The Early Christmas Box, “A Perfect Tea,” and Joanna Isles

We cope now with what the weather delivers – a wind storm with gusts simultaneously from north and south, short days dressed in thick gray with bursts of sun like the flash of a jewel quickly hidden.

We turn inward. The young writer told me she got out her colored lights and strung them about in defiance. I got out my Early Christmas Box. It’s an old Red Wing boot box containing the artifacts from Christmas past. I only peek to begin with – thumbing through the cards and unwrapping objects I’ve saved.

Some of the treasures are from Joanna Isles, my English illustrator friend. A long time ago, to celebrate completing the images for a show I called “Tea Treasures, Tea Pleasures,” I bought her book “A Perfect Tea.” The next summer, having a look at it while sitting outside on a wooden picnic bench with a cup of tea, I did a little drawing of my Alaska tea scene and sent it to her.

And so began a long correspondence and friendship.

In those days Joanna illustrated in her quirky, unique style, colorful children’s books. She’d send glittery, charming invitations for special previews and book “launches.” She created designs of gold for china in the Buckingham Palace gift shop – and labels for their jam jars. I still have those jars (minus the jam) because of her wonderful watercolor strawberries on the label.

We met when I stopped for a layover at Heathrow. Joanna brought her daughters – the girls tiny, Joanna blonde in a black cape. Her life always seems so completely about creating things – bringing magic to illustrations, her travels, and to everyday life.

Now she owns a shop in Oxford called “The Powder Room,” and she buys and styles clothing with her special flair. I wish I could see the shop window – she calls it her “weekly illustration.”

We’ve been friends since faxes were exotic. When she published an illustrated “Nutcracker,” I sent her a three-foot long drawing of her nutcracker by fax. (I imagined it rolling out into her tiny studio.)

Getting the Joanna things out of the early Christmas box reminds me of the phone call from the New York greeting card publisher I worked for (by long distance). The art director was interested in an English artist named Isles and she noticed one of her books was dedicated to “Katy in Alaska” – “That couldn’t be you could it?”

Joanna always addressed her letters to me that way. But now our correspondence is a casualty of life’s complexities – our paper exchanges not well replaced by the electronic. I have only a couple of letters to “Katy NOT in Alaska.”

Soon I’ll use some of the contents from the early box to hang my red and green and gold wall – scraps of wrapping paper, particular cards, a long ago magazine ad with a Milton Glaser watercolor Pan piping in liquidy red and green. It looks effortless and inspires me every year to paint with more immediacy – to enjoy. Like every year, I’ll set out the small wooden Father Christmas, a snowman, and a painted tree and draw them in my journal.

In January I’ll put the others away, but an angel from Joanna stands guard by my workroom door year around – she inspires in all seasons.

1 thought on “The Early Christmas Box, “A Perfect Tea,” and Joanna Isles

  1. Pingback: Two Lights Out « her spirits rose…

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