Christmas brings out the sentimental optimist in me. It’s the time of year when I see the world the way I wish it was, or the way it could be. I put on my rose-colored Christmas glasses and suddenly I live inside the pages of The Saturday Evening Post.
This year has been an especially bittersweet one, as I’ve spent the past 10 months sifting through my mother’s things, learning a lot about vintage collectibles through hours upon hours of research. I know more about 1940s and 50s ceramics from Lefton, Napco, Holt Howard, Commodore and Relco than I ever imagined there was to know.
I started selling vintage, too, at flea markets, estate sales, to antiques dealers and on eBay (my mother had A LOT of stuff.) Then, this will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, I fell in love with vintage things and started buying them.
That’s how my new Etsy shop, Fiddle Dee Doo Dah, an homage to vintage from the 30s through the 60s, was born.
While I’m still in the process of cleaning out my mother’s house, my own house is now filling up! I never thought I’d hear myself utter these words, but I actually told Ezra, my husband, “I don’t think I’ll put up a tree this year.”
The thought of packing and unpacking (which is virtually all I’ve done since June) seems overwhelming. But we’ll see how long I can hold out. The front porch has been decorated for weeks already.
However, that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying all my new vintage treasures. No one need send me any Holiday cards this year (you’d better…I don’t want to be like Charlie Brown!) because I’ve been ordering bundles of used Christmas cards from the 1920s through the late 1940s from eBay. If you’re a graphic designer, then I hope you won’t miffed with me when I say, “they just don’t make fonts like they used to.” Ohhhhh, I could rhapsodize about the amazing forties’ fonts for days.
Or the postmarks! Don’t get me started on the postmarks. When I hold a card in my hands that’s time and date stamped December 23, 1920, 3:10 p.m., I feel transported to that time and place. It’s magical. I can’t imagine a time when you could simply write a family’s name, city and state on an envelope and it would find them. But there was one. And imagine the outrage in the mid-thirties when the cost of a stamp went up from one cent to a cent and half!!! The nerve! How does one pay a half-cent? Something I’ve been pondering for weeks.
During the month of December, I’ll feature some of my favorite vintage Christmas cards on Instagram. I’ve been repurposing a couple of them, that were falling apart, but that feels kind of wrong to me. I’m holding someone’s life in my hands. Yet, I’m giving those treasured memories new life, too.
This Christmas season will be different for me in many ways. Yet through all of these tangible remembrances of Christmases past, that still contain some of the love and good cheer their original owners felt so many decades ago, I feel inspired. There are many new Christmas memories to be made. And maybe, if I’m lucky, someone will hold one of my cards in her hands some day, and wonder about the person I was, and the Christmases I had, long, long ago.
Here’s the thing I find about nature. As you look more closely at it, when you let your mind be still, training your gaze only on what is right in front of you, in just a moment that singularity of focus turns appreciation into wonder. That’s when the magic happens.
When I kneel down to take a closer look at a daffodil and notice a tiny dew drop clinging to its bright orange trumpet, the rest of the world falls away. It happens to me all the time…the shock of a lone red speckled mushroom in a sea of green forest, the neon chartreuse fur of a moss-covered rock, a gnarly, decaying log full of holes where an entire mini-universe could exist, the pleasant tinkle and splash of a stream, burbling over shiny wet stones. Wonders abound, for those who look.
“Discovering magic in nature can be done anywhere. Be it a garden the size of a postage stamp, or acres and acres of fields and woodland. The Wood is my world, and one I enjoy sharing with others.” — Pamela Harden
My friend, illustrator Pamela Harden, author of the Whippety Wood books, is a master of capturing these tiny moments and turning them into something wondrous, and yes, magical. She is a creator of worlds as they should be, and I love her for it. I knew immediately after finishing my interview with Lauren Delaney, that I wanted Pamela to be May’s featured artist!
Tell me about your passion for art. Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
I have always wanted to be an illustrator, and have never done anything else. I probably never concerned myself with the fear of supporting myself through illustrating. I was young and naïve enough to think that if I did something that I enjoyed, I certainly would get paid enough to support my passion.
