While it’s undeniably true that a dedicated artist is marked by a willingness to work anywhere, and under any conditions, the appeal of Virginia Woolf’s “room of her own” persists. Even though it’s not always possible, a dedicated space is certainly ideal when it comes to artistic endeavors.
One of the units in my Oxford writing class last fall took us on a virtual tour of modern day authors’ rooms. I was fascinated, particularly by the women’s spaces. They were generally, though not always, tidier than their male counterparts’ (God love them), some even to the point of austerity. Annie Dillard writes of the need to create in a room without windows, if possible, to minimize distraction. There’s way too much Anne Shirley in me, of course, to consider trying to write without ‘scope for the imagination,’ but I do see Dillard’s point. An artist has plenty of pulls on her attention from within her own head not to go courting them from without.
Windows or otherwise, though, I’ve always been enamored with artists’ spaces. Jo March had her garret. Jane Austen had her Chawton parlor. Edith Wharton had her lapdesk in her sumptuous bedroom at The Mount and Lucy Maud Montgomery had her room under the eaves at her grandparents’ Cavendish farm.
And the harder I’ve fought to carve out space for creativity in my own life, the more I’ve realized I needed just that: space.
I’ve had my little desk in the sitting room, by the window (of course!) overlooking the barnyard. And I’ve had my corner of an upstairs bedroom for my bookshop and bookbinding endeavors. But the first Low Door Press project was scarcely underway before I was completely out of room. And I’m sure I don’t have to elaborate on the myriad distractions afforded by a window overlooking the barnyard!
In the early hours of this new year, Philip and I started talking about how we could better utilize our rooms in a way that would work with–not against–our current passions and projects. What resulted (among other things), was a “room of my own” of my dreams. A few weeks ago we started measuring, shuffling furniture, reallocating, re-purposing, and throwing things away, and though we both could use a massage at this point, we’re delighted with the way things have turned out.
A creative space is every bit as personal as the tender shoots and tendrils of creativity that emerge therein. But my husband has worked so hard to bring mine to life (and I’m so excited about it), that I could not resist a little virtual tour of my own. Welcome to my room, kind friends…
Philip bought me this old dipper in an antique store to remind me what it’s all about.
This was my great-grandmother’s desk, and it’s been a trusty (and endearingly battered!) comrade from my girlhood. Here I’ve written papers, spun stories, scribbled in my journal and occasionally bowed my head in an obstinate bout of writer’s block. I love every scratch and watermark on its surface.
My desk is flanked by two very important likenesses. On the right is my great-great grandmother’s wedding portrait. She was lovely, and, from all accounts, the kindest and gentlest of women. What’s more, she’s my namesake.
To the left is one of the dearest things I own: a watercolor of my Daddy, painted by my sister. She gave it to me this Christmas, and every time I see it I’m overwhelmed with how well she captured him. When I’m working at my desk I have only to glance up to remember how much he loves me.
I should mention here that other walls in my shop are graced with original works of art painted by my ridiculously talented sister, both for my limited-release run of Kilmeny of the Orchard, as well as my cherished upcoming project, Poesy. I’ve tried to keep those out of the pictures somewhat, so as not to spoil the surprise…
The book I keep on my desk is Carlyle’s Essay on Burns, simply because Daddy loved them both. And on top of that is a tiny Victorian brooch that Philip dug up in the yard with the metal detector–in the very shape of the Low Door swallow. (I couldn’t help thinking that was pretty significant.)
And in case anyone’s wondering, the framed picture on my desk is Davy Vanauken.
Here’s one of the things I absolutely love about my room: there is not a single thing in it that does not belong and does not mean something to me. In a way, this space has been years in the making, as I’ve learned to prioritize creativity and make peace with my calling. But in another way, this room represents the work of generations. I’ve always felt a vivid connection to my heritage, and the men and women who have loved and worked and prayed and made sacrifices before my little appearance in history. Oft-repeated family stories have made my ancestors so alive to me that I cannot really contemplate my life out of the context of theirs, and I’m firmly convinced that a lot of the blessings I enjoy today are a direct result of the faithfulness of generations past. I also come from a family that keeps everything, so I’m blessed to have a few tangible connections to my people that make their story a part of my everyday life. Take this old chest, and the mirror above it, now appropriated as my book-packing station. It’s not much to took at, and every single drawer has its own unique requirements for opening and closing with (relative) ease. It was painted black somewhere along the way, and one of the feet comes off when you lift it. But this chest came out of the burning of Atlanta with my great-great-great grandparents during the Civil War. There’s even a crack down one side to tell the story of how it bounced off the oxcart and had to be retrieved in the midst of such fear and haste. I don’t wrap a single book to be mailed without at least a passing thought of those gritty, brave, determined people of mine.
A few of my Daddy’s tools were just what I needed in my shop.
I love all the “gear, and tackle, and trim” of bookbinding!
A few Christmases ago, Philip surprised me with these gorgeous early-19th century book presses. The one on the right is made with massive pieces of solid oak, and I think the one on the left is black walnut. Maybe they need names…
Every bookshop needs a beautiful bookshop dog. (Meet Bonnie, if you haven’t been properly introduced. She’s the pink–ahem, blue merle–of perfection.)
My husband graciously donated not one, but two of his worktables to the service of my bookshop. (You should have seen us lugging these things up two flights of stairs!) And the only things we had to buy were a length of lamp cord for the chandelier (which was waiting patiently in the attic) and the cork “idea board” in the corner.
A few England treasures on the mantelpiece. I found that little collection of Scott in a bookshop in Devon.
I set up my watercolor station at the west-facing window. This table belonged to my Daddy’s grandmother (whose photograph resides on the bookcase nearby), and I remember it from my grandmother’s front parlor. The oil lamp was one of the few things saved from my aforementioned namesake’s house (along with her Bible and her cookbook–and, yes, I have those, too!) when it burned in 1918.
Thank you so much for indulging me in this little tour! (I think it wore Bonnie out.)
And…you know what this all means, right? It’s time to get those presses rolling again!
I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. Stay tuned for news of Poesy!