Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

What will it hold?

Below, a mounted trio of Parisienne tarot cards, circa 1800-75, at the British Museum.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Soolip: Starting the New Year in style

The new jewel box-sized Soolip unpacks and gets comfy

I'm certainly not the first to blog about Soolip Paperie & Press, Los Angeles's most famous stationary store, but perhaps I'm the first to blog about its new location.

We've been on the hunt for J. Herbin writing supplies, so early on Saturday morning we stopped into Soolip's new (and I mean brand new) store at the Pacific Design Center. They were still unpacking but the lovely owner, Wanda Soolip Wen, kindly showed us the new digs, and even took us upstairs to their studio for a peek behind the scenes. The first thing we saw? A late-19th century press. Soolip's the real thing, and has a genuine love for the history and art of writing.

It was tremendously fun to see the stationary Wanda unboxed for us upstairs -- invites and note cards of some of the city's most famous residents (and I mean famous residents) -- but it was equally wonderful to learn that the store is truly available to all people. Designs range from digital to hand-drawn and the paper selection is vast, which means that prices vary and beautifully designed, custom papers don't have to cost a fortune.

With that, a few images of Soolip 2.0!

Soolip has no shortage of fantastic cards for the season (I'm partial to the fauteuil and deer, naturally!) but I loved that they had New Years cards, for those of us who don't quite get ourselves together in time...

The circa 1890s press and a few hand-designed invitations

A little clue to the celebrity couple behind this Christmas card: The Wild Dolphin Project

For more on Wanda and the bustling event side of Soolip, visit A Soolip Wedding. Or follow Soolip online with Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Carol for Children by Ogden Nash

Prayer candles, St. Peter's Church, Salzburg, Kevin Tangney/National Geographic

A Carol for Children

God rest you merry, Innocents,
Let nothing you dismay,
Let nothing wound an eager heart
Upon this Christmas day.

Yours be the genial holly wreaths,
The stockings and the tree;
An aged world to you bequeaths
Its own forgotten glee.

Soon, soon enough come crueler gifts,
The anger and the tears;
Between you now there sparsely drifts
A handful yet of years.

Oh, dimly, dimly glows the star
Through the electric throng;
The bidding in temple and bazaar
Drowns out the silver song.

The ancient altars smoke afresh,
The ancient idols stir;
Faint in the reek of burning flesh
Sink frankincense and myrrh.

Gaspar, Balthazar, Melchior!
Where are your offerings now?
What greetings to the Prince of War,
His darkly branded brow?

Two ultimate laws alone we know,
The ledger and the sword --
So far away, so long ago,
We lost the infant Lord.

Only the children clasp His hand;
His voice speaks low to them,
And still for them the shining band
Wings over Bethlehem.

God rest you merry, Innocents,
While innocence endures,
A sweeter Christmas than we to ours
May you bequeath to yours.

Ogden Nash, circa 1936

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pomanders: a whiff of history

In honor of my attempt at pomanders (below, with our initials), a look at their history through the collections of some of my favorite museums:

Pomander (from Fr. pomme d'ambre), a small metal container, usually silver or gold, designed to hold aromatic spices or herbs, such as ambergirs (whence the name), musk, or civit, and worn suspended from the neck or girdle as protection against infection and noxious odors. As fashionable jewelry in the late Middle Ages, pomanders were luxury objects, and often embellished with gems or enamelwork. In the late 16th-century, the traditional spherical shape was divided into segments, like those of an orange, in order to accommodate a variety of exotic powdered spices such as mace, nutmeg or cinnamon (spices that were more valuable than precious stones). Pomanders were replaced in the 18th and 19th centuries by vinaigrettes, and in the 20th century by the clove-studded citrus, still popular today.

