Sunday, December 9, 2012

Letter to a Friend by Fra Giovanni, 1513

"I salute you. I am your friend and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not got. But there is much, very much, that while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instance. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy! Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty . . . that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it, that is all! . . . And so I greet you, with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away."

"Letter to a Friend" by Fra Giovanni, 1513

This excellent bit of writing, was brought to my attention when listening to to "The Christmas Revels: In Celebration of the Winter Solstice. It is a remarkable album and utterly invokes the truest Spirit of the Season. The Revels are an organization dedication to spreading the joy of seasonal celebration as a common human need. We all need Revels.
 Available at

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Concerning Father Christmas.

Concerning Father Christmas....

Victorian Father Christmas

(Reposting this from my LiveJournal 12/10/2012. Edited to include more images)

I love Santa Claus. The image has grown in importance for me over the years and sentimentality. So much so, that now, I seem to be fulfilling a somewhat secret longing.....

So my secret?
I want to play Santa Claus.
(There, I've typed, and now the world knows)
I have for years. As a matter of fact I have once before. In 3rd Grade I was picked to be Santa in our Christmas pageant. I was very tall, had a good "Ho, Ho, Ho" and was outgoing, etc.

Little Shane as Santa

My mother was the seamstress for the event and made the suit for me.
Now there is something about that suit. Put it on once and it may haunt you for a while. I have learned this from several other professional Santas. The image grows in you and binds you to it.

So of course this lead to me ultimately collecting Santa Figures. As I posted in my previous entry about our decorations. Here is a better picture of my favorite, made, once again, by my ever so talented (it runs in the family), mother.

title or description

I continue to collect and hope to create my own someday. The artistry is wonderful and there are many talented creators out there who make their full income strictly from Santa. I will share some of my favorites in links. is the home of the very creative Pipka. I have only one 3 inch figure of her's, but I love it. And the many other designs are breathtaking. (This is a subtle hint for those interesting in expanding my collection....)

Lynn Haney deserves a mention not only for the quality of his work, but the fact that he, like myself is a native Texan. I do not currently own any of his pieces....

Lynn Haney Father Christmas

And I would be remiss were I not to offer a link to A very nice blog for collectors everywhere.

So perhaps this deserves a bit of an exploration of the Santa story. Many others have done this better than I, so there are many links to Wikipedia entries coming for you to explore.

As many know, a bearded robed, kindly male figure, capable of working magic, brings presents and good will during the winter solstice period, world wide. This archetypical Father Christmas figure certainly has roots in human culture far older than many might imagine. Stretching back into our prehistoric minds with touches of Finnish Joulupukki, and his reindeer shamans...

Sometimes, Joulupukki is assisted by his Nissor, and the Norse God, Odin. Mix well with the stories of the real man, St. Nicholas of Myra.

Add a bit of Dutch Flavor for Sinterklaas, and then of course Americans translated that to Santa Claus. In Russia they welcome Ded Moroz, or "Father Frost". (I just love that name)

A gorgeous and inspirational picture for the season. From a Russian Theme park for Ded Moroz, (Grandfather Frost). The stone roughly translates as "The doors are always open to our house and anyone is always welcome at anytime so you can believe in fairy tales

Now most folks wrap all these fellows together and you get a mix of it combined. The many social conventions and creations get adopted and thrown in along with the rest. Rudolph makes his appearance in a silly little television special and is now "canon" in Finland, even though they have never adopted the names from the Clement Moore poem, The Night Before Christmas. And finally, the blending of the American Santa Claus with the English Father Christmas is complicated, but a wonderful explanation it all is available Here.

So what does this have to do with a grown man dressing up in a silly outfit to make kids smile...oh, wait, I already do that sometimes! After all, I am a Bubble Guy!

Anyway, I never thought I would actually be able to portray Santa. Due to a genetic factor in my ancestry, I seem to be unable to grow a full beard. And I always thought the false beards to look rather cheap. Little did I know.

We have always visited the Annapolis Mall to see the Santa there for Ellawyn. He is very good, a "Real Beard" as they are known in the business. Here is this year's picture.

Ellawyn with Santa 2007

I have managed to chat with him on a number of occasions and through a bit of encouragement from him I decided to do some research. And behold. There is vast community of those who present Santa to the public professionally. The beginnings of this lie with Charles W. Howard, the founder of the Santa School. There are number of Santa Schools actually but this one is the oldest. Howard was a fellow who saw the poor quality of the store Santas and decided to do something about it. Howard also said, "He errors who thinks Santa enters through the chimney. Santa enters through the heart." Last year, Bill Weir, of Good Morning American visited the school. Although I would love to attend this, the cost of several hundred dollars will forbid it for now.

