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.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

holiday migration

THE  MONARCH  butterfly is known in North America for its incredible fall migration every year south and northward return home in the summer. This trip spans the life of three or four generations. Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains (most famously) are the ones believed to overwinter and roost in the forested mountaintops within central Mexico’s Transvolcanic Range. The ones east of the Rockies travel to small groves of trees along the southern California coast. They often return to the same trees every year creating an amazingly magical sight. This miracle of nature is expressed by the tree I’ve decorated with their facsimiles for my Thanksgiving post.
JUST  AS  many species of birds migrate south for the winter, the Monarch does also. Unlike birds though, the lifespan of the butterfly during this migration is completed by children and grandchildren of the butterflies that start this incredible journey—done without their elders to show them the way. Unlike most insects, Monarchs cannot survive a long cold winter, so they migrate. Seasons change. But it might not be as simple as that.

DO  THEY  follow magnetic fields or use the sun to guide them? Are they following landforms (rivers, coastlines, mountain ranges) as their navigational tools? The innate nature of this migration has baffled and inspired researchers for decades. There is still a lot of mystery behind this yearly event. What are some of the other reasons for such a distinct migration? How long has this natural pattern been in place?
AS  SUCH, humans migrate and gather with friends and family during the holidays, usually starting with Thanksgiving day every year. Generations join together to share good times and celebratory meals together. This gathering is to celebrate life and abundance. And there is much to be thankful for, even as things change over the years for better or worse.
I  CALLED  my brother Mal yesterday to wish him a happy Thanksgiving. I haven’t been home to Alabama (where he still lives) much since my parents died five years ago. My “bro” is my family touchstone and keeps me informed about the goings-on back home. Now that my parents are gone from this world, I distinctly realize that they were the glue that held our family together as all my sibling's lives went in different directions. I miss those migratory days of going to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas—the home I lived in until I went off to college and for a short time afterward. 

Jason Laferrara's "Viceroy" has the map.
I'LL  NEVER  FORGET  that Thanksgiving day when I got the call confirming my first job as a designer at Southern Living magazine back in 1984. Tom Ford, the art director then, I think saved the news for that special day when my career took flight. That day changed my life forever while linking it to a day of abundance. I remember my mother being thrilled that she had a son working at a magazine that had become an institution in the South. I worked at that company (most as assistant art director at Cooking Light magazine) for ten years before my move to Atlanta. I give thanks for all the familial celebrations of life—family and friends alike. There is a part of me that still fulls the pull homeward.

BUT  MAYBE  you "Can't Go Home Again." That phrase comes from the finale of Thomas Wolfe's novel of the same name. In the end its protagonist realizes, "You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time—back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."  

THIS  TREE  is a not-so-subtle reminder of the hope that all will come together again. One day we will realize our paths in life are for more than just survival. Our better instincts will inform us—just as it does each generation of the peculiar Monarch.

CRITICAL MASS | (Top, left and below) I've simply covered this Heirloom Ornament Tree from Smith & Hawken (2005) with Monarch butterflies, ironically made from feathers as a tribute to their winter roost far south from home (from Ashland Nature Center, distributed by Michaels). The faux sugared fruit placed below it is a reminder of the abundance celebrated each American Thanksgiving.

BUTTERFLY CONGREGATION | (Middle) This amazing real-life photo of a tree covered with Monarch butterflies is from The Green Children Foundation website. Many organizations are dedicated to the education, conservation and research of the Monarch butterfly and its amazing migration. A good place to start is Monarch Watch.

ART IMITATES LIFE | (Above) Digital artist Jason LaFerra from Mechanicsville, Virginia renders beautiful artwork of insects, birds and animals on historic maps tapped into from online. These giclee prints of his digital collages on watercolor paper (especially "Viceroy" with it's own map) are resonant and beautiful. 

Photography, collecting and styling by Darryl Moland

Sunday, November 14, 2010

simple harmony

SOMETIMES,  simple is better. I've always had a hard time with that though. The more I do, the more I realize that simplicity is not as easy as it looks. The broad brushstrokes of simplicity can be made up of layers of meaning even as it speaks to our most basic needs and instincts. Somehow simplicity harmonizes with nature and our place within it.

