Cracking art

Art Group Wanstead member and former teacher Claire Cousins tells the story behind her Nutcracker-inspired festive artwork

©Claire Cousins

Swirling snowflakes, giant, jewel-coloured sweets, a beautiful sugar plum fairy and a proud nutcracker soldier… These are the images conjured up for me when I think of The Nutcracker, the wonderful ballet written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1892. I have loved it since I was a child, always being fascinated by the spectacular imagery and the stunning music that transports me to this magical land every time I hear it. I have seen it on stage several times and it is truly captivating. There is certainly nothing better than The Nutcracker to induce that warm, Christmassy feeling!

Of course, nutcrackers were around a long time before the ballet was created and, indeed, the ballet was adapted from Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann’s story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, written in 1816.

Nutcrackers originated in Germany, and started off as just that, a tool to crack nuts! Over time, they became more ornate until, one day, someone carved a soldier, and the nutcracker as we know it was born. 

Nutcrackers subsequently became a symbol of strength and bravery, believed to ward off evil spirits if placed outside the door and bringing good luck to the homeowner in turn. But it wasn’t until Tchaikovsky wrote his ballet and brought the story to life that they became associated with Christmas and began to adorn homes over the festive period.

I have had a passion for art my whole life, and my loving dad, who was a wonderful artist, encouraged my artistic talent from a young age. I always dreamed of pursuing art in one way or another, but I also wanted to be a primary school teacher and was lucky enough to achieve this. Of course, as a teacher, I was able to indulge my creative side and did so at every available opportunity. I not only taught art as much as I could, but also became the art coordinator and ran an after-school art club, which I loved.

With a busy career and then two gorgeous children coming along, I didn’t get a lot of time to pursue my passion: painting. Then, four years ago, I came out of teaching to become a private tutor, and alongside that, took up painting again, and I’m so glad I did!

When it came to Christmastime, I wanted to create some festive pieces, and it didn’t take long to come up with the idea of painting nutcracker soldiers. Here is the result, with my signature additions of glitter and collage elements, making them that little bit different and unique.

Wishing you all a very peaceful, nutcracker-filled Christmas!

For more information and to view more of Claire’s art, visit wnstd.com/cousins