In a year where we could all use a little more brightness, the shimmer and simple joys of the holiday season are particularly appealing. Though we may be living in what feels like a particularly dark time, finding beauty and art in unexpected places can still enrich our lives, in spite of it all. With many museums and galleries around the world closed, re-opened, and closed again, our avenues for enjoying great art have seen a major shift. Though many exhibitions are on hold, a new book is reminding us of an excellent way to see great works of art from the warmth and safety of your own car.
Danelle Manthey’s American Christmas, published this fall, is the culmination of a decade-long project documenting elaborate Christmas displays across the US. Through intimate photographs and the artist's own words, Manthey’s photographs and accompanying essays recontextualize these displays as more than just Christmas kitsch, but as visionary works of art created by talented folk artists. Featuring the stories of more than forty artists across twelve states, American Christmas shows their commonalities and differences, and how they are united by hard work and an inspired vision.
People who devote themselves to impressive Christmas displays are often driven by the same motivations typically attributed to more traditional folk artists. Be it carrying on a family tradition, expressing religious reverence, or creating their own version of a paradise on earth, these artists have deep and meaningful motivations for creating their works, and through her photographs, Manthey seeks to give them the recognition they deserve. Of her motivations she explains, “In my photography practice, I aim to capture my subjects in shrines of self-expression. Through this project, I reveal what makes these displays so special—the creators’ artistic vision, homespun passion and ability to share happiness.” Experiencing these massive art installations, even through Manthey’s medium-format photographs, conveys a sense of awe, and may inspire you to join the ranks of these previously-unsung great artists.