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Book of the Week — Ages of Peonies

The Ages of Peonies
Ellen Sheffield
Gambler, OH: Unit IV Arts, 2018
N7433.4 S5418 A54 2018

Black American contralto Marian Anderson, like other Black artists, sought opportunities overseas, performing in Europe’s capitals to great praise, particularly in Scandinavia. After meeting Eleanor Roosevelt in 1935 and performing at the White House, she began a concert tour of the United States, struggling with racism all the while. Denied housing at hotels in Princeton, New Jersey, she was invited by physicist Albert Einstein and his wife to stay with them. She and the Einstein’s remained lifelong friends. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution barred her from performing in Washington’s Constitution Hall. Eleanor Roosevelt intervened, resigning from the DAR, and invited Anderson to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. She sang before an audience of seventy-five thousand people, while millions more listened to her on the radio. Later, the DAR invited her back to Constitution Hall, where she sang on several occasions. She sang the National Anthem at the Presidential inaugurations of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, Jr. She sang at the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. She was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Artist Ellen Sheffield’s book Ages of Peonies puts Anderson’s life into far better perspective than a brief biography like the one above can do. Of her book Sheffield writes, “[My] peony bush was transplanted from my husband’s grandmother’s garden after her death. Grandma Bertha Hammons was a so-called colored cleaning woman her entire life in our small town where Marian Anderson performed in 1930…Miss Anderson’s mother in Philadelphia also scrubbed floors to support her young daughters.” The exclusion and racial prejudice faced by these women, while bringing beauty to their communities, inspired Sheffield’s book.

From the prospectus: Studio support for this project was provided by the Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory and Educational Foundation Artist Residency Program…” Inkjet prints and letterpress on Rives paper with handmade Morgan cotton abaca paper on the covers and a musical score in Marian Anderson’s handwriting printed on bookcloth. Issued in phase box with image of the March 11, 1930 performance program on the cover. Edition of sixteen copies.

(316) Marian Anderson Sings at Lincoln Memorial – YouTube

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