Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Case of Mistaken Identity

I scanned the library shelves last week hoping to find a biography on our new queen, Alexandra. Excitement filled me when I saw the title "Alexandra: The Last Tsarina." I've lightly researched our new queen and was certain she was of foreign origin. Te ensure I was choosing the "right" book, I took a peek inside. Seeing Queen Victoria's name on the first couple of pages, I knew I found a treasure.

Anticipation and excitement feel wonderful, and expectation seems to breed them both in spades. I enjoy doing things that make me feel good, so I often form expectations. In great anticipation, I brought the book home and started reading it immediately.

Princess Alice & Family (1871)
My heart thrilled as the story of Princess Alice, Queen Victoria's daughter, began to unfold on the pages. Right away this clamoring voice perked up. "How exactly does Alice rate as the primary figure to begin a story about her sister-in-law?" Immediately riveted to this aching account of a woman who seemed the mirror image of her mother, I resisted the voice in my mind that continued to insist that I was not going to find what I expected to find.

Several chapters in, the clamoring grew louder. "I don't think I'm reading about the right Alexandra." The trouble with studying England's history is that so many of the prominent figures share the same name. Though they all had nicknames to alleviate confusion, I'm certainly not privy to them when I begin my research.

It was clear right away that the Alexandra I was reading about was Queen Victoria's great-granddaughter, nicknamed Alicky. Her mother Alice died, and Queen Victoria quickly made decisive marriage matches for Alicky and her oldest sister Ella. This one line kept me believing that perhaps this could still be the "right" Alexandra:

"And Alicky would make the ideal bride for Bertie's oldest son Eddy, who would one day be King of England."

A new quieter voice joined the clamoring one, questioning whether I had perhaps misunderstood my earlier conclusions that Queen Alexandra was a foreigner. Believing that perhaps I somehow missed this vital family connection, I kept reading in hopes of arriving at a definitive answer to my nagging question. Did Alicky play a legitimate role in my romance with the Royals and their jewelry?

Nicky & Alicky
The more I read, the louder the clamoring became. Not far into the story, a love affair began to form between Alicky and the Russian tsar apparent, Nicky Romanov. The plot was thickening.

In equal measure my expectation and the clamoring voice grew in pitch. Expectation shouted: This is going to be a grand story of love thwarted by our ever-controlling Queen. The other voice insisted: You are "wrong" about something.

Victoria with the Hesse Grandchildren
At this point I couldn't help myself and skimmed farther ahead in the book. Queen Victoria, having set her mind upon Alicky marrying Eddy, was a force to be reckoned with. It was no small thing to go against her wishes.

Is it possible that Alicky's dad (Duke Louis VI) agreed to the match? Or did he dare to go against his mother-in-law's wishes?  had already read that he allowed Ella to marry her true love interest against the queen's wishes. Would he do so again, despite the fact that his daughter was in line to marry the future king of England? It still seemed possible that this Alexandra was indeed the "right" one.

I skipped ahead further out of great desperation to put that clamoring voice to rest once and for all. And it became clear that the future King Edward did indeed marry a different Alexandra. At this juncture, my expectations met head-to-head with disappointment. All that time I was researching the wrong girl! And I had a post due and nothing to write about!

Yet here I am writing a post!

Swiftly taking my attitude by the horns, I determined that disappointment would not remain an ally. This IS a fantastic story worthy of sharing with you. Indeed, Alicky's early years are filled with tremendous insights into the effect Queen Victoria had on her progeny.

Despite the fact that every neuron in my brain is screaming at me to allow Victoria and her era to slip silently into the annals of my blog history, I understood that this treasure fell in my lap for a purpose. Indeed, I have at my fingertips the evidence for every claim I've made in previous posts that what we do, what we think, and what we allow to nestle into our souls affects the generations after us.

I did not find what I hoped to find, but what I did "stumble" upon may indeed be far more exciting than a biography about the "right" Alexandra. We will get to her in time. I promised you an exciting journey, and I wouldn't dare rob you of the glories of exploring the rabbit trails my research often leads me down.

