Under the Cover: Sleuthing the cover art of Wind Leaves Absence

August 23, 2016

Poet Mary Maxwell shares her story of cover-sourcing in the age of the internet: how some careful search terms, determination, and poetry-inclined trustees resulted in the perfect image for her debut collection, Wind Leaves Absence (Thistledown Press).

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When searching for a cover image for my first book of poems, Wind Leaves Absence, I explored the internet for images of wind and found hundreds of photos of wind erosion, wind tunnels, and windswept landscapes. Many of these were striking and gorgeous but too clichéd for what I thought fit the content of the book. I contacted the Saskatchewan Arts Board and looked at the archived paintings of Saskatchewan artists with the help of one of the staff members there, but we couldn’t come up with a painting that would work well for a book cover (images too small, colours not vibrant enough, or digital image of the art piece was unavailable). The publisher sent a few images that she found but I thought them too generic, the black and white image nondescript, again, clichéd images. I wanted an image that would catch the eye, make people stop and pick up the book.


So I Googled “open window,” “wind blowing through windows” and, among other sites, a book of the art of Philip C. Curtis, an American painter, appeared. I had to page through the book (which was all online) and the images in his paintings immediately resonated with me. I found a number of images I liked but the one that caught me was “The Little Daisy.” I loved the image of wind blowing through open windows and the ragged cloth adrift, bits of the building askew on the ground. The image showed a structure that had been disturbed by wind, perhaps a storm, resonant of grief disturbing the landscape of one’s life. Yet the structure still stands, its windows wide open, a desert landscape in the distance; an apt metaphor.

I searched the internet for where these paintings were archived and found they were registered at the Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, AZ. First I sent the image to the publisher and was advised that using the image might not be possible since the artist was American (and deceased); too complicated and too expensive. Undaunted, I emailed the museum and heard almost immediately from a director who asked for some details: what the book was about, who was the publisher, what would be the publishing run, etc. I complied with her request, below:


The book is a book of poems called Wind Leaves Absence and it’s about grief and loss and the effects on a family. How unresolved grief can rip the fabric of family love into tatters and shreds, how it can blow open the doors and windows of sanity, distorting reality and jeopardizing relationships. This is my first book and the best cover image I have found is Philip C Curtis’s painting The Little Daisy. It captures what I am trying to say in the book and I would love to use it if at all possible. I find his work both inspiring and disturbing.


In reply, she offered to send my request to the artist’s estate. Within days I heard from a Philip J. Curtis who is a lawyer in a law firm in Jackson, MI (and perhaps a relative) who said he’d check with the co-trustee of the Philip C. Curtis Charitable Trust for the Encouragement of Art which held the rights to the images of his work. He also offered a digital image of the piece that would be suitable for the cover image, and added that the subject of the book held interest for him as he too had been deeply affected by grief and the loss had changed his life. In the end he sent the digital image directly to the publisher, charitably donated, and it was used on the cover of my book.

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And we think it fits perfectly! Thanks to Mary for sharing this story with us, and to Stephanie at Thistledown for making the connection. For more behind-the-scenes of the latest in CanLit, click here.


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