Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas! 30% Nostalgia 30% Egg Nog 40% Friends and Family

Frances "Bunny" Gorby with her daughter.   

   Whether your Christmas is religious or secular, I think you'd have to agree that sometimes traditions take on a life of their own.  On my first Christmas (or when I turned one, thefamily lore is dim), My mother's friend, Bunny Gorby gave me a tiny wooden angel holding a birthday cake with a single candle. (She's the middle one of the group of three between the Three Kings (made and painted in Poland) and the Jester with cymbals. My mother, who wasn't really THAT much of a collector loved the little figurines and made a point to buy them to celebrate every festive occasion or milestone (real or imagined)  in my life:  Report cards, birthdays, holidays, you name it.  She also persuaded  friends and relatives who traveled (my parents weren't travelers for some reason) to pick up local folk art figures wherever they went. 
     Annually, from as early as I can remember, she got the boxes out of car-port storage and arranged the figurines in a parade on the sills of the clerestory windows in our living room.  It was a BIG deal when I was deemed grown up enough to help un-wrap and arrange the figurines. We remembered what was in each box.  Every major department store in mid-century California was represented:  Bullocks, I. Magnin, Robinsons, and plenty of jewelers because their boxes were the right size!  We each had our favorites.
     So above from the left are one of the few duplicated figurines:  twin Mexican Madonnas with Jesus.  Next is a German creche scene (with Kewpie dolls and their powder puff in the back), a German angel orchestra (gotta get THAT cymbal player back on her feet!
      Behind them are three un-matched donkeys.  For some reason, my grandfather, Emil Arthur Hazenbush, identified himself with donkeys.  The best reason I came up with was that he could be stubborn as a mule. He even included a donkey in his Insurance Agency's logo.
     To the right of the donkey is a Mexican goose girl with geese, two Mexican cups and saucers, a miniature English Tea Set (painted with pink roses), a Steif boy and girl in folk costumes, an English porcelain couple in Edwardian costumes, and an American painted wood couple in Williamsburg/Revolutionary costume.
 Grampa Hazenbush, whom we actually called John (again-- who knows why?!!) emigrated from Husum,  a part of Denmark near Schleswig-Holstein that was eventually appropriated by Prussians in the mid 1800's.  My mother and I were pretty enamored of  the Scandinavians.
     My parents' closest friends were fortunate enough to travel to Scandinavia frequently on business (Mad Men era and he was in Advertising!!)  They brought home Swedish Sailors and Fishermen, Trolls, Vikings, Tomten, Farmers and their hardworking, flax-threshing wives.  (And there's one stray rooster from Portugal for luck!)
     But we also foraged locally.  There were quite a few stores (before Hallmark, The Paper Place or Michaels) that imported authentic European crafts and creations.  The triangular "tree" below was always a favorite of mine, as was the stylized yellow ram and the somewhat indecipherable PAPER sheep to the right. I even found tha tone  favorite figure was marked "San Rafael carnival $.25" and another $.10 from the Boys Republic Rummage Sale at which she was a volunteer.
      Before everyone was terrified of actual wax candles, many of the wooden angels were made to hold birthday-cake sized candles.  It was a family tradition to light a candle each on New Year's Night, watch them burn to within a hairs width of the angel hand, then blow them out and make a wish for the new year.  I continued that tradition with my children until they started families of their own.  If I could find more "wishing angeles"  I'd get them!
On the shelf below is "The Bird Girl."   She is seated, holding a bird AND a bowl of bird feed, befriended by two more birds.  I don't know whether she belonged to my grandmother Trudy, or whether she gave it to me, but I always associate it with her.  She is one of the oldest figurines in the collection--and in very good condition.  Next to her is another Wendt and Kuhn* girl, singing with her bird-muse.The angel with the sheep (and an unrelated Dala horse) is my newest Wendt and Kuhn... perhaps a great granddaughter of the other!  I'm sure you can recognize the three little pigs, the Bavarian cow and the Blue Dala Horse.
Wendt and Kuhn make my favorite figurines.  There are other figurine carvers in the same town, Erzgebirge in the Ore Mountains between Czechoslovakia and Bohemia in what used to be East Germany.  
Of course there were a fair number of "mid century" animals and puzzles, too.  After all, 1950 was "my" year!

