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.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

the year of the tiger | 恭禧發財

HAPPY NEW YEAR! The traditional Chinese phrase: 恭禧發財 (also superimposed in photo of the decorated tree above) is the broad-brushed symbol for this sentiment. The Lunar New Year is regarded as the most important cultural holiday among Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian nations. This year is the Year of the Tiger, which symbolizes strength. Personally, it is the to honor Luci, my beautiful Calico cat, who is a tiger in her own right. She has shown the strength to stay with me much longer than she should giving me 16 "Luci years" (all with her certain prosperity of luck, strength and beauty). I'm glad she's still with me now, but the new year will show me the strength to let her go to run with the gods.

THE NEW MOON changes are tracked by the lunisolar Chinese calendar (which consists of both Gregorian and lunar-solar calendar systems). The Chinese New Year celebration can begin anytime between late January and mid-February. This year, the 14th of February (Valentine's day) kicked off the beginning of the lunar calendar or Lunar New Year. This new beginning is the culmination of 15 days of spring festivals celebrating the event in China.

THE TREE I designed to celebrate the Year of the Tiger is inspired by the many rich traditions of the holiday. I wanted it to be a simple and elegant representation of only a few of the many and varied elements of this richly symbolic holiday. Using only mercury glass lantern ornaments in a sophisticated pallet of reds, golds and greens (from this past holiday season's Martha Stewart Collection at Macy's) hung from red cotton cords on simple natural branch forced into flower, I'm representing a time of renewal, rebirth and a precious celebration of life (honoring Luci along with the Lunar New Year).

HONG BAO NA LAI (紅包拿來) literally means "may I have the red envelope, please." Red is considered the luckiest color in China. During Chinese New Year, elders give lucky money in red envelope packets to the young people close to them, thus "hong bao" is essentially a cash gift. It is an important part of the New Year celebration. The ones you see in the photo at left have a large traditional Chinese symbol (fa) with means literally "to emit," or rather "to send." It all depends on what other characters precede or follow it to complete the meaning of the expression. This one letterform symbol has more direct meaning when combined with others, but can imply so much standing alone. For instance, one can also think of it as  “to have plenty," 發財 (or "fa xai") can be translated as such.

WELL WISHES for good luck, happiness and prosperity  are the main sentiments embodied by the Chinese New Year traditions. But they are not the only ones. The celebrations are also centered around reconciliation and forgetting grudges. A clean sweep, if you will. This new year interpretation of a decorated tree is my way of relating this and more to all of the people (and little tigers) that bring the light of many multi-colored lanterns into my life. They give me the strength to recognize life's worth as clearly and as strongly as possible, seeing through the fog of uncertainty.

LANTERN FESTIVITY | (Top and middle) This "forced" tree branch is made quite elegant with the addition of mercury glass lantern ornaments from the Martha Stewart Collection 2009 at Macy's. The traditional paper lanterns used on the fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year for the Lantern Festival, are bright, colorful, and in many different shapes and sizes. The container holding the branch is an antique stoneware vase from a friend's private collection. The green spider mum symbolizing longevity (within a glass globe from Bungalow I bought a few years back, above, left) and in a vase by Victoria Hagen for Target (top), kumquats and oranges symbolizing prosperity and red envelopes (a custom explained above) are all a part of the varied traditions surrounding the holiday.

YEAR OF LUCI | This portrait of Luci (Above) was lovingly painted and given to me by Odette Colón, my dear friend (and talented co-worker) this past Christmas. When I received this incredible gift from the heart, I shed big blubbering tears of joy and grief at the same time. Looking at it prepares me for the inevitable loss of a life, and it will give me the strength to carry on after Luci is gone. I like to think all the good energy put into this painting has translated to her living longer than expected. Even so, I'm glad to have her already immortalized for the prosperity of life to continue. Already in addition to my Bengal Abella, I've added a lovable tuxedo cat that found me much like Luci did 16 years ago, coming into my life suddenly and without without warning. I think Luci somehow called for the new little one to help me in this transition. That's how magical Luci's existence has always been. And at the risk of coming off as a complete cornball, this last line of the song "Memory" from the musical "Cats" is more resonant than ever before: Look. A new day has begun.

©2010 DARRYL MOLAND | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, collecting and styling by Darryl Moland, tree photographed by Harold Daniels Studio / assisted by Shawn May

Saturday, February 13, 2010

valentine tree of hearts

A FAR CRY from making lackluster cakes in my childhood neighbor's Easy-Bake Oven, the chemistry of seeing flour and sugar and other ingredients morph into a baked confection was our first exercise in creating for ourselves what our mothers and grandmothers so deftly concocted with expert confidence. There is nothing else like cookies, cakes and pies. Sometimes, I wonder if we shouldn't just have dessert first, instead of saving room for it as an afterthought. It's no wonder Valentine's day has become a day to give sweets to loved ones.

