A Fun Morning! Valentine Paper Cut Workshop @ Knack






Last Saturday I had a wonderful morning at Knack teaching paper cut techniques to ten lovely women. I had a full house show up for the workshop and we all gathered around the table and got to work. I talked a bit about Wycinanki, Polish paper cuts. I especially focused on the Kurpie style Polish paper cut which uses a single fold, symmetrical design technique. Some students used the templates I brought to class for their design and other students created their own unique designs. Every paper cut made in this workshop was created by using recycled / up-cycled materials that Knack has gathered or that have been donated to the store. All the women seemed inspired by the class and especially by the design examples I shared from books I bought while studying in Poland and Hungary. A couple Polish/American students came to the class because they wanted to learn a little about their creative, Polish heritage. It feels good to pass on the beauty and heritage of traditions I've found particularly rich and inspiring. I plan to be back to Knack sometime this spring to teach another paper cut class. This time we will create floral paper cut designs. Stay posted for the date which I will announce here and on Facebook once I book the day and time. Thank you to Macey and Amber at Knack for having me teach this class and for taking these pictures which capture the feel of a fun, creative morning at your store.

Making Valentine's Cards: Up-cycled, Paper Cut Workshop February 1st





Last month I created the above example and template of a hand made, paper cut, Valentine using paper remnants I found in my scrap paper folder for an upcoming work shop I'm teaching at KNACK: The Art of Clever Re-Use, in Easthampton, MA. The workshop takes place in a couple weeks, on Saturday morning, February 1st, from 10am until 12pm. Spots are still open if you want to join me!

I'm really looking forward to teaching an art class again as it has been a number of years since I've been in a teaching role, encouraging other's creative energy and talents. Yes, in a past life, before I moved to western MA, I was an art teacher to middle school and high school students.

I took two embroidery classes at KNACK this fall and had a ball! It was wonderful to get out of the house on a Saturday morning. I walked into KNACK with the smell of a fresh pot of coffee brewing, greeting my senses and one of the friendly owners there to welcome us. All the workshop attendees soon gathered around the table and got to work with a wonderful and talented teacher. We all learned something new that morning and it was inspiring to be in KNACK's studio space.

I just got confirmation today that the workshop is a GO since I have enough people enrolled in the class to allow it to happen. And there are still some spots available if you want to join us at KNACK's fabulous creative re-use lounge. I included the following information taken from KNACK's website which shares all the info and links you need to find out more info and enroll in the workshop.

Class Description

Valentine’s day is just around the corner!  Make unique cards to give to loved ones (or keep for yourself!). Paper Cutting is an art form that is practiced by different cultures all around the world.

You will learn about the Polish form of paper cutting called “Wycinanki”; the Kurpie style of cutting from Poland is the inspiration for the projects in this workshop. This style cut out is made from one piece of paper that is folded in half, down the middle. You'll create beautiful cards to take home, and  learn the skills to make many more on your own.
Details 
 Saturday, February 1st
10am-12pm
Taught by Kim Wachtel
Cost: $30

Pre-registration required
Class size limited to 10
Sign up

Stop by during regular business hours to register for this class, or you may sign up online.

Register for Workshop!


Our cancellation policy can be found at the bottom of the Workshop listings page.
Questions
 Contact us! We can be reached at 413-529-0126 or info@knack.org.

Snow Days

My little place in this world is covered in snow again. As I struggled with the flu a couple of weeks ago it became warm and all the snow melted away before Christmas. It all just didn't feel right! I began to feel better and then freezing temperatures and a few flurries came on Christmas Eve. Beginning on New Year's Day the snow officially returned. The fresh snow is one of the things I am grateful for in 2014.

I have been enjoying looking at art work online that captures the beauty of winter and this snowy season. A friend recently posted art work done in the early 1900's by Wladyslaw Jarocki on facebook and I found his work beautiful. I love the contrast of the whites, greys, browns and blues of the landscape with the brightly colored scarves and embroidery accents on the traditional clothing of his Polish highlander subjects. I want to give away my black, nylon covered jacket for sheepskin, fleece lined, embroidered coats, woolen stockings, leather boots, long heavy skirts and colorful scarves and dress like these beautiful highland women.

Władysław Jarocki, Żółta chustka oil, canvas
Wladyslaw Jarocki, "Winter Sun", oil on canvas, 69.5 x 99 cm, private collection
Wladyslaw Jarocki, "Hunter in Winter", 1915, oil on plywood, 98 x 67 cm, private collection
This past holiday season I was particularly inspired by eclectic paintings and other works of art posted by a blogger at A Polar Bear's Tale. The art work posted there is so special. There are illustrations, fine paintings, crafted items and photographs to be enjoyed. All the images chosen for this blog seem infused with magic, beauty and nostalgia. The posts cover themes and the art work reflects the seasons and holidays. I enjoyed looking at this blog over Christmas more than watching a holiday movie or tv program. If you enjoy looking at lovely works of art that reflect the magic of a season I suggest that you head over to A Polar Bear's Tale to scroll through the treasures there.

And finally since this is the first post of the New Year I think gratitude is the word for 2014. I started a gratitude jar and before going to sleep I will write down on a piece of paper a moment of beauty from the day for which I am grateful. On New Year's Eve this upcoming year I will read about all the positive things that filled up 2014. Among other things, I am grateful for the love of my family and friends, the return of snow, celebrating Christmas again with my mom and dad who came up to visit on New Year's Day bearing beautifully wrapped gifts, birds chirping and singing outside on a walk and nearby my bird feeders and the kisses of my 18 month old, cutie-pie of a boy, Kazmir.

gifts on New Year's Day with snow just beginning to fall outside

garden in snow

My house in the snow



Shop Local! ...handmade arts, crafts and farm on Stage Road, Cummington, MA

I've been busy getting my things ready for this fun event that I am helping put on and organize with my neighbors. I feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful area with many talented artists and farmers. Our Walkabout has become a tradition I look forward to which encourages the support of local arts and farms and the local economy. I hope some of you can make it out here to take a stroll and visit our neighborhood. Mark your calendars!

