My first printed garden catalog of 2017 — from White Flower Farm — has arrived and an order has been placed. For the last few years I waited too long to place my order thus missing out on Eryngium giganteum (below), aka "Miss Willmott's Ghost." But no more. The ghostly sea holly will grace my garden from now on — as it's a re-seeding biennial.
While I was paging through the WFF catalog I came across a Radler rose with a double Wisconsin provenance that might be of interest to midwestern gardeners, and perhaps others as well. Bill Radler is a national treasure who lives just outside of Milwaukee. If you grow roses you know him as the breeder of the famed Knock Out® Roses.
Radler released his first one in 2000 and the rest, as they say, is history. His Knock Out® Rose is the "most commercially successful rose of all time," according to a 2014 story on UrbanMilwaukee. Radler's roses got their name from their behavior: non-stop blooming, disease resistant and almost maintenance-free.
His latest lovely creation (above) is named in honor of another treasure: "Milwaukee's Calatrava." (below). The flower has a citrus scent and its soft white color made me think of all the marble in the Santiago Calatrava-designed addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. The flower blushes when the weather turns cold.
In Mark's photos you can see the Burke Brise Soleil, a moveable, wing-like sunscreen that rests on top of the Museum’s vaulted, glass-enclosed exhibit space. According to the museum's website, the Brise Soleil — which has a wingspan comparable to that of a Boeing 747-400 — is "unprecedented in American architecture."
It is a gorgeous piece of work and amazing to see in person. The museum has a terrific permanent collection and highly-regarded changing exhibits and is worth visiting for that alone. But the Brise Soleil makes a visit even more of a special event. There's a brief YouTube video of the Brise Soleil in action here.
This year I was very restrained in my decorations in our living room; after all, this gold leaf Japanese folding screen and our Chinese Lohan sculpture make for rather dramatic decor all year-round.
For the holidays I just added ittala glass candlesticks, a rock covered in gold leaf, a bowlful of pommanders, a lantern with brass trim and the rope of brass discs I bought last Christmas.
So perfect, so lovely. Look again and you will see how we really live. The space under this Chinese altar table is our overflow book storage. I can't remember the last time it was bare. The empty spot on the table to the right of the Lohan is where my iPad lives. You can see the charger plugged into the wall in the first photo.
The library, where there are more overflowing books, is home to our narrow Christmas tree. A few years ago I finally got an artificial tree when I realized I just didn't have the energy to do everything required to have a live tree. This one fits nicely into corners where it can be out of the way at get-togethers.
The tree is next to an antique library card catalog whose top is another display surface. If you look closely you will see Sid, our ceramic dog, lurking underneath.
A large African mask fills the space between the tree and the card catalog. Mark did the painting, "Valentina's Paper Nose," from a photo he took of the daughter of a friend. She'd put the colorful paper wrapper from her ice cream cone over her nose. It's been the impetus to add other striped cones and noses.
On the wall to the right is this antique Miao embroidery. I like the fact that it is composed of traditional Christmas colors of red and green but does not look traditional or Christmasy.
It's a rare occasion when a book is not at the top of my list for giving or getting. First on my list of suggestions this holiday season is this incredible set of books by the pantheon of American women writers: Louisa May Alcott, Willa Cather, Zora Neale Hurston, Sarah Orne Jewett, Katherine Anne Porter, Gertrude Stein, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Edith Wharton. The eight-volume set includes novels and short stories and is published by Juniper Books, an imprint of Library of America. Of course, it's ridiculously pricey at $395.00, but oh so clever.
When I checked the website on the weekend, the set appeared to be out of stock. But that did not seem to be the case yesterday should you seriously think about purchasing it. The set weighs twelve pounds but qualifies for free shipping. The truth is that I have the Library of America Willa Cather volume home from the public library. It has the very same titles just no Charles Dana Gibson on the spine. I know I am much more likely to just dream about this set rather than buying it. Maybe I can figure out how to cover my own books in such a highly visual format.
. . .
I was never a big fan of writer Lois Lenski as a child. In fact, I don't think I read any of her books and I am not sure why that is. But Lenski herself is another matter. I am deep into the fascinating biography/appreciation of Lenski written by my friend Bobbie Malone (below left) who's a historian and educator. Bobbie came to Madison via Texas and New Orleans and knows how to tell a story as this book so beautifully demonstrates.
Lois Lenski created a body of children's literature that she both wrote and illustrated and is still in print, a rare achievement. Her first books were published while she was raising a family during the Depression and living in an old farmhouse in the countryside in New England. Lenski had to carve out time and space to create, which was even more difficult then than it is now. Kid lit, American history, cultural history, urban and rural life — all these strands come together in Lenski's work and make Bobbie's book a great read. You can find it on Amazon or locally at A Mystery to Me Bookstore on Monroe St.
Bobbie regularly gets together with a like-minded group to discuss children's literature. They are currently reading their way through the winners of the Newbery Medal. The Newbery is an annual award given by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. If you look at the list of Newbery winners you are likely to find many books that you've read.
Bobbie's group just finished reading "Miss Hickory" and she called me to say she was stopping by to loan me the book as she thought I would like it. "Miss Hickory" won the Newbery in 1947, the year I was born. The author is Carolyn Sherwin Bailey and the illustrator is Ruth Gannett. I sat down with "Miss Hickory" later that day not quite sure what Bobbie thought I would like or what this queer-looking little book was about.
