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Picturing a World

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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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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Jackie Morris bonus

Blog tip: Just look! Another of Jackie Morris's Christmas fantasia designs, this one in supprt of the International Board for Books for Young People. Ladies who love to read, sigh with pleasure (and click on the image for an enlargement at her website).

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Jackie Morris: Gently Falling Snow

Mysterious, lovely pictures originally created as Christmas cards to support a musicians' charity, then published in book form with stories to go with them? An invitation to readers to explore further by making up their own tales? —How could I resist?!? I bought a copy and plan to savor it slowly.
For a quick look to stimulate your imagination, spend a minute with the publisher's trailer. And don't miss Jackie Morris's own blog post about making The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow. It shows an early sketch of the title picture and reminds all creative people how daily life and doubts accompany achievement.

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Twelfth Night, or what you Will

I don’t much like 19th C caricatures, but I love the punch drinker’s salute to William Shakespeare’s bust here. As you probably know, the play Twelfth Night was written by Shakespeare in the winter of 1601–1602 (the first recorded performance was on Candlemas Night,  Read More 

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Edwardian Christmas morning

An Edwardian Christmas by John S. Goodall is a gentle treat, an indulgence in nostalgia that can surely be forgiven in unsettling times. I bought a used copy a few years ago and happily turn its wordless pages every December.

For this and other images from the book, click here.

And Merry Christmas! Read More 

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Christmas commerce and celebration

I was looking for a seasonal image and found this “Christmas gifts” issue of Vogue for 1918. A hundred years later, it reminds us of the joyous and tattered end of World War I. And it’s by an American woman artist! Helen Dryden. Born in Baltimore in 1882, she moved to New York in 1909 to sell artwork to magazines—just about the time that ANONYMITY’s Mattie would have known her. Perfect. Read More 

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Visit from Saint Nicholas

Website alert: The American Antiquarian Society has posted a digitized version of a recent donation—a copy of the first illustrated, book-length edition of Clement Moore’s poem, A Visit from Saint Nicholas, published in 1848. The interior of the house is depicted as furnished more sparely than we have grown accustomed to seeing it, and the Santa Claus clearly predates the Norman Rockwell—Coca-Cola version! I wonder whether looking at this version might prompt a 21st C writer to a new response to the old favorite? Read More 

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Twelfth Night, 2018

On this Twelfth Day of Christmas, a last image. Robin Tanner was one of the English artists who were much influenced by a 1926 show of Samuel Palmer’s work at the Victoria and Albert in London. Somehow it seems fitting to catch a final glimpse of the receding holiday from high up and far away. The vantage point might also be the start of a story that moves down into the lit street with evening pressing in from the countryside beyond. And it seems to hold secrets—always a good beginning for art. Read More 
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I take up the challenge

Yesterday, I called for feminist meditations or new art based on the appearance of two midwives in the same apocryphal gospel that introduced the ox and the ass to Nativity lore. Well, after writing the post, I took up my own challenge.

Midwives at the Manger

I don’t care who the father was,
The girl could not give birth alone.
So young, both of them.
Shepherds might have known what to do;
They assist their ewes at lambing time;
But they came later.
No, the carpenter begged for a midwife,
And the innkeeper sent for me, Zebel.
I brought Salome along.
(We did have names, but forget
Anything you’ve heard about a withered hand.)
We arrived by starlight,
Angels up in the rafters,
Otherwise a normal birth: pain,
Blood, squalling baby, a bath afterward.
An easier labor than most, I admit,
As though the child would spare his mother then
Inevitable grief.
Behind the manger where I laid him down, swaddled,
A sweet-breathed ox and ass who came in when we did
Were allowed to stay. For millennia.
Only we departed, Salome and me.
All the same, we had been there, were there, are there,
Midwives to transcendence.

© 2017 by Katherine Keenum. All rights reserved

For Giotto’s splendid Nativity with angels in the rafters and the midwives, click hereRead More 
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