Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


Stories, Pictures, and Fabrics

 [Image credits follow below.]

Recently I got a little sidetracked listening to director Sydney Pollack talk about his 1985 film, Out of Africa. (Despite his Oscars, I'll always remember Pollack as Will Truman's dad.) I was really just trying to find in-depth information about the movie's set decoration and costume design. From the incredible clothes worn by Malick Bowens' Somali character,  Farah, to the European upholstery, the Indian marketplace in Nairobi, and the assorted African textiles representing various groups, Out of Africa is filled with beautiful fabric. Maybe I haven't picked up the right DVD (2010 marks the film's 25th anniversary) but I still haven't stumbled across a bonus interview with costume designer Milena Canonero or the late set decorator Josie MacAvin.

I'm so curious to know where Canonero found the fabrics for Farah's turbans. Interestingly, one version he wears is vaguely similar to Martyn Lawrence-Bullard's Sultan's Garden.  There is a bonus documentary, Song of Africa, that features set illustrations as background, however nothing is said about them.

For Pollack, the crux of the movie is all about possessiveness, in terms of the romantic relationship between the lead characters Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton (Meryl Streep and Robert Redford) and of course the larger backdrop, European colonialism in Africa. So belongings -- crystal, china, furniture -- are strong compoments in the story. As Streep's character evolves and learns more about Kenya, African pieces make subtle appearences in her house and wardrobe. If the screengrab above isn't too small, check out the pillows above.

[Blixen, Karen; Isak Dinesen. Out of Africa. London: Putnam (1937). First edition available through Quill & Brush.]

Doing research, I did discover various vintage book jacket designs for Blixen's Out of Africa. The art for the first edition emphasizes the writer's poetic description of the landscape, looks a bit like British Tree-of-Life designs, and was probably meant to have romantic appeal to European audiences. 

[Image via Turrn the Page Books.]

Moving into the 1950s, the design is more graphic and seems to take inspiration from African textiles. Not surprisingly, I love the green chosen for this version and, to me at least, the animal drawings suggest some of the work by Blixen's employee, Kamante Gatura. His watercolors and his own interpretation of "Out of Africa" were compiled by Peter Beard in the 1975 book, Longing For Darkness : Kamante's Tales from Out of Africa. (Click here for details on a current exhibition of Kamante Gatura's art.)

[Image via Peter Beard.]

In the early 80s, Modern Library published an edition of Out of Africa with a stylizd woodcut illustration by Stephen Alcorn on the cover. And around the same time Penguin published a version with a striking portrait. But, from what I can tell, after the movie release, most editions featured a still from the film. (In case you didn't know, the film is only loosely based on Blixen's stories, which offer little detail of her relationship with Finch Hatton and contain many more paradoxes.)  

I'd say the evolution of the book jacket echoes the pattern observed in this post. By the way, the first edition even had a chic, imaginatively designed cloth binding with bird under the jacket (click here to see) and the 1937 Danish edition is very eye-catching. Wish I knew something about the illustrator.  If you do, I'd love to hear from you.

Click here for an African textiles reading list.

[Image via Amazon.]


P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

again, we are on the same page- I am reading again the Isak Dinesen short stories. It seems to be relevant right now. Gaye

Style Court said...

Gaye -- Always happy to be on the same page with you!

Style Court said...

Another seemingly small -- but not small reference to nature -- is the abundant use of loose, natural flower arrangements and indoor plants.

Mary Ellen (ME) said...

I love this post...I adore beautiful books! The penguin classics are lovely and that 1937, 1st edition of Out of Africa from Putnam is gorgeous! I've never seen the movie with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep... but if the whole movie is as beautiful as that screengrab, i'm getting it! Thanks for great info!

Ann said...

What an interesting topic! The book jackets are each wonderful in their own right.

And that shot of Robert Redford...! (I've always thought he was so handsome.) :)

Style Court said...

ME --

The screengrab barely does justice to the movie! You have to see it.

Also Amy over at design*sponge did a fun post:

Glad you like the book covers :)

Style Court said...

Hi Ann,

Glad you liked it too. That screengrab isn't half bad :)

Maureen Sullivan Stemberg, Interiors said...

What a delightful post to reading on this lovely Sunday evening. I, too have been reading, short stories of Isak Dinesen. I loved the screengrab. I always, adored the movie and once again, this post.

Betty said...

So coincidental....I'm about to finish Isak Dinesen's Letters from Africa 1914-1931. First read Out of Africa several years before that gorgeous wonderful movie came out. Just recently thought of it all again....have ordered The Illustrated Out of Africa to read again, and Kamante's book.

Gwen Driscoll said...

Oh, just love that movie and the book jackets are beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Have a great week ahead.

rosiecampbell said...

I love this post. The books are all so beautiful and would be such a wonderful addition to any library. I watched that movie for the millionth time a few weeks ago and found myself once again mesmorized by not only the story and the characters, but the scenery, her artifacts and the clothing. Everything! Such a special movie. I also just read a biography on Denys. Truly a magical time to be in Africa.

Vicki said...

A beautiful movie. The visuals are stunning. A wonderful story, your post did it justice.

La Maison Fou said...

One of my favorite classical & good looking I might add love stories!

I recently stumbled upon a copy of the picture for a mere $5.

Must see again as it has been quite too long!

Sabu's digs were enticingly romantic and classic safari.


Brilliant Asylum said...

I love this. I am a sucker for all directorial commentaries--especially for such a beautiful film. So interesting. And I love the book jacket designs you found too.

Unknown said...

If you ever find out the name of the Illustrator on ANY of the dust jackets (but particularly the green one), please let me know! I've been trying to track it down for years and think it's a shame that they aren't credited on the jacket or in the book itself. I may just email Random House and ask...I'll be sure to let you know if I find anything out :)