Monday, 14 December 2009

It is snowing in the book of my childhood



WHEN I WAS SMALL, my family travelled to Oberammergau, a Bavarian village at the feet of the Alps where the houses are painted with fairytales and the winter snows are deeper than the doorknobs. We lived there on and off over a few years with the cowbells and woodcarvings, the Kofel mountain, the Bavarians with their rules, and the Passion Play for which Oberammergau is best known.

I have fond and vivid memories of this time. The summers of my recollection are sunny green grass and bees and buttercups, the river Ammer where my brother threw his toy helicopter, and paper windmills and glass jewels stuck in the earth between the flowers in the garden of Frau Jaekel who lived in the village. But the winters... that cold winter when my parents had to tear the wallpaper from the walls for a fire to warm the old house we had just moved into. In the very deep snows, we couldn't drive our van to buy groceries and so my mum pulled us and the shopping along on a wooden sledge which still sits upstairs in my parents' house. Nuns used to leave us gifts of food on the door handle, I wore a pinstriped snowsuit, and Schnuffel the St Bernard ate icicles.

(that's a little Rima driving the sledge with my mum and brother)


I have been thinking lately... this snow in all its blue lustre and creaking cold beauty has stayed with me always, in my imagination and in my paintings. Every winter I paint a snowy picture which usually turns into my Christmas cards. There is snow in this painting of mine, and this and this and this and this and this. I don't know where it comes from. I think if the world in my paintings were to be hunted for on a map, it would reside somewhere North, somewhere where there are white nights in the summer and dark days in the winter, somewhere blanketed in snow. Perhaps an Eastern-European Scandinavia? A Finnish Siberia? A Germanic Russia? A Russian Svalbard? A Saami Holland? Wherever it is the snow hangs heavy on the conifer forests and logs are stacked under low hung eaves for fires by which stories will be told.

These thoughts led me back to the books of my childhood, three in particular, which I think played an enormous part in carpeting my imagination with winter.



The first, a well loved favourite, given to me when I was quite young I think, is The Fox and the Tomten by Astrid Lindgren, after a poem by Karl-Erik Forsslund and illustrated by Harald Wiberg. This is a story based on the Scandinavian folkloric character of the Tomte which I have written about before.



He is a protector of the homestead so long as you leave him a bowl of porridge on winter nights; in this tale he reliquishes his porridge to Reynard the fox to stop him eating the chickens. Harald Wiberg's paintings (watercolour I think) have stayed strongly with me, the shadows on snow so blue and moonlit, the still quiet of a snow covered night so well described, the hearth-glowing family interior so warm in contrast with Reynard out in the cold through the window, and the filigree of white branches so delicately frosted.



The second, a book I would read with delicious expectation every Christmas Eve of my youth: The Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore and illustrated by Douglas Gorsline. This too was given to me young, and I can still recite the well known poem in my head. The excitement and magic, not just of Christmas for a child, but of snow itself, was conjured in a young me by this book.


"The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow
gave a lustre of midday to objects below."



And the wonderful reindeer entourage arrives over rooftops, bringing sugar canes and bells down chimneys worldwide. The night before Christmas was always far more wonderful than the day itself for me because of all the possibility of strange and impossible rooftop visits and the almost unbearable anticipation of stocking-rustlings and chocolate coins at the bottom of the bed.


The third is a book I have mentioned before. Trubloff by John Burningham is the story of a mouse who wanted to play the balalaika. He lives with his family in the panelling of an inn bar somewhere in Eastern Europe, and is enchanted by the music played by the gypsies who stop at the inn for food and shelter.


Burningham's illustrations are wonderful in their rough scratchy paint-stipply simplicity. I envy his ability to create innocence in deceptively simple brushstrokes. With this book too, a memory of snow was made in me. These skies are grey blizzard skies, and the air feels freezing.



The huge yellow block-printed moon is somehow far away. And have you ever heard of a mouse on skis? Let alone one who can play the balalaika...



Now as well as these favourites, there were many others. I remember well the page in Beatrix Potter's Tailor of Gloucester when Simpkin the cat ventures out into the snowy town on the one night of the year when all animals can talk.



And those stories like that of the Ant and the Grasshopper when one animal has been diligent in his preparations for winter and the other has frittered summer away and ended up cold and homeless, a little like red-footed Thumbeline, taken in by the mouse, in this version of the tale illustrated by a genius of watercolour - Lizbeth Zwerger.



