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Picturing a World

Flowery insults

The phrase petaloid monocot jumped out at me this morning from one of my Christmas presents, a copy of Walter and Graham Judds’ Flora of Middle-Earth: What a great insult! Imagine growling at somebody, “You, petaloid monocot.”

How about concocting a list of similar, offensive-sounding, totally innocuous, botanical phrases for personal use or attribution to a fictional character? As 2018 nears, beware the glaubrous corms.

The Judds’ book satisfies the Tolkien, naturalist, and woodcut geek in many ways. For a discussion by the father-son, author-artist team on why they wrote it, click hereRead 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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Midwives on Christmas

In the 2nd C, when the ox and the ass entered Christian nativity lore, so did a pair of midwives for the Virgin Mary. I learned about them a decade ago when I first read A Book of Carols (1966) edited by Eleanor Sayre and illustrated with artwork from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. A note to an engraving says that until the 15th century, the midwives were frequently shown performing various tasks Read More 
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Palmer’s Christmas

Samuel Palmer’s art has sparked in me a new appreciation of what etchings can do. This tender scene of a shepherd returning home in moonlight was inspired by lines from John Bampfylde’s sonnet, “On Christmas” (1778):

Old Christmas comes, to close the waned year,
And aye the shepherd's heart to make right glad;
Who, when his teeming flocks are homeward had,
To blazing hearth repairs, and nut-brown beer;
And views, well pleased, the ruddy prattlers dear
Hug the grey mongrel …

Hearth, gentle light, loved ones, and the wonder of new interests be yours this Christmas Eve. Read More 
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Windsor Castle Christmas tree

For a story I am writing, I wanted to visualize a long corridor in a palace and went searching for image to aid my imagination. A blog post, Documented Interiors, helped on that score and, as a bonus, provided this watercolor of Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree. The picture is new to me and seems perfect to kick off the run up to Christmas Day. As for the host site, Spencer Alley, oh my, what a wealth of unexpected topics and seldom seen pictures. Gifts galore! Read More 
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“Christmas Time Again”

After running out of Christmas cards, I went today to the Bookloft in Great Barrington, an excellent independent bookstore, where there was one box left with cards showing the the right wing of this triptych. Lovely to discover that the piece dates to 1907 (so close to my magic year of 1908 as makes no difference) and then to find the whole on line where it can be enlarged.  Read More 
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Gremlin in the ink

We all know that gremlins get in computers. Looks like they’ve been mischievous ever since pen was put to paper! Good luck with writer’s block, garbage-in-garbage-out, and all the little vexations that interrupt composition from Christmas card writing to great literature!
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Blog tip: I have begun collecting images in a category I call “Crones.” A recent birthday post by Greer Gilman has a dandy. I won’t violate copyright law by reproducing it, but do click here and enjoy.
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Thameside panorama

Website tip: For a mesmerizing tour down the Thames by way of the digitized Panorama of the Thames Project, click here. I collect images of gardens, and I took this screen shot for my  Read More 
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Pre-Raphaelite women artists

Blog tip: This montage of paintings by Kate Bunce, Evelyn de Morgan, Marie Spartali Stillman, Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, Emma Sandys, and Joanna Mary Boyce heads The art of creating a life, a post at Terri Windling’s Myth and Moor blog. Her primary focus in the post is another woman, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, whose life would have been an inspiration to my characters, Jeanette Palmer (for her art) and Mattie Palmer (for activism in the woman’s suffrage movement). Read More 
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