23 October 2010

Between Two Worlds: Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer


"Oh tell to me Tam Lin" she said
"Why came you here to dwell?"
"The Queen of Fairies caught me
when from my horse I fell
And at the end of seven years
she pays a tithe to hell
I so fair and full of flesh
and fear'ed be myself
But tonight is Halloween
and the fairy folk ride,
Those that would their true love win
at mile's cross they must hide.


The legendary Scottish ballad of Tam Lin is the story of a mortal man captured by the Queen of the Fairies. Tam Lin fears that he will become the human tribute that the Queen pays to the devil every seven years. His true and pregnant love Janet courageously saves him from the fairies on Halloween. The fall holiday has its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain; a time when it was believed that the border between our world and the otherworld becomes a veil that can be passed through. During this time humans can cross over the the spirit world and that inhabitants of the the otherworld can enter to the mortal realm. Tamlane was illustrated by British artist John D. Batten. A similar tale is told in the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer who meets the Queen of Elphame. The English illustrator Kate Greenway (1846-1901) depicted the mortal and the queen of the otherworld. Thomas was the probable source for the legend of Tam Lin although the Queen character is more benign in it. When Thomas leaves her realm after seven years she gives him the gift of prophesy. Scottish Symbolist painter John Duncan (1866-1945) shows the fairy folk riding in Riders of the Sidhe.

17 October 2010

Sun and Shadow: The Day Boy and The Night Girl

THERE was once a witch who desired to know everything. But the wiser a witch is, the harder she knocks her head against the wall when she comes to it. Her name was Watho, and she had a wolf in her mind. She cared for nothing in itself -- only for knowing it. She was not naturally cruel, but the wolf had made her cruel.

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish author and poet best remembered for his fantasy novels and fairy tales. His last fairy tale "The Day Boy and the Night Girl" deals with polar opposites; the boy, Photogen has never seen the moon while the girl Nycteria has not been touched by the sun. It is Watho, the witch who keeps them apart but they eventually find each other and escape from her. MacDonald and his son Grenville were photographed by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898). Carroll along with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were influenced by the poignant writings. Pre-Rapahaelite artist Arthur Hughes (1832 -1915) who is shown in a self portrait illustrated "The Day Boy and the Night Girl". The fairy tale edited by Grenville is ultimately about two opposing worlds joining together; sun and shadow.

12 October 2010

Forbidden Fruit: The Goblin Market

Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat,
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town;)

Above is a fragment of the haunting poem, Goblin Market by the English poet Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894). The poem which was illustrated by her brother Pre Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rosestti (1828 -1882), is the story of two sisters. Once considered a fairy tale for children it is now regarded as an ambiguous masterpiece. One sister Laura, is offered forbidden fruit by goblin merchants which she pays for with a lock of her golden hair and a "tear more rare than pearl". The other sister Lizzie resists the sensual temptation. Ultimately Lizzie would save Laura from the wicked merchants and their poisoned fruit. Dante Gabriel Rossetti also designed a stained glass window depicting the goblins that was manufactured by The Morris Firm. A portrait of Christina was begun by English painter John Brett (1831–1902). The unfinished image has the same haunting quality as Rossetti's Goblin Market.

09 October 2010

The Masquerade Ball: The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death, a Gothic tale by American writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) tells the story of Prince Prospero. The prince was a wealthy but selfish ruler who saw his dominion ravaged by the Red Death. Prospero retreats to a castle like abbey with a thousand knights and ladies selected from his court. While his subjects die outside, he and his inner circle feast and are amused by musicians, dancers, and clowns. The culmination of the festivities is a masquerade ball. Amidst the revelers dressed in alluring and grotesque costumes arrives the Red Death. English artist Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) who died an early death from tuberculosis, illustrated the costumed court. Later Irish Harry Clarke (1889–1931) who would also die prematurely of tuberculosis, depicted the actual Red Death. Masques were popular courtly entertainment in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. Elaborate costumes such as A Star were designed by British architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) for the court of James I. Jones was influenced by his visits to the Medici Court which had extravagant fetes. There the Florentine stage designer and theater architect Bernardo Buontalenti (1531-1608) designed allegorical costumes like A Muse.


01 October 2010

Rising from the Ashes: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915


San Francisco's The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 celebrated not only the completion of the Panama Canal but also the city's recovery from the 1906 Earthquake. The world's fair created an ephemeral city in the Marina that combined the cultures of Europe, Asia and the Americas. Symbolic of the building of the Panama Canal is the The 13Th Labor of Hercules by Californian artist Perham Wilhelm Nahl (1876–1935). The image was used on maps, book covers and catalogs to advertise the exposition worldwide. Unique to this world fair was a uniform color palette chosen by American muralist Jules Guerin (1866 –1946). Drawing on the theme of an Oriental walled city in a natural Mediterranean setting he chose the following colors: French green, oxidized copper green, blue green, deep cerulean blue, oriental blue, yellow golden orange, pinkish red gold, russet, tera cotta, gray and travertine. From these nine hues all colors were selected for architecture, statuary, lighting, and gardens. The immensely successful event which ran from February 20 to December 4, produced many souvenirs including the Pan-Pacific Cookbook: Savory Bit's From the World's Fare. On the cover is The Palace of Fine Arts designed by American architect Bernard Maybeck (1862-1957). Although the walled city was meant to be temporary the Palace of Fine Arts still stands in the Marina as a reminder of a magical time.