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Picturing a World

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.

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Santa’s reindeer

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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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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