Sunday, December 31, 2017

My favorite things 53

When my Dad was helping win WW2, his official MOS (military occupational specialty) was cartographer.  He never had a chance to find out what that meant in real service, because even before his division made it to Europe, he had been diverted to putting out a newspaper for the troops, but they did issue him a nifty little atlas, the 1943 edition, which he dutifully carried around for his entire length of service.

After the war the atlas soon became quaintly obsolete, all those dozens of newly independent nations still labeled with their colonial names (Belgian Congo, French West Africa, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Italian East Africa, Netherlands Indies, French Guiana, British Somaliland).  But the contours of the land were as they had always been.  I appropriated the atlas when I was maybe in fifth grade, when my fascination with maps became important.

I would put a sheet of carbon paper behind the page in the atlas, and trace it with a stylus to make maps for my term papers and book reports.  Raised to never, never, never, never put a mark into a book, I was meticulous about keeping the atlas pristine, although leafing through it today, I find black smudges on one page.

And apparently I decided to ink in the border between East and West Germany, which appears to stop in midstream, because by 1943 Czechoslovakia was just another part of Germany, no border indicated.

I've loved that book for many decades, often taking it down from the shelf just to recapture a bit of the world before I was born.  For instance, how intriguing to find the map of petroleum production with not a single green dot in Saudi Arabia, or the map of automobile production with the huge red circle in the US and the tiniest dot in Japan.  I can easily open any page at random and pfft, an hour has gone by.

Over the years I've probably spent more time with this book than with any other single book in the world.  I own other, more recent atlases, but none of them fill the room with magic when I open them the way this one does.

It's fitting that I'm ending my year of favorite things with a book of maps, because my daily art project for 2018 is going to be maps.  I'll talk more about that in the next week, but for now I'll just close out a very good year (personally, if not for the world at large) with this wonderful thing.  On this New Year's Eve, I know we all hope for wonderful things, at least a few of them, in the year ahead, and I wish many of them for us all.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Ornaments 2017

I wanted to make small ornaments this year, and was happy when I found some little wooden cubes at the craft store, about 3/4 inch on the side, pre-stained in several different colors.  Best of all, there were 72 in the pack, and I have only about 50 people on my ornament list, so I could ruin some without having to make an emergency run to the store for more raw materials.

But what do you expect for 5 cents apiece -- some of the cubes were pretty rough on one or more sides, so I had to apply gesso and sand and then paint over the white gesso, so some ended up two-tone.  That took me a while, because of the drying time -- I'd get a bunch to the next stage but not be able to get back to work till the next day.

Finally the fun part: wire and beads to "wrap up" the little packages.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

My favorite things 52

Many years ago my sister bought a present for Dad -- a Christmas bear.  Turn him on, and he taps his toe, strums his guitar and plays Jingle Bells, in a syncopated rock-n-roll rhythm.  Clearly this was the perfect present for the man who had everything.

I don't recall whether there was negotiation, after our parents died, over who got the Christmas bear.  Maybe I pulled rank as the oldest survivor, or maybe nobody else wanted it (although how could that be possible??).  But the bear came home with me, and has been an integral part of our holiday celebrations ever since.  He needed a new battery a couple of years ago, but is otherwise good as new.

Most of the time he takes his position on the bar in the dining room, ready to perform for the assembled guests.

When we first met Isaac, age 3, at a Christmas dinner, the bear was on hand to make him feel welcome.  Isaac needed to be held up to reach the button, but now, of course, he's tall enough to do so without help.  This year it's new baby Vivian who will have to be held up to meet the bear. 

When we do Christmas away from home the bear comes along, so as you read this, our whole family will be listening to Jingle Bells at the beach in South Carolina. 

All of us wish all of you a very good Christmas!

Monday, December 18, 2017

New collages -- finished at last

I wrote a while back about a new direction in collage -- mounting my work on wood painting panels.  I finished a couple in September and put them into the gallery, but because I'm still in the exploratory stage of this series, I played around for a long time before deciding that the rest were finished.  I had a deadline: the holiday sale at Pyro Gallery, in which every artist in the co-op has work hung, and we allow people to take home anything they purchase right away instead of waiting for the end of the show. 

