I am very pleased to find that a number of books lately have featured art and artists as central to the plot. The Pelton Papers by Mari Coates explores an American artist new to me. I thank Caitlin Hamilton Summie for sending me a copy at no charge for my honest review.
About The Pelton Papers:
A richly imagined novel based on the life of artist Agnes Pelton, whose life tracks the early days of modernism in America. Born into a family ruined by scandal, Agnes becomes part of the lively New York art scene, finding early success in the famous Armory Show of 1913. Fame seems inevitable, but Agnes is burdened by shyness and instead retreats to a contemplative life, first to a Long Island windmill, and then to the California desert. Undefeated by her history—family ruination in the Beecher-Tilton scandal, a shrouded Brooklyn childhood, and a passionate attachment to another woman—she follows her muse to create more than a hundred luminous and deeply spiritual abstract paintings.
About Mari Coates:
Mari Coates lives in San Francisco, where, before embarking on fiction writing, she was an arts writer and the theater critic for the SF Weekly. She holds degrees from Connecticut College and the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.
Agnes Pelton was an American artist who was a modernist painter who acheived some notoriety in New York art circles prior to WWI. Her family history was a bit interesting and downright scandalous for the times but Agnes herself never did anything overtly out of line. She never married and the book leaves one with the impression she was a lesbian but too afraid to act upon her feelings.
Agnes was born in Germany to American parents and they all moved back to the States when she was still a child. Her parent’s marriage was a complicated one and her father was not part of her life for long. She was also sickly as a child. She did show promise as a young artist and she was sent to the Pratt Institute where her art education started.
This is a hard book to really describe. It’s not going to be for everyone. I would say an interest in art/art history is going to be helpful as so much of the narrative revolves around art, artists and art movements. I will admit that modern art is probably my least favorite art of any yet I still did find this book interesting. Being totally unfamiliar with Ms. Pelton I found it very helpful to have my phone or laptop handy so I could look up her works as they were described in the book to see what they looked like.
It’s an evenly paced, calm, well researched tale about an interesting woman. I always enjoy learning about new people from history and I have to admit that I have researching Ms. Pelton’s works since I finished the book. Despite not generally caring for abstract/modern art I have found myself quite intrigued by several of her pieces. She was also quite an accomplished portraitist as well.
The thing I found a bit disconcerting in the book was how Agnes’s story was told through history, history was often not included. The Depression was hardly mentioned at all and I found that rather shocking. From reading the book it hardling impacted Agnes’s life beyond an art show not having good attendence. I would expect that it had more effect on her life. But I suppose the focus of this author was on Agnes and Agnes alone.
I found it to be a nice diversion from my regular reading adventures. If you love art or are even interested in art give this book a try. If nothing else, give the works of Agnes Pelton a look. They will grow on you.
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