Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas. Not much is known about Bishop Nicholas of Myra, but there are plenty of legends associated with his memory.  One of the stories about Nicholas tells of how he blessed a family with three girls. Here is the tale as told from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints:

"One of the best known of the legendary narratives which demonstrate Nicholas’ love for God and for his neighbor is the story of his provision of dowries for three unmarried young women. The story is told that the father did not have money sufficient for their dowries, so on three successive nights Nicholas threw a bag of money through an open window, thus providing dowries for the man’s three daughters and probably saving them from lives of shame and prostitution."

In honor of St. Nicholas, I will be giving 50% of today's sales from The Ambrosium Shop to a wonderful organization.  The San Jai Network is helping to connect church ministries and christian organizations who are working with women and children in Thailand effected by trafficking and other forms of exploitation.

If you have been waiting to put your Christmas order in, or if you've just remembered some folks you still need to find special gifts for, won't you consider purchasing something from The Ambrosium today? You'll not only be helping a small business, but also a grassroots ministry doing good work amongst those very much in need.

If you'd like to find out more about St. Nicholas, or are looking for resources to help your family learn about the real St. Nicholas, The St. Nicholas Center is a wonderful place to start.  Here is a wonderful book reproduced online at the St. Nicholas Center for Kids: The Life of St. Nicholas by Verena Smith, Illustrated by Emily Probst.  The site has many other books, poems, activities and games. You will also find prayers, recipes, hymns, art, and information about St. Nicholas celebrations around the world.

I hope you enjoy your own special St. Nicholas day!

 These vintage images are available as cards in the shop!


An Advent Gathering of Thistle Birds

I've collected another post from my old blog to add to the things I've listed here. This piece was made during Advent a few years ago. Enjoy! 

An Advent Gathering of Thistle Birds

An Advent Gathering of Thistle Birds
Encaustic collage: beeswax, found paper, colored pencil, ink, oil pastel
11x14, 2009

Advent is a chance to intentionally gather our hearts, bodies and minds together. The twenty eight days of Advent give us time for a gradual collecting of all the disparate and disjoined parts of ourselves.  Advent traditionally signifies a coming, especially of something extremely important. But Advent can also mean a coming into to place, view, or being.  My prayer is that Advent would be a time for us to collect ourselves gradually toward the place that Christ makes for us; that Christ would come more beautifully into view; and that we would come more fully into being in Him.  Traveling through the gradual collecting of Advent better enables us to be present to the celebration of the birth of Christ at Christmas. We have more of ourselves to give to Him because of the slow work of gathering. The feast of Christmas is made better by the quiet, meditational days of Advent. 
The center of this beeswax panel contains a Chi Rho surrounded by fourteen Goldfinches. Dating as early as the 2nd century, it is one of the oldest monograms representing Christ.  The Chi Rho is made up of the first two letters making the Greek word for Christ (khristos). Before it was used by Christians, pagan Greek scribes used the Chi Rho in place of the word “chreston” (which means “good”) to make note in the margins of important texts. Christians using the Chi Rho symbol would have been reminded of the pre-existent Christ and his earthly cruxifiction. According to the medieval bestiary, birds who are pictured with a Chi Rho symbolize human souls meditating on Christ. Goldfinches in particular represent victory over death. The goldfinch, which lives on a diet of thistles and thorns, reminds us of the suffering of Jesus and His resurrection. Sometimes called the Savior Bird, the goldfinch speaks to us of endurance, fruitfulness, and persistence.  Embeded under the Chi Rho are pages from the gospels telling of pivotal moments in the story of Christ: His entry into Jerusalem, His first miracle, the Last Supper , the Transfiguration, His resurrection, and His return. At the bottom of the panel lies Latin verse from the Advent hymn "O Come Emmanuel", translated: " Be our soul advent, disperse the dreadful clouds of night. Come!"  Purple and blue, the traditional colors of Advent, mark the panel as a reminder of the season in which it was made.  Beeswax holds all the layers together and works as a symbol for the word of God, which, in rabbinical schools, is said to taste like honey. As I painted on over 25 layers of wax, my soul got quiet and my heart centered. My prayer is that your journey of Advent be full of the same quiet, gathering work.  