The work had to be hung by Thursday, and as late as Wednesday I was in the studio putting on the last coats of matte medium and installing eye hooks and picture wire.  But on Thursday morning they all made it onto the wall.

What I finally decided was needed to finish off the pieces was a 3-D element, so I rooted around in my various boxes and piles and came up with some keys, bits of computer circuit boards, glasses lenses, plastic doodads, wood cubes and even a huge pencil with a turtle carved into its non-sharpened end.  Affixed them with glue and wire and declared victory.

I know I like using the wood panels as collage supports, and the method of doing several pieces at once, letting one dry while working on another.  I like the maps, old book cuttings and old photos, and the various found objects.  Not sure about the rickrack or the beads.

After the holidays I guess it will be time to go buy another pack of panels and start another series.

Meanwhile, all of these are on display and for sale at Pyro Gallery, at our new location at 1006 East Washington St. in Louisville.  If you're in the neighborhood, please stop by and see our wonderful new home -- and a whole lot of excellent artwork.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

My favorite things 51

Over the years we have become less and less inclined to do a lot of Christmas decorating, giving away huge boxes of ornaments to our kids and putting up fewer outdoor things that require climbing on ladders in the cold.  But there are a few doodads that are non-negotiably required.  Such as my angel choir.  (I know it's really an orchestra, not a choir, but for some reason that's what I have always called them and I'm not going to change now.)

When I was about 12 my godmother sent the angels to me.  She didn't ordinarily send gifts but maybe this was special because I was confirmed that year?  Anyway, it was the first Christmas doodad that was mine alone, rather than a family possession, and I always took great care with where and how the angels were set out. 

They never had a regular place, but would be arrayed wherever it seemed best.  Every year they tried out different formations: all in a row, or in a two-by-two procession, or arranged into percussion, brass and string sections.  Here they are performing from atop the Bose radio, so their songs can be broadcast throughout the house.

Over the years the angels have shown some signs of wear.  A few wings have broken off and had to be glued on.  The conductor has lost one arm (fortunately not the one with the baton).  There some paint chips.  But they continue to make beautiful angel music

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Disappointment in the museum

We drove over to Evansville IN on Saturday night to attend the opening of the 45th Mid-States Craft Exhibit, a venerable juried show that the Evansville Museum has sponsored for many years.  This show appears every other year, alternating with the Mid-States Art Exhibit (which doesn't accept textiles).

I was pleased to have one of my big flag quilts accepted for this show, and was looking forward to the visit.  Six years ago this week I was planning to attend the opening of the same show, and even receive an award, but found myself in the hospital instead for sudden surgery.  So this was a chance to remove a jinx.

As we walked through the museum, we passed signs:

But when we got to the Mid-States room, and I took out my camera, the guard leaped on it.  No photos.

But this is my piece!

Sorry, no photos.

An onlooker summoned the museum director, who said of course it would be fine for me to take a picture of my own quilt.  She explained that they banned photography because the museum doesn't own any of this work and they didn't know whether it would be OK with the artists to have their work photographed.

This explanation was more mystifying than reassuring.

First off, why do artists enter juried shows?  Presumably because they want their work to be seen, by as many people as possible.  (At least that's why I enter.)  And in this day of social media, having your work posted online has the potential of reaching far more people than just those who come to the museum.  Which is presumably the reason why the museum posts those "Snap it share it" signs.  So presumably artists would be happy to have their work photographed, and with any luck, distributed online.

Second, I don't believe I have ever entered a show where I didn't expect my work to be on display for public consumption (including photos).  Yes, some shows are picky and ban photos, but I've always thought this was (a) wrong-headed and (b) because they want to sell catalogs.  For shows that don't have catalogs, like the Mid-States, I am especially interested, as an artist, in having the show documented as widely as possible.  I know my work is going to be displayed in public, and I expect -- even hope -- that people may want to take photos.

