“Shark” The Herald Angels Sing

December 23rd, 2012

By now the annual Klein Christmas Card probably needs little introduction.  It is an illustration of the current obsessions and/or pivotal events of the past year and, per the subject matter in hand, it is probably pretty clear what the dominant themes of 2012 were:  JAWS and Flying.

(NOTE: Not that the year was devoid of any other noteworthy happenings or renewed preoccupations, these were just the most prevalent).

Of course seeing as both JAWS and flying have long been well known (and well chronicled) family obsessions/interests you may wonder what makes them specifically card-worthy THIS year?  And therein lies the accompanying narrative that has become as much a part of the Christmas card tradition as the actual illustration itself.

For those who need a refresher on the history of the Klein Family Fixation with JAWS please consult Christmas card 2011 “Galway Girl” (and if you have lost the explanatory notes the information can be found on my web site blog, under Background Stories). For this particular account however, we start  – literally – on the first day of the year – JANUARY 1, 2012.  That was the day Jesse and i got a hotel room near the Sanford Airport because Jess had to fly out at crack o’ dawn on the 2nd to go to training for her new job as a Flight Attendant.  And for those keeping track, that is the first flying reference of the year.

This is the JAWS one – January 2nd also happened to be the day Universal Studios was planning to shut down their JAWS ride, so since we were going to be in Orlando anyway, on the 1st, one day before the ride would be lost to us forever, Jess turned to me with those big, dewey “SpongeBob eyes” (you know the ones – all round and glistening and filled with innocent hope) and asked if we could please go to Universal and ride JAWS one last time – before she jetted off on this whole new flying chapter of her life.

Well, what self-respecting (indulgent) parent could resist that logic (plus the shared obsession.  Not to mention the dewey eyes). We dumped our bags at the hotel, donned appropriate shark-themed attire, and hauled off to Universal Studios where we rode JAWS 4 times in succession (once for each movie), took photos with the shark hanging in faux Amity, bought the prerequisite souvenir mementoes, and had dinner at Bubba Gumps (keeping to the sea/fish theme).

And that little tale alone should suitably link JAWS and Flying (“like peas & carrots” , to add a little extra Forrest Gump association) and qualifies them as worthy card material, but the connection between a 37 year-old shark movie and the art of aviation continued, for us, thruout the entire year making the choice undeniable.

FEBRUARY – Jess graduated from FA training and Bob got to pin her wings on her at the ceremony.

MARCH – Jess got a JAWS themed tattoo on her thigh [Quint’s boat, the Orca, and the three yellow barrels, all framed by shark jaws]. She came up with the idea, i drew the design for her.

APRIL – Bob passes his check ride (Bob’s flying connection is a given, but he really did have a check ride this month so i fit the timeline perfectly. Besides, Jesse and i also call him Chief Brody).

MAY – Jess decides she wanted to learn to fly and begins taking lessons.

JUNE – Jess solos.

JULY – Jesse and i go to an outdoor showing of JAWS on the 4th of July at the Enzian Theater in Orlando  (we “drink to her leg” at the theater bar with fellow JAWS fin-atics). This was the first time Jesse ever saw the movie on a big screen.

AUGUST – Bob, Jesse and i fly to “Amity” (as in, Martha’s Vineyard, where JAWS was filmed!) for JAWS FEST – a  weekend-long tribute to the movie where we got to meet actors, writers and locals from the film, check out actual locations and props, and watch the movie in the Old Whaling Church along with a guy who looked just like Quint and “Mrs. Kintner” (Bob asked her to slap him, but she doesn’t do that any more).

SEPTEMBER – Jess gets the Blue-Ray DVD version of JAWS.  As well as comes home from a flying lesson with a stray airport kitten she named Piper (after her plane).

OCTOBER – Jess takes Bob on a Cross-Country flight to St. Simons Island.

NOVEMBER – Jess goes to a seminar for Private Pilot Written Exam preparation (and in a semi-related link, at least by story terms – she, Bob and i watch “Forrest Gump” at the hotel where the seminar was held).

