The call came four days before Kelly Carmody’s September 2018 wedding, squashing any last thoughts of bridesmaid dresses or floral centerpieces. The man on the line wanted to know: Was she available to create original art for Greta Gerwig’s new adaptation of “Little Women”?
“It all happened very quickly,” Carmody remembered this week. “The prop master called me and the next morning, he was there in my studio.”
Based on Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel, Gerwig’s movie follows the March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy — from childhood to their early adult years. Stubborn, charming, and socioeconomically ambitious, Amy (played by Florence Pugh) is the painter in her artistic family. Works of art are used throughout the movie “to tell a lot about Amy’s character and her talent and ambition,” according to Carmody. “My paintings were really part of the story.”
As a child, Amy’s character is focused on artistic detail and realism. Amy is seen drawing by the family fireplace and in the fields of Concord. Viewers glimpse her still life of fresh fruit, her drawings of Aunt March’s mansion and her sister’s wild antics. With a pencil, she captures her longtime love, Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), frolicking on the beach.
The character later studies classical painting in Paris. Amy continues her realist approach, but grows frustrated after spying another artist’s beautiful early-Impressionist canvas (which was also painted by Carmody). Now Amy’s tastes turn toward newer European styles. But when she attempts the approach with a still life, she becomes upset with her artistic skills — or lack thereof.
Yes, Carmody proceeded with her wedding, just as planned. After a two-day honeymoon, she immediately got to work crafting oil paintings and sketches for “Little Women.” The movie was filmed in various locations across Massachusetts in November and December 2018, but Carmody spent most of that time holed up in her studio. "I just drew and drew and drew,” she said via phone.
In total, the former Massachusetts College of Art student spent just four days on set. Her work there entailed strategically positioning canvases, palettes, and paints around Pugh. Another time she grabbed a bench to do a romantic sketch of Chalamet in his billowy costume.
Carmody also arranged a time to photograph Chris Cooper, the actor who played Mr. Laurence. Those images informed the enormous portrait she made for the character’s study. It’s one of the movie’s few paintings not credited to Amy.
Carmody can thank set designer Eugenia Haynes for referring her to the “Little Women” crew. Haynes was in a production meeting when she overheard conversations about the need for a painter. She immediately thought of her longtime friend, someone with whom she frequently attended dinner parties.
“I knew her talent,” Haynes said via phone from her new home in Texas. “So I thought 'There’s this local painter’ and e-mailed all the right people. I almost feel bad because I kind of threw her into this movie world."
More than a year after working on the film, Carmody joined her family to catch a recent “Little Women" screening in Revere. “The whole movie had a very painterly effect,” said Carmody, who is not listed in the movie’s credits. “I think it had this overwhelming feeling of family and sisterhood and love.”
And what did she make of seeing her work on the big screen? The paintings "were in pop culture,” she said. "And pop culture is for everyone.”
Diti Kohli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.