31 December 2012

How to have a Happy New Year...

It's just past midnight.  You have ritually welcomed the New Year with the standard bonhomie yet, perhaps, you're beginning to sense a twinge of disappointment.  The champagne, the carousing, the familiar bleating of "Auld Lang Syne" are somehow leaving you feeling let down and apprehensive.  Let Bijibou advance a suggestion - dismiss all concerns and prolong the joie de vivre with the customary Scottish tradition known as "first-footing", whereby you linger excited near the front door on the lookout for the first guest of 2013. Ideally someone dark, tall and handsome - I regret, no one name rushes to mind as an example - your first visitor directly after twelve a.m., the one who delightedly puts a "first foot" across your threshold, is the one most certain to bring you good luck for the coming year. 

Here, the effusive Mr. Punch and his jolly dog, Toby, bound toward the open door, eager to spare you from an unhappy New Year!

First Footing is a tradition familiarly associated with Scotland, although it's practiced also in Northern England and Wales, and it is a custom sustained by a fundamental belief in the potentially tenuous nature of beginnings.  As you welcome your guest, you "let in" the New Year.  Why not increase your chances for a thrilling future by hobnobbing with good luck?    The  rules are quite specific:  your visitor must be dark haired and, almost invariably, male.  In some areas, it is important for him to be married, in others, a bachelor.  Those with blond hair, however charming, talented and well-placed, might only stir dark memories of 8th century Viking invasions so be on the qui vive.  

Typically, a first-footer came laden with symbolic gifts for members of the household.  Bread and coal were standard, whiskey and something "green", i.e., alive, were also common.  In turn, he was rewarded with food, drink and money, making the job of professional guest quite profitable.  In order for the hosts to enjoy the full benefit of his visit, he was ushered into the house through the front and bade farewell through a rear door. 

Your gentle, albeit blond author is very grateful for the attention you have shown Bijibou during the past year.  As a modest acknowledgement of your kindness, and in the spirit of the first-footer, as a talisman for a New Year of lightness and wit, please enjoy these few Art Notes from the January, 1897 issue of Punch from which the above illustration was borrowed.  Bliadhna mhath ur! - Happy New Year, to you all. 

WE are glad to say the indisposition of Miss ANGELINA SNOOKS is less serious than it was at first reported to be. This talented young lady, whose representations of windmills are so justly popular, attempted, in a moment of aberration, to eat a cake of gamboge*. Fortunately her nurse was able to interrupt the meal, and it is hoped that in a few days' time she will be completely restored to health.

IT is said, on good authority, that Master WILLIAM JENKINS is likely to be appointed to the Slade Professorship, at present vacant. Some of the critics, while admitting his claims on other grounds, are inclined to demur to his election on the score of his advanced age. It is true that Master JENKINS has passed his fourteenth birthday, and that therefore his best work must necessarily lie behind him. Still, his brilliant course of lectures on The Art of Caricature," and his portraits of schoolmasters (executed in chalk, on wooden palings) seem to point him out as one eminently qualified for the post, and it is said that Messrs. WATTS and BURNS-JONES are extremely anxious to take lessons from him. 

BRITISH sculpture is decidedly looking up. We have rarely seen finer specimens of the art than the mud-pies recently designed by Master PHIDIAS BROWN. Should the season permit, it is understood that this clever sculptor will produce a colossal figure in snow during his Christmas holidays. 

THE Philistinism of parents is almost beyond belief. It is said 
that while Master HENRY RAPHAEL was engaged the other day 
in decorating his father's drawing-room wall-paper with cartoons 
painted in vermilion, that ignorant gentleman not only inter- 
rupted the artist's work, but even put him to severe physical 
pain as a reward for his industry. It is to be hoped that the 
Council of the Academy will prosecute this barbarous parent, and 
that he will thus reap the punishment which he so richly deserves. 

*A cake of vibrant yellow paint produced from a gum resin derived from any of several South Asian trees.  The resin is sometimes used as a purgative.  While Bijibou acknowledges the timeliness of this information, she cannot endorse this as a remedy for any imminent overindulgence.

05 December 2012

tongue, teeth, horns, hooves, chains, claws, Fun!

