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Biography & Autobiography Artists, Architects, Photographers

Flower Diary

In Which Mary Hiester Reid Paints, Travels, Marries & Opens a Door

by (author) Molly Peacock

ECW Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2021
Artists, Architects, Photographers
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2021
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2021
    List Price
  • Downloadable audio file

    Publish Date
    Feb 2022
    List Price

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“Graceful yet precise, poetic yet deeply rooted in research, this exploration of an overlooked painter is gorgeous — a joy to read. Molly Peacock’s insights and empathy with her subject bring to life both Mary Hiester Reid and her luscious flower paintings.” — Charlotte Gray, author of The Massey Murder

Molly Peacock uncovers the history of neglected painter Mary Hiester Reid, a trailblazing artist who refused to choose between marriage and a career.

Born into a patrician American family in the middle of the nineteenth century, Mary Hiester Reid was determined to be a painter and left behind women’s design schools to enter the art world of men. After she married fellow artist George Reid, she returned with him to his home country of Canada. There she set about creating over 300 stunning still life and landscape paintings, inhabiting a rich, if sometimes difficult, marriage, coping with a younger rival, exhibiting internationally, and becoming well-reviewed. She studied in Paris, traveled in Spain, and divided her time between Canada and the United States where she lived among America’s Arts and Crafts movement titans. She left slender written records; rather, her art became her diary and Flower Diary unfolds with an artwork for each episode of her life.

In this sumptuous and precisely researched biography, celebrated poet and biographer Molly Peacock brings Mary Hiester Reid, foremother of painters such as Georgia O’Keefe, out of the shadows, revealing a fascinating, complex woman who insisted on her right to live as a married artist, not as a tragic heroine. Peacock uses her poet’s skill to create a structurally inventive portrait of this extraordinary woman whom modernism almost swept aside, weaving threads of her own marriage with Hiester Reid’s, following the history of empathy and examining how women manage the demands of creativity and domesticity, coping with relationships, stoves, and steamships, too. How do you make room for art when you must go to the market to buy a chicken for dinner? Hiester Reid had her answers, as Peacock gloriously discovers.


About the author

Molly Peacock is the author of six volumes of poetry, including The Second Blush (McClelland & Stewart, 2009) and Cornucopia: New & Selected Poems (W.W. Norton); a memoir, Paradise, Piece by Piece; and a one-woman show in poems, “The Shimmering Verge” produced by Louise Fagan Productions (London, Ontario). She has been series editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English since 2007, as well as a contributing editor of the Literary Review of Canada and a faculty mentor at the Spalding MFA Program. Her poetry, published in leading literary journals in North America and the UK, is widely anthologized. Her latest work of nonfiction is The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72 (McClelland & Stewart, 2010).

Molly Peacock's profile page


  • Winner, IPPY Awards

Excerpt: Flower Diary: In Which Mary Hiester Reid Paints, Travels, Marries & Opens a Door (by (author) Molly Peacock)


She left a door ajar. Likely you don’t know her name. She slipped through a threshold she made—into the almost impossible-to-balance world of love and art. Over three hundred paintings and a lifelong commitment to a partner: she’s one of the artists from the past who made it possible to live and love in the present. Often, we who look for models of creativity learn the names of those who banged down doors and wrecked their own and others’ lives. But she, who mined a rich and unconventional interior life while clothed in discrete propriety, turned the handle more quietly. And handle is a word that belongs to this woman who made still lifes like diary pages and landscapes like dream logs. She planned and coped, sized up situations, then seized moments, managing a subtle ménage with her painter husband and their talented younger student in a stiff society, all the while making five transatlantic journeys and creating some of the most devastatingly expressive works you’ve likely never seen, signing them Mary Hiester Reid.


Editorial Reviews


“Part memoir, part biography, this is a beautifully written and layered volume that opens its arms wide and encompasses art, domesticity, the intimacy of marriage and of death. Lush and beautifully produced.” — Toronto Star

Flower Diary is written with the lingering observations and lyrical touch of an established poet, yet with an easygoing, conversational tone often lacking in didactic art biographies.” — Quill & Quire

Flower Diary, published by ECW Press, with its carefully reproduced paintings, gorgeous endpapers and glossy paper stock, puts it in the running as the most stunning book to come out of Canadian publishing this year.” — Toronto Star

“In prose as subtle and enchanting as Mary Hiester Reid’s own brushstrokes, Flower Diary paints a compelling portrait of a talented and unjustly neglected painter. Molly Peacock is unfailingly sensitive and intelligent, and at times deeply moving, as she shows how, despite the shade of domestic life and the unfavourable climate of the times, MHR brought forth her bright blossoms.” — Ross King, author of Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies

“In Flower Diary, Molly Peacock has produced an exquisitely unique work. A meticulous biography that’s also an eloquent, sophisticated portrait of intimate relationships, this book is about many things: the discipline required to make fine art, the emotional resilience required to sustain a marriage, the emotional turbulence hiding inside ‘simple’ floral paintings. Most of all, though, it’s a clear-eyed, unsentimental tribute to those who have the luck and fortitude to carry out their lives on their own terms. I devoured every detail, and was both moved and inspired.” — Meghan Daum, author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects Of Discussion


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