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April 2017

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The last time I visited the museum at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, I was seized with a longing to write stories sparked by a few of the artworks I'd seen that day. I wanted to bring a notebook and sit in front of a few pieces and write whatever came to mind.

It's taken me years, but today I finally did it. I invited intrepid writers Kelly Fineman and Angela De Groot to join me for this session of ekphrastic writing. It was a great way to spend a drizzly Saturday morning, especially as a break between copy edits on one novel (just finished) and resuming work on another novel (which I'd temporarily laid aside for the copy edits on the other).

I decided to work with flash fiction today, and the four pieces I chose as inspiration were "The Wave," by Alexander Harrison"Apple Blossom Time" by George Inness"Gladiolus" by Charles Demuth, and "Pandora" by Aaron Bohrod (which doesn't seem to be included in the online images from the museum's collection). For the first, "Pandora," I set a ten-minute time limit and used it all. It took me a while to get started, and that piece rambled all over the place. For the other pieces, I didn't need to set a time; they were much shorter, and came to a natural conclusion more easily. (I think I was warmed up by that time!) I didn't come home with finished stories, of course. I have first drafts that may or may not turn into anything else.

Although you can view the museum's collection online through the above link, I can see that the online images don't do many of the paintings justice. There is nothing like viewing the works in person, being able to see the brush strokes, the texture of the marble, the true colors. The museum's atmosphere is also wonderful: amazingly high ceilings for a feeling of spaciousness, thick stone walls that give a peaceful atmosphere. Kelly, Angela and I compared notes on our experience before heading out to lunch--we had all written something new. It's nice to have local writer friends who are willing to try these projects!


Ohhh, that sounds like so much fun! So glad you guys got to do that.
It was!
We have a George Innes at my museum. (Well, the one I work at - the Newark Museum.)

I hadn't thought about flash-writing any of the paintings, though some of the objects have made their way into my novels. I'll have to give it a try. :D

When I worked at the Franklin Institute, I'd spend a lot of time at the Rodin Museum. Don't think I visited the PAFA very often.
I saw the Rodin museum in Paris before I saw the one in Philadelphia that's practically in my backyard!

You should definitely see what the paintings at your museum spark ...
I love this project so much! Love visualizing you, Kelly, and Angela with your notebooks, making beauty from beauty.

And thank you for saying it took you years to make this vision happen. It gives me hope. But I'm going to try for something similar locally in 2011. Though the three of you, oh, that just sounds so great.
You could've joined us if you were in town--but yes, you can do the same thing in your own area!
This is such a great idea. I have heard about going to museums to write about what touches you there (as well as doing it in a gazillion other places) but I confess to mostly creating in my home little hideaway. I think I need to challenge myself to try to create away from home more often. Supportive friends would probably help.
I once did a series of ekphrastic poems based on a book of paintings that I had. So you don't necessarily have to leave home. I just thought it would be fun--and you'll note, it took me years to actually put this idea into action! It was good to involve others, though, because it kept me accountable--I couldn't wimp out and say, "Oh, it's rainy, I don't want to leave the house," because I was meeting people.
It's especially nice to have local writer friends who willingly invite you along. I loved the art, the architecture and the opportunity to let my muse loose. I'm playing with the poem I wrote and I think it shows promise.