Today heralds the seasonal appearance of Krampus, sidekick to St. Nicholas and the bearer of rough justice for children who have distinguished themselves in some unfortunate and entirely regrettable way during the year.  While St. Nicholas dispenses gifts to good children, Krampus roots out the bad, beating them with switches and rusty chains before stuffing them into his basket where they may brood and sulk over their misfortune, marking the hours until they become a tasty snack.

Krampus is that endearing yule-thug whose origin is rooted in Germanic pre-Christian folklore.  His name is derived from the Old High German word for claw, Krampen, and with his large horns, cloven hooves and lolling red carpet of a tongue, he is indeed a terrifying sight.

On December 5th, he and St. Nicholas head out in search of children who are generously rewarded for their goodness or mercilessly punished for their appalling criminality.  Today, the tradition lives on in  Germany, Austria and throughout Eastern Europe as young men don their Krampus togs and rattle chains, menacing hapless victims.

So popular was this touching custom that an entire segment of the German holiday card market was once devoted to honoring Krampus.  Known as Krampuskarten, these cards typically feature an amiable holiday hello - Gruss vom Krampus! - Greetings from Krampus! - as well as some graphic depiction of the sort of vile torment he inflicts on youthful malefactors.

Perhaps out of concerns over being typecast as a child-hater, or perhaps because he's just irredeemably bad and awful, Krampus occasionally interferes with young lovers.  Frohliche Krampusnacht!

22 November 2012

Holiday greetings...

Bijibou's flag is planted firmly in the turkey's camp.

Norman Rockwell, 1917

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving...
 Enjoy your vegetables!

08 November 2012


Prizes from the thrift shop...

A sakura scarf from Japanese designer Hanae Mori.

  Kid gloves: 1940's?

 A new addition to the Floraline collection.

This timely seasonal treasure: a vintage turkey tin.

31 October 2012

Halloween Greetings...

Ellen Leonard

Arthur Rackham

                   The Haunted Chamber 
                 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

                    Each heart has its haunted chamber,
                   Where the silent moonlight falls!
                    On the floor are mysterious footsteps,
                    There are whispers along the walls!

                  And mine at times is haunted
                  By phantoms of the Past
                 As motionless as shadows
                By the silent moonlight cast.

                A form sits by the window,
                                That is not seen by day,                 
                    For as soon as the dawn approaches
             It vanishes away.

                It sits there in the moonlight
              Itself as pale and still,
                 And points with its airy finger
              Across the window-sill.

                Without before the window,
                 There stands a gloomy pine,
                  Whose boughs wave upward and downward
                   As wave these thoughts of mine.

             And underneath its branches
             Is the grave of a little child,
             Who died upon life's threshold,
             And never wept nor smiled.

             What are ye, O pallid phantoms!
             That haunt my troubled brain?
             That vanish when day approaches,
           And at night return again?

              What are ye, O pallid phantoms!
              But the statues without breath,
             That stand on the bridge overarching
             The silent river of death?

07 October 2012


Gerd Arntz was the German artist and graphic designer responsible for creating the pictograms of Isotype, The International System of TYpographic Picture Education developed by Viennese social scientist and philosopher Otto Neurath.  Isotype was a means of visually representing complex statistical information - the generic pictograms were typically used to illustrate stylized charts explaining economic and political data.   Isotype marked the inception of modern visual statistics, establishing a clear means of communicating to ordinary people esoteric information that was often difficult to understand.  In addition to the uniform human symbols, Arntz created pictograms for ships, automobiles, food, plants and factories.   Among the over 4000 symbols Arntz designed were these, my favorites, unsurprisingly: images of animals wild and domestic. 

These are wonderful images, and, quite unlike the majority of human figures he created, vivid and dynamic.  Not only are they examples of good design but they're cheerful and deserve to be seen.  With a little cardstock and some thread, I fashioned this mobile of woodland creatures - Rabbit, Squirrel, Frog, Mouse.  




If you're interested in seeing more of Arntz's work, the Gerd Arntz Web Archive is the place to start. There, you can also download the Gerd Arntz Memory App which is indeed a very pleasant brain-enhancing distraction.   And do spend some time meandering around the Gerd Arntz Archive from the Museum of the Hague.  Here are a few images to tempt you...