There are lots of other resources out there as well. For those that can grow the real beard, well there is The Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, and then there is the forum I have recently joined, The fellows there, and ladies too as there are a number of Mrs. Clauses on there and helper elves as well, have all been very welcoming and supportive, as there are enough kids and Christmas Spirit to go around.

One recent movie we saw for the first time, (and let me tell you, since setting out on this endeavor, any movie with Santa in it is watched with a critical and professional eye!) was The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Unbeknown to us, this wonderful story was written by L. Frank Baum, the creator of the Wizard of Oz series. The movie was done by Rankin and Bass, the stop motion artists who are responsible for the ever so popular shows like Rudolph and Frosty. Amazing little movie, in which Santa is raised by forest Faeries and granted the Mantle of Immortality for his good works just before his mortal death. This naturally was disapproved of by the conservative community and doesn't get alot of air play, but see it if you get a chance.

There are lots of resources out there for the other various Santa bits, although I won't have to use most of them. Here is one example which provides much higher quality items then some others. Adele's of Hollywood, a purveyor of fine Santa goods to professional Santas worldwide. Great stuff. Luckily, due to my connections with my sewing mother, Rennfest artisan friends, and my own craftsman skills, I won't be needing much of this for my outfits. The beard and wig shall be my biggest expense. Through my research on these I have learned that higher end yak hair whisker sets are the way to go. Properly mounted and done with a little liquid latex over the seams, you can hardly see tell. Glittered up and decorated, well, he just looks magical! After all, that "Right Jolly Ole' Elf" has a fundamental connection to Faeries and Magic. I have seen some of the pros who the image is delightful well done and you just can't tell.

What I have in mind is an mix of old and new traditions. Contrary to urban legend, Coca Cola did not create nor do they own the trademark to the Red and White popular culture image of Santa. Although they did finalize that in the collective consciousness. The colors were already a traditional image of the SinterKlauss fellow, as can be seen in the Victorian Father Christmas in my first picture. So I am thinking something with woolen pants, a Green Velvet Waistcoat vest, and then the over jacket. Longer than normally seen, to the knee. With a hood. Somewhat inspired by the excellent artistry of the suit worn by Tim Allen in the Santa Clause movies. Done in nice woolen and perhaps even real fur trim. Although real fur is difficult to work with and doesn't wear well. If I can find a faux that works well and has a sparkle to it, then that would be great. I want as much magic and fantasy to the effect as possible. And a richness mixed with a real look. As is the case with Rennfest workers, we aren't wearing costumes, we are wearing garb. Costumes are designed to be worn once in a while, to a party and then put away. Garb is clothing to be lived and worked in.

I also seem to have convinced my "Mrs. Claus" of the fun of all this. We are designing her a Renaissance inspired fantasy dress. Perhaps a bit more magical and faerie than doughty and with the apron as is commonly seen. The Mr. and Mrs. would be wearing their best clothing to appear in public after all. Although her appearances will have to limited until Ellawyn is old enough to participate in fun. With the beard, makeup, and perhaps some contacts to change my eyes, I can hide my mortal self from her, but that is not so easy with Mrs. Claus. And we want to preserve the magic and suspend the belief as long as possible.

I want my first suit to be as close to "Traditional" Red and White, while still being old world and realistic as possible. This is for business reasons. Later I can add a long green over gown and present a renaissance inspired Father Christmas, and perhaps more. I would like to do public appearances, and perhaps some private parties. Our schedule would mostly forbid me from doing mall work, although am intrigued in "Sitting in the Big Chair" and already have plans for a Santa Throne that can be knocked down and transported. Perhaps in a Mission or Arts & Crafts style. I would like to be that Father Christmas that all my Faerie Friends, artisans, and history buffs would like to take their kids to. So I get it all together, get the headshots and bio sheet and look for gigs. We shall have to see. I never really thought I would be able to do it. But so it is. Perhaps its the strands of gray appearing at my temples. Or the little girl who is dancing about singing Christmas songs in my home.

There is one thing I have learned from this. Christmas Wishes can come true.

So I leave you with this reminder....

"Poor, misguided folks. They missed the whole point. Lot's of unhappiness? Maybe so. But doesn't Santa take a little bit of that unhappiness away? Doesn't a smile on Christmas morning scratch out a tear cried on a sadder day? Not much maybe. But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give: of ourselves, our talents, our love and our hearts? Maybe we could all learn Santa's beautiful lesson and maybe there would finally be peace on Earth and good will toward men."

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Autumnal Enchantment...

"November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.."
Elizabeth Coatsworth

This entry was entirely inspired by "Picturing Autumn", a post by Irene Gallo, art director at Tor, and a real champion of the fantastical in the arts. Her contributions to the field are difficult to convey, but remarkably important. One of my personal favorites is her "Picturing" series of blog posts for Tor. Finding a subject of common spark, she seeks out the creative artists that draw from it. Then, not only do we see some of their output of imagery, we see their influences and picks from the community of the arts, past and present.

