The Iconic Cather
Much like Whitman, Twain, and
Charlie Chaplin, the building blocks of the American iconic figure seem steeped in a tradition of visual repetition through dress, what Sarah Burns calls “key markers of the public self” (223). While Cather never developed a strict costume as Twain’s post 1906 white suit ensemble, Cather developed and maintained a visual look that the public could easily recognize after her break with McClure’s. In doing so, Cather built her iconic image in a subtle, but nevertheless effective, visual manner through her white middy blouse with loose-fitting tie. The look, much in the tradition of Whitman, ties Cather to her middle and working class readers since the look was popular, comfortable, and relaxed. Snap shot pictures reveal that this look was not a staged fiction, but rather an expression of her everyday daily style. The “Cather” constructed in the glamorous Steichen photo is the same Cather captured in private snap shot photographs at Grand Manan.
That Cather continued to wear the middy blouse and tie after 1927 reflects her interest in this look. In 1933 and 1940 newspaper features on Cather, for example, she reappears in her middy blouse and tie, and affirms the former iconic image she created years before. While the Steichen photograph highlights the celebrity culture and image of the 1920s, the outdoorsy, snap-shot style of these photographs presents the same Cather in nature. Authors of both features pick up on Cather’s image as a writer of the prairie, and ties her physical appearance into her literary style. For example, in Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s 1933
essay on Cather, the sub-head reads, “Willa Cather Lived Her Books Before She Wrote Them. Her Girlhood Was Spent on the Unfenced Prairie; She Knew the Trials and Triumphs of the Pioneer.” In the New York Herald Tribune Article, authors Stephen Vincent and Rosemary Benet similarly describe Cather as a real, unaffected person, having “no ivory tower about” her, as the say, since “she is too hearty for that.” Of her appearance they wite, “Of medium height, with clear blue eyes, she gives an impression of great intellectual vitality and serenity combined, calm strength and lively independence” (6).
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Cather and the Snapshot While Cather’s portrait studio photographs provide us with formal images of Cather, the growth of personal amateur photography allowed for another side of Cather to emerge in private photographs, meant for friends, family, and Cather herself. The large collection of known snapshot pictures feature Cather relaxed settings, either on vacation site, or posed with family Picturing Cather: A Portrait in American Image & Celebrity Culture The twentieth-century phenomenon of the “icon” celebrity (from Albert Einstein to Marilyn Monroe to Madonna) has a fundamental relationship to the photographic image. As Catharine R. Stimpson contends in her foreword to Brenda Silver’s recent Virginia Woolf Icon, the twentieth-century icon “is unthinkable without the presence of the camera.” Photography, Stimpson explains, “accelerates and reaffirms Photography and the Cathers While Brady photographed the rich and famous, photography also began to cater to lower and middle-class Americans. The rapid innovation of photography combined with its inherent ability to produce an image quickly and relatively inexpensively meant that “the camera democratized the image” since “large numbers of people could afford pictures of themselves” (Camera 22). Leo The Image Maker Perhaps one of the most key aspects of the magazine’s popularity stemmed from its use of photography within its pages. Crowninshield’s belief that fine fashion photography could be elevated to an art form had helped Vogue become one of the most popular fashion magazines of the time, and he had similar revolutionary plans for photography A Pioneer of American Writing Willa Cather A Pioneer of American Writing Willa Cather was born in Virginia in 1873, but moved to Nebraska where the population was diverse. She attended school and also was educated at home. She planned on becoming a doctor early in life. She accompanied a local doctor on his house calls and assisted in many of the
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