Unlike my sons and many other people, I never got in the habit of playing music all day. Instead, I have a habit of running the radio while I do routine household chores. Last Friday, radio news reports were playing clips about new state laws regarding abortion, when into my mind popped a memory of a tapestry I had woven in 1981, about this time of year.
I had begun weaving pictorial tapestries based on verses of scripture in the summer of 1980. This idea grew out of a number of years of reading through the Bible in a year. I actually enjoyed the Old Testament more than the New Testament. I underlined verses that I liked, but I didn’t mark up page after page.
Isaiah 5:20 is one of two verses I underlined in the first ten chapters of Isaiah.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
(New American Standard 1975)
My weaving shows lemon juice being squeezed into a pot labeled ‘Honey’, a light bulb that is black giving off blue light, and a fetus in the womb being attacked with a dagger. The word ‘Woe’ appears twice in the tapestry. The prophet Isaiah begins his thoughts with ‘Woe’ six times in chapter five.
While Roe v. Wade had been the law since 1973, the debate in 1980s, as I remember it, centered around the question of when did the “tissue” become human. Now, forty some years later, our country is still making changes in the way we interpret and apply this law. Personally, I believe abortion is wrong, but I do not think it should be illegal.
I think Isaiah’s words could be applied to many things in our present day. And, like in his day, our leaders pay no attention to prophets or history.
I’m not reading the Bible through each year any more, but regardless of our political affiliation or none, as citizens, we need to call out our leaders when they allow evil to be called good, and when they prefer secrecy and darkness to openness and light.
When I was a young child, my mother would hold the shells, pictured above, up to my ear, so I could hear the ocean. She found them on her honeymoon in February 1941, somewhere in Florida. The picture below, made with shells and painted, was a wedding gift to my parents, and it hung on our living room wall all the years I was growing up.
When I was about nine, we started to spend my father’s vacation at a cottage on Lake Erie, where I would occasionally find shells in the shallow water or at the beach. I’d put them in my pocket and take them home.
I might have become a biologist of some sort, if my high school biology class had not been such a disappointment. John Marshall High had two or three biology teachers but only one biology classroom. I went to Jr. High at the high school, and the art room was just down the hall from the biology room, so I walked past it several times a day. All tenth graders took biology, and I had been waiting for three years to be in that class with all the wonderful natural displays. Unfortunately, my biology class took place in the physics lecture room, which only had roll-up charts of the solar system.
I was twenty-one the first time I saw the ocean, when my family stayed a night or two at a motel in Virginia Beach, Virginia, after a few days in Washington, D.C. where we visited the White House, the Smithsonian, and the Pentagon.
I was eager to see the ocean again when my husband and I spent two weeks touring through Florida on Ray’s vacation. Living in Cincinnati, we drove down the Atlantic side stopping here and there. Coming back north on the Gulf of Mexico side, I remember floating on the salt water at St. Pete beach. The beach was loaded with hundreds of shells. Most of them were small or broken but that didn’t matter – I wanted to take them all home.
I have been hauling home shells every chance I get for over fifty years. I learned how to catalogue what I found with an item number, the date found, and the location. Most of the shells I could identify from shell books. Now, my collection has over 4600 item numbers, but many of those items have more than one shell of that species with that location and date, so I know I have well over 5000 shells.
When I was working, I went on several trips with a small group of collectors where we spent every day collecting and cleaning shells. I collected in Baja, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Panama, and The Bahamas. Also, from Santa Cruz to Seattle on the west coast.
Last year, I finally got everything I had collected, or otherwise acquired, entered into my log. This started as a hand written list, but is now also in a digital data base. The shells are housed in metal or plastic cabinets in my office room.
And then, given the size of the collection and my increasing age, I began to ask myself, what will I do with them? While I haven’t found an answer to that question yet, I’m aware that some museums and universities will take donations of well documented collections, so that might be a possibility.
I can’t really answer that question until I know what I have, and what condition the shells are in. They are housed by families in the drawers. I have begun to print out sections of the digital record, one family at a time. I’m looking at each item. I’m finding a few shells that are not in the right family, as well as typos and formatting inconsistencies in the digital list, which I am correcting.
This is an exciting time to be identifying each shell with all the resources available on the internet. I can see wonderful images just by entering the scientific name of the shell.
