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Lynette facilitates the book discussion group at the Helmerich Library. At each meeting they read books on a particular topic or books by the same author and share their opinions. Below is the newsletter she shared with her group after their January meeting.
Our January book discussion was filled with facts and insights on artists and their lives and wives….and others! Not surprisingly, our group has several art history majors and many talented people who actively paint, photograph, and craft, so our discussion was informative and interesting. It was good to have this emphasis on beauty before we tackle the topic of the Iraq war and its multiple effects on the soldiers and their families back home for this month’s discussion.
The great Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, and his always described as “luminous” paintings, is the subject of GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING by Tracy Chevalier and GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE by Susan Vreeland. Both titles were early entries into this category of historical fiction by authors who have continued to produce excellent work that deals with similar topics. We discussed a recurring theme in all of our titles, that was especially evident in THE GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING—the toll that producing great art takes on those whose lives intersect with the great artist. Someone remarked that in Vermeer’s household, he was treated like a god. Is that what it takes for the creative process to come to its highest expression? What sacrifices are made to, and for, the artistic genius? Are great artists born with such a strong vision and focus that they literally overwhelm everyone near them? These books, including CLAUDE AND CAMILLE , Stephanie Cowell’s novel on Monet; DANCING FOR DEGAS by Kathryn Wagner; and our nonfiction selection, THE PRIVATE LIVES OF THE IMPRESSIONISTS by Sue Roe seem to illustrate that truth. Several people commented on similarities with LOVING FRANK , historical fiction on Frank Lloyd Wright’s love affair with Mamah Borthwick.
Everyone was impressed with Susan Vreeland’s CLARA AND MR TIFFANY , the novel that detailed the true visionary and artist behind Tiffany Studios’ iconic stained glass lamps that now command stratospheric prices from collectors. Using her detailed letters, Vreeland came to know and tell the story of Clara Driscoll, "a gifted unsung artist, an eyewitness to the making of some of the twentieth century''s most beautiful and beloved designs." Her letters have "transformed [the] understanding of the design and manufacture of Tiffany objects, including lamps, windows, and mosaics." Equally important, the letters have revealed "the crucial role played by women" at Tiffany Studios. See: http://www.svreeland.com/tif-discover-clara.html .
For further insight into the Gilded Age and women’s rigid roles you might consider the novels and stories of Edith Wharton. The book DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is set in the same fascinating time period. Another historical novel by Vreeland that was mentioned very favorably is THE PASSION OF ARTEMISIA about an accomplished woman painter in Renaissance Italy.