What’s it About Rabbits?

rabbit-3259861_960_720

Many in Australia are about to celebrate Easter with its symbols of renewal in the form of eggs distributed by the Easter Bunny, which may have originated with the Moon Hare, associated with the German Celtic goddess Eostre (or Ostara) who bestowed eggs at spring festivals. As always the spring theme seems in opposition to our autumn weather with the days gradually cooling down and the chill starting to set in, especially at night. Still people persist with the symbols of spring and look forward to decorating real eggs or eating chocolate ones. Chocolate rabbits are also very popular, as are representations of this furry animal, which I find quite ironic, as it is one of Australia’s worst introduced pests, which many have tried to eradicate from the landscape to no avail. So why are rabbits still so popular here?

Easter_Bunny_Postcard_1907

Easter Bunny Postcard 1907 (Image Wikimedia.org)

Because of the damage this creature has done to the Australian environment there have been attempts to replace the Easter Bunny with the beguiling native Bilby, a marsupial bandicoot that has big ears, a long tail and hops. Unfortunately the bilby is endangered and is not as prolific as the rabbit, which competes for burrows and food. There is an extensive breeding program and these animals are being reintroduced back into the desert regions where they normally live. You can find delicious chocolate bilbys as gifts, which help to support these programs.

It will take a lot to replace the Easter Bunny with a Bilby. The rabbit is a spring fertility symbol because it is so prolific and has managed to survive no matter what humans throw at it. For centuries cooked rabbit has prevented people from dying of starvation during lean times. Also you can keep rabbits as pets while the bilby is a protected species and can only be kept by qualified wildlife carers. The bilby is very sweet but rabbits have the cuddly pet factor on their side. While the rabbit might not be great for the bilby, chocolate does not discriminate and you can enjoy both versions at this time of year.

Rabbits are cute. It is hard to resist their allure and toys and figures of rabbits are popular to collect. Ellie and I have a small fun collection of rabbits that can be put with eggs or as alternative decorations. I decorated a small dead tree, appropriate for autumn, with some wooden hanging rabbits and have placed this in our front hall.

Version 2

We have some quaint vintage textile rabbits that look good in a basket. Two are handmade, one knitted and the other made from felt.

Version 2

One of the world’s most famous literary rabbits, who existed long before the infamous Marlon Bundo, came in a little bag. It is nice to see his illustration in 3D form.

Small rabbit figurines are good to collect as they take up little space and are made from all kinds of materials. Here are some glass, china and pewter examples.

Version 2

Rabbits are also used to decorate eggs. A Chinese babushka style egg displays a rabbit family and there is an empty innermost compartment where you can place a chocolate egg to surprise the recipient.

The rabbit is one of the Chinese Zodiac animals, popular in Asian countries and adopted by many other communities. We have a small collection of Japanese rabbits. There is a vintage 60s flower power papier-mâché money box in the shape of a rabbit; three beautiful textile rabbits wearing kimonos and a tiny pair of wooden rabbits inside a shrine-like structure which is a good luck symbol for marriage.

Version 2

Rabbits have endured as a fertility symbol and are popular for so many reasons. While they may not be wonderful out in there in the Australian bush and it is a good idea to support the bilby, rabbits do make cute pets. They have inspired stories and other creative arts and crafts. Let’s face it, rabbits make you smile and that’s a good enough reason for having them around.

Kat

Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday season no matter what you celebrate at this time of year. I’m having a couple of weeks off blogging to recharge the creative batteries, so see you later in April.

The following song by Australian Indie band, Boy & Bear is called Rabbit Song. It doesn’t have much to do with rabbits, but the song is a delight and the video is wonderfully creative.

 

 

Advertisements

Distractions and Culinary Delights

You know the feeling. You start doing something and you find yourself going off of a totally different tangent that leads into different but fascinating territory. This week I was looking for a favorite recipe (flourless chocolate cake) that my mother used to make and found myself looking at an old cookery book that has been in the family for generations. Now I’m not really a cook, Ellie being the one who inherited that creative ability, but I like to eat and am fascinated by unusual dishes of the past and this old book took me on quite a journey.

