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.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

valentine mythology

VALENTINE'S  DAY  is ripe with symbolism. A lot of people think that it's just a day dreamed up by greeting card companies to sell cards or by florists to sell flowers. It may have very well become that in modern times, but the storied mythology behind the holiday goes deeper and is richer than chocolate, roses (along with their dangerous thorns), and all the inherent saccharine sweetness of the modern holiday combined.

THIS  DAY  MEANT  for lovers has direct ties to Greek Mythology. In one such mythological tale, it seems that Apollo (Phoebus) insults Cupid (Eros) for playing with bows and arrows, boastfully asking him "What, wanton boy, are mighty arm to thee, great weapons suited to the needs of war?" Cupid was an impishly coy god of Love though, and took out his arrow and shoots Apollo with an arrow poisoning him with love for an unsuspecting wood nymph named Daphne, while also poisoning Daphne with an opposite, but equal revulsion for Apollo. Smitten with new love for Daphne, he pursues her. Of course Daphne wants no part of it and flees until her father, a river god, takes pity on her and turns her into a laurel tree, where she becomes rooted to the ground and sprouts the qualities of a tree. Apollo is undaunted and ceremoniously wears a branch that he broke from the newly transformed Daphne-as-a-tree, consecrating the tree to himself and declaring a certain victory in his plight.

IN  AN  AGE  of ecological crisis, one might assign an allegorical importance to this story by having Apollo stand in as mankind, while Daphne becomes the natural world. Our relationship with nature becomes predatory and when we fail to find harmony with it, we break off a piece of it to symbolically herald our dominion over it—wearing the laurel wreath like a champion—all the while forgetting that Mother Nature rules us, not the other way around.

THIS  VALENTINE  tree with its crumpled paper/discarded love letter background is adorned with fragile glass hearts. The beaded wire tree itself stoically rises from a faux stone. Stone hearts and chocolate heart confections vie for attention. Green roses are combined with rosemary sprigs to hold the memory of the simplest truths of love. Victory is not inherent in such a tableau, but if the ingredients are measured carefully, the combined chemistry might grow into something amazing.

ONE  MIGHT  also remember that love isn't blind and bent on a path of "having," but with finding a certain harmony in our relationships (whether it be with a person, animal or something in nature). It all happens organically, literally and figuratively. It's easy to forget that when we are consumed with an unhealthy desire to "hold" something that is constantly changing and growing. Love in its truest form helps position our deepest natural longings with a certain tempered understanding of our place within it. In this scenario, love truly does conquer all.

TREE OF HEARTS | (Top) A beaded wire tree anchored in a cement faux stone from Sundance is simply decorated with small mercury glass heart ornaments in shades of silver, violet, pink and red. Roses and rosemary sprigs in a Hotel silver trumpet bud vase stand in for the natural world. 

APOLLO CONSUMED | (Painting, 2nd from top) Apollo Chasing Daphne by Carlo Maratti, oil on canvas, circa 1681. In this painting Daphne's hands are changing into a Laurel tree while Apollo is in hot pursuit after Cupid slings arrows of love and revulsion to Apollo and Daphne respectively. Click on the portion of the painting shown here to see it in its entirety.

CONFECTIONERY HEARTS | (Third photo) I've tied this pleated foil-wrapped chocolate heart (made by Madelaine Chocolate Company) with a horizontally-striped ribbon in hues of pink and tan. The heart-shaped key lime truffle with a pink heart decal in the white chocolate coating is distributed by CVS Pharmacy, Inc. as part of a box of Absolutely Divine label premium truffles.

LOVE ON A PLATE | (Bottom) This melamine vintage graphic-printed dessert plate is by John Derian for Target. The stone hearts appearing in all of the photos are handmade Haitian stone hearts distributed by Pottery Barn, the proceeds of which go to funding the Haitian relief activities of HAND/EYE Funds Artisan Grants Program. HAND/EYE Fund works in Haiti to help artisans recover from the life-challenging loss of shelter, equipment, workshops and income due to the catastrophic earthquake.

