There's no better celebration of any season than the decorated tree adorned with the rich symbolism of nature—my ritual to inform and inspire you in the journey called life.

Friday, December 25, 2009

oh, tannenbaum

CHRISTMAS IS always full of wonder and surprise. Even in an age of crass commercialism, it is a time when people go out of their way to connect in a human way. In my Christmas card mail, I got an incredibly beautiful letterpress card (shown above, but you have to feel it to really appreciate its beauty) this year from Mohawk Fine Papers, one of my favorite paper companies. It was printed by Dauphine Press in Petaluma, California. The image on the front of the card is a tree made up of trees! It couldn't be more perfect for a tree-hugger like me! Letterpress has a beautiful indented texture. The process is an old form of printing that involves raised type that is pressed into the surface of the paper on heavy antique printing presses. Handset lead and wood type as well as metal printing plates are used to produce this painstaking printing process— true craftsmanship! Graphic designer Trish Kinsella started Dauphine Press in 1999. She relates on the company's website, "I wanted to be a part of bringing letterpress printing back into the American vernacular."

THE   SENTIMENT inside the Mohawk card says "in your honor a tree is being planted in a National Forest." On the back it says "This gift will make a lasting difference. Your tree is being planted so that our National Forests can be restored to their full grandeur…making them once again a place for inspiration for all who pass through, and a sanctuary for wild things of beauty and grace." It goes on with a link to the Arbor Day Foundation web page to learn more about the importance of replanting our National Forests and how you can help. I urge you to visit the site and take action.

THIS CARD really "wowed" me because it is rare that you see such attention to detail in correspondence these days except for wedding invitations and such. Paper companies always create the ultimate printed samples because it's their stock-in-trade. The internet has supplanted the written word in so many ways. Magazines and publishing companies are having crisis moments in keeping afloat. As a graphic designer, I remember really being resistant in embracing the computer for design because it was the first indicator that the tactile quality of my profession was going to disappear. I didn't realize then the far-reaching implications of that first loss of human touch. Although I love my Macintosh computer and couldn't imagine doing work without it, there's still something to be said for the human touch in experiencing a printed product. I for one, can't imagine reading a book on a Kindle. I love ink and paper too much. Hands holding a book or magazine and turning pages are part of the whole ritual!

THAT SAID, small stationery companies are popping up everywhere and bringing a revival to customized and civilized correspondence as it used to be. My good friend Gia Graham runs just such a company called Betsy White Stationery Boutique (a detail of one of her invitations using a tree image is at left). The company was started under another name by Gia and my cousin Angela Moland-Barnes (who has now moved onto a position at a local design firm). Much thanks to Gia of Betsy White (in Atlanta) and graphic designer Amanda Fuller (in Sydney, Australia) for featuring my trees on their blogs: Flights of Fancy and Calico & Co., respectively. That's just about as nice as a letterpress card!

IT'S RARE to see anything that is engraved or printed letterpress (or has the graphic quality of it) because it became one of the "lost arts" with the technological advances of more automated printing. I'm glad to see attention to detail and craft of printing being brought back to the forefront again. One of the oldest working letterpress shops in America, Hatch Show Print in Nashville Tennessee says it best on their site: "We are, indeed, a tonic for the information age." 

STARTING WITH one printing press and a cabinet of type in 1994 Hammerpress, a homegrown letterpress company founded in Kansas City by artist Brady Vest has grown to a handful of employees, several very heavy antique printing presses and tons of type. Their work is a self-described as "superfine letterpress ephemera" and is just another great example of  the craft of printing. They were featured in Martha Stewart Weddings magazine in the Fall of 2009. One of their wedding invitations was chosen to exemplify “Vintage Cool.” Drawing inspiration from old carnival broadsides, the invite used painstakingly handset wood and lead type with type ornaments.