Cookery For Every Household by Florence B Jack was published in the UK in 1914 just before WWI completely changed the world. It is a reflection of the previous Victorian and Edwardian way of life, where many people still had maids and cooks to do a lot of the domestic duties. Some of the elaborate recipes are heavily influenced by French cuisine and reflect the old style of entertaining of the wealthy. Our copy at same stage lost its original cover and was rebound in red. The book has over 3,000 recipes and is quite a tome. The book is full of line drawings to illustrate the recipes and as well as basic cooking, there are some culinary dishes that seem quite strange by todays standards.

Version 2

It is also amazing that cooks could produce such complicated cuisine with gas rings, simple stoves and equipment.

Version 2

Here are some illustrations of the latest technology of the time: The electric stove.

I had to laugh at the mention of low electricity rates. Some things were better back in the early 20th century.

Ingenious contraptions were designed to make cooking easier. The Hutchings’ Patent Cooker was a tall steamer which could hold an entire meal to be cooked all at the same time. Imagine having this towering on your stove. I suppose it was the microwave or Thermomix of its day. Great for the busy housewife.

Version 2

In complete contrast, the basic meat safe was still in use for storing perishables. This hanging example was very common in Australia to stop ants and other creepy crawlies from getting at the leg of lamb for the Sunday roast.

Version 2

Improvisation was encouraged if you did not have the right equipment. If you did not have one of these for straining soup.

Version 3

You could do this.

Version 2

The book contains recipes based on ingredients that are no longer common in modern books. Take for example Fried Smelts. It made me wonder about the smell. Apparently it is a small fish, which smells like a cut cucumber and should be eaten as soon as possible. Yeah it probably smelt if left too long.

Version 2

Another unusual dish is Salsifis. These are a root vegetable similar to a parsnip and are either black or white. Taste wise these resemble asparagus. In America they are called Oyster plant because they were thought to taste similar. The drawing of the dish shows that the pureed salsifis were placed in scallop shells to look like seafood complete with lemon segment bow ties.

I noticed that many of the recipes followed a similar line. No food should look like its original form. For instance Stuffed and Baked Cod resembles a pair of eyes. I don’t think that this is any better than having a fish on your plate looking at you. Quite odd.

Version 2

Vegetables were presented so that there was no sign of any leaf. With Dressed Spinach the cooked leaves were put through a sieve, then butter and seasoning was added and the dish was decorated with triangular croutons of fried bread and segments of hardboiled egg. Anyone who had an aversion to spinach would never know that this plant was on the plate. Maybe not such a bad idea after all.

Version 2

There seem to be a lot of recipes where the food is dressed. Dressed Crab is another example. It involved the complete dissection of the crab then a mixture of the flesh and mayonnaise was put back into the shell with some claws on top to remind the diners that they were eating what was once a crab. No struggling with a naked crab.

Prawns (shrimp) got a similar treatment. In the Prawn Salad it looks like the two garnishes are dancing in a sea of prawn flesh, lettuce and sliced radishes, a reminder of their origin.

Version 2

Meat dishes also seemed to disguise the form of the original animal. The traditional Game Pie with its raised pastry case contains a variety of bird meat. The illustrated example is decorated with the feet of birds in the top hole that seems to be saying “let me out of here.” Not very appetizing.

Version 2

There seemed to be an obsession with molding things into cylinders or cones so that they became architectural structures like the following example.

Version 2

In those days cooking leftovers was a whole art form in itself. These dishes were not merely an afterthought. Here are a couple of extraordinary recipes.

Proper table linen was as elaborate as the food. There were a myriad of ways to fold napkins. Although the bishop’s Mitre seems a bit sober for a jolly night of feasting. Maybe that was the intention to avoid excess.

Version 2

To me it is the elaborately decorated desserts of this period that are incredible and make my mouth water. You may not have lived in a castle but you could eat a Castle Pudding (I think it must be a smear of pudding on the page).

Version 2

Nothing defines the period like Jellies. Great wobbly mountains of Jelly. The following recipe for Coffee Jelly could still be made today and would certainly liven up a party.

