M. Stephen Doherty

M. Stephen Doherty
The editor of Plein Air magazine at work

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Angels

My brother, Chuck, and I looking at the angels Christmas morning, 1955

One of the seven 1954 Christmas angels in Rockefeller Center in New York City
near the angels and tree

Still life painters often say they are most inspired when focused on objects of personal significance -- family heirlooms or photographs, saved toys, favorite foods, or flowers from their garden -- because of the emotional connections and the opportunity to tell a story that unified the painting composition. I thought about that as I brought Christmas decorations out of the boxes they have lived in for 55 years. Those tree ornaments and mantel decorations really do hold a lot of memories that could guide me through a painting.

Many of those decorative objects conjure up pleasant memories of the children who painted them, the relatives who crafted them, and the friends who gifted them. But they also remind me of the loved ones who are no longer around to celebrate the holidays.

One particular set of seven painted balsa wood angls holds special significance at Christmas. They were made for me in 1954 by a family friend, Ed Buwe, from a pattern published in Good Housekeeping magazine. Ed was one of the people who encouraged me to become an artist. Actually he wanted me to study architecture and specialize in illustrating building designs, but the fact that he saw promise in my childhood drawings and paintings was enormously encouraging to me.

The decorations also remind me of a former co-worker who would check herself into a mental hospital over the Christmas holidays because she couldn't cope with the sadness of not having a family to surround her. During the holidays I am very thankful to have close friends and family with me, along with the objects that remind me of people who have enriched my life. I hope you do as well.

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