A Decade of Christmas Trees

 

christmas-fourl

 

The Holiday 2016 issue of Review Nantucket includes a retrospective of a decade of Christmas decorations I’ve created for clients, showhouses, and the Nantucket Whaling Museum’s Festival of Trees. It was wonderful to look back on a body of work that was a joy to create, but truly ephemeral. I’m so glad to have captured the beauty of these holiday tableaus with photography. They inspire me again when I see them–I hope they bring you fresh inspiration, too!

 

review-christmas

 

There’s something so touching about Christmas trees. It’s not just the beauty of the lights and the ornaments. It’s the tradition of creating a magical display that stands for something bigger than ourselves: a renewal of light and love, and the memories of all the Christmases we’ve celebrated through the years.

 

christmas-music-room

 

For many years, my Senior Designer Price Connors and I have created a new theme for a Christmas tree at the Festival of Trees. Once we decide on an idea, we adorn a tree in a completely original style–we never repeat a design! One year, our inspiration was Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of Starry Night, so everything sparkled with stars.

 

christmas-starry-night

We recreated his night sky by draping a table in deep blue fabric, using wide gauzy star ribbon as table runners, with tiny silver stars sprinkled on the tabletop. We added glittering star boxes tied with bows, and even a dish filled with blue and silver star candies.

 

christmas-starry-night-two

 

I believe in expressing the spirit of Christmas differently each year. As important as tradition is, it’s also wonderful to let our celebrations evolve. It’s easy to fall back on decorating the same way every year, placing the same Santa’s on the mantel. But it’s also fun to create a fresh new look.

 

christmas-snow-maiden

 

One of my favorite tableaus for the Whaling Museum was the Legend of the Snow Maiden, a Russian fairy tale brought to life with the maiden silhouetted in a white cathedral between two glittering trees hung with icicles. That one was especially meaningful to me and to my father, because we are of Russian heritage.

 

christmas-russian-cathedral

 

Winter seems to awaken my imagination. As snow begins to fall, my thoughts to turn to twinkling lights, the sparkle of crystal in candlelight, roses and ribbons, and cherished china. One traditional decoration I love is the gingerbread house, which has appeared in my decorations as historic houses on Nantucket, and my own home. The most elaborate creation was made to my specifications by Colette’s Cakes in New York–a reproduction of the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow!

 

christmas-russian-tree

 

The tree that accompanied it was entitled A Russian Christmas Fantasy. The tree was a splendor in red and gold, with red glass balls, golden ribbons and over 50 handmade Russian ornaments. There were Russian Cossacks, snowflakes, Faberge eggs and matryoshka dolls (the traditional nesting dolls), all delicately hand painted in festive fashion.

 

christmas-cookie-stockings

 

The real blessings and bounty of the season, though, are found in family and friends. I love simple stockings hanging by the fireplace. For our family gatherings, we encourage each other to give generously to charities, saving the gaily wrapped packages for the children, Vidal and Baby Richard. I find Christmas everywhere I look in December, but mostly, I find it in our hearts.

 

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G. G., Tuffy, and Ellie snuggle near the fire

 

 

The Vindication of Vincent Van Gogh

Self Portrait

Just mention the words “Sunflowers” or “Starry Night,” and the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh effortlessly float into mind.  They are the result of the mastery of one of the most prolific and accomplished painters of all time.   Although his distinctive painting style has made him one of the most celebrated—and most easily recognizable—artists in the world, he sold only one painting during his life, and it wasn’t until after his death that he became famous.

Starry Night

Sadly, his name also conjures the image of the “tortured artist,” a man who suffered from hallucinations and grappled with demons.  His short life was marred by hospital stays for mental illness and physical decline.  After just ten years of painting and producing 900 paintings, Van Gogh took his own life in 1890, at the age of 37.

Self Portrait

 In the 122 years since his death, attempts have been made to understand the underlying causes of his feverish work style, his exhaustion and his suffering.  Diagnoses range from bipolar disorder to epilepsy to sunstroke from spending long hours out of doors while painting.

Sunflowers

One of America’s top Environmental Medicine physicians and a fan of Van Gogh since her teens,  Adrienne Sprouse M.D. has spent years studying the life of Vincent, and believes the answer lies in a different direction:  repeated daily exposure to dangerous chemicals.

Sunflowers

The son of a pastor, Vincent didn’t decide to pursue art until 1880, when he was 27.  He studied in Belgium, then lived briefly in Paris with his brother, Theo. He met Pissarro, Monet and Gaugin.  After moving to the South of France in 1888, Vincent re-charged his original somber-toned palette with bright yellows, greens, and blues, deliberately creating contrasts and using light in new ways. Eventually he moved into his Yellow House, using the ground floor as his studio and his second floor bedroom as a private “gallery,” hanging freshly-painted tableaux around his bed to dry.

Yellow House

Even as Vincent was creating his masterpieces, his health was declining.  He was known among his friends for having a nervous temperament, and he could be a difficult companion.  But near the end of 1888 came his famous breakdown.  In December of that year, in an incident involving Gaugin, Vincent cut off part of his ear.  His closest friends feared the worse, as his mental state deteriorated into madness.

Hospital Ward

What happened next is the subject of the Docu-Drama feature film Passion and Poison-The Vindication of Vincent Van Gogh, based on Dr. Sprouse’s extensive research into Vincent’s work and the cause of his mental and physical decline.

Dr. Sprouse has researched Vincent’s medical condition for more than 30 years, traveling to France, Belgium, England and The Netherlands dozens of times, searching through hundreds of documents and medical records.  She has gained unprecedented access to the asylum where Vincent stayed, has taken thousands of photographs, interviewed countless people, including leading experts, meticulously read all of Vincent’s (more than 800!) letters to his brother Theo and others, combed through ancient texts in French (she is fluent) and even followed the trail to a 19th century physician’s belongings stored in a warehouse in a secluded area of southern France.

After years of exhaustive research, Dr. Sprouse is able to make the provocative statement “I know why Vincent Van Gogh died. He wasn’t crazy.” And she can prove it.  The heroic efforts of this dedicated 21st century physician finally sets the record straight on the illness of one of the most celebrated 19th century artists.

“Passion and Poison: The Vindication of Vincent Van Gogh” not only describes Van Gogh’s illness, but also demonstrates how, today, people are becoming sick from products they never suspected would make them ill.  The public health message…exposure to small levels of common chemicals can cause big health problems.

Join director Frank Zagottis, producer Mario Sprouse, and researcher Adrienne Sprouse for a special fundraising event.  For the first time, a 20 minute preview of the documentary film will be shown on the big screen of The Newtown Road Backyard Cinema. 

Wine, soft drinks and food will be served.  A $25 minimum donation toward the production of the film is suggested.  A fireside discussion with the film makers will follow.

See you there!

Sunday, September 23, 2012 6:30 p.m. at the Newtown Road Backyard Film Festival Cinema.   45-19 Newtown Road, Astoria, Queens NY.

For more information: 718-204-2498 or 917-941-3130

Or please visit the website www.passionandpoison.com for more information and to contribute to this ground-breaking movie.

You can read an earlier post by Dr. Sprouse about ADD here.

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