Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Love and Ink

So here's something which I heard about through the grapevine, loved and wanted to share. I think there may be some division of opinion though... here goes nothing.

Laura New is a friend of my dear Bethan. She is an artist who works with paper ephemera - often dating back to the 30s and 40s. Her most recent work is based on a batch of letters she unearthed, from early summer 1946 by a James B. Mott, a soldier, to his sweetheart and fiancée Miss Ruth Mae Jordan. The letters were kept safely by Ruth for many years, though I don't know where Laura found them. Since her own man is a soldier, she holds them in great reverence and she's transcribed each letter carefully... before she then illustrated a beautiful bird onto them.

My Dearest Darling Sweetheart - One. © Laura New

This is the transcription of the letter in full - it's lovely!

“My Dearest Darling Sweetheart,
         Well honey, I finally made it into camp.  Our bus broke down and we didn’t get in till 6:30this morning.
         Gee, I’m really sleepy.  We don’t have to go to classes until this afternoon and thought that I would write you a little bit this morning and write more tonight.  I am also sending a page of a letter that I started on Friday, and didn’t finish it.
Mae honey, I can’t get you off my mind – as if I wanted to.  I think of you all the time.
Boy, did I really hear some wild tales about different boys and their liberties.  Some of these fellows are really wild and another thing that I want you to remember – when you go swimming this summer – watch your bathing suit so that it isn’t loose because a lot of the boys tell of what they saw looking down girl’s suits.  But you know all of that.
         Honey, did you get that little round metal pin with the writing on it.  You wouldn’t have it now but you should by the time this letter gets to you.  I wasn’t sure if it would get thru.
         I’m awfully silly honey, but I know one thing for sure, we are meant for each other.  We love with a love that is more than just plain love because you and I – well, I don’t know what to say so that I can make you understand.  I have a feeling that you are always with me everywhere I go.
         More this evening, baby, loads of love to you dear xo

         Well sweet, here I am, and boy do I feel good. I didn’t get one letter today. I didn’t get two, but I got three from you and one from mom.  The ones I got from you were the ones that you mailed at Lexington.  They made me feel awful good.  They were really sweet, but I haven’t gotten those nine letters yet.  I am anxious to see that ninth letter.
Here I am, laying on my bunk – thinking of you and wishing very much that we were together.  I am pretty tired.  I just finished some washing before I started writing at the bottom of page 2.
         I washed three T shirts – two pairs of shorts, three handkerchiefs, a pillow case and a mattress cover, and a hat.  It was a pretty big washing for me.  It will really be swell when we have our own home and you and I can go down in the basement and do the washing with our own machine.  I will help you when I am not working, that is – if you want me to.
        Gee honey – I don’t see how I am going to stand it till I see you next.
         There is one thing that I want you to remember.  If by some chance – you would hear that I was killed – missing – or something like that, honey – don’t give up hope until you are sure the facts are true.  If anything does happen and you find out for sure that I am gone, I want you to try to forget me and try to find someone else – but not unless you are sure I am not still alive. This may sound silly – but a funny feeling has been in my mind about that it’s all _____ - I just told you because when I can’t understand something or need comfort – I talk to you and feel lots better.

Your loving future Husband,
Love Jim,
baby I will love you forever x”

Bethan has another piece of hers where a bird is painted onto a piece of sheet music, which is fabulous.

Laura's exhibition is on at the Gallery Café in Bethnal Green until 31st July and I plan to go along. I am seriously considering buying one! Have a look on her website to see more of the letters.

So what do you guys think? A lovely way of preserving a beautiful piece of ephemera? Or would you prefer the letters kept as they are but folded into an envelope and unseen?

All comments welcome but do please be mindful that Laura will read this!

Fleur xx

Edit: loads of people wishing they could find out what happened to them... I found this obituary of Ruth Mae Jordan Sammons... right name, birthday and location... seems they never did get married! But she found another lovely man anyway, silver linings!


  1. Devine! It’s an honour to be able to read such lovely heartfelt messages. I think what Laura is doing is wonderful – introducing these sweethearts to us in the modern world. Like a terribly sweet and simple form of time travel!

