We have chosen this deliberately because the sending of greetings at Christmas time, which gathered momentum in the 1840s under Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s encouragement, were not necessarily religious in their purpose but also to exchange greetings during the winter months, at a time when Christmas had yet to become the widely held celebration that it is today. Artists have espoused sending greetings to their friends and peers. University College London holds the Slade School of Art collection of handmade cards by their alumni. The artists represented in the Fry Art Gallery are no exception, save that contemporary printing techniques, often used by them daily, has quite possibly accelerated a decline in the emphasis on handmade cards. As an example, analysing at random 270 of the 720 cards that Edward Bawden (1903 – 1989) had kept, (purchased from his estate), 67 were handmade, 112 were specially printed for the artist and the remainder were commercial ones. Bawden himself used to have cards printed for his own use, but would also, in keeping with tradition, make a small number of individual ones for his special friends. One such is illustrated.

It is unsigned and undated, but it was sent to Olive Cook (the artist, 1912 – 2002) as a very personal greeting one year during the 1980s, and has subsequently proved to be a popular postcard item. Hidden among the sixteen cats is found the greetings to Olive, (Mrs Smith) for Christmas and the New Year, and the destination of this happy group – Windmill Hill – is where Olive lived in Saffron Walden; the remaining are humorous feline puns. Why cats, we can only surmise, is because Edward and Olive were both cat owners, which were much appreciated but not spoilt, and, as this work shows, not to be caricatured. Bawden’s own cat (called “Emma Nelson” after some initial ambiguity about gender) featured extensively in his own later work. A cushion cover sold by the Fry Art Gallery shows a kitten with a ball of wool, done by Bawden in 1979 for Catriona Murley, when she opened a hand knitted clothes shop in Paris. Bawden, when the ball of wool was additionally suggested, agreed uncharacteristically, but correctly, saying it was ”sweet”.

Bequeathed by Olive Cook, 2002.

Merry Christmas to you all from The Fry Art Gallery.