Special Summer Event


That’s right, folks, on June 17 and 18, my son and I will be vendors at the Mystic Realms Fantasy Fair at the Bannock County Fairgrounds in Pocatello, Idaho! We’ll have a 10×10 booth, which we are working hard on making its appearance authentic.

Looks pretty modern still. Got a lot of work to do.

My son will sell the Galaxy Rabbit paintings that he has become known for, as well, as other night-sky-themed art:

I, of course, will sell hard copies of my trilogy

and the character art that you can see on my Art page.

I don’t own an authentic medieval or Renaissance period costume, but luckily, the organizers have dubbed it a “fantasy” fair rather than a “medieval” or “Renaissance” fair. This leaves wiggle room for vendors to dress as fae, mermaids, pirates, or … ahem … cave women …

Come if you can!

Ragtag Bonnet

Also known as the Stashbuster Bonnet. But this one just felt like it should be named Ragtag to me. Perhaps I was thinking of the book The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.

Believe it or not, I made this bonnet using this ribbed bonnet pattern. Here are the changes I made:

  • Instead of knitting in 3×3 rib, I used moss stitch (I love moss stitch! so textury!) for the first four inches, then switched to stocking stitch for the next three inches before doing garter for the back.
  • As before, I knit for seven inches instead of six before joining in the round. (Again, big head.)
  • I also made the bonnet larger from ear to ear by casting on an additional six stitches. I decreased these as I ended the moss stitch section. This created slightly longer ear flaps.

The most striking thing about the bonnet, its “bag of rags” look, came because I used a variety of odds and ends of yarns in my stash, including a dark brown wool, a dark green wool, a dark blue blend, a couple of ombre balls, and even a leftover ball of glittery navy blue (used sparingly). The result is more or less the color story that I was going for. It was inspired by a hat on Pinterest made from a ball of yarn that wavered between shades of gold, brown, and grey. Making my own edgy colored hat was a lot more work, because I had to keep stopping to twine the ends of the different colored yarns together. When I get time, I’ll definitely knit this hat again, but “cheat” and buy a self-striping ball.

For now, I absolutely love this and I also love how it helps me pull off the “witchy lady” look that I am going for as I age. As you can see, it’s still cold here. A poor old woman needs a warm wool bonnet to wear when she toddles out to gather a few sticks for her meagre fire.

Knitting: Peasant Bonnet

This all started because I wanted a hat that would cover my ears.

Most hats, like berets, slouches, and beanies, only protect your ears from the wind if they are pulled way way down so as to cover your eyebrows. That’s not necessarily bad (especially in truly Arctic conditions), but we don’t always need it. Also, such hats tend to have tightish bands that don’t play well with most hairstyles.

It occurred to me that, for covering the ears and gracefully skimming over a bun or whatever, a bonnet might be just the thing. I checked Pinterest for bonnet patterns was immediately drawn into a whole new, magical world. Many of the patterns are for little girls or babies, and, well … swoon. Others are elfin-looking (swoon again). Plus, it turns out that women as far back as the Iron Age were wearing knitted or crocheted looking hair nets, and these can be found intact on bog bodies in Denmark, but I digress.

After one false start that involved purchasing a darling pattern that was way too small for me, I remembered this pattern.

It was in this book, which was the first-ever knitting book I tried to do a pattern from. It was actually too advanced for me, but I didn’t realize that at the time. I had found it in our local library when I lived in the Midwest, and interestingly, it’s also in our local library here in rural Idaho! I guess the book’s marketing team is really good with libraries, or maybe it has something to do with the gorgeous photographs. Anyway, I checked it out yet again, and looking at all the patterns and the photography was quite a trip down memory lane. I remembered that there was a bonnet pattern in this book, and it turns out that it’s a really useful and basic one.

Here’s what the bonnet looks like on the model in the book. As you can see, she has taken it in a more punk direction. I didn’t realize that putting my own spin on the bonnet – and then wearing it – would make me look like a close-up of a Millet painting, but I’m pleased with the results.

Here’s my version from the side so that you can compare them. I’m not sure why my edge is rolling in and hers isn’t. Theories: different yarn; my tassels have less weight than her long i-cord ties; they blocked their bonnet and/or pulled it straight right before the photographer snapped the picture.

