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)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

harvest and abundance

T H A N K S G I V I N G   is a celebration of the fall harvest, mainly in the United States and Canada, although it is celebrated on different days—the second Monday in October in Canada and the fourth Thursday in November in the United States. A recent Thanksgiving for this American was begun by waking up and looking out the window at the first fresh snow of the season in Toronto, Canada. Growing up in the American South, a white Christmas is a lot to ask for, but this was a new kind of Thanksgiving—the first cold one away from family. That trip was a memorable one and the snow added a fresh, cold, crispness to the air. I'll never forget that day for many reasons, but the memory of the snow will be the one that sticks.

W H E A T,  of course is always a large part of any harvest and is traditionally a symbol of the abundance of the season. Christmas ornaments made of wheat (a Polish and Scandanavian tradition) symbolize a thanksgiving for the harvest, so the theme can be carried throughout the season. Being thankful for the abundance of life is always cause for celebration, but it is tempered by knowing that abundance is hard won. The glass ornaments shown in the photo (above, right) are symbols of home and abundance. Variations of cottage house ornaments with turkeys in front were created in Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia and first produced in the 1920's (these are new reproductions from Germany).

M Y   K I T T Y  Luci, who I introduced a few posts back has had an abundant and long life, but this Thanksgiving, while I still have her (she is fast being overcome by an especially nasty cancer on her tongue), the true test is to be thankful for all the times I have had with her, knowing that her days are numbered. She was a stray that appeared in my mine and my partner's life just before Thanksgiving in 1994. We brought her into our household and even after Lowell (my partner then) and I went our separate ways a number of years later, I've always felt like she was our child. It is because she found us that I feel especially lucky to have had such a wonderful life with her. And I am thankful to have been the one to keep her all these years. She has been a profound presence in my life (and in my lap as I write this). I'm not sure what I'll do without my beautiful little muse.

A S   A  B O Y, Thanksgiving always meant a big turkey and sage cornbread dressing with fresh giblet gravy, potato salad, creamed corn, green beans seasoned with pork, and cranberry sauce sliced from the can. I remember bringing in the day excitedly by watching the pomp and circumstance of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV with its gigantic helium balloons—with the Tom Turkey float ushering in a float with Santa on his sleigh. It was the beginning of the Christmas season then. Now, it starts as early as October.

A N D   S O  it is again. As I've said before, home is wherever my cats are. This warm, purring creature in my lap is the only reason I need to be thankful right now. A poem from a book my co-worker, Donna (also a lover of cats) gave me yesterday sums it up:

Cats may not be our servants
or our defenders,
but give us life,
Lying softly in laps, tuning their 
    heartbeats to our own,
singing away sorrow,
easing the mind,
unraveling the day.
Sharing the empty dark.
Like flowers, inexhaustible in beauty.
Like flowers, most necessary—
in ways we scarcely understand,
Healers, Companions.
                    —Pam Brown 

TURKEY AND THE STRAW | (Top, right), these glass ornaments are symbols of home and abundance. The sheaves of wheat ornaments were made in Czechoslovakia for Martha by Mail a few years back The milk glass turkey candy dish also came from Martha by Mail. The hand-blown and hand-painted turkey cottage ornaments were made by a German company named Zehetner-Smith Design. 

TOM TURKEY |  (Middle, left), the goofy, but lovable Tom Turkey float in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (even though I've only seen it on TV) has signaled the start of the Christmas season nearly every year since I was a boy.

YIN AND YANG | (Bottom, right), Abella (top) and Luci almost form a yin and yang figure on the bed last night—a rare glimpse of sisterly love. 

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

big thing, small package

A C O R N S, as we all know, are the seeds of the mighty oak tree. These beautiful little capped nuts were one of the main food sources of the nomadic tribes in prehistoric Europe and were considered sacred because they provided food, housing and fire. The oak tree was revered in many cultures because it represented strength and endurance, especially for the Celts and Norse. Oak wood is traditionally burned for the Yule fire on Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year). Burning an oak Yule log represents the rebirth of the sun and the days becoming longer.

