Happy New Year! It’s 2016, the year of Thérèse! The official publication date is March 8th of this year, woohoo! But right now I’m here to actually share some of my experience from the end of 2015 when the first small wave of publication occurred. Thérèse Makes A Tapestry became available for purchase from the J. Paul Getty Museum — on site and online — in mid-December. I was fortunate to be able to travel to Los Angeles for this initial “soft launch” as well as the opening of Woven Gold, the exhibit to which Thérèse is tied.
The Getty Museum (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)
Bruce Dean and Julie Southwell (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)
Most of my trip was spent at the Getty Center, and honestly I would go back and do the same thing all over again. What an incredible museum! I couldn’t get over the fact that it is free to the public–you just have to pay for parking if you drive (which obviously, in LA, you do). The site alone is spectacular: the architecture, the views, the gardens. Then there are the exhibits. I had a single track on repeat in my head: “Wow.” In another landscape it might all be sensory overload, but weaving in and out of the museum was completely relaxing. The breaths of fresh air, the sunshine, and the glimpses of hills and ocean built pauses into the days. Except at night where the cold wind was more a shock to the system, but that was a different story.
On Sunday I stopped by the main bookstore to sign copies of Thérèse. Walking into a bustling store and seeing my book on the shelf was an event in and of itself. My father and my cousin and their friends were with me which brought on all the oohing and aahing I could hope for. If you want fanfare for things like the publication of your first book, it’s best to travel with family.
Ta da! After my first sighting of Thérèse Makes A Tapestry on the bookstore shelf (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)
These are the things I learned from signing copies:
- I should have a favorite pen I like to use. I do not yet. I’m working on this. (That’s not entirely true–I have a type of pen I love to use and I fondly recall the experience of writing with it, but I can’t remember what kind of pen it actually is and whether I own it. I have tried unsuccessfully to reproduce this writing experience.)
- I am clearly a newbie at this because I plowed through the towering stack of books and even signed another towering stack and laughed off a comment about my hand cramping. As if hand cramps could stop me from signing! I was so excited! Some day I hope to be a really famous, hand-cramped author who cannot bear to sign another copy. Or at least who will do a better job a playing it cool.
- where to sign my name on the title page.
- that it is actually possible to misspell my name.
On Monday I finally got to meet members of the book team in person! This included my wonderful editor for Thérèse, Elizabeth Nicholson, who took us on a tour of Getty Publications. The set-up brought me back to my American Girl days and I felt right at home, except there were wall to ceiling windows that let in the most incredible amount of natural light everywhere and had some unbeatable views. Then it was off to the big press event up the hill.
Exhibit curator Charissa Bremer-David, Author Alexandra Hinrichs, Illustrator Renée Graef, Editor Elizabeth Nicholson in front of the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December, part of The Getty’s collection (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)
The highlights, not in chronological order, from the press event were:
- meeting Renée Graef in person. I can’t state enough how in love I am with Renée’s illustrations of Thérèse, and I was glad to finally be able to give her the hug I’d been hanging onto for so long! In fact, I’d actually met her briefly back in Madison at a Wisconsin Book Festival Event after an illustrators’ panel (that also included Kevin Henkes). Funny that our next encounter should be in Los Angeles, and amazing that it should be after working together on a picture book! Things worth noting: she wears fabulous hats.
- meeting Charissa Bremer-David in person. Charissa is another person about whom I can just gush. Curator of sculpture and decorative Arts at the Getty, she is an expert on French decorative arts, and her expertise shines through in the new exhibit catalog Woven Gold as well as her other books on French tapestries. Charissa is so knowledgable and gracious with her time and willingness to share that knowledge. She always took time to talk to me on the phone or by e-mail, answer questions and even to do original research when we ran across a stumbling block over how gilded thread was made, all while organizing this monumental exhibit, working on two books of her own, and contributing to goodness knows how many other projects.
- signing more copies of Thérèse for various reporters and especially signing copies to each other (Renée, Charissa, Elizabeth, and I called this our “yearbook signing,” and it was full of smiles and laughs).