DECEMBER –  brings us to the JAWS/Flying-themed card and the explanation behind its final design. Which i struggled with for a bit.  Originally i thought of doing one of my usual multi-image symbol-ladened things but Thanksgiving was looming and i had a ton of “real” work to do. And – frankly – i just wanted to draw something simpler than cards past  And then i thought of this illustration i had recently done for my web site.  It was intended to be the icon for a “What’s New” section, done in the style of a JC Leyendecker Arrow Collar ad.  Featuring a Gnu (new), in a smoking jacket, reading the paper (The Gnus) i simply couldn’t figure out how to use it on the site so the drawing just languished (tho i did eventually post a blog about it, if you want to see the influence on this card).  I love the 20s style, and the incongruous combination of animals in formal human pose, and immediately imagined a shark as an aviator – combining the events of the year with our family movie fixation and the shared aeronautic skill & talent of BK & JK (who slip the surly bonds on a regular basis).

I found a great Leyendecker reference and then just needed to figure out how to add Christmas to the mix. I discarded a couple ideas before settling on a mail sack full of holiday cards and presents (commercial aviation having come into its own transporting mail). And rather than use the period bi-wing, the plane at the top represents the type Jesse flies – a Piper Cherokee Warrior, with its own unique tail-number – October Romeo Charlie Alpha (aka: ORCA). The card’s title inspiration came while thinking of possible holiday shark/JAWS reference quotes, such as: This card, swallow you whole.  Or,  You’re gonna need a bigger envelope.  So….

Come on into the water and have a Merry Chrissie-mas!  I hope it’s JAWsome!

LAK 2012


What’s Gnu?

December 3rd, 2012

Introducing The Gnus.  Or Gnu’s News.  Or perhaps, New Gnus.  The possibilities are endless (and to think i almost made this illustration a newt).

Several months ago i added a few new images to my web site and wanted to create some sort of notification about the additions (so that old fans of the site would know to go and check it out).  Originally there was an idea of making a special, dedicated page for New Stuff and i started thinking of a visual play on the word News with the idea of using a newt or a gnu as the  “spokesperson” (spokesanimal?).  A gnu, reading a newspaper, immediately came to mind and for some reason i imagined him in a smoking jacket (i mean, really, who doesn’t think of smoking jackets when one contemplates a gnu reading the paper)?  And i knew exactly where to go for a reference – J C Leyendecker and one of his Arrow Collar advertisement illustrations (i have long admired his style and was just waiting for the right confluence of inspiration to create my own homage)!

“What’s Gnu” was. literally, whipped out in one day…  And three months later still actually hasn’t found a home on my web site.  With the exception of adding a “What’s New” category to the blog i never could really find a way to make my Spokesgnu (Gnusman?) work for its intended purpose (announcing the gnu stuff) so he has been languishing on my Facebook page in the form of my profile picture and banner.  Until today!

(NOTE: Well, okay, in the interest of full disclosure, the idea of using him as the lead-in to a What’s New blog post came weeks ago, i just never quite got around to writing it).

Today Gnu finally gets his day in the sun. Or rather, on the site.  With more to come in the months ahead (fingers crosses. Knock on a tough, fibrous cellular surface. Kiss a chimney sweep) – as a regular blog feature introducing whatever new things have recently been posted.

And so, without further ado and extraneous preamble – on to The Gnus!

Under BOOKS – you will find my newest children’s picture book – “Solar System Forecast”.  As well as new links for convenient on-line purchase of all my other books .

Under MURALS – i have posted photos of the Crookshank Elementary School cafeteria mural (a multi-wall painting of all the continents, including select native animals and travel posters of hi-lighted cities/monuments/features).

Under CONTACTS – one can now link to my Facebook art page (where Gnu will again guide you.  At least until i change my profile picture and banner).

Granted – it’s not a lot of new stuff – but it’s still worth noting.  And this finally gives me a chance to share the story of Gnu with you.  Who (rhyme unintended) will himself feature as a New web site item very soon.  Along with this year’s annual Christmas card, which shall be posted just as soon as i’m finished with it.  NOTE: By way of a little spoiler – the card is linked to Gnu  which is why i felt compelled to post this blog today (otherwise, when i post the Christmas card, its background story won’t make any sense).



