JOCELYNN BROWN

Handmade: Hear ‘Carol of the Animals’ through artist

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

A newlywed at the time, Jack Frakes, remembers thinking “it would be nice to create a card” to celebrate his first Christmas with wife Kathy. So he designed, wrote and illustrated one with a caricature of he and Kathy on the front, and then silk-screened about 25 copies to send out to close friends and relatives.

The card was so well-received, he decided to do another one the following year, after which it would become part of their holiday tradition with a production count that quickly grew to about 350 when he added co-workers to the family’s Christmas card list.

Frakes had worked in print and television advertising as both an art and creative director from the ’60s through part of the ’90s, so creating the cards was, no doubt, an easy design project for the now-retired Grosse Pointe Park resident, but the actual printing can be a bit daunting and time-consuming. “It’s a complicated hands-on process,” he says. “It takes approximately six hours to set up the silk screen for each color.”

Frakes, who now produces only around 225 cards a year, has been printing his holiday greetings for the past 55 years, and admits, “They got more sophisticated and more complicated over the years. They pretty much have more colors running through the silk screen. The more colors you have, the more chance you have of making a mistake.

Looking back, Frakes remarks, “After several years of doing individual cards, I ended up doing the 12 days of Christmas as a series. I illustrated that using birds, and that was followed by a couple more years of individual cards. I later did “Blessings,” based on an original 12-line verse I wrote, and another one I called “Joy.” He produced each over a 12-year period.

After much encouragement from those who’ve collected his cards over the years, Frakes recently self-published a book, “The Carol of the Animals” (North Portage Books, LLC/$21), featuring 47 of the 55 Christmas cards he’s done. Some of his earlier cards didn’t include animals, so he chose not to put them in the book.

“A lot of comments I got were from people who had children who wished to have their own collection, so the book was a secondary approach for them. And, some recipients have misplaced their cards and will request cards from a particular year,” he remarks. Some collectors of his cards, both here and across the country, have had them framed for display in their homes and offices. “They have become an anticipated part of the holiday season to the many people who receive and welcome them annually,” reads the book jacket, in part.

The hardcover book, filled with whimsical color illustrations, is “Dedicated to the speechless animals, who, could they talk, would no doubt have a lot they’d like to say.” It’s available for sale at the Grosse Pointe Art Association, Yellow Door Art Market in Berkley, Bookbeat in Oak Park and Amazon.com. Frakes will be selling copies of the book at the upcoming Parcells Middle School Holiday Arts and Crafts Bazaar, set for Dec. 5, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. He says he’s “anxious” to do the show so he can actually see “if people gravitate to the book.”

Frakes demonstrates and shares his silk-printing process with about 25 fourth-grade students who attend Trombly Elementary School in Grosse Pointe Park. They, along with their teacher, who happens to be Frakes’ son (Eric), come to his studio when he’s ready to print his cards for the season. They each get to print a card, and his wife bakes cookies that are served with cider. (What fun that must be!)

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit Crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

Contact Jack Frakes at jackfrakes@comcast.net.