WMU News

Finnegan illustrates newly released de Tocqueville book

Oct. 24, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- An art instructor at Western Michigan University has illustrated a new, collector's edition of "A Fortnight in the Wilderness" by Alexis de Tocqueville.

Judy Finnegan, a part-time art instructor and a member of the Michigan Watercolor Society and Handmade Paper Guild of Kalamazoo, created six full-page watercolors for the suede and copper foil edition. Her pictures capture such images as the interior of a cabin de Tocqueville meticulously described, from the cracked teacups to the roughly hewn table; the "oasis" of "forest primeval;" and the Indians whose way of life was even then disappearing "like the snow in sunshine."

Written by de Tocqueville in 1831, the book is a portion of the diary the young French nobleman kept while journeying through America in preparation for his landmark work, "Democracy in America."

De Tocqueville's "Wilderness" experience took place in and around Saginaw, which was then the start of the American wilderness. Levenger Press published the book, which is available exclusively through the Levenger catalog by calling (800) 544-0880 or visiting the publisher's Web site at <www.levengerpress.com>. The book costs $39.95 plus shipping.

"I nearly swooned over the colorful descriptions," Finnegan says of first reading of the manuscript. "The challenge was to remain true to them in the translation to paint on paper."

The effort required "that I not only pay careful attention to his words, but that I also transport myself in a flight of fancy," Finnegan says. "Since he was describing wilderness in July and I was working in the winter when the trees were bare, I had to paint from memory the hot, humid, mosquito-filled air that Michigan is noted for in the summer."

Finnegan says the project "led me to a new understanding of how history, as well as art, is sifted through temperament."

Finnegan lives in Kalamazoo.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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