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Middle Cove in Essex, not too far from where Caryn Davis lives in Chester, ended up being the perfect scene for the cover shot for the book. )
The Valley Railroad Company’s Steam Train and Riverboat is featured in Caryn Davis’ book on Christmas in Connecticut. The Santa Special is packed with children and their parents during the holiday. )
Ivoryton Illuminations, right next to the Ivoryton Playhouse, is a festival centered around ornately decorated trees. During the festival, which will take place this year on Friday, Dec. 2 from 5 to 8 p.m., there will be chicory coffee, hot chocolate, and even chestnuts roasting over an open fire. )
Chester, Caryn Davis’ hometown, is one of many Connecticut towns that are featured in her book. Photos by Caryn Davis )
The Griswold Inn, one of the longest operating businesses in the country, has been celebrating Christmas since 1776. (Photo by Caryn Davis )
Connecticut River Artisans, in Chester, is one of several local businesses decorated for the holidays, and selling holiday gifts, featured in the book. )
The snow-covered streets of Chester, and several of the small businesses in town, are featured in Christmas in Connecticut. (Photo by Caryn Davis )
The Guilford Green, and the shops around it, are also featured in the book. )
The inside of the Griswold Inn, with its Christmas decorations and roaring fire, is featured in Davis’ book. (Photo by Caryn Davis )
Sailboats on the Connecticut River, including those that participate in Trees in the Rigging, are an essential part of Christmas in the Connecticut River valley. Photos by Caryn Davis )
The Pink Sleigh in Westbrook sells Christmas joy all year round. (Photo by Caryn Davis )
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When Caryn Davis was a kid, one of her favorite things about Christmas was the stocking hung by the chimney with care.
She loved that you could fill it with lots of things, including little things and great things in small packages, all a jumble of sizes and colors.
As she got older, her work as a cameraperson, photographer, and visual artist took her on travels around the world, so the Christmas holidays were all about visiting home, and family, and friends.
One year, a while back, Victoria Magazine hired Davis to photograph a story about Christmas in Connecticut. Davis, who lives in Chester, later posted the story to her Facebook page. Davis’s friend and former co-worker, Ann Nyberg, a Madison resident and WTNH-TV news anchor who has a vast network of connections, saw it. Nyberg knew another of her friends, Amy Lyons at Globe Pequot Press in Guilford, was looking for someone to do a photo book on Christmas in Connecticut, so Nyberg put in a call to Lyons to let her know about Davis. Lyons then got in touch in Davis.
“I was jumping out of my skin,” when Lyons explained what she wanted, Davis says. “I didn’t really believe it was true at first.”
In fact, not only was it true, for Davis it was a dream come true.
Greatest Holiday Hits
Davis signed the contract for the book several years ago, and now, this fall, A Connecticut Christmas; Celebrating the Holidays in Classic New England Style is out in bookstores, and Davis is on the road several days a week for book signings, meeting with people, and talking about her book.
The organizations and events featured in the book are of the type that are the greatest holiday hits of the Connecticut shoreline and Connecticut River valley: the lantern lights tour at Mystic Seaport; the annual cantata at the United Church of Chester; Ivoryton Illuminations; Fantasy of Lights, New Haven’s Lighthouse Park; Trees in the Rigging, Essex; Santa by Firetruck, Chester; Mrs. Claus at the Chester Library; the train show at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex; the ornaments in the Pink Sleigh of Westbrook; and the holiday decorations that grace places like the Griswold Inn in Essex, the Copper Beech Inn in Ivoryton, and town greens including New Haven and Guilford. The photos are accompanied by a narrative provided by Eric D. Lehman, who is the author of several books and a teacher at the University of Bridgeport.
The book includes bells, garlands, and mistletoe; toys, gifts, and ornaments; barns and farms; winter wonderlands; and nautical noels. It’s about little things, and great things in small packages. It includes family and friends making the most of the holiday, and leafing through the book is as much fun as discovering a stocking stuffed full on Christmas morning.
Davis says she brainstormed with Lyons and others to get some initial ideas for the book, and then did some research online.
“Amy and I would talk about the book, she gave me some ideas, and then she let me loose. We didn’t have a definitive plan,” Davis says.
They decided to cover the shoreline, the Connecticut River valley, the New Haven area, and the northwest corner of the state, and then branched out from there.
Davis says the two-year project deepened her appreciation for her home state, and the beauty that lies within it. She’s enjoyed meeting people at book signings, who likewise are learning about events and locations they did not know about, sometimes in their own backyards.
“People are telling me, they didn’t know there were all of these things in Connecticut,” she says. “They were surprised how many places there are to go to enjoy the holiday season, and all in Connecticut.”
She says, from start to finish, the project has been equal parts hard work and fun.
“I think every photographer, secretly or not so secretly, wants to publish a book. So this was just great. I had a lot of leeway. Amy gave me a long leash. She really allowed me to pursue what I wanted, which igniting my creativity,” Davis says.
Over the course of two years, shooting mostly in November and December, Davis went to 40 towns and 62 locations and got lots of great shots.
As the project deadline was drawing near, however, she was worried. She didn’t have a photograph that she thought was worthy of the cover.
“What I really needed was snow—and then it started snowing and I started driving, and driving, and driving,” she says. “Litchfield, New Preston, and I was driving and shooting, and driving and shooting.”
She had some great photographs, but she still felt like she didn’t have what she needed. Some were too commercial and some were too specific in terms of their geography. She wanted a photo that said “Christmas in Connecticut.”
Christmas came and went that year and she still didn’t have what she wanted. Then it was New Year’s Day. The final deadline was drawing ever closer.
With the snow from an earlier storm still on the ground, Davis decided to take one last drive through Connecticut River valley, the area she considers her home. She headed over to Middle Cove in Essex. The Connecticut River was still frozen, and there was still snow on the ground.
And then she saw what she wanted.
“It had all of the elements. The river. The Congregational Church. And a boat. A boat with a Christmas tree on it, all lit up,” she says. “It was remarkable. It was iconic Connecticut. And it was in my own backyard.”
Upcoming Book Signings
• Thursday, Nov 30, 7 p.m., R.J. Julia Booksellers, 768 Boston Post Road, Madison
• Friday, Dec. 1, 5 to 8 p.m., Leif Nilsson Gallery, 1 Spring Street, Chester
• Saturday, Dec. 2, 2 to 4 p.m., Hickory Stick Bookshop, 2 Green Hill Road, Washington Depot
• Saturday, Dec. 2, 6 to 7 p.m., Ivoryton Library, 106 Main Street, Ivoryton (At the Illuminations)
• Sunday, Dec. 3 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Hill-Stead Museum, 35 Mountain Road, Farmington
• Sunday, Dec. 3 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., Phelps-Hatheway House, 55 South Main Street (Route 75), Suffield
• Wednesday, Dec. 6, 6 to 7 p.m., Norma Terris Theater, 33 North Main Street, Chester
• Thursday, Dec. 7, 7 p.m., Wesleyan R.J. Julia Bookstore, 423 Main Street, Middletown
• Saturday, Dec. 9, 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., Griswold Inn Store, 47 Main Street, Essex
• Thursday, Dec. 14, 6 to 8 p.m. Milford Photo, 22 River Street, Milford
• Friday, Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m., Evergreen Woods, 88 Notch Hill Road, North Branford
Also, most Sundays through Dec. 17, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Leif Nilsson Gallery, 1 Spring Street, Chester