The Paper Garden is, as you can see, a book by poet/essayist Molly Peacock about Mrs. Delany's remarkable 'paper garden'. Mrs. Delany was born in 1700, Molly Peacock published the book in 2009 or 10 and recently I happened upon it, with a note inside from my uncle to the Economist, chiding them politely for incorrectly referring to Ms Peacock as an American in their book review; she lives in Canada. Molly was born in upstate New York and found herself transplanted to Canada,much like Mrs. Delaney; Molly between the US, Canada and the UK, and Mrs. Delany between England and Ireland. They shared the back and forths in living their lives between places, each country having a metaphorical magnetic affect on their creative efforts.
"A metaphor can feel truer to me than a fact." writes Molly. And if truth is clarity, facts when scrutinized become fuzzy at the edges and always lead to more questions, that is what my creative spirit and engineering mind says. Mrs. Delany's poppy is a super poppy. Mrs. D 'painted' flowers with a collage of minutely cut pieces of paper, making paper look like a flower petal. As a textile designer, I take fabric and the goal is to transform it into a paperlike material. No, I am not going to start making wax cotton flowers! Somehow, I am entranced. The story behind the collages through Molly's poetic skill with words makes Mrs. Delany's flowers come to life and made me realize how little I really see when I look at a flower.
The reproductions in the book almost look photographically real, but my mind's eye said it has to be a photograph of a painting created in 1792, and it is difficult to see the telltale signs of cut paper on the deep black background. But look again, at the Cninese Cherry Seed on the lower left; that absolutely cannot possibly be scissor cut paper. And indeed, Mrs. D stuck the actual lacy seed case plunk whole down on her black paper. And it has survived 214 years. Thankfully it is not black velvet but a watercolour paper charred with the pigments of the day - charcoal, soot..... Now, is that cheating? She has the artistic priviledge of mixing fact with metaphor. I find it amusing and keeps one eye on the ball.. or flower. Oh to see the original work. Or take the time to look at a real flower to see the power of Mrs. Delany's artistry. Walking yesterday I found myself picking a Queen Ann's Lace and putting it 2 inches from my nose, squinting ,trying to fathom the parts...... then I sneezed.