  2. Oh my goodness, that is such a beautifully written, wonderful letter! Thank you for sharing it with us, it has totally made my day! I think Laura's work is lovely, and so imaginative to combine a real piece of history with beautiful art work. I am curious to know what Jim and Ruth Mae would think of their letters being in an exhibition!

  3. These are lovely! I wish I could read their whole story.

  4. Did they get married in the end?? I hope so!

    1. Oh, please, I have to know too!

    2. I will ask Laura as an discussing buying one!

    3. Oh, I hope you can find out if he lived and if they married. Please do a follow-up if you find out more!

  5. I think this is a wonderful idea, it's the ultimate in upcycling- breathing new life into someone's past life and emotions. I wish I could own one!

  6. How lovely! I feel like I'm in love with Jim already! I hope he lived and married Mae.


  7. The letter itself is very sweet - but I have a *thing* against words on artworks/paintings/pictures.

    I find they always detract from the piece - you know that saying 'a picture tells a thousand words' - so why put a whole bunch of words on it?

    Same reason I don't like naming pieces. The process of naming already puts ideas in someones head about what that art should be....

    each to their own I know..
    but - (semi-kinda)artist rant ;-P

  8. Those letters are beautiful. Read this post on the bus with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

  9. touching!
    many thanks for the post of the wonderful work of laura. this world needs more of such art ......

  10. Shucks, thanks guys!

    It's so good to get feedback on these. I bought the letters over a year ago to use in my work and um'd and ah'd for some time over how to do so. Each one is so touching and I have indeed shed a tear myself when reading them. I have uploaded the first four now onto my website so you can stick with their story for as far as the letters can take you. I will upload the rest in time. L x

  11. Beautiful! My grandfather served in WWII and wrote many letters to my grandmother, his new bride. I think they are some of the most precious things our family has from them, and they are a piece of history. I think these letters have a better chance of being preserved for posterity as art, and they can be treasured by everyone now.

  12. oh my gosh, lump in throat and tear in eye, would love to know the rest of their story....

  13. I love wartime letters, they so often tell the real truth of the situation which prompted me to write a radio play based on letters from the troops in World War One. Should you be interested in listening to the play you can download for nothing by following this link
    ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori’
    As I am a bit of a computer Luddite if the link fails, go to The Wireless Theatre Company and search for the play under Drama.

    1. To find 'Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori' try this link;


  14. Please tell me that she doesn't draw on the originals?

  15. I was so taken with this snippet of a story that I did a bit of googling too, and found the same obituary for Ruth Mae (Jordan) Sammons and note the reference to a beloved Aunt Faye (there is mention of this aunt in one of the letters!)so I am sure it is the same lady. I also found details of a James Blair Mott, of Huntington, with a birthdate of 12 Sept 1927, having married a Martha Louise Smallridge in Huntington in 1951! I am pretty sure, given the birth dates and town, that it is the same man. So they didn't marry each other in the end. Hope it all turned out well for them both anyway. By the way,the same James Blair Mott appears to be currently alive and living in Florida...I found the story fascinating and poignant but I am concerned how he might feel about such personal letters being made so public.

    1. Thanks for digging and finding this - at least I feel like I have a little closure, knowing that he survived the war.

  16. Laura, are you actually drawing on the original letters? If that is the case then I cannot approve. Those letters have been kept and treasured for 67 years and you have split them up, drawn on them and are selling them in the name of commercial enterprise! It's not lovely at all, it's sheer vandalism! And yes, what a slap in the face for these people if they're still living. I hope the money you make from them brings you no pleasure at all.
    Fleur,I enjoy your blog and have followed it for at least 2 years. No offence to you personally, but how could you consider buying one of these?
    I am truly outraged

    1. How could I consider buying one? Because, as I clearly state, I think it's a wonderful way of preserving something ephemeral. I'm assuming Ruth's family sold the letters odd when she died - as I posted her obituary above. She married another man and besides, when most people die their effects are put in the bin. This way, the two and their relationship live on forever. Art, is, as it always has been and always will be, subjective.

  17. Yeah, it's kind of sad if she's illustrating on the actual letters. I have all my military man's letters, and I would be kind of upset if someone drew right on them. She could always scan them and reprint! Then she could keep the letters intact, use them over and over again by using the scan reprint, and not upset anyone!

