New Book Explores Life of Exceptional Cornell Artist

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New Book Explores Life of Exceptional Cornell Artist
Recent Graduate Delves into ‘Art & Life of Alison Mason Kingsbury’

ITHACA, N.Y. (May 11, 2011) – Cornell University Library is excited to announce the publication of a new book on Cornell artist and longtime Ithacan Alison Mason Kingsbury.

(View a slideshow of Kingsbury's work from the Cornell Chronicle.)

Written by Jillian Piccirilli ’08, “The Art & Life of Alison Mason Kingsbury” explores Kingsbury’s life in great detail, from her childhood through her successful and varied career. As the wife of Cornell historian Morris Bishop, Kingsbury (1898-1988) had a lifelong connection to the university and made Ithaca her home and artistic muse.

“She was dedicated to both commercial work and serious fine art during the 1930s and beyond, when that was exceedingly rare for a woman,” said University Archivist Elaine Engst. “She also maintained her identity as an artist — even keeping her unmarried name — when she was a faculty wife, at a time when ‘faculty wife’ was a full-time job.”

Kingsbury created and contributed to some of the most recognizable artwork on Cornell’s campus, including murals the Gannett Health Clinic, Willard Straight Hall and the WWI Memorial Chapel.

Ithaca was also the subject of much of her art; from her Cayuga Heights home on Wyckoff Road and her later downtown home on Court Street, she painted and sketched local neighborhoods and landscapes. Kingsbury also illustrated some of her husband’s books and worked on various projects for the WPA during the Great Depression. She created all the original artwork for the 10th anniversary edition of the “Fannie Farmer” cookbook, published in 1959, which contained more than 80 of her illustrations.

Many of those illustrations appear in the Library’s substantial collection of Kingsbury’s work, which also includes her sketchbooks, early drawings, professional designs and personal correspondence. The Johnson Museum also holds a few of her watercolors, and the History Center of Tompkins County maintains a small collection of paintings.

Alison Jolly, the artist’s daughter, originally hired the recent Cornell graduate to create a catalog resume of her mother’s work.

“A more narrative book evolved naturally,” Piccirilli said, and Kingsbury “really has a story to tell. She was a serious woman, and she took her choice of profession extremely seriously. She was amazingly prolific: If you include all her illustrations and collages, she probably produced about 1,500 works over the course of her lifetime.”

Two personal reflections preface the book, one from longtime friend and historian Carol Kammen, and one from her daughter, who said she hopes the book brings more public recognition for her mother’s work.

“I would like it if she joined the group of artists recognized as people that Cornell should treasure,” she said. “She looked, dressed, spoke and acted like a conforming Ithaca matron — but then she would advise her granddaughters, ‘You should dress conventionally. If you trick people into thinking you are conventional, then you can get away with doing anything you like.’”

An exhibition of her work is available online through the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections website.

The book, published by the Library, is also available for sale in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections or through the website.

About Cornell University Library
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Announcing the publication of a new book on Cornell artist and longtime Ithacan Alison Mason Kingsbury