Monday, December 27, 2010

12/27/2010: Merrily Chistmas Rolls Along!

We left room under the tree for Dundee, who loves laying there

It has been a lovely, if somewhat bittersweet, Christmas here at Patchwork Cottage (an unofficial  name given to our little house by my Mother, because of the miscellany of materials that cover the exterior.)  Lovely for all the usual reasons—sheer beauty, warm emotions, memories, familial love, traditions, contemplation, companionship, time off from my job –but also a bit sad; due not just to the sweet melancholy engendered by all of the above, but also, primarily, because of my Mother’s continuing decline into dementia, and then my son’s non-appearance due to flu, and my daughter’s non-appearance due to burn-out and the need to take time to reconnect with her and her husband’s own home in New York and all the solace therein. Well, this last is actually not sad-making, I am happy for her to have time off to just indulge in home-life without dealing with holiday travel stresses. My son, who lives locally, is on the mend, having, as usual, not even let us know he was ill. He travels a different orbit and we never know when he may or may not communicate/turn up.

Nevertheless, the pervading mood of the holiday (so far—I insist on all 12 days’ worth of celebration) has been one of wonder and gratitude. Wonder, because, no matter how often I experience it, the physical transformation of our home wrought by the Christmas tree, the tiny lights strung on wreaths and garlands which festoon every room, massed candles, the festive music and aromas of special foods being lovingly prepared, is such a source of joy! I told my Mother, as we watched Baryshnikov dance the Nutcracker, that one of the reasons I so loved Christmas was because it was a time when the appearance of my physical surroundings almost matched the magical world inside my head (where I probably spend way too much time.)  

Well, I guess that is the whole point (once you get beyond mere shelter) of inhabiting a home at all: to create an environment that reflects and nourishes your own senses and sensibilities as nowhere else can, your intimate space into which you can beckon family and select friends. Holiday decorating is that, on steroids. All the decorating excesses that would be bad taste any other time are allowed at Christmas. Though I draw the line at two items:  those hideous, bloated, inflatable plastic Santas and Snowmen; and exterior Christmas lights that operate in such a way as to send susceptible persons into epileptic shock. You know, those lights that race, flash, jerk, change color and direction--! No, give me the still, silent grace of strands of white light drifting from the eaves, or colored bulbs illuminating the façade of the house, tracing against the night that familiar icon that says “home.” Or spirals of lights outlining the primal forms of trees, casting their glow onto the carpet of snow on the lawn around them. Silent night, still night. Give me Christmas lights that echo that aesthetic—the deep silence and stillness of winter, the quiet of animals hunkered down in earthen dens or straw-insulated barns, the evocative pattern of a window cast in warm, supple light on the snow outside, bearing silent witness to the human warmth within.

The wonder of the Birth of Christ is not absent from my Christmas. I still call the winter holidays by the name honoring that event. Having been raised a Roman Catholic, it’s true I have an atavistic tug towards all those religious elements that form the “true meaning” of Christmas to so many. Yet, other, older impulses draw me just as compellingly—the winter festivals celebrated since long before the advent of Christ or even his father, that rather sour-tempered Judaic patriarchal god. Oh, how long ago the snows fell, how long our memories dwell, our sagas tell of nurturing the light, seeking the warmth against the endless night, marking the settings of the Sun, until the night that brought us the dawn of the returning Star. The Winter Solstice, the greatest of the olden holidays, (usurped by the greatest of the Christian holidays, Christmas) the rebirth of the star that gives life to this planet. The source of physical life and the source of spiritual life combined in one season--what more could we ask….?

And gratitude—what makes one count one’s blessing more than the winter holidays? There must be some kind of atavistic wellspring of victory about surviving the harshness of winter, a primordial memory of overcoming the double-whammy of the cold death coupled with cold winter, that makes us especially grateful at this time of year. (Reminds me of an episode of Northern Exposure, where a corpse had to be hauled into a tree to survive the winter, safe from wolves, until the spring thaw when a grave could be dug.) Every feeling of gratitude is magnified in this season: I offer gratitude for my family and friends, my home, my abilities (such as they are), and for so many other things spreading out into the wide world—gardens, books, music, classical architecture, Victorian hotels, the fall of Communism,  inexpensive red wines, bread machines, organic eggs, thrift shops, the internet, and friends I reach thereby—and here let me stop! 

ALSO greetings and thanks to Junibears, Nigel and Connie for your comments, I will offer personal responses later this week--cannot respond from home computer : (

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas to Me!

While shopping for Christmas gifts for family and friends, I usually end up buying way too many books—especially for myself. Here I offer a little tableau, in my over-flowing library (which is also my art studio), displaying some recent acquisitions. 