Jesus, make us like a gathering of thistle birds.
Help us to gradually collect the pieces of ourselves around your coming, crucifixtion, and resurrection.
Be our soul Advent, our only place, our true view, our fullness of being.
Fill us with your honey, making us hold together inside your story.
Remind us of your goodness, you our amarantine Savior Bird.



Lenten Work

I'm slowly moving post over from my other blog. Here is one from a few years ago on a piece I made during a Lenten season. I've loved having this friend in my home for a few years, and am ready to let it go live with someone else. I'll be giving it a good buffing and listing it in the shop this week. Enjoy! 

Lenten Work:
During Lent I made two pieces but never posted pictures of the last one. Here are some images of that last piece. I am super happy with it, in fact it's hanging in my bathroom and I don't have plans on moving it any time soon.

"Purity of Heart"

These are square nails, which were made in this country during the period from 1820-1910. My friend Geno found them on the property where we live. I think they are quite beautiful. 

Made from wax, paper, book pages, square nails, oil pastel, and red string.

This piece excites me because I feel like it's an indication that I am finally starting to work more intuitively. Sometimes I work hard to fit so many layers of meaning into a piece, that it just becomes too full. I love the simplicity of this piece. It is usually hard for me to stop while a piece is simple enough; I often feel like I have not worked hard enough to stop.  I am thrilled that I might be learning how stop and be content with things sometimes not being so much work.

I think it might be about trusting myself and all the years of art making behind me, and believing that it does not always have to be hard. Maybe I'm also learning about grace. Soren Kierkegaard said: "Purity of heart is to will one thing". I think about that quote when I feel my mind is scattered and over-run with all that I have to keep up with. Perhaps in trying to work more simply I am practicing this muscle of willing one thing. Any way that that little gem can wriggle its way into my heart is welcome.


Vintage Wedding Inspired Thank You Cards!

Yesterday I finished working on some new thank you cards for the shop. I was thinking of a particular friend's wedding and wanted to use something that might go with her aesthetic and colors. I just love old paper, especially post cards with markings. And anything with type or calligraphy on it makes my heart sing. The red printed accents of birds, bows, hearts, and flowers come from victorian illustrations. I think they are just perfectly sweet, but not too sugary to make them sentimental. I'm super happy with how they turned out. I can't wait to have them listed in the shop.

These day I'm not able to spend much time at all in my studio. Staying home with Blythe, my little girl, has meant having to find new ways to be creative. To that end I've been slowly teaching myself photoshop.  It's been a great way to keep my brain occupied in the middle of doing the mundane tasks like laundry and changing diapers. Making cards, like these, is becoming a new artistic outlet for the times in between studio visits. Simple tasks to keep me sane. It's almost as good as actually touching the paper and smelling the glue. Almost.

I stumbled upon a treasure trove of vintage Christmas ephemera yesterday and it got me all inspired for Christmas cards. I can't wait to play around with all the fun old things I found. It does feel a bit strange to be making Christmas items in August. Perhaps I'll play some Christmas music just to get in the mood. It's a bit hard to feel very Christmasy, though, when it's 90 degrees outside. Hurry up cool weather! I'd like to wear a scarf again and not melt into a puddle of sweaty mush.


Strange Things Christ Holds Together

 Below is an entry from an Advent devotional put out by our church here in Durham, All Saints Church. Advent devotional guides are such a great way for me to slow down and to pay attention during the busy holiday season. I especially appreciate that All Saints had invited artists to create visual works to accompany the entries.  While it's not the Advent season just yet, I hope you enjoy this short reflection I wrote and the piece I created in a past Advent season. You can find the entire booklet online here.

"The Strange Things that Christ Holds Together" 

 This art piece is made from a strange family of elements: beeswax, sticks, string, a book page, some pieces of a dress pattern and gold oil pastel.  In much the same way that strange events and characters combine to form the story of Christ’s birth, so these art materials form a cast of “characters.” 

