Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 15, 2012

My Dear Girl: The Art of Florence Hosmer

Many novels begin with the premise that stories of ordinary lives will be worth a reader’s time. But biographies and some memoirs tend to be about people who have stepped beyond what’s familiar into some kind of celebrity. What I loved about My Dear Girl: The Art of Florence Hosmer by Helen Marie Casey  was its assumption that it can be well worth retracing the footprints, or in this case, paintings and letters, of someone who’s been generally forgotten. I also liked the author’s inclusion of her own musings about the nature of art, history, and fame.

Florence Hosmer lived from 1880 to 1978, and left about 500 paintings, primarily portraits. She managed to earn a living, finding support from relatives and a sustaining network of friends, which is reflected in the title: the author read many saved letters, which often began with that warm salutation. Florence Hosmer’s own letters have mostly been lost, thrown away, or perhaps saved in unknown places. The location of many of her paintings is also a mystery.

Helen Marie Casey examines and beautifully describes paintings that have been saved, and lovely examples are photographed in the book. She looks through Florence Hosmer’s house, which was willed to the town of Sudbury, rifling through letters, photographs, and drawers. She finds, “After a while, even beloved objects have a way of metamorphosing into simple artifacts.” I like the personal tone as she quotes some letters, than speculates about possible responses, with bigger questions about the topics of art, story, and lastingness set off in italicized paragraphs. After spending time in her house, she reports, “I have come under her spell, as have so many others, and I hold the knowledge of her persistence, her empathy, and her lively sense of humor as an important part of what she has bequeathed.”

This slim book chronicles a choice to commit oneself to creating beauty, and we learn about how Florence worked, took classes, exhibited, submitted work to juried shows, sold many portraits, and wrote letters requesting payments, which she didn’t always receive. The author explores what it means to be an artist, and to lack much acclaim, suggesting that,  “Even one brilliant work of art has the power to take hold of us and ensure that the creator will last as long as the work endures.”

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Responses

  1. What a beautiful appreciation, Jeannine. I’m sure you know that the author of My Dear Girl, Helen Marie Casey, is a poet, as well as a biographer. The two of you are kindred spirits.

    • Yes, and the poetry shined through in the prose. If only everyone could be so lucky to have a poet as a biographer. Thanks for calling us kindred spirits. I loved her gentle, respectful, alert investigation.

      • Jeannine, thank you so much for your appreciative comments on MY Dear Girl. We must, indeed, be kindred spirits since (in addition to all else) you have written about Anne Hutchinson and I have a chapbook about her friend, Mary Dyer, “Inconsiderate Madness.” Kindred imaginations for sure!

        • Helen, I must read your work about Mary Dyer. She and Anne, really pioneers in American nonviolent resistance. Thanks for all your work in poetry and history!

  2. That’s what happened with Louisa May Alcott and Little Women, isn’t it?

    • There’s no doubt that Little Women endures, and our fascination with the author and her family along with it. But LMA had such a complicated relationship with fame.

      • She did indeed. I would expect nothing less. :-)

  3. There are so many ways to live a creative life, aren’t there? I’m glad to see someone who wasn’t a celebrity being celebrated.

    (And what a long life (1880-1978)! A full one, too, from the sound of it.)

    • Amy, that is it, so exactly. So much creativity is measured in terms of who saw it, how many bought it, who read it, while reading this life I felt the calmness of a long allegiance to craft.


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