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The Dreaming Iolantha, King Rene's Daughter from Heinrich Herz. A Study in Butter by Caroline S. Brooks, Daughter of Abel Shawk.
Carte de visite
Private collection of Graham Pilecki
22 July 1876, The New Century for Woman (Philadelphia), no. 11, pp. 84-85
A New Art
October 1876, Arthur's Illustrated Home Magazine, vol. XLIV, no. 10, p. 564 on "The Great Centennial Exhibition":
There has been placed this week in the Woman's Building, an exhibit extremly unique. The Dairyman's Association might class it as their own - for its material; the art-gallery has nothing in it more graceful, or more thoroughly ideal. It is the head of the dreaming Iolanthe, modeled in butter, by Mrs. Caroline E. Brooks, of Helena, Arkansas.
Let us anticipate criticism on the material-the weather—the folly of putting art into such perishable stuff, by stating that the graceful head is three months old already—that it has borne the long journey from home in the month of July quite as well as any other woman's head on the same train; that age has not melted it, —and that the varying lights of day, or twilight, or of the shaded lamp serve but to bring out its exquisite variety. For this butter head, moulded in a milk pan, is alive in its translucent shadows It is well named the dreaming Iolanthe, for as in dreams the.pulses rise and fall, and new mysteries and meanings pass across the sleeping face, so in the twilight or beneath the shade of the student's lamp, this Iolanthe in her halfconscious sleep, seems a breathing thing.
The boy Canova made his models in butter, but discarded the humble material for the conventional clay. This farmer's wife has patented her process, claiming that from the butter model, her plaster casts have a delicacy of texture, and finer shades of expression than is possible to clays.
It was in 1867, “the year the cotton-crop failed,” that Mrs. Brooks made her first model, a shell, suggested by the butter paddle itself, and as she stood in her dairy window, shaping the dainty creation in the gathering twilight, the possibilities of the material for other and more permanent shape, first occurred to her. Other models of animals and faces were made-admired—and eaten. When, in 1868, the Iolanthe was shaped, in its primitive framing, the milk pan, it was so very beautiful, that after preserving it for some time with ice and salt-petre, she undertook to make a plaster cast, and fix it forever. The milk pan was set upon a table, the plaster mixed and poured “right on;" it “set’ at once, and hardened. Entirely ignorant of any technical method for loosening the mould, Mrs. Brooks turned the milk pan containing the hardened plaster, right over on the bread board; cut out with a jack-knife the tin bottom of the pan, then set it over a pot of boiling water. The butter melted out, of course, and “boiled all over the mould.” She then turned the latter over, and there was the beautiful face.
Again the untaught worker poured more plaster into the mould, already greased and prepared, It hardened readily. She had not “known enough,” as she expressed it, to color her first cast, and thus mark the line between the mould and the newly prepared plaster, and so the work of cutting it away was attended with much difficulty, and risk to the sleeping beauty. The experiment was sufficiently successful, however, to satisfy her that the process was a perfect one, and she has gone on from that time, moulding her fancies in the translucent material, and fixing them in plaster. A head of an old Catholic priest, a little Nell—a pity Dickens could not have seen her—and, more difficult than all, an ideal bust called Geranium. The other studies are all in relief.
Photographs taken from the butter originals have a greater delicacy, a more life-like texture than photographs from the clay. They may readily be compared, as quite a number of them are in the Woman's Building. One, of a sleeping child, seems nestling into its pillow in a way utterly impossible for the tougher clay to do; indeed, Mrs. Brooks absolutely refuses to work in other material. But quite as wonderful as the choice of material is the artistic skill, untaught, untrained, that has made such a life-like face, such delicacy of hair and throat. The men who take their stand in “measurements,” may find something to “gambol from,” here; the rule of proportions may not have been observed, as mother nature herself scorns to follow it, sometimes, but for breathing life, sleeping life, that needs only a whisper to waken it, there is something in the butter model that marble falls short in.
Mrs. Brooks is a daughter of Abel Shawk, of Cincinnati, a distinguished machinist and inventor, who aided in constructing the first iron-clad launched in western waters, during the war. She is the wife of a farmer in Arkansas, and does her own farm-house work, “the kind of work that younever get through with, from year's end to year's end<,/i>” and that leaves her but small time to follow out these graceful fancies in her dairy studio. Her tools are a common butter-paddle, cedar sticks, broom straws and a camel's hair pencil. The opportunities for study are remote from her, but such energy and genius will soon conquer these obstacles, and we shall hope for a bright and successful future for this Ohio Girl.
Before we leave the statuary, we should not omit to mention a recent arrival at the Woman's Pavilion. It Is a " Dreaming Iolanthe," modeled in butter, by Mrs. Caroline S. Brooks, of Helena, Arkansas. A woman who, without.previous training, can through such a medium produce such wonderful results, would be perfectly justified in deserting the dairy forever, and devoting herself to art. There can be no mistake about her vocation.