Version 2

The name of this dessert says it all. Tipsy Cake is an elaborate form of the classic Trifle. Layers of sponge cake, custard, strawberry or raspberry jam doused with a cup of sherry and decorated with cream and toasted almonds. Yum.

DSCN6602

For those with delusions of grandeur there is always the Princess Cake with it’s pink royal icing.

DSCN6603

Invalid cookery is where things take a down turn. No wonderful desserts if you were sick. It was a drab world of steamed food, soup and broth. The following advice in the book tells the sorry tale.

Version 2

Many of the more elaborate recipes found in this book are the type that nowadays would be made by chefs and are not the sort of food you would have everyday, although there are hundreds for normal meals for the ordinary housewife to feed her family.

I think that old cookery books from the past can still inspire and provide useful information for those interested in creative culinary skills. They also tell a story of the lives of our ancestors and the kind of society in which they lived. You often learn something new when you get distracted.

Kat

Australian Peacock Spiders Rock

If you need some cheering up this quirky video will make your day. It’s by Australia’s famous “peacock spiderman,” Dr Jurgen Otto, the discoverer of this unique type of spider. These small creatures are not scary at all. Like peacocks the males have the colourful markings to attract females and are great disco dancers. Nature is constantly amazing.

Kat

The Joys of Silliness

Version 2

Silliness is undervalued. By this I don’t mean stupidity but having uninhibited fun. It is the opposite of pompous and stiff behavior or calculated coolness. Adults are able to get away with being silly playing with children and pets but in other situations it is usually discouraged. Well silliness in its true sense makes us happy and has inspired all kinds of creative artworks. It is an antidote to gloom and unpleasant situations. We should never repress our innate silliness.

From school age we are told to “stop being silly.” But probably the best moments of school life were the ones where someone was being silly and these were often anxiety relievers. Those crazy conversations had with one’s peers, the jokes, the funny sayings you will never forget and the mad games you made up together. And there was always a classroom clown who could crack everyone up with some really silly comment. It may have annoyed the teacher but it was usually a breath of fresh air, especially in a boring class.

Once grown up many people become afraid to behave in a silly manner in public. It is frowned upon and subject to authoritarian disapproval in numerous walks of life. The entertainment and arts industries are usually the only acceptable areas where it is actually encouraged. Comedians, cartoonists and writers of humor spread their joy into the world and make us laugh at silly scenarios and the foibles of human nature. They have a license to be silly.

We should celebrate the local eccentrics in our communities. They put us in a happy mood with some of their silly antics. Often they are performing the function of a medieval court jester and poking fun at the government like Lord Buckethead did in the last UK elections. Or they are creative people who love to live a flamboyant lifestyle like Melbourne’s famous milliner, Richard Nylon, who delivers his hats on a Penny Farthing bicycle. We need people like this in the world. They turn silliness into an art form.

Everyone should be allowed some silliness in their lives. When you are engaged with crazy, whimsical thoughts or actions this can inspire some very creative ideas as well as making you feel better. Don’t leave it to someone else to give you this feeling. Get out and do something silly. Ellie and I play the ukulele with others and sometimes sing very silly songs. There is an amateur drumming group who get together in a local park and have fun on weekends and a group of people who go to the beach some mornings just to laugh for the sake of it. One of our friends does tap dancing and has performed in stage shows and in parades and has had a great time.

DSCN5347

Vintage Snakes and Ladders Game

Being silly can be as simple as playing some board games with friends. Just don’t be too competitive or it will spoil the fun. Or you could make a kite and fly it in a park. Ellie and I did this as teenagers. We got it airborne but it eventually crashed and broke. It was fun while it lasted.

You could also make really silly sandwiches, with multiple layers just for the hell of it and serve these to guests. Wear a crazy scarf, patterned socks, colourful shoes or something slightly silly to work just to brighten up your day. But remember there is a fine line between silliness and annoying. You know, like the awful office comedian (think Ricky Gervais as David Brent in The Office). Don’t force the silliness. Keep it natural.

