I’m currently read Mary O’Hara’s lovely book ‘The Scent of Roses’ wherein we learn about her life as a singer, as a newly married woman and as a nun.
‘In the fifties, Mary OHara, almost by accident, found fame and fortune as a singer and harpist. She had a gentle beauty and charm, coupled with a unique lyric soprano voice.
Mostly, I came to realise, book reviews are about current books or those just published, but I tend to read new and old and often re-read those I like the best. Although I knew of Mary O’Hara, I hadn’t read this book before and now as an older person, I have been enjoying it. I may not have read it in my younger years, but it speaks to me now as a 62 year old. This morning I read about the leaf cards she made and would like to quote from the book here for you now:-
‘As soon as I was Solemnly Professed (admitted into the monastery), my father went off to work in the U.S. Every now and then, a particularly lovely autumnal leaf, indigenous to whatever part of North America he was in, would arrive from him in a letter. He would pick them up on his rambles, press them and send them on to me. They were so attractive that I took to sticking them on to cards and using them as markers in my choir books. One day Sister Hildelith, who had seen my leaves, asked me if I’d join forces with her and produce some leaf cards for the annual display of handmade gifts from members of the community for Lady Abbess on her Feast Day and I agreed. However, shortly after that , Sister Hildelith had to drop out of the project because of other commitments, so reluctantly I had to continue on my own.
Eventually the finished leaf cards went on display among all the other community gifts. It was a lovely surprise to discover that not only did Lady Abbess like them, but so did other people including the Cellarer, who asked if I’d produce more for sale in the monastery shop. So I went on happily making leaf-cards in my free time, little thinking that it was to develop into a fascinating hobby. Until then I was not well acquainted with the flora in our grounds, but gradually, I became more knowledgeable.
At first I just culled random, experimenting with lots of things. Although I never used flowers as such, apart from the heads of conparsley, hogweed or fennel,I sometimes picked a flower after the petals had fallen off and the flower assumed a different appearance. Clematis, for instance, after the petals have dropped off, becomes ‘old man’s beard.’ Pressed at an early stage, it remains silky and a shiny pale green for an indefinite time and looks stunningly lovely. Pressed at a later stage it turns out lavender-coloured, very feathery and fragile-looking. I sometimes called these the ‘Eye of God’ or ‘Ezechiel wheels.’
To me each leaf I worked with was a new source of wonder because each was a unique creation and something living. The combinations of leaf and paper were myriad. I was in the enviable position of having access to off-cuts, and sometimes whoel sheets of what must have been some of the most beautiful hand-made papers in the word, from Japan to England. My sources of supply were all within the monastery walls and contributions came from the printing room, where they also did Fine Printing, the scriptorium, the bindary and the artists’ studio. Besides hand-made paper in white and in various colours, shades and textures, and Japanese veneer, I was also given good quality machine-made papers, sometimes hand-dyed. Soon it became the most fascinating work I’ve ever done.
A by-produce of this was that I became much more observant of the beauties of nature out of doors around the enclosure. Eventually, as the work expanded, I was given a special cell to work in, which I called my ‘Leafy Bower’, and was also provided with a table, shelves and a guillotine for cutting paper. It was absorbing and enjoyable work. Sometimes I referred to them as my Zen cards.’
That passage from the book and it’s subsequent paragraphs, which went on to chronicle further successes with the art, moved me somewhat. I got to thinking about how a simple thing like receiving a leaf in the post from her father started something which gave Mary and all her friends and later customers such pleasure. It really is the simplest things in life that give the most rewards.
Here is Mary in song:
I wish you a happy and peaceful weekend.