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Follow the blog

By | About the blog | 48 Comments

To follow the blog by email, open up any blog post, (click on the colored title) and at the end, leave your name and email, a short comment and then, below that, check off the “notify me by email” option. To follow in a blog reader, copy and paste http://www.maryjanesrugs.com/?page_id=3284 into it. As you browse, most photos will enlarge if you touch or click on them!

Adventures with a bit of rope…

By | Books, Creativity, History of Art | 4 Comments

Sometimes our creative instincts can catch us by surprise. A friend showed me her copy of this book, The Ashley Book of Knots, by Clifford W. Ashley, and I was enchanted!

But let’s back up a little. It is good to know that Clifford Ashley was a very skilled and famous maritime painter. Here is his work, A Whaleship on the Marine Railway at Fairhaven (ca. 1916):

Wow. I would be able to look at this painting for a long, long time, and still find things to discover. Many of his works were less impressionistic, but full of detail and accuracy, like this illustration from one of his books on the whaling ships at the end of the 19th century:

The carving at the bow of the ship, the basket holding the drill, the chain and ax – all are very precisely rendered. Ashley, born in New Bedford, MA in 1881, went off to sea for several years on a whaling ship, and then came home to study art in Boston. What a change of careers! But actually he used his knowledge and love of the sea throughout his artistic life.

Here is another painting of his, A Clipper Ship at Full Sail, which I thought any rughooker who has done a sailing ship design would appreciate:

That sky! And look at how the colors of his sky are reflected on the sails!

Ashley also spent years learning and collecting the details of knots, along with their uses and detailed instructions, culminating in his book of knots:

This definitive book on knots features his precise illustrations of over 3,600 knots and instructions for making them, with a history of when they appeared, and what functions they serve. And each chapter heading has funny, charming illustrations about each category of knots:

And he did not limit himself to the knots of seamanship. He studied knots used by butchers, steeplejacks, cobblers, electric linesmen, poachers, surgeons, and “elderly ladies who knit”… He includes decorative knots and rope buttons:

…and even the mats that a ship’s cat might curl up on:

I must say that his instructions are a lot more understandable when reading the descriptions that accompany his illustrations. Some knots are beyond confusing, and a few brought back memories of the macrame I did years ago:

And yes, the string game of ”cat’s cradle” we played as kids was included, along with how to tie a tie! And some of the knots are simply beautiful:

Does this have anything to do with rughooking? No, it doesn’t! But I just found this man, his paintings and his big book of knots fascinating, so I thought you might, too.

Hook on!

Three projects…

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Design | 3 Comments

Thanks to Jeni for reminding me I had not posted my finished rug of the René Lalique jewelry design. Yes, it is all done, and I like the way it came out. Here is a close-up where you can see a few of the five “pearls” I did in the sculpted Waldoboro technique:

In person, the sculpted pearls do add something special to the rug. Doing Waldoboro is challenging and fun, but I do not see myself doing a project with lots of it! And starting with such a lovely, graceful design by Lalique, I did not have to worry about the design or the composition itself – just focussed on the colors and the hooking!

And my Tuesday morning rug group was invited to do an exhibit over the summer, on the theme of “Red, White and Blue”. I have my flag rug that I finished this spring, but not much else where those colors are dominant. So I pulled out a small oval pattern I was given, “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” and used the oval linen and bunting border to design my own pot of red and white flowers instead of the spindley tree. It was fun because, once I decided I would use a background of hit or miss blues, I really could make it up as I went along. Here it is, just finished this weekend:

It only took me about two weeks to do this, and I found it very relaxing. And it did help to get me through two of our recent snowstorms…

So now on to my next project! My good friend Sue Hammond (one of the original founders of the Green Mountain Rughooking Guild, and one of the real emotional and creative anchors of our Tuesday morning group) had drawn out a tree, with birds and leaves of many colors. I loved it, and Sue kindly agreed to draw it out again on linen for me to make. So I am working on a Sue Hammond original!

