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



Spruce Corner






For the last two weekends some of my cards and embroidery pieces were at the Spruce Corner Schoolhouse Holiday Sale. Above are some pictures of this magical little place. I traveled "over the river and through the woods" to get here and also seemed to travel back in time.

This little schoolhouse harkens back to another time when we educated our children in our small communities in one room buildings. Kids of all ages would gather to learn together. As I set up my things for the holiday sale my mind wandered. Part of me longs to send my child to this place with other kids of all ages, with a dedicated teacher who believes in creativity and story as well as math and science. Today schools often look like office buildings or even worse, prisons. They are often big impersonal spaces filled with people and tied to the clock like a factory. Although a place like this may be filled with good teachers and love, it is just hard for me to think about how big classrooms and schools have become in their physical size and numbers of students. The system is less personal. So when I come to this space for the holiday sale, as an artist and a holiday shopper, I start to day dream about "what if?". What if our small communities in the hills of MA could open some schoolhouses like this with a dedicated teacher and smaller groups of our children? Is it possible? What would it look like?

When I walk through the wooden door the first thing that I am aware of is the quiet. There is only the sound of the crackling fire and the hushed voices of other holiday shoppers. I also quickly become aware of the lack of electricity.  The light is all natural. On a cloudy day or at twilight the space has a muted, serene quality and on a sunny day the sun casts shadows, playing with the window panes and lovely arts and crafts objects that are for sale. A fire in the big wood stove heats the space. A top the stove a pot of spiced, hot apple cider infuses it's fragrance throughout the room. The building is truly how it would have been in the 18th and 19th centuries. There is no loud holiday pop music, no glaring flourescent lights and no crowds. It's a place where I can think and where I can enjoy what I'm looking at.

If you live in the area or find yourself in western MA during the first two weekends in December perhaps you would like to shop here too? The Spruce Corner Schoolhouse is on Rt. 116 between Ashfield and Plainfield, MA. This was my third time participating in this sale and I look forward to it every year.

Here are a few things that I purchased this year. I knitted knome for Kazi, a felted Christmas tree ornament and some felting materials to try my hand at felt painting.

It's a  beautiful frigid snow day here at my home and I'm keeping the wood stove pumping as I write this.  If you look closely at the picture with the knitted knome, out the window my sentient sunflower is still standing guard over our house and garden. Her head is bowed and she wears a cap of snow. I hope you are enjoying the warmth of the season where ever you are!

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..."

Sister Sunflower


A sunflower grew to be twelve feet tall in my garden this year. She was a volunteer. I did not plant her. She is the daughter and granddaughter of the sunflowers that grew in the same spot over the past few years. I've come to think that her presence is the guardian of the house and the land. Everyone who comes to my house comments on her. I like her strong, quiet companionship. Sometimes I go out to the garden and just stand next to her. All alone. I look at her beauty and think about how she teaches me. In return I admire her and give her a little of my company. Her flower head is over a foot in diameter. The seeds are riping and later this fall they will feed the birds, squirrels and chipmunks who will come. Her head is heavy, bent down in a pose of humility and surrender. The dazzling yellow petals have whithered away. The nights have turned chilly. Her heart shaped leaves draw inward towards her strong and straight stalk holding her upright even in the rain and in the wind. She surrenders to the season. Fall is here and the trees, birds and flowers are letting us know. It has been a truly beautiful two weeks. I can't remember a more beautiful turning of the leaves to their golds, reds and coppers. Rain came today and everything is beautiful in a different kind of way.

In light of listening to a weekly poetry program on the radio, I feel like sharing another Mary Oliver poem. I just love her work. This excerpt from the following poem The Sunflowers resonates with me. Oliver just squeezes out the truth, the essence of a thing, the essence of spirit the truth about what it means to be alive.

Like these words from The Sunflower...

"...each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy..."

The Sunflowers: APoem by Mary Oliver

Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines

creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky

sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy

but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young -
the important weather,

the wandering crows.
Don't be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,

which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds -
each one a new life!

hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come

and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.

"My work is loving the world..." a poem by Mary Oliver


Messenger
By Mary Oliver
 
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.







All photos were taken today, a glorious September day, at the Raspberry Hill Community garden.

While on a drive this week I came across a radio show where poetry is read. The host read a Mary Oliver poem that took my breath away. I think her work is deeply beautiful and true.

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.

Summer Harvest Time Begins

It's that special time in late summer when the hard work in the spring begins to really pay off. The counters and the table in my kitchen begin to be cluttered with what was picked from the gardens in the last day or so.

