Ellen B. Hirschland and Nancy Hirschland Ramage
The Cone Sisters of Baltimore: Collecting at Full Tilt (Northwestern)
If you're looking for the definitive Cone Sisters biography, this isn't it. But if you'll settle for an indsider-ish and insightful look at the lives of Baltimore's renowned art collectors, you'll find this an enjoyable read. Written by Etta and Claribel's great niece, Ellen Hirschland, and Ellen's daughter, Nancy, it presents the Cones as favorite aunts—which they surely were—and that approach has its pros and cons. As family members, the authors have first-hand experiences to relate, as Ellen's diary entry from June 30, 1936, indicates: "Aunt Etta and I went to Matisse's home again, where the most wonderful, most remarkable and very thrilling thing happened—he gave me a drawing."
Ellen witnessed the evolution of the Cone Collection, from visiting with the likes of Matisse to seeing his work hanging in her aunts' Baltimore apartment. She discussed art with Etta and Claribel and was privy to the development of their refined, yet idiosyncratic, artistic tastes. If such intimacy is the book's main strength, it also contributes to its primary weakness—a lack of objectivity. The Hirschlands tend to gloss over personal shortcomings and shy away from potentially thorny topics, such as sexuality. As a result, their account of the Cones, though fascinating, feels incomplete.
The Wave-Maker (Norton)
Middle age isn't so bad, especially if you're a poet with keen observational powers syncing up superbly with the slower pace of life. That seems to be the case with Spires, who casts a meditative gaze at everything from snails to traffic on Cold Spring Lane, often with thrilling results. Throughout these poems, she transcends the mundane with an intellectual intensity tempered by zen-like calm and understated wit.