It will be fun to do, and I will mostly delve into my basket (ok, baskets, baggies, and plastic boxes) of cut wool strips for making the leaves. Here it is, with only the tree, one of the ten birds, and two leaves done:

I’ve decided to take Sue’s advice and add background to each hooked element as I go along, so there is not quite so much background later on! And both Sue and I are already enjoying how our hooking strategies are different. I definitely wanted to do the entire tree first. She did one small section – tree, birds, and leaves – all at once, then went on to the next small section. And her background is a very pale blue, while mine is a medium-dark green. It will be so interesting to see them, side by side, when they are both done!

Hope you have a good project or three to be working on, during this last cold spell (please make it be the last one!) before real spring arrives.

Talking Knots

By | History, Museums, Textiles | 2 Comments

Textiles are as old as the hills. Textile fiber can be braided, hooked, woven, felted, and used to create in a multitude of ways. But even as far back as the first millennium, in the Andes of South America and during the time of the Incan empire, knotted textiles were the primary counting and communication device. These “talking knots”, or “knot records” were called quipus.

Above, you can see a particularly lovely example of an Incan quipu (pronounced kē-pu), from the Larco Museum in Lima, Peru. From Wikipedia: “A quipu usually consisted of colored, spun, and plied thread or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. For the Inca, the system aided in collecting data and keeping records, ranging from monitoring tax obligations, properly collecting census records, calendrical information, and military organization.”

Here is another example, this one from about 1300 AD, again from the Larco Museum, of this quite precise and highly portable system:

There are good records of quipus from the first millennium through the 1500s, and ethnographers have unravelled their secrets, by and large. The fibers were either spun and plied thread such as wool or hair from alpaca, llama, guanaco or vicuña, or, more rarely, from cotton. Some of the knots, as well as other features, such as color, are thought to represent non-numeric information, but these secondary elements have not yet been deciphered.

For an explanation of how the counting works, let’s turn to Wikipedia:

“Each cluster of knots is a digit, and there are three main types of knots: simple overhand knots; “long knots”, consisting of an overhand knot with one or more additional turns; and figure-eight knots. A number is represented as a sequence of knot clusters in base 10.”

Here is another quipu (also spelled khipu), again from the Larco Museum in Lima:

The use of quipus as a central part of record-keeping faded out after the Spanish conquest of South America in the 1530s, though the Spanish would sometimes use them to settle local village disputes. But today, they are still used for ceremonies and rituals, and continue to be a powerful symbol of native heritage. Here is another, even more complex example, this time from the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, an ethnology museum in Germany:

Similar systems of counting were used by the ancient Chinese and native Hawaiians, and there is even a similarity to the bead-counting of wampum, in Native American culture. But quipus were a quite advanced system. The type of knot, the position of it on the string, the total number of knots and the sequence of the knots could all combine to create a potentially huge number of meanings. The whole method was based on a decimal system, like ours, with the largest decimal used being 10,000.

The Quipucamayocs (“quipu-authority”), were the accountants, those who created and deciphered the quipu knots. Quipucamayocs, once trained, could carry out basic arithmetic operations, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. They kept track of taxation, the type of labor being performed, maintained a record of economic output, and ran a census that counted everyone from infants to “old blind men over 80”. The system was also used to keep track of the calendar. According to one authority, quipucamayocs could “read” the quipus with their eyes closed.

Does this have to do with rughooking? Well, no. But it is a pretty fascinating and elegant use of textiles as a complex code, and as textile artists, something good for us to know about!

For more pictures of quipus, go to www.museolarco.org and if you would like a more technical explanation of the counting system of knots, look to this article in Wikipedia, or this good general article from the Ancient History Encyclopedia.

Rejoice in your work, and hook on!