COMMUNICATION  was propelled into the future with the printed word and left us with a recorded history. Printing, or the duplication of images, started in Mesopotamia around 3,000 B.C.. China and Egypt led the way with small stamps for seals that led to larger printing blocks. Printing moved from silk and other cloth to papyrus scrolls in Egypt. Movable type was first created in China from porcelain, but was rarely used because of the enormous Chinese character set. Metal movable type was first created in Korea. Fast forward to 1439 and Johannes Gutenberg developed the first movable type printing technology and the European age of printing on paper began about 10 years later.

IN  OUR  increasingly digitized world, it seems we are moving away from the printed word and becoming more and more disconnected from one another to distraction. Maybe it was meant to be that the printed word was to be experienced as well as seen—and that involves certain tactile qualities like turning the page or experiencing the texture of paper. As I write this digital version of what I wish to someday become a book or a magazine, I realize that today's accessibility of information on the internet is crucial to the way our society now works. But is technology and industrialization of everything threatening to destroy our physical library of knowledge? Or is it an opportunity to become more in tune with our collective consciousness?

DIGITAL  VERSIONS  of information may, or may not become actual printed pieces. I do think the revolution that is happening in publishing is exciting and can be even more interactive in some ways (see the new iPad publication of Boundless Beauty from Martha Stewart for an example). But there is a definite connection to our basic nature when you curl up with a book—even if it is only because paper is made from trees, which in turn (physical) books are made from paper. There's a certain ancient wisdom that comes from that fact alone. For when you commit something to paper, you want it to be accurate and you want it to be lasting. It has become something that is less and less accessible for the everyday person to have something printed the old-fashioned way, so our memory for what we had is replaced with what we have. I'm not sure that is always good. History is always doomed to repeat itself if memory is short.

THE  TREE  I decorated for this post (see product information below) is laser cut from a thin piece of Poplar wood supported in a wooden block. The garland is made up of paper circles with text printed on some of them sewn together with metallic silver thread—which represents a quality  Smythe sewn book. The bird (that doesn't Tweet) is decoupaged with the same printed paper. The globe underneath the tree is made of porcelain and is subtly etched with the outlines of the continents and meridian lines. The German wooden stars placed in the branches are reminders to our ultimate tie to the cosmos and our insignificance in its vastness.

MAYBE  IT  is important that we don't forget or destroy our collective history, which seems to be more and more malleable as information is more easily changed and "updated." The largest and most significant ancient library was the Library of Alexandria in Egypt and functioned as a major center of scholarship until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 48 B.C. A great deal of history was lost in the destruction of that library. 

THESE  DAYS, a lot is lost in translation to the digital world. Less importance is placed on the accuracy of information because it can be so easily updated and changed. Publishing is screaming in new directions out of necessity, but would be well-served by remembering the how in how far we have come. Information is a precious part of the way we communicate and there should be a certain kind of reverence to its long and fruitful history. 

REAL SIMPLE | (Top and above) This Alpine Centerpiece Tree is laser-cut from Poplar wood and slides into a white wooden base (from Design Ideas in Springfield, Illinois). Available at Nandina Home & Design and at Star Provisions in Atlanta (sold in several sizes this season—this being the X-large size). Evocative of the holiday season evergreens to come, my tree is simply decorated with natural-finished German wooden stars from my collection and a garland sewn together from textured silver paper and printed paper circles with silver metallic thread (from the current David Stark Collection at West Elm).

TWEETY BIRD | You can't reduce what this bird (top and left) has to say to 140 characters (including spaces) as Twitter does! This adorable decoupaged paper mâché bird is also from the David Stark Collection at West Elm.

GLOBAL  REVOLUTION | (Above) This porcelain globe from my collection is subtly traced with the outlines of the continents and global meridian lines. I thought it would be good to include as a reminder of how small our world has become because of the print and digital revolutions. I hope it also reminds us to not forget the complexity of our place within it, even as it seems simpler to communicate, nature is still a formidable presence in all of our lives.

WHITE-ON-WHITE | (Above) These white blown glass ornaments with translucent lines are simple and elegant (from tag).

©2010 DARRYL MOLAND | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Photography, collecting and styling by Darryl Moland.