Santa has his hands full in this stock photo; the girls may not have fit comfortably if they were seated on his lap.
From the Bettmann Archive
Santa has his hands full in this stock photo; the girls may not have fit comfortably if they were seated on his lap.
From the Bettmann Archive
Looking back at Pigtails in Paint’s history, it really is remarkable that we should be here now. There were so many things that could have gone wrong and, thanks to a number of guardian angels, we have been able to persevere. But apart from all that, the most remarkable quirk of fate was the partnership between Pip and me. Remove one of us from the equation and, almost certainly, there would be no Pigtails today. I never intended to run a website like this and if Pip had not invited me to join him, I probably never would have. And if I had not come along when I did, the site may never have developed its chorus of contributors—both visible and invisible. Even though Pip is officially gone, I must assure our readers that he keeps an ever vigilant eye on his baby and his influence will continue to be felt for a long time. Now for the present: I would like to thank Christian for his meticulous work as Editor and the multitude of others for their leads, materials, research, feedback, translating services and technical services that have kept things going.
On that note, I would like to present two images and stories by arguably the United States’ best child illustrators: Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Willcox Smith. One day, both of these artists will get the full coverage they deserve but, for now, I would like to offer this tantalizing sample. There is a rare book featuring illustrations by these two women called The Book of the Child (1903) with text written by Mabel Humphrey and published by the Frederick A. Stokes Company. Because the book does not cover the more popular children’s tales, it is virtually unknown and has not received the recognition it deserves. It also distinguishes itself by having the stories inspired by the illustrations instead of the other way around. When I saw the title of the first story, it was a signal to me that this book should be the cornerstone of this anniversary post.
A Tale of a Pigtail
Snip, snip, snip, squeaked the shears; down to the floor slipped a thick braid of soft brown hair; and Mary gave a startled gasp as she looked down at it. A sob rose in her throat as she glanced at herself in the mirror.
“I don’t care,” she sniffed, which really meant that she cared very much; “now the boys can’t call me ‘pigtail’ and ‘cowstail’, cause I haven’t any tail at all.”
“Hey, Jimmy!” she called from the window, “who’s a pigtail now?” and shook her short locks savagely.
The answer came quick and clear, “Bobtail! Bobtail! Bob—”; but the rest of the word was lost in the bang of the window and a burst of tears.
At that moment Auntie Brown came hurrying into the room, and, seeing the poor shorn lamb sobbing her small heart out gathered her lovingly into comfortable arms.
“Never mind, Sweetie.” she cooed soothingly. “Auntie won’t scold about the hair, dear heart”, (this, as the small hands clutched wildly at the docked head), “though she is sorry. Jimmy shan’t ever call you names again,” and very gently Auntie coaxed the small visitor back into smiles.
All day long Mary lingered near her aunt, however. The grey branches beckoned gaily to her from the golden sunlight, and the bright flowers nodded encouragingly; but these held no temptation for her while the boys were outside and a possible “Bobtail” rang in her ears.
Searching for something with which to amuse herself she came at last upon Uncle’s set of beautiful chessmen and soon had a small ivory family in the midst of dinners, dances and many gaieties. In her excitement Mary forgot that the chessmen were forbidden to her small fingers—forgot, too, that the books she had used for the houses were Uncle’s choicest. Everything in fact was lost in the “fun” she was having.
“Come on, Mary,” called Jimmy, peering through the long window. “Come play horse,” but Mary shook her head.
“Lemme play with you, then.”
The head shook harder than before, and Jimmy turned away cross and hurt. If Mary only couldn’t play with the chessmen, perhaps she might come out and play with him. “Couldn’t,” and suddenly remembering his father’s command, the little boy rushed eagerly off to find him, a plan—rather selfish, I fear, stirring busily in his small brain.
A few moments later Jessie was startled by her Uncle’s voice stern and cold. “Mary!” was all it said, but it was enough; she remembered now.
“Oh, Uncle Jim,” she wailed, “I won’t ever do it again, but my hair—” she faltered. “I quite forgot!”
There was no doubting the earnest little face upturned to him, and remembering the sorry tale of woes Auntie had told him not long before, Uncle Jim turned away with a smile, only telling Mary to put the chessmen away carefully.
Having done so, Mary, with flashing eyes, marched out on the piazza, and, spying the object of her search, her wrath took shape.
“Jimmy Brown!” and Mary’s voice trembled with rage. “You called me pigtail, which I wasn’t, an’a cowstail, which I wasn’t. Then when I wouldn’t come out to an’ play, you ‘membered about the chessmen, an’ told! An’ that’s a—telltale!”
