"Does this Santa look like a stalker?" Not a normal question, but one that has been asked. Also debated, "Does this Buddha look lonely, scared, mean or constipated?"
One of a kind folk art at the Los Angeles Gift show is amazing - but each piece is unique and often it's essence must be examined and felt in the heart. Sometimes an object has a mood, a disposition, or a sense of personality. As the art is decided upon, questions are pondered, "how does it make you feel?" Calm, simple, crazy, on the verge of laughter or tears?
Nativities are the hardest. Each year we choose over 150 different nativities from all over the world and display them in our front window for the holidays. Is baby Jesus cranky? Why is he wearing a stocking cap and nothing else? Does Mary looked scorned by Joseph or relived to have given birth? Why do these wise men carry watermelon and instruments? Is the angel glad to be there? How can the sweetest creche be made entirely of walnuts?
It all has to do with the culture of the country, the humor, and the art form. One of my favorite nativities is from Mexico, with the holy family out for a joy ride in a convertible car all waving with parade smiles, with the angel sitting behind them in the back seat. It makes no sense, but it's folk art, and it makes you feel a certain way.
I hope in no way to take away any symbolism of Jesus, Buddha, or even Santa in my observations. I am speaking directly about folk art and artisans’ approaches to these symbols. Good art is explained sometimes as “you know it when you see it” - or when you “feel it.” Folk art follows the same rules. It's of the people, made with materials that are often unconventional. From Africa we have had groupings of animals made entirely of bottle caps; they are whimsical, colorful, and bring a personality to a decor. They make you smile.
This buying trip was focused on Christmas, so there was a lot of emphasis on ornaments, nativities, and Santa. We looked at many faces and observed the body language of hundreds of figures. Those decisions make the store what it is - special. Pieces hand chosen and carefully brought back to add variety - something no one can say we don't have. Next time you come in take a minute to look at some one of a kind pieces of folk art. Think about how they make you feel. Let them have a personality. Let it make you smile.
(An afterthought - I am not crazy. I don't have conversations with folk art when no one is around. Just saying.)