It is fitting that the very first person to be interviewed in what I hope to be a rich, long running series is Lanier Ivester. Creator the most beautiful website I know, Lanier’s Books, Lanier has influenced me over the years in a way no one else has. She inspires me to be shameless and intentional about loving what I love and bringing beauty into every thing I do. I have heard a number of others say this, and it is true for me as well. Lanier Ivester is one of my living heroes.
Her website was the one website that I took direct inspiration from when designing and launching this one. You could say that I held her site as the standard to which I measured mine, not only aesthetically but in purpose also. Lanier taught me by her own example about websites as part of linked communities that have real connections of relationship and influence. By recommendation of a friend I looked at Lanier’s site and was instantly drawn in by her sumptuous use of quotes and gorgeous images. Charmed by the images of a farm life populated with endearingly named creatures, beautiful rooms, details of gatherings and escapades, sprinklings of loving tributes, I was irresistibly beckoned in by the Beauty she portrays and the life I have always wanted to live myself. Something about Lanier bid me welcome.
I became permanently spellbound, however, with her essays. Her essays on life, books, beauty, her husband, her friends, and family, all drew me irresistibly to her site again and again, in turn leading me to The Rabbit Room, and to Ann Voskamp’s A Holy Experience. I love the rhythm and unashamed elegance of Lanier’s words. I love the exquisite word-smithing she uses so deftly in her writing. I love her commitment to craftsmanship in creating beauty in every form, perfectly demonstrated in her new enterprise of handcrafted books. I rejoice in her shameless faith shimmering through everything she creates and communicates.
What draws me most powerfully and repeatedly to Lanier isn’t simply that she makes her life look beautiful and lets me look in the window at it. What captivates me about her is twofold. One, she truly lives out her faith integrating truth, beauty, and goodness into whole landscape of her life, which is something I deeply want to do myself, and two, Lanier makes Life itself look good. She sings to me like fairies through the forest at night and angels through high bedroom windows bringing back memory I have long lost; memory that my own life is good, lovely, dappled and drenched in beauty. She makes me remember the goodness of the kingdom of Heaven coming to earth and the reason we are to pray and to work for it.
May she do the same for you.
LES: How do you pronounce your name and what does it mean? Is there a particular history behind why you were named Lanier?
LI: It’s a family name, pronounced “La-NEER”—some of my ancestors were French Huguenots and my great-great-great grandmother was a Lanier. It’s still very much a Southern custom to preserve family surnames in girls’ given names, and though I rarely come across another Lanier, I know when I do that we’re probably related somewhere along the line. We’ve never been able to discover a precise meaning in the name, but we do know that the Laniers were 15th musicians in Italy and later in France, so I’ve always liked to think it has something to do with music.
Much of what you portray in your life is bringing a living beauty to things from another time. Your interest in Tasha Tudor, old music and old books, a simpler kind of life style all speak to grace that seems to have belonged to by-gone eras. Were you drawn to old things – old books, music, customs as a child? Where did that affinity come from?
LI: Oh, absolutely. I honestly cannot remember a time that I was not captivated by everything old. There was a fineness and worth there that I recognized almost without realizing it. Every make-believe game my sister and I devised had a carefully-plotted back-story and was always set in the past. I remember the enchantment of my mother’s antique sideboard, and how I would open the lower cupboards just to catch a whiff of old wood and felt-wrapped silver. And going to my grandmother’s house, a veritable family museum of lovely old furniture and artifacts, was heaven. I would sit with her by the hour, listening to family stories I already knew by heart or flipping through photograph albums of faces made dear and alive by her tales. We would wander over the house together and she would tell me the history of this table or that bit of china; she would show me the dainty bowl in which her own bedridden grandmother had taken her porridge every morning, and the specially fashioned knife and fork duo that had been crafted for my great-great-great grandfather after he lost his hand in the Civil War. It was all so fascinating to me; it fired my imagination and made me see the value in old things simply because they had belonged to someone beloved—someone who had once been as alive as I was. My grandmother made me see and feel that I was part of a long story, sometimes funny and sometimes tragic but always beautiful, and that these bits of the past were precious because they endured and connected me with it.
I don’t think I have ever consciously separated my love of old things from my love of old ways. They are indivisible, really, like a jewel in its setting. The grace of days past certainly has an irresistible charm for my somewhat introverted self. It’s something I really struggle with, actually—feeling the bombardment of the noise and hurry and frenzy of the days in which we live as an actual physical burden. I know that God has placed me in this time period for a reason, though when I was younger I remember going through a distinct period of grieving that I did not live in a ‘gentler era’. I’m okay with the 21st century now, and actually feel very blessed to have such a long history spread out behind me from which to draw inspiration and the experience of others.
LES: Do you do the photography on your website?
LI: A lot of it. But all the really good shots were taken by my husband, Philip. He’s amazing with a camera.
