Deborah Yaffe

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Destination BookBench

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 12 2016 01:00PM

Next year, as all Janeites know, marks the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death, and I feel safe in predicting that 2017 will see an avalanche of commemorative events: exhibits, lectures, book launches, theatrical performances, television programs, movie marathons. . .


And also benches. Or so we learned last week, when Destination Basingstoke, the non-profit dedicated to promoting that unromantically named southeastern England town, announced Sitting With Jane, a public art trail scheduled for next summer.


The trail will consist of twenty-five benches – real, full-size, available-for-sitting-on benches -- designed to resemble opened books and decorated with original Austen-related art. (Inevitably, they're called BookBenches.) The benches will be placed outdoors in or around Basingstoke, the biggest town in the vicinity of Steventon, the Hampshire village where Austen was born and lived until the age of twenty-five.


“Sitting With Jane combines the celebration of local culture and history with a creative, modern interpretation that will appeal to all,” the project’s web site asserts. After the exhibit, the benches will be auctioned to benefit a local cancer charity.


Artists have until December 1 to submit proposed designs. The prototype, “The House That Jane Built,” by artist Jane Veveris Callan, is meant to depict a Regency dollhouse inhabited by dolls resembling Austen characters, although at first glance I took the two-dimensional squares to be not rooms but the panels of a graphic novel. (Maybe it's more dollhouse-like in real life.) Look closely and you can see a painting of Jane Austen hanging on one wall.


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