The Santa Lady of Farm Road
Greetings, Dear Friends!
I hope you will join me for a cuppa steaming Twinings orange tea (it’s a delicious tasting black tea infused with the aroma of sweet oranges). It’s fitting for a day like today. Fall is here and there’s a real bite in the air outside.
It IS a little early to be talking about Santa, but the Christmas fairs are about to begin here – the largest five-day fair (Christmas at the Glacier) starts on October 19th – and many crafters are busy gearing up. If there’s a fall fair happening where you are, you’re sure to see legions, as well as many interpretations, of the merry man in the photo at the left. I love this jolly gent in just about any form he may take.
I promised in earlier posts that I would tell you more about my friend who creates stunning, quality Santas. And, since the stores here are already stocking their shelves with all things Christmas, there’s no time like the present! In fact, I just could not resist picking up a new Santa earlier this week – I’ll introduce you to him in another visit…
The article in this post was actually written Christmas, 1996! I was inspired to write it when I first met ceramic artist Jean Kelly at a local Christmas craft market in 1991. I was impressed by her spirit, her work, and her devotion to her craft. I have been collecting Jean’s Santas since then, using them to decorate throughout our home at Christmastime. I am so reluctant to secret away the kindly old gents after the holidays that I prolong the un-decorating of our house as long as possible before encountering strange looks from friends and neighbours. 🙂 The Santas are never too far from reach, though. My husband has an entire clothes closet that is now filled with them! And, when conversation with kindred Christmas spirits turns to Santas, I proudly reach for them and show them off! They are truly one-of-a-kind. The story that follows was a gift to my friend Jean as a ‘Thank You’ for all her beautiful works of heart…She no longer lives on Farm Road and is no longer making quite so many of the merry men, but I treasure the ones that I do have. All the photos below are of Jean’s creations used in our holiday decorating…I hope you enjoy them! CLICK ON A PHOTO TO ENLARGE IT“A passion for creating and an unwavering belief in Santa Claus inspires Ceramic Artist Jean Kelly to keep the legend of this spirit alive and well in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland…” Nestled on Farm Road in the tiny rural community of Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, the Kelly household on the outside appears like any other. Yet inside, something magical is being created almost every day of the year. Christmas is not just something that happens during the month of December, but all year round! Amazingly, the ceramic artist who lives here (or ‘Santa Jean’ as she is affectionately known), with her husband, David, and their two teenagers, is busily bringing to life the gift-giver known all over the world by many different names – Pere Noel (France), Babbo Natale (Italy), Baboushka (Russia), Belsnickel (Germany) and, of course, Santa Claus (America), to name just a few… Jean recreates hundreds of images of the legendary folk hero spanning nearly every corner of the globe.
A love of creating and realizing a finished product spurs her on to keep producing the kindly old gentlemen. Crafting a treasure which will, for many, become tomorrow’s family heirloom and “the pure pleasure of knowing that your work will live on”, is, for Jean, a source of great satisfaction.
What began as a hobby, and as an escape from the daily challenges of raising two teenagers along with several Sheltie dogs and a myriad of cats, has turned into a thriving home-based business. When her family experienced difficult economic times some years back, Jean was encouraged by friends to do what she does best – use her artistic talents and find a niche in the local Christmas market for quality, handcrafted Christmas figurines. Among her host of creations are heralding angels, nativity scenes and cherubic tree ornaments. Her Santas, particularly, were an immediate hit with the locals.
At Jean’s craft stall, market browsers are treated to a feast for the eyes – legions of Christmas men from Victorian to religious to folksy; among them, England’s wassail-toting Father Christmas, the Netherland’s Saint Nicholas garbed in bishop robes and miter, Holland’s Sinterklass dressed in fur from head to toe, twig Santas that resemble pieces of carved driftwood, and our own roly-poly Santa Claus first brought to life by Thomas Nast in 1863 based on Clement C. Moore’s “T’was the Night Before Christmas”.
“Her ‘followers’,” as a close friend describes them, “stalk her at the local craft fairs, hoping to be among the first to view her newest works and add them to their collections.”
And, it seems, Santa collectors just can’t get enough of Jean’s Santas. In fact, many who originally buy them as ‘one-of-a-kind’ gifts for special people on their Christmas list find themselves not wanting to part with the charming red-coated gents. Once you’ve seen them, you’ll clearly understand why there is an almost instant attachment to these rosy-faced fellows.
The work of creating each gift-giver is an intricate labour of love, evidenced in the final product – rich in antiquing, embellished with all the ornaments of the season: fruits and berries, vintage toys, adoring woodland creatures, evergreens and candles – each face capturing the essence of the Yuletide.
As with most ceramics, pieces are produced from a mold into which liquid clay, or slip, is poured. It is then left to set until the shell is formed. The excess slip is poured off and the mold is again left to harden for an additional 24 hours until it starts to break open. The cast figure is removed and set aside to dry. Afterwards, it is sanded and washed before it’s baked in a high temperature kiln for a minimum of six to seven hours, or more, depending on the size of the piece; they may range anywhere from three inches in height to 36 inches. Each form then has to dry for 24 hours more before it can be painted. Six rounds of painting start with two thorough base coats of white paint, a third layer of thick brown antiquing is applied ever-so-carefully over the entire figure – only to be removed again with a soft cloth on larger areas and a Q-tip on smaller surfaces and crevices. The painting of flesh tones is the stage at which the figure begins to take on a personality all its own. Jean uses a palette of vibrant colours – earthy reds and browns, festive greens and purples and metallic golds – to further express each figure’s character. Finally, a coat of sealer is applied to give the figure its completed look.
Christmas shoppers just can’t believe the jolly old elves are ceramic. “They look just like wood!” Jean often hears. They are, indeed, ceramic but with “A World of Difference” – true to her motto which appears on the tiny tags that identify each Santa by his proper name and country of origin.
Since each piece is lovingly painted by hand, no two figures are alike. Seasoned Santa collectors know to study each legendary gent’s face and select the one that most appeals to their hearts. Some smile with a mischievous twinkle. Others have a pensive look as if contemplating the importance of the task ahead – a difficult choice at best!
Jean manages to sell every Christmas figure she creates. If you look around her own home on Christmas Day, surprisingly, you may not see a single Santa or angel peeping from around a shelf, sitting atop a mantle or amassed on a tabletop. Chances are they’re occupying someone else’s home spreading Christmas cheer! “After all,” Jean says, “that’s what makes it so worthwhile – putting your heart into creating something that will be loved just as much by its new owner!”
Christmas, like every other season, is spent by Jean in her workshop which she has set up in the garage attached to her home. A wooden sign that says, “I Believe” hangs on the wall. In colder months, she moves her painting table to the downstairs family room where she works on several pieces at a time. As the Christmas season approaches, Jean’s husband often helps with pouring the clay and sometimes even the painting and accessorizing, all under Jean’s watchful eye. Jean is so dedicated to her craft, she often works late at night and into the wee hours of the morning to meet the demand and get her Santas ready for Christmas in the nick of time!He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot. A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack. His eyes – how they twinkle! His dimples, how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow. The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, and the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath. He had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly! CLEMENT CLARKE MOORE, Twas the Night Before Christmas
Ask your children two questions this Christmas. First: “What do you want to give to others for Christmas?” Second: “What do you want for Christmas?” The first fosters generosity of heart and an outward focus. The second can breed selfishness if not tempered by the first. – Author Unknown
|This free scrapbook made with Smilebox|
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