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All Around a Palette

Author Elizabeth W. Champney
Author Name Variants L. W. Champney; Lizzie W. Champney
Publication Boston: Lockwood, Brooks, and Co., 1878
Link to Text
Genres Stories, History
Keyowrds Fine Arts, Children’s Literature
Contributing State Ohio
Research Notes
Digital Source Notes

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Samantha Krupicka
Tulane University, December 2015

            All Around a Palette by Lizzie W. Champney, featuring illustrations by her husband James Wells Champney, was first published in 1877 by Lockwood, Brooks, and Company in Boston. The book is a collection of 15 color and art-themed stories revolving around the adventures of two children, Flossy Tangleskein and Ruby Rose. Flossy and her male companion Ruby are transported throughout art history by two “Paint Bogies,” a magical palette by the name of Tint and his sister, a crayon holder named Caricature. These talking assemblages of various artistic utensils take the children on a whirlwind journey through the world of art, basing each story on a particular color Ruby’s artist father (named “Rubens,” appropriately enough) has smeared onto Tint’s surface. The stories, ranging from “Ultramarine” to “Ivory Black,” feature both historical and fantastical characters, including Leonardo da Vinci and a donkey with the ability to speak. The book is akin to a sort of instructional or educational manual for teaching young adults about art, and it should be acknowledged that the detail, historical complexity, and serious subject matter of many of the stories most likely contributed to its marketing to older children as well as to their parents.
            The author, Elizabeth Williams Champney, was born on February 6, 1850 in Springfield, Ohio. A graduate of Vassar College in 1869, she later moved to Kansas where she reunited with her former art teacher and soon-to-be husband, James Wells Champney. The two eloped together in 1873, traveling extensively throughout Europe and beyond (C. Johnson). Their world travels would provide inspiration for some of Champney’s better-known works, the popular Three Vassar Girls and Witch Winnie series, both directed toward young women (D. Johnson). Upon the couple’s return to the United States in 1876, Champney began a prolific writing career as an art critic, publishing articles in magazines such as Harper’s and The Century. Champney possessed an extensive knowledge of art history, having published such pieces as “Woman in Art” in 1894, and “Phantasien Kopfen” one year later. The former examines the evolving female contributions to the art world, while the latter revolves around the work of artist Nathaniel Sichel and his portrayal of women. By 1883, she had released the first novel in the Three Vassar Girls series, which would continue until 1892 when Champney made the decision to focus solely on the Witch Winnie books. Her husband, “Wells,” a famous illustrator and painter, collaborated with Champney throughout their careers. He provided the drawings while Champney provided the text, the two dividing their time between an estate in Deerfield, Massachusetts and an apartment in New York City. This collaboration would continue until Wells’ death in 1903. Champney then shifted her focus to adult fiction until her own death in 1922, having written over 100 books and articles (C. Johnson).
            All Around a Palette is one of Champney’s more notable works because of its ability to provide readers with a glimpse into the culture of the nineteenth century, specifically into that of children’s literature. The tales highlight the importance and history of the fine arts, while also including the role that religion—mainly Christianity—has played in their creation over time. Contemporary readers will find Champney’s use of ethnic stereotypes jarring. But the book also subtly promotes women’s ability to make and appreciate art, possibly a reflection of the author’s own interest and practice in the subject, which she later addressed in an 1894 essay “Women in Art.” This sub-text could have been especially notable to women struggling to strike a balance between the domestic responsibilities normally assigned to females during this time, and creative passions outside of this sphere. All Around a Palette offers young girls encouragement in stories like “Yellow Ochre,” where Champney writes “Sally, at Paris, succeeded in the path where Tommy had failed, and won the reputation of a rising and talented artist” (196-98). They may have particularly appreciated its placement in the Literary Department of the Women’s Department of the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair. The book itself is like a work of art, full of beautiful drawings that allow it to stand on its own in a collection of equally remarkable pieces. 

Works Cited
Champney, Lizzie W. All Around a Palette. Illus. J. Wells Champney. Boston: D. Lothrop and Company, 1883.
—. All Around a Palette. Illus. J. Wells Champney. Boston: Lockwood, Brooks, and Company, 1877.
 Johnson, Colton. “Elizabeth Williams Champney.” Vassar Encyclopedia. Vassar College, 2004. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
Johnson, Deidre. “Elizabeth Williams Champney.” 19th-Century Girls’ Series. Read Series, 2000. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.