When I attend the annual convention of the Conchologists of America, I’m often asked which shells I like best. I don’t have a favorite family, but I probably will discover one or two I like best while I’m doing this.
This is my hobby that I enjoy after dinner. I’ve only just begun – this will be a long project with about 160 families. I’m having so much fun seeing what I have, where they came from, and remembering the place, or the trip, where I found them.
For the last three weeks, I’ve been working my way through an online course from the Jeanne Oliver network (Jeanneoliver.com), called “Art as Allegory” which offers instruction in several collage techniques which may help you tell a story. The instructor shares a story from her childhood which she is still telling people to explain why she feels she needs to work extra hard sometimes. She encourages course members to recall a similar story that they often relate to people, and perhaps find a way to let it go.
Since I told most of my childhood stories in my eBook “Looking for Connection,” I had to find a current story that I keep repeating. The most obvious is how the time required to care of my yard prevents me from making art in my studio.
Thankfully, we have had a good number of rain days this month, and I have completed one of the two projects suggested in this course. Of course, my work doesn’t look anything like what the instructor showed, but that’s the point of these courses; showing techniques and helping you generate ideas in your own individual way.
We started by making a set of 4” x 4” substrates out of foam-core or cardboard, to be made into a book, or mounted on a backing. The boards were covered in plaster gauze, (which I had never used), and when dry, given a coat of Plaster of Paris, allowed to dry, followed by a light coat of acrylic paint, most of which was wiped off. I used cardboard, didn’t smooth the plaster as well as the instructor did, and didn’t wipe off as much paint as she did.
In between rain showers, I walked through the yard taking photos of plants and sections that require significant amounts of work throughout the year. I picked up a few sticks, leaves, and seeds to add interest. I printed out color prints of my photos on regular paper. The printer I have now has ink that does not run when it gets wet, so I could adhere the prints to the squares with matt medium and cover the whole block with a coat of it.
The green paint on each square adds to the feeling that this is a garden. One block shows my grapefruit tree and berry bushes, another, the strawberry bed and grapevines in the photo at the top of this blog. These two are in the center of the finished piece because they are the reward for the labor.
Around these are photos of the bird feeder and fountain, and invasive plants that need to be removed annually, lest they take over the garden. I show the sycamore leaves that accumulate everywhere, vines of ivy and honeysuckle that need to be trimmed back, and the palm fronds in my driveway from the neighbor’s trees.
Also, I have the sage that feeds my hummingbirds during the winter, the iris bed where these beauties are gearing up for spring, and the sprinkler system that has sprung a huge leak somewhere under the patio cement.
And, not to be forgotten, a photo of the pile of branches that were left after I picked up sticks from storms this month and couldn’t fit these into the green waste bin .
I located a 16” x 20” board with an old painting that I acquired somewhere, and loosely covered it with a coat of dark brown paint. I mounted the twelve squares to this board with heavy gel medium, leaving half an inch space between them. I weighted it with bags of rice, while it dried for a day or two.
I picked up a frame at Michael’s using my 50% off coupon, and actually hung the finished piece up on Sunday. Finding a good place for this in my house took some doing, as all my walls are well filled.
I’m really delighted with the outcome. If I should have to leave this property when I get older, this collage will hold many fond memories and stories for me.
If You Don’t Give Grandma Gift Ideas, She’ll Send You Something Silly!
At the beginning of November 2018, I was cleaning up my studio area after completing on online class, and noticed five small substrates I made during the summer, lined up on a rack, waiting to be used. I quickly decided I didn’t want to see them there in 2019, so I laid them out on my work table, hoping for an idea to come my way.
I thought back to the art retreat I went to in 2017 in Santa Rosa, where I spent two days learning how Finnabair makes her fascinating creations. I hadn’t made anything like that since I came home. I looked at the experiments I had been doing with handmade paper, wire, and palm bark. What would happen if I added these materials to what I learned at the retreat?
I had to find my notes from the retreat to recall how we began the piece I made. I didn’t have the finished item from the retreat because I had given it to my granddaughter for her High School Graduation.
I cut up patterned paper into small squares, pasted them to each substrate with gel medium, and coated them with soft gel, through which I dragged a comb to create texture. When that layer was dry, I added torn strips of handmade paper and a small piece of palm bark to each substrate. I was making a series so they all had a small amount of each material.