T H E   D R U I D S  thought of the oak as imparting divine knowledge if you listened to the whispering secrets in the wind-rustled leaves. Acorns were thought to give one magical powers and the gift of prophecy when eaten. Aside from the very beauty of acorns, from all accounts, they and the trees they become hold a revered place in history. I'm always in awe of a beautiful old oak tree, tree-hugger that I am.

T H E   L I V E   O A K   is one of my favorite types of oak trees. Their gnarled down-swept limbs are usually hanging with Spanish moss and have an amazing mystical quality. Another unusual quality is that these trees are evergreen (their branches don't loose all their leaves in the winter). Some of the most beautiful specimens I've seen are on Sapelo Island, Georgia an hour south of Savannah (not counting the ferry trip to the island). The human history of this island is quite long and varied, dating back at least 4,500 years, Not far from Sapelo, is Cumberland Island. It is Georgia's southernmost barrier island and is known for its pristine and wide primordial beaches abundant with wild horses running free and sea turtles laying their eggs. It is also known as the wedding spot for John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette when they were married there in 1996 (rest their souls).

F O R   T H E   F I R S T  anniversary (of another memorable night), Jon surprised me with tickets for Halloween night at Cavalia, which is currently running in Atlanta. The artistic director of this production, Normande Latourelle, helped build Cirque du Soliel during its most raw and creative years (1985-1990). In one of the many beautiful scenarios in the production, there was one with falling leaves (abstract leaf-shaped tissue), which Jon and I collected at the end of the performance while waiting on our visit to the stables afterwards to see all the incredible horses (almost 60 of them!). Some of these leaves are used in the background of the photo of part of my acorn ornament collection (above, right). I've not been especially enthralled by the last few traveling productions of Cirque du Soleil, but this is something entirely new and refreshing (it is also performed under a tent, shown below), and visually explores horses in art history along with the beautiful visceral bond between horses and humans. The most intimate moments of the production were when the human performers, were alone in playful moments with the horses—which were absolutely amazing. The beginning scenes were so poetically visual, tears welled up in my eyes. It was a stunningly beautiful night.

SEEDS OF LIFE | Some of my glass acorn ornament collection (above, left) nestled in an acorn-shaped ceramic bowl and a pressed paper acorn ornament box (from Martha Stewart Crafts). Ornaments are both new and antique from a variety of sources [Martha by Mail, Martha Stewart Everyday Collection from Kmart, Inge-Glas of Germany (star-capped) and Old World Christmas Ornaments, among others). 

HORSE WHISPERERS | The Cavalia logo art (above, right) brilliantly reflects two two-legged human figures with the four-legged horse illustration. Ironically, acorns can be toxic (in large quantities) to horses because of the tannin (an acidic chemical) content. 

BIG TOP | Far superior in many ways than some of the most recent traveling Cirque du Soleil productions under their signature blue and gold big top, Cavalia is performed under a large tent that is simply white (above). 

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Monday, November 9, 2009

free fall

Laden Autumn here I stand
Worn of heart,

    and weak of hand:
Nought but rest seems 
    good to me,
Speak the word that 

    sets me free.
                —William Morris  

F A L L   T R E E S  become a saturated blaze of earthy color after a spring and summer of growth. The first artwork I created that got any attention started with a crudely painted bare tree trunk and limbs, then daubed with red, green, brown and yellow leaves applied with bits of sponge dipped in tempera paint, which I'm recreating in the photo at right (except with glass leaf ornaments). I did this sponge painting in kindergarten and proudly brought it home to give to my mother. She considered it a "masterpiece" (as only a mother can do). She kept the tree painting folded neatly in her drawer for as long as I can remember and would pull it out occasionally to show to friends and relatives.

P A I N T I N G  was one of the first indications that I had an eye for arts and crafts. My mother keeping and cherishing that painting as she did let me know it was nothing ordinary. Her tucking it away for safekeeping like it was something precious probably had more to do with my becoming a visual artist than any raw talent I ever had. It gave me the confidence inherent in creating something and taught me to love expressing myself with the raw materials of color, texture and form. My eyes turned into visual sponges—like those bits of paint-soaked sponge that I used to create that fall tree. My interest in absorbing the visual beauty of my surroundings started right then and there.

