Like a picture print by Currier and Ives.

Currier and Ives: A brief history

As part of my son’s birthday wish, we visited Yesterday’s Books again. There, I found a hardback copy of Currier and Ives: Chronicles of America (1974). Currier and Ives was a New York City printmaking business that operated between 1835 and 1907. We know them best from their winter scenes and the shout-out in the song “Sleigh Ride” composed by Leroy Anderson in 1948 with lyrics by Mitchell Parish (1950).

The Road Winter by Currier and Ives

Currier and Ives prints were so popular The Royal China Company produced a line of dinnerware featuring various popular images of Currier and Ives. The Royal China Company manufactured dinnerware in Sebring, Ohio from 1934 to 1986.

Currier and Ives dishes by Royal China

Royal China sold dinnerware through retail department stores, catalog mail order houses and supermarket chains. Many a housewife collected her dishes through supermarket rewards programs. I found them first at a yard sale in Alexandria, Virginia. 

Currier and Ives dishes by Royal China

With the Americana nature of the artwork, it was fitting I should find them the week of Thanksgiving along with a book about Norman Rockwell.

And now, an art lesson

This is not the sort of art I will find in my 5th grader’s art textbook for school. There, we see prints of remarkable fine art. Below the image, the textbook directs me to ask him questions such as:

Where does your eye go first?

Where is the painting brighter?

Where is it darker?

Where is the light coming from?

If you were in this painting, where would you be standing?

We learn about “chiaroscuro in that book, that is, the use of strong contrasts between light and dark. Currier and Ives lack that quality. 

Central Park in Winter by Currier and Ives

Art that imitates life or life that imitates art

And yet, the artwork and the song came to mind Thanksgiving Day as I looked out from a chaotic kitchen and saw an 11-year-old guest teach my 12-year-old a Jane Austenesque dance to the song “Simple Gifts”, while my 8-year-old daughter played the tune on the piano. It was a Little Women moment, a Currier and Ives moment. 

The light shined on my eldest that day. As I perused my Thanksgiving binder of magazine clippings and recipes, I told her the stories of Thanksgiving past, from my childhood to our first Thanksgiving as a married couple. On the morning of the holiday, while the littles watched the parade, she joined me in the kitchen, prepping vegetables, washing and clearing dishes. I explained why we worked the way we did, always making space for more festive preparations. She listened attentively, her eyes bright and her smile proud that she was numbered among those needed in the kitchen to make the feast possible.

After the brief dance lesson was over, after the dinner was served and eaten, the pie plated and shared, I asked her to play piano. She played beautifully, showing growth in the skill since we finally made regular practice and lessons a part of our daily and weekly routine.

Where does your eye go first?

I scan the room and rest my eyes on each of the bright little ones we brought into the world.

Where is the light coming from?

From a soft light shining within them, revealing more and more the young men and women they will become. Shockingly wholesome and innocent in a world that makes that status more and more challenging to maintain. 

If you were in this painting, where would you be standing?

I stand outside a little bit, now that she is older. I step back, making space for what will come, ready to jump in to answer questions, eager for a chance to share, praying her heart does not break too soon in this difficult world. 

The act of parenting unfolds one day at a time, one interaction at a time. We learn as we go. And if all goes well, our children will have something beautiful to grow from and aspire to. They will live a flourishing life, a good life, not built on instant gratification, individualism, or selfishness, but on goodness, generosity, and love.

These moments are simple gifts.

Staying with me like a picture print by Currier and Ives.

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