One of the great pleasures during my career as a librarian and also as a writer is researching. Since the advent of the internet (and yes, I am that old) is that one can spend many an hour wiling away the time by searching and researching a topic of choice. It’s an amazing gift when insomnia wiles its way into the night or if a sliver of interest in something leads me on a merry chase to find more information.
This is where I really begin to go down the rabbit hole in researching because when I find an author or artist of kindred spirit, I want to know everything I can about them. I search and search to find fascinating stuff. My frustration lies in the lack of biographical information on obscure or older artisans.
This happened recently when I stumbled on the fantastic book Paper Dolls and How to Make Them by Edith Flack Ackley and illustrated by Telka Ackley. This book is everything my soul hoped for in continuing to look for new designs and patterns for my little Garden Dancers. Indeed, a paper doll was the kernel idea when I began to create my little fairies. The Garden Dancers have been influenced by Johanna Basford, various Zentangle Artists, and more. Telka’s illustrations match many of my visions to the point, that when I discovered her illustrations, I wracked my brain if I had seen them, perhaps sometime, in the past. I wondered, did I see them long, long ago and they were an impetus now? Or, are we just that, kindred spirits?
I have fallen in love with the clean lines of Telka Ackley’s illustrations and patterns in her artwork in her mother’s books — A Dollshop of Your Own and Paper Dolls and How to Make Them. There is no written biography on Telka Ackley other than what I can find in snippets of articles via the internet. In addition to admiring the clean lines of Telka Ackley’s illustrations, I have learned Telka Ackley was an esteemed fine artist.
And so, I research further and discover more about this artistic family. Edith Flack Ackley, Telka’s mother, is a revered doll artist, marionette artist, designer, and author. She designed doll-making kits for McCalls Magazine and Women’s Home Companion. Her dolls, doll kits, and doll patterns were extremely popular. She produced them from the 1930s – 1960s. More information can be found on Edith by doll historian Jonathan Green, watch a video here.
Edith’s sister, Marjorie Flack, is the author and illustrator of popular children’s books. Ask Mr. Bear, The Story of Ping, and the ‘Angus the Dog’ series are by Marjorie Flack. Marjorie also illustrated some of Edith Flack Ackley’s books. These have always been a family favorite as my maiden name is Angus. I have fond memories of watching The Story of Ping on the Captain Kangaroo television program as a child in the 1960s. And, I have always loved Marjorie’s illustrations in one of our family’s favorite books The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes.
Furthermore, Edith’s first husband, Floyd Nash Ackley, was a successful jewelry designer. There’s a bit of biographical information on this artistic family in the Everybody’s Magazine from 1926. As a jewelry artisan, I truly his use of design and types of stones. Examples of his work can still be found, and a charming advertisement for his jewelry can be found in this google book.
So, where does this circle end in research? It’s certainly led me down a pleasurable rabbit hole of information when my first thought was looking for inspiration for the Garden Dancers. I like to imagine what life would be like in Greenwich village in the 1920s and being part of this artistic family. When Floyd died, Edith found a way, through her art, to survive and become an entrepreneurial artist. She was creating marionettes when puppetry was in its heyday. She was also able to land book contracts and a contract with McCall’s magazine for her doll patterns and designs. What a fascinating family. Could they? Will they be threads of characters in a future historical novel like The Keeper of Happy Endings or The Last Bookshop in London. There are more… We’ll see. Until then, as rabbits become a focal point for the upcoming spring and holidays, I will happily become a rabbit and continue to search rabbit holes for information.