My mother just brought me a rather strange little book that was being deacquisitioned from a library she works with. It had come to the library in the first place from the sister of the artist who carved the linoleum blocks that illustrate the book. I hesitated to use the word “illustrate” because in fact the linocuts don’t just provide the book with pictures but with all the text, too, copyright page and all. The book is Los Pastores: Excerpts from an old Christmas play of the Southwest, as given annually by the Griego Family, Santa Fe, New Mexico. And excerpts it is, indeed. There is no actual plot to this “play;” it’s more of a seemingly random collection of unrelated lines without progression or coherence. Very odd altogether! But the block printing is cool.
My favorites are the little southwestern scenes - rough, not detailed, but very pleasing with their clean-lined adobe architecture and textured hills. The scene on the bottom I take to be a view of the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. Built shortly after 1610, it became three centuries later the home of the School of American Research (now the School for
Advanced Research on the Human Experience), an institute for archaeology and anthropology. Our book Los Pastores came out of that school, the author Mary R. Van Stone presumably collecting and recording local cultural traditions.
I’ve included here also a two page spread showing how the artist, Louise Morris (U.S. 1896-1971), carved blocks of text and also blocks of music. They make a nice composition, reminiscent of fifteenth century block books, but with a twentieth century arts-and-crafts flair of their own. The extra designs filling all available space are fun.
Finally, since this is supposed to be a Christmas story, and a Christmas-time blog post, I include the nativity scene. Actually, this isn’t the classic scene, since it’s missing most of the usual characters. But the baby Jesus is there, so it’s good! I like that there are lots of stars scintillating in the stable, and I really admire how the animals are so accurately detailed with such simple, basic gouges.
This book is an interesting piece of cultural and art history, and I enjoyed seeing how Morris chose to carve and illustrate her material.
[Pictures: Linoleum block prints by Louise Morris from Los Pastores, recorded and translated by Mary R. Van Stone, 1933.]