This is my new book: Patience Wright, America's First Sculptor and Revolutionary Spy (Illustrated by Bethanne Andersen) Patience Wright was a widowed wax sculptor in the 1770's. She and expanded the business she ran with her sister from Philadelphia to New York City and London. While in London, Patience--a dear friend of Benjamin Franklin's--began spying for the Americans before and during the American Revolution.
Booklist Cover & Starred Review: As a child, Patience Wright enjoyed sculpting from clay. Years later, after the death of her husband, she decided to support her children through her art. Her wax-modeling business, producing three-dimensional portraits, busts and life-size replicas of clients, became a huge success, as Shea explains in her informative author’s note, “a female artist was rare enough…a woman who passionately pursued her career…was unheard of.”
Wright’s life was to become even more unconventional. After moving her business to London, she became privy to information about the Revolutionary War, which she heard from important clients. A wonderful picture of Ben Franklin’s wax head illustrates how Wright sent secret messages in sculptures she shipped to America.
Shea writes with a dynamic simplicity that brings Wright to life. At the same time she seamlessly incorporates information about the war and events leading up to it in her text. Anderson has a way with women characters; her cover depiction of Wright, looking straight at the audience, a small wax head in her hand, is particularly effective. ( Feb. 15, 2007 )
School Library Journal and selection for “Curriculum Connections”
This biography introduces an obscure but fascinating American Revolutionary figure—a patriotic precursor to Madam Tussaud. Born in Oyster Bay, NY in 1725, Patience Lovell grew up in a Quaker household. From an early age, she exhibited a gift for creating lifelike sculptures, first using clay, and later, wax. Widowed at 45, she moved to Philadelphia, where she opened an art studio [with her widowed sister Rachel Wells]. Wealthy clients commissioned busts and figures of themselves. After establishing permanent exhibits in Philadelphia and New York, Wright opened a London studio. Letters of introduction from Ben Franklin helped to establish her success in England. While her efforts to persuade King George not to wage war on the colonies failed, her engaging nature helped her obtain information from members of Parliament and military officers. “Patience led them into revealing secrets by offering wrong information, which they immediately corrected. She put the secrets inside hollow busts that she sent back home, revealing which colonists took bribes from the British, as well as details about enemy weapons and attacks.
The delicately rendered, gouache-and-pastel illustrations, covering full spreads, portray the artist, the early American landscape, period costumes, and life-sized, fully-dressed sculptures. The one of Franklin ’s head looks alarmingly alive, as the coloring, facial expression, and the eyes are so real. Use this unique biography to enrich social-studies units on the Revolution and on women’s history. (March, 2007)
One of nine sisters and one brother born to a Quaker Family, Patience grew up in New Jersey and discovered her talent for sculpting figures early on. Widowed and with children to support, she moved in with another sister [Rachel Wells], gave up vegetarianism and began to work in wax made from animal fats. She and her sister had studios in New York and Philadelphia, and sculpted portrait heads and full figures of many notables. She moved to London in 1772 with a letter of introduction from Ben Franklin, sculpted everyone from William Pitt to the king and queen and was resourceful enough to put notes about what she learned about possible war tactics into the busts she shipped back home. Unfortunately, the only one of her [full-sized] waxworks to survive is the figure of Pitt, in his crypt at Westminister Abbey. Full of fascinating detail, the text is well-matched by lively gouache and pastel illustrations, vibrant with color and texture. While it is too dense for younger children, middle-graders will no doubt be fascinated. (March, 2007)
San Diego Union-Tribune
Sitting down with this book provides an opportunity to discuss why we celebrate Women’s History Month in March. The story is about one of America’s first spies. Patience Wright was born in 1725 and raised a Quaker, who believed even then “women should have rights and education equal to men’s.” Unlike most girls of their time, Patience and her eight sisters learned to read and write. And Patience learned how to sculpt. Years later, when she was widowed, she turned to her art to support her children. She became so good that she was urged to open a shop in England. Patience jumped at the chance but took her loyalty to the Colonies with her. As she worked on wax busts of King George and his wife in the summer of 1773, she learned many secrets, which she wrote down and hid in busts she sent back to America to be sold. The story is full of intrigue and bravery, and young readers will learn much about American history, about determination and about one woman who did so much for her country. ( Mar. 18, 2007)
Journal Inquirer: “Vernon Author Pens a Winning Pair” feature article by Richard Tambling.
Pegi Deitz Shea’s two new books are about a little-known patriot and a subject she knew little about.* Deitz Shea, who has a solid background in journalism and a publicist before embarking on a career writing children’s books, is living proof that a professional writer has to be able to negotiate unfamiliar territory. … One of her strengths, she thinks, is her training as a newspaper reporter. “It taught me how to research any topic, to ask questions, to synthesize information, and how to be edited. That last one is a biggie! Most people don’t like others to touch their writing. Kids hate to revise, but I love to show them how to embrace revising.”