Jorge Ramirez told his story to Nara Blake and her husband Alex Collier as the three sat at his kitchen table sipping wine and eating bread and olives. It was a story that led Nara to question what she was doing with her life. But that was not why Nara and Alex went to Spain. The conversation with Jorge and its effect on Nara was serendipitous, one of those things that happen and later you think – it was meant to come about that way.
Nara and Alex had traveled to Tardienta on behalf of the Tate Museum in London, where they both worked as art historians. The parish priest of Tardienta had contacted the Tate about some notebooks he had found stored away on a dusty bookshelf in the church rectory. He was newly assigned to the church, he informed the museum, and in sorting through items that had been untouched for many years, he came across three notebooks containing sketches and writing in English, and inscribed with the name Felicia Browne.
A little internet research told him who Felicia Browne was, and her connection to Tardienta. He also found out that the Tate Museum in London had held an exhibit of her work a few years previously. He included photos of the notebooks, which were enough to convince the museum that they were quite likely authentic.
The more Nara did her own research on Felicia Browne, the more she admired her. Browne had given up what could have been a successful career as an artist to fight for what she believed in, and ultimately lost her life. She must have known that was a possibility. Europe was a powder keg in 1936. Political beliefs, as well as new weapons of war, were being tested in the Spanish Civil War after the elected republican government had been overthrown.
Nara had no plans to join a civil war anywhere, and she felt that maybe that was the problem. She admired people, especially women, who gave up everything to join a battle. She read accounts of doctors, nurses, journalists, who risked their lives in dangerous spots around the globe. But what could she do? She had chosen her life in London with her husband. Her father, whose health was not good, lived a few hours away in Lincolnshire. And how, Nara wondered, can an art historian save the world?