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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Patricia Gaye Tapp: Reviving Ottoline Morrell.

"I think what keeps it interesting is making her relevant in today's world.  Something will spark my interest and as with so many women in history - I think - She did it first."
~ Patricia Gaye Tapp, speaking of the blog Ottoline Divine - and its namesake -  
    Lady Ottoline Violet Anne Cavendish-Bentinck Morrell.
Patricia Gaye Tapp of P. Gaye Tapp Interior Design and Decoration - Parthenia Papier card creator - and author of blogs Ottoline Divine and Little Augury.

Patricia Gaye Tapp, an interior designer for almost 30 years,  maintains an awareness of history - feeling it lends insight to what is authentic and enduring.  Her reverence for the past is evident; among her many interests, Tapp lists "floors that creak - the sound of lives that have walked that way".

It was a vintage black and white photograph of a turn-of-the-century beauty in her plumed Easter bonnet that first led me to the observations of Patricia Gaye Tapp, via her blog Little Augury.  Visual imagery - vintage photographs in particular - seem to inspire Tapp's work.

Liane de Pougy - Easter Bonnet - at Little Augury.
Tapp began the blog Little Augury in 2008, offering detailed vignettes featuring interiors, art, literature, fashion, and social history.  However - pre-dating the birth of Little Augury - Tapp was intrigued by the persona, the essence, of a figure from the past... English aristocrat Lady Ottoline Violet Anne Cavendish-Bentinck Morrell.  
Ottoline Morrell - Photographed by Baron Adolph de Meyer.
In 2011, Tapp created the blog Ottoline Divine, breathing life - once again - into Ottoline Morrell, whose existence spanned the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is precisely Tapp's adept manner of bringing Ottoline Morrell into the 21st century which makes the blog Ottoline Divine so intriguing; through a presentation of Ottoline's journal entries, correspondence, photographs (of or by Ottoline herself) - as well as Tapp's own commentary - the reader perceives Morrell's true presence - nature and essence.

A Row of Pearls from the Neck of Marie Antoinette...

Tapp refers to Ottoline as "Ott, our rare bird". At Ottoline Divine, you'll read of young Ott storing letters in a casket belonging to William of Orange and of her mother purchasing a row of pearls for Ottoline at a sale of the French crown jewels:  "... she liked to feel I should wear a row of pearls that had been round the neck of Marie Antoinette." 
Ottoline Morrell - Photographed by George Charles Beresford.
With interests in art, politics, decorating, and gardening - Ottoline Morrell was friend, muse, and patron to a host of creative thinkers - philosophers, poets, sculptors, artists, authors - and left a trail of evidence of her existence recorded through the eyes of her creative friends.
Ottoline Morrell painted by Duncan Grant.
Many of Ott's friendships, according to Tapp - "resulted in published fiction".  For Virginia Woolf, Ott inspired a reverie of mermaids - in one instance - and elsewhere she describes Ott:  "like a Spanish galleon, hung with golden coins, and lovely silken sails."
Ott at the beach - a mermaid, in Venice.
Ott - with lovely silken sails.
Even Ottoline's youth is evocative dream-fodder. According to biographer Miranda Seymour, Ottoline's love of history was cultivated during a childhood surrounded by tapestries and paintings.  Patricia Gaye Tapp's blog Ottoline Divine reveals the secret tunnels of Ottoline's family home - Welbeck Abbey - with "more than one and a half miles of tunnels complete with skylights and wide enough in some places for two carriages to pass".  

As Ottoline matured, her unusual appearance - and surely her intellect - attracted the attention of suitors.  Read Here, an Ottoline Divine post with photographs and journal entries describing a first crush.

Had she lived today, Ottoline might have been a blogger.  Her detailed journals of 20 years are yet unpublished, but Tapp tells of Ott exchanging - at one point - up to four letters a day with philosopher, mathematician, historian, and social critic Bertrand Russell.  (Oh, but for email in those days.)  Tapp posts at Ottoline Divine an image of Ott with a camera - "... snapping, always and away, the people surrounding her sight line." Ott the observer and the observed.

Ottoline Morrell - with camera - in Siena's Piazza del Campo shell-shaped square - Tuscany, Italy.

A Time When the Language of Flowers Meant Something...

