“come away, o human child!” my victorian fairy painting investigation

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If you’d told my child-aged self that one day I would embark on an academically sponsored research trip to Scotland to investigate fairies [and their representation in three paintings by a particular Scottish artist], she…probably would have shrugged and said “well, it’s not as good as finding a portal to a fay kingdom, but it will do.

As someone who grew up fascinated by fairy lore, I find Victorian fairy painting such a compelling and strange epoch of modern artistic production. For one relatively brief nineteenth-century moment, winged creatures of fantasy held centerstage in the world of fine art – occupying monumental canvases typically reserved for history painting. I won’t reveal too much about my particular research angle yet, but through a number of museum and library visits in Edinburgh and Glasgow, I’ve discovered some truly fantastic archival material to help me on my journey.

The experience of seeing these three J. N. Paton paintings in person after studying them for so long, of course, may be as close to real magic as I’ll ever get.

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mending walls

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The past week swirled by in a chaotic frenzy of planning: coordinating a research trip, wedding organization, freelancing, endless overthinking…

Some peace, however, emerged after a weekend of plants and the past. Though my work requires that I spend most of my time preoccupied with the mid- and late nineteenth century, I enjoyed visiting a historic “village” from a slightly earlier period – a site that’s also imbued with my own history, as I found it entrancing as a child!

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Something there is that doesn’t love a wall

That wants it down. I could say “Elves” to him,

But it’s not elves exactly…

– Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”

Though the restored buildings in this village attract the most attention, I took pleasure in observing the artifacts of countryside life — rugged stone walls layered with encroaching grass, simple fences formed of rough wood, and tall wildflowers hiding from sheep and rabbits.

The experience reminded me, in a synesthetic way, of the rolling tones of the Howl’s Moving Castle soundtrack.

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This dusty path stretched down to a covered bridge spanning a quiet river.

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As I learn more and more about the past, I delight in the constellation of knowledge that takes shape in my mind as I draw connections between people, places, and eras. Because of my travels, I won’t give any more tours until later in the summer – so in the meantime, I will take every opportunity to enrich my understanding of this particular period! (Starting by watching the gorgeous new Little Women adaptation…)

no place like Orme

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Chasing down the exact etymological history of the Great Orme in Llandudno is akin to pursuing an elusive dragon across the high seas. The most widely disseminated information suggests that it derives from the Old Norse ormr for “serpent” (think wyrm/worm in the Old English/Anglo-Saxon/Tolkienesque sense, depending on your personal preference). Whether that’s fanciful or fact,  I would love to believe that this great cliff rising from the shimmering water reminded someone, Viking or Victorian, of a massive beast standing sentinel at the coast.

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in search of the Welsh sublime

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When I captured the first photo above – the dramatic view of distant Castell Dinas Bran radiant in the sunlight and mist – I felt as though I’d stepped into a painting by Thomas Cole, one of my favorite artists associated with the Hudson River School. (The thematic similarity of castle ruins immediately made me think of The Present, a painting I used to teach with almost daily in my previous job, but it could really be any glorious Cole landscape!)

I expected a grey, wintry Wales awaited me during my trip in January, so the verdant pastures and generally vernal signs of life took me by surprise. If only the bleak New England beginning-of-the-year could take some tips from Great Britain!

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all too Thun: scenes from Switzerland

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Now that seemingly eternal January has concluded at last, my journey through the cold land of engaging architecture feels even more distant – but I can’t let it slip away completely without sharing my first continental castle photographs!

My family spent a misty Christmas in Bern(e), Switzerland, and although it proved too overcast for quality Alp-spotting, the architecture appeared hauntingly beautiful against the wintry skies. These scenes document our holiday day-trip to neighboring Thun, where teal water and gold trim glistened festively!

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lake como in the snow

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Last year, I spent January 1st by the piers of Monterey and the final days of December next to these chilly harbors. Lake Como, as far as I understand it, is a celebrated summer oasis for boaters, architecture-lovers, and relaxation-seekers alike: of course we visited in the middle of winter, and spent our only full day dodging icy rain.

Yet Como’s weather deities smiled upon us at last during our final four hours in the area, and I had the opportunity to capture a waterscape unlike any I’d ever photographed before, pairing blue waves with distant snowy peaks!

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2017 in wandering

 

 

As repetitive as they have no doubt become, I’ve nonetheless very much enjoyed this week’s reflections on 2017!

From the narcissistic standpoint of my personal life, it was quite a mercurial year–featuring a volatile blend of unexpected medical troubles (remember when I injured my neck and spent weeks lying on the floor, or when my wisdom teeth attempted to destroy me?), drastic life changes (somehow I’ve completed a quarter of my MA by now!), and stunning romance that would have seemed impossible a year ago (hey, 2015-me, it’s very important that you get involved in snail mail and decide to write to a certain Welsh pen pal…)

At the same time, I enjoyed a shocking amount of whirlwind travels in 2017, at home and abroad: the saddest part, perhaps, is that my quasi-hiatus from blogging kept me from sharing many of those photos with you, readers! Consider this post, then, a bit of a preview for some travel-blog catching up that awaits later this month.

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