Finally, if in fact there are artists who might have reasons to want their work NOT photographed -- which I have a hard time imagining -- show sponsors can take care of that in an instant by putting a line on the bottom of the entry form.  "I understand by entering this show I give permission for my work to be available for photography by the public."  Many shows have similar disclaimers on entry forms for allowing images to be used for public relations, so why not require that we allow use by public photography?  What's the difference?

Please don't protect me from the public!!!  If I want my work not to be photographed, I can easily deal with that by not entering the show.

I am sorry that I can't give you a review of the show, as I customarily do when I get to visit shows and museums that many of my readers can't.  There were interesting pieces on display in the Mid-States, and I would have liked to share my responses with you. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

My favorite things 50

I got interested in Zuñi fetishes, those tiny carved animals who represent the Prey Gods or guardian animals of the six regions of the earth, in the late 1980s when I took my sons to Los Angeles on a business trip.  My professional organization was holding its convention at Disneyland, in a resort hotel that was adjacent to the park, and it seemed that the boys, in their early teens, could occupy themselves safely while I attended the meetings. 

One day we drove into the city to ooh and aah at the weird people on Venice Beach, and to gape at the La Brea tar pits.  And we went into the next-door museum, where the gift shop was having a big sale on fetishes.  I fell in love, and bought several, and over the years I have gotten many more on visits to the Southwest.  Here are some of them:

Before fetishes became collectible art objects, they were used ceremonially and carried in small pouches by hunters for protection and good luck in hunting.  Thus they were small -- the littlest one in this photo, the donkey in the center front, is only about an inch long.

Each of the fetish animals has a little "prayer bundle" tied around its middle, which it carries for its own protection and good luck.  According to tradition, you're supposed to feed your fetish animals to keep them healthy and happy, by strewing some cornmeal in their case or pouch.  Mine have never been fed but I think they're still happy.  I know I am.

Friday, December 8, 2017

A goat named Kathleen

Just checked my email and was intrigued by a message with the subject line "A goat named Kathleen Loomis."

I have donated to the Heifer Project before, following in the footsteps of my parents who would give a sheep or chickens to poor families in faraway places as Christmas gifts to their grandchildren.  When our grandchild turned six last year, we thought he was old enough to understand the concept of charity, so we donated a goat and had the project send him a personal letter.  (A nice touch -- I got to write the message, and they printed it out with a goat picture and mailed it to him.)

Afterwards, his mom reported back that a few weeks after the letter arrived, he wanted to know when the goat was going to arrive and where they would put it, since the back yard is kind of small.

Oops.  I said maybe we did this too early -- maybe he isn't old enough to understand how this works.

No, she said, he understood and was fine with giving the goat to a poor family, but he thought after they had it for a while it would be nice if he could have it for a while too!

So this year the organization is trying hard to get me to donate again, which I plan to do, but haven't gotten around to it yet.  They have been sending me emails for the last week or so, including this one, which explains "We're expecting newborn baby goats on the Heifer Ranch this spring.  We're going to name our next baby goat after one lucky donor who makes a tax-deductible gift before midnight tomorrow.  Will it be you?"

To be honest, I'm not sure I want a baby goat named after me.  I already have a baby human named after me (well, it's her middle name, but still...) and a goat seems like a step backward.  I wonder whether this is going to turn out to be a successful fundraising approach or not.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Chicago art 3 -- Campeche wax

Ever hear of Campeche wax?  I hadn't either, until I ran into not one but two spectacular works of art in Chicago that use it.  Campeche is the Mexican state just west of Yucatan, and Campeche wax is a very dark beeswax originating there.  Because the wax is sticky, it's used for the substrate of art where you want to adhere a top layer of decorative stuff.