IT'S NO MISTAKE that paper is made from trees because trees speak to all of us in a visceral way. Paper companies are finally being more responsible to the environment, especially Mohawk Fine Papers. I'll cherish my letterpress tree card from Mohawk and think of the tree contribution made to our National Forests, updating here when I find out who printed it for them. Their card was much more than a greeting.  

CHRISTMAS DAY is here, and the holiday season is winding down. I wish all of my friends and blog readers an abundance of the human touch and the best of the season. The element of touch is what connects us and heals our souls. Personalized "snail-mail" correspondence goes a long way to that end. 

LETTERPRESS TOUCH | This corporate holiday card from Mohawk Fine Papers (above, right) expressed an unusually profound sentiment with the gift of a tree to our National Forests in each receiver's name. 

LOVE LOGO #14 | Betsy White Stationery Boutique sells this beautiful invitation (above, left) using tree artwork to great effect. 

BARN SWALLOW ORNAMENT | These unique die cut barn swallow ornaments (bottom, right and under "ornament obsessions" on the left-hand column of this blog) are printed on recycled chipboard and come in a set of nine along with red and white baker’s twine for hanging. By (and available at) 


Monday, December 21, 2009

winter wish

MY WISH is simply for love and light for all that I encounter. As just a moment in time, Winter Solstice will start specifically today at 12:47pm Eastern Standard Time. This occasion always marks the shortest day and the longest night of the year. The Earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun, and this signals the beginning shift to longer days and shorter nights. Also called Yule, it is a celebration of rebirth. Let's hope this coming year gives us plenty of the warmth and brightness that light brings to all things. It's not such a simple concept when you consider the implications. All too-often we forget to live fully in the moment.

MY TREE this year celebrates winter in all it's icy glory. As much as I dislike cold weather, I realize it's a chance for us all to reflect on what the warmth of the sun brings us. It has been an especially rainy season in Atlanta, and as I write this, the sun is shining brightly outside for the first time in days. My kitty Luci is sitting on her cat bed in the warmth of the sunlight streaming through the window. Our Pagan ancestry believed in the mystery and magic of light and darkness and celebrated the seemingly miraculous return of the light at Winter Solstice. No matter whether you subscribe to this system or not, it's the reason for the Christmas tree. And it's hard to deny that we don't all welcome our place in the sun.

LIGHT AND MAGIC | This year's Alpine-shaped tinsel tree (above, right) is from Urban Outfitters. I removed the tinsel wrapped trunk and glittered it with silver German glass glitter along with a turned-wood base to glam it up a bit. Tediously careful shaping of a wire tinsel tree like this is of utmost importance in the final look of the tree.The icicle theme was inspired by a wintry icicle tree I saw in Martha Stewart Living magazine this year, although very differently conceived (it is made up of acrylic rods).

THREE WISHES | These three mercury glass birds (above, left) represent the two people mentioned above and my cat Luci, who are all suffering with cancer. It is my wish that their pain is short and they continue to live as long as possible with dignity and grace.
y Smith and Hawken for Target

IN THIS TIME of  reflection, I want to send all the good energy and light I can conjure to two people in my life and to Luci, my cat, who are all three suffering with cancer. My Aunt Wilma has just learned that hers has spread, my good friend Janice Fletcher-White's sister Debbie Noel is sick, and my cat Luci is in her last days as the cancer takes hold. I don't know how much longer any of them will be in my life, but I wish that their suffering with such an insidious disease is as minimal as can be, whatever that might mean. Life is as ephemeral as the light and I'm thankful for all the people and creatures that have and continue to bring love and light to my life. You know who you are. Because of this, I know that the light will return, both physically and metaphorically, no matter what happens.

AS THE YEAR  comes to an end, this simple wish is the hope of the season. And I want to thank all of my friends and followers on this blog and wish them all the season's best. Since this past August, what I've brought to you in my blog has been a labor of love and a way to express my passion for the beauty of life. Spring will come to all of us again after our time with winter. There are lessons even in the darkest hours.