We've been having fun making cordials and fermenting various items from the great outdoors. Last week we spent an hour picking the wild cherries which are abundant this year on Stage Road. The cherries are sitting in various combinations of vodka, gin and sugar to become cordials to be enjoyed this fall and winter. I have a rose cordial in the makes. Once the elderberries are ripe they will be used to make our special immunity boosting cordial. I have a batch of pickles fermenting in a crock. It's my first time trying to make this fresh fermented pickle. I got the recipe out of my new Polish cook book, "From A Polish Country House Kitchen". Josh and a friend made a big batch of dandelion wine which is aging in corked bottles in the closet. I've been wanting a chest freezer for a long, long time and just recently we purchased a used one to put in the garage. It's holding a nice amount of rhubarb, raspberries and blueberries so far. I like to look in it and dream about the good food we'll be eating this winter.

OK, lets leave the kitchen, go outside and take a look in the gardens! Right out the front door is a scramble of marigolds, geraniums, lantana, snapdragons, new guinea impatiens, canna lillies, mint, and salvia in colorful pots on the front porch.

The old claw foot bathtub is now a garden and full of canna lilies, calla lilies, dahlias, geraniums, gladiolas and morning glory.

Today I picked a whooping 13 peaches off the peach tree. My biggest harvest yet!

I created a hay bale, raised bed at the base of the terrace garden hill in which to grow squash.  The plants are quite happy as they grow and spill out over the edge of the haybales onto the meadow and hillside. It looks like we'll be eating a lot of spaghetti and butter cup squash.

The sunflower greeting the morning rays is a pretty sight. Under her grows some kale, peppers and a volunteer tomatillo.

The cherry tomatoes are just beginning to ripen.

After looking around my garden at home I headed around the block to my community garden plot at the Raspberry Hill Community Garden. The space is a very special place where the sounds and beauty of the country nourish my soul. The crickets are chirping, the swallows fly and swoop over the garden and big old maple trees line the lane. The land, also known as the Guyette Farm, was gifted to the Franklin Land Trust by Evelyn Guyette. The gardens are situated on a beautiful spot overlooking hills to the west. The sunsets are gorgeous and the cloud watching is excellent. I got a late start with my plot this year. It's my first year working the land here and a lot of sod needed to be lifted in order to create my garden beds. Finally they are all planted and beginning to really thrive. I'm growing carrots, beets, dill, cabbage, potatoes, kale, onion, leeks, green beans, cucumbers and a cherry tomato. I really love being a part of this group of talented and dedicated gardeners and look forward to spending more time here with the land and with others in the years to come.

Let's walk through the gate and take a peak at the gardens.

The blueberries are ripening in the sun and the old barn is in view over the raspberry brambles.

Cloud watching to the west.

My plot is pictured below in the foreground. All the plants are relatively young but they are coming along. I think they'll do really well growing big and strong during the warm month of August into September before the frosts come.

At home again, Kaz came out to the garden with me after his morning nap.  He enjoys throwing around the dirt and mulch as I prep a bed to plant more lettuces.

Happy August, early harvest time to you! I hope you are enjoying these golden days.

First Year


Kazmir has had a very good start in life. The past couple of weeks I've been feeling reflective, emotional and hopeful as we marked the coming and going of Kaz's first birthday on June 29th.

I've reflected on his birth, the evening turning to morning when we worked hard to welcome him to this world.  It was a joyful birth and now I can say from experience we have a joyful little man on our hands . I've been thinking about those first weeks at home when I learned so much and grew so much. Kaz has been one of my best teachers. All along, not just those first weeks, but this whole year. I imagine this is one of his roles as we share our lives: mother and son.

I've been feeling emotional. How could this year have passed so quickly and yet in moments seem to go so slowly? I'm feeling a certain amount of joy and sadness. Everyday we welcome something new in him and about him and at the same time let go and say goodbye to another phase of growing. Little habits that are so endearing in the moment like his newborn cry,  his crooked smile, him laying in bed for hours nursing and cuddled against me have faded into memories as I now chase a speedy, curious crawler, stander, cruiser and drawer re-arranger around the house during his waking hours. This kid does not sit still!

I'm hopeful, a bit superstitious or maybe just a romantic. At any oppurtunity I look at the stars and make a wish for Kaz and his life. I say a prayer and Kaz is first on my heart and mind. We blow out his first birthday candle on a homemade cherry pie we share with my parents and a coconut pound cake we share with Josh's family and I close my eyes tight as my heart fills with so much love and hope for my little guy and his big life that lies ahead.

I pray and wish for his life to be LONG and filled with LOVE, BEAUTY, GOOD HEALTH and MUCH JOY. Happy Birthday Kazmir.




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



Winter Solstice




It's solstice already. The dark, cold, quiet time. In moments I'm met with an extreme sense of well being. Like when I'm driving over a hill, heading west at sundown and get to see the layers of clouds exhibiting many shades of gray with pastel colors illuminating them from beneath as the sun tucks itself in beyond the horizon. Tonight I had such a moment of quiet in the car, looking at the play of colors in the clouds and imagined sitting down to work it out with my water colors. Another time is when I stoke the fire in the wood stove and the logs light up cheerfully with bright flames providing a flickering dance to look at and cozy warmth to sit in front of with Kazmir and play. I've been listening to classical music a lot lately, the local public radio station in the car and using my Spotify account to listen to all kinds of interesting instrumental and vocal music. Russian folk guitar and the singing of Anonymous Four, their Wolcum Yule album, has been played a lot these past days. This stuff fits my mood perfectly. I need quiet, reflective music,  nothing too cheery or upbeat, something soul soothing and beautiful. Perhaps its my solace in this time of constant care giving. Giving all I have to another being and living by my son's schedule. I need soothing. I also need soothing in this time of hard realities in the world.