M Y   K I N D E R G A R T E N  teacher was also our next-door-neighbor where I grew up, so school was an easier transition for me than a lot of kids. I always excelled in school because I loved the adventure of learning new things. I was one of the geeky popular kids—the good-grade set with social skills. My parents were both actively involved in my sibling's lives—as stretched out as they were (I came along ten years after my brother Mal). One or both of my parents was always nearby in all our extracurricular endeavors (the band for my sister and I, and the football team for my two brothers), so I was what they called one of the "good kids," probably only because I knew mother and daddy would promptly find out if I ever did anything wrong.

M O T H E R   A L W A Y S  let me take charge of decorating the Christmas tree each year, once I was old enough to do so, and it became a lifelong passion that has grown to obsessive proportions. That's why I'm doing this blog. I have a lot to share and have amassed an enormous array of decorations and ephemera with which to do it. I'm less than two years away from being fifty, so it seems like a natural progression during the autumn years of my life. It is also a means by which to collect my thoughts and ideas for a book called "The Decorated Tree" that I want to publish someday. And it's all about freeing this dream I've had for years and making it a reality.

W I L L I A M   M O R R I S, who wrote the short poem that begins this blog post was a leader in the Arts and Crafts movement begun in the late 19th century. The more I read about him (shown, left, at age 37), the more it seems my ideas about resolving craft with industrialization are in alignment. Today, that means retooling a new appreciation of things still well-made by industry by sorting through the mounds of schlock that is mass-marketed. Modern society, as Morris feared, has become all about being fast and cheap and has lost a lot of historical context in translation. He rejected the opulence of the Victorian era and urged a return to medieval traditions of design, craftsmanship and community. Aside from being a poet, an artist and a social reformer, he is probably most well-known for perfecting the use of woodblocks for printing the nature-inspired wallpaper and textiles he designed, many of which are still in use today in one form or another. His political writings were geared toward a push away from the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution and a longing for a society in which people could enjoy craftsmanship and simplicity of expression.

M Y   S I G H T S  are set less broadly than his (or maybe not), but in any account, that is exactly what I want to do with the holiday tree, which has all but become a meaningless decorative concoction without much reverence to the natural world and the history that created it. It hasn't always been that way. I believe that life ultimately finds its true meaning in nature and we must revere our history. And like a vibrant falling leaf, I hope to find good ground to nourish and tap into a time-honored wellspring of renewed ideas. 

MEMORY TREE | Almost 40 years later, I recreate that kindergarten tree painting (above, right), except, instead of daubs of paint sponged on for leaves, there are glass ornaments. The broad leaves are made by Department 56, the narrow ones are from Cost Plus World Market (past season). The tree is topped by an owl ornament from West Elm (past season). Surrounded by moss and real autumn leaves, the nut ornaments (atop the faux-finished memory box) symbolize rebirth: a glittered-glass walnut by Martha Stewart Everyday at Kmart, a walnut and a chestnut by Inge Glas (past seasons). 

KEEPSAKE MEMORIES| Here I am at about age 10 next to the Christmas tree at home (in 1971), accompanied by a handmade Christmas card painted for my parents with my school picture pasted on it (above, center) made around the same time. 

ARTIST AND CRAFTSMAN | William Morris (bottom, left), born in 1837, was directly inspired by the flora and fauna of the natural world and warned of the dehumanizing effect of the Industrial Revolution. He is known as the Father of the Arts and Crafts movement which got its start in the latter 1800's. Painting by George Frederic Watts, circa 1870. 

©2009 DARRYL MOLAND | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland. Painting of William Morris by George Frederic Watts.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

tree of treats

AT HALLOWEEN, the usual distinctions between the living and the dead, children and adults, fun and fear are mysteriously blurred. The magic of the season lies in the progression of summer to fall and the onward march to winter. Autumnal colors brighten the landscape with a blaze of color, but eventually turn brown and fall to the ground to nourish the soil. It's all part of the continuous circle of life and death with the promise of rebirth in the coming spring. The Halloween tree is a recent phenomenon and is fast becoming a holiday fixture. It's fun to transform a traditional Winter/Christmas concept. 