MY MOTHER,  a consummate homemaker, was seemingly always in the kitchen cooking, canning something from the garden, or washing dishes. She always preferred to make cakes and pies over cookies. A good Southerner wasn't worth their salt if they couldn't bake a decent cake or lighter-than-air biscuits. It's not that way anymore. I think she liked to bake cakes best because of their scene-stealing grandiosity. Biscuits with butter and homemade preserves or with peppery milk gravy are another story altogether. Maybe growing up surrounded by cakes is the reason I obsessively collect cake plates, just as sweet memories of the holidays drive collecting the ornaments which are the raw material for this blog. Growing up in the American South, there were always cake walks, birthday cakes, fruitcakes, and even pancakes and potato cakes. This would sometimes coalesce across the community with fundraiser bake sales full of homemade goodness. Who could resist contributing to a cause that way?

EVERY YEAR  at Christmastime, I remember going out to the back porch to drive nails into the eyes of a fresh coconut, drain the milk into a glass, and crack the shell with a hammer. I would bring it to mother in the kitchen and we would peel off the thin outer layer of the slightly sweet meat. She would grate the coconut, toss it with confectioners sugar and press it into the the icing of the tallest layered cake she could make that would stand upright, even if it was held together inside with toothpicks. It was always quite a sweet spectacle and was the first thing everyone in the family would devour from a counter laden with other treats like pecan pies, a wine-soaked fruitcake, date-nut rolls, and even a competing German-chocolate cake. Nothing else seemed to compare to that stately white beauty layered and dressed in fresh coconut. It was mouth-watering deliciousness.

A VALENTINE TREE  (above) began with the idea for a tree full of hearts of one sort or another. An Easy-Bake light bulb went off and cookies came to mind. Immediately, I thought of my friends Brandon and John and their venture in becoming professional bakers. They agreed to collaborate with me by baking the cookies along with my initiation to the art of decorating them. We decorated the cookies they baked with colored icing, nonpareils and several types of brightly-colored sugars. The result of our combined creative efforts hang on the tree created from a tree branch painted white and glued at the tips with vintage paper leaves — all directing their attention with curve of the branch. I wanted the tree to match the ethereal and magical fairy-dust quality of Bear Maker Bakery cookies, along with the absolute exuberance and passion Brandon and John show in their baking efforts.

THEY TOO discovered baking in their respective childhood Easy-Bake Ovens, and they never forgot the power of a homemade confection. After they found each other, they ventured out on a limb together with a dream and a goal of making the most delicious cookies possible. While growing their passion for baking into a full-time creative endeavor, they jointly set out (even with separate childhood memories of providing treats for their families and friends) to create cookies "too beautiful to eat," but at the same time delicious enough to make resistance futile! It's not often that decorated cookies taste as good as they look. Labored over in their spare hours with love and care, their attention to flavor and texture along with a keen sense of visual detail has begun paying off. Like a fairy sighting, if you blink, their cookies might disappear. Even in reminding yourself of a growing waistline, if you are to truly enjoy any treat for what it is, both Brandon and John understand that sweetness and goodness in baking always shoot straight for the heart.

CHILDHOOD experimentation with Easy-Bake Ovens may have served as a starting point, but my friends at Bear Maker Bakery have gone way beyond those formative days to perfect their craft by coming up with unexpected ways to combine the right ingredients in making something that is beyond the ordinary. They haven't reached the point of quitting their day jobs either, so it is truly a labor of love [like The Decorated Tree (of life)]. All it takes is a loving tenacity of spirit to begin to realize the sweetest dreams.

TREE OF HEARTS | This Valentine cookie tree (above), made from a painted branch with handmade vintage paper leaves is decorated with cookies (above, right) made in collaboration with Bear Maker Bakery. The Valentine candy boxes by Johanna Parker and "Be Mine Cat Boy" original design spun cotton figure by Crystal Hanehan (left) are from Bayberry Cove (he was hand spun using techniques similar to those of the early German artisans who created cotton ornaments for Christmas). The German glass glitter lovebird ornaments perched in the branch are from Pottery Barn. The ceramic urn holding the branch is from Smith and Hawken. The cake plate from my collection is the Martha Stewart Limited Edition 2009 Cake Plate from Macy's. A cardboard heart box from Michaels is painted chartreuse and sits behind a silver-beaded pocket holding a heart love token (from Bombay Duck London) at the base of the tree. 

