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Genre-bending author speaks in Edwards

Daily Staff Report
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailySusan Vreeland, author of "Luncheon at the Boating Party," will speak at the Bookworm of Edwards on Wednesday.
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EDWARDS, Colorado ” Author Susan Vreeland has amassed an international following of both book and art lovers en route to virtually creating the unique genre of historical art fiction.

While balancing a freelance writing career with the demands of a three-decade high school teaching career, Vreeland managed to pen “The Girl in Hyacinth Blue” in 1999, a novel combining fact and fiction, art and adventure that boasted a fresh voice on the literature scene.

Vreeland has authored three additional novels and a volume of short stories that imagine the characters, inspirations and stories behind some of the art world’s masterpieces and the painters that created them. Most recently, Vreeland released “Luncheon at the Boating Party,” which explores Renoir’s canvas of the same name.

With extensive research and travel, Vreeland brings those depicted in the painting to life. “Luncheon at the Boating Party” was a New York Times bestseller upon its spring 2007 release. Vreeland visits The Bookworm in Edwards Wednesday at 6 p.m. to discuss her novel, travel and research while offering a slide presentation of the life and times of Renoir and the French Impressionism era.

Vreeland fielded questions via email while on the western leg of her book tour.

Susan Vreeland: At the L.A. County Museum of Art, I passed through a glassware exhibit on my way to the Impressionist Gallery and was stopped by a small blown glass pitcher with the tag, “Phoenicia, 2nd century.” Immediately I wondered about the glass blower, his family, his community. I stretched my imagination back to this ancient time and marveled that an anonymous man could make something so fragile that I could see 18 centuries later. What was his life like? It was labeled as a medicine pitcher. Was the village suffering an epidemic? Was someone in his family ill? Was he worried when he made this? Then I proceeded to the Impressionist gallery asking questions about the figures in the paintings and the lives of the painters. After my visit to the paintings, I went to the museum bookshop, and there was a book of Vermeer paintings, open. It was an invitation to me. They were of Dutch people in the 17th century. Since my name and heritage is Dutch, I felt a connection, and remarked to my friend who accompanied me, ‘Someday, I’d like to write a story about one of these paintings.’ That’s how it started.

SV: I visited the restaurant on the island of Chatou where Renoir painted this scene of 14 of his friends on the restaurant terrace. I loved being there, and felt the cords of connection to those models and to Renoir. I also sought out the locales of his studio, several cafes, the Folies Bergere, the Comedie Francaise, the Ile de la Cite, Montmartre, and other places in Paris where my scenes took place. It was a thrilling, extraordinary experience.

The painting pictures real people whose lives I could research. When I discovered that the experiences of their lives reflected the attitudes and issues of late 19th century Paris, I knew I could write a novel of some social and historical significance.

SV: I have prints and reproductions of paintings of all those whom I’ve written about: four by Emily Carr, four by Vermeer, three by Renoir, two by van Gogh. I also have original oil paintings by my grandfather, grandmother, and step great grandfather. I would like to obtain a Modigliani reproduction, and others. I have a large collection of art books, which I like to leave open on book stands to enjoy different works for a time. Guests never know ahead of their arrival what will be on display.

SV: Oh no. I used to be a ski writer, so I’ve been here many times. I have not yet explored the narrative possibilities of the Rockies, even though I love to be there in the majestic heights.


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