Thursday, December 24, 2015

twelve days of Christmas

This Twelve Days book is beautifully illustrated by Louise Brierly

I FIRST designed a tree several years back with a Twelve Days of Christmas theme around a set of beautiful figural ornaments I have cherished for many years. But I never photographed any of it properly for the blog. This year, as a special celebration, I'm posting an image every day, starting today and for all twelve days. 

IT'S A BAKER'S DOZEN of posts that illustrate how I form my thoughts in designing a tree, both thematically and conceptually, with each day's photo revealing some of the decorative elements involved in composing it.

THE TWELVE DAYS of Christmas is a time-honored carol. Although the specific provenance of the song is not known, the twelve days it touts, between the birth of Christ (Christmas, December 25th) and the coming of the Magi (Epiphany, January 6th), form its structure. With this in mind, I never remove any Christmas decorations until all twelve days are up!

THIS BEAUTIFULLY EVOCATIVE carol possibly began as a Twelfth Night "memory-and-forfeits" game in which the leader recited a verse, and each of the players repeated the verse. As each verse was added, the game continued until one of the players made a mistake. The player who erred had to pay a penalty, such as a offering up a kiss or a sweet. This is how the song was published in its earliest known printed version, in the 1780 children's book Mirth Without Mischief. The song is apparently much older, but it is not currently known how much older. It is generally thought to have been written in the Middle Ages. No matter, the song is beloved, even today.

THE BOOK in the photo above was published in the mid-eighties as a first American Edition. It is one of my all-time-favorites. Its illustrations are brilliantly rendered by Louise Brierley. Their subtle colors and stylized figures provide a rich visual reference that has always seemed as evocative to me as the song's much-interpreted lyrics. This book is the basis of my inspiration for the tree to come.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . .

A partridge in a pear tree. 
Ornament by Patience Brewster.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . .
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. 
Ornament by Patience Brewster.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . .
Three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a Pear tree. 
Ornament by Patience Brewster.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . . 

Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a Pear tree. Ornament by Patience Brewster.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . .

Five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves 
and a partridge in a Pear tree. Ornament by Patience Brewster.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . .

Six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, 
two turtle doves and a partridge in a Pear tree. Ornament by Patience Brewster

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . .

Seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, 
three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a Pear tree. 
Ornament by Patience Brewster

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . .

Eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, 
four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a Pear tree.
Ornament by Patience Brewster.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . .

Nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, 
seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, 
four calling birds, three French hens,  two turtle doves 
and a partridge in a Pear tree.
Ornament by Patience Brewster.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . .

Ten pipers piping, nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, 
seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings,
four calling birds, three French hens,  two turtle doves 
and a partridge in a Pear tree.
Ornament by Patience Brewster.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . .

Eleven ladies dancing, ten pipers piping, nine drummers drumming, 
eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying,
five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens,
two turtle doves and a partridge in a Pear tree.
Ornament by Patience Brewster.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . .

Twelve lords a-leaping, eleven ladies dancing, ten pipers piping, 
nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, 
six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, 
two turtle doves and a partridge in a Pear tree.
Ornament by Patience Brewster.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

family tree

A TREE HAS taken root. A family has formed. And this is already our second Christmas together. Life has been busy. And our view is constantly in motion. But, despite the turmoils of the world, we have the comfort of each other. A Christmas tree is a bright reminder of that.

MONOGRAMED CHIC | These gold-initialed ornaments form the script for a new family. J is for Juan; A is for Abella, the Bengal cat; D is for Darryl (me); T is for Tallulah (the newest addition, a rescue dog); and F is for Frida, the Ragdoll cat (who makes a blurred appearance in the top photo).
THIS TREE, in a small way, is symbolic of our new family, hung with initialed ornaments representing each of us. The wire and cardboard diamond-shaped ornaments represent a strong structure for a great future together. The tree is a Silver Tip tree, which is naturally sparse with ample space between the branches and a quirky natural shape reminiscent of the untrimmed trees you see in vintage photos. Many of the lights on the tree have crinkled metal light covers in gold and silver in various sizes to give the tree a magical glow.

ALL IN THE DETAILS | This unusual shooting star tree topper is actually a store fixture from Starbucks from last season that I convinced a manager to save for me. It worked perfectly atop this tree.
LOOKING CLOSER, this tree is topped with a multi-faceted and glittered shooting star. The tree employs a fairly neutral color scheme of glass ornaments in gold, silver, bronze, whites and greens with classic bright blue and red punctuating the mix as a nod to the traditional trees of my childhood.

