Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Honoring Princess Leia in Prints

The news comes today that the beloved Princess Leia, Princess of Alderaan and the Imperial Senate,(a.ka.a. Ms. Carrie Fisher), has passed from this existence. Her star was always bright, a small, but feisty slip of a girl who was always passionate about her causes. Her beauty was eternal and her Hopi style squash blossom hair was emulated the world over. Ms. Fisher was more than Princess Leia, however. She was also a critically acclaimed writer, an actress of note and devoted mother. While we mourn her passing, legions of her loyal followers, and those of the Rebel Alliance, will Never forget her. In honor of her memory, this blog features prints by devoted Star Wars fans. May the Force Always be with her, and with us......

Rest in peace, Ms. Fisher. You will always be our Princess.....

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Peace for Christmas

Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed most commonly on December 25 as a global religious and cultural celebration. A feast central to the Christian liturgical year, it initiates the season of Christmastide, which historically in the West lasts twelve days and culminates on Twelfth Night. The traditional Christmas narrative, the Nativity of Jesus, according to the New Testament says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in accordance with messianic prophecies; when Joseph and Mary arrived in the city, the inn had no room and so they were offered a stable where the Christ Child was soon born, with angels proclaiming this news to shepherds who then spread the message.
By the early-to-mid 4th century the Western Christian Church had placed Christmas on December 25, a date which was later adopted in the East. Today, most Christians celebrate on December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, however, some Eastern Christian Churches celebrate Christmas on the older Julian calendar, which currently corresponds to January 7. In the Council of Tours of 567, the Church, with its desire to be universal, "declared the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany to be one unified festal cycle", thus giving significance to both the Western and Eastern dates of Christmas.
December 25 was also the date the Romans marked as the winter solstice, and Jesus was identified with the Sun based on an Old Testament verse. Finally, the Romans had a series of pagan festivals near the end of the year, so Christmas may have been scheduled at this time to appropriate, or compete with, one or more of these festivals.
The customs associated in various countries with Christmas have a mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift giving, completing an Advent calendar or Advent wreath, Christmas music and caroling, lighting a Christingle, an exchange of Christmas cards, church services, a special meal, and the display of various Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly. In addition, several closely related and often interchangeable figures, known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Christkind, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season and have their own body of traditions and lore.
"Christmas" is a shortened form of "Christ's mass". It is derived from the Middle English Cristemasse, which is from Old English Crīstesmæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038 followed by the word Cristes-messe in 1131. Crīst is from Greek Khrīstos, a translation of Hebrew, "Messiah", meaning "anointed"; and mæsse is from Latin missa, the celebration of the Eucharist. The form Christenmas was also historically used, but is now considered archaic; it derives from Middle English Cristenmasse, literally "Christian mass".Xmas is an abbreviation of Christmas found particularly in print, based on the initial letter chi (Χ) in Greek Khrīstos (Χριστός), "Christ", though numerous style guides discourage its use; it has precedent in Middle English Χρ̄es masse (where "Χρ̄" is an abbreviation for Χριστός).
In addition to "Christmas", the holiday has been known by various other names throughout its history. The Anglo-Saxons referred to the feast as "midwinter", or, more rarely, as Nātiuiteð (from Latin). "Nativity", meaning "birth", is from Latin nātīvitās. In Old English, Gēola (Yule) referred to the period corresponding to December and January, which was eventually equated with Christian Christmas. "Noel" (or "Nowel") entered English in the late 14th century and is from the Old French noël or naël, itself ultimately from the Latin, "birth (day)".
The earliest known Christian festivals were attempts to celebrate Jewish holidays, especially Passover, according to the local calendar. Modern scholars refer to such holidays as "Quartodecmials" because Passover is dated as 14 Nisan on the Jewish calendar. All the major events of the life of Jesus were celebrated in this festival, including his conception, birth, and passion. In the Greek-speaking areas of the Roman Empire, the Macedonian calendar was used. In these areas, the Quartodecimal was celebrated on April 6. In Latin-speaking areas, the Quartodecimal was March 25. The significance of the Quartodecimal declined after 165, when Pope Soter moved celebration of the Resurrection to a Sunday, thereby creating Easter. This put celebration of the passion on Good Friday, and thus moved it away from the Quartodecimal.
The Christian ecclesiastical calendar contains many remnants of pre-Christian festivals. Although the dating as December 25 predates pagan influence, the later development of Christmas as a festival includes elements of the Roman feast of the Saturnalia and the birthday of Mithra as described in the Roman cult of Mithraism. In the 17th century, Isaac Newton argued that the date of Christmas was selected to correspond with the solstice.