Eduardo Terrazas, 1.1.30, detail below

This large piece, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, was made by covering a board with wax, and fine wool yarn was pressed on in an elaborate pattern that must have taken ages to lay down.  (The piece is dated 1974-2014, and I hope he had time to make other things besides this during that half-a-lifetime.) The slight irregularities in the pattern showcase the artist's hand up close.
Santos Motoaopohua de la Torre de Santiago, The New Awakening, details below

Glass beads were introduced to Mesoamerica by the Europeans in the 1590s and became an important part of jewelry and ritual objects.  This huge work, at the National Museum of Mexican Art, references traditional motifs.  Tiny seed beads are pressed into the Campeche wax on a plywood support, painstakingly arranged so the holes point up (can you imagine how long that takes, and with what tiny tweezers?), although I was happy to see that a few beads escaped, slumped over on their sides and proved that even the most meticulous artisan takes a ten-second vacation every now and then.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Chicago art 2 -- Latin American fiber

I apologize for taking so long to get back to my visit to Chicago several weeks ago.  In mainstream museums I always like to keep an eye out for art made from fiber, and I found lots of interesting examples.  Today's three artists are all Latin American.

Rafael Ferrer, A Flag for the Straits of Magellan, detail below

This work, made in 1972, is an imaginary flag for Puerto Rico, the artist's birthplace, which he envisions not as a U.S. territory but as a faraway independent place.  Hung far up in a dim corner of a dark gallery, the flag was hard to see; the sign said it includes fabric, rawhide, leather, wire, pipe cleaners, rope and various other stuff.  The triangular shape, 3-D surface and midnight colors made it considerably more exotic than your run-of-the-mill flag.

Vivian Suter, Untitled, detail below

Hanging right below the triangular flag is this large unstretched canvas by an Argentinian artist who lives in Guatemala.  Her shtick is to apply the pigment, mixed with glue as a binder, with a machete, and to leave it outside to weather.  I'm not sure exactly how she achieved the distinct raised effect, or even whether we're seeing real shadows or just 2-D differences in value, but I like the subtlety of the patterns.  I wished for more light and a better view (I adjusted the exposure so the detail shot is lighter than in real life).

Arturo Herrera, Behind the House III, details below

What could be simpler -- get some wool felt, cut out some shapes, hang it on the wall.  He may have used a laser cutter because the edges are perfectly finished; very little trace of the artist's hand in this piece.  According to the sign, the shapes are "abstracted from popular culture and children's literature."  That may be an overreach, but the shapes are beautifully drawn and composed, and the slight distance away from the wall allows shadows to punctuate the image.  The kneeling figures are not part of this installation, although they look right at home. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

My favorite things 49

If you've ever been in a Lutheran church service you know that congregational singing is a really big deal.  When I still lived at home the major topic of conversation on the way home from church was occasionally the sermon or the Bible reading, but always the hymns -- I love that one, that one was way too slow, strange wording in the third verse, can't go wrong with a Bach cantata.  Of course I own modern hymnals, but wonderfully, I also own these four old ones.

The big black one was my grandfather's, and my mother appended sticky notes inside with historical commentary. 

The really beat-up green one belonged to my grandmother's sister, and I don't know how it got into my possession.  Both these really old ones had words and music, in German, of course.  The latest of my ancestors to arrive in the U.S. emigrated in the 1880s and I'm sure they spoke English in town, but German at home and in church at least until World War I.   

The two little ones -- with words only, no music -- belonged to my parents, with their respective names stamped in gold on the covers, issued upon their confirmations.  My father's book, given to him in 1927 when he was 14, was in German, his first language, from which I deduce that Holy Cross Church in Saginaw had not.  Or maybe they just had a box of books left over and weren't about to throw out a perfectly good book, even if it was in a language that the kids couldn't read any more; it would build their character.  Meanwhile, my mother's confirmation hymn book, given the following year, was in English. 

By the time I learned to sing hymns, of course, everything was in English, and I know only tiny bit in German.  Stille Nacht, of course, and a few lines of my favorite Advent hymn, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen.  Since today is the first Sunday in Advent, here's that hymn from the little green book, in case you want to sing along.