Our press release and posters are making their way out into the world. Here they are...

"Shop local this holiday season, by taking a classic fall country stroll. Visit six open houses all within a half mile of each other on historic Stage Road in Cummington, MA. This event shows the unique concentration of artists, small businesses and idyllic farms that pepper our Hilltowns. Start at 494 Stage Rd. or 556 Stage Rd. to do the 1 mile round trip tour, on November 2nd and 3rd, 11 am to 5 pm.  (** Just 494 Stage Rd is open on the 3rd.)

Leni Fried Printmaking at 494 Stage Rd. (www.lenifriedprintmaking.com) and One-Off Handcycles (oneoffhandcycle.com) have a shop and studio in their 150 year old barn. Leni Fried, an artist of over 30 years debuts her latest tree monoprints, cards and affordable art inspired by our landscape. Mike Augspurger from One-Off handcycle builds and sells a three wheeled handcycle for off road use for people in wheelchairs.  Rosemary Wessel (www.rosemarywessel.com) will have cards and original oil paintings of trees and more other-worldly subjects. She will also be showing in their barn.

Next on the tour at 509 Stage Rd. is Kimberly Wachtel: Where Earth Meets Sky Designs. You can't miss Kim's brightly colored house which reminds one of her whimsical, original handmade designs inspired by traditional Polish, Hungarian and Eastern European art. paintings and cards. Her hand made paper cuts, paintings, prints, cards and embroidered items will be for sale.

At the top of the hill at 523 Stage Rd. is the old Colonial, site of the former Stage Road Tavern where one was served grog! You can ask for grog, but you may receive a pottery tour in its stead! Steven Jones, potter, will be showing his work in this classic colonial and barn.

The last stop for the Walkabout at 556 Stage Rd is Gordon's Fold Highland cattle. Look for their long horns and shaggy manes. Eric Driver  has continued his grandfather Gordon's tradition of grazing these animals on this land.

We encourage you to feel the crunch of fallen leaves, the brisk air and warm up with cider, art and refreshments at each location. Shop local, walk local this holiday season.

See you there,
Leni, Mike, Rose, Kim, Jim, Steven, Eric and Monica..."

Christmas Trees and Snowflakes, New Card Designs, Holiday 2013




These new Christmas Tree and Snowflake paper cut images are at the printers this week to be made into holiday cards for the upcoming season. I thought I'd give you a little preview of what I'll have available at the Walkabout, craft fairs and at the stores where I sell my things and here on my blog starting in the beginning of November.

It is good to have some new items made to sell at the various sales opportunities coming up in the next few months.

I liked making these Christmas "Tree of Life" designs and Snowflake designs. Working with colorful paper, coming up with original, folk-style inspired images and symmetrical design is satisfying for me. I like the moment I unfold a new piece after cutting it for an hour or so to see if it works.






Wholesome Transformations: A hand designed commission


My friend Bi-sek has been interested in homegrown, healthy food for longer than I've known her. She's a talented organic gardener, cook, community organizer, nutritionist, health enthusiast, environmentalist and mother. I admire her and her work as she pushes herself as a woman and a professional. She is also the founder of the community garden that I am involved with called Raspberry Hill Community Garden.

Last year she commissioned me to design the above logo for a business she is developing. She wanted something hand drawn and painted in my colorful folk style. Since her business is about transforming oneself through nutrition, my inspiration for the drawing started with a seed blooming into a vibrant flower.  I choose the sunflower because not only is the plant beautiful, the seeds are nourishing. We decided to put some images of healthy vegetables and fruit in the corners of the composition.

Bi-sek and her daughter shared a gift this past winter with me and Kaz. They would come over to my house to play with Kaz and give me a little break from taking care of the baby so I could head over to my studio for an hour, two or three to work on this project. At this time it was important for me to start reclaiming my artistic self. This project helped me do that. Thank you, Bi-sek!

You can find out more about Bi-sek's work with nutrition at Wholesome Transformations.

My new love... Embroidery!


I discovered something new about myself this week. I love to do embroidery. I had a hunch that I would really like to do this and I was right. I've enjoyed admiring and looking closely at embroidery for a long time. Now it feels so good to be doing it!

Last Saturday I took a two hour workshop on embroidery at a new, truly awesome, re-use center/store called KNACK in Easthampton at the Eastworks building. Knack is a DIY palace. The store takes used things, sometimes on the way to being discarded, and brings new life to these things as potential and transformed arts and crafts items. I love the idea behind creating a store like this. Upcycling and reusing materials is a great way to transform items and the workshop space encourages community to learn to do things for themselves.  Here is Knack's mission statement...

Knack: The Art of Clever Reuse is a creative reuse center where you can:
  • Find all sorts of reusable materials for your creative projects
  • Take a workshop or drop in during our open studio time
  • Have a party (birthday, craft night, creative gathering, etc.)
  • Shop for upcycled gifts/art handmade by local artists
A woman named Bonnie Sennott taught the workshop. I was really impressed with her embroidered art pieces. She creates abstract images with embroidery stitches which I found beautiful and inspiring. She has a blog, Blue Peninsula Knits, which is full of her projects and examples of her many creative talents. She is a talented knitter as well as a knit pattern creator.