Tapp describes Ottoline's era as a time when the language of flowers meant something.  To his benefit, Ottoline's husband-to-be - Philip Morrell, gave to her Lily of the Valley - in that day meaning the Return of Happiness, a Purity of Heart, and presenting the sentiment You've Made My Life Complete.  It is said he first saw Ottoline "cycling to college dressed all in white with her red hair blazing". 
Despite the rigid morals of the era - nestled among the very proper photos - Tapp reveals to us an image of Ott in the buff, looking as composed as one of The Three Graces.

Ottoline's effect, it seems, was mesmerizing.  Her voice:  described as strange, seductive - and compared to low resonant, organ tones... droning.  Her walk:  graceful and sliding.  Ottoline enjoyed decorating her home and filling it with friends.  Her home had an "oriental magnificence", according to David Garnett's autobiography The Flowers of the Forest - which describes Ottoline Morrell's Garsington Manor with rooms of "dark peacock blue-green" accented with "silk curtains, Persian carpets, pillows and pouffes". Garnett recalls a memorable smell of poutpourri, orris-root, and clove-studded oranges.  
Garsington Manor interior - Photographer Ottoline Morrell.
David Garnett in The Flowers of The Field, recalls Ottoline Morrell's pack of pugs trotting everywhere.  Here is Ottoline with pug Soie (French "silk").
 Even Ott's written words could emanate a certain sensuality - she described British artist Mark Gertler's work as "intense, tangible, ruthless" and of a "hot quality".  A recipient of one of Ottoline's letters proclaimed the correspondence "a Throb of Delight", referring to Ottoline as "Thou Loveliest".  Despite the superlative, biographer Miranda Seymour proclaims Ottoline not a "conventional beauty"... but, "something more rich and complex."

Which brings us back to Little Augury... Patricia Gaye Tapp - who has so thoroughly resuscitated Ottoline for the 21st Century through the blog Ottoline Divine - has emblazoned the Little Augury blog-header with the words of Francis Bacon: "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion."
"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion."~ Francis Bacon

Now - for a closer look into the eyes and mind of Patricia Gaye Tapp - who reveals here some of her inspiration, history, and love of the true and original.

Toile La La of the blog Art Fashion Creation interviews Patricia Gaye Tapp of P. Gaye Tapp Interior Design and Decoration - creator of Little Augury and Ottoline Divine.

TLL:  Were you aware of Ottoline when you chose your Little Augury header statement by Francis Bacon - defining beauty as having some strangeness in the proportion?
PGT:  The Bacon quote has been stuck to me for years.  It helps me constantly as I SEE.  I became aware of Ottoline perhaps 10 years ago.  A number of things drew me to her - though I considered Mary Wortley Montagu as a potential possible independent blog from Little Augury.  Both women have fascinated me for many years and I've read as much about them as I could get my hands on - and of course - delightfully something will pop up that is new information.  Both women kept diaries and they have been published in some form or another - giving up a wealth of information for use.  Though MWM was a temptation, I ultimately decided on Ottoline, she offered up countless photographs from her scrap books of her and her friends - that in itself is fascinating enough, not to mention the literary characters she inspired.  She just continues to delight and keep giving!  I think what keeps it interesting is making her relevant in today's world.  Something will spark my interest and as with so many women in history - I can think - She did it first.

TLL:  In addition to shared interests in interior design, lily of the valley, dogs, history, color, and gardening - you share with Ott, a passion for the truth... would you elaborate?
PGT:  Whether Ottoline shared that passion for the truth as I do, I'm not sure.  It was a different era - where women and their truths were quelled to say the least.  Ottoline did marry out of her set though so she did make great efforts in that arena.  I do think she was immensely passionate about people and people with great talents - or even mediocre talent - and that it all should be encouraged.

TLL:  Your blog title - Little Augury - is interesting... augury meaning sign, divination, or omen.  What is your thought behind the title choice?
PGT:  Little Augury is my way of saying - "this is what I think."  Though it's not Greek it IS my divination, No?  That is indeed the thinking behind the name choice and when I say it's not Greek - I mean to say it might not be great "literature" (hence the little). It is a play on words I like - a dichotomy, but one that makes perfect sense to me.