There are an awful lot of animals out in the snow in these books aren't there? Mice and foxes and cats and reindeer. I do wonder how their conversations go on that one wonderful night.
And finally I'd like to tell you of another book about an animal out in the snow. Though it is one I have discovered more recently, the beauty of the illustrations must be sung. Gennady Spirin is an artist whose work I have long admired.



This story, Martha, is a true account of Spirin's young son Ilya finding a wounded crow in the Moscow snow and nursing it back to health. It is a simple tale illustrated exquisitely and should be on everyone's shelf. I love the cover for its black and blood red against white, and the snowflakes all over.


I have a theory that the storybook imagery you experience as a child enters you in a different place to visuals taken in as an adult. There is a separate storehouse for these precious visions, limited in their number as your childhood years, but brighter and more musical by far than the myriad pictures that pass your eyes in later living.

***

In my musings on snowy imagery, I must not forget Pieter Brueghel's beautiful winter paintings. His bare branches against duck-egg sky, his many peasant colours against snowy Dutch landscape, are for me a triumph in painting, and a beauty to aim for.
Here is The Hunters in the Snow:

And here is The Numbering At Bethlehem:


And last I bring you some winter paintings of my own. Over these last weeks I have painted two snowy scenes, both in watercolour, one the tale of a fleeing, what from I do not know, and one of a well loved rooftop visit on the night before Christmas.

Here is Snow Flight Under the Seasky:

(in progress details - click to enlarge)

(print available here)

And here is Father Christmas:

(print available here)


I am taking a little hibernation from blogging for a while, but in the meantime I can highly recommend the A Polar Bear's Tale blog for a plethora of snowy painting inspiration and other Northern delights.
I wish you all a splendid Wintertime, a happy Christmastime, a magical Yule, wherever you are, may there be hoofprints in the snow and chocolate coins, Christmas Eve rustlings, tales by the fire and love.

***

And I leave you with the childhood Christmas words of an oft-quoted favourite, Dylan Thomas, from A Child's Christmas in Wales:

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.

(...read the rest here)

74 comments:

Sonia ;) said...

Sweetie...Your work is amazing and surpasses the works you admired as a child. I love you vision of the world around you. Have a good deep hibernation and enjoy the holidays.

Smiles to you and Tui

NanU said...

beautiful, beautiful meander through the snow. Enjoy your holidays and your blogging break!

WannabeVirginia W. said...

You are unbelievably gifted. I visit your blog and you always always open up an amazing world I want to explore. Thank you.

Sarah said...

What an enchanting post this is! I think you are right about books we read as children and how they stay with us. I love your tales of snowy childhood and snowy books and can see how they have worked their magic for you, they all look beautiful. I especially love John Burningham's illustrations. Your Father Christmas is wonderful-I must show the children at school so they can understand even more how he could get stuck in the chimney! Have a lovely hibernation and I look forward to more tales when you emerge!

Vicki's Bit-o-earth said...

I think you're right Rima. Childhood memories full of imagination and magical memories have bloomed into something beyond special in you! Love your art! Vicki

tui said...

Merry, merry merry love x

Astral Cat said...

Simply magical, like snow itself. Thanks you for reminding us of how special the books of our childhood are. Have a beautiful seasonal holiday time.

Emm@ said...

Lovely Santa. I love the size of him!

Peggy said...

No one can see inside me the way you do, and you conjure up images that I thought were only seen by me. Your words move me to tears and even now I am too emotional to tell you how I really feel about your work and your spirit. You have enriched my life in the most magical and beautiful way. Enjoy the yule and the hibernation. I will wait patiently for spring.

Alice said...

beautiful, mesmerising post ... have a wonderful hibernation. Can't wait to have your words back in a sparkly 2010 :-)

Janine said...

Rima,

Thank you for sharing those wonderful illustrations! They are beautiful, Lizbeth Zwerger is one of my favorites, but you are there too! Your artwork is so wonderful and amazing. You have that child in you and you let her out to play. I love that in your work! Again, your work is amazing! I am so happy I found your blog!

Jessie said...

Thankyou Rima for the most wonderful christmas gift.... inspiration.xx

Bonnie said...

Oh Rima - Merry Christmas to yourself and Tui!


I fell in love with the Father Christmas picture on first glance, and couldn't resist ordering it. Thank you ever so much for making it available.

I am going to wallow more in your words and images as I'm cooking the victuals over the next few days!

Have a wonderful hibernation.

Heather said...