THIS HALLOWEEN treat tree (above) is made of black crimped wire formed into a trunk with spiked branches creating a spindly silhouette. It is decorated with large metal cones painted to resemble candy corn which are filled with Halloween candy. Similarly, the first modern Christmas trees were hung with fruits, nuts, cookies and pastries. Blown glass ravens with black feather tails perch precariously and glittery wire spiders hang and crawl about—to represent the circle of life and death and pay homage to the natural world. Ravens are incredibly intelligent birds and have the ability to mimic many sounds. Because of this, they are considered wise and to possess powers of prophesy. A small autumnal tableau of pumpkins and gourds are at the base of the tree and Halloween candy is scattered about. The two pumpkins below the base are carved with a folk art tree of life and a black cat, it's back arched in classic Halloween style. The metal crow to the left is pecking at a bowl of candy treats. "Happy Halloween!" letters are strung together behind, along with a witch flying across the moon.

THE MOST CREATIVE public display of an autumnal tree I've seen was a fifty-foot tall pumpkin tree artfully composed with vines and artificial pumpkins of every shape and size. It appeared at Stone Mountain Park in the Crossroads area a few years back. I went back this year expecting to get pictures of a similar tree, but it wasn't to be found. Rarely do I see a commercially decorated tree of this size with such a magical natural-looking quality.

I JUST DISCOVERED Ray Bradbury's book, The Halloween Tree  and although I haven't read it, I'm intrigued. Below is the review of the hardcover edition:

. . . Eight boys set out on a Halloween night and are led into the depths of the past by a tall, mysterious character named Moundshroud. They ride on a black wind to autumn scenes in distant lands and times, where they witness other ways of celebrating this holiday about the dark time of year. Bradbury's lyrical prose whooshes along with the pell-mell rhythms of children running at night, screaming and laughing, and the reader is carried along by its sheer exuberance.

Bradbury's stories about children are always attended by dread—of change, adulthood, death. The Halloween Tree, while sweeter than his adult literature, is also touched at moments by the cold specter of loss—which is only fitting for a holiday in honor of the waning of the sun.

This is a superb book for adults to read to children, a way to teach them, quite painlessly, about customs and imagery related to Halloween from ancient Egypt, Mediterranean cultures, Celtic Druidism, Mexico, and even a cathedral in Paris. (One caveat, though: Bradbury unfortunately perpetuates a couple of misconceptions about Samhain, or summer's end, the Halloween of ancient Celts and contemporary pagans.) —Fiona Webster

FRIGHTFULLY FESTIVE | Decorating this "Halloween treat tree" (top, right), wire spiders hang from chains atop a wooden pedestal all from Pottery Barn (a few years back), while the metal crow was bought there this season. The rustic metal candy corn cones are from the workbench of Tom Guffe, created exclusively for Ohio Wholesale, Inc. and found at a shop in the Crossroads at Stone Mountain Park. The glittery spiders are from Z Gallerie. Five raven ornaments stand guard and are manufactured by the Merck family's Old World Christmas. The small matte orange and black glass baubles are from Borders. The "Happy Halloween" letter garland is from Martha Stewart Holidays and was found at Target.

PUMPKIN PRODUCTION | This incredibly artful pumpkin tree (above, left) graced the Crossroads at Stone Mountain Park in Georgia for the annual pumpkin festival for a few years. Regretfully, it didn't appear this year.

ORANGE GLOW | Ray Bradbury's original painting (left) for his classic book, "The Halloween Tree" was created in 1960.

©2009 DARRYL MOLAND | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Thursday, October 29, 2009

devilish or divine?

HALLOWEEN tricks or treats can be devilish or divine, respectively. But there's always an edge of one or the other with either—the good always comes along with the bad. Disguised blessings seem to be the rule—one has to stay cognisant of the bright side of things or the lesson learned. My beautiful Calico cat Luci (photo in this post) was diagnosed with cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) affecting her tongue just this week, so I'm greeting this holiday season with a grim perspective of how precarious life can be. I'm trying my best to keep in mind that I still have more precious time with her until that day comes. I try to find solace in knowing that she's fifteen—a ripe old age for a cat. Keeping hopes for the best, her future is uncertain. Cancer of this type is an insidious disease that is practically untreatable. As long as she is not suffering too much, I have her, but I won't let her suffer for my sake. I hope she'll let me know for sure when it is time.