FRAMEWORK GEMS | These interesting gem ornaments are made of wire and metallic cardboard. I added a tiny glass bauble to each wire-framed ornament to make them more elegant.
THE FRAMEWORK for a family starts with a bedrock of comfort, joy and love. When things are right, whatever life throws your way is tempered by knowing that you have someone there that has your back. When you feel that, you know it's the real thing.

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH | These metallic cardboard ornaments are light enough not to weigh down the branches of the tree. Even though they are made from humble foil-covered cardboard, they are quite sophisticated in appearance due the diamond shape.
WARM HEARTS are warmed even further by a beautiful tree that is thoughtfully decorated. I chose to make this one thematic in color and form, but even if your tree is a hodgepodge of family heirloom ornaments of every style and stripe, what really matters is that it conveys that magical spirit of the holidays. The symbolic memories attached to decorations give them a heirloom resonance throughout the years that is unique and meaningful to your family.

Please check out the video of the tree below (hopefully, I'll figure out how to make the resolution better and replace this one):


collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Monday, November 23, 2015

peace and light

IT’S HARD to get into the holiday spirit in these uncertain times. Last night, Juan and I attended Atlanta’s lighting of Macy’s Great Tree to try to nudge ourselves into the season. I’m not sure it worked so well. Soon after we got there we saw a brutish police officer hold a guy by his coat in front of him and manhandle him through, and out of the crowd. Everyone looked stunned and I heard nothing said about it. So strange. I wonder what the guy did, who he was and whether he was a victim of racial profiling. 

THIS HAPPENED before the festivities started. And this was on a night when all the local news reports were highlighting the warning from the hacker group called Anonymous that there could be a terrorist attack at a big wrestling event downtown. There was also a football game downtown with tightened security. The Christmas tree lighting event we attended was on the other side of the city and also attracted a large crowd.

P is for P E A C E in this beaded letter.
ONE HAS TO wonder whether all this fear and hysteria (nothing happened at any of the events) is warranted. It is certainly no wonder that everyone is on edge worldwide after the worst terror attack in French history, the Russian airliner that was exploded with a terrorist’s bomb, a double-suicide bombing in Lebanon, and a series of other deadly strikes that are happening one after the other on a weekly basis.

An evergreen wreath has long been a symbol of renewal and everlasting life.
THIS PAST Thursday (November 19th), Pope Francis said “Christmas festivities will seem empty in a world which has chosen ‘war and hate.’” In his sermon, he said “Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes . . . it’s all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path.” This sermon signaled the start of the holiday season at the Vatican, where a giant Christmas tree was unveiled. 

I’VE ONLY BEEN to the City of Light (Paris) one time in my life. It was a much different world back in 1979, when I visited. I was much younger, more optimistic and full of excitement for the life ahead of me. Not that life has been bad at all—it hasn’t. It just that the human race hasn’t evolved as much as I would have hoped and our effect on our own environment has exponentially grown in such a way that our future is at peril, even without war and hate.

Shiny baubles always brighten the winter holidays.
THE TABLEAU I’ve set for this post is symbolic of the peace, hope and love that I’ve always thought the holiday season brings to all of us, no matter how we celebrate the season. The Eiffel Tower, the symbol of Paris (the City of Light) and a symbol for all the world, is laid with an evergreen wreath to mourn the innocent lives lost to terrorism. The lights at the base represent a gathering of lights from around the world. The banner with the letters forming the word PEACE is prominent in the background. And the presence of glittery baubles in the scene all point to a pause for HOPE that our country and humankind will do right by each other. But none of this will ever truly happen without the LOVE we share through something beyond any of our tiny marks on the world.

GOD is LOVE, no matter what religion is represented. Terrorism is not a religion—it is hate. This holiday season, more than ever, is a time for us to renew our spirits and to find our way forward. This holiday is celebrated worldwide, so now, maybe for once, we can find the grace and humility in understanding that we’re all in this together. Nothing can squander our better selves when we remind ourselves of that.

War of the Gods:
collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Friday, October 30, 2015

the all-seeing tree

THERE IS A HALLOW'S EVE tale I'm sure you've never heard before. It is the story of the All-Seeing Tree. You see, there was once a gardener named Mary Ann who lived not long ago. She was introduced to me by my photographer friend Harold. We used to go sit and be entertained by her for hours on end — always enthralled. She would tell us fascinating stories of her life, with her beloved railroad-hobo dog right beside her in her chair.

MARY ANN'S HANDS | My photographer friend Harold Daniels took this photo of Mary Ann's hands placed on a large worn book as a surface and gifted me a digital print of it on watercolor paper. In the years since she died, her hands have taken on a ghostly look, while the colors in the book cover have become more pronounced. I'm convinced her green thumb had something to do with this alchemy, blooming into an even more intriguing and beautiful photograph.
SHE WAS A KINDRED creative soul and wasn't afraid to speak her mind — both Harold and I loved her for her independent spirit. And boy did she have a finely-tuned eye for beautiful things. Our visits with her were mesmerizing and always fun. And there was the usual offering of simple, but sophisticated food, even though she was living on a fixed income. We both delighted in spending time with her. It was certainly not an obligation. And she learned as much from us as we did from her.

