AS USUAL, Franklin Arbuckle observed Christmas a couple of months early this year—and please note the word is not, repeat not, "celebrated."
Mr. Arbuckle painted his Christmas cover of Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, last October. The enterprise involved a great, deal of nocturnal prowling, even for an artist, plus a number of rather unsatisfactory discussions with the kind of people who like to peer over artists’ shoulders alternately challenging their motives and offering gloomy advice. For our part, we think it was well worth the trouble, although the last time we heard from Mr. Arbuckle we couldn’t be sure that he altogether agreed.
♦The basic problem was a problem in forecasting. Mr. Arbuckle, a native Montrealer, had seen the cathedral and its environs on many earlier Christmas Eves and had a pretty clear general idea how it would be likely to look on Christmas Eve, 1947. But neither past experience nor current observation could fill in all the details. For instance, what about the moon? In consultation with a calendar and an almanac, he was able to decide that moonlight would be permissible — provided there weren’t going to be any clouds. “As for the stars,” he reports, staring down the quibblers, “I just put them in anywhere.”
His leg work included several preliminary “note-taking” expeditions, one of whose products is reproduced in the adjoining sketch of the cathedral’s tower.
♦Let Mr. Arbuckle continue: “Because the location of the church is on one of the busiest corners in Canada it was impossible to work at any sort of normal time, so I set the alarm clock for live and amid the groans of my family struggled out to work in the predawn. After a cup of coffee and toast with the late shift of cab drivers downtown, it was light enough to work, so 1 parked my car on the street opposite the church. The streets were comparatively empty and my only interruptions came from policemen and men out polishing door knobs and brass plates.”
We are informed that, in order of their recurrence, the most common remarks made by these kibitzers were:
1. “Qu’est qui passe ici?”
2. “Why don’t you go home and sleep if: off, Mac?”
♦Mr. Arbuckle continues: “By
8.30 the traffic was so heavy 1 was forced to stop work. I went back several times for sketches of streetcars, adjoining buildings, etc. i made a small study in the late evening and took some photographs about 10 o’clock one morning. After the cover was
completed, I went down to the church one Sunday evening and was horrified to see that the church was floodlit—which made its appearance completely different from its appearance on weekday evenings. I compromised by retouching.”
Many of the incidental props were supplied by the artist and his wife. The Christmas parcels you see in the painting were reproduced from live models, wrapped and tied in the Arbuckle home. Most of those ladies you see hustling back and forth in the foreground are Mrs. Arbuckle. Une or two of the winter costumes she’s wearing are her own, rescued prematurely from storage. The others were loaned by the neighbors.
As for the man who appears front and centre with an armful of candy canes, we can practically guarantee that he’ll be right there in front of the church at midnight, December 24. And right now we’re wishing you, the candy cane man and Artist Arbuckle a Very Merry Christmas.
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