I made mine with ivory-colored wool which I had left over, until I ran out; then I used ivory-colored acrylic that was also in my stash. (Did you know that if yarn sits around your house for several years, it becomes free?) Other changes: I cast on with dark green wool. I knit an extra inch of length before joining the hat in the round, because I have a big head. As you can see, the bonnet hits me right where it hits the model, even with the extra inch. Finally, I used tassels hung from a short crochet chain rather than long i-cords with “flowers” on the end for accents.

The bonnet does OK keeping my ears warm in windy subzero conditions, and it hasn’t blown off my head yet. If I were going to do a serious outdoor version, I’d want to line it with flannel or something and make sure it could tie under the chin. But this is fine for looking like a peasant and not getting rained or winded on while running to the car.

Knitting Picture: Western Mountains Poncho

You may recall that a while back, I accidentally discovered that if you make zigzag stripes on a poncho in a gradient of colors, it looks like mountains receding into the distance. I’ve been wanting to make one for myself, for some time.

I discovered this nice, affordable yarn that is something like 90% acrylic, 10% alpaca. I could have done the poncho in shades of grey, and that would have looked awesome, but I already own a grey poncho and I “needed” one that was more in the orange family. So, these mountains are going to have a cloudy sky in the background, alpenglow on the upper peaks, dun lower peaks.

When I have two long rectangles, I’ll sew them together to make a poncho.

Winter Mist in Idaho

This is right outside my front door.

It’s scenes like this that make me feel I live in a sci-fi story. I read sci-fi to get taken to a place that is vast, inhospitable and severe. Where utilitarian objects, placed against the background of the sky, take on their own heartless beauty. As is the case with this quonset hut.

But let’s zoom in on that band of mist lying just across the road.

Portraying Jesus in Visual Art

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

Many years ago, when I was studying graduate linguistics/anthropology/missiology, I was approached by a friend who had grown up with Greek Orthodox roots. She was doing an anthropological research project, and she wanted me to take a look at a few pictures of icons and give her my initial reaction. (Me, the research subject, an evangelical who was unfamiliar with Greek Orthodox iconography.)

I took a look, and I was repelled. The first one, of Christ on a background of gold leaf, was so stylized that it hardly looked human to me. The eyes were huge and round, the nose very elongated and very narrow. The second, a Nativity scene, wasn’t any better. The figures seemed stiff, and all the faces were like the one on the first icon, except that the infant and Mary didn’t have beards. Their skin was a shade of yellow that looked jaundiced to me.

Since I knew this was a research project, I was very honest with my friend about how negative my reaction was to these icons. This was a mistake; I could see that her feelings were hurt. She explained to me that the faces had been “idealized as an aid to meditation.” Which just goes to show you.

About Image Making

A strong argument could be made that any visual portrayal of Jesus constitutes a violation of the Second Commandment, which forbids making images in order to worship them. This includes making images of humans or animals which purport to portray the one true God. Hence, when the Israelites made the golden calf and worshipped it, identifying it as the God that had brought them out of Egypt (!), they got dinged for disobeying the second commandment. “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4).

When God gave the Israelites the temple system, there was a lot of rich visual imagery, but none of it was of the kind that could be confused with an object of worship. It was all decorative. The priests had rich, purple and white clothing, and the decorations on pillars and curtains extended only to pomegranates, palm trees, and flowers, and the occasional cherub (a heavenly creature that was a throne guardian). There were no images of animals or people that might be mistaken for portrayals of God Himself. (Exodus chapters 25 – 30 and I Kings chapter 6)

In the innermost room in the temple, where a normal Ancient Near Eastern temple would have a large statue of the god, there was … nothing. Just the ark, with no statue behind it. God would not allow Himself to be portrayed “in the likeness of a man,” though a few of the prophets did see something like this in their visions. (Genesis chapter 18, Daniel 7:13 – 14, and many others)

Jesus, according to the New Testament, is God incarnate, a man. This means that, when we read the stories of the things He did, every reader is going to get some kind of mental image. But in the providence of God, Jesus did not come to earth at a time when photography had become ubiquitous, and He was not important enough socially to have realistic statues in the Greco-Roman style (or any statues at all) made of Him. We are not given a physical description of what He looked like, except that we are assured He was ordinary-looking. For example, Isaiah 53:2 says, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,/nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” In John chapter 18, when the Roman guards and the priests’ thugs come to arrest Jesus, they have no idea which of the twelve men in the dark Garden is their perp. Jesus has to tell them, “I’m the one you’re looking for.” This tells us that he looked like any other first-century Jew, including in the way he dressed.