What a wonderful early Christmas present you have given us Rima, in this magical post. All those beautiful illustrations to appeal to the child in us. Each of them would bring an awareness of artistry and awaken a young child's imagination. Your own art work stands up well in their company. Enjoy your winter memories and continue to delight us with your amazing skill. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours, and don't stay away too long will you?

Velma said...

it's odd how some illustrations haunt beautifully, others annoy, even into adulthood. images are very important; i can still feel annoyance that dr. seuss books had fun drawings, but so few colors. your version of the night before christmas is the one i read to my children! and both of them still love the tomten, we drag our old battered copy out each winter. i will miss your words and stories, happy solstice.

jai and Lauren Soloy said...

Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful works - there is something so magical about this time of year, which you have captured with your collection, and with your own works as well. Merry Christmas!

Basht said...

I was lost on what to give my daughter for christmas and now you've given me plenty. :)

I love snow and for the first time in years we have it before christmas. Happy holidays my dear.

Anaïs said...

Happy Christmas to you Rima, may your home move steadily next year !
Thanks for sharing those truly beautiful books. I'll try to see if we can catch them across the sea.

Tonia said...

I envy you your hibernation! I have a wonderful copy of the Wind in the Willows with beautiful snowy scenes and Christmassy cheer depicted in watercolour which never fails to capture this time of year for me.
May the sun draw you out soon!

Spirit of Old said...

I completely agree :) Have a look at this very special story too ... http://www.amazon.co.uk/Winter-Bear-Picture-Lions/dp/0006608728 I can almost remember it word for word from my childhood! That, along with Carriehepple's Garden which was an amazing book with beautiful pictures :)

Dixie Sargent Redmond said...

Oh, Rima. I am back again. Your work deeply affects me. I've been trying to figure out what it is exactly, but I'll just to have to settle that it does and leave it there.

Dixie

Dragan said...

We listen to A Child's Christmas in Wales ready by Dylan Thomas every year. Still on record it's very crackily, but that just adds to the reading. We have, when we've found a good one, given catapults so that we don't end up having "never a catapult" Christmases :).

Hoping you and Tui have a lovely rest of the winter and stay cozy warm.

Ciara said...

Oh Rima, always worth the wait. Wonderful post as always, so wonderful! And now, any last residue of resisting the winter has been gently blown away, thank you!

I think Santa has to be my favourite!

Regina Rozenbaum said...

Rima
Beautiful...I really love your vision of the world around you! Fantastic memories. When I visit your blog, always, you give me a present! Your words are sweetie...and your work is wonderful. Thank you!!!
Merry Christmas and I wish a New Year plent of dreams, health, peace,love! 2010 will be not ten, but "eleven" rsrs for everybody!
Hugs
Regina
www.toforatodentro.blogspot.com

femminismo said...

I think your theory on childhood illustrations embedding themselves in our memories and using them as we age (well, think it was something like that) is so true. The books are wonderful and your illustrations are tremendously impressive. thanks so much for sharing

Rebecca S. said...

Hello Rima,
I have a book that I was given as a child: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Father Christmas Letters. It is a collection of wonderful letters and drawings he did for his children from 'Father Christmas', and are full of the Northern Lights and wonderful whimsical drawings. I can never separate my childhood memories from what I saw and read in books, either.
Your posts are always a welcome surprise on my dashboard.
Enjoy your hibernation to the fullest. Long live contented blissful nothingness!
And Merry Christmas!

kim said...

Have a wonderful holiday and a break from blogging. I enjoy your thoughts each time. They let me travel when I cannot myself.
take care
Kim

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh those words Dylan Thomas. Pure magic, aren't they? Heartspeak. And I do adore your Father Christmas painting! Wishing you a perfectly lovely Christmastime. Don't stay away too long!!

A mermaid in the attic said...

Ohhh, Father Christmas is sold out! :(
Another delightful post with so much to contemplate. For me, it wasn't just the images from books I read as a child that still inform my ideas of Christmas, it was the stories themselves. Every year I seem to experience 2 Christmases, a kind of blending of the reality of another hot, dry Christmas day in the West Australian summer, filled with summery things...and the interior, imagined Christmas of snow and caroling, of roaring fires and mulled wine, plum puddings and yule logs. The Christmas that I discovered in books like A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley, and The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. They are the Christmases I dreamed, and still dream of...one day!

Blog Princess G said...