With a break in the angry voice Mary turned to go; but at a bound Jimmy was at her side. “I’m drefful sorry, Mary,” he began—
“Nem mind, Jimmy,” said the little girl. “So am I. Let’s play horse.”
Some of you may note that Humphreys made a continuity error in mentioning the name “Jessie” instead of “Mary”. I believe it was her intent to use the illustrators’ names in the stories and she got a little mixed up. An interesting coincidence is that this book should arrive at my doorstep only one day after publishing the ‘Chess’ post. The next story—the last in the book—may seem out of place in February but I do find myself humming Christmas carols at all times of the year.
A Real Santa Claus
“O dear!” sighed Elizabeth. “I don’t b’lieve Sandy Claus’ll ever come.”
She pressed her round little nose against the cold window pane and peered up and down the street, as if she half expected to see Mr. Santa himself under the gas lamps.
Very quietly she had crept into the dark drawing-room this Christmas eve, for perhaps—one of those exciting chances it was!—perhaps Nursey would’nt find her. And then? Well, then she would sit up and see Santa Claus come down the chimney.
Nursey did find her, however, and very soon Elizabeth was snug in bed, though not by any means asleep. As soon as she was alone in the dark, up popped her head like a lively”Jack-in-the-box,” the little white-clad shoulders following. And Elizabeth waited.
It was very still in the dark room, and once or twice the drowsy eyelids drooped; but she propped them up with two chubby fingers and kept the brown eyes turned anxiously toward the fireplace.
Could he crawl down it, she wondered. He was fat and had a pack, a great large one with dolls, an’ candie, an’ ev’thing. Yes, an’ kittens! He might break the dollies if he should squeeze. S’posen he couldn’t—
Suddenly Elizabeth’s heart gave a quick thump as the door opened softly, letting in enough light to show a grey head peeping through the crack. The head had a beard, too, just like the pictures, and the broad shoulders wore a great coat white with snow.
“Creak,” said the door, while it opened wide enough to let all of the large figure slip into the room.
At the sound, Santa Claus—for it must be he thought Elizabeth—jumped, as she did when Mother caught her taking lumps of sugar, and looked cautiously around to see if she had heard. All was quiet, however, and after stopping an instant to make sure she had not wakened, he stole quietly over to the chimney-place, carrying in each hand a small stocking, stuffed to the toe and bulging in the queerest of shapes. These he hung in front of the chimney; then tiptoed out into the hall again.
As he closed the door Elizabeth heard him whisper: “she didn’t wake,” and he called her mama “Lil” and kissed her.
“Hm,” she mused drowsily, “I knowed he couldn’t get down that little chimney. Guess he didn’t see I was awake; must have lef’ his pack an’ cap downstairs, I fink.” The sleepy eyes closed, and Elizabeth drifted softly away into Dreamland.
The next morning early, a bright voice chirped: “Merry Christmas, Mudder. I saw Sandy Claus! Bolstered up in Mother’s bed she told her story, between squeals of delight at the treasures Santa had left.
At breakfast she found a new grandfather, arrived the night before from his home in San Francisco, and such fun as they had all day together. At dinner Grandfather carved the great turkey, and gave her both fat “drumsticks” and the wish-bone. In the afternoon they had a sleighride, and Elizabeth “drove” the horses with the jingling sleighbells, almost by herself.
In the evening they made merry over the twinkling Christmas tree, and before bed-time she told Grandfather “she loved him, an’ he looked jes’ like her Sandy Claus.” When he answered that he “wondered” if little owls could see in the dark, his eyes twinkled so merrily, like the pictures again, the she almost thought he must be Santa Claus.
And sometimes when Christmas comes around, bringing her many beautiful gifts, she thinks so still.
Although illustrators were used to advertise a wide range of products, this image seems only to portray a general ambiance for the Christmas season. It may have been printed in a magazine, perhaps in association with holiday recipes.
From the Bettmann Archive
Although Christmas, as it is usually celebrated, has already passed and the new year has already begun, I’d like to present here a selection so-called “Christmas Girls”. Incomplete though, but an attempt to search for the variation in depiction of girls during Christmastime. Also important in parts of the world is Epiphany, or the coming of the three wise men celebrated on the 6th of January. And in some Orthodox churches, Christmas has yet to come on the west’s 7th of January, because of the use of the Julian instead of the Gregorian calendar.