Interesting old rugs…

By | Antique rugs | 2 Comments

This interesting rug is one of several coming up in auctions soon. It is from the Wiederseim Associates sale on Feb. 24 (9 am) in Chester Springs, PA. The description: “Pictorial hooked rug of a running stag, as found, 42″h x 20″w”, estimated price: $150-$200.

At first, I could not figure out what the two dark poles were above the stag, then realized, after seeing the trees at both rug ends, that they were also trees. Do you suppose the maker ran out of the gold background, so the white of the center treetops turned into a less defined area? And was that white of the treetops once a light green wool that has faded? This is, of course, me just speculating, but that is part of the fascination in considering antique rugs, isn’t it?

At any rate, I liked this rug, the stag’s running motion is clear, and of course I like the use of hit or miss around the birds…

Here is another rug from the same sale. This one is described as “Hooked rug of flowers, 19th century, mounted on stretcher for wall hanging, 19 1/2″h x 32″w” and is estimated to be sold for $50-$100:

A classic flowers and scroll design, and it may well have been made from an early commercial pattern.

Now here is a nice rug that came up for sale the other day at Homestead Auctions in Norton, Ohio:

I liked the sweet little hooked floral center, with a two-border effect from the braided outer bands. It was just described as “Round Braided and Hooked Rug, 30″ Dia.”, but apparently it went unsold.

Now here is a beauty of a geometric, coming up for sale on March 9 (10 am) at John McInnis Auctioneers, in Amesbury, MA:

The description is “HOOKED AREA RUG w/ GEOMETRIC BASKET WEAVE PATTERN” and the size, quite large, at 68 x 94 inches. The estimated price is $100-$300. Here is a close-up for you to see the details and colors a bit better:

And finally, in another McInnis auction on the next day (Mar. 10, 11 am) is something pretty rare:

Description: Octagonal whale bone handle, brass hook. 6 inches. Note: This tool was used to fashion “hooked rugs”. See McManus “A Treasury of American Scrimshaw page 48 for another example. **May only be purchased by a Massachusetts resident and will not be shipped out of state. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Well. I am not sure how I would feel about using a scrimshaw hook, but it is beautiful, and I certainly have never seen one before. But I do not live in Massachusetts, so cannot buy it anyhow, especially for the $500-$700 estimated price. Glad I saw it, though.

Photos are used courtesy of the auction houses, and as always these days, all the items for sale can be seen (and bid for) online. And there are all kinds of other interesting items, if you have a chance to mosey around. Wiedersheim Auctions is online at www.wiederseim.com, Homestead Auctions is online at homesteadauction.net, and McInnes Auctions is online at
www.mcinnisauctions.com.

Style… in a while.

By | Color, Design, Making rugs | 5 Comments

A rughooking friend wrote this to me recently:

One more question, with sooo many different ways/methods/techniques of hooking, how does a hooker go about honing in on what their style is? I guess I am feeling kind of unfocused and just hook whatever, but it seems like everything I read about, the artist/craftsman has a “specialty” they do–kind of their signature look for lack of a better description. Thoughts?

Hmmm. I can only speak for myself. First thought is that I don’t want to have one style. If I’ve just done a pictorial or one of my “fussy rugs”, like this one above, I am likely to want to work on a geometric or hit or miss next – something that doesn’t need you to make a decision for practically every loop, like pictorials often require. I want my next project to be “something different”!

I can look back on rugs I’ve done, and see threads of what might be a style – my doodle rugs are a category of rugs I like working on, and variations of hit or miss rugs will always be a favorite sort of rug for me. And I like to experiment. One morning, I woke up wondering if you could do “a hit or miss landscape”, and ended up with this:

There is a drawing style.
Part of one’s “style” is how you draw, with whatever drawing abilities you may or may not possess. Anything I design with a cat, a dog, a house – you’ll be able to tell it’s one of Mary Jane’s, because I only know one way to draw a cat or dog, like in this rug:

I think I love rughooking because its primitive tradition allows room for people like me, who still draw stuff like they did in fourth grade. And there are people who can really draw, whether it is architecture or faces, or a field of corn – and their way of drawing leads them to have rugs with a distinctive style.