This is the most magical post. Some of the artists I knew and some I didn't. You've opened my eyes and reminded me of the magnificent artists that you find in the pages of children's books. I think I shall treat myself to a new book for the soltice. And your own work is remarkable as all your fans on here attest. Merry Christmas to you!

pRiyA said...

Beautiful pictures. Lovely post.
Have a Merry Christmas Rima and Tui.
:-)

Pat said...

Thank you for the remembrance of that delightful anticipation. Happy Christmas.

jodi said...

Such a beautiful post, thank you Rima! It really strikes a chord with me as I'm getting all set to fly home to Canada for the holidays. I haven't been home in three years... in addition to my family and friends that I've been missing, there's the winter and the snow. I don't think there's anything so lovely as slipping out into the night to skate around and around on a pond under the stars before dinner and an evening by the fire. So thank you again for the magical post, and then thank you twice as much for sharing your two gorgeous watercolours!

Kat_RN said...

Once again, your writing has made me smile. You bring back memories. My childhood was illistrated by Arthur Rackham and your art reminds me of him. The Father Christmas you saved for last is wonderful. Don't be gone too long, I love reading you.
Kat

Carolee said...

Absolutely enchanting post, as always! Wishing you and Tui a magical Christmas! :)

~ Carolee

acornmoon said...

Genady Spirin is a genius isn't he? I marvel at his work every time I see it.

Joan Tucker said...

Rima, I spent 1969 to 1972 in Augsburg, Germany with 3 little children,7, 5, 3. We took many trips to Oberamergau and other magical towns in Bavaria. It sunk into them. One celebrates Dec 6th every year; one married a woman from Dresden another magical city, and another loves to make German cookies in a BIG way.
For me memories of the Renaissance old town of Augsburg, wet snow flakes, Christmas Mass in the old church with huge real 20 ft tall trees, cobblestones..the brass quartet on the roof of the town hall during the market.. it gets to you. I gave them your prints last year and they loved them.

Best wishes to you and yours in this winter season. The solstice in Bavaia.. remember the bonfires on the mountain tops? Joan Tucker

Julianna said...

I love what you said about visuals entering us in a different way when we're children, so true. every time I look at beloved books from my childhood I get a little taste of how it felt when the world was a much more mysteriously magical place than is seems most of the time now

Your time in the alpine village sounds like a dream!

Sarah Wolfman-Robichaud said...

Thank you for the prompt to return to my childhood books that focus on winter. I look forward to the journey back in time tonight!
Sarah (from Vancouver, BC)

Lia said...

I can't put into words how much I love your blog.
This post transported me back to my childhood and a more innocent time.
Your writing is so enchanting.
much love
Lia
xx

Allegra Smith said...

And many wonderful and playful snowy days and magical nights by the light of the candles to you and Tui. His music has been a balm to the spirit and I am so grateful for the Japanese company that made haste to deliver it to us. Happy Winter Solstice and may its Light stay with you all year.

Melanie said...

Thanks for the book recommendations. I was lucky enough to be able to find on Amazon Marketplace for 1P + postage 2 copies of the fairy tale book of my childhood so both my children could have a copy for their birthdays. The stories were by the greats and many artists, but like you the images stay in my head even today.

I hope when the weather changes you will feel inspired to create Summer Crow. In this coldness I think his birth would be hard.

Keep warm dear Rima- Thursday is going to be cold.

Anonymous said...

You're wonderful! Thank you for such a beautiful blog.

Brilig said...

The images from youth stay with us forever - if only I could place them as well as you do.

Seasonal Best Wishes to you from the Brilig Place.

Ali said...

wow your blog is amazing! I haven't had a chance to read through your posts properly but hopefully I will tomorrow :)

Anonymous said...

I have a soft spot for Troll's Search for Summer by Nicolas Van Pallandt. Lots of beautiful icy imagery including a spectacular ice witch, but what made it so wonderful was the cover illustration which recalled for me a recurring dream I had as a child of sailing under the full moon in a hot air balloon.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, Rima.

Sue

Ben Hatke said...

Ah! The Tomten is a family favorite here too! He and Renyard pop up in so many places under so many names. Like little con artists clutching armfuls of aliases as they panhandle through europa.

Thanks for the wonderful post. How inspiring.

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Rima, your work has such depth as does the work of your parents. I am greatly inspired by your journey and genius. I like your studio/gypsie caravan. I used to have an airstream trailer as my studio. My life about books in many different ways. I can't wait to see what books you do.

Lieselotte said...

