Molly Peacock's The Paper Garden is a biography of the remarkable Mary Delany, born in 1700, who at the age of 72 picked up scissors and paper and embarked on an extraordinary project, inventing a new kind of art form in the process. She made collages of flowers, mostly from paper, occasionally incorporating real botanical samples or touches of paint, and before her death in 1788, created almost a thousand of these 'mosaicks.'
Just look at these amazing pictures!
Each tendril cut out by hand, from hand-dyed papers! Mrs Delany ordered her own pigments, dissected specimens to ensure the accuracy of her portraits, pasted them (probably with flour and water glue), brought them out to show King George III and Queen Charlotte, and they are still preserved to this day.
Molly Peacock's day job is as a poet, and she allows herself plenty of latitude in tracing Mrs Delany's life story in parallel with her own obsession with the collages and possible correspondences between each life stage and a flower portrait. This technique builds up layers of story and meaning in much the same way as Mrs Delany's creations. It was fascinating to learn about the skills that prepared Mary Delany for this superb body of work: gardening, shell craft, silhouettes, embroidery and fabric design, each of which contributed to her powers of observation and dexterity of hand.
Mary Delany also left behind hundreds of letters, which provide an insight into her life story, two marriages, and close friendships, all in her own words.
The Paper Garden is a beautifully produced book, with lovely glossy reproductions of the 'mosaics', thick paper, and a chunky feel in the hand. Deeply satisfying!