Marshfield Hills, MA: 2012. Artist's book, one of six copies, all on a range of papers, each copy signed and numbered by the artist, Viola Kaeumlen. Page size: box of 13 pouches (tied with brown silk ribbon) as envelopes holding the "letters" and related material written by the artist, printed list of contents, box size closed is 5.5 x 7.5 x 2.25 inches. Bound by the artist: two-part box is brown book cloth over boards and adorned with medallion of young woman; box fastened tan silk cord woven through eight holes in the 2 parts of the box, lined with Canson BFK Rives Tan paper. The artist's statement and the colophon explain that the book contains texts of letters written by Mrs. Mary Arthur to her daughter Beatrice Arthur over the period from 1927 - 1935 that were found in an old suitcase by Ms. Kaeumlen in 2010 in flea market on the Boston South Shore. The letters led to an investigation of not only the women concerned but the times in which they lived, with the pertinent information on the times: the Sacco-Vanzetti case, the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Great Depression, local industry (in which Bee's father worked) The Cordage Company, their church in Plymouth where they lived (the first church established by the Mayflower colonists), social welfare programs of the times. Unusual for the times, Beatrice Arthur left her parent's home in Plymouth, MA to attend Salem State College in what was then far-off Salem. Her mother's letters of this eight year period are the very stuff of social history as well as the poignant details of one family's struggle to survive in very hard times. Four of the 13 pouches hold general information about how the letters were found, the history of the family (Mr. Arthur was an immigrant from Scotland), and a conclusion. The other nine pouches are related to one of the years Mary wrote to her daughter. Ms. Kaeumlen was able to locate the family home in Plymouth and learned that Bee had passed away in 2009 at the age of 99, a devoted educator for all of her life.
The artist has located family photographs, postcards from the era, paper clippings and greeting cards, all of which were scanned in printed on an archival inkjet printer on a range of papers including Epson Matte, Red River Polar Pearl Metallic, Silver Metallic, Canson Newsprint, Strathmore translucent Vellum and Sennelier Calligraphy paper. The fonts used are Helvetica for Ms. Kaeumlen's own writing and general information texts and Lucida Handwriting for the excerpts of Mary Arthur's letters.
This is a beautiful object, redolent of another time when hand-written mail meant significant time lapses in communication and correspondents had expressive and unique hand-writing as well as vocabulary. More than that, the author / artist, Viola Kaeumlen, has taken this remarkably personal correspondence and placed it firmly in a time and place in American social history. with information about health epidemics, social issues - the Arthur's must deal with payment in "scrip" instead of real money, criminal cases of local and national interest, as well as the role of the local church and welfare societies in everyday life. It is as beautiful and meaningful way of learning social history as one could find. Beatrice Arthur, the "Dear Bee" of the letters, is perhaps the prototype of the 20th century woman who earned a bachelor's degree in Business Education and completed post-graduate work at Harvard, Boston University and Bridgewater State College and worked summers in the Plymouth Cooperative Bank, the Plymouth Cordage Company office, and as a civil service secretary in the U.S. government as well as marrying and raising her step-children. Item #10608