As Christmas was unknown to the early Christian writers, it must have been introduced sometime after 300. The first recorded Christmas celebration was in Rome in 336. The feast was introduced to the Eastern Roman Empire after the death of Emperor Valens, who favored the Arian heresy, in 378.
The fact the Donatists of North Africa celebrated Christmas suggests that the feast was established by the time that church was created in 311. The earliest known Christmas celebration is recorded in a fourth-century manuscript compiled in Rome. This manuscript is thought to record a celebration that occurred in 336. It was prepared privately for Filocalus, a Roman aristocrat, in 354. The feast was introduced at Constantinople in 379, and at Antioch in about 380. The feast disappeared after Gregory of Nazianzus resigned as bishop in 381, although it was reintroduced by John Chrysostom in about 400.
Prior to and through the early Christian centuries, winter festivals—especially those centered on the winter solstice—were the most popular of the year in many European pagan cultures. Reasons included the fact that less agricultural work needed to be done during the winter, as well as an expectation of better weather as spring approached. Many modern Christmas customs have been directly influenced by such festivals, including gift-giving and merrymaking from the Roman Saturnalia, greenery, lights, and charity from the Roman New Year, and Yule logs and various foods from Germanic feasts.[106] The Egyptian deity Horus, son to goddess Isis, was celebrated at the winter solstice. Horus was often depicted being fed by his mother, which also influenced the symbolism of the Virgin Mary with baby Christ.
The pre-Christian Germanic peoples—including the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse—celebrated a winter festival called Yule, held in the late December to early January period, yielding modern English yule, today used as a synonym for Christmas. In Germanic language-speaking areas, numerous elements of modern Christmas folk custom and iconography stem from Yule, including the Yule log, Yule boar, and the Yule goat. Often leading a ghostly procession through the sky (the Wild Hunt), the long-bearded god Odin is referred to as "the Yule one" and "Yule father" in Old Norse texts, whereas the rest of the gods are referred to as "Yule beings".
In eastern Europe also, old pagan traditions were incorporated into Christmas celebrations, an example being the Koleda, which was incorporated into the Christmas carol. In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was overshadowed by Epiphany. The forty days before Christmas became the "forty days of St. Martin", now known as Advent. In Italy, former Saturnalian traditions were attached to Advent. Around the 12th century, these traditions transferred again to the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25 – January 5); a time that appears in the liturgical calendars as Christmastide or Twelve Holy Days.
The prominence of Christmas Day increased gradually after Charlemagne was crowned Emperor on Christmas Day in 800. King Edmund the Martyr was anointed on Christmas in 855 and King William I of England was crowned on Christmas Day 1066.
King Richard II of England hosted a Christmas feast in 1377 at which twenty-eight oxen and three hundred sheep were eaten. The Yule boar was a common feature of medieval Christmas feasts. Caroling also became popular, and was originally a group of dancers who sang. In England, gifts were exchanged on New Year's Day, and there was special Christmas ale.
Christmas during the Middle Ages was a public festival that incorporated ivy, holly, and other evergreens. Christmas gift-giving during the Middle Ages was usually between people with legal relationships, such as tenant and landlord. In 1607, King James I insisted that a play be acted on Christmas night and that the court indulge in games. It was during the Reformation in 16th–17th-century Europe that many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl, and the date of giving gifts changed from December 6 to Christmas Eve.
The term Scrooge became a synonym for miser, with "Bah! Humbug!" dismissive of the festive spirit. In 1843, the first commercial Christmas card was produced by Sir Henry Cole. The revival of the Christmas Carol began with William Sandys's "Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern" (1833), with the first appearance in print of "The First Noel", "I Saw Three Ships", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", popularized in Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
In Britain, the Christmas tree was introduced in the early 19th century following the personal union with the Kingdom of Hanover by Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of King George III. In 1832, the future Queen Victoria wrote about her delight at having a Christmas tree, hung with lights, ornaments, and presents placed round it. After her marriage to her German cousin Prince Albert, by 1841 the custom became more widespread throughout Britain.
In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore wrote the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (popularly known by its first line: Twas the Night Before Christmas). The poem helped popularize the tradition of exchanging gifts, and seasonal Christmas shopping began to assume economic importance. This also started the cultural conflict between the holiday's spiritual significance and its associated commercialism that some see as corrupting the holiday. By 1860, fourteen American states including several from New England had adopted Christmas as a legal holiday. In 1875, Louis Prang introduced the Christmas card to Americans. He has been called the "father of the American Christmas card". On June 26, 1870, Christmas was formally declared a United States federal holiday.

