Viola Käumlen, “Dear Bee: Loving letters to a daughter 1927-1935.”

Book box tied with a cord and adorned with a brass medallion, embossed with the portrait of a woman


Box closed and open with stack of pouches, bound together by a silk ribbon, and three individual pouches (closed)


Various views of the box closed and details of the box’s content as well as individual pouches and content of pouches, e.g. replica of paper clippings, replica of scrap money, descriptive texts


Content of one pouch “The Story” with one original envelope, photo of letters in suitcase, replica of suitcase tag


Content of one pouch “The Early Years” with replicas of original family photos, and descriptive texts


Artist: Viola Käumlen (Bever, Switzerland)

Title: Dear Bee: Loving letters to a daughter 1927-1935  (2012)

Medium/technique(s): Book art, photography

Edition size: 6

Dimensions, open: 11 x 7.5 x 2.25 inches

Dimensions, closed: 5.5 x 7.5 x 2.25 inches


Artist Statement:

It was in spring of 2010 when walking through a Flea Market on the Boston South Shore my eyes fell upon an old, beautiful and battered suitcase, a well-traveled companion. Nametags were still on it, a woman’s name, the corners fortified with brass ornaments and the lock intact. I felt instantly drawn to it, opened it; it was full of letters. All were still in their original envelopes; stamps attached and bore the same beautiful handwriting. The letters I had found were letters of a mother to her daughter Beatrice (Bee) who left her home in Plymouth, MA in 1927 to go to college in Salem, MA and continue through 1935.

This led to an investigation of not only the women concerned but the era in which they lived, with the pertinent information on the times: the Sacco-Vanzetti case, the Lindbergh kidnapping, the Great Depression, local industry (in which Bee’s father worked) The Cordage Company, their church in Plymouth where they lived (the first church established by the Mayflower colonists), social welfare programs. Unusual for the times, Beatrice Arthur left her parent’s home in Plymouth, MA to attend Salem State College in what was then far-off Salem. Her mother’s letters of this eight-year period are the very stuff of social history as well as the poignant details of one family’s struggle to survive in very hard times. Four of the 13 pouches hold general information about how the letters were found, the history of the family (Mr. Arthur was an immigrant from Scotland), and a conclusion. The other nine pouches are related each to one of the years Mary wrote to her daughter. I was able to locate the family home in Plymouth and learned that Bee had passed away in 2009 at the age of 99, a devoted educator for all of her life. With information about health epidemics, social issues – the Arthur’s must deal with payment in “scrip” instead of real money, criminal cases of local and national interest, as well as the role of the local church and welfare societies in everyday life. Beatrice Arthur, the “Dear Bee” of the letters, is perhaps the prototype of the 20th century woman who earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Education and completed post-graduate work at Harvard, Boston University and Bridgewater State College and worked summers in the Plymouth Cooperative Bank, the Plymouth Cordage Company office, and as a civil service secretary in the U.S. government as well as marrying and raising her step-children.

I located family photographs, postcards from the era, paper clippings and greeting cards, all of which were scanned in and reproduced on an archival inkjet printer on a range of papers. The fonts used are Helvetica for my own writing and general information texts and Lucida Handwriting for the excerpts of Mary Arthur’s letters.

This 5.5” x 7.5” x 2.25” artist’s book consists of a box and 13 pouches. The two-part box is covered with book cloth, held together by a silk cord and adorned with the medallion of a young lady. Edition of 6.