Suse Cairns, Digital Content Manager
It is strange to spend Christmas in a country on the other side of the world. In Australia, where I am from, Christmas means summer. It is sweltering hot days, and swimming at the beach. It is sunburn, and stickiness. It is sometimes a roast lunch, but just as often a barbeque outdoors, or a seafood platter. It is not a place where Christmas looks like the movies; like Home Alone or Love Actually, all snow and decorations. Rather, Santa Claus often dons shorts and goes surfing when I see him back in my sunburnt country.
Living in Baltimore, then, is a revelation. Here, December brings cool weather, and the possibility of snow. The lights of 34th Street in Hampden sparkle. The streets look and feel like every fictional Christmas scene I’ve ever imagined. It is like living in a dream.
Until I moved here to work at the BMA in May, I didn’t realize just how much my ideas and images of the world had come from America; from the films and fictions made here, from the artists, whose work I had grown up with, but rarely seen in the flesh before now. My ideas about what Christmas “should” look like are all grounded in America. I have friends who write from home, asking whether the streets and houses really are as decorated with lights and decorations as they always were in the media. And, of course, the answer is yes.
I find inspiration in Drawing for Harper’s Magazine: Christmas by Eugène Samuel Grasset for two main reasons. The first is that the image itself is beautiful in its simplicity, and its detail. The second is that it reminds me yet again of how close to the center of the world I moved when I came to Baltimore. Harper’s Magazine is “the oldest general-interest monthly in America,” dating back to 1850. So many important and influential writers have graced its pages; writers like Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, and Mark Twain. These are the people who have written books that shape the way we see the world – even in Australia.
The artists in the BMA’s collection, too, are those whose influence has traveled incredibly far. To be in a museum with the largest collection of Matisse’s in the world is humbling.
This Christmas will be unlike any I have ever experienced. No one will be out in the yard batting a cricket ball around. There won’t be kangaroos hopping through the paddocks. But I don’t think things will be too unfamiliar… I’ve grown up imagining a wintery American Christmas as long as I can remember.
BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.