In my head, I've been thinking and dreaming about things I want to do. Things I'd like to make time for in my life. It's that time of year too. Time to reflect and make plans for the year ahead. I feel like I may be ready to begin my "independent studies" again soon. I just need to organize myself and my things so that it is easy to work on what I want to work on when I have a brief window of time. I just don't have a lot of open ended time. I get an hour here and an hour there and then there is the evening hours which are often still punctuated by Kaz's stirrings and need to nurse as he settles down for the night. I'm not good at working with interruptions or with clutter around. I need clarity around me so that I can think clearly. So I'll just have to do my best in this new reality. I do not want to stop working on what I was working on before the baby arrived. I want to pursue my dreams and passions and also be an example for Kaz so he can grow up witnessing adults around him following their dreams. I got an interesting email today from a man who found my blog by looking for information for the village of his ancestors which happens to be the same village where my Hungarian ancestors lived. This email got me to look back at my blog and read the post he found. I also read other posts from my trip in the summer or 2011. Wow! What a trip. Was that really me? I'm in such a different place now but still I know all that experience lives inside me. There is a lot more desire and longing for connection, understanding and learning in these areas of interest...folk culture, eastern Europe, art making and family....  I think it's time to start making baby steps in that direction again and hopefully some momentum will build and I will be able to move forward on dreams that are important to me.

Speaking of the holidays and dreams I will spend Christmas in Krakow someday. I just saw this link, an article on CNN"s travel page about Krakow at Christmastime, made by someone on Facebook and it totally touches on my longing to get back to Krakow....Old town center, Christmas Market, mulled wine. Time to really start my Polish language tapes in earnest.

On another note, it has been an exciting couple of months in that I've had my art work up at the Meekins Library in Williamsburg MA for November and December. It's been a very successful show and have gotten nice feedback, sold a few prints and lots of cards and may have gotten a commission to make paper cuts for a lampshade. My cards have been selling well in the handful of places I have them. That feels good too and I look forward to spending more time organizing and working on my design business this winter into next year.

Finally I want to wish you a happy and healthy holiday season and close to 2012. I wish you all many blessings and much love in 2013! To take us out, a picture of Kaz similar to what I chose to use for our holiday card this year. He's the best part of 2012 for us! His arrival has been a source of great joy. xoxo






Duality: Spring Flowers and Destruction


I've been thinking a lot about the duality of time, experience...life.  This past gorgeous Friday evening I took photographs of the the first flowers I've seen blooming outdoors this season.  Spring is here.  How beautiful!  This week as I've been going about my life here at home I'm aware of the enormous amount of suffering and anxiety taking place in places like Japan and Libya.  Feelings of concern, sadness, worry, empathy, disgust come and go throughout the week.  I've been needing to express these feelings...  although it is Sunday my sketchbook post can wait until another day.  Today I need to say these things first.

I feel connected with the people who are truly being touched by horrific and challenging experiences in that I too am human: that despite distance and culture we are not that different,  I share this planet with all people and all life, I have the same basic needs and desires, I feel sadness, joy, love, fear, hope, anxiety, excitement, grief...  I witness beauty and destruction.


Yet how surreal it is that I can spend an early spring evening walking the gardens at Smith College appreciating the beauty springing from the earth while also thinking of those who lost loved ones, homes, entire towns to the power of nature or the destruction of war.  There is such an edge to beauty... in a blink of an eye it can change, transform, destruct, die.  Perhaps this is what makes beauty, BEAUTY?  These two realities lie on the edge of one another.


In times like this, I can feel helpless and lucky and neither feeling feels particularly good while I imagine myself in the shoes of someone who is truly suffering.  Thoughts run through my head, "I want to do something." "I want to help."  "Why am I spared (for the time being, anyway) from a natural/environmental disaster and war on my home turf?"  I can't stop the earth from moving...creating a 9.0 earthquake.  I can't make those in power step down or make decisions that I can feel good about.  I can't stop a nuclear reactor from melting down.  As I'm sure you can relate, this is a scary feeling.  Many things are out of our control.

A friend recently said that creating and sharing beauty in the world is the active work we can do to make and create positive change.  This gives me hope because I agree.  I can share, create and appreciate beauty. Beauty shows itself in many ways.  It is there in the smile from a stranger or loved one,  in the full moon rising...


in the sharing of a home cooked meal, in hugging someone, in the beauty of fragrant blossoms....


in the act of creating and creation, in the beauty of twilight...


Can a form of activism be the creation of and appreciation of beauty and enchantment?