Monday, January 19, 2015

Is that Ina Coolbrith in the William Keith painting?

William Keith, With a Wreath of Laurel, 1900-1911*
Who is that tall brunette woman carrying a laurel wreath in William Keith's painting? I think it is Ina Coolbrith and that is why I chose the painting for the cover of Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California's First Poet Laureate.

California landscape artist William Keith and Ina Coolbrith were friends. In 1876 Keith, John Muir, and Ina took a Sunday carriage ride in the Oakland hills. “I had a most delightful time, for the day was superb, and Keith in one of his wildest moods,” Ina told Charles Warren Stoddard.

It is not known where Ina, Muir, and Keith stopped for a picnic that day, but their repast might be gleaned from a recipe for a meal that Ina later contributed to a cookbook. When asked in 1913 to contribute to the book, Ina responded that all of her family recipes had been burned in the 1906 earthquake, but that she could supply a suggestion for a picnic from one she would never forget. The setting should be “a nook under the trees,” and the meal should be eaten with a “sauce of appetite acquired by a long tramp in the fields.” The menu should include “old-fashioned, home-made salt rising bread; fresh butter; young green onions just pulled from the soil; [and] water-cresses fresh from any washed in the brook.” For the beverage, she suggested “vintage of Adam, cold, clear and sparkling from brook that grew the cresses.”

At the end of the recipe, Ina added, “Good anywhere, but best in California.”

Keith painted With a Wreath of Laurel sometime between 1900-1911. The title he gave to the painting is the same title that Ina Coolbrith gave to a poem she wrote in 1870 after she and Joaquin Miller gathered California bay laurel leaves for a crown to place on Lord Byron's grave site in England. Read "Poetic Gesture" in California magazine here.

I discovered the painting in The Comprehensive Keith: The Hundred Year History of the Saint Mary's College Collection of Works by William Keith (
Saint Mary's College Museum of Art, 2011). It's the first painting in the book.

* With a Wreath of Laurel, 1900-1911, oil on cardboard, 15 3/4 x 20 inches. Collection of the Saint Mary's College Museum of Art. Gift of Cochrane Browne, Jr. 0-154.