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Picturing a World

Christmas ghost stories

Charles Dickens did not begin the custom of telling ghost stories at Christmas, but his Christmas Carol must be the most famous. On New Year's Eve Eve, I'm posting this illustration of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come by Lisbeth Zwerger because its minimalism seems to me to capture the unknown quality of the future better than the images that make the ghost look scary as a Harry Potter dementor.

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July at Christmas

On my walk yesterday, I talked with a friend—outdoors at six feet apart—who is planning to celebrate Christmas next July when her family can gather safely. Then this morning while I was mulling blog topics, I happened across Miss Jasper's Garden illustrated by one of my artists, N. M. Bodecker. Perfect. In this time of pandemic, why not a momentary break to July at Christmas?

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Embroidered nativity

Detail, The Toledo Cope (1320–30)

Blog post alert: The Christmas story in opus anglicanum from the Victoria and Albert. Textiles, medieval art history, and a midwife at the Nativity—what more could I ask for? In this strange, strange holiday season, I hope you are finding stories and images to lighten your heart.

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Santa puzzle

Last year, I bought this jigsaw puzzle of Norman Rockwell's Santa, put it in a drawer, and forgot about it. What fun to rediscover it when I brought out my old Journey of the Magi to rebuild. (It is now missing one piece, alas). Last night, I began sorting the pieces of Santa. Perfect entertainment for this self-isolating holiday. Maybe there's a short story in the puzzle that got put away and forgotten.

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Shepherds dance (and dog)

Peasants dancing are an appealing late-medieval, early-Renaissance extension of the Annunciation to the Shepherds motif in manuscript illustrations. (For the full page, click here. For another example, click here). The sung French carol Allons, gay, gay, gay, bergères by Guilaume Costeley comes out of this development (for an excellent performance, click here). In the 20th C, the medieval danced carole in the form of the farandole was incorporated into folk-art santon sets in Provence, which add dozens of Provençal peasants and townspeople to the canonical Holy Family, shepherds, and Magi of other Nativity sets. What I've never seen before, however, is such a realistic depiction of someone trying to induce his puzzled dog to join the dance. Dogs at the Annunciation, yes, but now I'm on the lookout for another one dancing!

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Pieck’s rooftop painter

Blog Post alert: Just in time for a nor'easter here in the Berkshires, this endearing holiday card design by Dutch artist Anton Pieck posted at Lines and Colors. Thank you, Charley Parker!

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Pandemic reading

In a recent interview, author Emily St. John Mandel is quoted as saying about her own bestselling novel, "I don't know who in their right mind would want to read Station Eleven during a pandemic." Well, I've just read it, and I can tell you why. It's about a traveling orchestra and theatrical company in a post-apocalyptic world, but also about the characters' intertwined lives before, during, and twenty years after a pandemic much worse than the one we're in right now. Those interlocking stories have all the human interest of any good read (I especially enjoyed getting inside the mind of a graphic novelist whose running project gives the novel its title). And the picture of a world in which some people remember electricity and some don't makes you look around ours with new eyes.

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Play in a 16th C hal

Blog post alert: I had a subplot about a theatrical company in the novella I'm working on now. A reader of an early partial draft said, "I like your actors, but I don't see where you are going with this." Neither did I really, so I removed most of it. Am ever I tempted to reinstate it, though, after seeing this image in the British Library's post, The Show Must Go On!

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Sphere 1951

As a follow-up to yesterday's post, what fun! Father Christmas calling down the reindeer in a more natural version of his ice palace. This is obviously not the North Pole; but, after all, why not imagine his workshop somewhere in the North Woods? Or take the picture literally and see it as the backdrop for a theatrical production. I'm devouring it like a bon-bon, but if we play this year's story-generating game, there are already three possibilities: a story about Santa Claus, a story about a staged show, a story about a 1951 magazine.

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Baynes and biscuits

Pauline Baynes's illustrations for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, sank almost as deep into my imagination as C. S. Lewis's story did—and that's saying a lot! Yet somehow, I never quite liked her Father Christmas with the beavers. So what about this illustration to advertise Huntley & Palmer biscuits? Oh, my yes! How I wish I had a biscuit tin with it on top! NB: I don't think it suggests a story, only a delicious side of commercial Christmas. What do you say? In any case, Happy St. Nicholas Day!

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