RAYS OF LIGHT | This gorgeous glass-beaded starburst tree topper (left) couldn't be more perfect to guide the light of the season. From Pottery Barn and available in the Atlanta Lenox Square store (the world's largest).

REINDEER PLAY | This glittered reindeer from Target prances among the packages. 

FATHER CHRISTMAS | The elongated form of this Father Christmas from a past season's Martha Stewart Collection at Macy's holds its own among the varied collection of icicle ornaments.

ICE AND SNOW | The large frosted white glass icicle is from the former Martha by Mail catalog. The white snowy owl keeping watch is from a past season's line at West Elm.

collecting and styling by Darryl Moland,
tree photographed by Harold Daniels Studio / assisted by Shawn May
all other photographs by Darryl Moland

Monday, December 14, 2009

tree of dreams

THE HOLIDAYS are a time for family, no matter what form that concept may take—friends, partners, spouses, pets, siblings, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren . . . or some combination of all of the above. But it's our mother that brings us the most profound connection to nature by her very essence as bearer of new life. We are all a part of them as much as they are part of us. My mother richly infused my memories of the holiday by encouraging me each year to use my creativity in decorating our family tree. Since there were ten years between my next oldest brother Mal and I, there was enough room for me to do so. My brothers were both jocks and not really interested in such things anyway. And my sister had already found her own life. We all had a hand in it when I was younger, but after a point, it became my own canvas—to sometimes dismal effect (like the tree limited to an all-white color scheme with homemade paper doily fans, which looked quite funereal). My mother provided all the room she could have to let me experiment by allowing me to buy ornament kits and letting me use my imagination in configuring the tree with the ornaments we had and the new ones I created. I always took this challenge with great glee and was successful more times than not.

THIS TREE of silver and pink was inspired by a dream I had of her. Shortly after her death, I dreamt about her finding a Christmas present from me­—a pink and silver rhinestone brooch. Though she never received it physically, this tree is an offering to her spirit. It was as if, in order to celebrate her life, I was now charged to keep the flame of creativity she helped spark in me. Her mischievous exuberance is captured by the varied animals (a giraffe, birds, a Christmas spider, and even a mouse) combined with sparkly baubles, flowers, leaves and stars; all evoking the brilliance of the brooch gift I had for her in the dream. Friends tell me that this photograph looks like an altar, and it is, of sorts. Every tree should garner such a response. There should be a light within it, even if it isn't illuminated with actual lights. My coworker Dan told me the tree I put up at work this year didn't need lights because it had a sparkle all-it's-own.The light and magic of a well-decorated tree is evocative of the historical and natural context of our collective memories and should speak to that sense of wonder, whether directly personal or a homage to generational history.

MY PARENTS instilled in me this sense of wonder during the holiday. I carry this with me and am sharing it here—creating a testament to their spirit. Plenty of holiday trees I see each year have become overwrought with elements that have little meaning or relevance to the time-honored traditions of the decorated tree, but my intent is to bring it all back in focus, by giving historical context as to why certain decorations and themes are more richly relevant than others. It really all depends on what is important to you and your family of choice—the spirit of Christmas is ultimately for the kid in all of us—and it's easy to find a pure sense of self when you're decorating with something in mind to honor—not unlike an altar to your memories of the people with which you share or have shared your life.

INSPIRATION  for a tree can take many forms. I probably take that more seriously than most people do because I've continued to grow and nurture the seeds my mother planted in me years ago. All the trees I've created in my lifetime hold memories of places I've been, people I've known and people I cherish with associations I've made in my collecting wherever I go. And nature is the base source of this inspiration. You can find incredible color schemes within one seashell or the pinks and grays of a winter sky after a freshly-fallen snow. There's nothing more magical than towering evergreens covered in snow—the sparkle and texture found in such a scene is awe-inspiring in its unadorned simplicity—sweet dreams are made of this. Embellishing those dreams and making them into reality are the stuff of wonder and surprise. 