- the chocolate peppermint cookies.
- and finally…seeing the tapestries.
Me, a very happy author after seeing the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December tapestry for the first time. The tapestry is on loan to The Getty Museum from the Mobilier National (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)
Close-up of the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)
Oh my goodness. Walking into a room full of these enormous tapestries is truly spectacular. Breathtaking. There is nothing that compares to seeing them in person. No photographs or descriptions can possibly do them justice, because their grandeur in size and in material cannot be adequately captured. I felt extra lucky to be seeing them with Charissa as a tour guide. She is quite the storyteller herself. For me, seeing the tapestry called The Chateau of Monceau/Month of December was particularly emotional. This is the tapestry that inspired Thérèse, and Thérèse weaves its likeness. I had looked at this tapestry in books, on computer monitors and iPhone screens, and lived with it in my head for a couple of years. So when we entered the final room of Woven Gold and there it was…well…my eyes weren’t exactly dry. The gold threads glint in the light in a way they just can’t in pictures. The range of colors and the minute details are extraordinary.
Detail of Chateau of Monceau/Month of December border which better displays the gilded thread (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)
The textures beg to be touched. I wanted to touch it. I didn’t. But I really really wanted to. The Chateau of Monceau/Month of December was actually cleaned in Belgium and conserved by weavers at the Gobelins Manufactory (now part of the Mobilier National) over a period of 9 months in preparation for the Woven Gold exhibit.
Thérèse Makes A Tapestry on display in the Woven Gold exhibit (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)
Across the room in mirror image is another smaller version of the tapestry. The first was made for Kind Louis XIV, the other for a private patron at a slightly later date. Both these versions of the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December are depicted in Thérèse Makes A Tapestry. In between the two tapestries in the exhibition room is a table with a couple of books on display, including Thérèse. I love that she is there, hugged by the tapestries she “made” and that made her.
By the time we went to the exhibit opening that night, I didn’t think I could feel much happier. Champagne toasts with the book team and another visit to the tapestries proved me wrong. And this time I got to show my family– my dad, my cousin, and my brother– the tapestries, too.
Author yours truly, Illustrator Renée Graef, Designer Jim Drobka, Production Manager Elizabeth Kahn, Editor Elizabeth Nicholson (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)
Bruce Dean and Alexandra Hinrichs in front of The Chateau of Monceau/Month of December tapestry (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)
Woven Gold exhibit opening at The Getty Museum (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)
Tuesday we returned to the Getty one last time in the morning. It’s hard to explain the connection I felt to the tapestry, it wasn’t something I anticipated to be honest. But I found myself wanting to see it one last time. Chances are I will never see the tapestry again, and I wanted to feast my eyes on it one last time and say goodbye. I did, and felt satisfied even if a bit sad. However, then I got to go to another exhibit and get some inspiration for a new book. And my dad, brother, and I spent the afternoon in Santa Monica, which was the perfect note to end the trip on before heading back to the hotel to pack up for early flights.
Throughout the visit what struck me most was how special this whole project really was. I mean, of course I like to think everyone loved this book. It was my first book! But meeting everyone in person– Elizabeth, Renée, Charissa, designer Jim Drobka, production manager Elizabeth Kahn, and others– I kept thinking, “Wow, they all loved this project, too!” It’s hard to gauge that from a distance (or at least a distance of Maine to California). The reminder of their investment meant the world to me.
If you are anywhere near the Getty or planning a trip to the area between now and May, I urge you all to run to the Woven Gold exhibit. Some of these tapestries have not been together in centuries, and most have never been so accessible to view as they are often hung at lofty heights and not at eye level. It is remarkable and luxurious and the stories within the tapestries are a treat.
Author, editor, and illustrator gazing up at the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December Tapestry (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)
For more information about the exhibit and the history of tapestries, take a look at the articles below:
Also be sure to watch The Art of Making a Tapestry, a video that shows the weaving process at the Gobelins Manufactory. (Getty Museum)
Explore the full gallery of photos from the trip
Check out Bruce Dean’s website to see even more of his photography and artwork.