The Mad Month of March!

Whenever the month of March arrives, I always think of Mad March Hares! As a child, I think we were all told about how they box and seem to go ‘mad’ and this eccentric behaviour endears us to this elusive mammal. Alice in Wonderland is also responsible for heightening the hare’s reputation, as it is one of the strange creatures stuck in an interminable tea party with the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse.

With its long ears, long legs and saucer eyes, the brown hare is a beautiful, yet sadly rare sight in most of this country. I have never seen one in the Westcountry, but I did see some when I lived in East Anglia, many moons ago. Once a common sight, it is thought the brown hare in the UK has decreased by up to 80% in the last century, thanks largely to changes in farming techniques. Where have we heard that before?

Long and brown and fantastically fast moving (up to 40mph!), the brown hare is a member of a group of mammals called Lagomorpha. For many years it was thought they were rodents but we now know that hares belong to their own separate family. The other common Lagomorpha is, of course, the rabbit.

Although vaguely similar, on closer inspection, there are several distinct differences between the two. While rabbits are known for having long ears, the ears of the brown hare are much longer and have black tips. As the two animals move, you can see that the back legs of a hare are much longer than on a rabbit – this makes it look like a rabbit hops and a hare sprints. Rabbits live underground in warrens whereas hares never go underground, preferring ditches along field edges.

Hares are famous for their energetic behaviour, and March, in particular, is when they are known to ‘box’ frantically with one another. These mad March hares are in their mating season, with the males (bucks) seeking out any females (does) that have come into season. However, it’s not the males that are responsible for the boxing (not with each other anyway) it’s the females who start the punch-ups! This usually happens when a male is being too pushy with a female, chasing her across fields in an attempt to mate. Eventually, when she has had enough, she’ll turn around and try to fend him off in a boxing match! Girl power!

Hare mythology has fascinated us for centuries. Ever since the Romans first brought them to Britain, hares have had a role to play in legend and myth. In hare mythology, the hare is a creature with pagan, sacred and mystic associations, by turns benign, cunning, romantic or, most famously in March – mad! We see images of hares everywhere, they are found in carvings on ancient buildings (particularly here in Devon) and are popular in paintings and statues of ‘moon-gazing’ hares are commonplace. The hare and the rabbit are often associated with moon deities and signify rebirth and resurrection.

A study in 2004 followed the history and migration of a symbolic image of three hares with conjoined ears. In this image, three hares are seen chasing each other in a circle with their heads near its centre. While each of the animals appears to have two ears, only three ears are depicted. The ears form a triangle at the centre of the circle and each is shared by two of the hares. The image has been traced from Christian churches here in Devon right back along the Silk Road to China, via western and eastern Europe and the Middle East.

 

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The special talent of Marjolein Bastin

Marjolein Bastin is a Dutch artist and has been painting and contributing to Dutch magazines for many years. Just recently she and her husband celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary which is always such a happy achievement.

One of the reasons I love Marjolein’s work is that it’s so gentle and serene. I am a huge fan of flowers and all things related to Nature but especially the prettier bits. I was recently approached by an artist who also painted Nature in all its glory but unfortunately his idea of glorious pictures from Nature included huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’… sorry but dead fish are never going to make it in the greeting card world and no matter how talented the artist, a fox with a dead rabbit in its mouth might not really be our first choice for a wedding or anniversary card!

Anyway, I digress – Marjolein’s work is just gorgeous. If you have a look through her latest Pad 5 and Pad 6 on our website you’ll see that every image brings a smile, they’re so pretty. I don’t envy many people in this life but Marjolein is definitely one of them – I would so love a tiny part of her talent – so special.

I feel if you have strong, beautiful images to work with it makes your job much easier. It’s the same with food – have fabulous ingredients and it’s fairly simple to produce a delicious meal. Have leftovers and poor ingredients… well, of course, a good cook can produce something tasty but it will mean a lot more effort! Marjolein Bastin’s pads make card making a breeze!

 

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Barbara Anderson flowers to bring a smile!

There’s nothing like a beautiful bunch of flowers to bring a smile to my face! Having said that, there are plenty of times when physical flowers are not an option. I know you can send flowers anywhere these days, but it does involve quite a bit of money and, sometimes, all you want to do is cheer someone up, or say ‘thank you’, or a million other reasons.

These cards can deliver beautiful flowers for you, although only 2D, not 3D, they are still gorgeous! The artist is Barbara Anderson. Barb is American and uses vintage floral images which she tweaks and twists and adds original little extras as varied as birds to calligraphy or teacups to wheelbarrows!

I only discovered Barb last year and I have really enjoyed working with her designs. We have two pads available, Collection One and Collection Two, and both pads give you 24 sheets to make cards, and almost everything you need is on that sheet. Just add blank cards, some of your time and a dab of glue!

I love using anything vintage – I define vintage as anything older than me – it makes me feel better! You can see here on the centre card I have added pearly buttons from my button box, which has inhabitants that have been there for generations. It was my grandmother’s box first, then my mother took it on and now I have it in my craft room. I must admit I rarely use the buttons on clothing – I add them to other craft projects because I think they are just so pretty.

