The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland: A Discussion Guide

Use this extensive guide when teaching Susan Vreeland's novel The Forest Lover.
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Updated on: October 10, 2006
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Collaborative Research Projects

Divide the class into groups and assign each one a research task. Start with the bibliography at the end of this guide. Arrange library and computer terminal time for the class. Each group then prepares a presentation giving the results of its discoveries.

  1. Examine the totem pole as a cultural expression. What is its purpose? What does it reveal about the societies which carved and erected them? What are the different kinds of totemic figures in Northwest Coast cultures from Alaska through British Columbia to Washington? What other totemic figures exist in other cultures? (T-W)

  2. Compare the US government's treatment of Native Americans to the Canadian government's treatment of Native Canadians. What similarities do you find? Discover specific historic examples with details, dates, places, events. Include in your consideration the education of young people in government sponsored residential schools run by missionaries. (T-W)

  3. Read Vreeland's other novel about a female painter, The Passion of Artemisia. What obstacles to full creative expression did each of these women face? How did each handle the issue of marriage as it applies to her art? Compare the similarities and distinguish the differences in Artemisia's and Emily's natures and in the obstacles both of them experienced in striving toward their goal of the full development of their art. If they were to have a conversation across time, what issues would they discuss? How would they feel about the other person's work? Compose the dialogue for such a hypothetical discussion. (T-T)

  4. Select another female artist and do a comparison of her life, her attitudes, her cultural climate, her time in history and in art history, her artistic themes, and her style to Emily's in all these categories. (T-W)

Here are some women to consider, but there are more:
  • Georgia O'Keeffe, American, takes up natural themes in the Southwest; labeled by critics as a shameless nymphomaniac

  • Frida Kahlo, Mexican, wife of Diego Rivera, yes the same person as in the recent movie, Frida; horrible life-long suffering – look at any of her paintings and you'll see it

  • Mary Cassatt, American Impressionist, considered oh-so-feminine; painted themes of motherhood

  • Berthe Morisot, French Impressionist, central to Impressionist movement--was she in love with Degas?

  • Judith Leyster, Dutch Renaissance painter who eclipsed her famous teacher but died an unknown

  • Suzanne Valadon, self-taught French Modernist, bohemian and rebel

  • Hildegard von Bingen, German medieval illuminator of manuscripts, nun, and advisor to monarchs

  • Angelica Hauffmann, 18th century Swiss who played hardball with the big boys

  • Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, court painter to Marie Antoinette, a dangerous liaison

  • Camille Claudel, French; lover, model, and student of Rodin; sex, lies, sculpture, madness, tragedy, and despair

  • Käthe Kollwitz, German, caught in Nazi political crossfire; felt all art is political

You might find The Guerrilla Girls Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art, to be enlightening as well as an amusing, wisecracking romp. Author: The Guerrilla Girls, (they are unknown, which is to say, they keep their identities secret). Publisher: Penguin, 1998 [ISBN: 0-14-02.5997x]. They ask: Why haven't more women been considered great artists throughout Western history? Why do we always have to be called "women artists"? They don't call Rembrandt and van Gogh "male artists." Why does being African American and female make it twice as hard for my work to be remembered? Beware: the Guerrilla Girls make trouble!

A Collaborative Creative Project

In groups of five or six, have each group construct a traditional stacked totem pole using one figure for each student which represents himself. (T-S) Group decisions must include: medium (paper, cardboard, clay, wood--balsa wood is obtainable at hobby shops and is easily cut and carved--paint, crayon or colored pencil). If it is three-dimensional, it must be self standing. If it is two dimensional, the front and back views must be shown separately, with the back providing some interest as well as the front. Dimensions, degree of taper, order and integration of figures (overlap or connection between figures as the Haida poles do -- see Chapter Ten of The Forest Lover) must be harmoniously decided by consensus of the group.

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