Cordey Porcelain Pilgrim Lady

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Pictured in my last blog post were some items around my house with a bit of green in them. I briefly described most of them but purposely ignored my Pilgrim Lady. She deserves a post all her own.

It’s funny the items we inherit that have been in our homes or our grandparents’ homes all of our lives – knick knacky things with seemingly no more interesting history behind them than a week on the shelf at Hudson’s Department Store followed by the inside of a gift box.

I researched Pilgrim Lady only because my mom said there was a Pilgrim Man as well who was tragically left unpurchased by my grandmother when she bought Pilgrim Lady, possibly at Hudson’s downtown, during a Christmas shopping season sometime between 1946 and 1953. The dates I learned today along with the much more interesting past of Pilgrim Lady.

The history behind Pilgrim Lady began in 1895 Lithuania, when a boy, Boleslaw Cybis was born. Though he excelled as an athlete at his Warsaw school, he was interested in art.

His architect father took the family to Russia to live while he worked there, and by 1915 young Boleslaw studied at the St Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. During the Russian Civil War, Boleslaw left for Constantinople where he worked drawing streetside sketches, theatre advertisements and backdrops.

After the war, he returned to Poland to finish his schooling and later moved about Europe studying sculpture and the works of the world Masters. Eventually, he himself had showings in Europe and America.

His home country of Poland commissioned he and his artist wife to travel to the USA to paint a series of murals for the 1939 World’s Fair.

After the outbreak of the war, unable to return home to Poland, the couple became US citizens and founded the Cybis Studio at an old mansion in New York.

In 1942, they relocated to Trenton and, with help from a couple of investors, opened Cordey China Company.

Remember this is a story about Pilgrim Lady?

A little research proved the marking “Cordey” on her underside is the mark of Boleslaw Cybis’s Cordey China Company.

The firm appears to have ended in 1953 when Boleslaw Cybis moved on to create yet a third studio: Cybis Porcelain, and though Boleslaw died in 1957, his last studio was bought out in 1969 to make lamps using the ‘Schiller-Cordey’ name.

So, my grandmother purchased my figurine no later than 1953. And, since she bought Pilgrim Lady to give to my parents who married the spring after the end of WWII, the purchase would have been no earlier than late 1946.

Cordey figurines – or at least the busts – typically have a rose featured at the front and nearly all the ones I found feature the same base. I long to know if they had only a few artists, as the features on other online examples are so similar to mine.

There were many different Cordey figurines made. Some were in couples, as I believe Pilgrim Lady was, and all different themes: Victorian ladies, Elizabethan, Southern belles and Georgian.

I could find no other pilgrims, though. But most pieces are also marked with a series and piece number.

While Pilgrim Lady is series 5008, she was only number 2 of that series which, I fear, may indicate there were few pilgrims made.

How interesting to know there’s all of this history behind her creation!


A bit of green…

It’s spring again, and I thought I’d kick it off with some vintage green.

Among the vintage documents peeks out the grassy-shaded WWII postage stamp on an envelope my grandmother sent to Dad while he served in the Army Air Corps.

The background photograph, featuring one of my maternal grandmothers (why I have more than one is a story for another day) was taken as a black and white picture in the 1930s – though it was somehow colorized to give the ivy leaves surrounding her that greenish hue and the rosy pink of an authentic Victorian dress she most likely found in her own attic.

Born in 1885, Grandma Helen taught Greek Mythology at Hardin Simmons and was a state historian for the DAR. She drug my mom on long road trips during the depression years to interview far flung cousins and neighbors of long dead ancestors in the quest to complete her genealogy scrolls – and I mean scrolls: long, long rolls of charts of the family tree.

She cherished anything old, and this is only one of several photos I have of her dressed up in her attic finds.

Strumming his guitar, the German figure of a boy missing his hand came from my other (paternal) grandmother – the only grandparent I actually knew. He stood on a glass shelf over the sink of her gleaming 1940s kitchen, one of her few knick-knacky things I was tall enough to see back before I had reached the age of seven, which was about when she died.

Perched on the papers is Mr. Frog, a treasured gift, sculptured and glazed by the giver: our youngest son years ago.