There is a color style.
Even people who don’t design their own rugs have their own sense of color, or a palette of colors they gravitate to regularly. I like most colors but you’ll probably never see a rug of mine with a lot of olive green, or pink in it. And I have to swallow hard to make myself use much aqua.

But I think to develop a style, you need to draw out your own rugs. Even if they are simple. Keep your projects a nice challenge, a little bit of a stretch! If you find a new technique, whether waldoboro, fine shading, a bit of proddy or using fancy stitches, find a way to work them into a project as your next interesting experiment. You’ll be adding a new tool to your rughooking toolbox.

And wait a minute. I don’t want all my rugs to look the same, do I?

Maybe when thinking about “your style”, it’s worth it to think about music as a model. If you love jazz, you can also love opera. If you like symphonies, you can also truly enjoy good country and western.

So in the end, my answer is: don’t worry about it. Just keep doing what attracts you and interests you. After a while, if you do this, your own taste – attraction – to certain projects may create a “style thread” that you can see in retrospect. But I think the more you “try for a style”, the more elusive it will be. You just have to go the long way around on this one.

If you ask other hookers, you might get different answers, but to me, your “style” as a hooker is something you can find when you look back on your completed works. Don’t worry about whether you have a style or not. Hook what projects interest you, and challenge you, or that you most enjoy working on.

My version of a Lalique design

By | Art, Design, Making rugs | 7 Comments

I was walking through the Rejksmuseum in Amsterdam. I turned into a smaller room, and on one wall there was a very small frame alone on one wall. Amid the hundreds of huge artworks, I almost passed it by, but for some reason, I went over to take a look. It was a small drawing, a sketch for a piece of jewelry, done by René Lalique in 1901 or 1902. The photo I took, above, is almost full size – the drawing was maybe 3”x 5”.

Among all the artwork I admired in the museum, this was the only piece that made me think, “Ooh, I would love to do a rug of that design!”. I knew from the age of the piece that it would not be copyrighted, but of course I will always make clear that my rug is my version of his design.

When I got home, I converted my photo to a line drawing, using an app on my iPad called “Sketch”. Here is the line drawing, which I then had enlarged to rug size at my local copy shop:

When the line drawing got blown up to the size I wanted (about 30” across on the long side) some of the lines got darkened in. But it was good enough for me to trace onto linen on a light table, and I used the original print of my color photo to refer to as I hooked the details, like the little stems the pearls hang on.

The places in the design that were the color of the paper he drew it on (the yellow/brown) were meant to be open. That is, if you were wearing it on a blouse, the blouse’s color would show through those parts. So when planning the colors, I decided to keep his aqua tint where he used it, and would use a deep hand-dyed purple for the “open” areas. And I picked a mottled tan/brown for the vines and stems. Here is what it looks like so far:

For the pearls, I have used three shades of white, though you can barely notice the shading in the photo. And five of the pearls (marked with an X on my linen) will all end up being sculpted in the Waldoboro style. Here is the one Waldoboro pearl I have done so far – the top of it stands out about two inches from the surface of the rest of the rug:

I am afraid that the rug will not be as graceful as his original design was. But I do like it, and have been loving working on it.

Lalique was well established as a jewelry designer in the art nouveau style before he started making art glass, though today he is more recognized for his work in glass than his jewelry. He went on to be the first glass designer to find a way to mass-produce art glass so the pieces could be owned by more than just the wealthy.

I will end this just by giving you a glance at one of his glass pieces to admire. This is his piece called “Oranges Vase”:

It is February! Surround yourself with warm wool and hook on!