The photo above is of my completed project from the workshop. Bonnie gave us a template to work with and all of the materials to create a sachet. We got to try out 6 different embroidery stitches while creating this pretty, fragrant sachet, stuffed with lavender, camomile and flax seeds.

I find that doing needle work is really very relaxing to me...like weeding a garden or knitting a scarf. Repetitive, task oriented work makes me happy and puts me in a mentally and physically relaxed state. This activity is becoming a nice way to end a busy day full of child care and play, work, household chores, gardening and cooking. Plus I feel like I'm making progress with my creative practice since the sewing links up with the creative work I am now doing. It's a win/win situation!

At home, before taking this workshop, I've been playing around with simple watercolor patterns and incorporating hand stitched elements into them. I've been really attracted to the sun symbol motifs carved into wood of decorative Zakopane architectural elements and furniture in Poland. I'm making little images with gouache, paper, and thread using simple folk art motifs. Here's a work in progress at my work table.
I'll be happily embroidering as well as making new paper cuts and little paintings to prepare for the full season of craft fairs and holiday events in the coming months. I'll post more news on these events in a future blog post.

Paper Cut Wedding Invitation: A hand designed commission





In the winter and spring of 2012 I worked on a wedding invitation commission for my cousin, Bridget. She and her (now) husband, Matt, wanted a clean, organic design with fresh, spring green being the only color amid simple neutral tones. She wanted an image that was inspired by nature.

Her desire to have a clean simple design made me think that a paper cut would be the perfect medium for her invitation.

After a couple experiments and attempts I was hit with an inspiration for the design after looking through a few books from the library of botanical drawings. I simplified the idea of a curving organic branch in a neutral dove gray and added birch like spring, green leaves which attached at the ends of the branches. I cut the paper using scissors and an Exacto knife.

Using this branching leaf design I created a frame for the text in her invitation. We went through a bunch of different fonts on dafont.com and found a nice font with a handwritten, organic feel.

Bridget really wanted a tri-fold card. This design incorporated a "cut-out" postcard for attendance replies. She did not want a lot of disconnected pieces of card paper and envelopes to be a part of her invite.

The cover of the card was simply the image of the branch with leaves and the names of the couple. When you opened the card, all the information regarding the wedding was there...the announcement, the location and a RSVP card to fill in, cut out and send back. On the back of the card was some more logistical information, the address the return post-card and a place giving credit to the the designer...Where Earth Meets Sky Designs.

This project was a huge learning curve for me. I learned more about using the design programs on my computer, Photoshop and Illustrator. Thank you, Josh for all of your help with the computer programs!

A local co-op called Collective Copies did the printing for us. Despite some hiccups with the printing machine used for the addresses on the envelopes, it all worked out in the end. I delivered the completed project to a very happy bride to be.

Thank you Bridget and Matt for hiring me to be a part of your wedding in this very special way!

Folk Flower Tattoo: A hand designed commission

 


In 2011, upon return from my trip to Poland and Hungary, a woman who donated some money to my quest got in touch with me. She liked the images I was making inspired by eastern European designs. She also admired my quest to travel, learn and meet family. She wanted me to design a tattoo for her based on my eastern European Folk Flowers.

A big birthday was coming up for her and she wanted a special tattoo to mark this passage in her life. She is a talented flower arranger, has a flair for creative color palettes and creates unique, locally grown flower combinations that are used in her arrangements.

We got together to talk about what she wanted. Then I got to the drawing board.

A tattoo! A bit daunting, isn't it? Tattoos are a creative expression that are pretty permanent for a lifetime. I wanted to make sure that the design I came up with would be something she'd want to live with for the rest of her life.

I created two design options and she liked them. She took elements from them both and used them in her final design. This was an interesting process for me because I never had to design an image with the dimensionality of the human body in mind. Bone, skin, muscle...it was a cool challenge. Especially for the location of her tattoo as she wanted it to come from her foot, around her ankle (where that ankle bone protrudes) and up her calf.

Ultimately I had to hand the design over to the final artist, the tattoo artist. She would bring the image to the skin and to life. We met with her and she thought she had something good to work with. She and my client tweaked some of my color choices and varied the drawing just a bit, combining elements from both drawings, so that my work would translate to the tattoo medium, needle and ink, skin, muscle and bone.

When I got to see the pictures of the final result I was happy with how the image found a home on my client's skin. Graphic folk art patterns and design lend themselves well to tattoo art. The colors are so vibrant and beautiful. I know that my client really wanted colors that were vibrating with life as part of her tattoo.

This commission was a fun project and good challenge. I really enjoyed working with my client. I'm happy she has a piece on her skin that means so much to her. It reflects her life and her work with flowers.

Studio Time



I am making a real effort to spend time back in my studio.

Working.

The time is right to put energy into my creative practice with gusto.

Now that Kaz is over a year old, takes two regular naps, has an early bed time, and enjoys some time at the local daycare a couple hours a day, a day or two a week, there is no reason I can not get at least 6 -12 hours of studio time in every week. I know this doesn't sound like a lot but it is something. Something which is very special to me.

First I spent time reorganizing and cleaning up my studio space after using it as a home office for the past year. Now that the space is in studio mode I am back to work. Paints can stay out and works in progress are easily accessible. This is great as I sometimes need to get to work fast when I only have a bit of time to spare. A half an hour here an couple hours there soon add up to sketches being made, watercolors being experimented with and dreams taking shape.