Looking back, Christianity began with a nativity, with a boy. Or was his mother still a kind of girl? The early depictions of Mary regards her as a virgin, not quite the same as a girl. So to look for a role model for the girl in Christianity, one has only the Virgin Mary, but later Christmas traditions begin to introduce other notions the Christmas Girl. The connection of my Christmas visions to Mary only came to mind while writing this.
Maybe there was Mary, the girl, that we never got the chance to know before Gabriel’s annunciation for her to become a mother. And she would remain a virgin, though the Bible does tell that Jesus had brothers and sisters. After the Nativity, her often girlish depiction probably contributed to her divinity and her virginity probably required a more girlish depiction. Historically girls, at that time and place, would marry young by our standards: around 12, 14, or even younger.
Thus if Christianity began with a young woman, one could ask why Santa Claus, another symbol of Christmas, is not a woman. Where Mary’s child is perhaps the only real Christmas gift, Santa Claus’ gifts are wished for and dreamed about by children and adults. This is maybe why the representation of girls has become more like our cultural dreams about Christmas, rather than the representations of boys. Or it should be the sweet (Christmas) child in general, either boy or girl?
However, I am imagining not only shepherds, wise men, an ox and donkey visiting Jesus, but a group of children (with at least one girl). She might have been something like Jackie Evancho singing The First Noël. Here is a still from a YouTube clip.
There is also the depiction of the girl next door, having an ordinary modern Christmas. Such girls might be found under a Christmas tree among the gifts to be opened, perhaps singing Christmas carols, at a Christmas dinner, at home or in a swimming pool (climate permitting).
Why not a girl in a church? Or in front of one of the most famous, at Manger Square, at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. These girls are wearing the traditional Palestinian costumes in a Christmas procession. This site is revered as the birthplace of Jesus in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
Such girls, living here and there, can be found standing model among some artistic Christmas scenery.
Or for a Christmas card, modern or vintage.
Yazidis do not seem to celebrate Christmas, and being refugees hunted, raped, killed and sold as slaves they have almost become a symbol of the opposite of Christmas. Hopefully guest rooms will remain available for these refugees, so that they need not sleep in mangers.
And so we move on to the Epiphany, the coming of the Three Kings, Wise Men or Magi, as well as the baptism of Jesus by John in the River Jordan celebrated on the 6th of January.
As mentioned before, several Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas one day after Epiphany in the West, the 7th of January, and then Epiphany on the 21st. Here, Palestinian Christian girls await arrival of the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem before the Eastern Orthodox Christmas procession.
Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria, Greece and Albania traditionally dive into freezing water to retrieve a wooden crucifix, a ritual dating back to Byzantine times.
It is not nearly as common to see children participating, and so the ones who do get quite a bit of attention. Here, a father waits with his young daughter.
There are several layers of story here—tradition, childlike faith, and the publicity of it all. In the end, the little girl couldn’t manage to go all the way under, so she just dunked herself to her neck three times. brandonandkatie.com, January 21, 2013
Before the Christmas season ends, there are a couple more items to get in. One of our writers submitted this postcard last year, but never produced the post. It shows how extreme this Edwardian movement was. It is quite striking how the girls are naked in an ostensibly winter scene.
On the other hand, a number of my Australian associates remind me that this is the hottest time of the year—perfect beach weather!
Most people conversant in world affairs is aware of the Soviet newspaper Pravda (“Truth” in Russian), but many may not have realized that it was a publishing and printing enterprise generally. In the late 1950s and 1960s, it issued an extensive series of photographic postcards featuring children presumably depicting the joys of Soviet life. Therefore, I offer five images for your consideration here.
The first two are photographs by A. Stanovova. I like the first one especially because the girl seems to epitomize light-hearted girlishness which is kind of iconic for this site. It’s title translates to “Friends”.
The second was issued earlier and translates to “Before the New Year”. Notice the careful avoidance of the word Christmas even though that seems to be holiday being portrayed. One of our readers offers an excellent explanation for this peculiar cultural development, so please read the comment at the end of this post for more details.
The next photo by Dmitri Baltermants is titled “Reconciled”.
Edit: I have made some slight adjustments to the name of the photographer. Ron’s use of Dm. Baltermantsa was not incorrect, but the photographer, an important photojournalist in Soviet Russia, is generally recognized in the Anglo world under the name Baltermants. Here is the Wikipedia page on him. -Pip
I had at first thought the artist and caption was in Serbian (they use a Cyrillic alphabet also) as the title does not make much sense translated into Russian. The artist is L. Borodulina and the caption translates as “Tuzik, beg!”. Again, one of our readers cleared up the confusion which you can read below.
