Monday, July 28, 2008

Surprise Balls: Origins and Tucson musings

I’m gearing up for a favorite pastime – crafting surprise balls. Beyond the handmade gifts and gift baskets I will sell on, I’m preparing a special Sonoran holiday Surprise Ball to be part of the Holiday Nights gallery show at Tohono Chul Park. I appreciate the consideration of the curators there, especially my friend and diva Sonoran crafter Peggy, for the opportunity to be part of this fabulous exhibit and art sale.

I’ve gathered some special vintage holiday fabric as well as some newer repurposed swatches for my surprise ball. I have collected some little treasures discovered in New York thrift shops and button stores to use in my ball. There also will be some embroidery stitches as well antique charms on this holiday ball. So I am happy as I prepare.Although my surprise ball will contain more fabric than paper (the main ingredient of the more traditional surprise balls), I will use some special paper, selected from China and Japan. Why Asian paper? To honor the roots of this pretty gift.

Like other paper traditions including the Mexican papel picado – paper surprise balls have their roots in Asian tradition. You may not know that China not only invented paper (in the Eastern Han Dynasty circa 104 A.D.), it also created the first surprise balls. Chinese New Years are gloriously colorful celebrations with fireworks, decorative lanterns and wonderful legends. Families exchange gifts (some of which are “surprises” or coins wrapped in red and gold paper). And another tradition is eating dumpling soup – wherein there is one dumpling with a surprise inside! The person claiming the favored dumpling will receive good fortune throughout the year.

So the magic of surprise balls goes beyond my definition here in Tucson. I am happy to stir in some desert-styled ingredients as I prepare my craft. And as I work on my tiny contribution to the Tucson contemporary folk art scene, the memories of many happy childhood Christmases return and warm my heart.


Jennifer said...

Thanks for the great history! I can't wait to see what you come up with this year!

Peggy said...

Monica, your love and friendship are expressed in your artwork and the friendship balls seem so in, when we remove the layers, we learn and appreciate more about each other, and can be surprised and

Michelle said...

I can see that you are having even more fun putting things into the balls...than other people will have fun taking them out!