COOKIE COLLABORATION | (Right) Brandon Tidwell (top, left and middle) and John Price (top left, top right, and bottom left) from Bear Maker Bakery were gracious (and elfin) enough to put their hearts into cookies for the tree, along with giving me lessons on decorating them (that's me, bottom right, grinning with childlike glee).
©2010 DARRYL MOLAND | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, collecting and styling by Darryl Moland, tree photographed by Harold Daniels Studio / assisted by Shawn May, cookie making collage photos by Darryl Moland and Brandon Tidwell

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

hearts of glass

YES! This was the exasperated and emphatic last word I heard from my mother. To this day, which would have been her 86th birthday, I remember not only the singularity of that word, but how it can have more than one meaning. “Yes” can only be definitive when the circumstances allow it. The word “no” unquestionably has more finality.

MY MOTHER'S last word answered to something that is not quantifiable: “Mother, you do know how much I love you, don’t you?” I asked. The impatient way she answered let me know she was ready to move beyond this life. She had not spoken a word to anyone for several days. No one even knew if she could, but because I was hovering around her deathbed keeping vigil while she was probably moving in and out of this life, she mustered up the strength to speak. That single word in that moment expressed there was something incredible beyond our physical lives and she wanted to get on with it.

YES! PERIOD. That word will never be the same to me. I see it as endless possibility instead of limited admittance. No one is in physical control of the circumstances that allow it in the first place. The control lies within one's spirit and the unseen forces of the universe.

FOR A COUPLE of years before my mother died, I found glass hearts to tie on her Christmas gifts. I never thought then they would be the beginning of a posthumous collection by which to remember her. The two hearts in the upper left of this photo are the ones from gifts she received. The rest I’ve collected since her death. The pink-and-silver brooch in the photo was bought after I had a dream about her finding my Christmas gift for her. It is how I pictured it in the dream, which in turn, inspired how a tree was decorated for an earlier post. Maybe this blog has become a continual gift to her, even in spirit. I'm realizing how much soulful inspiration she still gives me by how often she appears here in what I write and create in photography.

ALL THE THINGS associated with Valentine's day have become resonant in holding these good memories. They are the lessons of the spirit. From the flowers that burst suddenly into bloom on important days (mother's day, her birthday and my birthday), the fragile heart made of glass, to the chocolates I always received on Christmas Eve from my parents when I was too old to believe in Santa. I emphatically  believe in the philosophy behind the line from the editorial so famously written (by Francis Pharcellus Church), which ran in the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun: "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus."

HER NAME, Lois Virginia Moland is engraved in everything I do and say. Today, the credit for giving me life, even in death remains the driving force of my creative spirit. The gift of life, the gift of caretaking and a spirit in touch with something larger; I can only repay by living this life in her honor. And I'll keep creating something from her continued inspiration, wherever it springs forth, whether it be a flower, a beautiful heart, or a piece of chocolate pie. Her love lives within me. Happy birthday mother!

FRAGILE HEARTS | (Top, right - clockwise from top, left): A red-gridded heart was tied on a special Christmas gift my mother received and is from Neiman Marcus, a pink antiqued mercury glass ornament is from Dillards, a red antiqued mercury glass ornament and a large silver gridded heart are from Macy's. The small silver heart is the oldest and was made by Inge Glas of Germany (denoted by the star-shaped hanger top). The velvet Valentine candy box is a current item from Lindt Chocolates. A painted box and brown box with red ribbon are both from past seasons at Target.

BLOOMING LOVE | (Above, left) This "clown" (red with white) amaryllis was a Christmas gift (as a bulb) that miraculously bloomed just in time for my mother's birthday (the photograph was taken this morning). The planter is from my collection of milk glass. Ivy has long been a symbol of friendship and is rooting in a glass lab container. The glass heart and white love ornament (a representation of the pop artist Robert Indiana's love sculpture) are both from Urban Outfitters. The unfinished white heart candy box is part of a Valentine kit from Martha Stewart Crafts, beautiful here without embellishment.

RESTING PLACE | (Right) The most permanent graphic design project I've ever assumed was designing the typographic layout for my parent's gravestone. I doubt if there are many gravestones using the font Mrs. Eaves. It is one of my favorite fonts and I've used it in a permanent way here and in the Man and Cat symbol tattoed on my arm. They are buried in East Gadsden, Alabama at Crestwood Memorial Cemetery.

photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Monday, February 1, 2010

tree fairies articulated

THERE SEEMS to be a place for every special interest in our web-connected world. If you're passionate about something, there's a good chance you can find a group of like-minded enthusiasts. This blog is a case-in-point. There are plenty of real-world people that share my enthusiasm for the decorated tree. I think people that are most interested have resonant childhood memories of the things that drive their passions. My friend Odette says she'll never forget her mother bringing a huge tray of alternating red and white, heart-shaped petit fours to her class one Valentine's Day in her youth. "That's my mom!," she was proud to say to everyone that day. Valentine's Day remains her favorite holiday probably due, in large part, to that unforgettable bit of joy her mother supplied that day. It's memories like these that stick with us and become a way to connect to the free-spirited passion of our younger years. Mine was obviously centered around the holiday tree with my mother encouraging my creativity in my childhood. In collecting ornaments and ideas to assemble into bits of visual magic for special occasions, this blog holds evidence of those enduring and simple gifts of love.

