Friday, September 3, 2010

I Don't Need the Notoriety - My Protagonist Does

By Kim

Carl Ahrens website
Some of you know from an earlier post that I originally wrote my current work-in-progress, The Oak Lovers, as narrative non-fiction. An agent assured me that format would make for an easier sell and I took her advice, understanding that ‘easier sell’ is a relative term. While my protagonist, Carl Ahrens, was internationally known and respected in the art world during his lifetime, his fame ended with his death in 1936. In order to have any hope of convincing a publisher he deserved resurrecting, I required an outstanding platform. I spent two years doing intensive research, writing and polishing my proposal, helping organize two exhibitions of my great-grandfather’s work, giving speeches and, most importantly, building a website.

Now that The Oak Lovers is a novel, the proposal collects dust in a drawer and I know that my two published articles on Carl are unlikely to count for much to a prospective agent. I continue to expand and maintain the website, however. Other writers occasionally hint that my time would be better spent finishing the novel I’m promoting and that building a web presence now is a bit premature. I won’t be offended if you agree.
Carl as a young man

My justification is simple: I don’t need the notoriety, but Carl Ahrens does. An artist once dubbed the greatest tree painter who ever lived is now a footnote in art history books. Most merely refer to him as a ‘friend and contemporary of Homer Watson.’ (Unless you live in Waterloo County, Ontario, or have studied Canadian art history, you won’t have a clue who Homer Watson is.)

As Carl’s great-grandchild, my claim that he’s a brilliant and unfairly neglected artist means nothing. Yet I can and have created a virtual art gallery with over a hundred examples of his work, allowing visitors to judge the quality for themselves. They may also learn about his life, see candid photographs of his adventures, or contact me.

Oak lovers
Maintaining the website, while time consuming, is well worth the effort. I’ve located and documented over 300 works of art without having to leave my home. Art dealers and auction houses in three countries consult me to authenticate work or answer questions from potential buyers. Respected art historians ask me to speculate about Carl’s reasoning behind his public press war with the Group of Seven, something that continues to haunt his image today. Archives and galleries shower me with hundreds of pages of correspondence written by my great-grandparents (usually free of charge). Artists offer to answer technical questions. A curator even approached me to help arrange the first exhibition of Carl’s paintings since 1937. I spoke at the opening and saw the gaping expressions of patrons touring the room.

“Why have we never heard of him before?” many asked me.

Why, indeed. That’s a very interesting story, and thanks to my website I have many more people waiting to hear it.

What about you? At what point would you consider building a website? If you already have one, have you found it to be a useful tool?


  1. Excellent post, Kim. You clearly show the necessity for building a web presence for The Oak Lovers. It's such a beautiful and informative site. BTW, love the title.

  2. Thanks! As you know, I struggle with titles!

  3. I've debated building a website. I have a blog and I feel it's a way to stay close to my readers. I think a website is so distant. But, perhaps in the future I might...


  4. Hi Clarissa,

    I wouldn't have built a website for myself yet, but the one for Carl is a fun project and has helped me build a contact list and obtain research materials more easily.

    By the way, I LOVE your profile picture. With this book I spend a great deal of time listening to 'the voices' and that tree looks like something my great-grandfather would have painted.

  5. This is a great post. I know your website has helped you so much with research and interest in Carl. It has been worth every minute, I'm sure. By the way - Happy Birthday!!!


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  7. Kim,
    your entry truly does inspire curiosity in your readers! within moments of reading this my head was abuzz with how interesting your great grandfather was, I immediately went to the site you built for him and am taking it all in. as a fellow writer, I can appreciate the YEARS that go into a project like this and I imagine that many people would have you give up. It is amazing what you have done and in reading the except that you have shared, I have no doubt that soon we will be picking up The Oak Lovers at our local booksellers. thank you for sharing this treat, not all of us have had ancestors of such interest (that we know of).

  8. Thank you so much, Tracie Lynn! Your comment was a great birthday present and completely made my day.

    Yes, this has been a long project, especially with the genre change. I'm about 100 pages from having a completed manuscript, and what I do have done is polished, since I am a compulsive re-writer. After that I begin my agent search.

    You'd be surprised what you may find in your family tree. While doing the research for this book I discovered that one of Carl's cousins was an artist, too, and quite a character. She appears in The Oak Lovers and Carl will appear in her book as their lives overlapped. There's a Revolutionary War hero with an incredible untold story in my family tree as well.

    Thank you for stopping by the blog and Carl's website. I'll be adding more to the website when I get some paintings back from the conservator. (They are being cleaned and restored.)


  9. I haven't ever concentrated my efforts on building a website, but I do appreciate all of your efforts to create one for Carl Ahrens. I am also his direct descendant and I remember seeing the old photos of him and his family when I was a teen. Among the images were photos of them at the California missions, Carl playing the violin, and his studio in Big Trees. His artwork was displayed in our aunts' homes and I could immediately appreciate his genius. The nature in his painting and prints have a life-like quality that few artists can replicate. Thank you for continuing to keep his legacy alive when it was almost forgotten by the public.

  10. Thanks, Dan! I know you're proud of him, too. :-)

  11. The description of your diligent and exciting journey in your research and the development of the website for Carl was so well done. The website is truly a gift to everyone. Before and after your book comes out it is a great site to visit and revisit.

    I spent a long time just browsing through all of the paintings. There are so many more to enjoy than when I last visited the site. What a wonderful accomplishment--not just for your family, but for all those who enjoy art. Carl's paintings are stunning. Every tree painting is unique. The way he uses color is so satisfying to the eye. No wonder you have had such a great response and a rebirth of enthusiasm for his art.

    I also read some of the excerpts from your book "The Oak Lovers." What a lot of revision you have done since you first started. I'm pleased that I got to read the first drafts of chapters when you first started the book. You have continued to perfect your craft. What a joy it will be when "The Oak Lovers" is in print and in my library.


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