Yes, Virginia . . .

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.    –Francis Pharcellus Church

IMG_4141Reading your blogs has taught me so much. One thing I’ve learned lately is that decorating for Christmas is a passion. I knew this on a theoretical level before but, now, having read about and seen so many of your decorations around the world, I understand it in a much more fundamental way.

Even those of us who could only be described as cultural Christians—non-religious now but having been brought up in religious homes, with lots of Christmas memories—find joy at this time of year in bringing out the crèches and other Christmas treasures.

And, when we decorate, many of us seem to focus around collections of meaningful objects and feature them in our homes.

For me, I love Santa. So, even when we don’t do the full-blown decorating of a big tree and the whole house, we always bring out our main collection at Christmas—these Santas that line the mantle.

Our Santas have been coming to us for over 20 years and are primarily from the line of Great American Collectibles Old World Santas. These are carved and hand-painted resin figurines, made in the US. A few new ones are released every year and depict, mostly, folk art-style Santas from around the world.

The first one of these Santas that we received Mickey, an Irish Santa given to us by a friend after we went to Ireland on our honeymoon.

We liked Mickey’s look so much, we’ve brought many of his brothers home over the years.

Many of the Santas have sweet animals with them, which adds enormously to their appeal for us.

Some of our Santas come from other places.

We have our Millennial Penn State Santa:

Penn State Santa

Penn State Santa

And our Santa from the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.

American Folk Art Museum Santa

American Folk Art Museum Santa

And we have Santas from garage sales!

3 garage sale Santas

3 garage sale Santas

These Santas sleep patiently in storage for most of the year, waiting to come out at Christmas and remind us of all the good that Santa Claus symbolizes—love and generosity and devotion. I believe in Santa! Do you?

Art in the Strangest Places–A Humongous Fungus

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by Gary Chuszinski

The human desire to leave an imprint and to decorate a plain surface amazes me. From the cave paintings of Lescaux to the graffiti in today’s cities, we seem impelled to make a lasting mark.

Some artists choose a traditional medium and become expert in it. They purchase oil paints and quality brushes or yards of new fabric and state-of-the-art sewing machines. Other artists use what is at hand, finding a canvas in the most unlikely places.

One of the oddest of these accidental canvases may be fungus. Not just any fungus, like that stuff growing on cheese you forgot in the back of the fridge, but a particular fungus—Ganoderma applanatum, which grows mostly on dead or dying trees.

If you’re given to rambling through the woods, you’ve probably seen these fungi, also called Artist’s Bracket or Artist’s Conk, growing on the trees.

fungus5-4 fungus-1These aren’t little mushrooms but, rather, the kind of growth that will have you exclaiming, “There’s a humungous fungus among us!”* Indeed, some are very large and they aren’t gummy or gelatinous or icky like you might expect fungus to be; they’re quite hard and woody and often lovely on top, but soft and almost velvety on the bottom, the side that artists use.

This soft underbelly of the fungus is easily marked with a toothpick or point of a nail, and the marks turn brown and become permanent. As it dries the fungus becomes wood-like and can be coated with varnish but I don’t think it needs to be.

According to Larry Schneider, a fungus artist, on his website, the tradition of making art out of these fungi has been done by American pioneers and Native Americans. He also says that museums have specimens done by soldiers of the Civil War.

I couldn’t find any information to corroborate the history of the art form but it makes perfect sense to me that it’s an old form. I think of it as sort of a woodsman’s version of the sailor’s scrimshaw. The white surface becomes a tabula rasa, just inviting a transfiguring mark.

Today, artists decorate these fungi the traditional way, by scratching the surface or with a wood-burning tool, or they use oils or acrylic paints. The subject matter is usually, appropriately, rustic and primitive, with images of forest and stream, although I’ve seen examples with ballerinas and sad clowns.

Gary Chudzinski / Fungus moose / Primitive fungus / Painted Eagle

For all you DIY-ers out there, this is an easy camp craft. All you need is the artist’s conk—the ones that grow on trees, not out of the ground—and a pointy, but not really sharp, object to make the marks. So, take the kids on a hike and set them up to make forest souvenirs. According to Jean-Marc Moncalvo, senior curator of mycology at the Royal Ontario Museum, handling the fungus is  “absolutely safe.”

The only drawback is that you can’t hang them on the refrigerator!

We made this one  when we left our beloved lakefront rental, after it was sold.

We made this one when we left our beloved lakefront rental, after it was sold.

* I got this line from singer/comedian Camille West.