Words of Art: A Children’s Book Fair & Literacy Family Day

November 11th, 2012

I fully intended to write all sorts of descriptive and explanatory posts prior to each of the various book talks, signings, and  events i had the past couple of months and yet here we are – down to the last event of the year and i am only now posting the first announcement.

And this is not really even the actual announcement. This is more of a place saver. Think of this as just an introductory tease.  A trailer if you will. A little something to spur your interest and hopefully arouse your curiosity for additional information.

And – basically – because i really just wanted to put a different picture on my blog.

I will be joining other local authors and illustrators at the Cummer Museum, in Jacksonville, FL, on Saturday, November 17, to share crafts and activities, introduce our books, and  talk to children and families about our love of stories and art and words.  I fully intend to write in more detail between now and then (or such is my optimistic hope), but in the interim…

Children. Books. Art. Words. Museum. Galleries. Gardens. Music. Activities. Food. Local authors & illustrators. And a beautiful view of the river. Really – what more needs to be said!




Book Talks, Signings and Other Events (October 2012)

September 25th, 2012

I fully intended to keep up with all my book and art related events but somewhere along the line i stopped posting a calendar (of course i also stopped writing the blog all together and haven’t posted anything since last December so that could have been part of the problem) but i am trying to do better.  So before the year completely slips by i thought i’d share the up coming activities.  You know… if you’re in the area and want to stop by!

BOOK TALKS & STORY TIME    in Nassau County, FL:

Monday, Oct. 1          Hilliard Library          TIME FOR TOTS          10:00am

Monday, Oct. 1          Callahan Library        TIME FOR TOTS          11:30am

Wednesday, Oct. 3   Fernandina Library   TIME FOR TOTS          10:30am

Wednesday, Oct. 3   Fernandina Library    AFTER SCHOOL           4:00pm

Thursday, Oct. 4       Yulee Library                TIME FOR TOTS         10:30am



Friday, Oct. 5     Simple Gestures          5:00pm –  9:00pm             Great art, good nibblees, music & wonderful company



Sunday, Oct 21     FRA Conference     Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, Orlando          9:45am – 10:45am

“So Much More Than A Picture Book”  with author, Marianne Berkes and illustrator, Laurie Allen Klein

I plan to write more about this, in greater detail, but i just wanted to get it on October’s list of events.  Marianne and i will also be doing a Book Signing at FRA on Saturday, Oct. 20 (3:45pm) if you want a sneak peek at our program!!   Stop by and talk books and art with us!

That’s it for now…   but i’ll keep you posted.

I Must Get Back To The Blog Again…

September 24th, 2012

… To the empty screen and the type.  (with apologies to John Masefield’s “Sea-Fever”).


But – really – it has been far, far too long since i posted anything.  That, of course, was not my intention when i first added a blog to my web site.  Back then i was a pretty voracious chronicler of whatever whim and whimsy came my way and wanted to share every thought and observation.  But i am also easily distracted by shiny objects – SQUIRREL!!! – and definitely at the mercy of the Creative Writing Muse, who has long been absent.

Of course the other (probably bigger) reason i’ve been away from the blog is the fact that i am a technological dinosaur and only know how to do a very few things on the computer. If some new skill is required, or a troubleshooting problem develops, i am at the mercy of the Cyborg, Cylon, Droid, Cybermen, Borg, and Dahlek Powers That Be (who, as those familiar with nefarious artificial intelligence know, tend to enjoy frakking things up – when they aren’t trying to take over the world or enslave humankind). When the Nestene Consciousness takes over, i am out of my league, and wouldn’t you know – my Sonic Screwdriver is in the shop.  My particular techno-glitch was being unable to download an illustration to my last post (even tho i had managed to do it quite easily several times before) and i didn’t know what to do or how to fix it.  Fortunately my computer savvy daughter happened to be home at the time and made  the necessary adjustments.  The crops (or, in this case, illustration) was saved and downloaded.  But she is not always here.  And i was afraid to try again on my own, just in case i couldn’t get art on the page (because what is an art blog after all without art!?!).