TO DESCRIBE HER, you only need look at her time-worn hands and they told most of the story. To describe the rest of her — she was a tall, big-boned woman, the stature of Julia Child — but she was the expert on gardening instead of cooking. Succulents were her favorite plants and she gave me one of her specimen frilly Echeveria plants one time. After that I was hooked on succulents, having had a green thumb myself all my life. She grew all sorts of plants in her greenhouse, but succulents were her thing. And she made her own hypertufa pots for them and sold beautifully-arranged containers to supplement her fixed income.

SPOOKY TREAT | A green thumb extends beyond the grave. Life is continually recycled and there is a definite collective consciousness at work even after someone is gone.
SPIDER INDUSTRY | This wire-webbed glass cloche filled with balls of moss is a perfect home for a very industrious army of spiders.
IN MAKING THIS All-Seeing Tree come to life, I invoke the memory of Mary Ann and create the following fictional tale that was surely inspired by the afterlife: You see, after Mary Ann died, her greenhouse was left shut tight with the plants remaining there to fend for themselves. The spiders played a big role in gathering water to nourish the plants by slipping to and fro through the cracks in the doors, bringing as many droplets of water as they could. As their army grew and the greenhouse soon became as self-sufficient and as lush as a terrarium.

CANDY STOP | This pedestal container of licorice in the shape of tiny skulls is a delectible treat for a Halloween that is spooky, yet fun.
ON ONE HALLOW'S EVE night, this tree miraculously sprung up in a beautiful gothic pot left in the greenhouse, It quickly produced "fruit" that looked back at you. Even though you weren't entirely convinced that the fruit could see, you knew it connected you with something. Even if it seemed a bit spooky, it left you with a certain knowing that our connection with the spirits beyond this realm is surely real, and gives you a real sense of satisfaction that our loved ones live on.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY is that what we see isn't always real, but what we don't see can be very real. Mary Ann would be sure to let it be known that life is what you make it. And there's nothing spooky about that at all. In fact, it's a real treat.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Saturday, April 4, 2015

eggs in a basket

EGGS ARE perfect symbols for spring. Long before being associated with Easter and the resurrection of Christ, the Chinese, Egyptians, Gauls, Persians and Romans used eggs to bless the season in their rites-of-spring festivals.

EGG BASKETS | These diminuative wire baskets from Terrain hold an array of candy-coated chocolate truffle eggs from Saxon Chocolates. The golden wire ornament tree was found in this year's Easter collection from Pottery Barn.
A NEW EASTER Sunday suit is an enduring memory of my church-going childhood, along with the candy-filled and cellophane-wrapped Easter basket left by a mythical bunny.

BUNNIES WITH BASKETS | These matte ceramic bunnies have been in my collection of Easter decorations for several years have finally found a perfect home under this tree. The wooden eggs add warmth to the tableau.
OF COURSE there are also memories of the gleeful Easter egg hunt in the cool and fresh unmown grass. The confectioner's scent from jelly beans, marshmallow Peeps® and chocolate bunnies permeated the air inside and mixed with the fresh smells of tulip trees and other early blooming flowers outside. All were stirred together in a heady mix by the brisk winds of spring.

EGG HUNT | This bunny carrying an egg in an Easter basket on his back, is peering into the holiday's symbolic dogwood flowers to find more.
WITH EASTER, spring has fully sprung, and summer is carried in on the rays of the sun. Change and new life are in the air. And a cleansing of our souls takes place. And the light, it seems, is warmly beamed directly from heaven, coaxing things back to life again. 

FANCIFUL FUN | Since this tree is simply-decorated, wire-edged ribbon adds presence and movement to the tiny wire Easter baskets.
THAT'S WHAT every spring becomes . . . a rebirth, however you choose to believe, it's an undeniably intoxicating and life-giving affirmation. 
When we live in darkness, our human life is a constant want.
When we live in Light, our divine life is a constant achievement.
Light in the physical is beauty.
Light in the vital is capacity.
Light in the mind is glory.
Light in the heart is victory.