TLL:  You give tribute to a mentor at Little Augury - was he a design acquaintance, a professor or teacher? 
PGT:  Sandford Peele was actually all those things - most mentors are teachers of course - whether in the classroom or no.  Sandford was by education an English teacher - but lived in New York in the 1970's and '80s and was an editor, but also a decorative painter.  When he moved to Raleigh to spend more time with his mother, we became great friends and collaborators on a number of design projects. 

Tapp's old French chair - covered in Tapp's antique lampas fabric and finished in silver and lemon gilt by Sandford Peele. Photo courtesy of Tapp.
TLL:  Naming your one-of-a-kind stationery creations after your great great great great grandmother Parthenia, and mentioning your beloved GranMa - you seem to have a reverence for family past.  Please tell us more.
PGT:  She - Bess - GranMa - is definitely a great influence in my life today, though she died in 2006.  She lived to be 107 and found Life to be exciting and worthwhile for most of those years.  She was a great homemaker, mother, she entertained and gardened.  She made a beautiful life for herself after my grandfather died when she was not yet 50.

TLL:  As your Parthenia cards are crafted of vintage and antique original artwork, photographs, and small treasures - do you ever regret parting with your rare, fine, and found collectibles?
PGT:  It is always best to part with things, other things come your way and it's always a pleasure to find them or have them fall in your lap. 

*See the link for Parthenia Papier following the interview.

TLL:  One reads of your collections:  paper ephemera, historic fashion illustrations, postcards, etchings, painting reproductions, wonderful Italian painted madonnas... and you've noted among your lucky finds some '50s Chanel Italian wools.  Have you other favorites?
PGT:  I have some gorgeous textiles - some 18th century French - lampas pieces have always been favorites, though I've used them for recovering special chairs - which might not have been wise - but what good does it do on the shelf?  Several pieces have been sold or used in projects for interior design clients.  I also love old toiles - but a great piece of new fabric or the fabric from a vintage garment is equally treasured.

TLL:  You've mentioned a preference for smoky, undefinable, enigmatic colors.  Please explain their appeal.
PGT:  These are the colors that are easy  to work with in a room or to wear.  I painted the walls in my Den - the room I work in most often - something called Drifting Spirit, I love that! - it is a Duron paint color.  Nothing beats it and next house - all the rooms could be done in it and it would be perfect with anything I would want to use it with.

Duron swatch card - Drifting Spirit is the color third-up at far left.
TLL:  I've read you "avoid trends like the plague" - do please elaborate.
PGT:  Basically it doesn't pay.  Decorating and wearing good clothes is expensive - whether one is on a budget or not - it makes no sense to buy anything that doesn't have a future in your life or closet - trendy things do not.

TLL:  You've stated - of your Ottoline Divine blog - "There is a reason for it all" - referring to the font, the font color, the background.  Ottoline Divine, en toto, seems to be carefully thought-out to accurately reflect Ottoline and her era.  Share your thoughts in the appearance of the blog.
PGT:  Ottoline Morrell used a distinct ink color - a sanguine of sorts - a distinct hand - and I've tried to duplicate that in the color and font type.  I love the colors from that era - they were a bit murky.  I've picked this color up in the background and header colors of Ottoline Divine.  These choices were things that - for Ottoline reflected the impression her letters and notes would give.  

 I think things like this are simple to do - yet today we tend to give little or no thought to it.
Ottoline Morrell script with distinct flourish and profuse capitals. See more of Ottoline's correspondence style at Ottoline Divine.
Letter-writing with panache - Ottoline Morrell's sanguine ink.
 TLL:  Of the books, film, and artwork representing Ottoline - which do you find most accurately represent her true essence? 
PGT:  I think her true essence is best found in her own memoirs.  Whether it be all true - it must be her essence, don't you think?

TLL:  That may be a rhetorical question, but I suppose whatever Ott presented - authentic or not - was a facet of her essence.

TLL:  At an Ottoline Divine post, I noticed your casting of Hadyn Gwynne as Ottoline - are you interested in writing for the screen, or considering writing a book about Ott?
PGT:  I've always been fascinated by the movies - for many years I was immersed in movies from the 1930's and 1940's, then it was Foreign films - French - Japanese, in that order.  I've always read and wondered - who would play that role or this role.  It's a thought process I can't avoid even if I wanted to.  There are many women to write about, so who knows?