In my defense i was also pretty busy – finishing the illustrations for my newest book, “Solar System Forecast” (just released this month), that were supposed to be done last December but took until January to complete. Then i had to wrap up all the other projects that were put on hold while i struggled with the solar weather pictures (“Solar System Forecast” is about weather on other planets). And next thing you know, i had another book to illustrate (“Balloon Trees”, about how balloons are made.  It comes out in 2013) that took up the Summer, followed by a big rush sea turtle poster project that took up the first couple weeks of September.  Nine months passed in a frenzied blur and only recently have i emerged from under the debris, cleared my drawing table, and now suddenly have a renewed interest in writing.

And there has  been (and still is) soooooo much to write about.  I want to explain all the Who’s Who and What’s What in the art of “Meet the Planets” (the blog series i fully expected to start back in January) which, in turn, makes for a lovely segue into the trials and tribulations (and interesting background stories) of illustrating a book about space weather.  And after that i would like to describe “Balloon Trees”  – hopefully before the thing is published and on the shelves (but i’m not making any promises).  I also have several Book Talks, Library Visits, a Book Signing, and a big Presentation (with the terrific author, Marianne Berkes) for the FRA and FAME conferences coming up this Fall that i want to describe.  At length.  In minute detail.

So this is the start.  And if my Bluetooth keyboard will stop losing it’s connection to my computer, and the Creative Writing Muse hangs around for a little while, and i can get future illustrations to attach, and i don’t get distracted by – SQUIRREL!!! – just maybe i’ll get some of these stories finished.  We can only hope.  Fasten your seatbelts – it’s gonna be a bumpy write.

Galway Girl ~ She’s mysterious… and stuff

December 19th, 2011

She made her first Christmas card appearance in 1989, sharing the drawing with her great grandmothers, Nana and Nonnie.  She subsequently featured in 6 more holiday greetings, the last celebrating her pending graduation from high school and the as-yet-to-be realized adventures in college (Christmas 2006).  Now it’s 2011 and there’s been another graduation (okay, i STILL, can’t believe 4 years went by that fast) so, naturally, this year’s card needed to once again spotlight Jesse.  The best Companion a mother (or Time Lord) could ever have!

Wrapping up her senior year at NYU, finishing her last two classes in a study abroad program at Trinity College in Dublin, followed by what i affectionately call “The Mother/Daughter Magical Mystery Tour of Time & Space (w/ Nerdy Geek Encounters in) Ireland, England & Wales” ~ it’s ALL here.  Well, in the symbolic and convoluted way i depict things, which, of course, necessitates the customary Explanatory Notes/Background Syory portion of a Laurie Allen Klein Christmas card.  So sit back, relax, pour yourself a Guinness and enjoy.  Slainte!

The setting is a pub (and – no – not for the obvious reason, though Irish pubs did indeed get a fair workout).  Jesse and i took a Musical Pub Crawl through Dublin that turned out to be wonderfully educational (as opposed to simply an excuse to get wasted) and we learned, among a variety of things, that if the place looks like someone’s livingroom – you’re in a real Irish pub – so that seemed like the perfect setting for a picture that is not only part autobiography but also a holiday celebration The other thing we learned on the tour was – Irish music is taken very seriously.  There are, certainly, those places where folks just go to booze and watch football and sing badly to  Top 40 songs, but the real pubs are home to serious musicians who drop in with their instruments and just start jamming – ebbing and flowing, picking up the theme and playing with it before relinquishing it to the next instrument.  There is drinking, but more importantly there is always a corner of the pub reserved for the communal spirit of music and singing and sharing stories.  And as with all good jam sessions, my musicians tell the story.

