The Art of Christmas

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Driving south along (a quiet) Park Avenue. Photo: JH.

Tuesday, 12/27/22. It’s still cold out, although not like this past weekend when the thermometer hit zero. It is winter, after all, although with each passing year I’ve noticed it getting a little bit … not colder or coldest. I grew up in New England when the snow was on the ground by late November. When I first came to New York, I remember a few winters when the snow was so great that people were skiing down Park Avenue, the day after a storm. All remembered with pleasure, of course.

Yesterday was the official finish of the Christmas holiday. For some reason I cannot explain (probably age), I found myself thinking a lot about the holiday over the years. But especially my early years when I went to bed Christmas Eve wondering if I were going to get what I was hoping and praying for.

Little Dave on a very special Christmas morning.

It was always one thing. This was when I was a kid. One year it was a sled, another it was an electric train, another year it was a dollhouse. Now that one was a challenge in requesting. I can’t remember “asking” but I must have. And it was delivered on Christmas morn.

I was nine years old. In it, I created a family and a home where life was quite different – and far more pleasant than the family/home I was living in at the time. I must have been surprised to find it there on Christmas morn if only because I’d been inspired by seeing the famous silent screen actress Colleen Moore’s Castle Doll House (that now resides in a Chicago museum).

I can still see it in my mind’s eye seven decades later. It was enormous and fully furnished, 18th century French. The stories the kid could have made up playing in that dollhouse. Looking  back, I don’t recall any objection to any of the boy’s “requests.” They were made to my mother, the real Santa Claus, and no doubt my father was well aware, although he never spoke of it.

Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle. [J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago]

Colleen Moore’s Castle traveled the country during the depression to raise money to help children in need.

Then when I was eleven I saw a magazine ad for a new Smith Corona portable typewriter. I was fascinated by the idea of having a typewriter to write things down (I was already keeping “diaries). It was an expensive gift in our house in those days, and I was aware of that when making my wishes (request) known. But on that Christmas morning, there it was, under the tree.  And that’s where it started. It so happens at this time in my life, I can see that the boy was well treated and well looked after by two people who were burdened individually and together by fate and family. All Christmases are good Christmases. They are not religious holidays. They are a celebration of life and love.

All I wanted for Christmas!

I had no intention of writing those previous photographs when sitting down to make this Diary. My intention, which we will now follow through on is writing about my Christmas Dinner. I was invited by my friends Charlie Scheips and Tom Graf for a dinner on Christmas Day.

Charlie and Tom are neighbors and we live down the hall from each other. We came to know each other 25 years or more ago, as neighbors. We were introduced by and assisted in getting our apartments by a dear friend, Beth Rudin DeWoody whose family has been in the New York real estate business for a century.

Charlie is an artist, a painter, but also a writer and an art historian. He grew up in Connecticut and after college found himself (intentionally) in the museum business. It’s his life. When we met, it so happened that we had all just returned from living in Los Angeles. That might have been our original bond; similar voyages. And on the Christmas holiday he and Tom always create a big Christmas environment with an amazing tree — the artist’s version of a tree — and also a dinner.

Charlie and Tom’s tree.
The dinner table.
A nod to The Queen.
Charlie’s creche on display.

Charlie does his dinners the same way he paints his paintings. He is in the act of creating. He’s quite a knowledgeable and experienced cook, and prepares meals for himself and Tom and friends or not, all the time. The holiday is particularly special because it is part of the environment which is dominated (but not overtaken) by his brilliant Christmas tree. And it’s delicious from beginning to end! Luscious.

Charlie with his beef Wellington ready for the oven.
Perfectly browned and ready to devour. And we did.

Charlie and I both took photos of the room and the dinner, and I couldn’t help but notice Charlie’s wonderful paintings — some of which are currently on display in the apartment. Between the paintings, the dinner (Beef Wellington), and the tree — not to mention the interesting conversation at table — it was a beautiful Christmas dinner, and a gift.

Groovy Man, 2022, gouache on Arches paper, 12 x 9 inches
Next Morning, 2022, Evening Dress, East End Avenue, gouache on Arches paper, 30 x 22 inches.
L. to r.: Waiters, Cafe de Flore, Paris, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 inches; Pigeonnier, Gazaupouy, France, 2022, gouache on Arches paper, 22 x 30 inches.
Terrace, Gazaupouy, France, 2022, gouache on Arches paper, 16 x 12 inches.
Great Expectations, 2017, gouache on Arches paper, 2017, 22 x 30
Lilies in Jobi Vase, 2018, gouache on Arches paper, 16 x 12 inches.
Shelf, East End Avenue, 2022, gouache on Arches paper, 9 x 12 inches.
French Poof, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 28 x 18 inches.
East End Avenue, 2020, gouache and ink on Arches paper, 22 x 30 inches.
East End Avenue, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 inches.
Mithras, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 inches, Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody.

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