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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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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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Christmas in the Country

I still have my childhood copy of Christmas in the Country. It was garish when it was new. Now it is foxed and stained, but I read it every year. Maybe it's why I've always loved to imagine animals observing Christmas in the barn.  For grown-ups, here is Thomas Hardy's lovely, wistful version of the idea: 

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First Christmas card

Blog tip: In 1843 (the year Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol), a civil servant named Henry Cole commissioned a card to be designed so that he could send greetings to friends and family. The rest is printing and commercial history. Read more at the History Blog's post, World's first Christmas card goes on display at Dickens Museum.

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Krampus

The Krampus—a half-humorous counterpart to Saint Nicholas, who snatches bad children at Christmas—came to my attention via artist Kathleen Jennings' post on Krampus Krackers from the Tiny Owl Workshop. In 2014, the workshop produced a limited run of hand-made, letterpressed crackers for sale at chosen bookshops and cafés in Australia. Each contained an illustration and a grumpy flash fiction. Imagine a short story about clever, disgruntled twelve-year-olds who hear about them and decide to make their own to hand out to friends and family! It could be an antidote to icky sentimentality and over-commercialism at Christmas.

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