Jesse’s in the middle, wearing the scarf that features in just about every photograph taken of her the past 4 years, and she’s playing a Clarsach (harp), a traditional symbol of Ireland. On the fiddle is a lion,  representing England, and playing the bodhran (drum) is the Red Dragon of Wales (the other places we visited on our travels).  The sheep plays the tin whistle and represents Ireland because Jess saw so many on her trip (and is just mad about them).  From New York, hoisting the pint of Guinness and holding Jesse’s diploma, is the NYU mascot (NOTE: the other two pages in the bobcat’s paw are the certificates Jess and i both received from the old Jameson Distillery, certifying us as “Qualified Irish Whiskey Tasters”).  Which, finally, brings us to the shark who probably needs no explanation if you are familiar with Klein family obsessions in general or Jesse’s in particular. That’s Bruce, the shark from JAWS.  Jesse got the movie when we moved to Florida 14 years ago and it has been a favorite ever since, so much so in fact that not only did Jess take a copy to college with her, it was the only DVD she specifically took to Ireland as well.  From a holiday standpoint it also happens to be a family tradition to watch the movie every Christmas (or the wonderfully awful Jaws 3 in 3D) but i have long forgotten how that started. The Christmas pudding has no symbolic significance other than this is a Christmas card and i wanted a holiday reference but, truth be told, it actually  wound up there because i had an empty space beside the bobcat and needed to fill it with something.

Of course no trip to Wales and England would be complete without indulging our other Mother/Daughter fixations, manias and obsessions and those too are represented in the card.  In Cardiff, Jess and i went to the Millennium Centre – home of the Time Rift and secret entrance to the Torchwood Hub; and in London we enjoyed the Doctor Who Experience and saw David Tennant and Catherine Tate (the 10th Doctor and his companion Donna Noble) in “Much Ado About Nothing” so those names are painted on the pub wall.

“Galway Girl” is the name of of one of the songs on Jesse’s Irish play list that she listened to a lot (tho, technically, not a traditional Irish pub song it was a favorite and she really liked Galway) and Jesse is, and always has been, mysterious… and stuff.

May your heart be warm and happy, with the lilt of Irish laughter, Every day in every way, And forever and ever after.

Nollaig shona duit!

A Tale of Two Web Sites (or one web site with two names) & Replies To A Few Blog Questions

July 9th, 2011

Where to begin…

Okay, i guess the very first thing i need to reiterate is – I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT WEB SITES (well, i don’t know anything about a lot of subjects, but that’s another entry).  As i have said, countless times, i am a complete dinosaur when it comes to computers and anything that remotely resembles the field of technology.  I still use a cell phone that ONLY makes and receives calls (technically it has a few games, but i never play them). My original 22 year old microwave continues to reheat leftovers in the kitchen.  I still have the turntable i used in college (and trust me, that was ages ago).  And when my time comes – they will have to pry a real printed book from my cold, dead fingers.  So, all that being said, when it was suggested i needed to have a web site – as a means of showing my work and generating more income – i was understandably reluctant.  I believe i swore, stomped my feet and pouted. There was probably crying involved.

I didn’t even know where to start ( and everyone i knew, who had web sites, said some friend of a friend designed theirs so they didn’t know anything about the process either).  Time dragged along but eventually, thru a series of cosmic forces, random events, coincidences and fate i was introduced to some folks who DID know about the care and feeding of web site technology and thru some magical, alchemic process known only to them, my web site was born.  And it was good.

And all was well for the next two years or so.  The site ran itself and i just called my Web Wizard to make whatever changes and up-dates were needed.  I never did any hands-on work to the site myself (i don’t do my own brain surgery after all – that’s what Sorcerers and Alchemists are for) and so i never had to know the technical, behind-the-scenes stuff that makes these things work.  You know – all those binary code, zeros and ones, algorithms.  Ah, but such is the hubris that legends (and special effects-ladened mythology-based film remakes) are made of. “Release the Krakken!”

One fateful day, my Web Guy Superhero did not respond to the bat signal.  The red phone went unanswered.  The green lantern grew dim.  The Fortress of Solitude was padlocked. All i heard was the sound of crickets, and the theme from JAWS.  In other words – my tech guy was gone.  Sucked into a vortex or the Witness Protection Program along with all the access information to my web site.  Oops!  That can’t be good.  Needless to say i felt like a bigger doofus than usual, but i hadn’t known enough to know what i needed to know – if you know what i mean – so i never realized there was some important information i should have had from the start … and now there was no way to get it (cos when super heros disappear they’re very hard to contact).   All seemed hopeless and i went thru all the stages of loss  (pause now for the angsty bridge part of the story to let the tension build)…

