Bookmark: Anne Seltzer has a way with words

Whether wielding a paintbrush or trolling estate sales for vintage collectibles, Anne Seltzer is known for her visual acumen.

What not everyone knows is that Ms. Seltzer—a local artist and the owner of a Brush With the Past: Art Gallery and Vintage Treasures, located in the Claremont Village—also has a way with words.

She was a high school English teacher, instructing teens in the joys of literature, before she gave it all up to be a full-time artist. Before that, she worked in a bookstore.

Ms. Seltzer has also championed reading outside of work, serving on the board of the Prison Library Project and, when she lived in Santa Cruz a number of years back, running a national poetry series that drew several writers who have since gone onto stratospheric fame. These include Alice Walker, who was later catapulted to fame by the success of The Color Purple, Under the Tuscan Sun author Frances Mayes and award-winning poet Carolyn Forché.

“I’ve been pushing reading for a long time,” she said.

At one time, you could hardly find Ms. Seltzer without one or several books underway. Then, she opened her own business and “really slackened off” on reading.

Recently, though, she’s experienced a page-turning revival. In June, Ms. Seltzer founded a Little Free Library in a hole on the north side of the brick building housing The Press Restaurant. All it took for the lapsed reader to become part of the worldwide movement was an idea and some handy help from fellow artist Doug McGoon, who built a frame and a Plexiglass cover for the book nook. 

Ms. Seltzer and Mr. McGoon seeded the Little Free Library with its first book recommendations (Ms. Seltzer’s pick was Anita Shreve’s heart-wrenching novel Light on Snow), then encouraged future readers to “take a book, leave a book.” The informal exchange, meant to foster literacy, was underway.

With the Little Free Library flourishing, Ms. Seltzer decided it was time to revisit her abandoned bookworm identity.

“Ironically, when I opened the Little Free Library, I began to read again, and that’s really cool,” she said. “I go over there and peruse for books—I keep a steady supply of something to read now.”

Ms. Seltzer, recently finished My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult’s tale of a girl who, after countless surgeries, transfusions and shots, seeks medical emancipation from her parents, who have come to rely on her to keep her leukemia-stricken older sister alive. The book was pointed out and recommended to Ms. Seltzer when she gave a friend a tour of her little library.

“I was a little reluctant because it was a thick book, but I figured I can’t say no in front of him,” said Ms. Seltzer, who characterizes herself as a slow reader.

She surprised herself by reading 400 pages the first day she got it. She got up the next day, finished the book and returned it to the Little Free Library.

“It’s a really good book,” she said. “You won’t want to put it down.”

Slight spoiler alert: Ms. Seltzer was troubled by the end of the book, which featured a scenario she had hoped wouldn’t occur. Overall, though, it was a gripping read that was “beautifully written.”

“I think one of the themes is independence and becoming yourself, in the face of family conflict and personal conflict,” she said. “It was very interesting to see how that was resolved.”

Next, Ms. Seltzer plans to dive into a book by Barbara Kingsolver, one of her favorite contemporary authors.

As the purveyor of an antiques emporium, Ms. Seltzer is a sucker for old things, so it’s not surprising that her all-time favorite book is a classic, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Ms. Seltzer, who reads at work between customers, said the book speaks to her because, like protagonists Scout and Jem, the Claremonter hails originally from the South. She likes the sense of place evoked by Ms. Lee and the way Boo Radley represents the southern phenomenon of the displaced person, someone who is “odd one way or another, an outcast in one way or another.” 

“I like the viewpoint,” Ms. Seltzer said. “It’s such a wonderful look at these children’s lives. I want Atticus Finch to be my father.”

Ms. Seltzer, who grew up on Grimm’s fairytales, and still loves children’s literature like Alice in Wonderland and East of the Sun, West of the Moon, has enjoyed the opportunity to find books for her store’s shelves. What draws her eye?

“I’ll buy a book if there’s something humorous or unusual about the content or subject matter, or if there’s something that says a lot about a particular era,” Ms. Seltzer shared. “I recently bought a book from the early 1900s on etiquette, and I particularly like vintage western books. I also always love books with terrific illustrations.”

Ms. Seltzer has been known to craft her own book illustrations. Sometimes she’ll buy a vintage book that is falling apart and will paint in it. Other times, she will use the pages to wipe her brushes on while in the middle of a painting, a process that makes for “really beautiful abstracts.”

She has also self-published 2 books of humorous prose to go along with her paintings. She is about to do a third printing of one of these, “a little book of imaginary patron saints” titled P.S.: Guess Who’s Coming to Supper? Books may be purchased at her website,, or at the Gypsy Sisters & Their Brothers art show presented in Claremont each December.

With her passion for reading reignited, it’s books, books and more books for Ms. Seltzer. Sometimes, though, she needs a break from the printed page. 

“Unlike most people of today I don’t like escape. When I read a book, I really immerse myself in that world,” she said. “I’m still thinking about My Sister’s Keeper.”

—Sarah Torribio


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