Photography, collecting and styling by Darryl Moland.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

the year of the rabbit

AFTER  A  FEROCIOUS  Year of the Tiger in 2010, a welcome calm is marked in 2011 by the Year of the Rabbit. The Chinese calendar is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements. New Year's Eve (February 2nd this year) and the first three days of the new year are the officially observed holiday in China. The majority of businesses (with the exception of movie theaters and restaurants) close for the celebration. The Chinese people return to work between the 5th and 8th day. New Year's Day is February 3rd this year, but the spirit of the celebration lasts through the 15th day Festival of Lanterns on February 17th.

THIS  TREE  symbolically holds a diminutive ceremonial tea for Chinese New Year. Last year a client of mine gifted me a collection of miniature cloisonne teapots from China. This year these beautiful ornaments complete a symbolic set of 11 ornaments (representing the year 2011), along with four recycled newsprint ornaments shaped like lanterns. Just thinking of a ceremonial cup of tea by the light of lanterns evokes the calm and placid mood symbolized by the rabbit. The idiom "tempest in a teapot" doesn't apply here.

CLOISONNE  ENAMEL  is also called the "Blue of Jingtai" in China. Blue is the dominant color used for enameling and cloisonne became popular during the reign of Jingtai (1450-1456) in the Ming dynasty in China. The cloisonne teapots are made by the process of applying enamel to the surface of a copper or bronze object, which is then fired to become a colorful work of art. The technique was spread to China from the West and perfected by Chinese artisans.

LIGHTED  LANTERNS  appear everywhere during the Chinese New Year celebration. Fireworks are also "lit" as  a big part of the festivities. The noise of fireworks is believed to wake up the dragon who will fly across the sky to bring spring rains. Some believe that the noise of the fireworks is supposed to scare away all evil spirits, preventing them from entering the new year. In fact, gunpowder was invented in China over 1,000 years ago for that very purpose. Firecrackers are thrown at the feet of the dragons in the celebratory parade to keep them awake, since they are believed to sleep the rest of the year.  

CHINESE  NEW  YEAR  is traditionally celebrated by a religious ceremony honoring heaven and earth, the gods of the household and thanksgiving. A sacrifice to ancestors is the most vital of all the Chinese New Year rituals. Family ancestors are honored by food and incense offerings to the gods. At midnight, the celebration really begins, as it does for any New Year celebration. Fireworks fill the sky and the streets are packed with people wishing each other a happy new year. The next morning, gifts are exchanged among family members and friends, including "lucky money" given to the children in a red envelope like the one seen in the photographs here.

THE  DEMEANOR of the rabbit is the symbol for a quiet and placid year to come. Few people are aware that the rabbit is the symbol of the moon, while the peacock is the symbol of the sun. Together, these two animal signs represent Yin and Yang. Pay particular attention to the full moon this year and you just might strengthen your inner "Chi" energy and bring wisdom into your life. Here's wishing everyone a happy calm and healthy prosperity in The Year of the Rabbit.

TEA TIME | (Top two photos) Cloisonne teapots direct from China (a gift from coworker Melinda Frost) decorate this tree celebrating Chinese New Year. 

LANTERN FESTIVAL | (Third photo) Repurposed newsprint cut into fantastic lantern shapes complete the tree and sets the mood for tea. The lanterns are distributed by Roost Home Furnishings. Mine were purchased this past holiday season at Star Provisions in Atlanta. 

GROUNDED RABBIT | (Fourth photo) A mercury glass rabbit ornament is  from this past season's offerings at West Elm. An asymmetrical manzanita branch "tree" bought at Homegoods is held upright in a faux bois cast stone container. You can learn more about the art of faux bois and Mexican artisan Dionicio Rodriguez from the book Capturing Nature, written by Patsy Pittman Light. Read about the Faux Bois sculptures of Dionicio Rodriguez here at Martha Stewart Home and Garden. 

WAKING DRAGON | (Bottom photo) an accordion garland made from printed paper backed by silver (from this past holiday season's David Stark Collection at West Elm) represents the undulating dragon. The ornament ball distributed by Roost Home Furnishings is meticulously made from dozens of rolled recycled paper cylinders that evoke the omnipresent fireworks marking the New Year in China (while keeping the dragon awake). The red envelope for "lucky money" completes the picture. 

Photography, collecting and styling by Darryl Moland.
Location courtesy Devin Borden.