Maryanne Wolf’s excellent book about the reading brain, Proust and the Squid: The story and the science of the reading brain (2007), quotes Marcel himself:

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived as fully as those … we spent with a favourite book … they have engraved in us so sweet a memory (so much more precious to our present judgment than what we read then with such love), that if we will happen today to leaf through those books of another time, it is for no other reason than that they are the only calendars we have kept of days that have vanished, and we hope to see reflected on their pages the dwellings and ponds which no longer exist.

Jane Sullivan asserts in Storytime that ‘it’s no exaggeration to say that reading has made me what I am’. Sullivan is a journalist, essayist, and novelist, who currently writes ‘Turning Pages’, a column in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. (She also contributes to ABR.) The young Jane was brought up in London during the 1950s, the daughter of two Australian artist–cartoonists. Here, she re-examines ‘about a dozen’ books that remain fixed in her memory. The writer lays out her framework:

I will first record my memories of them, which might be hazy, or quite wrong. Then I will read them again, and record my new reactions. Because I have a journalist’s curiosity, I will also look around the periphery of the book – at the author, and so on. But I won’t stray too far into the territory of the biographer or the psychologist or the literary critic. This will not be a book about books. It will be a book about my experience of reading those books.


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  • Custom Article Title Margaret Robson Kett reviews 'Storytime: Growing up with books' by Jane Sullivan
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    Maryanne Wolf’s excellent book about the reading brain, Proust and the Squid: The story and the science of the reading brain (2007), quotes Marcel himself ...

  • Book Title Storytime
  • Book Author Jane Sullivan
  • Book Subtitle Growing up with books
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Ventura Press, $29.99 pb 346 pp, 9781925384673
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Friendship can be a powerful force for change in a young adult’s life. These four new books explore the full gamut of the unlikely, advantageous, and destructive consequences of relationships.

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  • Custom Article Title Margaret Robson Kett reviews four recent Young Adults novels
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Custom Highlight Text Friendship can be a powerful force for change in a young adult’s life. These four new books explore the full gamut of the unlikely, advantageous, and destructive consequences of relationships.

Subhi lives with Maa and his older sister Queeny in ‘Family Three’, hoping that the ‘Night Sea’ will bring his Ba back to them. Born in detention to his Rohingya mother after she arrived illegally in Australia, his friend Eli and a kindly ‘Jacket’ make his life one of fitful pleasures amid the uncertainties of camp life. On the other side of the fence, in the nearby community, Jimmie feels besieged by grief following her mother’s death. She needs the comfort of reliving her mother’s stories, which are kept in a treasured book. A mostly absent father and an uncaring brother won’t share them with her; so, since she can’t read her, the stories are lost to her as well. These unlikely individuals meet at a ‘squeezeway’ in the wire, and their mutual needs help them to escape their separate worlds, for a time.

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  • Custom Article Title Margaret Robson Kett reviews 'The Bone Sparrow' by Zana Fraillon
  • Contents Category Children's Fiction
  • Book Title The Bone Sparrow
  • Book Author Zana Fraillon
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  • Biblio Hachette $19.99 pb, 234 pp, 9780734417138

With a needle on cloth, Mary Jane Hannaford preserved her sharp observations of people as stout appliquéd figures set amidst interpretative renditions of Australian animals. Late in life she embroidered favourite verses and slyly captioned her pictures in quilts for her family. Close to one hundred years later, she has a room dedicated to her art in National Gallery of Victoria's exhibition Making the Australian Quilt 1800—1950.

Leslie Levy, Executive Director of the International Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska, opened the exhibition with the remark that our familiarity with quilts as domestic items in daily use can discount them as an art form but the choice no longer had to be made between 'utilitarian or on the wall.' Co-curators Katie Somerville (Senior Curator, Fashion and Textiles at NGV) and Dr Annette Gero have honoured the stories and intentions of all the makers, even when unknown.

The eighty-eight quilts on show range from pristine, carefully preserved, unwanted gifts to the anonymous tatters of an old life treasured as social record. All but six are on loan from private and public collections in the ACT, New South Wales, and South Australia as well as regional Victorian collections in Kyneton, Wangaratta, and Queenscliff. Families have also lent their precious heirlooms – descendants of Sarah Louise Lording recently found her spectacular crazy quilt, made in 1888, in a family attic and were at the opening to see it admired. 'They have outlived their makers, and their voices can still be heard', as quilt historian Margaret Rolfe says.

The exhibition has a chronological layout, divided into three periods. The influence of English work, brought or sent to Australia by the earliest arrivals; the gradual adoption of Australia as a new nation through the gold rushes and prosperous times; and 'making do' through the tough and testing years of early nationhood in the first fifty years of the twentieth century. The making of intricately decorated and pieced possum skin patchwork garments, long practised by indigenous women, is referenced in two quilts made about one hundred years ago, but this is an emphatically an exhibition which celebrates European settlement and tradition. The exhibition stops short of the revivalist movement of quilt making and patchwork of the last forty years and the subsequent brilliant careers of quilt artists.