PRETTY IN PINK | My mother's "signature" color was pink, so this tree (above, right) serves her memory well (as well as my dream of my gift to her of a pink-and-silver brooch). The seemingly random mix of ornaments are tied together only by color and my interpretation of my mother's creative spirit. They all represent some aspect of her exuberant, sometimes loud, always unique and endearing personality. The ornaments are from my own private collection of antique ornaments and newer baubles—from sources far-and-wide: Target once had an incredible line of ornaments designed by Thomas O'Brien (the tree topper and silvery-blue ornaments), the pink and silver tinsel tree and mouse ornament are from the now defunct Martha by Mail catalog. This "altar" to her memory is flanked by two mercury glass candlesticks with flames softly framed by vintage-style bottle brush wreaths. 

MOTHER'S CHILDREN | That's me on the far left (above, left) looking off into the trees even then, at only three years old.The photo was taken on a 1964 summer vacation by my father: My brother Ronald stands ever-stoically in the background, my sister Donna pensively holds me safe, and my brother Mal stands smiling to the left of my mother—the best mother anyone could have—in her boldly-striped dress. Here we are a few years ago (left) in the same configuration sans our mother (made not long after both parents died in 2005)

NATURAL MAGIC | This sepia-toned grouping of evergreen trees (above, right) covered in snow form an iconic and magical silhouette against a wintry sky—a sight rarely seen in the American South where I was reared. I haven't lived farther north than Atlanta, where I now reside. A significant snow is a rare occurrence in the winters here.

collecting and styling by Darryl Moland, 
photography (Top—Pretty in Pink) Claudia Lopez
(Above—Natural Magic) iStock

Sunday, December 6, 2009

natural selection

WE ARE NOT living in an age of subtlety. "Reality" shows abound on television where the most obnoxious, outrageous and gaudy get all the attention. No publicity, is bad publicity anymore, even for State Dinner crashers and sons of reality show wannabe parents that hold the media aloft chasing spaceship balloons for hours on end. Christmas decorations have accordingly become gaudier and gaudier in large part due to florists and department store visual display artists trying to outdo each other in public displays. That's how they sell it—build a gaudy spectacle and they will come. This is not how it should be done at home. Somebody forgot the caveat "DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME" somewhere along the line. I remember hearing the mantra of a very successful florist — "if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing." Not so, when decorating at home.

I CAN CERTAINLY see the m.o. in that credo, and I for one, can appreciate the glee in over-the-top decorations. There's something about gaudy American consumerist spectacle that gives me a particularly sick sort of comfort—it's as if you're not part of the game if you don't participate. More lights in more configurations than you thought humanly possible? The more, the merrier! Commercial-sized plastic blow-up yard ornaments that lie in misshapen piles while the owners are at work during the day? Not so much. It's like getting behind rubbernecking traffic in a 10-car pileup on the interstate. One just hopes they can get by without seeing a crumpled mess, or even worse, a bloody scene, but you're still stuck in the slowed-to-a-standstill traffic. Commerce has overlaid the gentle quietness of nature.

WITHIN ITS ORIGINS, the tradition of the decorated tree began with a simple, some may say, superstitious, hope for the return to spring (as if the turning of the seasons was not a surefire thing). Nevertheless, a reverence for nature is slowly being welcomed back into decorating— bringing the ceremonial symbolism and true meaning of the decorated tree back to its noble origins. A beautiful symbol of the season is a glittery tree shaped from metal "twigs" and adorned with a subdued nod to the natural world in winter whites, tans and grays (above, right). The inclusion of animal ornaments; a polar bear, a mature deer and a small bird are indicative of what can be found in the market which pay homage to endangered species. It's as if we're grasping for an apology to the natural world for what we've done to it. Aside from being visually assaulted at every turn, it is becoming more and more apparent that we are destroying our own natural environment. We have a lot to learn from the pristine natural world (both flora and fauna) in its utter grace and simplicity. No matter how breathtakingly awesome the size of its vista, the natural world, as resilient as it is, is still ultimately fragile when you look at the underlying ecosystem. Nature depends on a complex system of co-habitation and synchronization and it is less and less able to cope with the destruction wrought by humans and the waste and byproducts of industrial "civilization." Pollution comes in too many forms.