HER NAME is actually Lucifur in longhand. In Latin, the name literally means "light-bearer." It is almost always used as a name for the devil (Lucifer) in Christian convention. The pagan myth of the fall of angels associated with the morning star was transferred and personified as Satan. But in my life with this incredible cat, I can't  begin to think of that name in a negative light. Some contend that Satan and Lucifer are two different beings. It's all mythology to me. Fallen angel or morning star, all I know is that my Luci has been a constant source of light for me and all those who know her.

ALTHOUGH a mischievious and playful kitten, she is quite a divine diva in her adulthood—and deservedly so. Instead of being a devil, she has always been a complete joy. She's the Cat in Man and Cat Omnidesign. Whatever amount of time she has left, she does and will live in my heart—a shining light and a true familiar spirit. She has become a part of my soul.

THE FRIVOLITY of the holidays is always balanced with things to spoil all the fun. St. Nicholas in Europe (especially in Austria) is accompanied by his companion Gruss vom Krampus (or Krampus for short), a devil-like creature with a long tongue (what a terrible irony with Luci's diagnosis). As St. Nicholas travels door-to-door leaving gifts for all the good boys and girls, Krampus deals with the ones who have behaved badly over the course of the year. Krampus is pretty harsh. He shackles the bad ones and stuffs them in a wood-staved pail on his back and carts them away, flailing them mercilessly with a switch from his birch bundle. The jolly, twinkly-eyed St. Nicholas is an American invention, patterned largely  on Washington Irving's tale of the good saint as chubby, pipe smoking and industrious figure. Irving was a member of the New York City Historical Society which promoted St. Nicholas as its patron saint. The writer Clement Clarke Moore's "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and the classic cartoon of Santa by Thomas Nast which illustrated Washington Irving's (under the pseudonym of Diedrich Knickerbocker) "History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty" popularized the modern form of Santa in America. This fictional history took hold and pretty much erased modern memory of St. Nicholas' discipline-dispensing companions. European traditions of St. Nicholas always rewarded the good and unleashed the punishment of the bad with his dastardly and devilish companions. 

ON THE EVE of St. Nicholas (December 5th), hordes of people gather in Austria and Hungary to participate in an unusual winter festival called "The Running of the Krampus" (or Krampuslauf). It is an Old World tradition in which young men dressed as Krampus are brought into town by the gift-giving St. Nicholas in his long robe, glistening miter (a bishop's hat) and carrying an ornate pastoral staff—and unleashed on the crowds. The furry Krampus costumes are largely handmade and elaborate, sometimes towering seven or eight feet tall. This all serves as a reminder to all that goodwill to all men and charity toward one another should be the modus operandi for all of us in the coming year.

MY CAT LUCI reminds me of all this with complete simplicity. All it takes is a nuzzle and a lick or a bite on the nose to let me know that good behavior is reflected back toward one in many unexpected and mysterious ways. One has to take the bad with the good. Love is as ephemeral as the morning star. Love bites, licks and is warm and furry. And regretfully, it is ephemeral in the end. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

DEVIL IN THE DETAILS | A publishing anomaly it seems (not available at this time), I found this beautifully-designed "Red Fire" edition Bible (above, right) at Ross on the clearance book shelf. It is a bit of cultural anthropology that illustrates the sometimes myopic and unwitting mistakes the culture of publishing makes, along with the sometimes desperate attempts to moving the young masses by modern religion (to make it "cool"). It is accompanied by a mouthblown and handpainted devil/Krampus head ornament by Inge Glas of Germany. Imagine a proselytizing barker standing on the street corner holding this Bible toward heaven and yelling out fiery words of hellfire and damnation.

KRAMPUS AND CAT | A valuable antique Krampus (probably German) scrap ornament framed by a circle of lametta tinsel is from the mid-to late 1800's. It is shown with Halloween postcards, one of which is postmarked October 28, 1908. The stalwart cat sitting on a fence and silhouetted by a full moon is a die-cut Halloween invitation from the Martha Stewart Crafts line at Michael's (2008). The small bumpy glass ornaments from Martha Stewart Everyday at Kmart.

KRAMPUS IN DISGUISE | An unusual candy-colored interpretation of Krampus (left) by talented illustrator Ana Bagayan is deceptively inviting (used with her permission). Her blog is here.

photography and styling by Darryl Moland, illustration ©Ana Bagayan