Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Hands All Around: #6: Open Window for May Alcott Niericker


#6 Open Window for May Alcott by Dorry Emmer

Open Window recalls Abigail May Alcott
who left Massachusetts for Europe and an artist's life.

Abigail May Alcott Nieriker (1840-1879)
Portrait by her Paris roommate Rosa Peckham Danielson 1877
Collection of Orchard House
When the painting arrived in May, 1877 mother Abba was thrilled:
"Great day for the Alcotts. Picture arrived from Paris...
Miss Peckham has caught May's air and pose."

Abigail May, littlest of the Little Women, was born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1840. The Alcott family who spoiled her always believed she'd been born under a lucky star. They'd just lost an infant boy and baby May gave them joy after their grief.

Named for her Marmee she went by the name Abby as a child but by the time she was 15 the family was calling her May, three letters her sister rearranged to create Amy in Little Women.

Illustration by British artist 
Mary Vermuyden Wheelhouse (1871-1947)
May's lucky star bestowed  strawberry-blonde curls on her & the fictional Amy.

Open Window by Pat Styring

“Amy has all the fun, and I have all the work,” complained Jo but the real-life Louisa loved giving May the fun and the education she never had.

May's Civil War years when she was in her early 20s seem to have been spent taking local art classes. 
Her Civil War activities probably included a table at a fundraising fair much like one described in the novel in which the youngest of the Little Women and a rival duel over fair "tables," Amy was in charge of a floral table that friends and family conspired to outshine the rival's art table.

Laurie and the boys made Amy's table "the liveliest in the room." 

Open Window by Addison

Like her older sister Louisa, May had a talent but hers was for the visual arts, a field where she was successful according to many measures. After studying art in London and Paris for several years after the war (funded by Louisa's Little Women royalties) May showed paintings at the prestigious Paris Salon in 1877 and 1879 where friend Mary Cassatt was rejected.

May's still life in traditional style was accepted into the 
1877 annual exhibit of the Academie des Beaux-Arts.

Daniel Chester French (1850-1931)

Dan French, ten years younger, remembered May in her late 20s as no beauty by "classical standards" but praised her "liveliness of expression...intelligence and gaiety that shone," her "wavy chestnut hair, luxuriant and glistening" and her figure.

French's introduction to a 1928 memoir by Caroline Ticknor

French, failing in engineering school, had a natural talent for sculpture recognized by May who was  teaching art classes in Concord after the Civil War. His career under her first influence might be rated her biggest long-term success.

Daniel Chester French on the left with
his sculpture at the Lincoln Memorial in 1922
His first commission was Concord's iconic
Minute Man statue.

Open Window by Becky Brown

The Block

Color variations on this block have many names under the number 1176 in the Encyclopedia & BlockBase---most of which could relate to May's transatlantic voyages.

Open Window
Port & Starboard
Fox & Geese
And Envelope---many letters traveled the ocean back and forth.

Cutting: There's only one piece. The HST triangle C.

8” Block (2-Inch Grid) C—Cut 16 squares 2-7/8”. Cut each into 2 triangles with one diagonal cut. You need 32 of different shades.

12” Block (3” Grid)

16” Block (4” Grid) - 4-7/8"

Open Window by Dorry Emmer

 Stellar Set

Lucky Stars Set

This month's set alternates a small star, representing May's lucky star. 13 small stars + 12 sampler stars, shown above with stars 1 to 6. We are half finished. If you stitched 12" squares your finished patchwork field would be 60" x 60".

The small star is the same one in Block #4 Eight Hands Around.


D -  Cut 4 small squares
8” - 1-1/2”
12” 2”
16” - 2-1/2"

E - Cut 4 squares. Cut into 2 triangles with 1 diagonal cut. You need 8. 

8” - 1-7/8”
12” - 2-3/8”
16” - 2-7/8”

F - Cut 1 square. Cut into 4 triangles with 2 diagonal cuts. You need 4.

8” - 3-1/4”
12” - 4-1/4”
16” - 5-1/4”

G - Cut 2 rectangles 

8" - 2-1/2" x 4-1/2"
12" - 3-1/2" x 6-1/2"
16" - 4-1/2" x 8-1/2"

- Cut 2 rectangles
8" - 2-1/2" x 8-1/2"
12" - 3-1/2" x 12-1/2"
16" - 4-1/2" x 16-1/2"

Post Script

May's luck extended to finding a compatible husband while living in Europe (Not Laurie---sorry, kids.)  In 1878 she made a happy marriage to Ernest Nieriker, a Swiss 13 years younger. Married life in Paris was followed by the birth of a baby girl named Louisa for her sister. But May's luck ran out at Lulu's birth. 

Louisa Nieriker Rasim (1879-1975)
She lived most of her life in Germany

Like every prudent, pregnant 19th-century woman May made out instructions for raising her baby lest she die giving birth. Sadly she did in December, 1879, six weeks after Lulu's birth likely of a puerperal fever infection . Lulu went to Massachusetts to live with her Aunt Louisa who was happy to have one more Little Woman to spoil.

May's portrait oil of a young model was accepted
 into the 1879 Paris Salon.
Further Reading

Read Caroline Ticknor's 1928 book May Alcott: A Memoir at Google Books:
The book is about more than May; Ticknor includes many letters and journal references from the Alcott family.

May Alcott Niericker’s 1879 book Studying Art Abroad and How to Do It Cheaply, was a guide book written for the American artist who was "no gay tourist ...but a thoroughly earnest worker, a lady and poor."

And Listening:

Hear online readings of snippets of Little Women:

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