Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Papier Mache Easter Egg Autumn Arrangement

... And a personal homage to Edith Holden.

There’s no denying that traditions and the seasons are inextricably intertwined, even to the point where Australian children associate Christmas with snow, (explained nicely away to little ones because Father Christmas does live at the North Pole), but it only takes a few hot and windy Australian Christmas days to cement your early Christmas memories as summer ones, it is after all, the Southern Hemisphere. 

As a very young girl, the opposite seasons between the two hemispheres remained deeply confusing; I could understand that when we had night, people on the other side of the world had day, but that others were freezing in the winter whilst we were larking about on the lawn with a sprinkler just didn’t make sense.

Children’s literature; all my precious books that I so loved provided proof that in June, it indeed was summer in America, but from where I used to sit, with my legs on the kitchen table near the fire, (I agree, poor form and extremely bad manners, but it was the family weekender at the time and a chance for all of us to relax) for me, June was cold and wintry.

Me as a child in the cottage.  Note the odd green tones the previous owner (a very old lady) had chosen to use. My parents purchased the property in the mid 70's.  This was the original kitchen in the old cottage that was at the time, the only residence on the farm.  The Kookaburra stove/oven (white with black knobs) is a classic now, but don't get all romantic and silly, it was AWFUL to cook with!  We used to leave the wood fire oven door open to release more heat.  Cosy!  Reading was my thing as a young one, I look at this and re-live all those happy times turning pages.

When I was a teen a book arrived in the house that I developed a deep fascination with.   It was the ‘The Country Diary book of Crafts’, containing a series of craft projects and instructions using Edith Holden’s illustrations from her The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady’ as the mantle or structure on which the book is laid out.  The projects are divided into sections based on the seasons and each project makes reference to one of Edith Holden’s lovely artworks depicting the natural world around her, as she experienced it, season by season, in 1906.

‘The Country Diary book of Crafts’ by Annette Mitchell, 
Published by JM Dent Pty Limited, 
ISBN 0 86770 034 3 

Introduction pages from "The Country Diary book of Crafts" by Annette Mitchell.

Contents pages from "The Country Diary book of Crafts" by Annette Mitchell.

Chapter heading, 'June' from "The Country Diary book of Crafts" by Annette Mitchell.

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady’ was created by Holden as a personal record of the flora and fauna she encountered in the area of England where she lived.  She had named it ‘Nature notes for 1906’.  One has to assume she never intended it to be published, but published it was in 1977, (posthumously, she died in 1920) and it was a worldwide publishing hit.  I still lust after a copy, but I thumbed through my friend’s mother’s copy so many times I can remember every page and so I don’t think I need the real thing (although if I were to come upon a copy in a second hand bookstore I think I would purchase it now, out of respect for the impact her work had on me as a young person).

(Click on the link below to take you to Amazon where you can purchase a copy).

So when ‘The Country Diary book of Crafts’ made it’s appearance in our house I grabbed it with both hands and lovingly turned each page imagining what it would be like to make each project.  I did, even in my teenage years stitch up a few of the cross-stitches, one of them being the “Midsummer day”, the swallows cross-stitch, my mum still has it in her sewing room.  And here it is, as proof!

Edith Holden illustrated the flowers, birds and insects that were, for her, in the Northern Hemisphere, the visual indicators of the seasons changing.  And so Edith’s Easter time would naturally be represented by daffodils, nests with eggs and spring-time flora.  Here in Australia, Easter is an Autumn event and I associate this special period with pink lillies bursting leafless from the parched earth, the smell of dry grass in the paddocks and with Hawthorn berries, red and gaudy against the bright green of their foliage.

I also like to retrieve my Easter decorations box from the cellar and bring out some of my favourite old friends to decorate the house.  When I was a child, my mother went on a decoupage-papier-mache-blown-egg jag that lasted for over a decade.  This obsession with blowing the eggs, cleaning the shells and making decorations with them coincided with the period when we had geese, ducks, bantams and chooks (that’s Australian for chickens).  They were the Poultry Years I like to think.  We used to sit and stick layers of plain paper (cut into tiny pieces) over the eggs, leave them dry and then add the final decorative layer.  In this case, bantam eggs decorated with ‘Bunnykins’ paper.  The hanging was clever, made of looped fishing line tied to a small piece of toothpick or bamboo skewer, the skewer inserted vertically into the egg and then jiggled so that it sat horizontally in the top of the egg.  The final step was covering them in a lacquer to protect them.  I have fond memories of busily sticking whilst watching the midday movie with my Mum, all those fabulous Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly classics, sublime!  Now, for how to display my pretty collection of hanging papier-mache Easter egg decorations?

My yearly Easter tradition is bound by season and family history.  I like to gather a huge bundle of Hawthorn branches and a large swathe of the beautiful dried grasses found in my area (in this case picked from the side of the road because it was too hot to walk down to our dam) and make a large Autumn arrangement that also serves the function of displaying my old papier-mache Easter egg decorations. 

I’m keen on the fabulous Cadmium red in the Hawthorn berries, which I have discovered are used in treatment for the early stages of heart disease, and is meant to be good for those who suffer from high blood pressure and circulatory problems.  We don’t ingest the berries, just enjoy their visual appeal, the red of the berries on the Hawthorn bush seems to arrive overnight, suddenly every country roadside sports flashes of red for a few weeks, and then the berries lose their rich red hue and the air chills and the dews arrive in the morning and that hot start to Autumn is over, and we in the Adelaide Hills wait for the rains to come.  

It’s good to think that a humble personal diary of observations created in another hemisphere over 100 years ago remains relevant for the simple reason that, despite technology changing our lives so radically, the seasons still come and go, and we have to remind ourselves to look away from our screens and out of the window and observe, touch and experience the wonderful and miraculous changes that occur as the year passes.  And give thanks because, if you take the time to look, the world is still a beautiful place.

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog today.
Please visit this blog again as I'm publishing new ideas at least once a week.
I'd love to hear what you think!  
Best wishes and happy days, Lara Jane.

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