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Crazy Quilt 1888 by Sarah Louise LordingCrazy Quilt (1888) by Sarah Louise Lording

 

Appliqué artistry is in evidence in broderie perse of the early nineteenth century – the conservation of precious chintz led to imaginative and enhanced decorative work by makers such as Jane Judd and Elizabeth Hardy. Australia's reputedly most famous quilt, and the only documented one made by convict women during their transportation, is the Rajah quilt, from the National Gallery of Australia's collection. Spread in its display case like a filled sail, its central medallion's appliqué of birds show the hand of Kezia Hayter, who supervised the work and presumably worded the inscription.

The velvets and silks of the mid 1800s dazzle and play with the senses of the viewer. At their best, the geometry challenges and delights while their brilliant colours and textures add depth to their story. (So many crazy quilts survive because they were never used – does this make them the art quilt of their time?) Like idiosyncratic textile scrapbooks, they showcased fashionable pursuits, favourite flowers and animals, sentimental scenes as well as the names of places and people. The establishment of agricultural shows and church fairs legitimised the public display of needlework skills, and there's more than a whiff of that competitive spirit here.

The quilt made by members of the Hampson family subverted the contemporary fashion for red embroidery on cream or white ground in spectacular style. Part autograph album, part book of proverbs, the fifty-two squares depict local characters, allegiances to church, empire, and queen Contemporary textile artist Lucas Grogan spoke during NGV's Quilt Symposium held on Saturday 23 July, acknowledging the influence that this quilt had on his early career.

It's a relief, after the stuffiness of Victorian opulence, to see both fresh and faded testimonials to the end of the old queen's reign giving way to the uncertainties of a federated country in the last rooms of the exhibition. Annie Percival's patchworked cigar band table cover prefigures Rosalie Gascoigne (who made one traditional quilt herself.) The wagga, the rough and ready quilts made of whatever came to hand, evoke the corrugated iron and rough timber of itinerant workers' lives. Their survival is the most remarkable, and Fanny Jenkins' worn cretonne speaks of her attempt to make the most of a hard life.

Patchwork Table Cover 1903 by Annie PercivalPatchwork Table Cover (1903) by Annie Percival

 

The leafy green squares of Emily McKay's Chronicle quilt from 1934 echo the border of Jane Judd's broderie perse, made in England in the early 1800s and neatly end the exhibition as it begins, with an appreciation of the artistic significance of patchwork, embroidery and quilting. Both feature in Making the Australian Quilt 1800-1950, the superbly produced catalogue of the exhibition: it had sold out within thirty-six hours of the opening, but will be available again soon.

Making the Australian Quilt 1800–1950 is on display at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia from 22 July to 6 November 2016.

Arts Update is generously supported by the Ian Potter Foundation.

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  • Custom Article Title 'Making the Australian Quilt: 1800-1950' (NGV Australia)
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    With a needle on cloth, Mary Jane Hannaford preserved her sharp observations of people as stout appliquéd figures set amidst interpretative renditions of Australian animals. Late in life she embroidered favourite verses and slyly captioned her pictures in quilts for her family. Close to one hundred ...

From a rosy-cheeked preschooler to a glaring nationalist, this survey of recent children's pictures books features characters for readers of all ages. Emerging and established Australian picture-book makers demonstrate the range of talented storytelling available in this genre.

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  • Custom Article Title 'From Seagulls to the Somme': Margaret Robson Kett reviews six new picture books
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In 2012, Shaun Tan was commissioned to make pictures for a German publisher's edition of fifty of the Brothers Grimms' fairy tales, retold by Philip (His Dark Materials) Pullman. Pullman's challenge is that the tales do not necessarily benefit from illustration – he dismisses most as 'art school exquisiteness'. Tan's response was to return to his boyhood medium: sculpture. Inspired by the tales, he made twenty-five additional works, each 'about the size and weight of an orange'.

These small works, fabulously photographed, have now been published by Allen & Unwin. Extracts from Jack Zipes's translation of Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales – none more than 200 words long – sit alongside full colour plates. (Full annotations of the stories are at the back of the book.)

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  • Custom Article Title Margaret Robson Kett reviews 'The Singing Bones' by Shaun Tan
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  • Book Title The Singing Bones
  • Book Author Shaun Tan
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  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $35 hb, 192 pp, 9781760111038
Thursday, 28 November 2013 15:38

Nostalgia

‘Never ruin a perfect plan’ is one of the masterful Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer (Lothian, $24.99 hb, 52 pp, 9780734410672). On a bone-strewn landscape, four thimbles with legs, tails, and horned heads are caught mid-procession. Two of them carry a knife and fork twice their height. The smallest one has turned its Ned Kelly visor head to salute. In doing so, he has trodden unaware on the tail of the one in the lead, who is carrying a strawberry as big as himself. The tip of the tail lies under his foot, dropped like a skink’s. A crow watches from the shadows. The narrative in this one picture would be enough to keep a reader absorbed for hours. The many colours of summer are textured contrasts.

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A pile of picture books to savour – what better start to the year? Experienced authors and artists are met again, and new favourites are found, in these eight books.

Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood, wonderful book makers in their own right, make a special team in The Treasure Box (Viking, $24.99 hb, 32 pp, 9780670073658). A boy and his father are forced to flee their home as the enemy advances, bombing the town’s library on their way. They take one surviving book with them as a treasure ‘rarer than rubies, more splendid than silver, greater than gold’.

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