Quoting her Autumn post, because she says it best:

"It’s the first day of fall...and the last of these “odes to the season.” It seems fitting to end in Autumn. As with Picturing Winter, Spring, and Summer, I have asked a few of my artist friends to share with us some of their favorite paintings that depict the Fall. It’s a complicated and beautiful season—mixing a desperate need to soak in the last bits of sunlight, an ostentatious display of color, and the warmth of the coming holidays with a sense of loss and decay, foreboding...and magic. The spirits come out in fall and we transition from being outdoor people into an introspective, interior mindset. So, without further ado, below you will find nearly one hundred images of autumn that are joyous, colorful, and dark." 

So to begin with, go to "Picturing Autumn", and look over the remarkable images she pulled together in honor of the Autumnal Equinox in September of 2012. It is very long, filled with wonderful art, and beauty. Take your time. Then, come back and see my contributions. It isn't that I felt these were excluded. The act of making such offerings isn't such that you are trying to be all inclusive. Like a view of crimson leafed glory out the window, it is only a brief frame in time, and I was moved to offer my own glimpse from here.

Artists of all types, living where the seasons change and the landscape is coated in the exuberant splendor of the leaf fall, know how deeply the colors can influence and invoke their creativity. For us, it is a sense of kinship at times, as if the nature has decided to honor our craft, and offer up a showcase. A mirrored palette that is reflects our inner spirit. The mentor and master teacher of all art, that is the natural world says to us, "This is how it's done..."

The fantasy, mythic, and illustrator arts community often finds some of the deepest mysteries of trade here. Fairy Tales and imaginations seem best, when you are between times, in the land of Janus, a portal place, and Autumn is often just so.

Firstly, I have to bring up one of my favorites from Irene's post. It is, quite literally, cast in the guise of where my personal journey of art began, that of Middle Earth. 

I could hardly pick a more iconic image and one of deeper influence for me, than this of "Rivendell" in the Autumn, by Alan Lee, famed illustrator of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and one of the primary concept artists for Peter Jackson's films of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

"All that gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.."
~J.R.R. Tolkien

For all those wrapped in the mantle of leaves that is the Fantasy Arts, Tolkien's work of grand adventure begins in the Autumn of Middle Earth. The themes of transition and quiet sorrow wrapped with revery and memory that is such a part of the season, is prominent throughout the books as well. Many fantasy fans begin their journeys of life in the Autumn of the books, and continue that "Road going ever on" for a life time. So, here are a few more, from the good professor's mythos, that offer some golden light

"Goldberry" by the Brothers Hildebrandt. She simply radiates the light.

The most important Goldenwood of Tolkien's world is that of Lothlorien and here is the genius of Ted Nasmith illustrating that perfectly

Professor Tolkien himself was skilled with pen and brush, and certainly the palette of Autumn's splendor was his favorite.


"Green Man becomes grown man in flames of the oak
As it's crown forms his mask and it's leafage his features;
'I speak through the oak, 'says the Green Man
'I speak though the oak, 'say he."
~ Green Man, by William Anderson

As you may have noted if you are familiar with our art, we owe a deep tithe to Autumn and its inspiration. It is a resonant bell that rings throughout our work all year long. So often, just when we feel that our well for new expressions of the Green Men is tapped, up springs those glorious colors, and once again, we find our way. Often, we discover that the path into the wood is via another artist's art. So I was pleased to see the following piece in Irene's post.

"The Corn King" by Charles Vess is a marvelous invocation to the season. Charles says that the landscape is the views from his home in the Appalachian Mountains of southern Virginia, and the plants of the King, are those that are growing on the hillside.

We are pleased to be both fans of Charles' work, as well as friends, so when the Corn King was chosen to be the image for FaerieCon 2009 promotions, we contacted him about creating it in our art form of 3D leather mask sculpture. We had often been asked over the years, if his image was created from one of our pieces, but no, it was derived, as was style, independently. This is an excellent example what I call, artists "dipping from a common well"So to finally craft a mask, directly from one of Charle's images, was to good to pass up. Here is our Corn King Mask, resplendent in Autumn's scarlet leaves. The Monarch butterfly is a real life addition. Exhausted from her southern migration, this female butterfly alighted on the bushes as we were photographing.

Sometimes the path runs from our art to others. Recently, we were very pleased to have one of our advertising photos, featuring one of our masks, to be used as the basis for this painting, entitled "Autumn Queen" by the wildly talented Brigid Ashwood.

Another one of my favorite Autumnal artists is Ruth Sanderson. A large volume of her work is filled with seasonal reds, golds, yellows and ruddy browns, so choosing is difficult, however two stand out. Here, is "Autumn Fairy", which is a pure celebration of the theme

Her "Heart of the World" is a triumph in the uses of scarlet leaves.