LES: What draws you to make life a palette of cultivated beauty? What motivates you to create beauty across so many canvases? And in so many forms? Writing, Music, Decorating, Images, Gardens. Relationships? Many artists focus expressly on one or two genres – like painting and sculpting – but while you have the heart and drive of a writer, you are cultivating beauty in other disciplines and weaving them all together into a broader canvas of art – multi-dimensional that people can actually live in for stretches of time. Has that multiplicity aided or hindered your primary work as a writer and human being?
LI: I would definitely say that the one and only true draw in the pursuit of beauty is God Himself, whether we realize it at the time or not. Beauty, along with Truth and Goodness, make up His very nature, and I think it is natural for us to long for it in this life as when we do, we’re really longing for Him. To cultivate it is to take things a step further, and I believe with all my heart is an opportunity for which we’ve all been created in the image of a Creator. It will look different in every life, as God’s resources for beauty are endless and immeasurable, but the deep-seated motivation is the same: the desire to contribute to the great canvas of beauty that overspreads the world, in spite of all the ravages of evil and ugliness and sin. In the very face of them, really. Beauty is the standard flapping over this war-torn world of ours that says “All Shall be Well”. I think it gives us the hope to believe that, and the faith to image it in our lives.
I would have to say that I keep on striving after the cultivation of beauty because I simply cannot help myself. When my soul, stamped with God’s image, catches its own small vision of how things can be—whether it is a room or a flower bed or a table setting—it is really almost impossible for me to be satisfied without making the attempt to create it.
Multiplicity is something that I honestly have to keep in check in my life. I do struggle with it; I want to do everything that comes into my head and I am constantly faced with my own limitations. But the good thing about limitations, as I am slowly coming to realize, is that by their own necessity they force us to be constantly re-evaluating our priorities and motivations. When I feel the ‘panting feverishness’ creeping in, that false urgency that says I have to do it all right-this-very-minute, that is (or should be!) a red flag to step back and tell myself again why I’m doing it. A very wise older friend once told me that I needed to go with the flow of God’s seasons in my life, and it’s some of the best advice I’ve ever been given. I think about that all the time, and try to seek His heart in terms of what I should be giving myself to at a certain time. There are some seasons that I dabble joyously on many canvases, and there is grace for that. But there are other times, equally valid, that I need to center down and focus on the discipline of a writing goal or some other bounded project. I really do feel that all my ‘loves’ are symbiotic and that one creative pursuit can definitely inspire another. Just knowing what to do when—that can be the tricky part, and requires a lot of prayer and not a little laughing at my own often ridiculous expectations for a given day.
LES: One of the recurring themes that really strikes me as I explore your website is the continual reference to friendship. You make references to it in your blog posts, you post links to other friends’ websites and lavish joyful praise on their gifts and contributions, even the book you recommend are references to friendship. This strand of friendship really reminds of me of Diana Pavlac Glyer’s amazing book The Company They Keep – C.S. Lewis and J.R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. There is such a strong reflection of how friendship has intertwined in your writing and creating. What role do relationships, for better or worse, have on how you cultivate beauty? And how much would you say you are impacted by community in the processes of creating beauty, seeking truth, and cultivating goodness?
LI: I honestly do not know what I would do without my friends. The Lord has filled my life with the most amazing people, and Philip and I place a very high priority on these relationships. Every one of them inspires me in their own way, and every one of them has literally poured God’s beauty into my world. I look at them, quietly blooming for Him in their own places, and I see a garden of His diversity and callings. My sister’s reckless determination as a painter and the realities she represents motivate me to sit down at my desk and plod my ‘two typing fingers’ through whole pages of clumsy words till I strike upon a line that hints at what I’m longing to say. One friend’s indefatigable passion for madrigal singing has filled my life with music and my parlor with sweet harmonies. Another’s old-world style parties have sparked ideas for my fiction, while yet another makes me brave by her artistic and intentional domesticity.
And then, of course, there is my writing partner. When I think of how hard it was for me initially to open up and ‘confess’ to her that I was writing a novel, I have to laugh. I really can be ridiculously private at times, but the Lord has blessed me to the dazzling point with the insight and advice of my closest friends, and this dear lady is one of those bright stars by which He has loved me so well. We like to joke that the desperate emails that fly back and forth between us when we’re enmeshed in a writing challenge could be made into a book someday to help other flailing artists—or at least to show them they’re not alone. And that’s just the thing—knowing that there’s another kindred soul out there staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page is a loving goad to keep at it when it seems like the stupidest thing in the world. And no one else can quite identify with that mad and exhilarating rush of words and flying fingers that leaves me breathless and a little dizzy, all the more beautiful but no less real for its rarity.
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is the Founder & Executive Director of Cultivating & The Cultivating Project. She has served in executive management, church leadership, boards, and Art & Faith organizations over 30 years. She & her husband Peter have parented 7 children, & have a flock of beloved grandchildren. Lancia loves garden and website design, beautiful typography, road trips, being read aloud to by Peter, & cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.