If you like to dress up in costumes there are Cosplay events in most cities. You can become a fanciful fictional character. Some of these are quite silly in a good way. One summer’s day Ellie and I attended a costume picnic with about a hundred people in a city park. On the way to the event we may have had some strange looks from passers-by, but lots of people did smile, as it is not something you see everyday. It was great to be with so many happy, creative people laughing and enjoying the moment. There were people with bubble makers producing giant bubbles, lively drummers and some knights having a sword fight. This was not an official event but organized by some local costume enthusiasts online. We need more of these types of things these days with groups of people making their own entertainment. There is nothing like getting together with like-minded people for some harmless silliness.

Version 2

Whatever you do there are many others who also long for some silliness in their lives and are more likely to smile than frown and will want to join in on the fun. You will feel less stressed and come up with all kinds of ideas.

Kat

I love bands that aren’t afraid to be silly. The Australian group Mental As Anything did some great songs in the 80s with some silly videos, like the whimsical If You Leave Me can I come Too.

 

Midwinter Chills: Ghastly Ghosts and Comical Phantoms

Version 2

It’s the middle of winter in Melbourne and there have been icy winds, frosts and dull days. A good time for ghost stories as these are so much more enjoyable when it’s dark and cold. Reading a modern ghost story has brought back memories of the classic old spooky tales, which I have always loved. Not all are serious and a bit of humor is needed when it is chilly. These stories stimulate the imagination and have led to endless interpretations of this intangible world.

Belief in the supernatural has provided plenty of material for artists and writers over the centuries. Shakespeare gives a chilling account of a ghostly apparition in the form of Hamlet’s murdered father, which has given visual artists inspiration for some beautiful illustration.

DSCN5042DSCN5039

In the 19th century ghost stories were very popular. They were so much more convincing at a time without electric light. In winter one could imagine terrible spectres lurking in the dark of night. Some of the stories are quite creepy, like those by the Irish author, Joseph Sheridan le Fanu, who wrote some truly disturbing tales. A couple about haunted houses, like An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Anger Street (1851) and An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House, are full of terrible apparitions and shadowy figures on the walls (click on titles to read stories). Read these late at night when the wind is howling for full effect.

Ghostly legends can also be very funny. The Ingoldsby Legends (1840) by Thomas Ingoldsby (Rev Richard Harris Barham) contains many humorous stories and poems about ghosts. Tales such as The Spectre of Tappington; The Ghost; The Legend of Hamilton Tighe; and The Dead Drummer are accompanied by quirky black and white illustrations (click on titles to read stories), which include skeletal spectres, headless figures and phantoms done by well-know artists of the time. These stories are wonderful parodies of ghostly folklore.

Another writer and illustrator who dealt with ghosts in a humorous way was W S Gilbert, the lyricist of Gilbert and Sullivan operetta fame. His collection of poems, Fifty “Bab” Ballads (1884) contains a nonsensical poem that I have included below called The Ghost, the Gallant, the Gael and the Goblin, complete with Gilbert’s (Bab) delightful drawings. It’s about competitive haunting that does not go to plan. A very quaint story with the witty use of words you would expect from the man who wrote, “I am the very model of a modern major-general, I’ve information vegetable, animal and mineral…etc.

DSCN5023DSCN5027DSCN5031

Probably the most famous ghost story of the 1900s is Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. We have a copy from the 1890s that has drawings by Fred Barnard, who was one of the illustrators of Dickens works. The grotesque depiction of Marley’s ghost became the prototype for many film versions of the tale. Michael Hordern as the tormented Marley in the 1951 version of Scrooge starring Alistair Sim, seems to have stepped out of the illustration.

DSCN5036

 

The magic of film has made it possible to depict transparent ghosts and ghastly hauntings. From the earliest days of film we can see attempts to bring the spectral world alive for the viewer often with unintentionally hilarious results, as for example in George Melies The Haunted Castle, 1896.

Since then there have been some very terrifying movies, such as The Haunting (1963), with its horrifying haunted house. You would not want to watch this one alone on a dark winters night. It uses sound to a frightening degree (warning: even the trailer is really chilling). Often films that leave much to the imagination are scarier than those with lots of special effects because of the mystery.