It only took a few pages before I was sucked into this beyond-quirky story about a doll made of an apple twig with a hickory nut for a head, thus her name. Miss Hickory is a feisty character who's crabby and cranky and much older than the word "doll" would suggest. She lives outdoors in a little corncob house but comes into the family house in the winter. Until they go away and forget all about her. Suddenly Miss Hickory must fend for herself out in the world, surround by creatures who may be friends — or not. Her hard head means she's not very good at figuring it all out.
This is a story that is so clearly the product of a different era. It portrays a surprisingly violent world for a children's book; but perhaps one that was familiar to those who'd grown up during the Depression and WWII. There are words that are not explained or defined like wastrel, Daphne and Persephone, treble and bass. There are occurrences that are described with such subtlety that you may miss them altogether. The story is filled with moral lessons large and small about responsibility, behavior, friendship and personality.
There are also beautifully evocative descriptions of animals and the natural world. Look at Miss Hickory's shoes on the cover of the book: they're Lady Slipper Orchids and that's a Hepatica growing next to her! The author actually made me feel kindly towards the animals who were foraging in gardens.
I read "Miss Hickory" in a day, loved every minute of it, and think gardeners and those who love YA books would like it as well. But I am not sure it is really a book for children. If you do buy the book look for a hardcover version with the original cover and illustrations. Like so many classic titles, there are new versions lacking all the charm of the originals.
I actually have a few cuttings from the garden still managing to survive on the kitchen windowsill, but they're not worth showcasing for this meme so near to Christmas. I also have some holiday themed art featuring flowers that is hanging in the hallway leading to our bedroom. I did this drawing with text in 1990 as a special rendition of my newspaper column, "The Artful Shopper," that ran in The Capital Times newspaper in Madison from 1983 until 2008.
Its mate is hanging across the hall on the opposite wall. If you are good at spelling you will notice that I put an extra "s" in the word Christmases. I redid that headline and temporarily affixed it on top of the misspelled one. After it went to press I removed the correction and let my mistake stand.
The frames on this matching pair of artworks are a soft matte silver. Mark framed them for me as a gift one year.
At the end of the hall are a drawing of an angel that Mark did in the 1980s on our first Apple computer. He used the mouse to draw it! The wintry water color was done by Virginia C. Wilson, a multi-talented woman and the mother of local artist Chuck Bauer. The painting was a gift to us from Chuck after his mother died earlier this year.
The bathroom off this hallway has more flowers via a framed piece of antique Chinese embroidery. There's a bit of Eucalyptus and evergreens on top that match the bouquet on the bathroom vanity.
I always glitz up this bathroom for the holidays with my grandmother's Art Nouveau silver dresser set, our garage sale silver vase and a little Revere bowl that holds my watches.
Along the sink wall (hanging above the toilet) is another piece of Christmas art decorated with holiday greens. This is a photo of me with Santa when I was little girl. I'm all bundled up in my snowsuit so I can't imagine I was standing in a long department store line. But neither can I quite remember where or when this might have been taken.
This is what the fireplace wall looked like last year. We bought a small Dennis Nechvatal watercolor that was mostly blues (not visible here) in September 2015 and thus used blue as the theme for the art work in the room. I added a long rope of brass discs and pomanders with gold ribbons along the top of the fireplace as holiday decor.
Last week we decided it was time for a change before the holidays were upon us. As artists with lots of artist friends and a collecting habit, our basement looks like the storeroom of a commercial gallery. No matter how much we downsize it's never obvious that anything has left the premises. On the upside that means there is alway a lot to pick from when we want to replace and rehang works.
We brought a couple of pieces upstairs and one thing led to another. The top painting is by Chuck Bauer, a Madison artist, while the lower work is by a Chicago artist. We got Chuck's painting at one of his country open studio events and the other one from David Ward at Stony Hill Antiques on Regent St. where we've found many kinds of treasures over the years.
The two landscapes on the left were found in antique shops while the other three are works by Mark. The central drawing of UW Arboretum is from 1981, the woodcut of the Arb is from 1984 and the charcoal snowfall drawing is from 2011. The tea bowls are Japanese.
The only concession to the holiday is the pair of glass tea light holders and the tiny Robert Indiana "LOVE" sculpture. A photo of that sculpture is part of the display out of view at the right end of the room that I wrote about on Monday. The wall at the left end of the room has a goldleaf Japanese screen and lots of candles for a Christmas glow.
I cut a bunch of foliage and the few remaining flowers in the garden on Nov. 21st to fill a group of vases which I then scattered around the house. Yesterday I tossed the Arum italicum leaves and assorted ferns which had been gracing my bathroom and had finally faded.
But the little bouquet I put in Mark's bathroom looks just about as good as the day I made it more than two weeks ago. I cut the foliage off of an annual Hibiscus before it went on the compost pile and the flowers are Calmintha nepeta ssp. nepeta. Not often that I can have flowers from my garden in the house in December.
We're in the midst of putting up some Christmas decorations as well as rearranging much of the art in our house which explains the presence of of the metal objets on the mantle. I'll post pictures when we finish.