This week I'm proud to introduce another of my special talented buddies. Kathleen is an Art historian, lives and works in New York City, practises fencing , writes three different blogs, is in search of a rich husband and has a crush on Mrs Gaskell's John Thornton (which is also how I happened to find her in the blogosphere) . Enjoy our chat.
Please, Kathleen, could you briefly tell us something about yourself?
I’ll steal a little bit from my blog bio pages (and Henry James) here: “Her ideas of enjoyment were very simple; she enjoyed putting on her new hat, with its redundancy of feather, and twenty cents appeared to her a very large sum.”
I’m an economist turned art historian and am thus your quintessential over-educated and underpaid recent grad school graduate. I was born and raised in a suburb of Manhattan, and as I bounce back and forth between gritty NYC and landscaped Westchester, I try to lead a life that balances my country-gal ways with my big-city personality. I enjoy hiking and kayaking excursions followed by lazy afternoons on the porch as much as I enjoy exploring the fast-paced Avenues and Cross Streets of my beloved New York City.
I finished my masters in art history last year and since then have split my time between the art world (I worked at the Museum of Modern Art for several months) and the sport of fencing. I have big aspirations – maybe an Olympic team, maybe a book, definitely a PhD, and absolutely a career in a museum. Of course, while I’m working on all those plans, I’m just another blogger waiting to be discovered.
(The Columbia Fencing media guide with Kathleen on the cover)
New York City! What is it like to live in such an iconic metropolis? What are the pros and cons according to you?
I pronounce water “waatah” and cheer for the Yankees like it’s a second job. When I go abroad and people ask me if I’m American, I say “No, I’m a New Yorker.” Paris has its boulevards; Rome has its ruins; Toronto has its endearing Canadianess, but I can’t imagine calling any city other than New York my home. It’s inhabitant friendly (great public transport, fantastic restaurants,etc.) and culturally rich (Museum Mile, Carnegi Hall, and so on). But perhaps what I love most about my city is that it allows for individuality. Sure, as home to Wall Street and as the financial capital of North America, there is an expectation that you’ll join the corporate machine. But in truth, it is a city filled with people pursuing their own dreams – whether it’s to own a bakeshop in Tribeca or photograph models on a runway. Go out for a drink and you’ll meet the lawyers and investments bankers you’d expect to knock elbows with, but you’ll also meet writers, artists, athletes, bohemians, and intellects. Does it have cons? Of course. It has its grubby side streets, its overpriced rents, its tourist hotbeds. But all in all, when you’re in New York, you really do believe you can be whatever you want to be when you grow-up.
(Kathleen in her second job, cheering for the Yankees!)
Art is your work and it is apparently also something you love very much. You often blog about works of art on Meet me in the drawing room. Can you tell us more about it?
I’m an only child who learned early how to amuse myself – mostly through coloring books. When I was a wee thing, my motto was “you can never have enough crayons.” I always knew that I wanted to puruse some sort of career in the arts – originally as a fashion designer, then as a critique, finally as a curator/academic. I enjoy looking at art but perhaps more than that, I love learning the backstory behind a work. When I’m researching something, I feel like Sherlock Holmes – digging my way through dusty archives, looking for clues in the seemingly mundane, stockpiling hundreds of relevant sources, uncovering a seemingly endless chain of possible leads. If you’re ever looking for me at the Museum of Modern Art, or the Metropolitan, I’m that nerd standing in front of a painting you’ve never heard of taking copious notes with a gleam in her eye.
Have you seen my favourite painting in my sidebar on the right? It was love at first sight wit Friederich’s Wanderer and I just can’t say exactly why. Then I’ve got Monet and the Impressionists as well as Caravaggio among the artists I love. What about you? Have you got a painting which is really special to you? Any artist or movement?
The Wanderer is also one of my favorite paintings! Talk about the sublime!
There are two works that are very important to me. The first is Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais.” I saw it for the first time when I was 13 and it was the first artwork that ever made me really think about art as something more significant than a decorative flourish. I try to make a pilgrimage to one of the castings every few months (the Met has a complete set of the figures) because it still sends shivers down my spine.
The second work is an 1885 self-portrait by American painter Ellen Day Hale (above). The portrait hung in the 2006 “Americans in Paris: 1860-1900” exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and I was immediately transfixed by the sitter’s lofty but knowing gaze and the mastery with which she was painted. I was intrigued. What began as an interest in one artist and one painting quickly turned into a fascination with an entire period of artistic production – I’m crazy about art from the 1860s to the end of the 1930s. Thanks to an undergraduate paper I wrote on the portrait, I was accepted back into Columbia for my MA, where I wrote my thesis on Hale.
These days, I’m very much into the German Expressionists – hence my recent attempt at learning German.
German is a very difficult language, but you're tenacious Kathleen and you'll make it! Now, from languages to ... reading. What kind of reader are you? Where and when do you usually read? Do you prefer to buy or borrow books? What about e-books? Have you got favourite genres and authors?
I’m actually a terrible reader. I love to read, but I’m slow and plodding. I like to underline and highlight and savor chapters. It takes me ages to get through books. Of course, just like you, I love Austen. I just finished Mansfield Park – the only one I hadn’t read. I also adore W. Somerset Maugham, Steinbeck, Vonnegut, and Camus. I’ll read anything, though I tend to avoid fantasy, sci-fi, and contemporary novels (I have too many classics to catch up on). I like to read about people, real or fabricated.