I have been fortunate enough to find outlets for my work in books and magazines, and met some of the most talented and interesting writers and editors ever. It has always been a joy to work with those incredible people. I was a freelance illustrator for more than 30 years and then I decided to chance my hand at writing my own stories as well as illustrating them.
Thus, the Whippety Wood was born. I have been able to create all sorts of animal characters and always try to make them as believable as possible. Keeping the traits of the individual animal is important. I am not interested in making them completely human, but want to give them a voice, and express what I think their feelings might be, in an entertaining way.
You and I share a mutual love for animals, especially our beloved terriers. Through art I can give voice to their thoughts and feelings in a unique way. All creatures of the earth are able to convey their feelings without words Animals are filled with merriment and joy. The Wood is a perfect place to allow them to exhibit those feelings.
I’m curious to know about your childhood in the UK & US. What were you like? How did you recognize that you could channel your love of nature into art?
I think I probably had a rather idyllic childhood. Both my parents enjoyed the great outdoors and shared that passion with my sister and I. Being keen on learning, drawing, painting, and playing in nature was first and foremost for me. I was always fascinated by Beatrix Potter, Native American art, and anything illustrated by John Wesley Dennis. I was always drawing or painting from an early age.
My grandfather taught me all about wild flowers, wild birds and the plethora of wildlife that surrounded his farm. I was encouraged to illustrate those very subjects that I enjoyed so much. Any attempt was considered a masterpiece, and I grew to love doing those field studies.
I was also one of those children who just knew that Santa Claus or Father Christmas was definitely real, at least as real as fairies, elves, wizards, and magical animals. I have always considered nature to be magical. Just how amazing is it to see a tiny bird hatch from a beautiful egg, or a glorious flower spring from a seed. That certainly is magic!
I’m like that, too. I still believe in Santa. You’ve lived in both the UK and the midwest, here in the US. What are some of the differences you find in your natural surroundings?
In the USA we have always lived in the countryside and in the UK, we have lived a rural life in tiny villages or in the country. I cannot imagine living in a town or city. We are country bumpkins for certain!
Many of the same species of mammals live in both countries. Some, like badgers, are slightly different in appearance, but many are the same. The countryside is different in the US and the UK. Or, at least it feels different to me. There are still woods, streams, mountains, hills and dales, but there is a sense of a different sort of history behind the countryside in each place.
Some parts of the UK bring to mind the ancient history of animals, people, places, and events so far removed from today’s world. I find tremendous inspiration in the old folk tales from Scotland, England, and Wales. Indeed the Whippety Wood was influenced by a Scottish folk tale.
Here in Wisconsin the countryside is farmland, open, green, and surrounded by woods. The woods here are dense with oak, ash, huckleberry, pines, spruce, and cherry. It is a new world feel with a more recent human history. There is enough material from both continents to supply me with all the creative fodder I need!
I do observe as many animals as I can on our many hikes around the woods and fields we call home. Because we live in a very rural area, I have constant inspiration for new story ideas and illustrations. I find the Whippety Wood a complete joy and comfortable place to create a world that I should want to live in (and really do, for the most part). It contains all the good parts of the world, without any of the bad.
Tell me about why you created the Whippety Wood.
When I created the Whippety Wood, it was intended to help connect both children and adults with the natural world around them.
With a burgeoning world population and ever decreasing wild spaces to explore, it seemed a good idea to introduce the world of nature in a new and entertaining way.
Children in particular, are inundated with images from an electronic screen in one form or another. Many have never seen a fox, badger, bear, or any other animal in their natural habitat. My first ABC book was intended to address that very issue, but in an exciting, entertaining, and visual way.
It was also intended to open a dialog between child and parent or an older sibling. Now I am able to combine my love of dogs, and Scottish Terriers in particular, with my wild creatures in the Whippety Wood. It allows my imagination to run amok among the hundreds and hundreds of animals who might inhabit the Wood.
