Paper Garden, by Molly Peacock, has been on my reading list for almost a year and I am very glad that I finally got to it. It’s a non-fiction story of an artist that is as engaging as a good novel - a good choice for your book club or gift list.
In 1700, Mary Granville was born into an obscure branch of an aristocratic family that was struggling to maintain and advance its position in English society. As a child, she was trained in social graces that would equip her for a position at court.
At 17 she married an oppressive, alcoholic squire aged 61 in a bid by her family to improve their fortunes. But that didn’t happen. When she was widowed at age 25, she was left with just a modest pension.
Mary spent the next two decades of her life on the fringes of court society with pals like Jonathan Swift and Handel. She was wooed by a succession of impressive suitors, but remained resolutely single until her marriage to Irish clergyman, Patrick Delany, in middle age. Together, they enjoyed a gentle country life for a very happy 23 years.
At age 72, following the death of her beloved husband, Mary developed a new art form and created an amazing 985, botanically correct, floral collages which are housed today in the British museum.
Poet Molly Peacock tells the story, based on information from a wealth of letters that Mary exchanged with family and friends. Along the way, Peacock explores the issues of women’s independence, the sustaining nature of good marriages, the trials of economic uncertainty and the unexpected blossoming of creativity in old age.
If you are inspired by Mary’s collages, have a look at New Creative Collage Techniques: How to make original art using paper, color and texture. Author Nita Leland demonstrates the collage process, including design principles, working with ready-made papers and creating your own. She also offers instruction on mixed media collage and making textured supports.