We’ve had a protracted autumn. Even now, trees nearby are still giving up their leaves.
When I began this blog, I wanted to record and share my own treasured library. Here’s one of my oldest books, with a recently acquired bookmark.
Floriography, communication through the symbolism of flowers and plants, has been part of many cultures but became very popular in the 19th century.
I probably acquired this little gem 45 years ago at an op shop or church jumble sale, both rich sources of ornate but arcane books. (I still regret letting Practical Taxidermy go.) Published by Frederick Warne and compiled and edited by the modest L.V. , it is a vocabulary. The first part is the names of plants and flowers arranged alphabetically, with meanings; the second part is reversed with the meanings first. It’s tempting to think of the avid Victorian suitor hunting through the garden, book in hand, for the right mixture for their bouquet.
Gorse doesn’t get a mention in the vocabulary, but I already knew its meaning from this entry in Cecily May Barker‘s Alphabet of Flower Fairies. (Those who know me well will be surprised to see the F word spoken of approvingly here. These are the original, and the only, for me.)
As with other blog posts though, I’ve fallen in love with someone else’s book.
Books have been given as prizes in schools, probably as long as they have both existed. I recently spent a very pleasant afternoon with my friend Jean looking at her book, originally awarded to her great-grandmother over 140 years ago.
A sumptuous example of Victorian publishing, the cover’s gilt shows wear by its owner Jane Longmore. She attended the St Kilda Girls’ School of Art and received it as 1st Prize for Sketching from Nature in 1874.
Jane used her skills in later life to paint landscapes on the unconventional canvas of leaves. They were plentiful around her marital home in Lilydale.
This is not a good photograph – it doesn’t do justice to the detail in this landscape, rendered on a leaf approximately 20cm tall and 12 cm wide. I particularly like the way the stem leads my eye into following the wagon on the path through the trees.
As Jean and I paged through Pictorial Beauties of Nature, it became apparent that the book was more than instructive theory to Jane : she had used the book to prepare her canvases as well. The tannins in the leaves have left their impression more than a century later.
To press the leaves, to ensure that the leaves were dried absolutely flat, Jane would have put weights (perhaps other books) on top of Pictorial Beauties. This has taken its toll on the binding and pages, including coloured plates, have come loose. One plate though still has its original protective tissue.
As well as keeping the colours beautifully vibrant, this has unintentionally created another print.
According to The Language of Flowers, holly stands for ‘foresight’, and mistletoe for ‘I surmount difficulties’. Appropriate for the mother of several children, raising them in an isolated settlement while her husband was away for weeks and months. She used her training, and the prize for it, as a springboard to her artmaking in later life. Jean and I think that we found the impression left by the painted leaf here.
My leaf art won’t last to hang on my great-granddaughter’s wall but I’ll think of Jane when I look at it. And will keep the gumleaf away from impressionable books.