Thursday, December 06, 2018
Taking stock, today. Winter is here. The woodstove is humming - it's toasty inside and well below freezing outside. And as the song says, it's beginning to look at lot like Christmas. We have our advent calendars out, but no tree or wreaths yet, probably this weekend we'll get to it. So that is on approach. Also, my fiftieth year on the planet is drawing to a close. Just a short time until that day, and then the solstice comes right afterwards, and we will begin turning toward the light once again. How I love this time of year. Despite many outward worries, anxieties, and fears, I still feel a distinct measure of inward peace. With the leaves gone from the trees I can see to the far horizon, and I love what I see. Literally and metaphorically. A few new projects are in the works for January and beyond. Book-making among them. I'm working on a new little illustrated book - a tiny manifesto about nature and wildness - and am also returning to two other manuscripts to attempt to breathe some life into them. That plus framing my upcoming painting show will keep me steadily working while snow flies.
Of course I'll be reading, too, as ever. Can't work all the time. Some of my books-of-the-moment:
I just read three of these, I'm in the middle of reading four more (see the bookmarks?), and this one I've only yet glanced through:
It's a beautiful children's book, Silent Night: The Story of a Song by Hertha Pauli, illustrated by Fritz Kredel, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1943 in their series Borzoi Books for Younger Readers. This copy is a first edition in very good condition, in a good dust jacket with some chipping and a few small closed tears. A lovely gift inscription inside the front cover is dated December 25, 1943. The back flap of the dust jacket reads:
Awakens the patriot in me, reading that (she is never far from the surface these days, to be honest). The story begins with this perfect sentence (p.6):
"Far beyond the ocean, in a valley in the Austrian Alps, there is an age-old village."
I'll have to read the rest later - suffice it to say that the tale continues from there, relating the friendship between Father Mohr, the priest, and Franz Gruber, the schoolteacher, their creation of a song during the winter of 1818, and what happened to that song over the years. This is a happy addition to my small collection of Christmas books - it was for sale in a local antiques shop for a few dollars and now it's home.
Another wintery book I recently bought - A.Y. Jackson's autobiography A Painter's Country (Clark, Irwin, reprinted in 1967 with an additional chapter):
One of the famous Group of Seven painters in Canada, Jackson became a master at painting snow-covered landscapes and frozen lakes and seas. After studying art in Paris, fighting in World War I, and working as a war artist for several years, he returned to Canada, and traveled to the Arctic and Northwest Territories on painting trips throughout the rest of his long life. His autobiography is pragmatic and plain, a real pleasure to read, and takes into account the problems artists faced in a country which had not yet come to appreciate or support art and artists in particularly tangible ways:
"Painting in Canada has always been a precarious way of making a living." (p.148)
"It is remarkable that with such little encouragement Canadian artists have accomplished so much." (p.168)
He is full of fascinating details about his painter-friends and what they endured. Of course now the Group of Seven is revered and rightly so. Add me to the long list of landscape painters who thinks they are among the very best. On my short list of dream vacations is this: to travel slowly across Canada visiting museums and art collections along the way, to see their work in person. Something for the list of someday.
The other books I've shown above will have to wait for now, dusk is fast approaching and I've got chores to do. But I'll write again before the end of the month - not least because I'm looking forward to rediscovering the rest of my December books, soon. I will take them down off the high shelf they live on during the rest of the year. The Oxford Book of Carols will return to the piano, and our tiny, shabby old copy of Robert P. Tristram Coffin's Christmas in Maine will sit once again under the tree. Until next time. All is calm, all is bright.