Tunnel Vision and Tunnel Visionaries

Tunnel vision.  The very term makes me think about the recent UK decision to leave the European Union, the Trump supporters who want to build a wall and the old folks in Russia who want to return to the glory days of the Soviet Union when your neighbor could turn you in as a traitor but at least you had a steady job.   This week was one of those rare occasions where art and politics collided to make a pun for me and that pun involved tunnels.

Tunnel vision is a  genuine physical malady where  peripheral vision is lost.  Tunnel vision is also an idiomatic term used to describe when a person is looking at things from a very narrow point of view.   There is no dearth of people  suffering from tunnel vision these days.  Good peripheral vision is essential when killing cockroaches or keeping an eye on small children. Tunnel vision is dangerous.  It makes it difficult to pass a slower car safely. You trip over things.  And it makes birds more likely to poop on you because you never saw them coming.    

And so, to anyone with tunnel vision who is reading this, you have been warned.

And now for the good tunnel stuff.  The Queen Street Tunnel is a plain, soulless expanse that stretches between Front and Swanson Streets and under I-95. Artists Pat Aulisio, Marie Elcin, and Miriam Singer decided that it needed some art to liven it up.  So they helped their students at the Fleisher Art Memorial make large drawings and screen prints and then invited volunteers to help wheat paste the art  onto the walls of the tunnel.   

It sounded like a good excuse to get messy so how cold I resist?   The improvement is remarkable. Does that make those who developed the project tunnel visionaries?  I think so.  

Here are some pictures.

 

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The Bernie  bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mixing Premo with Bacon Bits?

I know that everything is supposed to go better with bacon and somewhere, somebody has already baked Premo with bacon.  But not I, she said.

This post is about failure.  Not only my failure to hear correctly when someone recommended mixing Premo with Bake and Bend (not bacon bits) so it would be more flexible, but also about the failure of my experiment to make an easy-off-easy-on flexible bangle out of polymer.

I know, I know, there are dozens of ways to do it and I have in fact make a few bangles myself quite successfully.  Still, when a new possibiliy for ruining clay comes my way, I jump at it. <Ahem>  Shall we begin?

 

 

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I began by extruding 10 inch hollow polymer tubes and baking them for an hour.

 

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Then I rolled out a sheet of clay on the pasta machine on #3 and textured it to hide the inevitable dings.
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I placed the clay textured side down on a tile, arranged the tubes and filled in the middle with a sheet of clay rolled on the thickest setting.
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I folded the ends of the clay over the tubes.
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And coaxed them into place.
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I used my tissue blade to move the clay as dinglessly as possible.
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I was able to smooth everything pretty well. I used Genesis Medium to make sure everything was adhered. After baking for another hour, I tossed the strip into some ice water to cool.
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The ends trimmed off to show the hollow tubes.
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I threaded memory wire through both tubes. The clay was super flexible and it was not difficult to curl it to accommodate the wire.
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But I had wire ends to contend with and the bracelet was a bit too short to accommodate any kind of closure. So I decided to cover the ends with fresh polymer and rebake the bracelet
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Aside from the wacko colors, I managed to shape some clay around the wire ends. The ends were embedded in the clay and I used the Genesis Medium to attach everything.

 

I put the bracelet into bake and it was then that my troubles began.  The mess you see below is what came out of the oven.

 

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Oddly enough, the clay on the inside of the bracelet is unaffected and  the clay is so flexible I can bend the bracelet back on itself without the inside clay cracking.  So what went wrong?

Looks like it’s  back to the drawing board!  Suggestions welcome.

Bob’s Garden, Summer 2016

Bob’s Garden has really taken off this year! Three new turtles are swimming in the pond and a new banana tree has taken root in one of the wooden barrels sitting out on the south Philly sidewalk. The cacti have come back to life and are are throwing off scores of yellow blossoms.  The water lilies are doing swimingly (pun intended) and Barbra the Macaw is keeping a watchful eye over it all.  Here are some pictures.

 

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The New Clay: An Afternoon with Nan Roche

Who remembers discovering polymer for the first time and maybe running out and scoring a copy of  The New Clay?     The Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild was lucky enough to have The New Clay author and polymer innovator Nan Roche at a recent meeting where she recalled her introduction to polymer and how she came to write a classic work on polymer techniques and art.

 

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In the 1980’s Nan  was a hand weaver and had a studio at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA.     Someone, Nan didn’t recall who, came back from New York city with with a fascinating necklace from the Julie: Artisan Gallery in Manhattan.   The necklace made from an material that no one could identify until a ceramic artist named Kathleen Dustin, who also had a studio at the Torpedo Factory, recognized the material as Fimo.  Dustin remembered Fimo from when she had lived abroad and said that it was marketed to children as an art material.  But the necklace was no toy; it was extraordinary. People wanted to know about the material it was made from.   Information on products like Fimo was hard to get in the days before the Internet, but Dustin did some research and was able to find a US supplier for a similar material called Sculpey.  (Fimo was not sold in the US at this time) She ordered some and started to experiment with it using a millefiore caning technique familiar to glass artists.

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People saw Dustin’s work and wanted learn how to use this new art medium.  So, Dustin scheduled a class at the Torpedo Factory and 60 people showed up to take it.  One of them was Nan Roche who described the excitement in the class like  buzz on the floor of Filene’s Basement on a Saturday Morning.

