Friday, March 1, 2013

One Mean Ol' Mother

Ahhh, old Mother Goose, a staple of American childhood. The nursery rhymes ascribed to this mythical materfamilias epitomize the happiness of cooing babes in their cradle, of a young child's introduction to reading, to playing with sound, language, rhythm, and rhyme. They also introduce preschoolers to the ideas of character, simple plotline, and the literary conventions required for more complex stories and poems. Yup, all that's true — it’s also true that Mother Goose can be one mean old witch when she chooses to, terrorizing children into good behaviour, her sharp-billed, white-downed avian associate snapping at their heels to keep them in line. In short, Mother Goose is a tot’s first taste of terror. Talk about child abuse! Little Miss Muffet’s assaulted by a lactose-intolerant arachnid; Jack (a favourite name for boys in nursery rhymes, it seems) takes a tumble and splits his head open while on bucket-filling duty; Wee Willie Winkie is dragooned into wandering the cold and lonely nighttime streets in his pajamas shouting out the hour; and a whole herd of future orphanage-destined waifs are crammed into a shoe for shelter, force-fed broth, and then whipped for good measure (you can double-check all this for yourselves; I’m not making this stuff up). Animals don’t fare too well either, just think of that trio of typhlotic rodents and their rump-maiming encounter with the farmer’s spouse or old Mother Hubbard’s starving pooch. And we won’t go into “Ring Around the Rosie,” which is about the Black Death, or question just why that baby was left unsupervised, rock-a-byeing way up there on that tree top… and that bough looks like it’s about to break. As one respected children’s book author said: “I couldn't overlook the violent, scary, mean-spirited, or just plain weird aspects of many of the rhymes...”— a statement, which, of course, sent me straight to them like a shot! So, I dusted off my dog-eared copy of the elderly ornithic dame’s verses to take another look… and treading carefully in the footsteps of that master of the macabre, Charles Addams, who conjured his own unique vision of Mother Goose almost fifty years ago, I will present here for the next ten months my interpretation… beware.

And, so, since leg of lamb is such an Easter dinner table staple, let’s begin with…

Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
And can't tell where to find them;
Leave them alone, and they'll come home,
Bringing their tails behind them.

Little Bo-Peep Has Lost Her Sheep… (inspired by the 1805 “Mother Goose” nursery rhyme, Little Bo-Peep) – Hand-distressed frame; hand-stained brown butcher’s paper; old butcher’s twine; antique Oxford silver plate cold meat fork; dried leaves with berries; rusted tacks; brown wax; watercolours; colour print of antique framed tintype of young girl in a shepherdess costume; colour print of antique French butcher’s sheep diagram poster; colour print of Victorian tiles; colour print of antique P.C. Flett and Co. Mint Jelly label; colour print of vintage Mutton Tallow Ointment label; hand-stained print of Wood Brothers Butcher’s letterhead