Up to the 1950s, in the UK, many Christmas customs were restricted to the upper classes and better-off families. The Christmas tree was rare. In their stockings children might get an apple, orange and sweets. European History Professor Joseph Perry wrote that in Nazi Germany, "because Nazi ideologues saw organized religion as an enemy of the totalitarian state, propagandists sought to deemphasize—or eliminate altogether—the Christian aspects of the holiday" and that "Propagandists tirelessly promoted numerous Nazified Christmas songs, which replaced Christian themes with the regime's racial ideologies."

As Christmas celebrations began to be held around the world even outside traditional Christian cultures in the 20th century, some Muslim-majority countries have banned the practice of Christmas, claiming it undermines Islam.

In the 15th century, it was recorded that in London it was the custom at Christmas for every house and all the parish churches to be "decked with holm, ivy, bays, and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green". The heart-shaped leaves of ivy were said to symbolize the coming to earth of Jesus, while holly was seen as protection against pagans and witches, its thorns and red berries held to represent the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus at the crucifixion and the blood he shed.
Nativity scenes are known from 10th-century Rome. They were popularized by Saint Francis of Asissi from 1223, quickly spreading across Europe. In certain parts of the world, notably Sicily, living nativity scenes following the tradition of Saint Francis are a popular alternative to static crèches. The first commercially produced decorations appeared in Germany in the 1860s, inspired by paper chains made by children. The traditional colors of Christmas decorations are red, green, and gold. Red symbolizes the blood of Jesus, which was shed in his crucifixion, while green symbolizes eternal life, and in particular the evergreen tree, which does not lose its leaves in the winter, and gold is the first color associated with Christmas, as one of the three gifts of the Magi, symbolizing royalty.
The Christmas tree is considered by some as Christianization of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship; according to eighth-century biographer Æddi Stephanus, Saint Boniface (634–709), who was a missionary in Germany, took an axe to an oak tree dedicated to Thor and pointed out a fir tree, which he stated was a more fitting object of reverence because it pointed to heaven and it had a triangular shape, which he said was symbolic of the Trinity. The modern Christmas tree tradition is believed to have begun in Germany in the 18th century though many argue that Martin Luther began the tradition in the 16th century.
Since the 19th century, the poinsettia, a native plant from Mexico, has been associated with Christmas. Other popular holiday plants include holly, mistletoe, red amaryllis, and Christmas cactus. Along with a Christmas tree, the interior of a home may be decorated with these plants, along with garlands and evergreen foliage. The display of Christmas villages has also become a tradition in many homes during this season. The outside of houses may be decorated with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs, snowmen, and other Christmas figures.
Other traditional decorations include bells, candles, candy canes, stockings, wreaths, and angels. Both the displaying of wreaths and candles in each window are a more traditional Christmas display. The assortment of leaves, usually from an evergreen, make up Christmas wreaths and are designed to prepare Christians for the Advent season. Candles in each window are meant to demonstrate the fact that Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the ultimate light of the world.
The name Santa Claus can be traced back to the Dutch Sinterklaas, which means simply Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was a 4th-century Greek bishop of Myra, a city in the Roman province of Lycia, whose ruins are 3 kilometres from modern Demre in southwest Turkey. Among other saintly attributes, he was noted for the care of children, generosity, and the giving of gifts. His feast day, December 6, came to be celebrated in many countries with the giving of gifts. The modern popular image of Santa Claus, however, was created in the United States, and in particular in New York. Following the American Revolutionary War, some of the inhabitants of New York City sought out symbols of the city's non-English past. New York had originally been established as the Dutch colonial town of New Amsterdam and the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition was reinvented as Saint Nicholas.