As you know, I grew up with Scottish Terriers, too. We Scottie lovers are a breed apart. I will go so far as to say THE MOST over-the-top breed enthusiasts in the world! Surprisingly though, I met you through a friend who thought I might like your work because I’m a big fan of tiny worlds, like Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge.
I only found out about our shared love of Scotties after I started following you. In fact, I bought one of your prints, Sinclair meeting Martin Mole, before we ever met. I have it hanging in my office and it always makes me smile.
I like to say that your friendship is a gift my dogs gave me. We really got to know each other when my new Cairn Puppy, Weezy visited the Whippety Wood. I have a whole Weezy-wall art gallery in my house.
When did you fall in love with Scotties? What is it you admire most about Scotties and/or terriers as a breed? Tell us how you started incorporating them into the Whippety Wood.
We have had Scotties for more than 40 years, and cannot envision a life void of Scotties. Not only do they bring us contentment, joy, and fun, but they make our life complete. Rupert is 12 and was born into a litter of 6 puppies.
He was and is a true outdoorsman. As a pup he could barely find the time to bother eating as it interfered with his hunting and chasing. He is obsessed with hunting anything that moves. He has honed his hunting skills to a fine art.
He is patient, listens carefully for movement in the grass, or under the snow, pounces at exactly the right moment, and has dispatched more mice than I care to know! He also sounds like someone is torturing him when he chases rabbits or squirrels. It is a true passion for him! Rupert has an alter-ego in the Wood called Sinclair. Sinclair was the first official Scottie to be featured in the Whippety Wood and has become a permanent fixture there. The boldness, cleverness, intelligence, independence, and sense of humour, have all made terriers the perfect dogs for the Wood.
At this point in my life, I think that all the adventures, stories, and illustrations that I do for the Whippety Wood are the most rewarding. It is an ever-changing and challenging way to live my life. I often find myself saying, “That would never happen in the Wood!” or “I am off to the Wood!”
I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next. I hope my pups will make a return visit to the Wood soon. Thank you so much for sharing your Whippety Wood with us, Pamela. And Happy 13th Birthday to the magnificent Rupert!!! We love you both.
From Good Reads:
Inspired by nature, Pamela Harden has been an illustrator for more than twenty-five years in the United States and United Kingdom. She and her husband are avid hikers and star-gazers who enjoy the magic of nature every day in their own Whippety Wood in rural Wisconsin, where they live with their Scottie, Rupert.
Welcome to the magical world of the Whippety Wood. Located deep in the highlands of Scotland, the wood is home to the Whippety fairies. A host of colourful woodland characters also dwell within the wood.
ABC’s from The Whippety Wood is a silver medalist in the Moonbeam awards and Living Now awards for best Children’s ABC and picture books. This vibrant picture book will inspire a deeper appreciation of the natural world, while it teaches children the fundamentals of language in a way that is engaging, entertaining and enlightening.
Step into the backroom of Century Girl Vintage Boutique in the heart New Orleans on any given day, and it’s like stepping through the looking-glass. There’s something about the room you can’t quite place, a peculiar other-worldliness. The ghosts of bold, adventurous women with raucous laughs and enviously endless wardrobes fill the room. At first glance you may think you’ve stepped into an artist’s studio. Then you notice the strange objects of Lilliputian ephemera, Gothic intrigue, replicas of historic mansions. You have a slightly uneasy feeling that perhaps you’ve stumbled upon the scene of a murder. Oh, and paper dolls. There are paper dolls, too.
This is the workplace of Lauren Delaney George.
I first encountered Lauren’s talents in 2013, when the young entrepreneur was paying her way through college by selling dollhouse miniatures on Etsy. She began creating miniatures when her Grandpa made a beautiful log cabin dollhouse for her Grandma, called “Kate’s Cottage.” The first miniatures she ever created were Christmas gifts for her Grandma Kate, including family portraits, quilts and a copy of her Grandma’s wedding dress.
At the time, when I started collecting minis, miniature shops were full of shabby chic dollhouse decor and bakery accoutrements. Lauren’s store was quirky. Things you might find included a package of vintage ladies pantyhose, take-out menus, classified CIA files on the Kennedy assassination, a wall calendar from 1926, a microscopic laboratory slide – all in miniature. Her flair for replicating the minutiae of everyday life in 1:12 scale was uncannily exacting.