The foreground documents include my grandfather’s Certificate of Ordination of 1903, which was handwritten, and a letter from one of the colleges he attended, dated 1874.

Wow! Sounds like I must be old. Well, these grandparents adopted my mother when they were already an older couple. But even with that I am sadly no spring chicken.

Book Review: A Civil War Courtship

A Civil War Courtship: The Letters of Edwin Weller from Antietam to AtlantaA Civil War Courtship: The Letters of Edwin Weller from Antietam to Atlanta by William Walton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The title reflects the contents: it’s a collection of letters written by Edwin Weller, a member of the 107th New York Volunteers, during the Civil War. Mr. Welller fought at Antietam and Gettysburg and many other places. His regiment marched down through Georgia, the Carolinas and went through Richmond immediately after the war. He participated in the Grand Review in Washington in May 1865.

But most important, he was falling in love with the woman he exchanged letters with. Nettie’s letters, unfortunately, did not survive, but the growth of their relationship is revealed in his words and increased openness in his courtship, via writing, of her.

For anyone interested in the Civil War or in society of the period, this is a gold mine of the language, restraint and morals of the period. I don’t recall how I came upon this book, but I’m glad I did, as I enjoyed it very much. Also, the editor – and grandson of the couple in question – stayed out of things as much as possible. His introduction is short. His interjections, what few there are, appear only between letters, never interrupting them. He let Edwin tell his own story, and I appreciated that.

Also, if you read as I frequently do, at lunch time at work or in other short bits of time, this is an easy read. Very much enjoyed it.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Greatest Generation

The Greatest GenerationThe Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rating this, a collection of short narratives, almost bios, of people in WWII, is difficult because of one thing: its writer.

While I found some of the information about their life stories and experiences interesting, all was told by, and very much in the voice of, Tom Brokaw.

The tone throughout was heavy, leaden with the preachy tone of an old man witnessing kids ringing doorbells and running away on the night before Halloween. He repeated how the generation of his focus was the exceptional in its discretion and moral fiber – so much so that it overtook the stories completely.

The stories were not well written: point of view would slide into Brokaw’s own experiences, right in the middle of someone else’s story; the writing was surprisingly stiff and choppy. And those constant references to how great this generation was (and, implicitly how great all others were not) grew tiresome. Fast.

My own parents were part of the “greatest generation.” My dad was in the Army Air Corps and my mother was training the in the Army Nurse Cadet Corp when they met. And they were great. And they weren’t.

The book would have been greatly improved had the people whose lives were featured told the stories themselves. In their words. Brokaw’s writing would have been difficult to take even as a long introduction but as a constant narrative, it was disruptive, conventional and irritating.

Also annoying were the numerous features of celebrities. I wanted to read about people like my parents, aunts and uncles, not ex-presidents and other luminaries whose stories have been often re-told and are readily available. How much better Mr. Brokaw’s book would have been had he just offered up stories of people who had not had the chance to tell them.

And while I understand the urge to feature two or three of the people he knew from his hometown, there was too much of that. By the end I had the feeling that instead of going outside of his own experience to look for the unsung people of WWII, from all walks and all places, he had maintained a narrow focus on those he’d either known from his hometown or met during his time in journalism.

Give me stories of WWII from people who never met Tom Brokaw before, please.

I didn’t finish the book. I closed it upon reaching the celebrity section and placed it upon the donation box.

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Books of the 1940s

I find reading literature from the era in which I am writing helps me to get the feel of the language and times. Many of the following books I’ve read over the years – AJ Cronin and Kenneth Roberts are favorite authors of mine, and I loved Nancy Drew and Laura Ingalls Wilder:

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1940
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer, 1940
The Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk, by Carolyn Keene, 1940
Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts, 1940
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 1940

The Keyes of the Kingdom by AJ Cronin, 1941
Windswept by Mary Ellen Chase, 1941

The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, 1942

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, 1943
Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier, 1943

Animal Farm by George Orwell, 1945

The River Road by Frances Parkinson Keyes, 1946

Lydia Bailey by Kenneth Roberts, 1947
House Divided by Ben Ames Williams, 1947 (my mom’s favorite book of all time)
The Pearl by John Steinbeck, 1947

Shannon’s Way by AJ Cronin, 1948
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, 1948

1984 also by George Orwell, 1949 (1984 was also the year I graduated)

1940s: The Numbers

The decade of the 1940s was, from the perspective of seven decades past, a decade of numbers.

