Monday, October 3, 2011

Guest Post: Kelly Jones Author of The Woman Who Heard Color

Thank you, Amy, for inviting me to post on your blog!

As a student, I had little interest in history; memorizing dates and details of long-ago events. My interest was in art and those who created it. Eventually this brought me to the realization of how intrinsically art and artists were tied up with history.

My first two books are set primarily in modern times, yet both required historical research. A medieval tapestry inspired me to write THE SEVENTH UNICORN. In a study of the tapestry’s origin, I discovered much about women’s historical roles in society. When I delved into the world of the Italian Renaissance to write THE LOST MADONNA I learned how the Church and those holding political power wielded creative control, determining what artists could or must produce to flourish.

The idea for my latest novel, THE WOMAN WHO HEARD COLOR, started with a curiosity and fascination with the Russian artist Vassily Kandinsky, who is often called “The Father of Abstract Art.” Kandinsky arrived in Germany in the late 1800s to study art in the thriving, creative city of Munich. Several years later, when World War I broke out, he and others were considered enemies and were forced to flee. German artists, such as Franz Marc, served and died fighting for Germany. Painters who remained found it difficult to obtain supplies; those who returned often expressed their angst in war-themed art.

As a plot for a new book developed, I realized Kandinsky would be relegated to a minor role when an ambitious German art dealer named Hanna took over. (One of Kandinsky’s lost paintings does play an important part in the novel.) Hanna’s story starts in 1900. Young and impetuous, she leaves her family dairy farm for an adventure in Munich. She secures a position in the home of a wealthy Jewish art dealer. Eventually she meets artists such as Kandinsky and becomes fully involved in the thriving art trade.

Enter Adolf Hitler, an artist himself. As he gains power and influence, one of his first steps is to set up a Commission to control all aspects of German culture, including literature, film, music, and visual arts. His disapproval of the “modern,” results in banning art, confiscating museum pieces, destroying paintings, selling off others to plump up his war chest.

Because of her love for this very art that Hitler condemned, Hanna finds herself caught up in the world of Nazi censorship.

The story is told with one foot in the past, one foot in modern-day America.
Lauren O’Farrell, an art detective who specializes in recovering lost art, visits the Manhattan home of 82-year-old Isabella Fletcher, Hanna’s daughter, to learn more about Hanna’s role in the art trade during the Nazis’ rule. Suspicious that Hanna collaborated with Hitler, Lauren is intent on learning the truth.

The novel alternates between this present day story of discovery and Hanna’s own story. Set against a backdrop of banned art, sweeping museum purges, and an art auction in Lucerne on the eve of World War II, THE WOMAN WHO HEARD COLOR is ultimately a story of family loyalties, creative freedom, and the struggle to survive.

Though Hanna herself is fictitious, she is surrounded by authentic historical figures and real events. Perhaps from Hanna’s story we can all learn something from history.

You can visit Kelly online at Kelly Jones

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