MORE AND MORE one can find natural-themed ornaments— made from eco-friendly materials (or at least not plastic or resin). Some of the first ornaments I made as a kid were from a kit my mother bought me made of felt cutouts sewn together and glued with sequins and trim, similar to the felt reindeer ornament here (but much less sophisticated, of course) that seemingly dances among the (wooden, laser-cut) snowflakes (above, left). The Germans are most famous for their glass ornaments, but are also consummate woodcrafters. The two wooden  hand-carved folk art span trees (right) are carved, amazingly enough, from a single piece of linden wood with carefully-cut shavings curled upward to form their branches—works of art in themselves that need no ornamentation. The tableau is rounded out with a couple of hand-blown, metallic-finished glass ornaments, a birch bark folded star ornament, sweetgum tree fruits painted silver (given to me by my friend Julia Neville) and a pewter leaf ornament.

THE IMAGE (at left— click on to enlarge) illustrates my point more succinctly and poignantly as only art can do. I am thrilled to have permission to show the work of a very talented artist named Jaime Zollars. In the description of this piece by Jaime, it is succinctly said: "This image of forest creatures making the best of a bleak situation illustrates hope and the true spirit of the holiday season." In remembering that true spirit, I hope this gives one pause to stop and take time to remember that nature is ultimately responsible for the bounty of the season. Look to it to inspire and inform your holiday decorations. This method to our holiday madness is something we can all hope to achieve. And by doing so, we rejoin nature on a warm wind of change. 

WINTER WISHES |  This metal wire tree from Anthropologie is coated with glittery beads and is hung with a subdued color palette of ornaments: Czechoslovakian beaded ornaments, silvery gray mercury glass baubles and German glass-glittered snowflakes demonstrate the simple composition of this tableau. Beautifully-rendered animal ornaments stand watch and remind us that their environment and ours are essentially one-in-the-same and has to be taken into account for the survival of all. 

SNOWFLAKE DANCER | The artfully, beaded and stitched felt reindeer is from Homegoods. The laser cut wooden snowflakes are from West Elm (large), Target (medium) and Anthropologie (small). 

GERMAN FOLK ART | These wooden folk art span trees are carved from a single piece of linden wood curl by curl and layer by layer with a method developed in the 1930's by talented German craftsmen (these are from Straco and purchased at Homegoods). The two handblown glass ornaments have a beautiful rich crackled "tarnished" silver finish were bought at an arts festival in Atlanta, the birch bark folded star ornament was purchased from Martha by Mail a few years back. The sweetgum tree fruit is spray-painted silver and the pewter leaf ornament came from a shop in the North Georgia mountains. 

collecting and styling by Darryl Moland, 
photography (top, right) Harold Daniels Studio
assisted by Shawn May
(middle, left and bottom, right) Darryl Moland.
Artwork (bottom, left) by Jaime Zollars.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

retromodern redux

NOT ALL TREES need to speak directly to nature. They can take their cues from cherished ornaments you've inherited and be combined with newer interpretations of retro ornaments to strike a carefully-conceived balance of the memory of past holidays with new ones made every year. A colorfully decorated "retromodern" tree can be achieved by decorating it with inherited treasures or collecting the from online auctions where people often sell treasures from someone's attic. The secret to making it modern lies in combining retro heirlooms with modern ornaments. Reproductions of old ornaments are also increasingly being found in the marketplace. Fresh color combinations can be found anywhere, but two immediate sources are antique ornaments or in the whimsical textile designs of Tammis Keefe. There are plenty of ornaments on the market today that push the concept of color further than tradition. And rather than an evergreen tree, try a German-style feather tree (made from dyed or bleached goose feathers wrapped around wire branches). The sparseness of the branches make plenty of room for ornaments to be composed carefully. Some newer tinsel trees also get their cues from feather trees. One great thing about these types of artificial trees is that there are no dropped needles to clean up!

