Friday, June 28, 2013

Beatrix Potter

Here is a set of well-loved books: stories written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter. My grandfather, William Stanley Nichols, read these stories to me when I was very young and he was old (much older than in his photo, above). He lived next door to us and I liked to sit in his lap and look at the pictures as he shared these special little books.

A few weeks ago I wrote my June column about my memories of these books and the wonderful illustrations of animals which my cousin Janet copied onto the walls of her sons' bedroom. See my column in the Danvers Herald: Animals on the Wall (posted online June 24).

Last week I learned more about Beatrix Potter and sources that inspired her as she created drawings for one of these books: The Tailor of Gloucester (1903). I saw an example of her notebook and a few drawings on exhibit at The Victoria and Albert Museum, the same museum where she had examined 18th century costumes.

"No more Twist" note on unfinished buttonhole

Beatrix Potter's sketch and notes about the waistcoat embroidery.

Waistcoat worn by Mayor of Gloucester

At right is a photo of the museum room in which I saw the Beatrix Potter items (in glass cases on left). This temporary exhibit runs from March 19 to September 15, 2013, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It is in Room 102 --really a hallway-- on the third floor. Ken and I spent some hours searching this huge, fascinating museum before we located the exhibit.

Quoting from the introduction to the Beatrix Potter exhibit:
Beatrix was a frequent visitor to the V&A and in March 1903, while preparing the illustration for her tale, she was delighted to discover some beautiful 18th century clothes in a case in a 'dark corner of the Goldsmith's Court.' Museum staff permitted her to view the costumes laid flat on tables in their office so she could record the details of the rich embroideries. Her illustrations are so accurate that it is possible to identify the original garments she saw, including the lady mouse's lavish dress and the Mayor's cream-coloured satin waistcoat...

The Victoria and Albert Museum has the world's largest collection of Beatrix Potter drawings and writings.  "As a child and young adult Potter visited the V&A to study and copy prints and drawings, and, later, costumes..."  I had hoped to see more examples of Miss Potter's art, but most of the collection is kept in another location for which one must make an appointment.  For more about the V&A Beatrix Potter collections, visit  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Animals on the wall

I have on my wall a recent painting by my cousin Janet Nichols Derouin. Two mice with beady black eyes look at me as I walk by.  Well, no, they are actually looking at acorns they have gathered and a hole where they might store their acorns. The hole is real: Janet painted the mice and acorns on the surface of an old board with a knot hole. I like the old wood and the natural scene with the mice.
These mice remind me of much earlier artwork by Janet on a bedroom wall in our grandfather's house in Danvers.  I remember cute mice and other animals inspired by illustrations in children's books.  Today Janet told me the story of the origin of those wall paintings when she was a young mother in the 1950's -- a story I'll share in my next column.
Meanwhile Janet, now 83 and living in Maine, keeps on painting.  Her son Monty collects and prepares old boards for her and she uses the character of each board (e.g., its grain and texture) to inspire her painting.  Each summer she sells her paintings through a lovely gallery in Bridgton, Maine. If you're in that area, I recommend that you stop at LisaB's Summerplace , 268 Main Street, Bridgton, Maine (802-249-8967).   Lisa writes on her website,
 Our gallery of unparalleled Barn Board art is as special as the artist who creates it and well worth a trip in itself! 
More photos of Janet's board paintings: