Christmas, Day 9

LOOK: Holy Family in Saffron by Frank Wesley

Wesley, Frank_Holy Family
Frank Wesley (Indian, 1923–2002), Holy Family in Saffron, ca. 1950. Watercolor, 21 × 16 cm. Gould Collection. Photo courtesy of the Asian Christian Art Association.

Frank Wesley [previously] was a fifth-generation Christian from North India who began painting biblical subjects in 1947 when the Christian Home Committee of the National Christian Council of India began licensing original images from him for their magazine, a relationship that lasted for decades. His initial training had been in commercial art, but from 1950 to 1952 he studied as a postgraduate at the School of Art in Lucknow under the Hindu artist Bireshwar Sen, kickstarting his fine-art career. The Lucknow school of watercolor painting, developed during the Bengal Renaissance in the first half of the twentieth century, is the style with which he is most associated, and which the above painting is representative of, with its graceful, calligraphic lines.

With the aid of an American patron, Wesley continued his art education at Kyoto Art University from 1954 to 1958, where he learned traditional and modern Japanese painting techniques, lacquer work, textile design, woodblock printing, and ink drawing, and in Chicago from 1958 to 1960, which included coursework at the Art Institute, where he learned about modern abstraction and how to work with oil paint.

Wesley returned to India in 1960 and, after a four-year courtship, married Athalie Brown, an Australian nurse working in a mission hospital in Azamgarh. They had two children. Seeking better opportunities, he emigrated to Australia with his family in 1973 and lived there until his death in 2002. Even in his new adopted country, he continued painting biblical scenes in an Indian style.

You can view thumbnails of other paintings by Frank Wesley at www.frankwesleyart.com. For better-quality reproductions along with more detailed biographical information, there’s the book Frank Wesley: Exploring Faith with a Brush by Naomi Wray (Auckland: Pace Publishing, 1993), but it’s out of print and difficult to find.

LISTEN: “Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine” (original: “Josef lieber, Josef mein”) | Traditional German carol, 14th century (tune: RESONET IN LAUDIBUS) | English translation of verses by Percy Dearmer,* 1928; refrain translated by Edward T. Horn III, 1958 (from the carol “Long Ago and Far Away”) | Arranged and performed by Blue Water Highway on Christmastide, 2014

“Joseph dearest, Joseph mine,
Help me cradle the Child divine.
God reward thee and all that’s thine,
In paradise,” so prays the mother Mary.

He came among us at Christmastide,
At Christmastide, in Bethlehem;
Men shall bring him from far and wide
Love’s diadem: Jesus, Jesus,
Lo, he comes, and loves, and saves, and frees us!

“Gladly, dear one, Lady mine,
Help I cradle this Child of thine.”
“God’s own light on us both shall shine,
In paradise,” as prays the mother Mary.

All shall come and bow the knee;
Wise and happy their souls shall be,
Loving such a divinity as all may see
In Jesus, son of Mary.

Sweet and lovely, little one,
Princely, beautiful, God’s own Son,
Without thee all of us were undone;
Our love is won by thine, O son of Mary.

* Some sources cite Neville S. Talbot as the translator; I’m going with The Oxford Book of Carols, whose original 1928 edition, and subsequent ones, name Dearmer.

RESONET IN LAUDIBUS (Let the voice of praise resound) is a fourteenth-century German carol tune associated with a carol text of the same name as well as with “Josef lieber, Joseph mein.” The latter carol is from a medieval mystery play from Leipzig that survives in multiple manuscripts. It spotlights Joseph’s faithful presence and loving support during Christ’s infancy.

The original carol did not have a refrain; an unknown editor spliced that in from a different fourteenth-century German carol at some point, but it still often circulated with the verses only, including in the earliest English translations. In 1958, however, the American pastor Edward Traill Horn III (1909–1994) translated the refrain from German into English for incorporation into a new Christmas carol he wrote, “Long Ago and Far Away.” Blue Water Highway uses verses and refrain for their recording “Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine.”

Find free sheet music here.

If you prefer choral music, I really like Kirke Mechem’s arrangement of the carol, from his Seven Joys of Christmas suite, as performed by the Stanford University Chamber Chorale and Orchestra under the direction of Stephen M. Sano.