… Then, suddenly , like Gandalf and Eomer spilling over the crest to save Helms Deep (oo, oo – or that cool scene where Pippin lights the beacon at Gondor and all the bonfires start igniting to summon the Rohirrim of Edoras) there was hope!  A new hope as it were, in the form of another Jedi Master Web Wizard who – with his team of Justice League tekkies, side-kicks, companions, and Padawans – wielded their collective creative powers (broomsticks carrying buckets may also have been involved) and saved my former web site from oblivion.  The only casualty of the War of the Web being the original name of the place – “Laurie Klein Art” was no more.  But what’s in a name? A site by any other name would still look as neat wouldn’t it?  Certainly be a lot cheaper than starting over from scratch that’s for sure.

So out of the ashes (place reference to the Order of the Phoenix and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite here) a new and improved web site emerged. “We can make it better than it was before” (couldn’t resist a nod to the Six Million Dollar Man). Laurie Klein Arts (just add an “s”) Dot Com was born – again. Or reborn. A little older and a bit wiser.  Spiffed up, polished off, and once again open for the business of sharing the art and illustrations, books, murals, and occasional irreverent commentary of Laurie Allen Klein.

And to those very nice folks who have posted comments asking for advice concerning WYSIWYG editors, manual codes with HTML, server information, or protecting original pieces from being stolen, downloaded, infringed or plagiarized – i have not been ignoring you… i just don’t know the answers (as i believe this little tale clearly demonstrates).  Even now, i still “rely on the kindness of strangers” (Streetcar Named Desire) and i still don’t know enough to know what i need to know… but i’m getting there.  And you are all more than welcome to join me on the ride.

So – Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night (All About Eve).  Hold onto your butts (Jurassic Park).  And – Everybody, remember where we parked (Star Trek IV: The Journey Home).

Meet the Planets – Who’s Who & What’s What – Starting with the Cover

March 13th, 2011

There is always more going on in an illustration than you might realize.  Every drawing tells a story, sometimes more than one, beyond the actual words written on the page.  Before pencil ever touches paper there is research – lots of it.  Or at least that’s how i approach drawing.  Whether it’s a book, a wall mural, a piece of spot art, or a concept sketch i like to have as much reference material as possible, even if the end result is a simple cartoon.   I have learned over the course of many years wielding pencil and brush that models or photo references or additional information helps make a picture that much more engaging and entertaining. As well as accurate.

Now i’m not the type of illustrator who insists that everything i draw HAS to be educational or teach some great truth or impart some deep meaning – that can get awfully ponderous and stuffy – however i have learned that quite often the information unearthed during the research and reference hunt process takes the drawing in a direction i may not have originally considered.  When i was doing the research for the animals featured in “Little Skink’s Tail”, for example, i discovered a wonderful photograph of a skunk literally doing a handstand as one of it’s defensive displays.  It never would have dawned on me to draw a skunk in that position, particularly in a realistic setting, but the minute i learned this was a natural behavior i had to include it in the book.  It was simply too funny an image to ignore and subsequently made for a delightfully whimsical illustration that also happened to be correct – so the illustration works on two levels: educational and entertaining.

“Meet the Planets” posed a greater challenge because the story concerned space and the cosmos, subject matter just a tad beyond my purview.  Granted, the central characters, the planets of our solar system, were intended to be anthropomorphic   which gave me a great deal of flexibility and latitude, (as mentioned in an earlier “Meet the Planets” blog post) but i still wanted as much scientific accuracy as possible.  So, i hit the books …

Planets Cover  art(copy)114

… and wound up having more information than i knew what to do with.  Or, to be more precise, wound up with more information than i expected.  I mean, obviously, i anticipated my research to lead me deeply into the realms of General Science and Astronomy; what i did not expect was to find links to every other art and discipline imaginable.  Astrology, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math, Philosophy, Literature, History, Mythology, Fine Arts, Pop Culture, Science Fiction, and Music ALL have a connection to the planets in some way.  I’m really rather ashamed to admit how much that took me by surprise, but once discovered it had to be shared and i had an absolutely wonderful time finding ways to squish all this amazing information into every page of the book.