With so many discount book stores on the streets and publisher's closeout catalogs arriving in the mail, at least I almost never pay full price for them.  Nowadays my favorite catalog sellers also have websites, but I get cheap, bibliophiliac thrills from perusing discount book catalogs. My favorites come from Edward R Hamilton ( and Daedalus Books (  Dover Publications is another favorite source, not discount but I always try to get their items on sale —a regular occurrence at Dover (also don't forget to sign up for weekly,  free email samples from Dover's digital images library). When in pursuit of a specific, probably out of print book, my first resource is American Book Exchange (which offers no catalog):  as well as (no link necessary) whose affiliate sellers also often carry those hard-to-find items.

The costume book, containing marvelously detailed engravings of mostly Teutonic 18th c dress, and the Dore Gallery (with CD-ROM) from Dover will provide inspiration and materials for collages. Also from Dover comes a book about Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. I’ve been fascinated by that event ever since reading Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.  Larson creates a masterpiece of tension that moves between the logistics of designing and constructing the splendid “white city” that housed the fair, and the nefarious activities of the charming but murderous psychopath, Dr. Holmes, who found the fair to be fertile hunting grounds for his victims (true story.)

From Daedalus came Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi; Manor Houses of Normandy, and Temple Grandin’s marvelous book, Making Animals Happy.   The Life of Pi was an impulse buy, and it looks to have been a good one. It’s one of those books written for adolescents, that, like the Harry Potter series, offers writing with depth and wit enough to keep more mature readers enthralled; the story of a ship-wrecked boy whose wits and skill enable him to survive (unlike his several animal boat-mates) at sea in a life-boat with a ravenous tiger. It contains magical illustrations by Tomislav Torjanac.

Buying books sight unseen, of course, sometimes results in unexpected encounters, as well as pleasures. Manor Houses of Normandy is a rather dry, didactic, technical study of these structures, but nonetheless there are wonderful photos  to fire the imagination. The buildings date mostly from the 18th century, yet they look to me so archaic that I thought they dated from the 14-15th c.  This book will take its place in the architecture section rather than the interiors section of my library.

Temple Grandin is an authority on animal communication who suffers from (or is gifted with) autism, apparently the source of her ability to penetrate the veil between our minds and those of the animals we love, as well as those anonymous beasts who play such a critical role in our lives. If you care at all about animals (who could not??) I heartily recommend her book, Making Animals Happy. You will discover, among other revelations, that one of the reasons cats are reviled among a certain percentage of the population, is because they do not possess the facial muscles to form expressions similar to our own, that dogs do.

Almost hidden in the photo is a book entitled Making the Metropolis:  Creators of Victoria’s London, by Stephen Halliday, which came from a recent used book sale at a local library (oh, to tell you of the treasures I have found coughed up from the dusty cellars of libraries!!)  It is the kind of fascinating study that I love to get immersed in and let carry me away to another time and place. From the jacket flap:  “Halliday’s…book shows how the ramshackle collection of communities that entered the 19th century became the world’s first metropolis.”

Finally, there is the first volume of Anthony Powell’s epic series of novels, collectively entitled A Dance to the Music of Time.  I read about these books in other books (there’s a topic for a whole other post—bibliosynergy) and have always wanted to read them. I gather they are sort of a British version of Proust, perhaps? The books cover the decades between the world wars, an era (among others) which endlessly fascinates me. So much change, so fast,  and with such devastating consequences—how did it all happen? And also producing such singular personalities, how did the people survive it—or not? There are many books which fall into this chronological span, both fiction and non, and some of my favorites include the novels of Mary Wesley and such works as biographies of Vita Sackville-West, Stephen Spender, Lady Diana Cooper, the Sitwells, Cecil Beaton, the Mitford sisters, Iris Origo, etc, ad nauseum. Oh, if only I had the time! (Which will probably be the epitaph on my urn….)

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I know a couple of women who are deathly afraid of birds. Can you imagine? Did their mothers watch Hitchcocks's "The Birds" too many times during pregnancy? Birds are naturally excellent mothers, as are all members the animal kingdom.

I read an article once years ago, about a woman who was a preacher I think in the 19th c. South, and she was taken to task by male church members for it, who felt it was not a woman's place to try to teach about Christ. She pointed out to them, that only women should teach about Christ, because he was born of a human woman WITHOUT the involvement  any human male! You go, girl! So I think Christmas is as much a celebration of Motherhood and the miracle of birth, as of the coming of a savior.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Love Christmas!

...and so here is another piece of Christmas art for you. Made on My Polyvore name is Diakea, you can do a Member search to see my other digital art made there, as well as some fabulous art by my Polyvore buddies.

Christmas Kisses to You!

A digital confection created on Polyvore.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Olden times and ancient rhymes of love and dreams to share...

