Monday, February 18, 2008

Gladys Peto Follow Up




I recently connected with a fellow blogger who has posted a bunch of great pictures by Gladys Peto (about whom you may also read here in my archives). Juliet has a beautiful blog with wonderful pictures of Mersea Island, England and lots of interesting reading, q.v.. http://julietdoyle.blogspot.com/

I just left her a comment telling her that since my long ago last Peto posting, I have gotten a little new information. I also had a couple of Gladys Peto images that I hadn't previously posted. These are above. The bottom, (bad) picture is the one that started me learning about and collecting Gladys Peto. I think it captures something magic about childhood: a fleeting feeling we would get from time to time that really anything was possible - no laws of physics. I bought it at a Quebec antique store about 10 years ago. I was certain that its creator must have been "someone" given the charm of the picture. Of course, I was right! The little drawing is a book plate I bought some years ago on Ebay. I love it and it's framed on the wall in my house now. The color picture is an illustration from one of her children's stories - something almost a little spooky there...

I also wanted to make available to anyone who is interested the text of a letter GEP wrote to Sir Cecil Beaton back in 1974. How did I get this? I am glad you asked. A few months ago I wrote to the library at St. John's College, Cambridge where they have the archive of Beaton's papers. This letter was in the catalog. A College Librarian was kind enough to send me a copy. It's dated April 10, 1974 at Lake Limawady (sp?) County Derry, Northern Ireland.

To Sir Cecil Beaton

I have just read with great pleasure the article 'Fifty Years of Focus by a Master' in the Daily Mail (Apr. 9)

So I took from the shelves your book The Glass of Fashion (which we much cherish) and read it again. On page 31 there is a bit about me and my balloons [there is a shaky drawing of the trademark Peto "bubbles" in the text here] and I wondered if anyone ever says "What ever happened to Gladys Peto?" Well, I went on drawing balloons till 1946 when my husband retired from the army and I retired from commercial art in favor of gardening and landscape painting in water colour.

In 1970 I had a stroke. My right hand is still paralysed. I draw (and write) with my left hand and send you a little drawing. [There is a drawing of a bunch of flowers on one page on the letter]. I need hardly say how much we admire your photographs and the charming illustrations to the Glass of Fashion.

Yrs sincerely,
G.E. Emmerson
Gladys Peto


She would have been 84 years old when she wrote this. Three years later she was gone for good. Isn't this a poignant, almost heartbreaking letter? The early 70s were not the era for her kind of art, and her posture here (forgotten old woman seeking some attention from the great man who once mentioned here in a book) is almost pitiable. That isn't to say that it is undignified - I think it has great dignity; also intelligence and good manners - just sad that she had to wonder near the end if anyone in the beau monde remembered her. I also find it noteworthy that Cecil Beaton kept it - and miraculous that more than 30 years later we all have access to it. I have thought more than once that if there is a heaven, like the one in the common imagination, perhaps GEP is up there and having some subtle influence on this rediscovery made possible mostly by the internet.

Around the time I got this letter I got a copy of a biography of Cecil Beaton. It was quite interesting, although I didn't finish it, I'll admit. One thing that stuck with me, given my plans to visit England, were the many descriptions of his home, Ashcombe. He inhabited it as a renter for years and made it very beautiful. I thought I might be able to visit it. It took me about 10 seconds on Google to find out that I wouldn't be able to do any such thing since it is now owned by Madonna (the singer, not the Mother of God). She and her husband are, apparently, not welcoming.

I also managed to track down a copy of The Glass of Fashion at the library at the University of Vermont. I was tempted to buy a copy for myself but they are collectors items now and the first edition (1954) and a 1989 reprint are quite expensive. It was a great little book and I was surprised to find that Beaton was really a very good writer. Here are some links of interest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecil_Beaton
http://julietdoyle.blogspot.com/

4 comments:

Juliet said...

Thank you so much for sharing the pics and, above all, the letter. As you say, it's very poignant - but wonderful (and rather amazing really) that it was kept. I'll add a link to this post on my blog.

KSV Woolfoot said...

Thanks Juliet. Your comment prompted me to go back and clean up some type-os and illiteracies here. I very much enjoyed reading your blog.
Kim

Anonymous said...

Having just become aware of Gladys Peto (despite being English and very much into children's book illustrators), I thought I'd bring up the name of a similarly partially forgotten American children's magazine and book illustrator of the 20s and 30s, Hazel Frazee.
Like GP if you google her you get a very skimpy biography, and no inkling as to why she abruptly stopped publishing in the early 30s.
I've tried to get some information by badgering librarians at the Library of Congress etc., and have come up with stuff like a brief obituary notice (she died in the 70s), but for a once popular artist (she did a tremendous number of "Child Life" covers in her heyday, probably helped by her Chicago background) she has slipped through the cracks. Please google her if you aren't familiar with her work.
Sorry this is about 4 years late!
Mick

Kim Velk said...

Hey Anon -

Always glad to hear from a fellow enthusiast. When I first developed my interest in GEP, many years ago, there was nothing about her. Now there is that great website Gladyspeto.com, and I have heard from various others with an interest in her - one of her old friends and a relative of her husband's. So, for what it;s worth maybe you could become an expert in Hazel and tell the world what you know. They will build on it. I wrote the first GEP Wikipedia article way back when... Maybe a website or wikipedia article will bring out the details you seek.