Two of them were as thank yous for curating the Alphabet Soup exhibition over at Clive's Artlog. Frankly, this is rather like thanking a cow for rolling around in a patch of particularly luxuriant clover; it was the exhibitors that made that as good as it was. However, I'm not complaining. The first came from Shellie, who helped me with said curating anyway, so I don't quite see why she's thanking me at all. It is Christopher Brown' s Alphabet of London.
This is a gorgeous book, small but heavy and substantial in the hand, sumptuously bound and printed, of lino cuts, each letter gets a double page, with one full page in colour and a number of separate black and white images. It isn't an 'A is for...' type of alphabet though, there's no text or explanations with the pictures, but therein lies the fun, as you can spend ages puzzling out what they might be. Needless to say they are all of things to be found in London, now or in the past, some are evident and some very obscure. Some letters we drew complete blanks on,
'I' for example.
On 'J' we got, or guessed a couple,
I've included 'Y' because of the odd sea nymph personage in the right corner, which I remembered from walks with my old friend Fire Bird years ago when she was a Londoner, but why she was under 'Y' I didn't remember.
It was excellent entertainment, and there is a key at the end. There's also a lovely section in the first part where the artist describes growing up in the city, which was very nostalgic for Tom who recognised much of his own London childhood, and a chapter at the end about the making of the book, how he researched and walked and sketched, and the process of lino cutting.
It's a book I'd thoroughly recommend for anyone who knows and loves London even a little, or would like to do so more, or who simply loves very well made books and pictures.
The other gift, sent by Clive, were these knitted finger puppets by Francesca Kay (that's a link to the page for the puppets, but Francesca also has a very fine blog),
of Dracula and Jonathan Harker. I had seen something of these gems of humour,wit and erudition at the Artlog, but it was a lovely surprise. Francesca says on the packaging -
The inspiration for Literary and Knitted finger puppets came to me in a dream during a recent visit to the Opera. I awoke towards the end of Act II of Parsifal with images of beady woollen eyes and cylindrical knitted bodies swirling through my mind, encouraged by the gorgeous chocolate fountain of music...
She even learned how to knit in order to produce them. The collage background is inspired, I particularly like the use of an old imperial typewriter for parts of it. I love artists.
However, it then occurred to me that I had never in fact read Dracula. So Tom looked me out his old copy, which is over fifty years old. He said when he first read it, he used to be a bit uneasy about how he held it, as he didn't really like having his fingers touching the artist's impression of the exsanguinating count on the cover.
Despite its being a fairly long and not very easy narrative to read aloud, it didn't take too much persuading to get him to read it to me, so that was how we spent several evenings last week (and quite a few odd after-lunch hours to boot) so thanks in turn to Clive and Francesca for providing not only the fun of the puppets and collage but also many subsequent hours of old-fashioned fireside entertainment too.
The final nice thing which which I really did very little to earn was an ACEO painting from Chloë at Slightly Triangle (ACEOs are very small artworks, of precisely 2½ by 3½ inches, in fact, the size of a playing card). It arrived with her characteristic careful and beautiful packaging,
Chloë had contacted me a few weeks ago, wondering if I could track down a copy of French Cosmopolitan magazine from December, because they had featured one of her fabric and painted birds in a section on Christmas gifts, but had omitted to tell her so until a month later, when it was too late to order the magazine. The website seemed to offer no possibility of ordering back numbers, so she wondered if I could help. Eventually I was able to order one from the publishing group and send it on, and the page in question is up at Chloë's blog here.
So this is what she sent me for the favour. In exchange for a copy of Cosmo in French and a couple of e-mails and phone calls, I get an exquisite and unique artwork by a talented young artist with a great future. The exchange seems so out of balance that I ought to be squirming with guilt about it, but I'm really just too pleased.
I really am a jammy so-and-so.