I am honored to be a guest on your blog, Joan. Thank you for inviting me to share about my award-winning novel, Davida: Model & Mistress of Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
To begin with, I want to share a little about me. I was born and raised in San Diego, California, but when I was 16, I moved in with my dad who was living in Hollywood. I walked to school every day going past Grauman’s Chinese Theater, past Hollywood and Vine, and occasionally saw some movie stars.
After marriage, we moved to Minnesota and lived there for 40 years before retiring in Florida. Here we live on a beautiful lake, which I can look at from the sliding doors in my office.
I became a published author shortly after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I had journaled since I was a young child, which is something I continue to do. My first book was a result of my journal notes. I am grateful to be a 10-year survivor. I have two blogs, write articles, volunteer, speak publically, and advocate for ovarian cancer awareness.
Davida: Model & Mistress of Augustus Saint-Gaudens is my second novel, and has won two awards. It is based on a true story about my great-grandparents. There is very limited information about his model Davida, so I had to create her based on my imagination, photographs, and biographies about my great-grandfather, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. He was the premier sculptor in America from 1880 until shortly after his death in 1904. He is most well known for his design of the $20 gold piece, which is considered to be the most beautiful coin ever minted in the United States.
Here is a brief excerpt from the book:
We agreed to visit Mr. Saint-Gaudens’s studio the following week. The Sherwood Studio Building was located at Sixth Avenue and Fifty-Seventh Street. Mr. Saint-Gaudens’s studio space inside the building was small but filled with various pieces of plaster, mounds of scattered sheets of paper with drawings, and a few men who were working on smaller pieces. I gasped in awe and squeezed Mother’s hand as I tried to take in all that was before me.
In the center of the room was a massive piece of white marble with ladders and scaffolding around it. Two men hammered against chisels, breaking off various sizes and shapes of the marble. Their work appeared haphazard to my uneducated eyes, but the man directing them appeared to have confidence in what they were doing. This man had the same stature of Mr. Saint-Gaudens, except his hair was a dark brown and he had no beard. There was a similar look and a nervous energy to his movements.
Suddenly, we heard Mr. Saint-Gaudens’s voice saying, “You are watching my brother Louis, who is my right-hand man and an artist in his own right. Come—let me introduce you.” He extended his left arm, inviting us to follow him.
As we neared, I could hear the brother’s baritone voice shouting instructions: “Take a little more there” and “No, Samuel—strike the chisel firmly but gently” and “That is good, very good.” He waved his arms over and around as if he were conducting an orchestra. I found it magical.
“Louis, my dear brother, stop your work for just a moment, please.” Mr. Saint-Gaudens said these words with such love in his voice. After introductions and some small talk, Mr. Saint-Gaudens went on, “This is the young lady I was telling you about, the one I would like to sketch. Do you agree she is perfect for the Vanderbilt project?” The two brothers walked around me while never taking their eyes off me. They exchanged their impressions and thoughts sometimes in English, but mainly in French. I heard phrases such as “angular head,” “high cheekbones,” and “vibrant eyes.”
I felt a mix of embarrassment and pride. My cheeks were warm, my heart beat fast, and my knees began to shake. I had never experienced such attention. Once again, I asked myself the same question: “Am I really pretty?”
I glanced over at Mother, who was watching and listening to the brothers, trying to understand their words and gestures. Then I was suddenly brought out of my dreamlike state when I
heard Mother say, “Come Albertina. It is time to go to work.” She turned to the two artists and said, “Perhaps you will come to our home on Sunday at four o’clock in the afternoon to discuss your ideas for Albertina. I want my sister, Ingrid, and her husband to be a part of whatever decision we make. They have lived in this country long enough to have a good command of the English language. Besides, they are my only family, and I trust their judgment in all things.”
Mr. Saint-Gaudens bowed and replied, “Of course, madam, I will be there. But before you leave, I would like you both to meet my wife and have some tea. Our home is just a short carriage ride from here.” Mother responded, “We met Mrs. Saint-Gaudens at the Christmas party, but the meeting was brief. We will be honored to meet her again. However, we will not be able to stay long. We have been away long enough, and we need to return to the inn. Time has by gone so rapidly.”