Nostalgia is that emotion that stirs up memories from our past. It’s hard to describe the feeling of nostalgia, but you can’t miss it when you have it. The holidays, especially Christmas, stirs those nostalgic feelings more than any other time of the year.
Theorists define two different types of nostalgia, historical and personal. The historical kind refers to feeling good or feeling attracted to time periods of the past, whether you lived in that time or not. The old world charm of the Victorian era is a perfect example, especially at Christmas time.
Then there is personal nostalgia. These are emotions you feel about your life and what you have lived through. Decorating for Christmas is a time when many of our personal nostalgic emotions are stirred. Those special ornaments your children made or the one from your first year of marriage; the cherished heirloom tree topper; the vintage glass ornaments you inherited from your grandparents; they all evoke memories of happiness or even sadness. Just like I used to do as a child, I still love to cuddle up on the couch and gaze at our Christmas tree and all the lights and decorations and let the nostalgia wash over me.
Many of my Father Christmas sculptures have become nostalgic family heirlooms. The piece that launched my career and appeared on the cover of Lee Valley Tools was purchased by a couple on the layaway plan in 1997. It was the beginning of my journey, but also the beginning of theirs. They see it as an impulsive buy, but one that marks a turning point in their lives. Shortly after buying this Santa they purchased their first restaurant. The Workshop Santa represents that journey and the success of their business.
Another client has several of my early pieces in her collection including a commission piece acknowledging their Scottish heritage. These have become family heirlooms that are enjoyed by several generations.
I particularly love the commissions I’ve done where something personal has been incorporated into the sculpture. A grandmother’s fur stole, or the leather from well worn gloves. These are beautiful reminders of our loved ones and a legacy for those who are not with us anymore. In this particular piece on the left, I used the fur from the client’s coat, but also the embroidered name on the coat’s lining to create Santa’s bag.
A week ago I received an email from a couple in California, Maryland. They happened upon one of my early pieces at an Antique shop in Fredericksburg MD and snapped it up immediately. It still had my little signature booklet attached. They were able to track me down and I was able to tell them the sculpture’s story. The character is called “Workshop Kris Kringle” and was one of four similar pieces I made in the late 1990’s. The story of how they got it, and how we connected, is now part of the provenance. This connection was very nostalgic for me. It reminded me of the early trials and tribulations of my journey as an artist.
This Christmas when you feel those tugs of nostalgia, share the stories and memories. Remember that our lives are worthwhile, we have value, and life has some sense of purpose and meaning.