Have a Merry Christmas, and enjoy a peaceful holiday with all your friends, family and be kind to strangers. Share your celebrations with those you love and those less fortunate. Blessings to you all.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Vaclovas Ratas and the Simplicity of Linear Fantasy

Vaclovas Ratas (1910-1973) was born in the village of Paliepis, located in the area of Seinai, Lithuania. In 1930, he went to study art in Kaunas, Lithuania, and the next year became one of the founding members of FORMA, a group of seven members who declared political neutrality and devoted themselves to the formal values of art. This group of young artists sought to give printmaking a modern voice, as inspired by Lithuanian folk-art. The group included the most significant artists of Lithuanian printmaking of that era.
In 1936, Ratas continued studying in the galleries and museums of Berlin, Rome, Florence and Venice. H He took part in numerous art exhibitions at home and abroad, and in 1937 he became curator in the Vytautas the Great Museum, in Kaunas.

Ratas' artistic activity spans forty years, from 1933 to 1973. Despite differences in style and technique, the same basic approach of simplicity, sincerity and love of decorative values unifies his work. Ratas remained in the realm of fantasy and refused to be involved in drama. His illustrations have a fairy-tale quality of lightness and playfulness.
He also created several prints portraying the local landscapes in static, decorative, deliberately simple, compositions, singling out one subject.

During the war, in 1944, when 80,000 Lithuanians left for the West seeking refuge from the returning Soviet armies, Ratas and his wife moved to Augsburg, Germany. The majority of Lithuanians emigrated to the U. S. A., Canada, and South Australia. A group of ten thousand settled in Australia. In 1949, Ratas, and his family arrived in Fremantle, Australia. Ratas worked in a metal works factory, a brick factory and a construction site. Then he was transferred to Perth where he worked in a pottery workshop, Scarborough.
During 1944-1949, Ratas represented burning villages, running refugees and the general unrest in the landscape. His style lost the linear calm and confidence. Now he introduced the black blots, broke the simple line and inserted numerous fine crisscrossing strokes. In 1954, the Ratas' family went to Sydney and he immediately joined the Lithuanian artists' group called Aitvaras. Ratas found this group as well as the more cosmopolitan artistic atmosphere of the city stimulating and alarming. Ratas worked mainly as a book illustrator. In addition, his health began to deteriorate.

The Sidney period of 1954-60 is the most unproductive in all his life. Sydney's artistic scene was dominated by abstract art, and nearly all new-comers moved on its waves. Ratas was familiar with the rise of abstract expressionism in Europe. Formal elements were for him always of the utmost importance. It seems, however, that the medium of book illustration, as well as his restrained and disciplined personality, prevented him from breaking the acquired mode of expression.
His conception of art led him to what he thought were the primary sources of creativity, namely, folk mythology and legends. Ratas was intrigued by aborigine fairy-tales and the visual representation of their fantastic world. His rendering became again predominantly linear with even more fluency and precision. The rhythmicity of his compositions bestowed the works with the quality of musicality. To his previous decorativeness Ratas added elegance and gracefulness. The tonal gradation became very subtle. These are mature and sophisticated works presented in an apparently simple manner.
From about 1967 Ratas was under constant medical supervision for leukemia. By 1970 Ratas was mainly confined to bed. By this time the artist was using very complicated mixed glass technique, employing some knowledge of Japanese water-based color pigments, unknown to Western printmakers.

Ratas created a graceful, refined and joyful world. His work underwent a great transformation, from linear graphic illustrations to his German Expressionist period, then on to ephemeral prints. He was the first and only artist to combine the Lithuanian graphic art with Japanese color techniques. He was one of those artists whose personality was fully and sincerely reflected in his works. In life, he was an extremely elegant man. He appreciated beautiful things, was an unassuming, hard-working and disciplined person with a great sense of duty. He worked intensely and regularly. In his works there is no place for accident, chance or subconsciousness. Everything is deliberate and well thought out in advance.

Public Collections:
Vytautas the Great Museum in Kaunas, art museums in Vilnius, Telšiai and Šiauliai, the National Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, Western Australian Art Gallery, Perth, Newcastle Art Gallery, and numerous private collections.
1937, prix d'honeur, International Graphic Art Exhibition, Paris
1946, established his own Art School in Augsburg, Germany
Art editor of the Augsburg Lithuanian weekly Žiburiai
1961, Founding member of the Sydney Printmakers Society
1965, received the silver medal from the Australian Fashion Fabric Design Awards