    1. Because her illustrations are truly really beautiful! I think it's a lovely idea, just maybe not right on the actual letters. The same look could be accomplished by reprinting them.

    2. I disagree but that's what life's all about! ;) I'm sure you'd feel differently if you were no longer together and also you'd passed away after 60 years married to another man :)

  18. Hi everyone, Thank you so much for your comments and feedback on my work. I was very much prepared for a divide in opinion and I expected the reservations that some people have had about my use of the original letters.

    My work is very much centered around the use of various paper ephemera and I am particularly fascinated by items that have served their original purpose and yet continue to exist through sentiment or historic appreciation. The letters were not used in my work on a whim and I spent well over a year considering how best to do them justice as I too appreciate that they were once precious keepsakes to the lady they were written to. However, these letters found their way to an ephemera dealer, perhaps via a house sale after Ruth's death in 2007 no longer able to fulfill the purpose of providing comfort and memories to her and not considered precious enough by her family members to hold on to as of course they were written by a man who did not become her husband. I stumbled upon them and bought them solely with the vision of using them in my work rather than having them put away in a drawer until they were perhaps passed on again.

    As with most Art, controversy often has a large part to play. If I have begun a debate and divided opinion then I have succeeded in evoking an emotional reaction which these works deserve. The letters allow a rare glimpse of a past and lifestyle so far removed from our own and I can honestly say that if in 67 years, my own letters to my Soldier boyfriend could be celebrated in a similar way I would be honoured. As for commercial enterprise, I sell my work because I must and not because I want to. If I could keep each and every piece then I would but with the pressures of rent and bills to pay it is simply not possible to keep them all.

    I believe I am preserving these beautiful letters in a way that they can go on being appreciated for many years to come.

  19. Hi,

    Bit of a Johnny Come Lately here but I'd like to say that I think these letters are beautiful. I myself recently came across a box of hundreds of letters written by my great grandfather to my great grandmother, written during the second world war between 1939 and 1946. They start right at the beginning before they had even met (she wrote to him as a favor to his sister)and details their first meeting, marriage, birth of their first child and end when he was discharged from the army having lost a leg to a bomb. I'm fascinated by the way you have chosen to commemorate these letters, I myself have chosen to transcribe each letter (many of my family are unable to read the handwriting) and construct a book showing each letter, transcription and some research on some of the information held within. I think that handwritten letters like these are pieces of art in themselves, they took an amount of time and dedication to produce and receive that in the modern day we rarely commit to anything and I think your illustrations really enhance this and make them even more special.


  20. The artwork is lovely, but I would prefer that the original letters stayed intact. It's too bad that the family didn't want them- they were obviously treasured by the woman who passed away, even if she didn't end up marrying him.

    My family has a box of letters, photos and other ephemera from WWI. The two teenage brothers who went to fight in the war both died, so they did not leave any direct descendents (that we know of!) but the box is like a century-old time capsule. I intend to help my grandma scan the letters and then protect them in archival-quality sheet protectors- that way they can be read and shared without subjecting them to further handling.

  21. I think that drawing on the original letters is vandalism. Look at how touched we all were after reading one, now future generations will not have the option. You are a lovely artist but what do pretty birds have to do with the content of this letter? This is the same as when Colin Firth's wife destroyed vintage dresses to make a new one - blatant disrespect for the past.

  22. I think this is really beautiful and a great use for the letters which would otherwise not be seen or enjoyed half as much.

  23. Really late to the party here, but stumbled across this story late tonight, and along with others, I was intrigued by the story of the people behind the letters. I found that Ruth married Tony Sammons in 1952 and they stayed married till he died in 1995. Such a long marriage! As posted 10 Jul by Judith, James B. Mott also married just about the same time (1951). It appeared his 1st wife Martha died in 1968 and he remarried.

    You have a piece of his history and are sharing it online... if you're so inclined, you could also share it with Mr. Mott. His address is easily found online. Maybe he would share more of the story, who knows?


I welcome all comments, praise and constructive criticism alike! Please note, though, that I don't respond to anonymous comments. If you want to offer a criticism then have the conviction to do so publicly. I thank you!

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