The imagery in Nursery Rhymes has always struck me as very adult, not meant for a swaddling babe. It’s easy to be swept up into the gorgeous thoughts and unique vignettes of Jack Horner’s thumb in a pie, or an Egg-shaped man cracking irrevocably. Most people use these images as fodder for pastel designs and lullaby themed nurseries. Although the naive, adorable, bubbly, child loves the idea of “isty bits spiders” and “cow’s jumping over the moon”, Nursery Rhymes tend to have a more macabre, sometimes morbid meaning (seriously Ring-Around-the-Rosies is singing about the BUBONIC PLAGUE).
Images from a Roald Dahl themed shoot with Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, titled “Tales of the Unexpected”, Vogue UK, 2008. Shot by Tim Walker, the editorial takes its name from Dahl’ successful short story collection. Roald Dahl plays on the platitudes and repetitive themes in most Nursery Rhymes, he even creates a re-telling of the old folktale “Cinderella”, here. Whereas most fables end with a happy, or at least meaningful resolution, Dahl allows the stories to take a wicked, if not sacrilegious turn for the worst. My favorite twisted portrayal of a common Nursery Rhyme is a poem in which Dahl has the Three Little Pigs eaten, not by the wolf, but by an upper-class Red Riding Hood herself (so that she can wear a wonderful pigskin purse of course).
Other artists who have been inspired by the oral histories of Nursery Rhymes: Lewis Carrol, Shel Silverstein, Louis Sachar, J.K. Rowling, Tim Burton, Jim Henson (HELLO DARK CRYSTAL), Henry Darger, Salman Rushdie (Haroun and The Sea of Stories), Salvador Dali, and Joseph Cornell. Can you spot the references above to Ba Ba Black Sheep, Mother Goose, Ring-around-the-Rosies, Jack Horner, Humpty Dumpty, Bo-Peep, and Hey-Diddle-Diddle?
Literal interior design inspiration ala Jack and Jill sinks! Found Here, Here, and Here. Today we think of Jack and Jill as a cute brother and sister duo, and hence a Jack and Jill bathroom or a Jack and Jill Room (with bunk beds) represents the epitome of sharing a domestic space in childhood. However, the original Jack and Jill (Jill was actually Gill) dates back to at least the 18th century and is actually a taxation protest song. As Wikipedia explains:
In the 17th century, King Charles I tried to reform the taxes on liquid measures. He was blocked by Parliament, so subsequently ordered that the volume of a Jack (1/2 pint) be reduced, but the tax remained the same. This meant that he still received more tax, despite Parliament’s veto. Hence “Jack fell down and broke his crown” (many pint glasses in the UK still have a line marking the 1/2 pint level with a crown above it) “and Jill came tumbling after”. The reference to “Jill”, (actually a “gill”, or 1/4 pint) is an indication that the gill dropped in volume as a consequence. A variant of this is that liquids (specifically alcoholic beverages) were watered down, hence, “fetch a pail of water.”
- What are little boys made of?/ What are little boys made of?/ Frogs and snails/ And puppy-dogs’ tails,/That’s what little boys are made of. / What are little girls made of? / What are little girls made of? / Sugar and spice / And everything nice, / That’s what little girls are made of. (Here.)
Three blind mice. / Three blind mice. / See how they run. / See how they run. / They all ran after the farmer’s wife, / Who cut off their tails with a carving knife, / Did you ever see such a sight in your life, / As three blind mice?. Ok, seriously, we SING this to children? Knives and Violence and Blind Farm Animals? The original dates back to about 1609 and is most likely about Queen Mary’s I’s blinding and burning at the stake of Protestant Bishops. This darker print above matches the theme much better! (Here.)
When all design inspiration fails, it is best to go with a boldly printed typographic play on the famous words of the Nursery Rhymes. The prints will be irreverent, and reinvent the connotation of the words you have come to know by rote. The very-grown-up printing techniques, color scheme, and design all lend themselves easily to decor in a modern day living room or bedroom (made for adults).
The words and images in the world of Goose of Mother are perennially etched into our cortexes. At night, the archetypes and figures bounce around and sing, tumbling over each other, and creating new inspiration for our lives as mature, grown-ups. Wherever you are, and whatever age you may be, a lullaby and a song should always be with you.