- Phoebe Stone
Many authors paint to give their minds a break, and visual artists often pen their thoughts. But only a few creative types - such as William Blake and Dante Gabriel Rosetti - are celebrated equally for their written and visual works. By now, Phoebe Stone of Middlebury - veteran painter, children's-book writer-illustrator and young-adult novelist - belongs squarely in that company.
Stone has news on both the literary and the artistic fronts: First, her third YA novel, Deep Down Popular, was just published (edited by the man behind the Harry Potter series, Arthur A. Levine) and has already received a starred review in Booklist. Second, Stone's colorful, fanciful paintings have been selected for an exhibit in Paris. "Pages et images," showing in May at a gallery in the hip Marais quarter, features paintings and drawings by artists who also write.
Can't make it to the French capital? Some of Stone's paintings will be on display at her book-launch party this Saturday at the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne.
Daughter of the current Vermont State Poet Ruth Stone, Phoebe - who will admit only to being "over 45" - doesn't remember a time when she wasn't working in both mediums. "I've been keeping journals since I was a child, and I remember writing short stories in my room in high school, [surrounded by] my paintings on the walls," she says. She describes her current work in writing and painting as "two separate worlds," but Deep Down Popular has elements of both.
The story is set in West Taluka Falls, Virginia, a small town in a rural landscape. The burg is just getting its first big-box store, and the Iraq war is on television. Narrator Jessie Lou Ferguson, a sixth-grade tomboy, has been in love with the most popular boy in her class, Conrad Parker Smith, since the second grade. When Conrad shows up with a mysterious metal cast on his leg - causing a sudden drop in his popularity - Jessie Lou is given her first chance to befriend him: Their teacher assigns her the task of walking him home after school.
Jessie Lou loves the outdoors; she also writes poetry. Not surprisingly, her sixth-grade observations of the world around her often take the form of images from nature: When the bell rings, Stone writes, kids in the hall "flow around me like rising water."
Some elements of Stone's book come from personal experience, including Jessie Lou's resentment of her older sister and their mother's relationships with both girls. She says she also borrowed the fields and river directly from her Vermont home.
Writer-artist Laure Fardoulis, the organizer of the Paris exhibit, was clearly taken with Stone's environs when she came to visit and view the paintings two years ago. The show's brochure (translated), describes Stone thus: "Phoebe - seen over there in her solitary Vermont house [ . . . ] doesn't paint; she represents that which, beneath things, incarnates a dreamlike and ideal infinity, with her natural apprehension of the world."
Stone met Fardoulis in the winter of 2005 at a dinner party in Paris, where she and her husband David Carlson were living for three months. She is one of 12 "ecrivains peintres," and the only American, in "Pages et images," which will include four large-scale paintings from Stone's series "While I Was Here."
"I'm excited about the show, but I'm more excited about the book," she declares. She enthuses, too, about the launch party, which will feature a lunch spread of foods from the book, including "Mr. Moon" cookies.