During studio time I am taking care of Where Earth Meets Sky business. I want to use some of my creative time to get ready for craft fairs and holiday sales that happen in the fall through Christmas time. I would also like to get my cards and prints into some more retail businesses. I want to update my facebook business page and learn how to connect it better with my blog. I'm thinking about setting up my Etsy shop again since it has been dormant for the past year.

I just finished a commission I had been working on for a friend for long time. I want to share all the commissioned projects that have come to fruition in the past year and a half. I created a wedding invitation, a tattoo design and a business logo with matching business cards. I still need to finish a poster/flyer template for a musician friend. Posts to come will show the work in their completion. I will also have an organized page here on my blog which focuses on the commissioned projects that I've been hired to create for others.

Giving myself a kick in the pants to get out of my head, take action and get to work has felt really good. Creative work brings a greater sense of purpose and meaning to my life. My other roles in life are satisfying but when I put energy towards my creative practice I feel more whole and complete. The danger for me is procrastination and fear of failure. Somehow when I take action these two negative aspects become weaker and quietly hang in the background instead of blazing in the foreground. I do not feel good when I procrastinate or am unnecessarily fearful.

I have found a website that I find particularly inspiring and helpful as I make headway organizing moments of free time to create art work in the studio. It is a space for mothers who are artists called Studio Mothers. There are some good articles there for those of us looking to use any bits of free time we have pursuing creative endeavors. Really the inspiration here can be useful and translate to how one may pursue any life passion. Sometimes we just need some positive affirmation to help us along the way. This is a place I can find that.
meme taken from studiomothers.com

Art work by Kazimierz Sichulski


Spring, design stained glass triptych
In 1909. Pastel, tempera, cardboard. 145 x 231 cm.
The National Museum in Warsaw.

Palm Sunday (triptych)
In 1906. Pastel, gouache and tempera on paper glued on cardboard.
The National Museum in Krakow.
Girls Hutsul (left part of the triptych Palm Sunday).
136 x 71.5 cm


Hucułka
In 1906. Pastel and gouache on paper. 76 x 56 cm.
The National Museum in Krakow.

Bridesmaid (Hucułka)
In 1906. Pastel, tempera, gouache and charcoal on paper. 76 x 55 cm.
The National Museum in Krakow.

I came across some postcards in my studio recently that I purchased at the National Museum in Krakow a couple years ago. The postcards include images of some of the artworks shown above. The artist responsible for these works is Kazimierz Sichulski (1879-1942). I particularly like the paintings that were inspired by Hutsul traditional culture found in the south-eastern Carpathian mountain region. This area, for a time, was part of Poland but is now part of the Ukrainc. Sichulski was born and died in the city of Lviv.

I love the above pieces, as much for their traditional subject matter as for the rendering of the subject with rich expression, harmonious use of color and lyrical line. You get a sense of the beautiful ornamentation on the peasant dress. The lines are organic, graphic and bold. The way the cloth folds on the blouses and headscarves gives you the impression of the feel and weight of the cloth used for these traditional garments. The peasant's features are captivating as you see them here, looking, thinking and praying.

The Hutsul people that captivated Sichulski were mountaineers found in the western part of the Ukraine, Eastern Carpathian mountain region. Sichulski was not alone with his fascination as many artists and ethnographers were inspired by Hutsul traditional culture. Sichulski's artistic career was not only focused on traditional culture. He was a master of caricature and also created religious works. I am most attracted to his Hutsul inspired works.

It is not surprising to me that Sichulski studied with Wyspianski, who is an artist I've written about here on my blog . Wyspianski was inspired by traditional peasant culture in Poland as well. These artists were part of a larger movement called the "Young Poland" movement where something called "Chlopomania" occurred. "Chlopomania" is a Polish term used to describe these artist's fascination with traditional culture, folklore and peasant life. Some artists, playwrights, writers, and members of the intelligentsia at the turn of the century (1891-1918) in Poland felt cautious about, and in some instances, disgust for the modernization around them especially in the cities and politics at this time.  They desired to look to nature, return to nature and shun aspects of modern city life. The peasants lived close to nature so they and their customs fascinated and inspired artists. Some of the "Young Poland" artists, like Wyspianski, went so far as to marry peasant women. Another important aspect of this movement was the way in which artists looked for and expressed a strong national identity through traditional culture. This was especially important in Poland as the country for so long was partitioned by it's surrounding countries and political systems. Folklore and peasant life became the subject of many artistic creations. Artists involved with the Young Poland movement were working with thoughts and philosophies that were strongly reminiscent of Romanticism. The Romantic movement revolted against industrialization and the scientific rationalization of nature in artist expression. Romanticism looked to the authentic reality of strong emotion and looked back to traditions, ritual, and awe inspiring nature.

Let's fast forward to the 21st century. At this point in time another wave of interest in our connections with nature, with our farming and food, with our production of goods and even in looking at how we spend time in our families and within communities is gaining more interest and attention. Industrial farming, the outsourcing of manufacturing, and our plugged in culture needs to be looked at. Are we growing healthy food and taking care of the land that grows our food for ourselves and children? Are there meaningful jobs where a worker can feel pride in what they make? Are we sharing meals with our family and friends, having conversations, telling stories, marking important passages of time both personally and within our communties, connecting with something greater than ourselves?

Artists like Kazimierz Sichulski with their interest in and depiction of traditional cultures can show us something today. How are we feeling connected to meaning, health, communities and family and how are we feeling disconnected?  One of the reasons I enjoy works of art is for their aesthetically pleasing and/or thought  provoking effect. There is a reason I am so inspired by traditional cultures. I feel I can learn something from them and have learned something from them that brings me and my family more meaning, more health and more of a connection to something greater. With this, I think the Young Poland artists and I have something in common.


