Although I live only an hour or so away from Frederic Edwin Church's home and studio, Olana, on the Hudson River, I've never visited it in winter. View from Olana in the Snow suggests that I should! The grounds are open in winter—and the painting invites a cross-country glide down the slopes at least in imagination, doesn't it?
Picturing a World
Olana in the Snow
Mole Family's Christmas
Russell Hoban is one of my favorite authors, with his offbeat imagination and mastery of style. He's best known for the dazzling, post-apocalyptic Riddley Walker. (My favorite may be the quieter Turtle Diary.) Anyway, sometime this year, I bought a used copy of The Mole Family's Christmas, put it aside unread, and forgot about it—then, luckily, found it again in time to read it last night as a Christmas Eve bedtime story.
Blog post alerts: I first read about this picture of Santa Claus and one reindeer in a 2020 Past Is Present story, How Stephen Salisbury Rescued Christmas. It popped up again this month in a History Today post, How Father Christmas Found his Reindeer, which traces the story of Saint Nicholas. The mystery is why the illustrator supplied a reindeer to pull the rooftop sleigh. Seems an opportunity to make up a story to go with it! Or a story about a child in 1821 who reads The Children's Friend: A New Year's Present to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve. In whatever form you imagine him, may he visit you tonight. Merry Christmas!
Winter solstice: Holocene myth
This topiary llama has always made me smile, but, whoa! The antlers transform it into something spookily magic, especially when the winter sun is caught in a circle of their prongs and tree branches. I had to stop the car and take an amateur photograph. Such poignance here in the Anthropocene to be carried into the deep resonances of myth from an earlier age!
Winter Solstice: the novel
Andrew Carnegie's Skibo in Sutherland, Scotland, is the estate on which Rosamunde Pilcher based her fictional Corrydale in Winter Solstice. As we approach the meteorological solstice, I'm rereading the novel and was delighted to find this wintry picture and another photo showing the castle in its wider setting. They let me visualize Corrydale better when the characters Carrie and Sam go out there.
Christmas cards from friends are beginning to trickle in now and must be answered, so I was amused by the rhetorical question, What happened to proper Christmas cards? at the site where I found this image. S. R. Badmin's mid-20th C paintings of the British countryside become ever more idyllic and nostalgic as we lurch toward climate disaster, but wouldn't a box of these be a treat for sending out during another COVID holiday?!?
Bark as fabric; women as trees
Blog post alert: A report from the History Blog that the world's oldest preserved woven fabric was made of bast from oak trees rather than from linen or wool somehow deepens a mythic connection between women and trees. I don't yet know what to do with it, but surely something!
Image at National Gallery, London
Seven basic emotions
An article in the Guardian about the inner lives of dogs includes an observation on "the theory that all mammal brains share seven primary emotional systems: fear, rage, lust, 'seeking,' panic/grief, care, and play." Sort of like the Seven Deadly Sins for the 21st C? There certainly seems to be a human proclivity to list things in sevens; and it might be interesting to try to write a series of stories, each to illustrate one of these seven basic emotions (or those from another list). Perhaps with an animal in each!
Image via The British Library
Runkel Bros. Sweet Vienna Chocolate
Blog post alert: One of my heirloom treasures is a wooden Runkel Bros. Sweet Vienna Chocolate box from my great-grandmother's kitchen. I have used it as an ornament in my own kitchen, as a computer stand, and as—oh, I don't know—a talisman of some sort. Looking at it in this season when chocolate becomes important sent me off on an internet search. It landed me on A Golden Age: Chocolate in New York, 1850-1900, which has a section on the Runkel brothers and lots more. Enjoy!
Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach
Couldn't this image prompt a story about being a female student in Paris early in the 20th C? The Japanese print on the wall. The young woman's serious expression. A pen ready to take notes. The coat worn indoors against the cold (when I was a student in Aix-en-Provence, we had heat from a stove for only two hours a day). A jug of flowers—always remember: tuppence a week for beauty. Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach is new to me and maybe not a major find; but both she and her student are reminders that, yes, art and literature and learning matter. For more of her work, click here.