Paying Homage to a Childfree Woman in History Who Invented a Type of Art

mary delaneyWith this month being Women's History month, there are many childfree women of history we can pay homage to. But one that I bet you have not heard of has a great story, and one that childfree author Molly Peacock knows all about.  I asked Molly if she would say a few words about this woman's story.  She is childfree artist Mary Delaney, she lived in the 18th century, and invented a certain type of art but did not start her craft until in her 70s!

In Peacock's words:

"Recently I wrote The Paper Garden:  An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72, about the amazing 18th-century woman, Mary Delany, who came to invent collage, a brand new art form, hundreds of years before Picasso and Braque.  How did she do it?  I wondered, and I tried to track all the instances of creativity in her life that I could find—from the age of six to the day she died at eighty-eight.  

Delany did not have children.  (There’s no way to know it was a choice, but she made it clear in her letters that she did not think a traditional life was all it was cracked up to be. “ Matrimony!  I marry!  Yes, there’s a blessed scene before my eyes of the comforts of that state.—A sick husband, squalling brats, a cross mother-in-law and a thousand unavoidable impertinences. . . but stop my rage!  Be not too fierce.”) 

By the time Mary turned forty-three, she had fled London for Dublin and a flourishing mid-life marriage to Jonathan Swift's friend Dean Patrick Delany, in which they pursued all their enthusiasms, including their eleven-acre garden.  They became a family of two.  It was after the death of the Dean and after her beloved sister's death that Mary, in a state of grief, stared at a red geranium, and watched one of it's petals drop to a table next to a ruby-colored piece of paper.  

Mesmerized, she picked up her scissors and began to cut the petals out of the paper, assembling them on a black background.  'I have invented a new way of imitating flowers,'" she wrote in 1772, and proceeded over the next ten years to make 985 cut-paper botanicals, all jewel-like on deep black backgrounds, each one a kind of portrait.  You can see some of the images at peacockpapergarden.

To make a big choice in life is a radical invention.  She's my role model, and I'm grateful to her, and to my scholar-husband, who helped this poet write her own story, and also the story of Mrs. Delany."

Hats off to Ms. Delaney....and Molly, for making her story known. 

Laura Carroll

Childfree author of Families of Two

blogging at La Vie Childfree


In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.

Trending Now