There have also been many entertaining comedy films about ghosts, such as Topper (1937) starring Cary Grant and Constance Bennet, a hilarious story about a dead married couple haunting a crusty old bachelor that lead to some ridiculous situations.

DSCN5056

Plains of the Darling, NSW, detail by Edward Officer

In Australia there are old bush ballads about ghosts, such as the swagman who haunts the billabong in Waltzing Matilda (Matilda was his swag, not a woman). Like Washington Irving’s story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the idea of a ghostly horseman riding through the countryside has also peaked Australian writer’s imaginations. One of my favorites is the poem Rafferty Rides Again (1940) by Thomas V Tierney about a bushranger’s ghost that is seen riding in the bush on moonlit nights. As it is still in copyright click on title for a link to the poem. The song Ghost Riders in the Sky is in this tradition and Johnny Cash does a great version.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, in wintertime it is fun to read or watch spooky stories, especially when you are inside near a fire or heater and you know you can turn up the lights any time you like.

And what better way to end this post than with Australia’s Kransky Sisters, singing Talking Heads Psycho Killer as only they can.

Kat

Nonsense Poems, Funny Pictures and Laughter

I was looking at some classic old humorous books from the 19th and early 20th centuries and found that, although written and illustrated at least 100 years ago, they still are funny and make me laugh. Humor that is based on topical events seems more dated than that which deals with universal themes and one can learn a lot from these inspiring writers and artists. I especially like the nonsense poems and their accompanying illustrations and I thought I would share some of these delightful pieces for those who may be unfamiliar with these works.

One thing that I noticed was there seemed to be an obsession with bizarre noses in a couple of the books. English artist and writer, Edward Lear (1812-1888), who popularized the limerick and nonsense songs and poems that were published in his Books of Nonsense, was especially fond of exaggerated noses. There were a number of limericks devoted to this part of the anatomy and here are a couple of my favorites.

DSCN4792DSCN4790

Lear’s ink drawings are pure whimsy. He was a landscape painter and illustrated books of natural history and his free and imaginative ink drawings are in complete contrast. Yet there is something very tangible about those birds sitting on a nose and Lear’s poems and “sight gags” still have great appeal.

The other nose related reference occurs in American writer Max Adler’s (Charles Heber Clark 1841-1915) Out of the Hurley-Burly or Life in an Odd Corner (1874). We have the Australian edition published by E W Cole (188?). The book is a portrait of Clark’s life in Conshohocken, PA, disguised as fiction and is filled with the comic illustrations of A B Frost. There are also some funny poems. The following Tim Keyser’s Nose tells a wonderfully ridiculous story that is still enjoyable today.

DSCN4802DSCN4797DSCN4799

From noses we move onto another American writer’s take on mythological creatures. Artist Oliver Herford (1863-1935) wrote witty and humorous poetry. We have a first edition copy of The Mythological Zoo (1912) that came from a relative and I recently had a good look at the book. The poems, although written over 100 years ago are still a lot of fun, together with Herford’s amusing illustrations. I have included a couple of poems that show his clever turn of phrase and a modern view of some ancient beasts.

DSCN4807DSCN4810DSCN4813

Every summer someone will still say the annoying words in the last line of The Salamander. Herford had a sharp wit and has been compared with Oscar Wild, as someone who also made very incisive quips.

Cartoons can sometimes become dated when an audience can no longer relate to the subject matter. If it deals with obsolete attitudes or long forgotten events the humor is often lost. Universal themes about basic human nature are less likely to date. These types of cartoons can be found in Melba’s Gift Book (1915), instigated by opera singer Dame Nellie Melba to raise money for The Belgium Relief Fund during WWI and full of works by Australian artists and writers. I’ve singled out a couple of the cartoons that deal with human nature in an amusing way.

DSCN4822DSCN4817

With a change of clothing those partygoers could be a modern couple and procrastination is still a problem for creative people. Everyone needs a nagging pet like that cat.

