In Mountain Laurel, an enslaved woman named Seona finds a small measure of freedom by drawing the world and people around her—in secret. Author Lori Benton shared the inspiration for Seona’s artistic passion. Read below what Lori wrote.
I suppose I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to hold a crayon. Doing so is one of my earliest memories. As a child I remained passionate in my pursuit of art—wildlife art in particular. In high school, blessed with a wonderful art teacher, I gravitated toward art as a career. The summer after high school graduation, I earned (by a written essay) a spot in a program in which graduates from around the country worked as summer interns in various positions around the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, near where I grew up. My favorite Smithsonian museum had always been the Natural History Museum, and that’s where I spent the summer after high school, working in the graphic art department, surrounded by the wonderful wildlife and world history I adored.
That same year the museum hosted an extensive showing of Canadian artist Robert Bateman’s wildlife paintings. Following that summer, I majored in fine art for two years of college, but I learned nearly as much about the art of painting wildlife simply by standing in front of Bateman’s work for hours on end as I did during those two years. After college I embarked on a career as a wildlife artist, participating in shows and seeing some of my work hang in a gallery near my hometown. Then the writing bug bit.
When I came to write Mountain Laurel (in 2004), one of the highlights for me was taking Seona on a journey of growth as an artist that had parallels to my own. Until I began studying art at the collegiate level, much of the artwork I’d done was instinctive. My freshman year taught me the basic principles of design and opened my eyes to why some of my work was stronger than others—because I’d employed those principles without a working knowledge of them. It was fun taking Seona, who’d drawn in secret for years, on that same deep dive into a craft she loved.
At the time I wrote Seona’s artistic journey, it was also an expression of loss—my own. Writing had consumed my creative energy, leaving little to give to the visual arts, which had been relegated to a rarely practiced hobby. For decades I longed for enough time and energy to pursue art and writing simultaneously, but could find neither, until I took up landscape photography in 2016 and learned how creative one could be with digital editing.
At last that longing for visual artistic expression, specifically related to the natural world, was satisfied again, just as Seona’s was in ways she could never have imagined, until Ian Cameron opened that door for her.