Last week my sister bought a few boxes of books from a local auction. It was clear these were part of a house clearance, someone’s library broken up and placed in banana boxes to be thumbed over and bid upon. The thought sends a strange creeping sensation down my spine, wondering if this will one day happen to the thousands of books I have collected.
However, my family love books. Always have. I dread to think how many we have on our collective shelves. Many of mine are currently in storage, or leant out to another sister, waiting a recall when I have somewhere large enough to put them back out on view.
I did quite well out of this auction, despite not going. If you buy a box of books, it is unlikely you will want all of them. Some will go to the local charity shops but others were claimed by me, or my parents, or sisters. Mine are mostly non-fiction (this time), cookery books, gardening books, books on sculpture and art, books on building your own guitar and a very early copy of Robert Service’s poetry. I was pleased with this haul.
These books always come with a history — inserts fall out: raffle tickets, leaflets, scraps of paper with shopping lists. Inscriptions are both poignant and a strange pedigree. Sometimes there are notes within the margins, or paragraphs may be underlined.
On this occasion the pièce de résistance was a hardback sketchbook. It was the property of a woman who was 14 in 1941, who we have discovered was the Granddaughter of a sculptor and whose life in London during the blitz is painstakingly created within the pages. She draws the family in an air raid shelter. She captures a day out to the country. She observes models posing (perhaps for another family member?). She draws scenes from books and films she has seen.
The sketchbook covers two years and her style becomes more sophisticated as they pass. She begins to experiment with increased shading and darker subjects. Looking through these works of art, for that is what they are, it is clear we are seeing a woman emerging from childhood, questioning all she sees around her, picking up tiny details and replicating them on the page.
My sister is lucky to have found this buried between the decanted shelves of a life. We are all lucky to have seen it.
I intend to find time to take photos of each and every page, then share them with you, with the world.
And I cannot help but wonder what happened to this lady, old now or perhaps even passed on. She lived a life, somehow finding her way from war-torn London to the far north of Scotland. Her sketchbook remained with her for decades, then was left, lost and thankfully found by someone who realised just how special it is. We all move on, we all die — I doubt that the fourteen year old girl, watching a house burning from a fire-bomb, or sketching a scene from Just William, would even think what would happen to her work fourteen years into a different millennium — that all these years later it has evoked such feeling, joy and a peculiar sense of melancholy. It is a special find indeed, one which my sister will treasure for the rest of her life.