Sticking with the theme of funny pictures we can still laugh at the visual and physical antics of such comedic masters like Charlie Chaplin in old films.  Chaplin’s little tramp trapped in a sleeping lion’s cage is a hilarious example.  Classic “man out of his comfort zone,” that creates great comedy.

Humorous Music is a bit more difficult. Some old comedy songs just don’t transfer to the present day but there are others that have travelled better. For example Ragtime Cowboy Joe was first recorded in 1912 by Bob Roberts, done again over the years by various performers, including a The Chipmunks version in 1959 and has been given the Muppets treatment. It is still a popular song for the ukulele. I think this a lot to do with the catchy turn of phrase and crazy images it brings to the mind. And it’s a cowboy song.

As well as the feel good value of old humorous works, studying these also provide timeless clues about the crafting of words and visual art for its comic effect. To make others laugh is a wonderful aim. We all need a bit of nonsense in our lives.

Kat

Before there were Emoji

Version 2

Washi Ningyo (paper dolls)

I was looking at some of our Japanese doll collection and noticed that the simplified faces were like emoji, first used by the Japanese in mobile phones. These traditional dolls have been around for a long time so maybe this type of art inspired the creators of emoji.  The following photos demonstrate the similarity.  But whether there is any relationship or not it is still fun to speculate and to enjoy the skill and creativity of Japanese doll art.

The paper dolls above are tiny examples of the art of using origami (folded paper) to make beautiful paper dolls.  The boy on the left has a thoughtful expression while the girl’s face is blank so I would liken them to questioning emoji faces.

The above traditional wooden kokeshi dolls are from the mid-twentieth century.  The girl and the older woman with a child both have a very typical calm expression but the little boy is smiling brightly to indicate youthful happiness.

Love the look on the face of this Japanese pin knitting doll that I bought to use for my textile work. She seems to be really pleased and content with the world like she has just eaten chocolate.

DSCN4508

Vintage Daruma Doll

The fabric Daruma doll is a depiction of the founder of Zen Buddhism, Bodhidharma, who meditated for nine years so that his arms and legs atrophied and fell off (for more info on these dolls go here).  His eyes seem to be looking inward like he is in a trance and his mouth seems very determined.  Maybe this expression would indicate quiet reflection if it were an emoji.

DSCN4505

Ceramic Toy Bells (Left to Right) Benzaiten, Ebisu and Daikokuten, three of the Seven Lucky Gods

The Seven Lucky Gods are popular figures in Japanese art.  You often see depictions of Ebisu in Japanese stores and restaurants because he is the god of prosperity and wealth in business.  Daikokuten is also a god of wealth and a demon hunter while  Benzaiten is the goddess of music and beauty (based on the Hindu Goddess Saraswarti).  Ebisu and Daikokuten have very happy contented expressions, as you would if you always caught the big fish or had a bag of  valuable objects and a mallet for killing demons.   Benzaiten has a wistful look as she plays her instrument.  Useful emoji characteristics.

DSCN4514

Kaibina Dolls (Clamshell Dolls), Omamori Amulets

This pair of kaibina dolls made from clam shells are good luck charms (omamori).  They are covered with Kimono fabric.  The pair are supposed to represent a united couple.  While the female doll looks very happy her male counterpart has quite a sour look on his face.  Maybe this is supposed to be an expression of strength and seriousness but it’s more like he has eaten a bad clam.

Japanese dolls are made from all kinds of materials and display a variety of facial expressions and emotions in a simplified manner.  There is probably a lot of tradition involved in these choices, especially with the vintage dolls.  The pin knitting doll that I purchased new a few years ago seems to have a more modern exuberant face than the older dolls like many emoji.

Whatever the origin and influence of emojis, our brain can make all kinds of visual connections between these and Japanese dolls.  The past appears to influence the present and the present adds to tradition.  That’s the way creativity often works.

Kat

Sticking with the Japanese theme I have included a traditional Japanese piece Sakura Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) played on the ukulele and a Japanese animation with the crocheted duo U900 playing the Beatles Twist and Shout on the ukulele.