Like the lyrics to the beautiful song by Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi, the winter holidays evoke memories and dreams more than any other time of year. I suppose this goes back to ancient times when humankind hunkered down and nestled in for the winter season, replacing the vigorous activity of farm and field for the introspection of fireside warmth.  For me, Christmas is a time of dispensation, when the normal pattern of everyday life is briefly dusted with magic, and we indulge in traditions that cheer us and give reassurance against the dark and cold beyond our walls. Little Augury recently posted some of her favorite Christmas traditions, and requested some from her readers. Herewith, my own “Top Ten” cherished holiday rites:

1) A Christmas tree, decked with treasured ornaments that each have a story. The cloudy, craquelured glass balls from my childhood are among the most cherished.
Our Christmas tree, c. 1953

2) The Manger. Having been raised Roman Catholic, the Manger scene will forever be integral to my Christmas. My Mother’s set goes under our tree, and I temporarily displace some books to make an arrangement in the library of the well-worn figures that were under my Grandparent’s tree during my childhood.
My Mother's manger set from the 1970's. The sugar angels are c. 1965.
3)  My annual Christmas card. I believe I’ve missed only one year out of the 39 or so that I’ve been doing this, starting when my children were small. The cards used to be individually hand-made, but as my painted or collaged designs got more elaborate, I started having them color-copied. I still assemble the cards by hand.
lino block print, 1970

Paper collage card, 2007
4) Decorating to the hilt! I love the annual transformation of my home into a holiday house with something special to see at every turn:  little surprises tucked on bookshelves and table-tops, greens, berries and poinsettia blossoms (mostly artificial but still beautiful) garlanding door frames and mirrors, as well as our annual Nutcracker display. The topiary trees at each end were made by me, using moss harvested from the lawn of our German apartment building, c. 1995. They have been part of my Christmas decorating ever since.
The Nutcracker collection, 2006

5) Baking. Everyone knows that goodies you eat during the holiday season will never cause you to gain weight. Right?

6) Christmas Eve dinner with family at the home of my cousin and her husband.

7) My musical friends’ annual Christmas party, which always culminates in everyone gathering round the grand piano in their Victorian parlor, to sing Christmas carols, loudly and lustily, accompanied by flute and trombone (played by father and son, respectively.) 

8) The Victorian Christmas house tour in Old Allegheny West, an enclave of lovingly-preserved Victorian houses on Pittsburgh’s North Side. I discovered this wonderful event a decade ago when I saw an article about it in House and Garden magazine.

From the 2007 Victorian Christmas House Tour

9) Gluhwein! What the Germans drink to keep warm during outdoor winter events, such as Christmas markets. I will soon be enjoying some here at home. One does not, of course, buy the prepared bottled stuff. First, you make a mull with lemon, orange, cinnamon, clove and other aromatic goodies, sweetened with sugar or honey, simmered for awhile (filling the house with incredible aroma) then add red wine and heat, very gently, so as not to burn off any merry-making molecules, and serve. Good cheer indeed! A must while out on the nighttime patio viewing the December star-scape.

10) Elizabeth’s bears. My soon-to-be-84 year old Mother has been collecting teddy-bears (for affection, not value) for quite awhile now. At Christmas, the entire collection makes its annual appearance all around the house. 

Wishing all of you the happiest of holidays, and may you enjoy just rewards for all the hard work I know you you've put forth to make them special!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Coming Metamorphosis

It’s been awhile since I posted anything, and at present I still have no new artwork to show, alas. However, I do see light at the end of the tunnel: I’ve finally finished this huge calligraphy job that has been stalking me like the Hound of the Baskervilles for several weeks and preventing me from taking up more creative activities. Here is a tale of woe all too familiar to calligraphers:  the piece is done, all 500+ words of it filling an 18x24 sheet, and the last step is adding a logo in black. Why I chose to do so with a crow quill pen instead of a permanent black marker, I can’t fathom, but I’ll know better from now on! Because, of course, the pen burped out too much ink, which bled beyond the edge of the logo design and thus ruined the entire piece. (And that was the second attempt, the first one being only half-done when I ruined it by leaving out an entire, important word.)  That was last weekend. This past week, every night after work, I plied my pen (doing the logo first—in marker!) and, HURRAY!! last night I finished it. Here it is, with apologies for the lousy digital photography:

Since I can no longer keep up the strain of working full time and still producing one of my intricate, detailed collages every day (attempts at simplifying my style have been futile) I’ve been pondering where to go with this blog. Recently I came across a couple of other blogs whose style I love—Little Augury, written by an interior designer in the Carolinas, and Scala Regia, by a Diogo Mayo, who is Portuguese. Both of them have exquisite tastes and interests in art, books, fine interiors, beautiful gardens, legendary personages, in short, the very things that are most compelling to me. Little Augury tends to emphasize interiors, while Scala Regia has lots about fashion, and both offer plenty about the personalities involved in those industries. LA includes a good bit of text, while SR is mostly visuals.Their blogs are loaded with wit and style and never fail to interest, enlighten and amuse. So, taking inspiration from these, I will attempt to broaden Collagitation to encompass all of my interests, not just my art. Whether I can do this without boring people remains to be seen!

Collagitation will remain the title, because, after all, life is a collage, made up of colors, patterns, and contents that we select and attempt to arrange in a fulfilling design of our own making. But unlike the art that we create, many, if not most, of the elements that comprise our lives are not what we choose, but either what we are dealt or what we settle for. Which is one of the reasons why creating art is so satisfying. “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.” - Twyla Tharp


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