But in choosing the decade as a setting for my story, they are numbers to be looked at, as the nation changed drastically.

Before World War II, much of the country still resided in farm communities. No Ordinary Time, the book on FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt by Doris Kearns Goodwin, defines the 1940s as a “major economic turning point,” where the country started from “predominantly a small-town nation with the majority of citizens living in towns of fewer than 25,000.”

During the war, everything changed.

And nearly everyone was affected. The National World War II Museum reports that over 12 million Americans served in one of the branches of military service, while the Federation of Scientists has the number of at over 16 million.

My own father served in the Army Air Corps. His brother fought in Belgium, as did my father-in-law.

Also in that number were women: about 400,000 of them, according to the Department of History at George Mason University’s Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation. Here I have a family connection too, as my mother trained for the Army Nurse Corp.

Civilians – 15 million men and women according to Goodwin – left home seeking jobs in defense factories in the upper-mid-west and the west coast: manufacturing ships, tanks, jeeps and airplanes.

Raw material sources for manufacturing had been cut off by the enemy, and in order to produce enough vehicles quickly enough, scrap drives were held across the country to collect materials, such as tin and rubber.

Volunteers made socks, blankets and care packages to send to soldiers; they worked for the American Red Cross, practiced air raid precautions and entertained the troops through the USO.

At the war’s end, returning GIs, many of whom had visited countries they would never otherwise had seen, attended college under the GI bill (the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944), earned specialized degrees and settled in places other than their hometowns to find more service-oriented jobs than ever before, especially with the rise of the suburbs from the end of the decade and into the next.

And, of course many Americans never came home – but the numbers vary: the National WWII Museum puts the number at 671,278. PBS NewsHour, sourced by the US Department of Defense, has a lower number of 498,332. The Federation of Scientists states the total number killed at 405,399.

Another major change had its roots in 1944, even if it wasn’t in full effect for another eight years: the Federal Highway Act which provided for the construction of over 46,000 miles of interstate highway, connecting all states in the US: the largest and most expensive public works project ever at the time.

Before that, travelers depended upon the two-lane roads constructed in the late 1920s, which included the famous Route 66 (the main route for those traveling from the east to west coast, established in 1926). But those were roads with intersections and stopping points, unlike the “limited access” highways which are designed with mainly entrance and exit ramps.

The highways reduced the need for rail travel and railroads and depots across the nation withered and died. Towns that were not in the path of highway traffic – and ready consumers – struggled.

After the war, big city prosperity boomed in the US, which had become the major economic and defense power globally. Fewer jobs were in producing goods; more were service-oriented than ever.

The wealth was not shared with the farmer, however. And small farming communities, who had suffered great losses of young men who never returned home, faced tough economic times as farming became big business, resulting in more leaving these communities for cities where they could find jobs with steady pay.

Anne of Illustration

As I have returned to have a day job recently, I’ve had less time to write – mostly in dribs and drabs on my lap during lunch (why doesn’t my company have quiet corners with comfy desk chairs just for writing at lunch?).

I’ve begun re-reading the Anne of Green Gables series, and there’s much to say, but I want to start with style.Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery

L.M. Montgomery’s writing was thick with description: smells and sights of all sorts as Anne meanders about the countryside about Avonlea.

I had just finished reading a book – I won’t say which – published this year, and the lack of description shouted at me in comparison with Montgomery’s work.

You can have too much of a good thing: I always found Michener’s work to suffocate under chapters of setting. Get to it already! But I found the illustrations the Anne books brought took me right away to how I imagine Prince Edward Island was in the late 19th century. The characters and events took place behind a misty haze, just out of reach: a sweet feeling of romance.

By contrast, the most famous – and successful – romance writer in history  did not use description.

Go ahead. I challenge you to find a jot of Montgomery’s haze in the works of Jane Austen. You won’t find it. Yet her books are the height of romance.

Which do you prefer?

