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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

folk wonderworks

GOOD FOLK ART has a resonance that seems timeless and without a place—except in our imaginations. The pure and childlike simplicity (or complexity) of it combines a myriad of ideas in a friendly and accessible way. Santa Claus has always been the subject of folk art. His origins date back to a Dutch (Sinterklass) folk tale derived from the historical figure Saint Nicholas, who was also known as Nicholas, the Wonderworker because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession. Just as primitive art forms visually inform in the most sublime way, the verbal art of storytelling and oral history is passed from generation to generation. It is as if the gift-giving that Santa is known for starts with the spoken tradition of storytelling passed down to the next generation. It is interesting to note that modern Dutch life in the Netherlands heralds St. Nicholas Eve (December 5th) as a much more important holiday than Christmas.

WITH SO MANY varying stories about how and where Santa originates (depending on what country you're from and depending on which form of Santa is popular), it's no wonder one starts seeing Santa as early as Halloween (if not all year in some form). Living in Atlanta (home of the Coca-Cola Company), the ubiquitous American form of Santa in Coke ads helped shape his modern-day image. Although I don't condone kitchy Coca-Cola tree ornaments (why?), the well-designed World of Coca-Cola museum houses an incredibly interesting array of Coke ephemera, folk art and advertising (including a large array of Coke Santa illustrations and ads). To sell flavored, high-fructose corn syrup-sweetened water which is extremely bad for your health, the advertising has to be innovative. If nothing else, Coke is to be applauded for its cutting-edge advertising history. Born-and-raised in the American South, I was practically weaned on Coke-Cola (as true Southerners call it). There is nothing like an icy glass of Coke during the dog days of summer, although I try my best to steer clear most of the time.

IN THIS unusual, almost sinister-looking folk art figure that could be Santa, a snowman, Christmas or Halloween figure (above, right) is holding a pumpkin candy basket in one hand and a goose feather tree stem in the other, you see a wonderful amalgamation of the holidays right through Christmas, no matter what culture in which you learned about Santa. This little guy was so unusual, I had to bring him home. He illustrates such a wonderful and unapologetic folk art weirdness!

I BOUGHT a misfit candy container at a discount store that my friend David Schump retrofitted with a folk art Santa that he made (an incredible folk artist in his own right) from vintage trims and a rabbit fur beard and gave back to me (being re-gifted was never so good). He sculpted the face and hands from clay and painted them carefully. It was such a wonderful surprise to see what he had done (left). This little Santa has a similar effect on me. When looking at him, how can you help but smile and wish good tidings and cheer to everyone—whether Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas? The bubbles might burn your throat on the way down or even bubble up in your nose (like a Coke), but the sweetness will make it go down all right. Let the mash-up we call the holiday season begin! 

HALLOW'S SANTA |The Santa figure (Top) was distributed by Bethany Lowe Designs and originally made by an inspired folk artist Virginia Betourne of Trout Creek Folk Art. I bought it in Westside Atlanta at Star Provisions. 

FOLKSY GIFT |My friend David Schump (a fellow graphic designer) embellished this snowball candy container (Above) in a most sublime way. I'll cherish it for years-to-come. He even placed a surprise in the inside with red-and-white-checked pleated round with a die cut Santa head in the middle. 

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

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