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.

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

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



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!

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!

New Folk Flower

So many warm and sunny days have spent their time with us this April. I can't say that I've minded although I was beginning to worry after days and days without rain. Thanks to the rain gods, the rain did come this past weekend and have visited us here and there every day since. Things are greening up again and look well hydrated. It goes to show how important balance is.

I'm about ready to wrap up my series of folk flower paintings and send them to the press to be made into cards. Here's a new one! It may be my personal favorite so far...most likely because of the color palette.  I have a soft spot for turquoise and think these colors play off that color background well. I hope to post two more finished designs later this week so stop by again if you are interested to see them!

I'll leave you with a photograph of twilight through our trees that was taken last week on a balmy evening. I never tire of looking at the dark silhouette of trees against the colored sky painted by the setting sun.



Thistle

I finished this thistle design last week and I'm painting in another new design today. I'm having fun coming up with bold, graphic, color saturated designs as I come down the home stretch of my folk flower series. I've been looking at a lot of the embroidery work on Polish and Hungarian festive clothing. The motifs are seeping into my brain and coming out on paper.  As I paint these simplified flowers and plants I feel a connection to the land and my gardens, the natural world, even while I sit at my desk indoors. It's a pleasant feeling like one I have while I slowly and meditatively weed my gardens at home.

I paint these images and dream of trying to learn and take up embroidery at some point in the future. What would happen if I mixed embroidered elements into the paintings? I think it would be fun to try. Also I'm noticing, probably because of the graphic, simple, yet precise quality to this work, I'm dreaming of painting bigger and looser in the next round of creations once I'm finished with the two series I'm working on. I need to let loose a bit. I'm looking forward to playing more freely with the next round of bigger work.

Pussycat with Poppies




One would think my cat Gilligan was the creator of this new design by the look on his face. In fact he does often have a presence with most things...his strong personality seems to claim ownership of a place, a thing or a person he loves. I think I will make him Vice President of the handmade design business I am developing. Something tells me he'll be the perfect guy for the job.

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?


True Love Grows


Happy Valentines Day! I hope your day is spent doing something you love, treating yourself to something special and spending time with loved ones. I hope you enjoy some chocolate too!

I just finished this new gouache painting, "True Love Grows" this morning. I wanted to post it as my Valentine's Day card to you.

And now a song by Nina Simone that came on as I was painting this piece. It perfectly fits with my idea for the painting and the title of the piece...
True love seed in the autumn ground.
True love seed in the autumn ground.
Where will it be found?

True love deep in the winter white snow.
True love deep in the winter white snow.
How long will it take to grow?

You know true love buds in the April air.
You know true love buds in the April air.
Was there ever a bud so fair?

True love blooms for the world to see.
True love blooms for the world to see.
Blooms high upon the July tree.

Festive Paper Cuts




I'm making new paper cuts and was inspired to use some beautiful, decorative, red paper I've had around and incorporate it into festive holiday designs. Each tree is different, original, like a finger print. I'm thinking that these designs may make a nice holiday card set...  These original designs will be available at another local craft fair that I am involved with, the Spruce Corner Schoolhouse Yuletide Craft Fair in Ashfield, MA. The venue is truly a historic one-room schoolhouse, set on a beautiful spot by a stream and wetlands off 116 in Ashfield. The date of the fair is December 17th (Sat. 10-4) and 18th (Sun. 12-4). If you live nearby, perhaps you can make it to do some shopping for handcrafted and homegrown local goodies and gifts?