Rima, I love your drawings - they touch my heart. Your memories of childhood Christmas time in Germany sound like you want to come back to a snowy place in the Alps. Well, I can offer you one if your home is fit for doing the long trip ? Frohe Weihmachten to both of you.

Kate said...

wow rima amazing drawings.

Karen said...

An enchanting post Rima.
What wonderful wintry menories of childhood you must have stored away.
Have a lovely Christmas and cosy hibernation x

Sarah Wimperis said...

beautiful Rima and lovely Tui, bright blessings on you both. Splendid post, I enjoyed the same books as a little person, love them still. How magic to have such a special snowy place in your childhood. My kids were born in Norway, I hope they will hold similar memories of such deep snow.
Keep warm, happy snugglings!

herhimnbryn said...

What a beautiful post Lady R. Full of words and imaes that make me sigh ( I DO miss snow).
Sending you Christmas wishes from across the seas.

FreeDragon said...

I had the same edition of 'twas the night before christmas' none of my other books had pictures like it and I thought it was just beautiful. Thank you for bring back a happy childhood memory

Jericho said...

I always like your work, Rima!

:)

happy christmas!

Rebecca L. Hurst said...

Happy Christmas, Rima, from still-snowy Sussex! I hope you spend it somewhere warm and magical...

Sarah said...

Happy Christmas Rima to you and Tui! Hope you have a lovely time.
Sarah :)

Herrad said...

Hi,
Happy Christmas.
Love,
Herrad

ruthie said...

a beautiful post rima, full of wonderful images & memories. I have to admit that "the night before christmas" has a special place in my heart, as i can recall my grandad reading it to us as children, Wishing you and Tui a delicious christmas and may the new year be all that you wish for x x

Amanda said...

Yes...childhood memories are etched brillantly, hazily, permanently and in a strange and beautiful hand. The illustrations and stories we encounter do seem to imprint themselves into our very beings. Love Lizbeth Zwerger.

Cobalt Violet said...

Wow, so much to take in! Incredible post. I love your blog. I feel so transported out of my apartment in Los Angeles!

Beautiful.

Cindee said...

Dear girl,
After reading so many posts cursing the snow, it is rewarding to find someone who embraces it with an open heart and a link in the chain of their childhood.
Your artwork is sublime and I loved perusing the list of artists you posted. Arthur Rackham has always been a favorite of mine. Are you familiar with Sulamith Wulfing? Check her out.
Your art takes me to a life I lived many lifetimes ago in some deep, mossy forest. Thank You.
Cindee

Anita said...

Beautiful post... You could ask anyone I know, I am always bemoaning the fact that where I live we don't get snow like we did when I was a child...
I anxiously await every new post here, this blog is my favorite online destination... smiles...

yaicha maus said...

showing some support. your blog is done well.

P. M. Doolan said...

As I look outside my window today, in a valley on the ouskirts of Zurich, Switzerland, I see the wooded hills covered in snow, like something magical. But your blog brings that sort of magic to life. Well done.

Dollores said...

Rema,
Your blog is wonderful. I especialy like you crazy pictures. What an imagination you have. An imagination is something I don't have. My work is just what it is but and I love doing it.
Best wishes. Dollores

Not Just Handbags said...

Hi Rima just to let you know that I have a blog award to pass on to you. We had to choose 12 blogs and I chose the 12 that make me smile either because of the crafts that are made or the words that are written. I chose yours because your words and images always make me smile and drift away. Thank you Elissa x

Monica said...

Adore the haunted looks on their faces, in Snow Flight Under the Seasky.

~:C:~ said...

Just wanted to let you know that there's an award for you on my site. : )

Tina said...

I came over from Al’s blog and love what I see here. Will definitely be back for more reading. You seem to live a great life and loving it! Your art is wonderful!
I know Oberammergau from several vacation trips, too, love it, no matter if summer or winter, there are so nice possibilities to walk.

pRiyA said...

Rima, I wished your Tumblr pages would never end. All the pictures and quotes were so beautiful and truly inspiring.
Thank you. I am rejuvenated.
:-)

A Heron's View said...

Please, please, please visualise a warm spring and a good summer? For we have had quite sufficient of the white stuff to last us for at least 10 years.
A Happy New Year to you

Linda Byrd said...

no pressure to post intended, but I miss your wonderful posts. hope all is well with you and yours.

Louise said...

I am breathless. This is the most beautiful blog I've seen. What a fabulous world you have created. You deserve to be much better known.