Perhaps just one more from Ruth, unsuprisingly, as her studio is even named, "Goldenwood". I was told by Charles Vess, that if I liked Green Men, I had to see her work, and it is, certainly some magnificent expressions of the foliate face in art. Here is one.

The is the soothing hues of Renae Taylor. This piece has hung in our home for many years and is well loved

As long as I am sharing amazing goddesses in coppery tones, I could do no better than the work of one of the truly greats in illustration today, Kinuko Craft. Here is her iconic "Sleeping Beauty" and we are delighted to be seeing Kinuko again, as well as several other artists here, at the upcoming FaerieCon 2012 in just a few days. The event is entirely under the eaves of a most mysterious wood.

Perhaps the term "low hanging fruit" is a bit too metaphorical for an Autumn post, but I am not afraid to share one. Alphonsa Mucha's influence into generations of illustrators and artists goes without question, and I would be remiss if I didn't share one of his Autumn Beauties.

In the entire circle of the year there are no days so delightful as those of a fine October, when the trees are bare to the mild heavens, and the red leaves bestrew the road, and you can feel the breath of winter, morning and days so calm, so tenderly solemn, and with such a reverent meekness in the air. ~ Alexander Smith

Another favorite also has a personal connection. We are occasional contributing editors with  the lovely Faerie Magazine. This means we get the pleasure of sometimes seeing art before it is widely seen. I remember well when the following piece for the cover, came across my email and I had to just take a moment, and sit with it, admiring it. An original oil painting by Scott Grimando, "Crushed Autumn".

It would be impossible for me to pick a favorite piece in these themes, but the following one by David Wyatt is certainly one that calls to me.  Indeed, much of his work is that which I could spend hours with. This one offers some similar time to reflect.
How to spend a brisk Autumn morning, lost in "The Word Wood", a portrait of artist Terri Windling, who this writer, and our studio, are indebted to, for being a wayfinder in the mythic wood.

Terri herself knows the ways of the woods of Autumn, and they come up many times in her own art

Many other mask makers have found there calling in the Autumn woods, and when they combine that with photography, you find imagery like this one from Eyefeather.

Certainly the sacred feminine side is well represented, so let's add in some strong masculine Green Men. Here is a work by fellow mask maker and friend, Larry Wood, of Fantasy Guilde Studios.

I am still trying to discover the artist behind the following image, for the Runelords series, but it is wonderfully Autumnal, spooky, powerfully male, and striking. I would love to create it in leather and mixed media.

One of the best things about doing posts like this, is I get to discover new artists, or those whose work I had seen in my youth, but wasn't familiar with. Judson Huss is just such one, and this brooding tree face offers some of the quiet threat that the season holds.

Perhaps another scarlet tressed beauty is in order. Here is one I discovered, by
Jennifer Emmett Weyland, and entitled "Autumn Queen". I can't find anything else about her, and I adore her work.

I will bring us back into the land of the Autumn Queens with this fine graphic piece by Cristina Mcallister of Gypsy Mystery Arts, who I found online and love everything she does. Wonderfully fun, and free spirited work.

So I really could go on and on with this theme, much like we have said before how marvelous it would be to follow Autumn around the world for a year, living in constant glory, and neverending melancholy. Wonders would be as endless as the leaves. Even researching this post has lead me to discover images that I am left as breathless as a November wind. Take this one, by
Samantha Johnson. Found through DeviantArt.

However, like the season signifies, all things are brief and fleeting and must end. So, I will wrap up with a few pieces out of our own studio.

Here is a drawing I did while spending a Thanksgiving Day separated from my family. I needed to celebrate, and I did so on paper. Pumpkins, Green Men, Cornucopias, Sunflowers, Fallen Leaves. These are a few of my favorite things.

Constantly we are in the process of bringing some aspect of the Autumn to life in sculpted and painted leather. No matter where on the Wheel of the Year the view from the window shows, often on our work bench it is an October afternoon, and the light is on the leaves.

When the symphony of the trees reaches it's peak, we are amongst them as often as possible gathering leaves, admiring the forms, and capturing fleeting colors in photography. We try to learn how to capture them with our paintbrushes, and always seem to come up a bit short. Each year there are certain trees, on certain afternoons, that compel  us to stop, and just look at them for a while. We feel the need to soak up the color, like a thirst, we drink a deep rich font of love for light that is impossible to convey. 

Here is myself, wearing one of our a variations on our "Wood King Green Man", and there, rapturously luminous, is the  maple that called us to give it due reverence. It is a companion to the photo of my lovely wife and partner in art, Leah, at the beginning here.

What a remarkable tree that was. 

Like living flame.

Harvest blessings be with you.


Shane Odom