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen
aus einer Wurzel zart
Wie uns die Alten sungen,
von Jesse kam die Art,
Und had ein Blümlein bracht
mitten in kalten Winter
wohl zu der halben Nacht.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Hugs in the workplace

I've been out of the workplace for 17 years now so I can't tell you whether innocuous hugging is more or less prevalent than in the previous century.  But I have been annoyed by all the guys who have piteously protested that yes, all those predators were disgusting, but how about all us nice guys who just like to hug?  For instance, a letter to the editor in this morning's New York Times:

"We as a society are exhibiting mass hysteria... The political correctness demanded by current public opinion throws out the baby with the bathwater.  We don't want to go so far as to discourage any hug or embrace to show caring and warmth."

I've been talking about this with my husband and son, and my position is that hugs are so rarely appropriate in the workplace that you can practically count the occasions on your fingers.  For the edification of all you nice guys who just like to hug, here's my easy guide.  You might want to print it up on a little card and keep it in your wallet, just in case you wonder if a hug is OK.

It's OK at your co-worker's retirement party.  OK when your team has just won the election or the million-dollar contract. Probably OK after somebody has shot up or burned down your office and you're all huddled on the sidewalk in dismay.  OK when your co-worker returns from the hospital, or prison, or three years in Ethiopia.  Maybe when your co-worker has just gotten a call that her mother died.  OK on occasion if the two of you are engaged or married (to one another).

But not to say good morning or good night.  Not when the hug initiator is the boss or superior of the hug recipient.  Not when the recipient's work clothes are skimpy or suggestive, or when the recipient is standing on a ladder.  Not when you're the only two people in the room, and especially not if the door is locked.

Just remember this, guys: if you want to show caring and warmth, give her a raise.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Etsy and old thread

I don't know much about Etsy, having neither bought nor sold there, but Leigh's comment on my last post seems to ring true.  She wrote: "In some ways, that stack of thread is symbolic of exactly what Etsy has come to be.  Some guy who doesn't know jack about handcrafts trying to exploit the "warm fuzzy handmade" image to make a quick buck..."  If you either buy or sell on Etsy I recommend you read that NYTimes article.

But what I want to talk about is the thread.  Several people left comments on that post about finding old wooden spools and sewing with the thread.  Conventional wisdom holds this to be a no-no, because thread does get old and lose its strength.  If you pull a length of thread off an old wooden spool and give it even a half-hearted yank, it will break.  Obviously that is not a good quality if you are sewing a pair of pants or a hammock, or even a functional quilt that you think will be tugged and folded and occasionally washed. 

But if your thread is only used for things that will not be handled, or only for decorative purposes, who cares if it's weak?  I realized this several years ago when I was sewing a lot of "postage stamp" quilts, where each little bit is densely quilted before they're all sewed together in a grid.  I started  using up my old thread for the quilting, which was great because I needed lots and lots of it and didn't really care what color.

I don't sew the thread off my hundreds of wooden spools because I love to display them with the colors intact, but I certainly use anything on plastic.  Really cheap thread makes a mess as a top thread, because multiple trips through the needle hole pull off a lot of lint, but it works fine in the bobbin.

So if you find yourself with a lot of old thread on hand, whether by inheriting it from your mother's sewing box or because you don't turn over your own stash very quickly, do not feel compelled to throw it out.  Use it!  Except for hammocks and pants.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Form over function

Crabby again.  Yesterday's New York Times had a big story in the business section about Etsy, which is undergoing culture shock after new management took over.  The story was interesting and extensive, but I fixated on the photos they chose to illustrate it.  The online version sticks to photos of the people mentioned in the article, but the print version includes pretty shots of thread, scissors and cones of yarn, meant to put us in the mood of handcrafted stuff.

Well, that's fine, except for the thread.  Take a look at this photogenic display -- seven spools in a cute stack.  Except that four of them are wood!

When's the last time anybody making crafts to sell online used thread off a wooden spool?  Answer: never, because wooden spools went out of circulation before the internet was invented.