Layers of hot wax have been painted onto a board. Embedded in between these layers are bits and pieces of a dress pattern. Together they allude to the mysterious pattern that God lays out for us. His Word, symbolized by the beeswax, secretly but certainly holds all things together inside that pattern.

Sticks appear as a reminder of Jesus the Vine Dresser and the Root of Jesse. From both this Vine and this Root we receive our real sustenance. String is tied and stretched in a cruciform pattern.  Pages from an old Bible re-tell four narratives. John leaping inside of Elizabeth’s womb. An account of the Ascension. The wild birth of John the Baptist. The incarnation of God in Bethlehem. These stories remind us of the fantastical elements in the events surrounding Christ’s comings and goings. All these events are incredible and, across the board, un-expected. Surely we can only expect God to enter into our lives in a similar way—mysteriously entering when we least expect him, appearing, then disappearing, leaving us open-mouthed but always disclosing his everlasting love for us. God uses such strange and wild ways to accomplish his purposes. He fills people long empty. He astonishes us, as the Gospel writers might say.

Gold marks the center of the panel. This symbolizes the kingship of Christ. It is a kingship that appears at every point that we allow him to assume a place of preeminence in our lives.

Why did I make this piece? I did it to remind myself, despite my sometimes feeble faith, that all these things are true. His mother, for example, was a young woman like me, like many, who did not expect God to come in that way and at that time.  While I wait for Jesus to answer my prayers—and to answer prayers that I have yet to even pray—he is at work in all kinds of unexpected ways. If I only look for him to come in the way that I want him to, then I miss all the mysterious, beautiful ways that he is already present. I need to remember to wait for him. I need to trust that, like the string threading itself throughout this art, he holds all the strange, often puzzling parts of my life together, and the frustrating parts too. When I do trust him, I find that my heart is filled with gratitude. Some days it is filled with wonder.



Welcome to The Ambrosium Blog! 

I'm so glad you've found us. Here you will find information about the devotional and liturgical pieces I am making for The Ambrosium shop. I will also post about new items, sales, events, and behind the scenes peeks. 

To visit the shop click on the "shop" tab at the top, or the mini shop on the right side of the blog. For commission inquiry or questions please find my contact information under the "contact" tab. To learn about encaustic painting, please visit the "encaustic" tab. You can follow us on facebook by clicking the facebook box to the right. 

Thanks for visiting!

Pax Vobiscum, 

Phaedra Jean Taylor

God Gives The Growth

This piece was inspired by the All Saints icons picturing a cloud of witnesses surrounding Christ. The greens, reds, and golds can all be found in the color palette used by traditional iconographers, and the composition divided into a heavenly space and an earthly space references the arrangement of images found in the All Saints icons. The green "cloud" also evokes the feeling of a tree, tying in the I Corinthians 3 passage ("I planted, Apollos watered, but God  gave the growth") written out at the bottom of the piece. 

In the tree/cloud are roosting a flock of Goldfinch birds. These birds are traditionally rich in symbolism. The Goldfinch, who lives on a diet of thorns and thistles, was used in religious Medieval art to represent beauty from suffering, endurance, fruitfulness, and persistence. Birds in general were symbolic of souls drawn to Christ. Having the Goldfinches gathering around the central cross seemed a good way to translate the image of the saints surrounding Christ in the icon. 

Underneath the wax are pages from an old Bible. Passages from both the psalms about God's faithfulness and the Beatitudes are included on the pages. Metallic Gold is drawn into the top layer of the piece around the cross, and highlights the bottom of the Scripture passage referencing the holiness, preciousness, and royalty of God.
This artwork, finally was created in the tradition of Encaustic Painting. Over 80 layers of wax were painted on and then melted into the panel. The translucency lends an ethereal and aged quality to the work that nicely echoes the traditional aesthetic of the icon while maintaining a fresh contemporary feel from the clean texture of the wax. Encaustic pieces have the potential to last hundreds of years if cared for properly, so hopefully this archival painting will be around for years to come.