IF CHOOSING a real tree, pay careful attention to trimming it properly before decorating. Modern Christmas tree farms fill the market with too-perfect conical trees that are packed full of branches because that's what the market usually demands. It's rare to find a tree with a natural shape anymore, but if every other row of branches is trimmed out of the tree, it will give your ornaments room to hang freely. Leave any branches that give natural character and protrude from the conical shape. Some tree farms are getting the clue and not shearing their trees so fastidiously. The good thing about tree farms is that you're not cutting down a tree that wasn't grown specifically for the season, so they are still more ecologically sound than plastic trees made from petroleum products. There's nothing like the smell of a fresh evergreen at Christmas. And you can use the trimmings to make garland or a wreath!

MY COLLECTING obsession has its roots in college when I came up with concepts for a hypothetical store that sold holiday decorations as one of my graphic identity projects. I found these classic red ornaments made by the Krebs family at Kmart then (in the early 1980's—years before the once stellar selections from Martha Stewart Everyday were sold there). It was the finish and ornament caps on these German-origin ornaments that sold me. Rather than the silver lined shiny ornaments, these had a beautiful rich painted finish that has held up to the test of time (I haven't seen any quite like them since). I rarely use a purely red and green color combination for my tree (or trees). Even back then, I combined the red ornaments with several shades of pink, cream and clear ornaments. It seems that I try for a new color theme nearly every year and my friends have come to expect it from me, so I see it as a creative challenge, much like that college project.

ONE CAN FIND unusual colors in the market more readily these days. I credit Martha Stewart with filling the market with modern, more subtle colors—based on antiques (especially in her earlier collections for Kmart). Thankfully, other companies have also followed suit. Manufacturers have been a lot more conservative with the economic downturn, so they are marketing the "safe" colors that sell at Christmas. Those red ornaments I found back in college were fixtures on my parent's tree for years after I had moved onto other themes and my ornament collecting turned into an obsession. Now they are treasured "heirlooms."

IT'S FUN to make something old new again. All it takes is a bit of imagination and a willingness to find your inspiration in fresh color combinations. Don't be afraid to stray away from the traditional. You might be surprised that a unique interpretation of the holiday color scheme becomes your new favorite . . . this year, at least! 

RETROMODERN TREE | Combining antique striped bells and mica-coated ornaments with modern Christopher Radko reproductions of Shiny Brite ornaments; new, brightly striped and patterned interpretations by Isaac Mizrahi for Target along with brightly-striped balls from the Garnet Hill catalog and polka dotted and nubbed ornaments from Martha Stewart Everyday at Kmart, this traditional German feather tree comes alive with interest. It is topped with a Moravian star ornament made into a tree topper from Martha Stewart Everyday at Kmart that I glittered with teal German glass glitter (above, right). The chartreuse painted pedestal it sits atop is filled with reproduction "Shiny Brite" indent ornaments from the Smithsonian catalog. The rustic-modern table that holds it all is a match with chartreuse and cream striped boards on top. 

OBSESSIVE ORIGINS | These rich red German-origin ornaments with fancy gold caps (traditionally, ornament caps are distinctive to a particular family company) are from Christmas by Krebs. These are the first ornaments I bought when my collecting adventure began in college—over 25 years ago. The whimsical 1940's(?) linen Christmas handkerchief is signed by Tammis Keefe, and serves as a modern inspiration for a fresh holiday palette. Even if you have traditionally-colored ornaments, you can freshen the look with rickrack or other ribbon ornament ties in a bright hue to set off a vibration of color, (above, left). 

collecting and styling by Darryl Moland, 
photography by Claudia Lopez (above, right) 
and Darryl Moland (above, left)