And the other three spools also look suspiciously old.  The gray thread appears to be on a styrofoam-like spool, which I seem to remember from the 1990s; the pink and yellow look like Coats & Clark plastic spools from a decade ago, before they switched to a tall, skinny format.

I wonder where the photographer came up with these antiques?  And I wonder why he (yes, it was a he) thought that would be a better way to illustrate modern commerce than the actual products that people use today?  I guess it's part of that stereotype that links sewing with pioneer days, grandma stitching on the treadle machine by the light of the oil lamp.  Yuk.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

My favorite things 48

My mother owned a meat grinder that to my knowledge was never used to grind meat.  I'm not sure why she acquired it, but at some point in my adolescence it got to be used for cranberry-orange relish.  When my sister and I departed home for our own kitchens, we both noted that cranberry-orange relish made with other kitchen implements wasn't quite as good as the official home version.  We tried chopping up the fruit in Cuisinarts, or with knives on cutting boards -- close but no cigar.

I don't know what I did to deserve it, but my mother passed the meat grinder on to me, and for many years I have been able to make perfect cranberry-orange relish.  Obligatory for Thanksgiving and Christmas, welcome for many other festive menus. 

The original box is labeled "Meat grinder" in my mom's handwriting -- twice, because you never know which way you'll fit it in the cupboard.  A bit of research reveals that Rival Manufacturing, founded in 1932, made a whole line of kitchen appliances with similar names:  my Grind-O-Mat, a Juice-O-Mat, Can-O-Mat, Broil-O-Mat, Knife-O-Mat, Shred-O-Mat, Steam-O-Mat and Ice-O-Mat.  (But when they became famous for the Crock Pot, they abandoned this naming strategy -- I guess Pot-O-Mat didn't survive the focus group.)  The company history tells me the grinder was made sometime after the mid-1950s, and the fact that the address on the box has no zip code tells me it was made before 1963, which jibes with my memory of when we started making cranberry-orange relish.

You have to put it together, making sure that the sharp-edged cutting plate (the one with the big holes, not the small ones, because there are two) faces outward.  You have to put a drop of water on each of the suction cups to hold it firmly to the counter.  It's not as tight as it was in its youth (but then who is?) so it wobbles a bit when you get it working, and drips a bit of orange juice out the bottom.  Cranberries like to bounce out of the chute when you crank it, so you have to hold your hand over the top.

But it makes the perfect relish.   I couldn't do a holiday without it.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Kimono everywhere 2

People made all kinds of different things with the kimono in our challenge project.

Finger puppets, stored on black cones, dressed in kimono scraps:

A kimono-clad doll pendant, mounted on a silk-covered display board when it's not being worn:

Silk scraps incorporated into handmade paper:

Silk used in nuno felting:

More coming...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Kimono everywhere 1

About this time last year, a long-time friend and fiber art pal took a new job and had to clear out decades worth of stuff in the basement to move to Florida.  She asked me if I'd like to inherit a huge pile of vintage Japanese kimono, and of course I said yes.  Many years earlier she had ordered a bale of kimono to sell at quilt and fiber shows and other vendor outlets.  But before everything was sold, she had to give up the business and the kimono went into the basement.

If you've been following the fiber world for a long time, you too may recall those long-ago times when kimono and obis were for sale cheap, in the days when people in Japan were adapting Western dress and were happy to part with old clothes, especially those with stains and tears.  Now they're realizing the value of those vintage garments and the price has gone way up.

When I got the stash, I suggested that my local fiber and textile art group hold a kimono challenge, in which everybody took stuff home and did something useful with it.  All spring and summer we had the bins at every meeting for people to paw through and find stuff to strike their fancies.  And last week we finally had the big reveal.

What a huge variety of results from the same pile of raw material!  I won't be able to show them all in one post, so stay tuned.

Several people made things to wear.  A vest:

A necklace of yoyos:

Infinity scarves:

A purse:

More tomorrow....