Sources: Wikipedia
               images found here: http://www.pinakoteka.zascianek.pl/Sichulski/Index.htm

Creative People Say No

The following piece, from medium.com, written by Kevin Ashton is relevant to me as I work on creative projects. Time management is the hardest thing for me, right now, as I do my creative work. I have lot's of good ideas and work I want to do. Being a mom, working part-time out of the house and all the projects on the homestead take up most the time.

I struggle with saying no or yes to social commitments, community events, volunteering for this, that or the other thing. What is a creative person to do with big dreams and a few projects she'd like to accomplish on her plate?

I can just say....


Creative People Say No


A Hungarian psychology professor once wrote to famous creators asking them to be interviewed for a book he was writing. One of the most interesting things about his project was how many people said “no.”

Management writer Peter Drucker: “One of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours — productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”

Secretary to novelist Saul Bellow: “Mr Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s ‘studies.’”

Photographer Richard Avedon: “Sorry — too little time left.”

Secretary to composer George Ligeti: “He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study. He would also like to add that he cannot answer your letter personally because he is trying desperately to finish a Violin Concerto which will be premiered in the Fall.”

The professor contacted 275 creative people. A third of them said “no.” Their reason was lack of time. A third said nothing. We can assume their reason for not even saying “no” was also lack of time and possibly lack of a secretary.

Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.

Saying “no” has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know. We are not taught to say “no.” We are taught not to say “no.” “No” is rude. “No” is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. “No” is for drugs and strangers with candy.

Creators do not ask how much time something takes but how much creation it costs. This interview, this letter, this trip to the movies, this dinner with friends, this party, this last day of summer. How much less will I create unless I say “no?” A sketch? A stanza? A paragraph? An experiment? Twenty lines of code? The answer is always the same: “yes” makes less. We do not have enough time as it is. There are groceries to buy, gas tanks to fill, families to love and day jobs to do.

People who create know this. They know the world is all strangers with candy. They know how to say “no” and they know how to suffer the consequences. Charles Dickens, rejecting an invitation from a friend:

“‘It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.”

“No” makes us aloof, boring, impolite, unfriendly, selfish, anti-social, uncaring, lonely and an arsenal of other insults. But “no” is the button that keeps us on.

A Call from the Ancestors: Picking up the threads


Hungarian Embroidery at Budapest's Folk Art Festival, August 2011
I'd like to write about threads, metaphorical threads, threads that one can pick up and follow. The threads individually come together and become part of a bigger pattern, a bigger piece. With these threads an embroidery piece is being sewn that tells a story.

I have been following personal threads of identity, authenticity, passion, connection and resonance. Sometimes I happen to find threads to follow. Other times I go searching for a colorful thread. I find it particularly magical when a thread finds me.  Another strand is sewn into my story, the work I am doing, the studies that I am pursuing and the life I am creating. This is a very personal journey and at the same time the embroidery involves bigger pieces of history, story and culture. It is the fabric of lives.

I found this quote about threads in a tapestry from a poem which describes my sentiments exactly:

"Every intention, interaction, motivation, every colour, every body, every action and reaction, every piece of physical reality and the thoughts that it engendered, every connection made, every nuanced moment of history and potentiality, every toothache and flagstone, every emotion and birth and banknote, every possible thing ever is woven into that limitless, sprawling web.

"It is without beginning or end. It is complex to a degree that humbles the mind. It is a work of such beauty that my soul wept...

"...I have danced with the spider. I have cut a caper with the dancing mad god.”
China Miéville, Perdido Street Station 

There was a time, in 2010 and 2011, when I worked with a mentor, Valerianna, who is an artist and friend at RavenWood Forest Studio of Mythic and Environmental Arts. I was looking to connect on a deeper level with my art practice. I needed perspective, a sounding board, someone I could talk with who understood what I was wrestling with. Questions about authenticity and identity in my art practice loomed large. The desire to create something meaningful and beautiful has been a driving force in my life. Creativity needs an outlet. A dialogue of meaning about authenticity, identity  and beauty is an important conversation that happens in my head as I begin new work. I think about these things and feel them out in order to bring forth something into the physical world. 

IDENTITY
AUTHENTICITY
PASSION
CONNECTION
RESONANCE

For a while, months and months, things were muddy, murky and not at all clear as I worked with my mentor, sketched and wrote in my journal. I was wondering if I was really making any progress? When will my vision for my arts practice become clearer? Will I ever be more confident in understanding the motivation for my creative work? Out of no where all of that changed.

Bobbie Sumberg's book, "Textiles", full of beautiful, intricate and colorful threaded embroidery was the catalyst pointing me towards the path I am on.  It stopped me in my tracks while perusing the shelves at the library in the winter of 2011. The book is full of textiles from all around the world. It contains photographs of some beautiful examples of Hungarian folk embroidery. As I briefly flipped through the photographs the Hungarian designs, colors and patterns struck me to the core. I knew I had to pay attention to this feeling so I took the book home with me.

The next morning I turned on the local college radio station. I began to look more closely at the intricate Hungarian embroidery work in the book. Unbeknownst to me, a polka show was on at that time. This got my attention. In between upbeat polkas, advertisements for local Polish businesses were played. I live in an area, the Pioneer Valley, with a large Polish-American population. After some time listening to the polka show and looking at the book I thought I'd look up Hungarian and Polish arts in western Massachusetts on Google. Low and behold a Polish art class was to begin at the Springfield Museum the next month. I signed up for it.