TLL:  I appreciated a post of Ottoline's description of a letter game of the past - and especially loved the accompanying etched cards - are those the actual playing cards?
PGT:  No, they are some I found to illustrate the idea - and I picked out of her initials "O,C,B" - Ottoline Cavendish-Bentinck.

Tapp's Letter Game post from Ottoline Divine is here.

TLL:  How do you suggest reading your blog Ottoline Divine - how is it best interpreted - newest to oldest, older post to more recent?  This, I think is a disadvantage of blog posts... the chronology.  But you seem to have applied quite a bit of thought to organizing and categorizing your posts -  which is evident with your archival of Little Augury and its supplementary Litl A.
PGT:  I would start with the first post from April of 2011.  Of course, formatting a blog to read properly in sequence is non-existent as you point out.

Ottoline Morrell - draped, and wearing a plumed, enormous hat - statuesque - against a vast, sweeping plain.
 TLL:  I read a reference from David Boyd Haycock's A Crisis of Brilliance, mentioning Ottoline's wardrobe.  He has her in "colorful clothes copied from medieval and Renaissance patterns".  Somewhere, I noticed a photo of a Rochas FW 2012 dress you liked.  It seemed to be of a textile once referred to as "changeable taffeta", or shot silk.  Did it remind you of Ott?
PGT:  That color is exquisite - don't you think?  I think all these sorts of colors - and many as I mentioned are used in the current season of designer clothes.  That is certainly a reason for my being drawn to fashion - the rich textiles and color.  The colors do have that smokey ethereal sense - faded with intention - or from years of use - yet still rich and strong.  The colors from the fashion collections for autumn definitely are full of the colors of Ott's era - and rich in detail.  I happen to love these colors - orchid, ashes of roses, greys, plums, purples - and I love that Ott used old textiles to have special things made.  Since I collect textiles I do the same.

Rochas Collections Fall Winter 2012 2013 Paris - look 45 - Model Franzi Mueller, Photographer Fillipo Fior. Vogue Italia.
Rochas F/W 2012/13 - look 45, Photographer Gianni Pucci. Vogue.
Marco Zanini's Rochas F/W 2012/13, backstage - looks 45, 46, 47 - models Franzi Mueller, Daiane Conterato, and Alana Zimmer - Photographer Michele Morosi. Vogue Italia.

TLL:  Thank you so much Patricia Gaye Tapp for sharing your creative inspiration and thoughts here at Art, Fashion, Creation.

  • If you liked this Art Fashion Creation interview, you might like the Karen Winslow one - inspired by mysterious sewing pattern illustrators of the past... the interview here.

Some of PGT's inspiration:
P. Gaye Tapp's own library reflects a love of design, literature, history, and textiles. Photo courtesy of Tapp.
Tapp's home - chairs covered in "old lavender" Rose Cumming damask. Photo courtesy of Tapp.
Tapp loves the dusty, smokey ethereal colors in the painting Madame Helleu in Her Husband's Studio.
"Exquisite," says Patricia Gaye Tapp - of the colors and essence of Jacques-Emile Blanche's painting - In The Mirror - with its chair similar to Tapp's French chair refinished by Sandford Peele and covered in a vintage lampas fabric (pictured earlier in post). 
"All those colors are perfect!," says Tapp of these Colro Wedgewood Jasper color trials.
*To view Tapp's one-of-a-kind cards, see this Parthenia Papier link. Click the Parthenia logo. To access items available for purchase - select purchase, which accesses location within the Etsy store. In addition to special greeting cards, you will find some for Christmas - and designer Christmas stockings. Tapp also features gift and decorative items available at the One Kings Lane website.

Cited Sources for Patricia Gaye Tapp:  Reviving Ottoline Morrell are:
  • "Ottoline Morrell" images from The National Portrait Gallery, London - www.npg.org.uk/collections
  • Blog Ottoline Divine, ottolinedivine.blogspot.com - Tapp, Patricia Gaye
  • "Ottoline Morrell" - Simkin, John. Spartacus Educational at spartacus.schoolnet.uk
  • "Lady Ottoline Morrell" entry, Wikipedia
  • Ottoline Morrell: Life on a Grand Scale - Seymour, Miranda
  • The Urban Electric Company - interview with P. Gaye Tapp