The last is by V. Tyukkelya depicting these naked children clearly having fun. The caption is a Russian exclamation and does not translate perfectly, but something like “All Right!” or “Yahoo!” is about right.
This is just an assortment of Victorian-era paintings (and one sculpture). I have nothing much to say here, so I’m just going to post the images . . .
Despite having a pretty rough start (his parents were impoverished, his father reportedly hated him, and he had difficulty establishing himself in his early years as more modern styles were blossoming), Swedish artist Carl Larsson led something of a charmed life. As his family grew, so too did his popularity, and he became a regular contributor to many well-known magazines of the era, including Jugend. His style is organic but clean; he even dabbled in sequential art, making him one of the the first Scandinavian comics creators. Larsson and his stunningly attractive wife Karin, also an artist and designer, had eight children, whom Larsson adored profoundly (breaking the pattern of his cold and abusive father), making them the subject of much of his art. Holidays were a big deal at the Larsson household and there are several pieces by Larsson to attest to this.
Iduna (alternately Idun or Idunn in anglicized form) is the Norse goddess of youth and the guardian of the golden apples which the gods consume to maintain their immortality. Here Larsson’s daughter Brita portrays her for an image that was used for the 1901 Christmas issue of a magazine named for the goddess.
Now this is a Christmas feast!
St. Lucy is one of the few saints celebrated in Scandinavia, and her day, December 13th, is associated with Christmas. Traditionally, the eldest daughter in a family or an older girl in a village is selected to portray the saint, in which she is crowned with a headpiece bearing lights or candles, and then she leads a procession of younger sisters or other girls as they go about passing out candies or other treats to smaller children. At least, that’s how I understand it. 🙂
Another of my favorite illustrators, Arthur Rackham is one of the major names—or perhaps the major name—associated with the American Golden Age of illustration. One of the things I most like about Rackham’s work is the fact that his children are not terribly exaggerated, even if the adults sometimes are. This demonstrates a respect for kids that, say, Norman Rockwell lacked. Rockwell’s work tends to sacrifice children’s dignity on the altar of humor, but I will get into that when I deal with Rockwell proper. Back to Rackham: whilst Rockwell’s art displays the quintessentially American disdain for children while strongly reinforcing American values, stylistically Rackham tended to follow the European tradition of romanticizing children, which in my book is the lesser of the two evils.
What balances this romanticism out is the grittiness and detail with which he invests his art. Rackham’s illustrations often have a density and gravitas that many of his contemporaries were unable to achieve whilst still maintaining the decorative aspects and sinuous lines that were indicative of the illustration work of the era. Thus, Rackham could shift from a darker mode to a lighter one with ease.
His Christmas illustrations fit into the lighter mode. He made two major contributions to Christmas: one was his illustrations for an edition Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Christmas Carol first published in 1915; the other was work accompanying a 1931 printing of Clement C. Moore’s “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” (shortened to just “The Night Before Christmas” for the printing.) I particularly like the latter—the illustrations are richly colored, and I enjoy Rackham’s take on Santa as an actual elf-sized being rather than the full-sized human he is normally depicted as. This makes perfect sense for a creature who is able to climb up and down the interiors of chimneys.
Art Passions: Arthur Rackham (There’s a ton of great Rackham art here)
There were two people—both Americans—who were largely responsible for our modern conception of Santa Claus. On of them was Clement C. Moore, whose poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (better known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”), was first published in 1823 and is the most recognized American poem of all time. The other was political cartoonist extraordinaire Thomas Nast. He was born in Germany but had migrated to America with his family as a small child. Despite a poor showing education-wise, Nast became a major figure in American politics via his cutting wit and powerful imagery, which often had a sticking power that modern political cartoonists can only envy. It was Nast who created the donkey and elephant as symbols of the Democratic and Republican Parties respectively, for example, and his cartoons were of such persuasive power that Boss Tweed actually attempted to bribe the Harper’s Weekly artist with a half million dollars to leave him alone!
Nast’s version of Santa Claus very much complimented Moore’s. In fact, he clearly drew inspiration from the Moore poem. The cartoonist’s St. Nick was first published in Harper’s Weekly in 1862 and was associated initially with the American Civil War, employed by Nast to bring hope and good cheer to Americans during those dark years. Although his political cartoons could be ruthless, Nast’s Christmas illustrations bore a completely different tone, every bit as elaborately rendered as his political stuff, yet generally warm, joyful and alluring rather than harsh and critical. Nast did other Christmas cartoons as well, but it was his iconic Santa Claus that most resonated with the public.