At this point, I realized I needed a focal point in each piece. While looking for something else, I had recently come across a box of curious animals made of coiled pipe cleaners. They had been in that drawer for years, since I added my mother’s craft stash to mine. They looked like the things she made in Florida at the mobile home center. There was a caterpillar, a mouse, two bears, and one I couldn’t identify, which I decided would be a butterfly.
I added garage junk: nuts, screws, paper clips, washers, and odd metal and plastic pieces using gel medium for the glue. I highlighted the metal with metallic paint. I was having such a fun time, but what was I going to do with them when they were finished?
I hadn’t done any Christmas shopping because I had no idea what to get my three granddaughters. Why not give each of them one of these creations? The little animals were made by their great-grandmother. This was just the incentive I needed to get them finished soon even though I was cleaning up the yard every day, too. The next logical thought was that the mouse should go to my son.
To the caterpillar and butterfly pieces I added some dark green paper leaves and flowers. I tried to highlight the leaves with some shiny paint, but it didn’t work out well, and I couldn’t remove the paint.
These were both on wood substrates.
The brown bear is on a cork substrate which was glued to a piece of craft wood to give it stability. I liked working with the cork. It made a nice texture for adding paint, and the gel medium stuck to it well. The dark brown mass in each collage is the palm bark. The tan area is the handmade paper which was torn into odd shapes. This piece has silver highlights.
The mouse is actually a pack rat as can be seen by all the junk in his nest. The next is made with the palm bark. On the bottom below the bark is a strip of black woven mesh, probably nylon, which I picked up in a garage at an estate sale. The metal pieces were highlighted with brass metallic paint. His corrugated cardboard substrate was glued to a craft board.
One of the substrates was made on a piece of cardboard with the lower right corner cut out. I resolved this by mounting it on a piece of light weight craft board that was slightly smaller than the cardboard, painted that corner with a pink metallic paint that I used for highlights on the piece, and glued a small shell to the craft board. The green diamond pattern on the bottom and right side were made by using thickened gesso with a stencil. After it was dry, I applied green paint and rubbed most of it off. This has a little panda bear sitting in the palm bark, surrounded by tiny fabric roses. He has now joined the menagerie in my bedroom
On the first two days of the New Year, I raked up leaves from two good size areas in the yard that had not gotten any attention for cleanup, as well as the patio which always needs to be cleaned up. I hauled a total of eleven full garbage cans to the street for pickup by the county.
On the third day of 2019, the county came with their heavy equipment and picked up the pile of leaves at 8:45 a.m. I was still too exhausted, after eight hours of sleep, to attend my M&M art group, went back to bed and slept two more hours that morning.
In the afternoon, I went to the grocery store. When I returned, I saw that my yard man had come while I was gone and had deposited the leaves and grass clippings from my yard as well as from a yard across the street in the nice clean street. Grrrr!
On Friday, the forth day of the New Year, I made a quick trip to an estate sale nearby before I went out to the street to clean up the leaves, because the county was not coming back, and rain and wind were forecast. I filled my large green waste bin and began to fill leaf bags. Fortunately, a neighbor walked over to ask when the pick up was. He graciously offered his empty yard waste bin and proceeded to pick up the mess with his shovel and pitch fork. I am so thankful for his help.
On the fifth day, I did some household chores, and after supper I watched the first video of the online class, which I had planned to start on Friday.
On Sunday, day six, the rain started while I ate breakfast. Rain days should be art making days, right? But first, I reorganized a small book shelf so I can reach things without using a step stool, and dusted everything so I’d have a clean start. The wind was blowing, rain pouring down.
I made a pot of soup. Robert came in the house and cooked something. As we were eating, his van started sounding its alarm. He was able to shut it off quickly from inside the house. I was looking out my large front window as the man across the street had his headlights pointing directly at my yard and saw a surge of huge palm fronds blowing into my yard. Robert speculated that a frond hitting his van probably set off the alarm.
I noticed that the lights were out across the street. A little while later, Robert’s wheelchair became stuck in a flowerbed near the garage when a wheel slipped off the sidewalk. We called the guys across the street to rescue him. Then our power went out for about twenty minutes.