I have a Kindle, which was a MA graudation gift, and I generally have mixed feelings about it. It’s absolutely easier to travel with the sleek digital version of War and Peace. But at the end of the day, I’m a book lover who wants to turn and dog-ear pages while she marks up margins. My bookshelves are my pride and joy.
I’m currently reading “The Razor’s Edge” and I think it’s destined to become my all-time favourite. It’s highly quotable, so I feel like it will join “Pride and Prejudice” as a book I thumb through almost weekly. The Grapes of Wrath is also one I turn to frequently for one reason or another.
Somerset Maugham, then. Let us know why it was so special to you. Maybe on one of your blogs. I mentioned one of them , Meet me in the Drawing Room, but you’ve recently started writing a second one, They Told Me to Find a Rich Husband. Can you explain what do you love to blog about and what are the differences between them?
My first blog was actually “AlleyKat’s Corner Cafe” – a recipe blog I update rarely, but am still very loyal to. Meet Me in the Drawing Room is a venue for me to express my passions for art, literature, and travel. It was originally conceived of as “Voyages in a Discovery” (referring to the Land Rover Discovery that takes me all around the country), but it inevitably expanded to reflex my diverse but constant interests. My catch-phrase for the blog is “It’s where the ladies entertain and the gentlemen retire” – a reference to the old-time role of the drawing room as a domestic meeting place.
As for They Told me to Find a Rich Husband, that was my attempt at becoming the next Carrie Bradshaw. The content and title are inspired by the #1 piece of advice people give me after they ask what I plan to do with my master’s degree: “Find yourself a nice, rich husband.” It’s a place to make fun of social expectations and male-female relationships. It’s also a place to address what it means to fall in (and out of) love. And sometimes I use it as a place to gush about Richard Armitage... you know, it just can’t be helped.
:o Really? I thought you just had a literary crush on John Thornton and ...I find out now you are instead another victim of Mr RA's blue eyes spell! Welcome on board, K.! But we'll talk about this later. First let's finish talking about blogging. When and Why did you start ? What has blogging added to your real lifeI started blogging in the fall of 2008, when I in the early phases of writing my master’s thesis. It was a much needed alternative to the heavy academic research/writing I was doing in grad school. I have always kept a journal and a notebook of “essay ideas,” but the practice of blogging forced me to turn those little jots into something more substantial, even if informal.
My friends keep up with my blogs, which is very nice of them (they must be bored at work!). Often one of my posts will be a jumping-off point for a dinner/night-out discussion, or someone will suggest that I blog about this topic or that event. I started blogging as a way to engage with the public at large. Turns out, generating post topics has been a great excuse for a wine night with my wingmen and women.
I also read about your journeys on your blog. Do you like travelling? What are the places you love travelling to ?
Travel is very important to me, and practically every month I spend a few nights in a hotel room. Thanks to fencing, I’ve been all over Europe and the US for competitions. But of all the places I’ve been, France and Italy are my favorite European destinations – everything about them is captivating. The food, the locales, the people – I just can’t get enough. I also love traveling through Canada. I have family there, but everytime I get to cross the border, I get to pack my hiking boots and kayaking gear. I may be a city girl, but I’m very much a wilderness junkie, and Canada is very much a “Big Wild.”
Here we are now. I perfectly remember how I found you online about a year ago. I was writing a post, Mr Darcy vs Mr Thornton while re-reading both Pride and Prejudice and North and South. Surfing the Net for materials and information I found your letter to Mr Darcy confessing your love for another man to him… It was a brilliant post and I linked it to mine. Can you explain what this letter was about? I just love it! (And I agree with you, as you know!)
I remember how excited I was when you posted on that – you were my first “unknown” comment! I felt like I’d been discovered.
I had just watched the Richard Armitage North & South adaptation when I started penning that letter. As a Victorian-phile (and a modern woman who likes a self-made man), I was totally smitten with Mr. Thornton (and Mr. Armitage). I had been very devoted to Darcy, defending him when my male friends mocked him, but I had to tell him that my heart now belonged to another. It was the right thing to do... I mean, wouldn’t he have done the same for Lizzy?
Do you still love Mr Thornton or are you preparing a letter to him to confess you’ve got a new literary crush?Hahaha! I think Mr. Thornton is safe. Larry Darrell is appealing, but just isn’t my type.
Finally, period drama and films are something I like watching and writing about on my blog. What about you? What kind of films do you like? Do you like going to the cinema?
I’m also a big fan of period films, and probably most of the movies I list as my favorites are set in the past. I try to keep pace with the current cinema, but as in most things, I prefer the classics.
Glad to discover more about you, Kathleen. Thanks a lot for your kindness and good luck with all the great things you do. See you in the blogosphere!
Great interview Maria, and nice to meet you Kathleen. I love your letter to Darcy. It is just about exactly how I felt too, as P&P was my favourite miniseries until I saw Mr. Armitage in North and South! I love Thornton better as a character but as for the books, I'd have to say that Pride and Prejudice was probably better written (and only because it was edited to perfection). It pains me to admit that, as I am a huge fan of Gaskell now!
I am fascinated that you -- a big city girl-- like to hike around in the wilds of Canada! Well, you would love it where I live then! Maybe we could trade places for a bit? LOL
Maria -- thanks so much for covering me! I'm sharing the link to your blog with my reading public!
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