Upside down, right-side up

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Design, Rug Community | 7 Comments

I was lucky enough to spend four days at Jackye Hansen’s rug camp in Kennebunk, Maine last week. This is, I think, my favorite camp – a fairly small and very talented group, and a great setting. And the timing, just after the holidays are over, in the middle of winter, makes me really look forward to it, and relish every moment.

Have you ever noticed that at a hook-in or camp, there is usually one rug that people gather around to study and marvel over?

There were many gorgeous rugs being worked on, but on this particular day, at this camp, a large rug by Kathy Hutchins, of Cambridge, VT, was what everyone was gathered around to examine.

Kathy is designing it as she goes, and it will be for her living room:

Because it will be in the center of the room, she is putting a lot of thought into making some elements facing one way, and some facing the other way, so it will never be “upside down”. So the central figures, the bear and the wild turkey, are both oriented with their heads toward the center of the rug. This is a very tricky undertaking, and right now she is planning to have what is the sky, looking from one side, turn into the water of a river, looking from the other side. Amazing design problem that she is solving!

And in the details of each animal, her drawing skills shine:

The rug will be chock-full of creatures and plants, and even the smaller ones, like the fox, turtle, irises and jack-in-the-pulpits shown here, are delightful.

Take a look at the detail in these ferns, half-unfurled, and the deep red trillium to the right:

Ah, I wish I could draw like Kathy! I would love to see this rug when every inch of it is finished. But it is one of those rugs that I know you will have to see in person, and in this case, walk all the way around, to appreciate.

Kathy, keep going! Your rug will be a one of a kind treasure! Thanks for letting me share your progress here.

In the “return to the real world”, coming home at the end of camp, I lost my notes about the other beautiful and challenging rugs that were being worked on. How typical of me, to leave for camp with everything neat and organized, and return home with everything in a jumble! But it was a treat to spend some days with many talented rughookers. Rose, Theresa, Jane, Kris, Linda, and everyone there were producing beautiful pieces in a wide range of styles that were truly inspiring!

And a tip of the hat to Nancy Taylor, who did so much to help Jackye organize another wonderful rug retreat!

A “Welcome to 2018” New Year’s Day Tour

By | Contemporary rugmakers, Creativity | 6 Comments

How to welcome a new year on this rughooking blog? I decided it would be fun and interesting to contact some of our fellow blog readers to see what sorts of projects are currently “on their hook”. So let’s take a little tour! First, two projects from Sylvia Doiron, of Barnstable, MA.

Sylvia writes, “I chose these patterns because both struck me when I saw them. The sunflowers (shown above) were drawn for me by Angela Foote as a gift. The recipients are fond of yellows, golds and blues. I started it at her class in October 2017. It was to be a 2017 gift. It will be a 2018 gift.” Sylvia adds it is done in three’s and four’s with background in a 5 cut.

Her other just-finished project is this beautiful Christmas scene:

She wrote “I finished “Away in the Manger” Christmas Eve. None too soon. It is a Christine Little, Encompassing Design pattern. As you can see, the finishing needs to be done. I am debating having it stretched on a frame or making a pillow. I began the piece in September 2016 with Betty McClentic. My first attempt at fine shading with three’s and four’s. A challenge for sure but it was fun.

Cathy Dupuis, of Holderness, NH, is working on this sweet pictorial:

Cathy writes, “This was a free gift from Cushings this Christmas at her open house. It is just a little something to get me though the holidays… I have a lot I want to accomplish this coming year!

Makes me want to go to more open houses!

Lynn Soule, of North Hero, VT can’t show us what she is working on right now because it is a surprise for someone, but sent in a gorgeous rug she finished this year. It is Alex’s Lucy (Pattern by Michael Vistia and drawn by The Bee Skep):

Talk about setting the usual color schemes on their head! It is terrific, Lynn!