So this morning – I’m writing on Monday evening, January 7, 2019 – the mess from the storm was not a surprise. The rain had passed on overnight, and the day actually had a little sun between the clouds. My activity for the day was obvious. Clean it up!
I loaded at least 35 palm fronds into my truck, with small pieces going into the trash bin that was waiting for pickup in the street. These fronds are huge, hanging over the end of my Chevy S10 buy at least two feet, maybe more.
Here we are a week into 2019 and nothing to show for it art wise. Tomorrow, day 8, I will tarp the truck and drive half an hour to the dump. Yes, I was planning to go there some time this winter, but not this soon.
More rain is expected on Wednesday – maybe then I’ll get going with my class.
I hope your New Year has started well.
If not, perhaps we should fasten our seat belts and hold on tight!
I started 2018 by choosing the word “Weed” as my word for the year and I did all kinds of weeding in the yard, in my eleven bookcases, and in my closet. I’m still finding cupboards and drawers that could use some cleaning out, but they will have to wait.
I went through approximately a nine foot stack of old magazines cutting out pictures and discarding the rest. I’ve done such a good job of staying on top of this, that Saturday evening when I needed some magazines to select random images that appealed to me for a quick exercise in a book I was reading, I could find only one magazine in the recycle bin.
I began the year completing one or more unfinished projects that had been hiding here and there, as well as finishing an online collage course I had started in fall of 2017. I went through the rest of the year feeling like I wasn’t putting in the studio time I wanted to.
A quick inventory on Sunday of the work I did counted fifteen collages using a variety of materials, and two baskets made from the Watsonia I harvested from the garden in September. I completed two additional online courses, attended the Basket and Gourd two-day conference in Visalia, and led one activity for my local mixed media group.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s has had two primary activities—get the big leather-like Sycamore leaves out of the back and side yard into the street for pick-up tomorrow, and in the evening when I was exhausted from the leaves, set some art goals for 2019.
First, I have a room divider in the studio that is also a place where I can hang things that inspire me. Nothing has changed on it since 2015; past time for something new to look at.
I have been thinking about a yard art project for over a year which involves many small items I have collected that are no longer useful. In the last few months I have been planning how to actually do it, and acquiring parts for it.
Many years ago when I lived in Cincinnati, I did some plein air painting and really liked it. But then I had my first baby and it was too much trouble to leave the house to paint. On Saturday, while raking up leaves, I stubbed my foot twice on a tree root in a place I walk often. I covered it with one of those square milk carton carriers which will make a perfect place to sit and paint in my yard.
On my computer is a digital book on how to use cold wax. I finally got around to ordering some cold wax, so I can try using it as I watch the lesson. I have one more online collage course lined up, which I hope to begin on Friday of this week.
In 2018, I have acquired as gifts or at estate sales, eight wonderful books about various artists that I’m eager to read, perhaps at lunch time, or instead of Facebook.
These are enough ideas to get me going. I’m praying for a lot of rain in the next few months, so I don’t spend all winter working outside like last year. I think it is important to write out some specific ideas for the creative work, and to leave some space for new ideas and opportunities to emerge.
I left home at 2:48 p.m. on Monday, December 24 headed seventy miles north to Roseville, CA where my son Chris lives. It was dry, but threatening. As I drove up the on ramp at Hammer Lane, the first rain drops hit the windshield, and before the next exit the wipers were going on high speed. The heavy rain continued on the two lane section of I-5 until Elk Grove where the road picks up a third lane. Fortunately, the heavy traffic was headed south on the other side of the freeway.
Sacramento had easy, normal rain when I passed through. It was still raining when I arrived at my son’s house at about 4:30. When I stepped into the house, I was greeted with three new faces. Two of them ran toward the door; the third stood there in shock, and quickly disappeared.
Jeremy helped me unload my car of gifts, food, a duffel bag, and pillow. There was a face-to-tummy hug from my grandson, Vinnie, who disappeared until dinner was served. Jer was busy putting food in the oven at the right time, and fixing a salad. I learned all about his new job.
The almost three-month-old kittens were busy checking out my shoes, chasing colorful Christmas bows, and grabbing anything that moved on the Christmas tree. Once Chris got home from work, dinner was on the table in no time, my grandson ate and was back in his room before I had tasted everything once.