Patricia Clapp, Author

Reading a book as a struggling author, I find myself intrigued by the story of the writer, particularly when the book in question haunts me over time. And so that is what happened with Patricia Clapp.

Patricia Clapp Cone 1912-2003.

Patricia Clapp Cone 1912-2003.

Dear Ms. Clapp – have you any idea what you started? No? Back in the late 1970s, I first read (and re-read) a book whose characters would not leave my head. I thought of them in class, while walking home – any time I should have been doing something else. This month, I re-read that book, titled Jane-Emily. It’s pink cover is badly worn and it’s moved from one state to another, but its haunts me all the same.

Patricia Clapp was born on June 9, 1912 in Boston. She attended Columbia University School of Journalism for two years and married Edward della Torre Cone in 1933.

The couple had three children together, and she was asked to produce a play for her daughter’s Girl Scout troop. So, she wrote a play, which led to her writing several plays for community theater groups. In 1956, she submitted one to a publisher who accepted it.

From her home in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, she worked with the community theater there for more than 40 years, directing and writing numerous children’s, young adult’s and adult plays.

A full list of her plays could not be found, but one of her plays, titled The Invisible Dragon was an interactive play for children from 3-10 years of age while several others made up a series of Christmas plays, such as Santa Clause Calling the North Pole, in which Santa gives Mrs. Claus an unusual gift which has more meaning than first revealed, and The Christmas Parade. These, along with her The Mudcake Princess are still performed in theaters.

After receiving a genealogy of her family, Clapp discovered that an ancestor, Constance Hopkins came over on the Mayflower. Intending to write a play about Hopkins’s life, the author opted instead to write her ancestor’s story as a diary or journal, and, in 1968 at 56 years of age, she published her first book, Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth, which won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and was also a runner-up for the National Book Award. Like her subsequent books, it was an American historical as seen through the eyes of girls and young women.

The following year, she published Jane-Emily a supernatural fantasy set in 1912 and, though the story centered on a nine-year-old, it’s told from the perspective of her young adult aunt, an aspect that allowed for an innocent depiction of romance as well. Thus this became the first romance I read, albeit told appropriately for children of eight or nine years, which was my age when I first read it. The book (one of my favorites of all time!) was a nominee for the 1971 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Award.

Other works by Clapp include The King of the Dollhouse and Dr. Elizabeth: The Story of the First Woman Doctor (1974); I’m Deborah Sampson: A Soldier in the War of the Revolution (1977); the Civil War-era The Tamarack Tree (1986) and Witches’ Children (1987).

A grandmother and great-grandmother, she died in 2003.

1. University of Southern Mississippi Libraries de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection which holds a transcript of Jane-Emily donated by Ms. Clapp in 1977.
4. USA Library of Congress
5. Glenn Falls Community Theater web site, Glenn Falls, NY
6. Studio Players web site, Studio Players of Montclair, NJ
7. Patricia Clapp Cone Biography,

Why Genealogy Has Anything to do With Writing Historical Fiction

Okay, so I tend to geek out on family history – and not just my own. But why talk about it on a blog geared to writing historical fiction? What does one have to do with the other?Photographs red

While researching genealogy, I’ve discovered some wonderful nuggets of history which seeded good ideas for fiction. Go back a bit into anyone’s family, and you’ll be amazed at the stories you find. And sometimes the best nuggets for fiction ideas stem from something you stumble upon while researching. Old newspaper archives are great for this, but so to are court documents. Many small towns had biographies written, especially late 19th or early in the 20th century, on their important families, and these can be goldmines – both for your own family’s history and ideas for fiction.

Photographs are landmines for an explosive story idea: troll through the time frames you wish to write about on Pinterest and see what all you come up with, even if your favored setting was way before the advent of photography. EyeMinatureThis brings up odd trends in history, such as the fashion during the regency era of carrying a miniature painting of just the eyes of a secret lover or the more gruesome trend in the Victorian era of photographing children placed with their deceased mother, covered by fabric and positioned as a chair. Bizarre? Yes. True? Also yes. Hard to use in romance but a great thing to know if you write historical horror or suspense.

If you are stuck on what to write about simply search the timeframe of interest to you. It can suck a lot of time but, in terms of finding unexpected ideas can be oh so beneficial in the end.