Covers · writing

Covers: Róisín Campbell

For a change, I’m writing on one of my covers today.

Róisín Campbell is about an Irishwoman who is forced to leave Ireland because of economic realty after she turns eighteen. She grew up in Hospital, a town in the eastern part of County Limerick that was not devastated as were Irish Counties in the west and northwest in the Hunger/Famine. (It’s whence my MIL comes.)

In 1870 she leaves home forever and takes the train to Queenstown (now Cobh), the port of Cork, and embarks on her trip to America aboard the City of Paris steamship. Once in New York, she trains to become a maid and then…well, I won’t give away what becomes of her.

My original cover was a John Singer Sargent portrait of his younger sister Violet but when I became aware of concerns that there were rights issues with that portrait, I set about switching them (for rights reasons I’m not putting it up here).

At first I used a portrait that was rather severe. It was Study of Lilia, an 1887 painting by the Frenchman Carolus-Duran, from the National Gallery. Some thought it didn’t work and I agreed.

So I shifted gears and found The Blue Feather by William J. Edmondson at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I fell for the simple beauty of the subject with her reddish hair performing a simple household task.

The Cleveland describes it thusly:

Throughout his long career, Edmondson stubbornly resisted modernist styles and proudly proclaimed himself a traditionalist. He felt that artists should paint what they see, and once declared, “When painting a portrait, I do not indulge in this ‘painting of the soul’ stuff. When some artists fail to get a likeness of a person they say they have not tried to paint him, but have painted his soul.” The sitter in The Blue Feather was Edmondson’s student, Caroline Mytinger, who often modeled for him. Later a portraitist in her own right, she traveled to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to record its indigenous people.

Mytinger’s journey to the Pacific is described in The Seattle Globalist in a piece about a photographer who retraced her steps a few years ago.

Already a noted portrait painter of high society subjects, Caroline Mytinger was fascinated by writing from European explorers and Western anthropologists about the native cultures of Melanesia, and she set out from Cleveland in 1926 to document the faces and clothing of the region through her art.

Only 29 years old, and with very few funds, she found a ship out of San Francisco and boarded with another adventurous woman friend, Margaret Warner. At the time, it was unusual for women to travel abroad without husbands. And though Mytinger was a successful portraitist, her lack of funds speaks to women artists’ lack of status.

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