I had brought my IPad and was hoping Vin could show me how to do a few things on it, but I was never able to catch his eye, mainly because I couldn’t see his eyes due to his new hairdo.
When I go to Chris’ house, I seem to get caught up in a vortex of image and sound, so foreign to what I’m used to, that I just watch it happening around me, like I’ve stepped into the middle of a movie.
About 9 p.m. the shy kitten made an appearance, keeping her distance from me, while the two large dogs gnawed new bones, and we watched a movie called “Dumplin.” Things shifted into high gear as gifts were wrapped, the TV news repeated itself about every half hour, the kittens got into more stuff, and the Pope reminded us why we have Christmas.
When I got up to use the bathroom at 5 a.m. Christmas morning, one of the cats was outside the door of my room, staring at it, waiting for it to open. When I came out of the bathroom, she was gone.
Christmas morning Vinnie opened most of his gifts and had gone back upstairs before I could finish a small bowl of oatmeal. Once all the gifts were opened, I put on my makeup, and curled my hair. The two kittens attacked the neatly stacked pile of tissue paper and discovered it slides wonderfully on carpet.
My grandson went to his friend’s house wearing his new clothes, Chris cleaned up the kitchen, and soon it was time for me to get on the road back to Stockton, with the sun shining brightly. It is nice to go for a short visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
Since the end of summer I have been accumulating clothing and household items that need the attention of the sewing machine in the small front bedroom of my home. This room is mostly used for storage of things I might use in my art, as well as my 12-harness loom, a small loveseat with a hide-a-bed for the rare occasions when we have a visitor for a few nights, and my sewing machine.
The Singer sewing machine was my first purchase after I began my first graphic arts job in 1962. It has a cam system with discs to make decorative stitches, and it will sew in reverse with just the push of a lever. My mother’s machine did not have a reverse feature which required me to turn the item 180 degrees to sew over the end of the seam to lock in the stitching. My machine was portable, so I could set it up in front of the TV on a card table. Soon after I got married, I found an old treadle cabinet, with four small drawers like my paternal grandmother had, at a yard sale.
Until the last few years, I did a lot of sewing, making most of my clothes. Now, I mostly repair things. I wanted to get this room cleaned up before I start making plans for next year. Tuesday afternoon I finished the sewing. Next, I will be baking nut bread and a few Christmas cookies.
Christmas is one of those events that can take over your life for weeks or even months if you let it. I used to make hand-woven gifts, bake dozens of cookies, wrap gifts with ribbons and bows—the whole big deal. Then my sons married, had families, and wanted me to come to their house.
When I worked at the Livermore VA for ten years, we had so many Christmas events and decorations at work that I was happy to get away from it at home. When I stopped working full time with the ninety-minute one-way commute, doing all my holiday rituals became another chore on the list. I would decorate inside, but spend all day outside raking leaves. I’d wrap and mail gifts, but never see them opened.
There is nothing wrong with making a special time if it brings you joy, but I came to see it all as a huge distraction, taking me away from subjects I was studying, or projects I was in the middle of. I was spending my time and energy on activities that I didn’t care about, and didn’t seem to matter much to anyone else.
Now, I decorate in less than an hour, putting candle-type lights in my windows. I bake two kinds of cookies I really love, and enjoy a few hours with my sons and grandson on Christmas Eve and morning.
Since I’ve been writing every week about my art making, yard tending, and occasional travels, I see no reason to write a Christmas letter reviewing the year.
My wish for each of you is that you cherish the meaning that this season holds for you. I pray you will enjoy good health and peace in your heart in the New Year. Marilyn
The apple mystery from last week was solved Wednesday morning.
I generally write my blog on Monday or Tuesday and schedule it to post on Wednesday at 7:00 a.m. When I got into the kitchen last Wednesday morning, there was the culprit.
I believe he got in through the cat door, decided he would stay in the warm house, and was camped out under the dishwasher. The apples were too big to take through that small space.
I put the finishing touches on the collage series that I have been working on the last few weeks. I decided to use them as Christmas gifts, and will post photos of them in January.
I am keeping this one which was made on an odd piece of cardboard with a lower right corner missing. I glued a heavy cotton fabric on the cardboard and put white gesso on the fabric. The pattern on the bottom and the right side was made by spreading thickened gesso through a stencil. After the gesso was set, I painted with diluted, green, acrylic paint.