So I beg your indulgence in the next few weeks as I continue this exploration of Queen Victoria's impact on her children, her grandchildren, her nation, and ultimately on you and me. I promise that you will not be disappointed, so long as you choose not to be.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mary "May" Morris, Daughter of the Arts & Crafts Movement (UK)

May Morris Jewelry

These lovely pieces were designed by Mary “May” Morris, daughter of William Morris (1834-1896).  The largest is called a girdle and served as a belt worn across the midsection of a woman’s dress. This was a very elegant ornament fashioned after the medieval renaissance style. The two pins would have been either decorative or practical, depending on the outfit, and the pendant would have been worn strung delicately on a chain of silver.

Mary "May" Morris
Nursed at the breast of what can only be called a renaissance in its own right, May Morris (1862-1938) was the princess of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Her father, William Morris, serves as the most prominent founder of the international design philosophy that originated in England in the early 1860s. A talented and gifted embroiderer, May followed in her father’s footsteps as a reformer and an artist. Having studied textile arts at the South Kensington School of Design, she went on to serve as director of the embroidery department at her father’s company, Morris & Co. [Read more...]

Friday, August 12, 2011

Quotes from the Arts & Crafts Movement

Jacki's Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cake
Writing is like fine wine (or like a perfect cake), and I refuse to rush a good post. To whet your appetite for next week's introduction of May Morris, the princess of the Arts & Crafts Movement in England, I offer these quotes from a few of the artists and social reformers of the late 1800s to early 1900s.

"The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life." ~William Morris (1834-1896)

Skycorner #16, Joseph Guggino
"Art is not a thing; it is a way." ~Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)

"If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." ~William Morris (1834-1896)

Freedom Without Boundaries
"We awaken in others the same attitude of mind we hold toward them." ~Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)

"If she pursues her craft with due care, and one might even say with enthusiasm, however, she will not only taste the keen pleasure which every one feels in creative work, however unpretending, but the product will be such as others will be careful to preserve: this in itself being an incentive to good work." ~May Morris (1862-1938)

Tonic Design Studio, Mount Vernon

Photo credits featuring artists I know.
Clicking the links will take you to more of their work!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Highlights of the Victorian Era

Victorian Dragonfly Brooch
Oh where to begin!?! Being the longest era in jewelry history, the Victorian Era has been both delightful and dreadful to study. It sometimes feels as if I'm slogging and fighting to make it through to the other side. Our journey began with the post Victoriana, in which I highlighted the three subperiods within the era.

Following closely on the heels of this introduction, I wrote Parallel Lives to express and explain the emotional upheaval I was facing as I delved into this tragic story of codependency and self-pity. I remain determined throughout the exploration of her life to honor her, while at the same time not excusing her from missing her opportunity to shine.

George IV State Diadem
In an effort to lighten the mood, I alternated between posts about the queen and posts about the Crown Jewels of Britain. A list of these posts can be found here.

Victoria & Albert
I made more changes to my process after a long discussion with my mom, who sagely suggested that I should refocus on the jewelry, allowing it to inform the topic instead of attempting to chronicle Victoria's life in timeline fashion. Fighting against all my own bugaboos (you know, the ones that would compel me to try to relate things in proper order), I followed her advice and joyfully found my muse returning in full force. The fruit of this change found its way into such posts as Of Diadems and Devotion and Of Cameos and Causes.

My New Bedroom
And we now find ourselves moving through the last phase of my one-year blogging journey, which coincidentally finds us at the end of Queen Victoria's life. In this season, I've made a major life transition, having relocated from Washington to California in mid-March. I wrote many posts about moving and home decorating.

Victorian Lace Insect Pins
After a month of procrastinating, I finally decided that one post on Victoria's mourning lifestyle was plenty, and the flow returned to my writing after that, taking us to my final piece on true Victorian Era jewelry and the current state of affairs with my blog, as well.

Thank you for taking this journey with me down memory lane. Soon I will have the pleasure of introducing you to the princess of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Until then, may all your journeys come full circle and may you find that your tiara is always within reach.