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Beatrix Potter in New London on the Thames River

From June 9th to 11th, I attended “Beatrix Potter in New London on the Thames River,” a Beatrix Potter Society symposium at Connecticut College’s Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives. Lear, a ConnColl alum and author of two award-winning biographies (Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature, 1997; and Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, 2007), donated her research materials on Carson and Potter to the college, as well as funds to renovate a suite of rooms on the second floor of the Shain Library. The Lear Center has state-of-the-art archive storage, offices, and super-inviting reading rooms with both study tables and comfy armchairs. Children’s book enthusiasts should note that the archive also houses the Helen O. Gildersleeve collection of children’s books, a strong Oz collection, and Louis Darling’s papers. What’s not to love?

The Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives.   Photo: Connecticut College.

Linda Lear. Photo: Marta McDowell.

Potter conferences like this symposium attract a mix of enthusiasts and scholars who enjoy catching up with old friends and meeting new kindred spirits. There were about sixty attendees from the US, Canada, England, and Japan. Conference organizers Betsy Bray and Kathy Cole planned a mix of panels and presentations with Linda Lear acting as host, moderator, and speaker at various times.

I participated in two panels, one Saturday about Potter’s North American friends (including Horn Book founder Bertha Mahony Miller) and another on Sunday covering research methods and opportunities. Back in March and April, I had a breakthrough in my ongoing search for information about Mary F. Gill, Potter’s first American correspondent. This was a perfect opportunity to share what I’d learned and encourage others to join the hunt.

Mandy Marshall selling iPad cases made from Herdwick wool. Photo: Marta McDowell.

Highlights of the weekend for me included hearing from Mandy Marshall, who lives in Castle Cottage, the house in Near Sawrey where Potter lived with her husband starting in 1913. Mandy runs a business manufacturing and selling products made from Herdwick tweed. (Herdwicks are a distinctive and hearty breed of sheep favored by Potter and raised on all her farms in the Lake District.)

I enjoyed catching up with Mark Samuels Lasner, a book collector who loaned two pen-and-ink rabbit drawings by Potter to the first exhibition I curated at the Eric Carle Museum. Mark is an enthusiastic scholar who epitomizes the Grollier Club ethos of people who just love books, period. He’s also as modest as he is smart. I discovered later that he had recently donated a book collection worth $10M to the University of Delaware. Whoa.

Mark Samuels Lasner talks about archives containing Potter materials. Photo: Marta McDowell.

I also finally met Caroline Fraser, who wrote “Peter Rabbit and the Tale of a Fierce Bad Publisher,” a gutsy and well-researched article in the May/June 2013 Horn Book Magazine. Caroline spoke on a panel about the many Beatrix Potter biographies, pointing out how each book differed from the others, often due to the author’s interests and chosen focus. I was especially interested in hearing the panelists discuss various picture book biographies for children.

At breakfast Sunday morning we had a choice of three tables to sit at, each with an expert leading a conversation on a particular topic. I was tempted to become a hobbit eating second and third breakfast so I could attend all three, but that wasn’t an option. I noticed that Marta McDowell, who took many of the photos in this post, had a lively group talking about Beatrix Potter and gardening. Marta has written a number of gardening books, including Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life and The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes that Inspired the Little House Books.

If you want to know more about the Beatrix Potter Society, check out their website. If you are not ready to become a member yet, consider signing up for their free e-newsletter, “Pottering About.”

Yasuko Fujiwara of Hiroshima, Japan, speaks to attendees after dinner. Betsy Bray, one of the symposium organizers, is on the right. Photo: Marta McDowell.

A small part of the Shain Library’s exhibit on fantasy animals in late Victorian children’s literature. The Linda Lear Center is in the background. Photo: Lolly Robinson.

Linda Lear relaxing with her friends Peter Rabbit (Meredith McClung) and Beatrix Potter (Fran Gray). Photo: Kathy Cole.




Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Connie Ryle Neumann says:

    Thank you, Lolly, for sharing a lovely glimpse of the recent Beatrix Potter Symposium. I regretted having to miss attending this and missed seeing you all. I will look forward to reading more about your findings in a later review.

    The LauraPalooza conference is coming up soon in Springfield, MO, this July 11th-14th. (Please see We are fortunate to have both Marta McDowell and Caroline Fraser speaking there as well. There is still so much to explore in the worlds of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Beatrix Potter!

    Thanks again for sharing!

  2. Thanks for the highlights, Lolly. And the shout out!

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