Scientific concepts, mathematical equations, mythological figures, space technologies, works of art, musical compositions, chemical elements,  famous scientists and people from history all found a place in the illustrations.  Some are described by the story itself  but for those that are not there is now a link on the home page of my web site that explains who and what everyone and everything is.  And over the course of however long it takes me to post them, i also plan to describe every page in the long and rambling style these blog entries are known for.  All the characters are dear to my heart and have stories to tell and i want to share them.  So…


… you have met the planets, now meet all the things going on behind the planets.

Meet the Holiday: An Informal Depiction of the Origins of Christmas

December 19th, 2010

I spent a good portion of 2010 working on a book about the solar system called, “Meet the Planets” (there are a couple blogs about the start up, with more to come).   I read everything i could about astronomy and the universe and while i fully expected to find all the scientific connections i was surprised to see how my research touched every other discipline as well:  Biology, Chemistry, Math, Philosophy, History, Mythology, Art, Literature, Music, even Pop Culture and Science Fiction.  I found such a wealth of information, in fact, i went a little nutty finding ways to squeeze it all into 12 illustrations (it was simply too perfect an opportunity to indulge all my space geek, science nerd, sci fi fan-girl obsessions).  The result was a sort of multi-style, collage-type effect and i was so pleased with the look i wanted to duplicate it in my 2010 Christmas card.  The fact that Christmas has its roots in the Winter Solstice (space) and the Roman Saturnalia (planet) perfectly brings my year spent in Time and Relative Space to a satisfying conclusion.  So, without further preamble (or pre-ramble in my case)… let’s Meet the Holiday!

Meet the Holiday(card)329

It begins, quite literally, at the dawn of civilization, when Neolithic people celebrated the annual return of the midwinter sun – the Winter Solstice.  From the Latin, sol stetit (sun stands still) when the Sun appears to rise and set more or less at the same point on the horizon (thus appearing to stand still in the sky), our agrarian ancestors rejoiced in the renewed promise that planting would begin again.  In 3,200 BC  ancient Celts constructed what could arguably be called one of the first solar observatories in Newgrange, Ireland, aligning it so that on the day of the Winter Solstice a shaft of light penetrates the passageway and illuminates the rear wall of the chamber.  (The image of the sun on the horizon comes from a wonderful time-lapse photo of the Winter Solstice and the Newgrange entrance and carved megalith are depicted as they appeared at the turn of the century.  I should also note, while the image at the back of the cave is an actual carving from the interior, in reality it’s on a side wall).


Cernunnos, the horned Celtic diety of the natural world, here represents the Neolithic shaman who climbed into ancient oaks or ascended rocky crags and returned with messages from the spirit world bringing promises of the new year.  Very much like another annual gift-giver who descends chimneys every year.  (Cernunnos, with antlers and torq, is done in the style of an image from the Celtic Gundestrop Cauldron, and blows a carnyx, a Celtic horn).


Over time the rebirth of the Unconquered Sun took on new incarnations, with a number of  ancient cultures sharing similar nativity stories of their respective solar gods.  The birth of the Greek god, Apollo (pictured here in the style of a wall painting from the Etruscan city of Tarquinia, 470 BC) was celebrated with games and festivities on December 25 about 10 BC,


and around the 2nd century AD the Persian sun-god, Mithra, was imported to Rome by legionaries, and his birthday was similarly celebrated well into the 4th century.  (The image of Mithra is taken from a fragment of fresco, but i took creative license and added the fiddle).


Of course, if you really want to talk holiday fun you need to look to the ancient Roman midwinter festival of Saturnalia from which we derive many of our current traditions (see, i told you there was a planet involved).  From December 17 to the 24th, Saturn, the god of the harvest, was honored with feasting and merriment.  Slaves exchanged places with Masters in the spirit of Misrule, warfare was suspended, homes and places of worship were decorated with greenery, gifts were exchanged, candles lit, and there was much music and revelry (sound familiar).