These seemingly small events lined up at about the same time and got my attention. The messages  coming to me were closely related to my heritage: the blood flowing through my veins. The hours spent alone in thought that winter morning, enjoying a book and listening to the radio woke me up. My Hungarian and Polish ancestors seemed to be gently shaking me, waking me up to what is there, what is here and what is in me. I was surrounded by eastern European stimulation that was sure to get my attention. Within 24 hours I awoke to a path. The path appears through a deeper connection with my heritage. The minor threads began an important journey that grow in different directions. I need to look forward, backward and be in the moment.

Lives are weaving together. My life with my ancestors, my living relatives, new friends and mentors. Threads of inspiration, love and longing drive me to read books, ask questions, look at images, learn the Polish language, create new art work, designs, paintings, paper-cuts and keep in touch with my relatives and the friends I met while traveling in Poland and Hungary. Stories and history are there to learn from and help me gain understanding. Places beckon me to return.

Perhaps, I've simply become aware of my place within a complex embroidery that has existed all along. The colorful threads continue to manifest, come together and take shape, weaving something I can recognize and see with some perspective. And yet a lot of work remains to be done. At times this is a wide and deep mystery. I'm left asking why.

I've always been attracted to strong colors and bold, graphic design, especially designs that connect with the natural world. For a while southwest and Mexican arts were a big inspiration to me but something was missing, a very personal connection.  I felt like a tourist. I didn't feel complete and my work didn't feel grounded. I needed to connect with something deeper.  Who am I? Why am I attracted to certain sounds, colors and patterns so strongly that I truly become awestruck? Why, musically, have I always been inspired by gypsy and eastern European music, violins, accordions, minor keys, edgy harmonies, singing and sounds of longing that pull on your heart strings? After looking deeply at the Hungarian embroidery in the textile book I realized what is going on. Aha!

The garments, like the man's mantle pictured below, wedding dress, bodices, hair pieces and many more items were sewn with such care, such love and such attention to detail. Flowers bloom in vibrant colors, patterns form a kind of rhythm of elements in the dress. The costumes exhibit such pride and joy for one's culture, one's life and one's connection with nature and the traditions of their region. The skill was passed on woman to woman, mother to daughter, grandmother to grand-daughter, generation to generation. These people lived such busy lives growing food and gardens, growing materials for their homespun linen cloth, making and mending clothing, doing household and farm chores, preserving food and the list of the hard work goes on. All this work was done everyday without the modern conveniences we have today. And it was still important to the women to spend time and attention doing intricately sewn handwork to make their lives reflect even more beauty. I so admire the skill and hard work that went into many traditional practices. I like the do-it-yourself resourcefulness that was a necessity in the past. I know I long to connect more to that kind of resourcefulness and I don't think I am alone. I believe my life is infused with more meaning when I can enjoy creating some of the things I use and need. The beautiful Hungarian and Polish embroidery I love to look at, the pieces my ancestors must have made and my drawer filled with doilies that my grandmother and great-grandmother made inspire me and reminds me of this.

My ancestors have been calling out to me. I've been looking for my own personal story, my history and the story of my ancestors. All along I wanted to deeply connect with my ancestor's traditions, lands, sounds, smells, foods, colors, plants, designs relating to the natural world. The Hungarian embroidery work woke me up to this reality. This is my quest. All along I was attracted to certain styles, music and aesthetic in relation to my personal heritage, my Eastern European roots. This led me to realize a vision, an adventure and a shift in my creative work.  I decided to take a trip of a lifetime to connect with my family and the land and villages in Poland and Hungary. All this has brought me much curiosity, depth and meaning to my creative practice and work. My experience continues to sustain and feed me.  I've created a line of gouache paintings and paper-cut designs which are available as blank greeting cards and archival prints. The graphic, bold designs and bright colors used in my work and inspired by eastern European folk embroidery feel right aesthetically and appeal to me. They are a wink and a nod to the beautiful embroidery designs that I find so lovely. So many more ideas and images swim around my head, waiting for when I have chunks of uninterrupted time in my studio and at my easel to explore, paint and cut paper. This is the rabbit hole I fell down two years ago and now there is no turning back. The journey is deep and vast. The more connections I make the more I want to know. One lifetime doesn't seem long enough to get to the bottom of my desire for understanding.

Hungarian Embroidery, Budapest's Folk Art Festival, 2011



Peasant Homes and Gardens

Peasant Cottage at Skansen Wygielzowie in Poland

Zakopane house and garden

Skansen window

Skansen garden

This post is a little collection of some inspiring pictures of peasant cottages and their gardens. I can't get over the simple use of color around the the windows and between the logs of the cottage in the first photo.  Turquoise and cobalt blue is one of my favorite color combinations.

All but the first photo here were taken by me two summers ago while I was in Poland. There are a number of lovely Skansens (outdoor and living history museums) in Poland that preserve folk, wooden architecture. Some towns are known for their existing homes exhibiting and/or preserving old architectural styles, Zakopane being one of them.

The old peasant homes breathe with life. A thatched roof, dirt floor and wooden walls, all organic and natural materials, allow the home to literally breathe. This makes me think of Hundertwasser and his manifesto where he proclaims that the space we inhabit, the architecture of our dwellings, is like another layer of skin. Our architecture is a layer outside our physical layer of skin surrounding our bodies and the layer of clothes we wear. Soon I will write more about old folk architecture, what I know and learned from my travels and reading.

For now...

