Twelve Days of Christmas - Historic Fairhope Art

Robert M. Glennon, Area Historian

Christmas Art is a rich part of Fairhope’s Legacy and the art series entitled The Twelve Days of Christmas has become one of the City’s most legendary symbols of the season. In Christian theology, the Twelve Days of Christmas are the days between the birth of Christ and the coming of the Magi - the three wise men; also called the Epiphany. The popular Christmas carol by the same name recalls gifts given when my "true love came to me.” These traditional themes have been brought to life by Fairhope artists.

In the mid-1950s, the City of Fairhope invited local artists to make creative wooden Christmas cutout figures from the Charles Dickens classics. These were displayed in stores and hung on lampposts and porches downtown. The artist community cherished the notion of showing its creativity throughout the city. And it brought magic to the holidays! Downtown businesses needed a boost and boosts they got! The cosmetic lift sustained the holiday spirit for several years, but after a while, the artwork became tattered due to weather and zealous handling when put into storage. New decorations were needed. The City purchased some commercial decorations and those were used from the late 1960s through the early ‘70s. Then after almost a decade, the impersonal tinsel’s luster began to wane. Some business owners and artisans in the city rejuvenated the original painted Christmas placards. And the idea gained the support of the City of Fairhope’s mayor, James P. Nix, the Fairhope Chamber of Commerce, the Fairhope Retail Merchants Association, the Fairhope Garden Club and the Eastern Shore Art Center. New energy was in the air!

In 1978, local artists, led by Mary Hunter, began working on art for the 1979 Christmas season. Artists were again well along in painting many new works for outdoor display on the streets of Fairhope. But nature intervened on September 12, 1979 when Hurricane Fredrick devastated the public utilities in Fairhope, felling trees and damaging city equipment. Consequently, only eight wooden Christmas art pieces were completed and displayed by Christmas Day, due to priority being given to rebuilding the city infrastructure downtown. Lampposts were broken, public utilities were damaged, and city workers were not able to devote time to installing decorations. The beloved art had to wait.

On August 28, 1980, the Mobile Press-Register newspaper carried a feature article with the photograph of Mrs. Hunter with wooden paintings, including a series depicting the Twelve Days of Christmas "that will adorn city streets in downtown Fairhope during the yuletide season.” Supported by an exhilarating community spirit, the city Public Works crews installed forty-one Christmas painted wooden placards downtown. Mrs. Hunter was assisted in the project by approximately sixteen artists. They finished twenty-nine 8-foot wooden displays, plus twelve 2-foot by 4-foot paintings entitled The Twelve Days of Christmas. Mrs. Hunter painted the Twelve Days and four more of the 8-foot wooden Christmas decorations, demonstrating her dedication to the city art. Her work was displayed each Christmas from 1980 to 2001. Special affection was expressed for the Twelve Days of Christmas - all twelve of them - were hung from 1980 until 2016. In 2017, a municipal decision was made to change the city signage motif to banners. The Twelve Days art was retired to a city storage area.

The next year, the Committee to Preserve Fairhope’s Christmas Art (CPFCA) was formed to work with public and artistic interests to preserve the City’s popular Christmas artwork. The Committee was comprised of several supporting organizations of the arts: Eastern Shore Art Center - Judy Oxford, Artists By the Bay - Ellen Majors Lacey and Vicky Cook, City of Fairhope - Paige Crawford, and the Fairhope Retail Merchant’s Association - Diane Douglas.

Later in 2018, the wooden Twelve Days of Christmas artwork panels were retrieved from storage and, although a bit tattered and worn, were set aside as a cherished piece of city history. But, they indeed, needed some love.

The CPFCA established a plan to refurbish these classics. It was obvious that funds and some imagination would be needed to recondition and frame each of the 2-ft X 4-ft panels. The Committee presented their plan to the Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival Foundation (FACFF), patriarchs of the city's artistic heritage. The FACFF committed grant funds to recondition and preserve the artwork. Soon thereafter, the Friends of the Fairhope Museum of History agreed to business manage the project. Together, the CPFCA, Friends of the Museum of History and creative local artisans, began to repair and restore the work in December 2018.

On October 14, 2019, the refurbished Twelve Days of Christmas artwork was completed and placed in locations around downtown Fairhope. The rejuvenated work was celebrated along with the One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Fairhope in 2019! The scenes may be viewed until closure of the Annual Arts and Crafts Festival in March 2020

Partridge in a Pear Tree - Fairhope Museum of History
Two Turtle Doves - Fairhope Pharmacy
Three French Hens - Lyon's Share
Four Calling Birds - Four Bags
Five Golden Rings - Cat's Meow
Six Geese a Laying - Happy Olive
Seven Swans a Swimming - In the Company of Angels
Eight Maids a Milking - Eastern Shore Art Center
Nine Ladies Dancing - M&F Casuals
Ten Lords a Leaping - Fairhope Artist Gallery
Eleven Pipers Piping - M&M Bank
Twelve Drummers Drumming - Fantasy Island

The CPFCA will continue its mission to preserve historic Fairhope art. The Committee foresees a gallery of historic art, featuring the Twelve Days of Christmas and other nostalgic works that take creative minds back to the days of old Fairhope with a vision for the future. After all, this city was designed to be Utopia!

The Committee for the Preservation of Fairhope Christmas Art can be proud of its achievement to protect and preserve our proud heritage in creative art! This Twelve Days of Christmas project has been made possible by the committee to Preserve Fairhope’s Christmas Art, Fairhope’s Arts and Crafts Festival Foundation, Friends of Fairhope Museum of History, City of Fairhope and Restructured Rival Studio Story and research by Robert M. Glennon, area historian 

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