Nan would later recall the class  in the foreward she wrote to  Sarajane Helm’s Create a Polymer Clay Impression,

“As I was being shown how to make my own millefiore designs by Kathleen Dustin, in a fateful class at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, the connections were exploding in my head.  I don’t think I slept for several days after that class.  I was so excited!”

The interesting thing about this was at the time, different people  around the country were discovering  polymer and working with it independently.  You can read an excellent account this  in Kathleen Dustin’s articles on  the Polymer Art Archive.

“I went to work at my dining room table  and thank God my area rug didn’t get too damaged, Nan recalled,  “I was so excited that I would wake up my husband to show him what I’d made.”

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So I would bring in things that I had worked on in my dining room and people would say, “My God I wanna learn it!” I started teaching classes in my dining room.” Textile artist Helene Bress took a workshop.    Her husband Seymour was just in the process of starting a publishing business  and asked me to write the book. ”  Nan said she resisted initially because she had a full time job and was raising a family, but then  decided  she was ready to leave the world of textile art and weaving behind.  After she agreed to write the book, she spent the next year and a half working  all day, coming home and writing all night.  She  wrote  the kind of book that that she would like to read,  and that’s why  The New Clay explains what polymer is  in such detail and then and then outlines the myriad ways of using it.  Before The New Clay was published,  there were no other materials in English on polymer clay.

And so, The New Clay was born.  You already know the rest of the story.

Here are some other pictures from the meeting.

 

 

Learn to Sew in a Butcher’s Shop

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Amalia Petherbridge (Mali, pronounced “Molly”) is the founder and  tireless proprietor of the Butcher’s Sew Shop in the Bella Vista neighborhood of South Philadelphia.  While she has been sewing nearly as long as she has been walking, it was not until after college graduation, a stint working in the non-profit sector and  taking some sewing classes for fun  that she decided to go back to school and study sewing full time.

Mali was not sure what direction her career would take after she completed her course work in design and pattern making.   But she  discovered that she loved teaching when she started giving her friends sewing lessons sewing in her home. “I loved seeing things click for other people,” she recalled,  “and I still  love seeing adults learning those skills for the first time.  It’s really empowering for them.  Even something as simple as being able to hem your own pants.   It’s a life skill and it’s a great creative outlet,  too.”

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So she decided to open a business and teach sewing.  This is hardly surprising; many of the  women from Mali’s childhood  combined creativity and entrepreneurship  in their careers. An Aunt had a line of children’s clothing.  Mali’s mother built pipe organs in a home studio.  Mali’s step mother was a seamstress and quilt maker.

Mali located her shop in Bella Vista because she knew and loved the neighborhood.  “I think it has a great vibe and when I saw the for rent sign in the window  I just instinctively felt that it would be a good place.” And that turned out to be true.  “The neighbors are so supportive; it feels like a little community and we do have a lot of students who are from the neighborhood, although we get most of our students from Internet traffic.”

When Mali signed the lease, she did not know the space  8th and Catharine Streets had been a butcher shop. The shop had been a bodega after the butcher shop closed, and looked completely different when Mali first saw it.

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Mali  tackled the renovations herself  with the help of many friends.   She found gleaming white tiles behind the peeling dry wall.   The drop ceiling hid an old fashioned  punched tin ceiling.  As the renovations progressed, she uncovered more relics and artifacts.

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Transforming the shop was an intensely personal process for her; she felt a deep connection to the space. At some point in the process she learned the store had been a butcher shop.  But one day, purely by serendipity, she found out that one family had operated the butcher shop for eighty years. That’s when she started to research the history of the shop and the family behind it.  “Because here I am opening my first business,” she explained,” and I’m just trying to make it through the first month and to think that family kept a business alive here for generations!”

She located the family and asked them if they would allow her to name her business Butcher’s Sew Shop in their honor. “Butchers work with their hands, too.   It’s a craft and I felt that energy in the space and loved the idea of being able to honor that.” The family was delighted and sent her copies of old pictures and other information about the butcher shop which you can see on the web site here.

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“Our core adult student is a young professional  who wants some kind of creative release outside of work.  Some of the people who come in have some kind of vision.  They want to learn how to make something for themselves or to mend their clothes or we have young mothers who want to sew for their kids.  But a lot of people just come in to try it  and they end up taking more and more classes.”

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“Half of our business is a sister program where we teach kids.  They are so creative and they soak up things like sponges!  We have kids who have been here for a few years and they can sit down at the machine and do pretty much anything at this point.  We start at age 5 and go to 14.  And we have the five year olds on the machines too.”

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The Butcher’s Sew Shop is stocked with heavy duty Singer Sewing machines and plenty of sewing tools and equipment.  Students also have access to two sergers.  They are also welcome to bring in their own machines; Mali and her staff will help them learn how to operate them.

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In June, the Butcher’s Sew Shop is opening  a second location at  1912 South Street which it will share with  Loop Yarn who will offer knitting classes in the rear.  Programs are planned to start in July or August.  Mali is excited about this expansion which will give her more room for children’s classes.

For the full schedule of classes and activities at the Butcher’s Sew Shop, go to the web site here.  For information on the exciting  summer, afternoon and weekend programs for kids offered  through Sew Philly, click here.

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BUTCHER’S SEW SHOP  800 S. 8th St  PHILADELPHIA, PA 19147  

TEL: 215-678-7671

www.butcherssewshop.com