Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Time to get cracking?

Well it is starting to look and sound like Christmas, so I thought I would explore a Christmas tradition.

Nutcrackers are a a favorite Christmas decoration, the Nutcracker Suite is often performed at this time of year; where and when did this tradition start?

 "Nutcrackers in the form of wooden carvings of a soldier, knight, king, or other profession have existed since at least the 15th century. These nutcrackers portray a person with a large mouth which the operator opens by lifting a lever in the back of the figurine. Originally one could insert a nut in the big-toothed mouth, press down and thereby crack the nut. Modern nutcrackers in this style serve mostly for decoration, mainly at Christmas time. The ballet The Nutcracker derives its name from this festive holiday decoration. Nutcrackers have long been a traditional symbol of Christmas. The original nutcrackers were first seen in Germany and were thought to have guardian-like properties because of their strong appearance."

 I have visited the Nutcracker museum in Leavenworth, Washington; a place filled with Nutcrackers of all sizes and styles.

 "The carving of nutcrackers—as well as of religious figures and of cribs—developed as a cottage industry in forested rural areas of Germany. The most famous nutcracker carvings come from Sonneberg in Thuringia (also a center of dollmaking) and from the Ore Mountains. Wood-carving usually provided the only income for the people living there. Today the travel industry supplements their income by bringing visitors to the remote areas."

"While the first nutcrackers were produced to more effectively and efficiently crack nuts, the first German nutcrackers as decorative pieces were developed somewhere between the late 1400s and early 1500s. Many of these early German nutcracker designs were in the shapes of animals, birds, and people."

"It was not until the late 1600s and early 1700s that German nutcrackers took on the personas of the kings, soldiers, church leaders, and policemen. As miners and villagers of the Erzgebirge region improved their carving and crafting skills, the German nutcrackers began developing into popular collectible pieces around the region and throughout Germany." 
"People enjoyed using the German nutcrackers that were shaped like the ruling and authoritative classes because it reduced them to the position of mere crackers of nuts rather than possessing any power over their individual freedoms." (

Nut crackers come in all shapes and sizes.

So how well do they work? This kind is quite effective.

This nutcracker works by rotating the device once the nut is inserted, interesting idea but not as effective as more traditional designs.

The nutcracker is more for decoration than function, I was not able to get it to work on a nut and didn't want to break it (the nutcracker not the nut).

This little nutcracker is way too small to be of use as a nutcracker.

Of course this method is quite effective, albeit a bit messy:

This is maybe a very early nutcracker, and still very effective too!

Nuts were a seasonal favorite when I was a kid. Mandarin oranges, whole nuts and pomegranates were Christmas season treats and still signal Christmas to me.

This week I painted a scene from a town in southern Italy. Several years ago we visited Puglia and while there visited the town of Alberobello, a small town in the province of Bari, which is famous for its trullo (plural trulli) houses.

Alberobella is a world heritage site famous for its trulli houses, which are built of stone without using mortar, the stones are just laid on top on one another. They are characterized by dome shaped roofs which are sometimes painted with pagan symbols.

The home could easily be disassembled for moving, also it is said that they could be disassembled to avoid paying taxes.

We visited on a bright sunny day, and it was both a beautiful site and a beautiful sight. This is a watercolour that I think I might call "Trulli Beautiful".

Well that's all for this week,  thanks for dropping by, happy Whimsy Wednesday, until next week ...........


  1. Everything I've always wanted to know about nutcrackers but was afraid to ask! Another fine post, Gillian. I especially love the textures and shading in your painting.

  2. It's a long time since I've seen these. Very interesting.

  3. I've never seen so many different designs of nutcrackers! Such a fun post and a great way to think of Christmas.

  4. you have a lot of whimsy in this post! :) love the painting and your punny but true title of it. :)

    the hammer and stone had me laughing! so what i would resort to if i was in a hurry. :) my family always had a big bag of whole nuts at christmas time. one year, i ate so many before going to bed, i was terribly sick later. it took me a long time before i could eat nuts again, but i love them. :)

  5. I love Nutcrackers too Gillian and would never use my boys for that purpose. I like the simple metal ones best. Lovely watercolor!!! Happy Holidays to you! Carol

  6. it is always a pleasure Gillian !
    beautiful images !

  7. Great post. I find nutcrackers fascinating in there different decorated forms. I love your painting!

  8. Great Gil!
    I have a collection of "Nutcrackers"......(a couple of dozen)
    This year I bought the "King Mouse".... from the Ballet The Nutcracker........

    going to see it on Dec 23.........

    thanks for all the info!

    see you at Brock.......Marilyn

  9. I always have a big bowl of nut ready for cracking at Christmas time. We have a couple of the Nutcracker soldiers that I put out for decorations. My husband got them in Germany some time ago..

    You painting looks amazing. I love your work.


  10. Great info on the nutcracker. I had started to collect these a few years ago. Love the colourful shots and your painting is lovely!

  11. Gorgeous. The Nutcrackers have always fascinated me since I was a kid and fell in love with the music of Tchaikowsky. Plus I love nuts. Beautiful painting!