So looking at all three cards, you can see that apart from a little extra cardstock and a blank card, these pads really do give you lots to work with and the results are pretty good I reckon.

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Thomas Kinkade’s beautiful skies

I chose to group these cards together to show off Thomas Kinkade’s talent when he painted skies. The light and the effects are just stunning, aren’t they?

He produced several pictures of boats and maritime-themed images but the central windmill scene is one of my favourite skies in the latest collection we have produced. These are from the Thomas Kinkade Pad 5 and Pad 6.

Judging by the hugely enthusiastic response we have had to the latest couple of Thomas Kinkade pads, the concept of mixing backing papers and images in the same pad is going to be a good ongoing idea.

You can see three of the papers included in the pads here – the stripes to the left and a couple of lovely cloudy skies. I do find it convenient having reached for the pad, almost everything I need is there at my fingertips! I am talking to the powers that be at Thomas Kinkade’s management team and hopefully we will have four new pads coming out in the next six months, including some very pretty Christmas ones.

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Are there fairies at the bottom of your garden?

The ‘real’ fairy house Julia found on Dartmoor!

Your response to my recent Fairy Doors products shows just how popular these little folk are! Even in 2018, there are signs of fairy life as discovered by my partner in crime writing, Julia, when she moved to a new village on Dartmoor. On one of her first exploratory walks with her dog, Moss, she came across two wooden fairy doors in the base of a living tree. Fascinated, she has kept her eye on this magical phenomenon as she passes the tree at least once a week… She has seen tiny figures come and go, little offerings left at Christmas and Easter, and coins pressed into cracks in the tree’s bark. Yet, she has never seen anyone else nearby…!

Intrigued, I decided to have a scoot about online and see what other fairy evidence I could come up with…

Most of us think of fairies as beautiful, tiny creatures, flitting about on gossamer wings, – but history and folklore tell a different tale. When belief in fairies was common most people didn’t dare mention them by name and referred to them as the Little People or the Hidden People. Many explanations have been given for belief in fairies. Some say that they are like ghosts, spirits of the dead, or fallen angels, neither bad enough for Hell nor good enough for Heaven. There are hundreds of different kinds of fairies – some are minute creatures, others grotesque – some can fly, and all can appear and disappear at will.

Sometimes the term fairy is used to describe any magical creature, including goblins or gnomes, while at others it describes a specific type of more ethereal creature or sprite. As so often happens when I look into ‘traditions’, I find that the Victorians are largely responsible! They were the ones who made fairies tiny and twee… resulting in fairy tales for children. It was during the Victorian and Edwardian eras when fairies were extremely popular that winged fairies became the norm. In folklore, wings were very rare and even tiny fairies flew by magic, sometimes flying on ragwort stems or the backs of birds.

Hobgoblins are guardian fairies – they are the useful ones that secretly come and do housework and odd jobs around the house. Unfortunately, they never seem to come and visit me! In Aberdeenshire, Scotland they are hideous to look at, they have no separate toes or fingers and in the Scottish Lowlands, they have a hole instead of a nose. Banshees are less common and more sinister, they usually only appear to foretell a tragedy. Goblins and Bug-a-boos are always malignant – and we should avoid them if possible!

Most of the nature fairies are probably descendants of pre-Christian gods and goddesses or are the spirits of trees and streams. Black Annis, a blue-faced hag, haunts the Dane Hills in Leicestershire and Gentle Annie who governs storms in the Scottish lowlands, are believed to be descended from the Celtic goddess Danu, mother of Ireland’s cave fairies. Mermaids and mermen, river spirits and spirits of pools, are the most common nature fairies.

A famous fairy story

One of the most famous fairy stories, and the photos that we have probably all seen was of the Cottingley Fairies who appeared in a series of five photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford. In 1917, when the first two photographs were taken, Elsie was 16 and Frances was 9. The pictures came to the attention of world-famous writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (he of Sherlock Holmes fame), who used them to illustrate an article on fairies he had been commissioned to write for the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine. Doyle, as a spiritualist, was enthusiastic about the photographs and interpreted them as clear and visible evidence of psychic phenomena. Public reaction was mixed – some accepted the images as genuine, but others believed they had been faked.

Interest in the Cottingley Fairies gradually faded after 1921. Both girls married and lived abroad for a time after they grew up, yet the photographs continued to hold the public imagination. In 1966 a reporter from the Daily Express newspaper traced Elsie, who had by then returned to the UK. She left open the possibility that she believed she had photographed her thoughts, and the media once again became interested in the story and I can remember reading about it myself and wishing the photos were genuine.

In the early 1980s Elsie and Frances, by then very old ladies, finally admitted that the photographs were faked, using cardboard cutouts of fairies copied from a popular children’s book of the time, but Frances maintained that the fifth and final photograph was genuine. The photographs and two of the cameras used are on display in the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford.

How extraordinary that such a hoax could go on for so long, even deceiving Sherlock Holmes’ creator. It just goes to prove how many of us dearly wanted to believe it was genuine and to believe in fairies… do you?

 

 

 

 

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