The tradition of Saint Nicholas’s Day, on December 6th, is a festival for children in many countries in Europe related to surviving legends of Saint Nicholas, and particularly his reputation as a bringer of gifts. The American Santa Claus, as well as the British Father Christmas, derive from these legends. So, this is for the child in all of us, and to wish you a very Merry Christmas.
Friends of mine, Lynn Murray and Anne Thornton-Trump, are Canadian artists making Saint Nicholas figures, in the tradition of the European Santas made a century ago. in their workshop, Two Sisters’ Studio, in rural Haliburton. It’s my pleasure to showcase them and their creations, because they are a big part of my own holiday tradition.
Nicholas, born in the 4th Century, became the Bishop of Myra (then a part of Greece and now a part of Turkey) at a very young age. He pledged to give his wealth away and live in the service of the less fortunate. He is attributed with many miracles and when he was canonized, he became the patron saint of children. It is from the stories of St. Nicholas that many of the Christmas traditions celebrated here and in Europe originated.
The tradition of elaborate candy containers began in Germany in the 19th Century, where the container became as precious as the gift within. Large Santas would be placed on a counter in the bakery or butcher shop, where good children would be offered a treat in the holiday season. Santas would have been presented as gifts on St. Nicholas Eve, December 5th. Long after the candy was gone, the treasured Santas remained a permanent part of the family Christmas decorations. These fine Christmas collectibles are highly sought after by Christmas collectors.
Working with molds from antique Santas, the sisters pour the figures in liquid papier mâché, air and heat cure them, then paint and finish each figure entirely by hand exactly the way they were made in the mountains of Eastern Germany. Every Santa requires more than fifty steps from start to finish, adding up to more than thirty hours of handwork. The figures range in size from 12-inches to 36-inches.
Lynn and Anne’s affinity with European Christmas comes from their grandparents and their experiences travelling in Germany. After the reunification of Germany 25 years ago, very few of the companies making traditional Christmas items went back into production. Lynn and Anne believe they are keeping a tradition alive, albeit far from its origin. When museums in France and Germany discovered their work and mounted exhibits, the sisters were gratified by that acceptance. Their slogan is “using the traditions of yesterday to create the heirlooms of tomorrow.”
Enjoy these festive samples of their work and have a very Merry Christmas.
Note: Two Sisters Studio is located at 17102 Hwy 35, Algonquin Highlands, Ontario K0M 1J1. They are Studio U on the Haliburton County Studio Tour and for the rest of the year they are open long weekends in summer or by appointment 705-489-1473.
Completed work, works in progress and pieces for sale may be seen at www.twosistersstudios.com