The panda is sitting on palm bark, under which are some odd scraps of printed paper covered with soft acrylic gel that was scratched while wet. I added more paint, and three fabric roses. The panda was made out of pipe cleaners by my mother more than thirty years ago.
I mounted the whole thing on a 1/8 inch thick piece of balsa wood from the craft store. This filled in the missing corner, which I painted, before adding a shell fragment.
Last Saturday, my basket making group had their Christmas potluck. We have a custom of distributing the handmade gifts we brought, where the wrapped items are set on a table and we draw numbers for the order in which we select a gift from the table, or from a member who already has chosen a gift. The gift can be “stolen” up to twice before it is opened.
I came home with “yard art” in the form of a bird house made from a gourd.
I had a perfect place for it. Some years ago, I attached a copper hook to an arbor set among trees, with plans to hang a hummingbird feeder there. All it ever drew was ants—my hummers want the real deal.
Coming up this week is another potluck on Thursday. And, I will be putting up window lights in the form of (electric) candles, one to each window. This is a custom I have had since I lived in Tidewater Virginia, where every house had candles in the windows. They make the house glow inside and out.
As you prepare for the holidays, may your heart be happy.
The photo above was the state of my studio work table last Friday as I was adding “mechanicals” to the five collages I have been working on sporadically last month. Mechanicals is the term the artist Finnabair uses to refer to items she adds to her collage pieces such as gears, screws, nuts, bolts, safety pins, paperclips, and other odd parts of things that have been discarded.
I have been working on these collages once or twice a week all last month because the weather has been pleasantly warm until last week. I began an extensive weeding project a few months ago. It has probably been a dozen years since I cleaned up this area. From a distance, it is all just shades of green, but up close the grass thins out and the whole area looks messy.
Under my big tree, I have been digging out things that don’t belong in the grass such as tiny palm trees, privet, pyracantha, mock orange, and other woody plants that have grown from seed dropped by the birds. I also removed large masses of ajuga, a flat, flowering plant that takes over if not removed, and bermuda grass that sends long strings of itself under these other plants. Today, I finished this job.
The next garden chore will be getting the huge sycamore leaves out to the street so the county can haul them away. Sycamore leaves are tough and do not compost into the ground, so I like to get them out of here ASAP. I also have been picking up apples from my tree at the back of my lot every few days, and bringing the good ones inside. ~~~
My bedtime routine is to shower and then have a custard-cup-dish of ice cream as I read in bed before sleep. Saturday evening, when I went to the kitchen for the ice cream, I found an apple on the floor in front of the dishwasher. I had a tray of newly picked apples on a table near the cat door around the corner from the kitchen, and apples in the refrigerator, but what was an apple doing on the floor? I’m the only one in the house and I didn’t drop it there. So, I picked it up and put it back with the other apples in the tray.
When I found a second apple on the kitchen floor, same spot, on Sunday night after my shower, I became suspicious. This apple had been gnawed at. Maybe he got in through the cat door, but this would be the first time in almost five years anyone has used the cat door. I picked the apple up and figured I’d deal with it in the morning. But I’m thinking: the animal had to smell the apples from outside the house. If it wasn’t using the cat door, maybe it was getting in near the plumbing, but none of the cabinets were open and they don’t shut on their own. Maybe from under the dishwasher.
Imagine my amazement on Monday morning when I found a third apple on the kitchen floor. I immediately put the tray of apples in the refrigerator. The question remains, is this mouse or rat coming in somewhere every night, or has it set up housekeeping inside somewhere? The curious thing is there are no droppings, or other signs of a resident mouse.
Tuesday morning the gnawed apple was not on the end of the counter near the door to the driveway where I left it yesterday. It was, of course, on the floor in front of the dishwasher. It became evident that the critter had gotten up on the sink counter by way of a table where I keep my keys because a coupon that had been on the table was now on the floor.
Making breakfast, I discovered that this guy had also stolen a half-used supplement capsule which was in a tiny plastic dish on the counter. A second capsule was still in the dish. Why did he take one and not the other?
Fortunately, my cleaning person is here today so she can clean the counter thoroughly. When my life hits a stretch where each day seems like the one before, nature provides some comic relief!