Friday, May 25, 2007

More Than Words

Illustrated Letters by Liza Kirwin

Today, when personal communication more than likely travels through the ether, and the postman is relegated to delivering bills and junk mail, this epistolary art might serve a purpose.

In the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution is a collection of illustrated letters that are autobiographical works of art. Those included in this book consititute some of the true gems. John Graham wrote in 1958, "letter writing is probably the most beautiful manifestation in human relations, in fact, it is its finest residue."

Writing to wives, lovers, friends, patrons, clients, and confidants, letters date back to 1813. The most recent1982. Short ones, long ones, humorous and poignant. Lovely handwriting and each has some sort of illustration ... some are stick figures, others elaborate watercolor paintings, or pen-and-ink drawings. One is typewritten on one of those very old manual typewriters. Charming vignettes, caricatures, portraits, and landscapes, revealing the joys and successes, loves and longings, triumphs and frustrations of the authors' personal lives.

In the back of the book is a section with verbatim transcriptions, preserving the exact spelling and punctuation of the originals. As you might imagine, some of the handwriting is not easy to decipher.

In 1912, caricaturist Alfred Frueh writes from Scotland, "an I hae in mind to gay to dancin's chool and learn how to highland fling but I hae me doots whither I kin larn it."

Frida Kahlo writes to Emmy Lou Packard in 1940, thanking her for taking such good care of her former husband Diego Revera. Joseph Linden Smith writes to his little brother, instructing him to take the two dollars from under the arm (through a slit on the page) and give it to their father. There are far too many to list here, but some are Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, Fyonel Feininger, John Sloan, Man Ray, Alexander Calder, Dorothea Tanning, Gio Ponto, and Andy Warhol ... all are endlessly fascinating

In 1963 Paul Suttman wrote to his friends about changing accommodations in Italy. He writes from the bottom of a wine glass, drunk on the pleasures of Italy, and reports that his traveling companion fell off a scooter and broke her collar bone. He settled in a rustic farmhouse near Imprunetta, south of Florence, in the Chianti region of Tuscany

Here is one of my attempts at illustrated letters ... during a road trip through the wine country of Oregon. The grapes are made with thumb prints in walnut ink


StuckInABook said...

What a wonderful post today - both the book and your letter are lovely, the former being quite irresistible. Onto my must-buy-soon list. And, by coincidence, I've also (much more mundanely) been writing about letters today. Send quite a few myself, but don't think I've ever tried illustrated ones... must do soon.

StuckInABook said...

Oh, by the by, I never got back to you re: the bookshop you mentioned on my 'bookshops of the world unite' post. If you could take a picture, and maybe write a little about it, I'd love to feature you on Stuck In A Book. If you'd like to, just let me know! Any time. The questions I did last time, about the bookshop, are:
When did you find out about them?
Why are they so great?
What did you buy?
Contact information?
Anything else of interest?

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog in one of the art journal Yahoo! groups and I am now addicted! I so thoroughly enjoy your reading selections and journal entries and art.

Just one question though, can't you read any faster?! I would love to see a new post every day! ;-)

Mersea said...

I am one who loves written letters and I've always been told I write such interesting letters. I am reading Victoria's "The Pleasures of Staying In Touch" Writing Memorable Letters by Jennifer Williams. There are quotes from Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen....

StuckInABook said...

Thanks for the bookstore info, Janice, has gone into my latest blog entry! I'm afraid the text for it is very large, but I can't get it to change...

Tara said...

These letters are so beautiful, you are a wonderful artist. I am currently reading a Beatrix Potter biography who wrote so many illustrated letters, they are such gifts.