My husband likes to buy me art glass.  I'm delighted at how well it goes with the collection.  The shelf below is sort of a hodge podge.  Two German lads, a skier and a fiddler, two Swedish cats, a couple of trolls, a Portuguese shepherd with two sheep, a Portuguese flower vender under an umbrella, Mama Elephant with two babies and a rogue ivory elephant, a glying glass pig, a spotted dog on wheels (another figure I remember from my earliest years, a box with angels dancing on the lid, a Finnish polar bear, all watched over by a crazy looking Swedish Rooster and a more serious Russian Nesting Doll. Some of these figures were gifted to me by MY friends... so the tradition continues.Several years ago, I treated myself to the whole set of St. Lucia Figures from W&K.  If you don't know about St. Lucia, you can read about it here.

 I also added some horn players.  The Bassoon playing angel is a tribute to my son, who played bassoon in junior high (until he discovered drums!!)  And the Tyrolean bugler and Trumpeting Angel are tributes to my husband who played trumpet in a big R&B band in St. Louis.  The three pastel angels with fiberglass hair are quintessential 60's, don't you think?
 By now, you can probably recognize the W&K style.  They are finely detailed and painted with shiny enamel.  The "official" angels always have green wings with 11 white dots. The Marguerite figures usually have crowns of daisies and white wings.  The shelf below also has tome Tomten, a hedge hog, a pig and a figure of Befana... claimed by Italy and Russia as a magical old lady/witch who would fly on her broomstick and give coins to infants on the Eve of Epiphany just in case they were the Baby Jesus.

In spite of the lack of focus below, you can see an Icelandic couple made from porcelain, a troll with Einstain hair (a personal favorite -- he was acquired in the 60's) , a Farmer's Daughter and two Tomten or Nisse. 
The Caroling Mouse below is a collectible based on Beatrix Potter characters.  She has her charms, but my family always preferred the carved wood figures.  Next to her is an enameled tin umbrella sheltering a frog and a duck, a Swedish snowman and Tomte, and then a group of figures from Poland.  I think my parents' friends picked them up even before after the downfall of the "Iron Curtain."
The dusky brown and gold angels are Danish.  The lad with the goose and hobo bag is from Ergzgebirge, and the boy with the suitcase is W&K again.  My mother repaird his bird's house with a Monopoly hotel....
Finally, there's a "transportation" themed shelf.
  My husband has made three car models of cars he's had:  a Mustang, VW and Miata.  He says he's going to make one of my first car (a Pontiac Catalina aka "the tank"), but he's balking at my second car, a AMC Gremlin which I loved, but no one else did.  The Figures wearing black hats, and blue shirts and riding on the red wagon or sled are Pennsylvania Dutch.  They (and the black cat) are cast iron and weigh about 20 times as much as any of the other figures. 
     I am sad that for many of their growing up years, I didn't have a place to display this part of my history for my children.  I am sad they don't know the stories of each one in their bones.  I am sad that they didn't get to make up stories as they played (gently) with them.  I am sad that they probably never will. 
     And I'm sad that there is twice as many MORE figurines still wrapped in tissue, cotton and boxes, for which I have no room to put out.  Maybe next year... after DH has had his wood-working shop up and running for a year!
 I'm glad I've thought of cataloging and recording these... whether it's for posterity, or just me remains to be seen.  The minutes spent with these cats, dogs, angels and trolls are good ones.
     Hoping that even your bitter-sweet recollections of Christmases past bring you joy and comfort, and that you find conviviality and warmth this Christmas season.

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