Not just for the ladies: Portrait of a Man from the Weinsberg Family, Bartholomaus the Elder,  c. 1538-39, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Portrait of a Young Woman from the Slosgin Family of Cologne, Barthel Bruyn the Younger, 1557, Metropolitan Museum

Lady with a Pomander, Wenceslas Hollar, 1640, at the University of Toronto's Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

A 16th-century gold and pearl (some missing) pomander, made in England and, incredibly, dug up from the Thames River in the 19th century, The British Museum

A 17th-century silver pomander from Italy, Metropolitan Museum

A mid-17th-century example with enameled decoration, from either Germany or the Netherlands, Art Institute of Chicago

Monday, December 10, 2012

Collecting Christmas: the Victoria & Albert Museum

Turns out it's not just Christmas celebrants like myself who have boxes of holiday items stored away for most of the year. So does London's V&A!

Below, a peek at a few of the holiday-related objects in their collection.

Pieces from the Christmas Pudding series designed by English artist Eric Ravilious for Wedgwood in 1938. Ravilious, a highly respected illustrator, was sought out by Wedgwood for not only this series, but several others, as well as the design of a mug for the coronation of Edward VIII. Each of his designs became hugely popular, and remained in production through the 1950s.

Marionettes of the Ghost of Christmas Past and Scrooge, made by Frances and Peter Grant circa 1979-80 and used in their puppet performance of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.

A bauble, or Christmas ball, believed to be German, circa 1880-1900. The ornament, which is made of  blown yellow glass that has been silvered on the inside, originally entered the V&A's collection in 1916 as "a Witches ball."

The Nativity (detail), from a lavishly decorated prayer book by the French miniaturist Jean Bourdichon. The book, which dated to circa 1498, is believed to have once belonged to Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII of England and third wife of Louis XII of France.

A Louis XIV-style table made by the French firm of Edouard Kreisser in 1855, was ordered by Queen Victoria as a Christmas present for her husband, Prince Albert. The table also served as a souvenir of their 1854 visit to Paris, a trip that took them to the Exposition Universelle and introduced them to Emperor Napoleon III. It is made of tulip and other woods, with mounts of silvered and gilded bronze. The frieze is set with a porcelain plaque that carries their intertwined initials, V and A. The table (along with a matching cabinet) were used in the Small Drawing room at Osborne House, the royal family's home on the Isle of Wight. 

A printed velvet evening dress with a machine-lace skirt and tulle petticoat, designed by the British firm Idol for Liberty & Co.'s 1995 holiday window display at their Regent Street shop in London. The dress was inspired by Medieval and Renaissance costumes but detailed with Uzbekistani-style beadwork.

Monday, December 03, 2012

"O Christmas tree, Much pleasure dost thou bring me!"

 A 19th-century German engraving

It dawned on me this morning that I thought I always chose small, table-top Christmas trees because of my apartment situation. Small trees are infinitely easier when it comes to elevators and, during my single years, they were definitely easier to carry! What I realized though, as I looked at our twinkling tree over a cup of coffee, is that, in fact, I've been choosing them as much for their charm.

Our apartment is large -- bigger than many homes in the area -- so we can certainly fit a good sofa-size tree. Yet, when we went to the lot yesterday, we both gravitated right to the 3-4 foot group. Yes, there's the price difference... $30 versus $300... but an enormous tree, while glorious (I did stand among them for a while), just isn't us.

There's something old fashioned, something humble, about a small tree that speaks to the nature of the holiday, or the holiday as I see it. I don't want to feel dwarfed. I don't want to feel overcome by drama and showy decoration. I need my tree to be a bit more meditative. Yes, I need sparkling lights and shiny ornaments -- it's a celebration, after all! -- but really what I really need is peace, and the sense of family and history that a simple small evergreen provides.


Saturday, December 01, 2012

Welcome, December

Winter landscape painted on a folding fan by an unknown artist, Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Metropolitan Museum

I was surprised my quilt and pillow were cold,
I see that now the window's bright again.
Deep in the night, I know the snow is thick,
I sometimes hear the sound as bamboo snaps.

Bai Juyi (China, 772846)