The emphasis, in the Gospels, is always on His words and actions … and these tend to be so compelling that His personal appearance, to put it mildly, is secondary.

So, is it even permissible to portray Jesus when we are illustrating the events of the Gospels? I have seen this admirably handled by the Arch books, a series of Bible stories for children which hires many different artists. In the Arch books (at least when I was growing up), Jesus is most often shown “off camera.” If portrayed, we might see Him from a distance (as being led away to be killed in the background of a picture), from behind, or we might see an arm and a slice of the side of the face. Rarely do we see His face full-on. I think this is a good method. In some of these books (not all), Jesus is recognizable by the iconic white or off-white robe with a shoulder sash, and the shoulder-length hair. I now know that this style of dress and hairstyle were drawn from the personal appearance of the peripatetic philosophers.

About Incarnation

So, given that Jesus wasn’t actually a peripatetic philosopher (at least not in the Greek tradition) and probably did not have the over-the-shoulder sash and the shoulder-length hair, are artistic conventions like this permissible? If someone wants to portray Jesus (even from behind), are they morally bound to make Him look as much like “He probably looked” as possible?

With all the caveats above about it being better not to portray Him at all, I say no. Here’s why.

Jesus’ whole job was to come live with human beings, as a human being. This is what we mean by His being “incarnate.” His incarnation was very complete. He wasn’t just pretending to be a local guy; He actually was a local guy. He was dedicated in the Temple, grew up in the rough town of Nazareth, learned a trade, and spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, probably some Greek, possibly some Latin too.

But the really amazing thing about Jesus’ incarnation is that He can cross any culture. When His words are translated into a new local language, He actually becomes one of those people. He comes to them, as one of them, but as God. When a people receive the Gospel, they receive Him as their Jesus, with His message and his call and His substitutionary death and His enlivening Spirit meant for them.

Usually, they then start making visual art about Him and about the other events in the Bible. And naturally, they often portray it as though these events happened just a few years ago, in their local region. This is completely appropriate. They are applying the incarnation.

Why do all the figures in religious paintings from medieval and Renaissance Europe look like German peasants, or like Italian aristocrats? To ask the question is to answer it. When you are going to paint a portrait or a figure, you go to the people around you for models. For example, Rembrandt would often go into the slums of Amsterdam to find models for his biblical paintings. Not surprisingly, the people in his paintings came out looking Dutch.

This does not happen only in Europe. I was once able to see an artistic representation of one of the events of the Gospels done by an Australian aborigine. There were no human figures in this work of art. All of the action was shown with footprints in the sand. When the characters walked somewhere, there would be a trail of footprints. When they sat down for a meal or teaching, there would be a circle of u-shaped butt prints. I couldn’t understand this drawing without someone explaining it to me, but it made sense to the artist and presumably to his audience. And that’s kind of important in art, isn’t it? You don’t want to portray something that is so alien that your viewers have no idea what they’re looking at, however historically accurate it may be.

Showing Him in Specifics

So, given that we are portraying Jesus at all (which as I said above is a question open for debate), I am completely in favor of White Jesus. There. I said it. I am also in favor of: Javanese Jesus, Sundanese Jesus, Aboriginal Jesus, Ethiopian Jesus, Nigerian Jesus, Navajo Jesus, Latino Jesus, and Greek Orthodox Jesus, provided that these arise naturally in communities that have received Jesus’ word for themselves and become His followers, and now rightly think of Him as their big brother.

I am not in favor of them as theological statements that Jesus looked this way or that, or that His appearance was of any importance (except, of course, near the end of the Bible where He appears looking like white-hot metal with a sword coming out of His mouth).

I am also not in favor of an industry that produces lots of commercialized, sentimental religious art. That is definitely breaking the Second Commandment, whether or not Rembrandt was.

But leaving aside that odious industry, when most Christians make devotional art they are not arguing that Jesus’ personal appearance was of paramount importance. Anyone who thinks they are making such a statement does not understand Christian doctrine very well. All of the emphasis in the Bible is on Jesus’ words and actions. The Apostle’s Creed, and the Nicene Creed, emphasize that He was made human, but that’s it. All of us know that whatever our mental image of Jesus, it is certainly not accurate in its particulars. That doesn’t matter, because it’s not a mental image we are worshipping. It’s the reality.