Jeni Nunnally, of Cape Neddick, Maine, sent along this photo of her current project:

and she wrote, “I bought this pattern about 10 years ago. Pulled it out when I was asked to demonstrate rug Hooking this fall at the York Harvest fest. I thought it would be an easy pattern if someone wanted to try Hooking. Then I took it to demo at the Cumberland Fair. You can see I haven’t done much Hooking this fall as the rug still isn’t done. If it isn’t finished by the January hookin I’m going to in Kennebunkport, I’ll finish it there!

Jeni, you are almost done! Keep it up and I will look forward to seeing what project comes after this nice one when I see you at rug camp!

Laura Salamy wrote from Albuquerque, NM with this photo of what she is working on, despite a cast on her arm:

Laura writes, “I’m laughing because I’m just so happy I’m even working on something at the moment. And hunting and picking on my phone. My right hand/wrist has been in a cast for over a week. Ice skating incident. But just the other day I tried hooking. Very slow going but possible! Actually, it’s between my own projects. Nine of us in the Adobe Wool Arts guild here in Albuquerque are participating in a friendship rug project. This is one of them. My contribution to it is the pink and orange feather in process. When all nine rugs are done, we’ll be writing an article on them, so consider this a little taste of what’s to come. Personally, I’m hoping my wrist isn’t broken and that I’ll be out of the cast Friday. Otherwise it’ll be two to three months and I have too many rugs in me dying to get out.

I love the idea of the friendship rugs! But nine of them is quite an undertaking, and they look pretty good-sized! By the way, Laura is a fellow rughooking blogger (see it at www.highonhooking.com) and is already becoming an active vendor at fiber arts events in New Mexico, after relocating there from New England not long ago.

And now let’s head back north on our New Year’s Day tour, up to Tenants Harbor, Maine, to see what Anne Cox is working on:

Anne writes, “So this is what I’m working on. It’s based on the monarchs which we watched this summer, from adults to eggs to caterpillars to chrysalises to adults ready to head to Mexico. Needless to say, it is all abstraction, but trying to capture the patterns and energy of the monarchs. It’s an evolving rug. Fortunately with the siege of sub-zero temperatures I have plenty of time to work on it.

Wow! Somehow, looking at this piece just warms me up, and makes me feel the summer sun. It’s beautiful and inspiring, Anne!

And finally, here in frigid Wilmot, NH, I am just starting to work on an art nouveau design for a brooch by French jewelry designer Renè Lalique (1860-1945) that I saw (and took this photo of) at a museum in Amsterdam:

I am hoping that my enlarging and tracing does not distort his graceful design too much! There are a few lines I will smooth out as I hook them. And I am thinking of doing the larger “pearls” with the Waldoboro sculpted technique.

Yes, that is our new kitten, Jenny Tornado, checking it out as soon as I put it down to take a photo!

I sent an email to about six blog readers, mostly at random (well, from those who have left comments recently, so I had emails for) and was so delighted to get all these replies in response! Many thanks to Sylvia, Cathy, Lynn, Jeni, Laura and Anne for sharing! And I bet virtually everyone reading this blog could have sent a fascinating photo of their current project! Seeing the range of work is part of what makes rughooking so continuously fascinating!

Thanks so much for taking a New Year’s Day tour with me, and for reading the blog! Wishing you all a very happy 2018!

Rugs from years gone by…

By | Antique rugs | 5 Comments

It’s been a while since we’ve looked at rugs from years past, so today let’s look at a few antique rugs I have come across – a good way to finish out the “old year” of 2017. Above is a very charming pictorial that will be sold at a Feb. 10 sale at Fontaine’s Auction Gallery in Pittsfield, MA. It is Lot 83, “Handmade Scenic Hooked Rug”. Here is the catalog description:

“Country landscape scene with a road along the right side, farm fence and large tree to the left and a red home in the background. Has some fraying along the edges…”. The estimated price is $250-$400.

My immediate reaction to seeing this rug was “how wonderfully wonky the whole thing is!”. Not sure if you know what I mean by “wonky”, but I was reacting to how the house in particular doesn’t really have a truely square corner anywhere, and yet this slightly-off rendition gives the entire rug a lot of charm.