Her creativity spurred my own, as I let myself venture outside the confines of creating kitchens and Parisian boudoirs. Lauren gave me permission to create vignettes that I found compelling, that told a story.
When I needed classical sheet music for an October vignette I was creating, I knew Lauren’s shop was the only place I could turn.
“At their essence, miniatures are story-telling tools. As in theater, tiny scenes immerse the viewer in worlds inhabited by ghosts, infused with memory and promising adventure and exploration” Lauren said.
Late last summer, Lauren announced a new adventure she was embarking on, “The Haunted Dollhouse.” I asked her to explain it to us in her own words.
“In New Orleans, truth is stranger than fiction. This is especially true in the case of “The Haunted Dollhouse,” a violent crime involving a 1920s miniature collection. The dollhouse was created by an inmate at New Orleans’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane and is directly linked to a murder which took place in the French Quarter. Appraisers have spent years trying to crack the cryptic messages hidden in its construction. I’ve spent the past year researching it in the New Orleans archives and the inconsistencies of the murder investigation are so bizarre that I felt obligated to make them public. Amateur sleuths, crime connoisseurs, and miniaturists are all invited to take a crack at solving the case and may subscribe to receive the pertinent documents (and bloody artifacts) via www.TheHauntedDollhouse.com.”
Those brave (or foolish) enough to assist me with the investigation will receive a series of five packages over the course of 1-2 months. Each package contains a cache of clues, miniatures, and archival documents. Clues may take the form of an old telegram, a 1920s newspaper clipping, miniature artifacts, and simple DIY projects. Each package is like another “chapter” in the deepening mystery, and as the story progresses, investigators reconstruct a dollhouse which is—EGADS—actually a crime scene.”
I, myself, helped Lauren solve a mystery last fall, and it was a one-of-a-kind experience. I couldn’t wait for each new package to arrive with clues. It was like receiving mail lost for 100 years. A cadre of my closest cohorts were just as eager as I was to unravel the mystery! Here we were in Minnesota in 2017, plumbing the private lives of the upper echelon of New Orleans society in the early 1900s.
As you may have gathered from Part 1 of my interview with Lauren, Lauren is to vintage glamour, what Anna Wintour is to Vogue. So, of course, when Lauren first added her prohibition-era, paper confections, embellished with ribbon and sparkly bits, I was the first in line to snatch them up.
They also caught the eye of Dover publications, who published Lauren’s first book in March of this year. Finally Lauren had the opportunity to marry her talents for costume design with her paper artistry, with her book, All Dolled Up.
“I enjoyed creating paper dresses for my Etsy shop, but I had no intention of creating a book until Dover approached me. I learned so much through the process of creating the dresses and miniature sets, then photographing and laying them out. It was a huge challenge and I’m really proud of the end result.
I have always loved draping as a method of design, and this process of creating paper dresses is similar. In fact, there is a whole section in the book about “paper draping” for (tiny) fashion design. With any creative project, you have to observe the properties of your chosen material and then let it do what it wants to some extent. Probably the single most important step in the design to fabrication process is choosing the proper materials, whether it be a paper dress, fabric dress, or miniature world!”
As if offering to be Chickadee’s first featured artist wasn’t enough, Lauren has also offered to give away a signed copy of her book. In addition to a great story, paper dolls and richly-detailed backdrops, the book also provides step-by-step instructions for creating your own vintage couture designs. All Dolled Up will delight paper crafters and fashion-lovers alike. For your chance to win, simply comment below. The winner will be chosen by random drawing on May 15th.
Since her creativity seems to flow from an endless spring, I asked Lauren what she saw herself doing next.
“Well, I’m in the middle of working on my second book, and I’m also excited to expand the world that I first introduced in The Haunted Dollhouse. There are more mystery adventures in store.
I love the unpredictability of life. Ten years ago, in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have cooked up my current life. Ten years from now, I hope I’m still working at the things I love – designing and creating.”