There is a lot of work to do at home in my garden this time of year. I'm am feeling particularly busy, grounded and centered around the home with all that needs to get done. I haven't been able to sit at my computer to write much. But, gardening is an excellent activity for gathering one's thoughts! The writing will come.

The weeds grow fast next to the seedlings that are just sprouting. Then there is the thinning that needs to get done so that the seedlings coming up do not crowd one another. Some vegetable beds still need to be made and planted with beans, carrots and beets at the community garden plot down the street. At home, I'm going to make a hay bale raised bed in which to plant the delicata and spaghetti squash so they can grow down the hill towards the woods, out of the way of our other garden beds. Radishes, potatoes, garlic, cilantro, arugula, lettuces, horseradish and spinach are up. Some basil and tomatoes are in. Today I'm going to a flower nursery to buy some annuals to put in pots and hanging baskets around the house. Soon I will be caught up, ahead of the weeds and enjoying watching the summer growing of all the plants, flowers and food on the land.

Photos of my garden taken this morning...







Spring: Breathing in New Life







This spring, as my gardens blossom and I plant seeds, I've been blessed with heartfelt reminders of the connections I have with meaningful people who touch my life. I am so held and for this I am thankful. A professor and friend from Poland answers questions I have about folk art traditions and culture in Poland and sends me beautiful Easter tokens from Krakow. A woman I look up to and befriended in Poland who is a professor and author surprises me with a gift of books on Polish topics of interest after I bought a book she wrote. My local town church sends a prayer shawl for Kaz and me, visitors, a home cooked meal and offers of child care after a car accident left me in pain and tired out emotionally and physically. My parents bring their love and some home cooked meals for our freezer when they come up for a visit. My mom buys me a beautiful book about Polish cooking, full of recipes I cannot wait to try. Family and friends call to check in and send their love. For all these things I am so thankful. Loving connections is what life is all about. Loving one another is what life is all about.

These generous connections have sustained me after a long winter, a time of huge personal transition into motherhood. I keep waiting to feel like I've caught up with myself. I keep waiting for my head to clear and breath free from under the waters of transition. As I wait for this moment I realize that things will never be the same again. Adding the role of mother to my identity has truly rocked my world.

At the same time I am hungry for inspiration, desiring a clear voice and purpose. I want to write about what inspires me, what fires up my creative soul, the work I do, the beauty that is out there in the world, what I am learning, the interests and quests that pull me like the moon pulls the tides.

I work with starts and stops. I've lost the ability to have open ended time and full days ahead to attend to my interests, goals, studies, art practice, music, blogging, gardening and other creative pursuits. In rare moments when I am alone with my thoughts I get hopeful and excited about the possibilities my dreams have to offer. I know they are there in background, following me around as I chase after a curious and crawling Kazmir. They whisper in my ear when I find myself with a quiet moment.

I go weeks listening to Polish language tapes most days and making progress. Then I go weeks without getting one lesson in. I'm reading books that deal with my interests. My local library finds me books I am anxious to read like Norman Davies, "Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland"and "Stone Upon Stone" by Mysliwski. Then when I open a book at the end of the day I find I am able to read a few pages with an alert mind before I want to drift off to sleep. Progress is very slow going! My books become overdue. I lose momentum and get frustrated.

My art making is on hold for the moment. Imagined images pass through my head like ghosts I can't grasp. I imagine the texture of a wet paint brush full of bright color and spreading it across paper like one might imagine the sensation of sinking into a warm bath or taking a bite of a fresh out of the oven, butter soaked, homemade, bread. I fantasize about color combinations, patterns, big canvases and art shows.

It's time to breathe new life into this blog. I worry, can I do it? Can I focus? Can I keep a thread going? Can I discipline myself and write interesting pieces from the heart? I think I can. What if I set a goal to post once a week? I think that is reasonable. As I pursue my interests and look to study Polish and Hungarian culture and arts further, my blog can become the place of accountability to myself and to others who may find these topics and/or my method of pursuing my passions of interest. Spring reminds me that there is always another chance to begin afresh.


Phoenix


A highlight of this gray and snowy February was visiting Mass MoCA for the art museum’s free day a few weeks ago. After packing the car with baby and stroller we drove off through the hills of western MA to North Adams the day after we got 17 inches of white, powdery snow. What a beautiful drive! The wheels of the car were hushed as they turned on top of a packed layer of snow on the streets while sun shone down on pure white, reflecting sparkles like crystals.

The most beautiful and interesting piece of art of the day was Xu Bing’s Phoenix installation. This is the kind of creation that makes your jaw drop in wonder as you enter the huge space and catch your first glimpse of the two Phoenixes. Masses of metal and bamboo - construction and building debris from building sites in Beijing - defy logic, suspended in the air from the ceiling as if flying. Rubbish is arranged artfully and becomes poetry: beautiful and harmonious. The two phoenixes are almost 100 feet long and weigh over 20 tons in all.

Originally the works were commissioned by a real estate developer for a glass atrium connecting two World Financial Towers in Beijing. While visiting the site the artist was impacted by the contrast between the raw, gritty realities of the laborers and their living and working conditions and the building's splendor and opulence. This reality reflects the truth of two worlds living side by side in Chinese society. Wealth and excess contrasts with the stark and gritty.

One of the things I find particularly interesting about this work is it’s connection to the creation of a societies folk art: everyday people creating works of meaning with materials that are at hand. 

Xu Bing uses found materials at the construction site and builds the sculptures with the migrant laborers, the same laborers responsible for the growing skyline in Beijing.  His muse is the mythical symbol of the male and female phoenix.

