to an exquisite book about the life and art of a prolific woman, Mrs Delany. I had no idea who she was until the book came my way as I was testing a few book recommendation websites (more about this below).
The Paper Garden – An Artists Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, is not the first book to be written about this 18th-century real heroine, who went through an arranged marriage in her teenage years, was widowed at 23 and lived the rest of her life on her own terms, pursuing her passions and dedicating herself to her friends and her ornate social life.
Mary Grandville Pendarvis became Mrs Delany when she remarried in her forties for true friendship and companionship. After a successful marriage of almost 25 years, she picked herself up from grieving by inventing a new art form – that of the paper mosaicks – in her early 70s. Over the next decade and a half, she created 985 compositions reproducing as many different flowers, made of coloured paper which she hand-painted herself. With the support and encouragement of her friends and patrons, among them King George III and Queen Charlotte, who took her under their direct wing in her last few years, she was constantly supplied with new specimens to be recreated on a black background by her skilled hands and tools worthy of a surgeon – scalpel, scissors, tweezers and the like.
There is so much more to say about Mary Delany, but I think what I most admire about her story is how she changed her life a fair few times in her almost 90 years on Earth, while keeping her appetite for living, socialising and creating until the very end. Genuinely inspirational!
Book Recommendation Platforms
Source – Elizabeth Shippen Green, The Library (1905)
As mentioned above, last week I decided to trial a few book recommendation websites. It started as I find myself on a reading (or rather listening) spree and I want to nurture it with a mix of beloved classics but also new or new-to-me authors and books that match my current interests and passions.
I didn’t realize that Goodreads offers recommendations, so I’d say start there if you already have an account and regularly log your read and to be read books, as I do. It offers lists based on your to-read list, but also based on genres you select, so that gives a few hundreds of suggestions to start with. Tailor those lists further by marking the recommendations as Want to read or Not interested.
The one that actually gave me Mrs Delany was The Story Graph. You take a quick quiz and then you get a list of 30 books. If you mark any of them as Read, you get new ones. I was pleasantly surprised to see a few favourites on the first list generated, as well as a few others that I already had on my radar, which made me very optimistic about trying a book I hadn’t heard of that was listed. And as explained above, it was a hit! Thus, I am excited to discover some other titles suggested.
Source: Example of a Literature-Map based on Virginia Woolf
The last one I want to mention is actually an artificial intelligence self-adapting system that learns about the outer world by asking its visitors what they like and what they don’t like – Gnooks. You are asked what your favourite authors are and you get suggestions based on your list, some of which you might not know. You can also use their Literature-Map feature to input one favourite author and see a map of other writers that you are likely to enjoy as well. It’s simple and effective.
Museum Digital Archives – Louvre, V&A, the British Museum
The Louvre is, I believe, the latest in a series of world-renowned museums to digitalize its entire collection of 480,000 artworks! The works are split between Painting, Sculpture, Furniture, Textiles, Jewelry & Finery, Writing & Inscriptions and Objects. This is the best replacement for scrolling on any social media platform – it doesn’t get better than art, culture and history!
Source: Edgar Degas, Femme nouant les rubans de son chapeau (Mary Cassatt)
I had actually been meaning to write about this for a while since the Victoria and Albert Museum made the same announcement a little while ago and you can access their collection here. The British Museum collection of four and a half million objects is also available online, where you can see all Mrs Delany’s paper mosaicks.
Source: Diadème de l’Impératrice Eugénie
And if you exhaust these three monumental archives, I am pretty sure many other cultural institutions around the world have done the same in the past year. Why not check one of your favourites?
Sometimes a few different things need to align for a find to find its way into the letter (pun intended). I’ve always enjoyed spotting colourful doors, I must have dozens of photos from walks and holidays. Last weekend I snapped the one above, mainly for the plate on the wall which says – A cat and its staff live here. I know the feeling! Only after I realised the door was a beautiful red with exquisite gold details (that door knocker!)
Source – Door Doork
But that wasn’t enough! The other day I found a lovely account on Insta which is all about colourful doors (so pretty, it’s guaranteed to cheer you up!) and only after that I remembered having created a board recently on Pinterest with some beautiful painted doors I came across while exploring something else. So here you have it now, unlimited inspiration… if only my front door wasn’t full glass. I am thinking about a sticker, although it wouldn’t look as nice as the real thing, I am sure.
Rose Petal Cigarettes
Cigarettes tipped with rose petals for people who find the ordinary cork tips harsh to the lips were a thing back in the 40s and 50s, as illustrated in these British Pathé videos from 1953 and 1959. They were handmade from start to finish and because the petal tips would change colour slightly, they were stored for a few days before being matched for shade and packed. An exquisite find indeed, discovered in the Messy Nessy newsletter, which I highly recommend!
And while we’re on the topic of posh uses for rose petals, a bonus exquisite find is this lovely tin of rose petals from Fortnum & Mason, to be sprinkled in the wine glass, as the Romans used to do. Or to simply have it as a pretty little frivolous thing that brings one joy. I’ve had it in my archive for a long time, I feel like I must buy one when I finally get to visit the store.
Mask and Glasses Chains
As we are hopefully going to spend more and more time out and about, this accessory will probably become a trusted companion, if it hasn’t already. The mask chain can also be a very chic way of elevating the whole mask situation, which I am pretty sure is going to be a part of our lives for a while.
Some of the designs also double as glasses chains, meaning that even if or when masks will be a thing of the past, the chain will still serve a purpose. For at least five years I’ve had a simple narrow animal print ribbon attached to my favourite pair of vintage Versace sunglasses, and I can tell you, it’s a simple thing, but it makes a difference!
You can browse the over 5,000 results on Etsy and support a small business or, of course, you can make your own mask or glasses chain, a fun and simple DIY project, a great opportunity to cultivate creativity, as encouraged by the wise words below!
Quote of the Week – Maya Angelou
Mrs Delany’s story reminded me of Maya Angelou’s words above – You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have. She seems to have been the living proof of this aphorism made more than two centuries after she graced the Earth and thrived. It was true then and it is true now – let us cultivate our creativity everyday, so we may never run out.
If this letter has offered you a moment of inspiration, kindly forward it to others who might enjoy it too. And if you have been forwarded it, indulge in all previous Miss Onion’s Exquisite Finds and subscribe to the weekly letter.