Friday, May 6, 2011

Snooping through Percy Kelly's mail

This is a love story of a beautiful friendship.

There was once a woman named Joan David. She discovered the beautiful watercolor paintings of Percy Kelly. She sent him a letter, asking if he would sell her some of his works.

He responded with this painted letter:

Click on any photos to see a larger version. It's worth it.
Joan, amazed by the beauty of the letter, wrote him back immediately. And he wrote back with another stunning painted letter. So she wrote back and he wrote back. And so commenced a deep friendship and a decade of letters from Percy Kelly.

For much of that time, they wrote two or three letters a week, most of which depicted scenes from his memories of living in Cumbria and Pembrokeshire, plus scenes from where he lived in Norfolk.

After the deaths of Joan and Percy (they both lived to ripe old ages and enjoyed a solid friendship to the end), the letters from Percy—and their equally stunning painted envelopes—were compiled and displayed in a gallery

I happen to be staying in the home of Joan's daughter, who inherited this collection, so I was able to see many of these painted letters in person as they are displayed throughout the house. There is also a book that shows a larger collection:

This book is a good argument for not getting all books on an electronic reader.
As I read the letters, I felt the same feeling as when I first came across the Griffin & Sabine Trilogy. Like I was snooping through mail.

I haven't done any painting while I've been on the road, but then along comes Percy Kelly to show me how I can still paint on my nomadic journey. He shows me a medium that makes sense for a traveler (letters) and in the letters he describes what he used: a small basic water color kit and whatever papers he has on him. Simple. Beautiful. Doable.

And because the collection of letters is so vast (about 1600 or so), I was able to study how Percy created these pieces. I even felt like Percy was showing me how.

Many times throughout my days in the English countryside, I sat in a chair with Percy's book. At moments, I felt him whispering to me, "This is how I started this painting, right here at this line. See how it's the strongest. This was the second line I drew, and the third. Then I fleshed it out from there. Notice how I simplified the drawing here so I could add text. And look at where I let the ink mix with the paint here to capture the mood of the scene."

Little whispers from beyond to show me the way. Thanks Percy, I think I've got it now.

I took a few shots from the book to show you a few examples of Percy's work. Click on any of them to see a bigger version. Or check out the collection here.

After seeing these painted letters (and getting instructions whispered to me by Percy), I was inspired once again to paint. I purchased a little watercolor set to take with me on my travels.

It's a scary little set of paint. I've tried watercolor before and remember it not being very forgiving. But these letters are so beautiful that I want to create beauty, too. I admire the warm feelings that went into them. It was Percy's way of showing Joan love and appreciation for her friendship.

They also don't take up a lot of room in a suitcase, which is especially important when one chooses discount airlines, who are very strict about baggage weight limitations.

I haven't painted a letter yet. I mostly stare at the watercolors with fear and trepidation. But once I get beyond that, you, dear reader, just might be getting my painted letter from me in the mail. Email your mailing address just in case.

Perhaps you and I can start a love story of a beautiful friendship. 


  1. yes Yes YES!!

    My heart sings, and godspeed with this inspiration!

  2. I would delight and rejoice in receiving ANY letter from you, my dear Janice, and I would also celebrate and dance for joy if I were to receive a PAINTED letter from you.


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