“...this multifaceted symbol which has signified a multitued of meanings throughout history, from imperial power and wealth, to prosperity, fertility and eternity, The artist was particularly attracted to an image of the phoenix from the Han Dynasty, when the bird was often featured in male/female pairs like those now suspended from MASS MoCA’s beams. Steel rebar, girders, bamboo, scaffolding, conduit, shovels, hard hats, gloves and other evidence of labor (demolition) form the body, feathers and talons of Xu’s interpretation of these mythical birds. The heads of both the male Feng and the female Huang are made from the nose of an industrial jack hammers, a contemporary translation of their strength and ferocity (historical images of the phoenix often show the powerful bird with a snake in its talons or beak).

As an image, Xu’s birds are a potent comment on wealth and excess - and also on the progress of modern society and the debris often left in the wake of progress.”
(- MASS MoCA, text by Susan Cross)

I'm always especially interested in a creation when it's connected to folk art traditions. Something pure happens when the playing ground is level and art is made for something other than the enjoyment of the elite.

I was only able to take a couple pictures before my camera’s battery ran out. One is the header to this blog entry and the other follows...


 I found these images to share online:




I wish I saw the sculptures lit up at night with the LED lights that outline these pieces. I might try and get back to the museum to see this before the exhibit travels on down to NYC. I believe the next place it will inhabit is a cathedral! I'd like to see that too!

A conversation about art and other good stuff between Jack White and Conan O'Brian




I spent some down time yesterday listening to this conversation between Jack White and Conan O'Brian who are both bright, talented and who excel at their crafts.  I love an opportunity to learn from the masters and was interested to hear what these fellas had to say about the creative process.  It's a long conversation but something you can have on in the background as you do the dishes. Sitting down with their drinks, this is more a conversation between friends, comfortable and joking around, than an interview. I appreciate how candid and vulnerable they are with each other and their thoughts. It doesn't matter if you are a musician, a comedian, a painter, a writer, or for that matter, anyone trying to bring something to life and share it with others, there are universal truths and connections here for all of us who are creating something. Topics of conversation include back and forth dialog about work, talent, vision, authenticity, success, women, religion, the performer/audience relationship, Bob Dylan, upholstery and the number three.

I bought the newest album, Blunderbuss, by Jack White in July on my first outing with Kaz a couple weeks after he was born. It's been played on regular rotation in my car and it really is a good record. This is my favorite song on the album more for the sound then the lyrics. A great saloon style piano meandering around loud electric guitars with cool chord progressions. And a guitar solo only as Jack White could play it, edgy and loud ... Love it!  Go ahead and have listen...


All was Fair at the Fair

It was a beautiful, sunny day for the Hilltown Spring Festival on a lovely Saturday in May a few weeks ago. After a winter of work in the studio and two weeks of gathering all the pieces together for my merchandise and table it was a nice to just sit by my wares and know that I pulled my offerings together in a good way to share with an audience and potential buyers. I saw friends and also made some new connections as the day flowed by. I was hoping to have photographs to share of the fair grounds, other activities and basically of the shebang but honestly, I only left the barn where my table was located to use the restroom or to buy a snack, well actually, snacks.  A friend who had a table nearby seemed to take an interest and get a kick out of the collection of snacks I purchased, collected and ate throughout the day. Ah...the joys of pregnancy and eating for two!  I made sure to have kettle corn, Vietnamese beef jerky and sticky rice, and a nice big cup of local ice cream! Oh, and my friend brought over an oatmeal raisin cookie for me which of course I was happy to munch on.

I received pieces of positive feedback about my work and style which was very nice to hear. This energy is charging my batteries for the next push, flurry of activity which will be to list all the new items on my Esty store, make connections with more local stores and begin researching more about my options and finding more opportunities to share and sell my work.

Well my hopes are to accomplish this all but as I write another reality is sapping the juice out of my batteries. My energy reserves seem to be flowing directly to the little person who has taken up residence in my belly. And I'm happy about this.  I only have a month to go until our baby arrives into our arms so the energy is going to a very important and good thing,  towards healthy growth, fat and development for the baby.

I'm happy to finally share with you some news about the festival that happened last month and also share the reality that I'm slowing down...for now.
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May Day


I spent most of this rainy May Day on the computer editing and photo shopping paintings like this new one to prepare them for prints and cards. I'm learning as I go and it is not as easy as I think it will be. It looks like my new cards and prints will come together but not without some stress and hair pulling.  I'm on a learning curve. I want to reproduce my original art and make it as easy as possible to work with when reproducing as cards and prints. However, my original paintings and paper cuts have not always been measured out with an accuracy that makes the photo shop, layout and printing process quick and simple. This will get better and I suspect I will get better at this. I'm just feeling stress and pressure as the deadline of the Hilltown Spring Festival looms ahead on May 12th. I hope to have a nice table set up with lots of new cards and prints to show and to sell. Wish me luck!

March 1st Snowy Day

Inside the warm house this morning I finished painting in one of three new drawings. I thought you might like to see it. Feels like the anticipation of spring is coming out in colors in the art and around the house.

Outside the snow has been falling for over 24 hrs. It's so beautiful out there. The junkos and chicadees have been stationed around the feeder hashing out who gets what and when. The atmosphere seems a little tense as I've noticed the birds are fighting with each other over the seeds. Here they're resting on the lilac next to the feeders.
I headed out for a walk to take some pictures and get some fresh air. I like these shots of the two neighboring old, red, farmhouses in their snowy scenery.

The beaver pond is beautiful any time of year. Some geese flew back this week to start this season's habitation of the pond. I hope they are under cover and staying warm. I wonder if this snow surprised them?