Into this Big Bang of social and cultural activity a new Judeo-Christian religion emerged.  As the early Christian Church struggled to become established its leaders understood the powerful hold the midwinter festivals had on pagan worshippers and in the 4th century the Church officially recognized December 25 as the anniversary of the Nativity of Jesus Christ to win converts (NOTE: the actual phrase, Christmas, was first recorded in 1038).  Within a century the pagans were won over but  while they were willing to follow the new religion they had no intention of giving up their long treasured midwinter festivities.  This dual nature  of Christmas – pious and pagan – is represented in the style of the Celtic illuminated manuscript, The Book of Kells (ca. 800).  Combing both pre- and post- Christian influences and pagan traditions, sacred text illuminated by ancient motifs, the Celts bring this brief, unofficial history full circle as the bard, Taliesin (both a figure of myth and history), leads Saturnalia revelers: Apollo, Cernunnos, and Mithra from the Newgrange sidh along a path decorated with festive greenery in celebration of the Winter Solstice.


But while the card’s story ends here the history of Christmas has another chapter.  Those killjoy Puritans attempted to suppress the holiday because of its pagan heritage (even going to far as to declare it a criminal offense to celebrate Christmas in Massachusetts in 1659) and the fact that they weren’t real keen on all that drinking and revelry.  You can’t keep a good party down however, and by 1800 Universalists and Unitarians began calling for a public observance of Christmas even tho it was not a biblically sanctioned holiday – they just wanted to celebrated it.  About 20 years later the emergence of a family centered hearth & home holiday, visited by a jolly old elf, calmed much of the “misrule” (ie: boozing) aspects of the festival and Christmas – as we know it – was offically here to stay.

As for any remaining explanatory bits:  the Triads (Power of Three) had a special significance to the Celts and is a common motif in their art and literature, thus the three swirls, the three suns, and the three groupings of berries.  The greenery is mistletoe, for obvious Christmas-y reasons and because it was a plant  held sacred by the Druids – representing the divine spark of creativity.  And the design on Saturn’s goblet is a Gallifreyan inscription because i simply couldn’t do a Time and Space history card without some nod to Doctor Who.

To History and Astronomy and Art, and the rich traditions of the Season!                       LAK 2010

The Faces of Santa Claus

December 6th, 2010

There has always been a Santa Claus.  His story goes back to the beginning of known history when, on Winter Solstice nights, Neolithic shamans climbed into ancient oaks or ascended rocky crags and returned with messages from the spirit world.  The world’s first gift-giver has gone by many names and incarnations since then ~ these are but a few.


CERNUNNOS (c. 1000 BC) –  The Celtic “Horned Sacred One” was the god of animals and nature, symbolizing fertility & plenty.  Reborn every Winter Solstice he is often depicted sitting cross-legged surrounded by animals and holding a ram-horned snake.  Occasionally he has a cornucopia in his lap and gold streams from his fingers.  His antlers illustrate the eternal cycle of life, while the two torcs – gold collars – he wears denote power and prosperity.  [The image on the card was inspired by a detail from the Celtic Gundestrop Cauldron]

ODIN (c. 1400 AD) –  The Scandinavian god of war and poetry flew the skies on his eight-legged horse dispensing gifts.  Blind in one eye, the two ravens perched on his shoulders personify “thought” and “memory”.  [This image was taken from a 13th century stone tablet, tho in this drawing i was attempting a brass rubbing effect]

ST. NICHOLAS (1400 – 1600 AD) –  The good works of this Bishop of Myra grew into legend.  A wealthy man he was said to have left anonymous gifts in the homes of the poor and saved three dowery-less girls from prostitution with secret deposits of gold.  In the early middle ages winter celebrations honoring the saint replaced pagan solstice feasts.  [This image takes its inspiration from medieval  illuminated manuscripts]

FATHER CHRISTMAS (1600 – 1800 AD) –  When Protestant reformers sought to do away with “heathen traditions” and ties to the Catholic church St. Nicholas was quietly secularized into Father Christmas.  Embraced by cultures throughout the world he has been depicted as a kindly Victorian gentleman, a pioneer peddler, a smith, a knight, a mysterious hermit, and a jolly old elf.

Forever young, forever enchanted, with a twinkle in his eye… Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and however he comes to you, may he bring you joy & laughter.

Images & information courtesy of “The Santa Map: A Cultural Geography of the World’s Most Beloved Man”.