THE RESPONSE, both through actual friends and followers of my posts here is enough to keep my creative spark ignited. If my particular passion and point-of-view can capture someone's attention just long enough, there is a defining moment of recognition. Blog-savvy friends tell me I need to write in shorter snippets, enlarge the typeface or make the pictures bigger (one click on most photos and you're there). Well-considered points, but I'm the sort who would rather read a book on the sofa (or under a tree), than online. And I'd rather read a chapter than a page, so you'll have to bear with the long-winded nature of my expression and squint your eyes for the details. The rest of the world can distract themselves with text messages (I have them blocked on my cell phone). And, I won't be going out to buy a Kindle, an iPad or even a laptop anytime soon. But if you see me with one, I'll try to disguise it with a Bookbook. How ironic. This blog is directed toward the subject I explore with the intent that it eventually does become a book—something you can hold in your hands and turn the pages with your fingers. Who knows what tactile experiences will follow from that? Even though the digital age certainly has its shortcomings, it has also brought subcultures together—in this attention-deficit-disordered world.

THAT SAID, it's great fun to make connections with friends and even strangers that "get" what you're doing. One of my blog followers, "Catrita" expressed to me her interest in the little-known world (to me) of BJD's (ball-jointed dolls) in relating to me that she had a few that would make perfect tree fairies. Being an actual flesh-and-blood friend, she entrusted me with two dolls from her collection to photograph (they can be quite expensive). This is what can happen in 3-D (well, 2-D, at least from your view). I haven't played with dolls since my childhood next-door-neighbor, Fran and I played long hours together with my G.I. Joe dolls and and her Barbie and Ken dolls (way before the internet of course). And if playing with dolls had anything to do with me becoming a "tree fairy" myself, then I stand here before you. I had the gleam in my eye for glitter as early in life as I can remember and I've been known to actually hug a real-live tree (the energy can be incredible). There is a certain wisdom to be found in what sparks the eye and connects you to the earth.

WITH CUPID  in flight again this Valentine season (and two BJD's in my hands), it seemed to be a fitting time to explore the mythology of tree faeries. Catrita's doll (above) is Puki Cupid made by Fairyland of Korea. With pointy cupid ears, she's an impish sort. The larger of the two dolls (top) is Lilac Fairy, a OOAK (one-of-a-kind) doll by Berdine Creedy. She’s not as mischievous as Cupid, but she’s just as happy absorbing the world around her.

CELTIC mythology is rich with fairy lore. Many trees found in Celtic countries were thought to have magical powers. They served as homes to fairies, demons and all sorts of woodland myths and beliefs that hold a certain resonance to this day. Oak, ash and thorn trees figure most prominently in this myth-making. But, it depends on what part of the Celtic world you might be exploring as to what trees were most significant. For instance, elder grows abundantly on the Isle of Man in the Irish sea and it is commonly thought of as the ‘fairy tree’. Many elder trees in Ireland were thought haunted by fairies or demons. See what happens when people hold time in their hands? They fashion whole new worlds. Who's to say they're not just channeling stories from an alternate reality? 

I LIKE  to think, that if anything is home to mythological creatures, trees would be the most likely place to find them. It's fun to imagine all sorts of fairies, cupids, nymphs, fawns, gnomes, trolls and leprechauns living in a vast networked subculture right under our noses, only for us to discover when we're ready to step away from the computer screen. It wouldn't hurt to direct our attention back toward the natural and metaphysical world, even for a concentrated moment. We might tap into something we've lost that is just as powerful as modern technology. The mythology passed down through history has a way of bubbling back to the surface to remind us we're a part of something larger than ourselves. Whatever catches the corner of your eye, if you focus your attention long enough, can bring the fuller view back into focus. That's where the surprises of the mind's eye can meet your vision.

THOUGHT BUBBLE | (Top): Lilac Fairy, a one-of-a-kind (OOAK) ball-jointed doll by Berndine Creedy peers gracefully from within an open glass globe I bought at Bungalow in Atlanta (my favorite furniture store) a few years back.

BUBBLICIOUS | (Above): Puki Cupid, made by Fairyland of Korea is ready for the Valentine season. She sits with outstretched arms looking for affection. A glass votive globe from Pottery Barn, dotted with little nibs is a perfect bubble from which an imp can view the world.

photography and styling by Darryl Moland