“But why should we not have one genuine out-of-door day, a day when we shall see to it that every city child may romp and play in God’s green fields, and when we make it a joyous duty to thank the Giver of all, not only for the harvests & for the full granaries as on Thanksgiving Day, but for the sun and the green trees and the flowers and grass and everything that makes us glad to be alive? What day could be so good for such a celebration in America as well as in Sweden as Midsummer’s Day?”
FRANCIS EDWARD CLARK, THE CHARM OF SCANDINAVIA (1914)
The Midsummer¹ season of festivals and feasts – the Summer Solstice, St. John’s Eve, and St. John’s Day – have always resonated with me and filled my imagination. As the sun reaches its zenith on June 20/21, and then the feast & festival of St. John the Baptist follow a few days later on the 23rd & 24th, it’s a sun-drenched, liminal time of thresholds being crossed and whispers being heard.
The solstices and equinoxes, as well as the festivals surrounding them, provide an opportunity to celebrate the threshold and revel in the thin places. And what more verdant and prolific a time than Midsummer, when we’re picking strawberries out of the field, gathering chamomile, watching the world greening before us?
Last Midsummer, I finished up a project that had been a labor of love for quite some time – I’ve shared some photos from this collection before, but I’ve never really sat down to talk about them and put them into their narrative context, as each piece was created to tell part of a single story. The series ended up being especially dear to my heart (perhaps partially because it marked my first attempts at so many new-to-me methods of creating), so it has a special place in my studio.
I should mention that for me, one of the great joys of creating is the research and reading that begins the process. I chose all of the details in these pieces specifically – birch trees, elderflower, yarrow, St. John’s Wort, strawberries, fern… (Lest we forget that St. John’s Eve was traditionally considered the ideal time to collect fern-seed! Even though more has since been understood about the way ferns reproduce via spores, this notion of elusive fern-seed appearing on a liminal evening is so striking to me.)
Shall we walk through a Midsummer story together?
The air is filled with a delightful fragrance – a crisp burst of citrus, sweet floral perfume, and the lush scent of sun-warmed strawberries…in preparation for tonight’s Midsummer festivities, Mouse is preparing a refreshing elderflower & strawberry cordial, which so perfectly captures the tastes of the season.
This little ‘Elderflower Cordial’ Vignette may very well be the first Vignette I ever drew – the thought of creating tiny drawings depicting glimpses & moments of a magical world had been swimming around in my head for awhile, and little mice with sprigs of elderflower were the first to work their way into those drawings.
As the sun drifts lower in the sky, Deer silently moves through the forest, its floor thick with fern and yarrow. His antlers are decorated for the gathering that he approaches…
This piece was one of the first few paintings I had attempted on wood panel. I always used to paint on canvas – textured canvas, in particular, because I loved the organic feel of the acrylic texture – so I had to work through some learning curves in painting on a smooth panel, but I ultimately fell in love with the process. My vision was for this painting to have the feel of a stained-glass window in the illumination behind the birch trees.
Under the starlit canopy of the Midsummer sky, Fox and Deer – bedecked in St. John’s Wort – gather in celebration, awaiting the rest of their company. A warm summer wind flutters through the birch grove as our forest creatures partake in the splendor of this plentiful season…they find that a shortcake, filled with flavorful wild strawberries, awaits them under the soft glow of a string of lights.
Ah, this paper-cut scene…much love went into it. It consists of 5-6 layers of depth, depending upon how it’s set up. I started by doing rough sketches of the scene as a whole, then breaking those sketches up into the various layers I wanted to create. I then drew the forms for each layer on watercolor paper and handpainted each piece with acrylics. I used an x-acto knife to cut everything out and a pin to poke holes in the stars.
All of the pieces can move around, with accessories like the strawberry shortcake being able to be placed on various spots. As mentioned in the caption above, the orbs of illumination behind the lantern and the candles on Deer’s antlers are attached with velcro, so you can “light” the candles.
It took a bit of engineering to get everything to stand properly – some backing reinforcement on the trees, for example – but it all came together.
Just for fun, and to give you an idea of how this Midsummer narrative developed, here are some pages from my sketchbook where I was working through these ideas (click to view more detail):
Thank you for following along on this Midsummer journey…it’s such a pleasure to finally take the time to share it with you in more detail. I hope that you’ve been enjoying a wondrous & joyful season!
¹ “The term ‘midsummer’ is first found in the Old English translation of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, where mention is made of the quarter in which the sun rises at the solstice; Bede’s solstitialem becomes ‘aet middum sumere’. It was applied to the great Christian celebration of the Baptist’s birth, just as the feast kept six months later became Midwinter or Midwinter’s Mass (rarely Christmas till after the Norman Conquest).” (Blackburn & Holford-Strevens, “The Oxford Companion to the Year”)