One chimney is set at a quite different angle than the other. And that road just disappears over the lip of the hill. The ground is green and there are flowers here and there, but no leaves at all on the trees. Strange, but lovely!
And the sky and clouds are quite well done:

This next rug is Lot 977: FINE PICTORIAL HOOKED RUG, PROBABLY NEW ENGLAND, 1892 at the Jan. 20 (10 am) auction at Sotheby’s in New York:

Hmmm..again we have flowers in the garden but no leaves on the trees! Here is the catalog description: “Worked in brown, red, blue and green and depicting three houses within a landscape setting with flowering bushes centering the date 1892; now mounted on a stretcher. Provenance: Elliot and Grace Snyder Antiques, South Egremont, Mass.”

This rug’s estimated price is $5,000-$8,000. These houses are all trim and square, and while this might be a more valuable and older antique rug, I personally like the “wonky” rug a lot better.

Finally, here is another very old rug, which will come up for sale at the same Jan. 20th auction at Sotheby’. It is Lot 1016: RARE HOOKED RUG, NANCY SHIPPEE (1813-1903), BENNINGTON, VERMONT, CIRCA 1851:

“Description: worked in wool threads on a woven plaid wool ground; signed along the bottom, Nancy Shippee, Aged 38 1851.” The estimated price is $5,000-$7,000.

So Nancy Shippee of Bennington, VT hooked this traditional flower basket design, with an intricate border of diamonds and crosses, and flowers in each corner, about 166 years ago. She was middle-aged during the Civil War, and lived to the age of 90. And because she hooked rugs as we do, we can feel a connection to her, through time, just by looking at her rug.

Photos are courtesy of the auction houses. Fontaine’s is online at fontainesauction.com, and Sotheby’s is online at sothebys.com.

As we turn from 2017 to 2018, may your houses, straight or wonky, bring you happiness, may your trees, leafy or bare, bring you satisfaction, and may your borders, plain or fancy, continue to please!

A Christmas Song, and a wish for you

By | Creativity, Food for thought | 11 Comments

It started at my Tuesday rughooking group. I spontaneously asked everyone what their favorite Christmas carol was. The majority picked “Oh Holy Night”. One person picked “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”, and one picked “Silent Night”. After considering “The Holly and the Ivy”, and “I Saw Three Ships”, I finally chose “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day”. I just have always loved it. When I got home from rug group, I looked it up and listened to it again. And then I read a little more about the song’s history.

It was Christmas morning, 1863. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was in Cambridge, Mass., and it had been a terrible, depressing period of his life. He was still grieving for his beloved wife, who had died in a household fire. Longfellow was scarred for life trying to save her, and was so badly burned he could not attend her funeral.

The Civil War was tearing apart the country, and this particular Christmas came only six months after the battle at Gettysburg, where 40,000 soldiers were killed. So many boys were far from their families, and very many would never return home. And Longfellow had just found out his own son had been wounded, serving in the Army of the Potomac.

So as he listened to the church bells ring on Christmas morning, this American poet sat down, suffering at the state of his heart, and of the world, struggling to find the hope of the Christmas message. That morning, he wrote Christmas Bells. About ten years later, the English composer John Calkin set Longfellow’s poem to music.

Though I have always loved this carol, it seems particularly meaningful to me this year:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

So my small gift to you today is the message brought in this Christmas song, hope for the future. And I wish for you to hear your own Christmas bells, find a renewed creative spirit, and peace. Here is a link to my favorite version of “I Heard The Bells”, (on YouTube) sung beautifully by Suzy Bogguss. I hope you find a quiet moment to listen to it:

https://youtu.be/IFV5K5fm4_4

The painting at the top of this post is Winged Figure (The Angel) painted in 1918 by American artist Abbott Handerson Thayer, now in the Freer Gallery of Art.

A Merry Christmas to you!