Tuesday, December 31, 2013

An English Christmas Tree

One of my favorite parts of the holidays this year was decorating my little Christmas tree with English themed ornaments.  In England, the St. Nicolas company creates handmade, embroidered felt ornaments that are of historic people and places.  Most of the ornaments I collected from various palace and cathedral gift shops throughout London were made by the St. Nicolas company, and one of the ornaments was a gift!
The three ornaments below are of three British Queens who were Queens in their own right -- Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth II.

I had to look high and low for the Queen Elizabeth I ornament above, and I finally found one in the National Portrait Gallery gift shop.  I love the fire red hair!
There are about four iterations of the Queen Victoria ornament -- a couple when she was a princess, one when she was an older Queen with enormous royal garments, and then the one above when she is a young Queen.  Queen Victoria still looms large over London, and so it was no surprise that there were so many Victoria ornament options.
Above is Queen Elizabeth II on the day of her Coronation.  I think this depiction is fantastic because it really captures the sumptuous robes and dress she wore on that day, and I love that she is holding the orb and sceptre.  
Above is a Tudor Rose ornament that I found at Hampton Court Palace.  The Tudor Rose emblem was created following the end of the War of the Roses, when the House of Lancaster (red rose) and the House of York (white rose) united.  I became positively obsessed with the War of Roses after watching the BBC miniseries "The White Queen," or as many of my friends know, after I became positively obsessed with the actor, Max Irons!
 The Queen's 60th anniversary of her Coronation occurred in 2013, and there were amazing events celebrating this anniversary throughout the year.  I love the above ornament's depiction of the four countries that comprise Great Britain -- the daffodil for Wales, the rose for England, the thistle for Scotland and the shamrock for Northern Island.
Prince George was born a couple of weeks after I arrived in London, and I thought it would be fun to get an ornament commemorating being in London during this fun time!
And finally, my best friend, Hilly, made me this great needlepoint ornament of a Union Jack.  I adore it -- a perfect addition to my English themed Christmas tree.  I can't wait to collect more English themed Christmas ornaments in the years to come!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Getting My Art On

I visited Windsor Castle a few weeks ago with my newfound friends from Philadelphia, and I absolutely fell in love with an exhibit there called, "The Royal Paintbox."  It chronicles members of the Royal family who have been artists for the past 350 years.  Apparently, art classes always have been part of the formal education of Royal family members.  Queen Victoria was and Prince Charles is an avid water colorist, and they have, in fact, painted many of the same landscapes at Balmoral.

The exhibit inspired me to sign up for some art classes while I have been in London.  I emailed one of my dear friends, a sorority sister and college roommate, who had majored in art and asked her for suggestions.  Per her recommendations, I looked for drawing and watercolors classes.  Thankfully, I sneaked into a watercolors class and have been going to classes for the last several weeks.

I was incredibly rusty at first -- it's been over twenty years since I've done any art!  Above are some of the examples of my work from the first week or so. Taking the class and painting each week has given me an even stronger appreciation for the amazing talent and genius of great artists.

My need for precision often was confounded by watercolors.  The more I practiced, the more I was able to get a handle on how the medium worked; and the more I painted, the more I was able to have fun with the imprecision and unexpected results of watercolors.  Above are some paintings where I was just exploring.

And I finally started getting the hang of it!  Above are some small pieces from my last weeks.  During the class, I loved painting the sky and clouds and their infinite shapes and colors.  I've already looked into some art classes offered at the Kansas City Art Institute for when I get back to the States!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Lady's Castle

I can't get enough of English manor houses.  There is just something about a train ride out into the lush countryside and wandering through a house steeped in history!  So the other day I took a trip out to the county of Kent, the "garden of England." When the Normans took over England in the 12th century, they built castles up and down the English coast to show their strength.  While in Kent, I visited one of these Norman strongholds - Leeds Castle.
 Leeds Castle came to be known as the Lady's Castle, because of a tradition started by King Edward I.  When he married Eleanor of Castile, he gave Leeds Castle to her in her own right.  Apparently when Eleanor died young, King Edward was so distraught he named many monuments and buildings after her.  This anecdote was surprising to me, as my opinion of King Edward is completely based on his depiction in the movie Braveheart, where the character basically slaughters Scots for sport.  In any event, the castle became a part of the Queen's dowry.  This tradition continued for almost 300 years, until King Henry VIII granted the castle to an aristocratic family from the Kent area.
Like many great country houses, Leeds Castle requires an enormous amount of resources to maintain.  By the early 20th century, the English family that owned the castle could no longer afford its upkeep.  Consequently, they sold it to an American heiress with Kent connections named Lady Baillie.  Above is a painting of Lady Baillie and her two daughters -- I think they look quite fashionable! 

 Lady Baillie poured her vast wealth into both major structural rehabilitation of the castle and redecoration of the interiors.  She hired St├ęphane Boudin, who also was an interior decorator to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, to do much of the interior design.  He infused the castle with a French style, including fabrics, furniture and color.  Notably, the initial talks that led to the Camp David Peace Accords were held in the above room.
One of my favorite parts of country houses is walking around the grounds.  Leeds Castle was no exception, with its beautiful gardens and great views.  I am so happy I was able to make a trip out there!