Saturday, March 20, 2010

Symbols of Spring and Rebirth

Spring internationally is a season rich in traditional festivals and traditions. In lands where there are four distinct seasons and Winters are harsh, celebrations of the rebirth of life characterise the Festivals. Although cheap plastic charms and figures are popular now, one still can find folk art expressions of the symbols of Spring.

Wood always was one of the most commonly used materials for carvings throughout the ages. Bone is another, but wood has more of a connection with rebirth and the energy of life. Furthermore, in lands where trees are plentiful, it generally was a more inexpensive medium than others.

Wood carvings can be primitive or sophisticated, elegant or primal. They can reflect any style of art and any cultural artistic traditions. In the West, wood now has become a rather expensive medium and folk arts that once would have been affordable sometimes are extremely costly. This trend is reflected internationally as artists who export their wares or sell to tourists respond to shifting values.

The internet has created an amazing revolution in almost every aspect of life. In the area of folk art, the ability of some one who lives in a fairly inaccessible part of the globe to be able to offer and sell his/her wares to consumers throughout the world is one of the more positive effects of internet communications. Every strata of producer of these goods takes advantage of this new technology obviously, and cheap inferior goods are sold as often as masterpieces. Nonetheless, for the discerning collector, it is possible to research and discover wonderful artists throughout the world.

Even when the products are not masterpieces, however, there is a certain magic in authenticity, especially when the items are part of a living tradition. For example, one year, I was able to buy some handmade wooden eggs and candlesticks from the Ukraine. All the items I purchased were part of the Ukrainian traditions of Easter and thus, to me, rather magical.

Objects carved from wood are far more than the symbols they represent. They actually ARE connected to the trees that provided the material. Every land has its own native trees and one therefore an integral part of some one's native landscape is imported with the object. The birch trees of the Ukraine now reside in my home, side by side with Kokeshi from Japan and Matrioshka from Russia.

Matrioshka, like Kokeshi, have developed significantly in the last century as far as subject matter is concerned. I always prefer Matrioshka painted with scenes from old Russian fairytales and folktales to the modern political figures from various governments, including the U.S. and Soviet Union heads of state. I do have a set of Matrioshka on which characters from the Lord of the Rings have been depicted that I prize. Among other things, I have a set of runes carved from a Rowan tree and a Madonna and Child carved from Oak. I have walking sticks carved from ash, blackthorn, maple, cherry and apple. From Palestine, I have a reproduction of the Mosque of Al-Aqsa carved from Olive wood.

I have included photographs of wooden objects from Japan, Russia and the Ukraine as well as the first Crocus of Spring that appeared in the garden.

In the tiny garden here, I planted birch, oak, ash, rowan and spruce. The owner of the house was not altogether pleased by this but I do believe that trees contain their own unique energies, as well as being incredibly beautiful. In the heart of this area of urban blight, they provide a little privacy as well as protection from the elements.

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