                      —Talk on the Inner Light by Sri Chinmoy
The text from this post was adapted and updated from past Easter blog posts and from my book, The Decorated Tree: Celebrating the Seasons available at by clicking on this link or pasting into your browser.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland

Thursday, February 12, 2015

pure of heart

HEART TO HEART | These bright and lively "decoupaged" metal heart ornaments were found at World Market, as well as the glittery heart card with the apt sentiment: "It was, it is, it always will be..." on the front. Inside, it simply states "you" "Happy Valentine's Day".
MY SWEETHEART told me recently that the reason he loved me is that I had a pure heart. I certainly didn't expect to hear that, but when you love someone for exactly who they are and are completely comfortable to just be yourself with them, I guess that's what comes through.

SOMETHING IN THE AIR | A close-up of the bird-embellished heart ornament, paired with bright red primitive wooden heart ornaments and golden heart lockets would make even a simple branch come alive with Valentine wishes.

IT WAS, IT IS, IT always will be like that when you find someone with whom you are completely compatible. Life becomes an adventure together. Juan has been that, and so much more. I miss him during the day when we're at work and I look forward to seeing him every evening, night and weekend . . . to do nothing more than just be . . . together. Happy Valentine's to me . . . to us, as he always corrects me to say.

LIFE IS | A box of chocolates from London's Charbonnel et Walker, heart ornaments and a love note for your sweetheart.
NO VALENTINE'S DAY would be complete without chocolate. I always will remember when the fancy boxes of chocolate appeared at the drugstore down the street from where I grew up. It signaled a special time. Back then, the boxes were decorated with ruffles and ribbons—much more elaborate than most are today. This special Valentine box of Charbonnel et Walker chocolates is utterly simple, but the cardboard dividers within are an unexpected package detail that gives them an old-world provenance. That, and the fact that the company was established as Britain's Master Chocolatiers (by Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen) since 1875. King Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) encouraged Mme. Charbonnel to leave the chocolate house of Maison Boissier in Paris to join Mrs. Walker to establish a chocolatier and confectionery house on London's Bond Street. And the rest is history.

RICH TAPESTRY | This heart ornament is decorated with a colorful tapestry of flowers and would brighten the heart of any Valentine.
MAKING HISTORY (and memories while eating fancy chocolates) with someone you love clearly is the best Valentine anyone can hope for. It was, it is, and it always will be the reason we fall in love . . . for the companionship and joy in this life we live . . . together.

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

ring in the new year

THE PHRASE "ring in the New Year" has a new resonance for 2015. Literally, Juan and I have new rings. He surprised me with one for Christmas and I, of course returned the favor as an engagement promise. Since we live in Georgia, the legal significance of these rings is yet to be determined, but in our hearts they mean what they always mean when any couple wears them. Mr. and Mr. will soon (hopefully) become a real possibility, now that 35 states, plus the District of Columbia have marriage equality laws in the books for same-sex couples.

MR. & MR. | This bottle bag from Crate & Barrel contains the bubbly for a sparking new year.
THE NEW YEAR is always about change. It's about leaving the past behind and embracing the future. Just the fact that products are appearing in the market that tout same sex togetherness such as this linen mr. and mr. bottle bag from a forward-thinking business (Crate and Barrel). These products make a toast to a reality that we are embracing ahead of the fact. We are using it here to hold our New Year champagne.

RINGING TOGETHER | This ring dish from Crate & Barrel will give our rings a resting place that we can always find as we are both constantly misplacing things (especially cell phones and remote controls).
THIS MEANS A LOT to both of our futures. And we have begun building this future together in earnest. It's exciting to know that our partnership might one day soon be recognized by the world we live in . . . just like everyone else. Our rings are the only tangible commitment we have to that right now, aside from what we hold in our hearts. As soon as we got our rings, we talked about a centralized place to keep them when we weren't wearing them. Crate and Barrel also helped us out with that dilemma with this Mr. & Mr. ring dish.

DEER IN THE FOREST | Made in Germany by Ino Schaller Bayern, a family tradition since 1894, is famous for their paper mache candy containers. The company also makes glittery bottle brush trees and the doe figurine seen here (as well as the stags).
IT HAS BEEN and eventful 2014 for both Juan and I. And we are looking forward to a long future together. We don't really need a marriage contract for that, but it will greatly help us in the eyes of the law. All of the benefits that most people take for granted with a legal marriage will be rightfully ours . . . finally. As an animal totem the deer symbolizes Juan and I exploring our own magical and spiritual nature together. The deer is a definitive symbol of grace and an appreciation for the beauty of balance.

BRUSH, BUBBLY, AND POP | Champagne served in these Edge Champagne Glasses from Crate & Barrel have a decidedly modern sensibility. Confetti Mini Crackers from West Elm pop apart to reveal surprise gifts.
OUR TOAST FOR 2015 is to continue along our trail to a future we can only dream of together. The crackers included in these photos are traditionally a Christmas favorite in the United Kingdom. Since we're planning on spending Christmas in London in 2015, that future is looking bright already! Happy New Year!

collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.