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Sister Arts

The Erotics of Lesbian Landscapes

2011
Author:

Lisa L. Moore

Sister Arts

How eighteenth-century artists created works that expressed their desire for other women

In the age of English garden design, eighteenth-century women working in the “sister arts” of painting, poetry, and landscape gardening adapted the tradition of the erotic garden to create art with and for other women celebrating everything from classical friendship to erotic love. Lisa L. Moore reveals how these artists used flowers, gardens, and landscapes to express their love for other women.

As its lyrical title suggests, Sister Arts, Lisa Moore's loving account of the unusual and haunting works produced by her four subjects—elegiac friendship poems, picturesque landscape designs, leaf collages and scrapbooks, collections of flowers, shells, and butterflies—at once illuminates and charms, deepening our understanding both of female-female intimacy and the elegantly subversive means women in past centuries found to express such devotion.

Terry Castle

In the great age of English garden design, eighteenth-century women working in the “sister arts” of painting, poetry, and landscape gardening adapted the Linnaean system of plant classification and the tradition of the erotic garden to create art with and for other women that celebrated everything from classical friendship to erotic love. In this book, filled with lush illustrations and intriguing stories, Lisa L. Moore reveals how these women artists used flowers, gardens, and landscapes to express their love for other women.

Aristocratic diarist Mary Delany built a garden grotto for the exclusive use of herself and the naturalist and collector Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland. Romantic poet Anna Seward, mourning the loss of Honora Sneyd to an unworthy marriage and then death, wrote her beloved’s face and body into her landscape poems. And in 1790s Connecticut, feminist intellectual Sarah Pierce transformed texts and images into a new poetic evocation of intimacy between women both egalitarian and erotic. These women, Moore shows, influenced later works by Emily Dickinson, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, and Tee Corinne.

Moore goes on to trace the legacy of the lesbian sister arts tradition in subsequent art and poetry, including contemporary multimedia work by Kara Walker, Michelene Thomas, Alma Lopez, and Allyson Mitchell. Her book redefines this unstudied sister arts tradition, which becomes visible only when we understand how the works of these women exemplify what she deems “lesbian genres.” It will captivate readers who want to know more about women’s contributions to garden history and landscape design—as well as those looking for a new perspective on queer history, literature, and culture.

Awards

Lambda Literary Award winner in LGBT Studies

Sister Arts

Lisa L. Moore is associate professor of English and women’s and gender studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is author of Dangerous Intimacies: Toward a Sapphic History of the British Novel and coeditor of Transatlantic Feminisms in the Age of Revolutions and Experiments in a Jazz Aesthetic: Art, Activism, Academia, and the Austin Project.

Sister Arts

As its lyrical title suggests, Sister Arts, Lisa Moore's loving account of the unusual and haunting works produced by her four subjects—elegiac friendship poems, picturesque landscape designs, leaf collages and scrapbooks, collections of flowers, shells, and butterflies—at once illuminates and charms, deepening our understanding both of female-female intimacy and the elegantly subversive means women in past centuries found to express such devotion.

Terry Castle

Lisa Moore recounts the fascinating stories of four eighteenth-century women whose lesbian-like relationships were instrumental in inspiring and fostering their work as artists of the landscape. Sister Arts is an indispensible contribution to the project of establishing a readable record of lesbian desire in the historical past.

Lillian Faderman, author of Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present

Her summation reads like a historical love letter to same-sex oriented creativity among women. . . . This is an important book for queer theorists, lesbian historians, and art historians.

Gay & Lesbian Review

A fascinating study of four lesbian-like women writing, creating art, and sustaining long-term friendships during the eighteenth century. This book opens new worlds to the general reader and new avenues of research for the specialist.

Women’s Review of Books

Moore’s book makes us understand yet other women. This book also shows us how centrally gendered is art, and how art that we discuss as somehow universal is not and not only shaped by a particular culture but the product of the sexual outlook, experience, orientation, feelings whatever you want to call it of the artist.

Reveries Under the Sign of Austen

Moore is a skilled and vivid storyteller and her compelling prose enables the reader to inhabit the affective and intellectual landscapes these women traversed.

Not Even Past

Sister Arts

Preface: Listening to Gossip in the Queer Archives
Introduction: Lesbian Genres and Eighteenth-Century Landscapes
1. Queer Gardens: Mary Delany’s Flowers and Friendships
2. A Connoisseur in Friendship: The Duchess of Portland’s Collections and
Communities
3. The Voice of Friendship, Torn from the Scene: Anna Seward’s Landscapes of Lesbian
Melancholy
4. The Landscape Which She Drew: Sarah Pierce and the Lesbian Georgic
Conclusion. The Persistence of Lesbian Genres: A Circuit Garden
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Sister Arts

UMP blog: Putting the "Sister" in the Sister Arts

I always dreamed of writing a book that looked like this.
From the moment I first sent my query letter to editor Richard Morrison (asking, “Would you like to read a lush, sexy book about lesbian gardens?”), University of Minnesota Press has been making my dreams come true. Richard’s own interest in gardens and poetry (did you know he has an MFA and is an accomplished garden photographer?) as well as Minnesota’s distinguished queer studies and landscape architecture lines appealed to me when I was choosing a publisher. Now, holding the finished book in my hands, everything from the texture of the paper to the eye-popping design to the typeface does justice to that first description, and to the stories I tell in the book of bold women artists expressing desire and creating relationships with one another through landscape art.

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