Why no book displaying May Alcott Nieriker’s paintings?

I’m on vacation this week and no vacation is complete without another tour of Orchard House, this time with a friend who has never been there before.

I must say, I am always impressed at how knowledgeable the guides are at Orchard House. I’ve been there numerous times and always learn something new!

Today I learned that May Alcott Nieriker had painted a baby owl over the fireplace in Louisa’s room because there once stood a grand tree outside Louisa’s window which housed an owl family. Having just heard a great horned owl hooting outside my window the other night, I was intrigued by this little tidbit.

May also painted a more formal portrait/still life of an owl with some books which hangs by Louisa’s bed. I ended up buying a print of the owl over the fireplace.

I made a real point today of observing closely all of May’s artwork in the house. Afterwards I asked people in the gift shop if there were any books which displayed May’s paintings. There is not. Why?

Why is it that the only book available on May besides Daniel Shealy’s Little Women Abroad is May Alcott A Memoir by Caroline Ticknor, a dated memoir? I felt this burning desire to have a book with May’s artwork in it, and I feel a desire yet again to tell her story, or at least read one that is up to date.

Is anyone working on a modern biography of May? Has anyone thought about putting together a book of her drawings and paintings?

Should I consider it even though I know nothing of how to pull it off?

12 Replies to “Why no book displaying May Alcott Nieriker’s paintings?”

  1. I like the idea a lot. Are there many images available for such a book? It would be a good project to do in partnership with a person who has background in art history and criticism.

    1. Good news! I wrote to Jan Turnquist at Orchard House and she says there are “several people” working on a May Alcott bio but she has no news yet as to when we will see them. AND, she says there are several people talking about putting together a book of May’s paintings and drawings (yay!) and may have news about that soon. 🙂

  2. Hi my email is tswheel@gmail.com I don’t use this world press handle much however I have this painting on hard board 8 X 13 inches been in the family my mother hand it on her dresser for 40 some years and meant a lot to I just kept it around until I visit the Orchard House and looked at Amy May painting I saw a resemblance and the Orchard House people are taking a look at it I am going to send you a copy to get your opinion email me i will send picture or I have a blog with it on there blogspot timateo’s search http://mayalcott.blogspot.com/
    timoteo’s blogs
    i don;t know how to upload pic here

    1. The picture wasn’t showing on the link you sent. I have a feeling we have corresponded before about this because your story sounds familiar. Have you been able to show the painting to anyone at Orchard House yet? It will be very difficult to authenticate the painting if there is no signature.

  3. There’s a lot of negative criticism of Caroline Ticknor’s book, but I just read it and enjoyed it very much overall. Maybe that’s because I just can’t get enough about May. I think I might have enjoyed Little Woman in Blue’s treatment of her romance and end of life a little better, though, and agree more with Louisa’s saying that “it would SEEM as if…were born under a lucky star.” (emphasis supplied.)

    1. Have you read Little Women Abroad, edited by Daniel Shealy? Letters from May and Louisa to the homefront about their adventures. Lots of drawings too. I enjoyed Tickner’s book. I actually had an opportunity to purchase an original copy for $75 and passed it up – sure do regret that!

  4. I visited Orchard House in October last year and was instantly charmed. My sister and I were on a road trip down the Eastern Coast and this was a favorite highlight. We were also intrigued by May’s work and wanted to purchase a copy of several pieces, especially “Still Life with Owl,” which hangs in Louisa’s room and the gothic window with hanging vines, which was painted on the far wall of May’s room near the windows. We had a wonderful young lady as a guide who took us back upstairs after the tour to study more closely her drawings and paintings. I asked the same question about bigger/better quality reproductions of her works that appear in the home. She told us they could not offer certain pieces for sale because of certain copyright laws. The best I could do was a tiny greeting card of the still life. I think there would be great interest in a book of her life’s work, but acquiring the rights to reproduce and publish her work might prove to be seriously challenging. Not that it wouldn’t be worthwhile!

    1. I bought both the owl still life card and May’s rougher painting of the screech owl card and put them both in a frame. I love looking at them. It’s a shame that reproducing her works is so complicated. There is a building interest in May Alcott as demonstrated by the novels based on her life (Little Woman in Blue by Jeannine Atkins and a new book coming out this fall by Elise Hooper). I know there are scholars interested in doing a decent biography on May. She out of all the sisters was the truly modern woman and her tragic end makes her story all the more compelling. I am glad you had a guide who indulged your interest in her paintings; how lucky you were!

      1. I can’t wait to read that new book, Susan! Let me know as soon as it comes out! Also let me know if you think I can get a copy of the portrait of May as a teenager. I think that picture is really cute.

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