New Paintings From Arlene Groch

I first met Arlene Groch through the polymer clay world, and I’ve posted her work on this blog as well as on the Philadelphia Guild’s blog after she asked me to post the story of how she covered a fake deer head with a houndstooth check cane at the request of her son. (I couldn’t resist titling that post The Deer Clayer.) I knew that Arlene had dabbled in abstract painting in the past, but during the pandemic, she attacked it with a ferocity that is, well, Arlene.

I’m going to shoot off my big mouth here. Some people purport to take up abstract painting because they can’t paint, and abstract painting gives them a way to cover a canvas without taking responsibility for the final result. Their work is meh. But not so with Arlene. Her paintings draw you in and engage you. It’s no accident that she’s already sold a few and won an award. Her paintings deserve to be seen and enjoyed.

Cosmos 40″ X 40″ $1500
Summer Glory 3′ X 4′ $2500
Spring Fling 2′ X 4″ $2500
Cosmos 3’X4′ Sold. 2021 National AAUW Art Contest National Winner,
Cosmos 5′ 28” square – gallery wrapped; $1500

No Turning Back – 3’x4’ Framed – $6500
Untitled. Sold

Arlene is represented by Nashville North Galleries, in Linwood, NJ. The prices shown are those set at the Gallery unless otherwise noted.  Prints of all of these paintings are also available on archival paper, painted with archival paints for $95 each. They are matted and suitable for framing.

If you like the work but don’t want a painting, Arlene is in the process of having her work printed on high-quality note cards which she will offer for sale. If you are interested in anything here, contact her gallery or let me know and I will pass on the information.

A Visit to Elfreth’s Alley

Years ago, I met a woman who, for a time, owned a house in Philadelphia’s Elfreth’s Alley. She liked the house she lived in but said she never got used to total strangers peering in her front windows and knocking on her door at all hours.

As the nation’s oldest, continuously occupied residential street, Elfreth’s Alley is a tourist attraction. Not a manufactured tourist attraction. Elfreth’s Alley, located in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia is the real deal. The people who live there are not historical reenactors, and the houses are privately owned, not part of the National Park Service. I’ve always wanted to explore Elfreth’s Alley more closely, (I pass by it on the way to The Clay Studio), but I am reluctant to go snapping pictures of people’s houses without an invitation. And then the invitation came. A flea market of antiques and crafts to support the Elfreth’s Alley museum, complete with guided tours.

I was pressed for time that day and didn’t have a lot of time to stick around, but I did manage to take a lot of pictures.

Plenty to do after you’ve been to Elfreth’s Alley

West Philly Porchfest

I ventured out of my Bella Vista neighborhood this week to visit my friend Patty who was participating in an event called West Philly Porchfest. I’d never heard of Porchfest but it seemed like a fun idea and a safe way to enjoy music and festivities after hiding inside all winter because of the coronavirus.

The West Philadelphia neighborhoods of Cedar Park, Spruce Hill, Squirrel Hill and Walnut Hill are filled with large houses dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Unlike my neighborhood of Bella Vista, many of these houses have large, covered front porches which proved to be popular gathering places for musicians to perform. Porchfest started in 2016 as a way to devote one day, the first Saturday in June, to give any group who wanted to perform the opportunity to play a two hour set if they could find someone to volunteer a porch. A West Philly Porchfest Organizing Committee was formed and set up a Porch/Musician connector group on Facebook so interested parties could find one another. Once the match is made, the porch host registers with the Porchfest site, gets put on the schedule, and is included in on-line and paper maps that show where and when the bands will preform. On the big day, the audience grabs maps and trolls the neighborhood to listen to all kinds of music. What could be better?

Dreaming Thomas playing on Patty’s front porch.

You didn’t need a porch to play

All ages and all kinds of music. West Philly Porchfest is already on my calendar for June 4, 2022. With a little luck, we’ll all be back to enjoy it.

Magnetic Clasp for Polymer

Here’s one of my favorite clasps for polymer necklaces. It’s a rare earth magnet, hidden in a side bead. You open the clasp by sliding the bead open. It’s strong and because it’s not located at the back of the neck, it’s not constantly tension and in danger of opening. Who said that necklace clasps had to be on the back of the neck anyway? Put them where they will work. They should be either part of the design or blend in.

All of these beads are hollow except the black ones in the back, so the necklace is very light. It’s also comfortable to wear because the tube in the back rests comfortably against the neck.
And here’s the clasp. It’s not baked into the clay. I used black Apoxie Sculpt to fix it in place. That stuff is strong! I would have to break the bead to get the magnet out.
The clasp bead closed. I would have liked to have had no visible seam on the bead but that proved impossible for me. But I can say that so far, no one has been able to tell that there was a hidden clasp in the bead until I showed them.

for a great selection of rare earth magnets, try K&J Magnetics.

A Walk to Northern Liberties from South Philadelphia

One of the best ways to see Philadelphia is to walk it. Here are some pictures I took on a stroll to Northern Liberties from my own neighborhood in South Philadelphia.

Julia’s Creatures

I’m not sure how Julia Durand ended up in Philadelphia but she hails from France where she enjoyed a cartoon called Les Shadoks as a child. Les Shadoks inspired Julia to make a whole menagerie of creatures that I’d hardly call whimsical, but they certainly full of personality and each one has a different expression. It makes me wonder that they would say if they could talk. And if they did talk, it would probably be in French.

If you’re interested in checking out Les Shadoks yourself, they’re on YouTube with English subtitles.

Fairmount Flea Market is Back

It was good to get outside last week, stretch my legs and attend the Fairmount Flea Market. Fairmount is a Philadelphia Neighborhood north of the Art Museum district. Fairmount’s distinctive landmark is Eastern State Penitentiary which sits on the neighborhood’s southern border. I used to live in Fairmount on a street right behind the prison. Of course, the prison was no longer operating by this time and the prison grounds were home to bands of feral cats who roamed the large expanse.

When they built the prison, it was located far outside the city in a cornfield. Now, it’s surrounded by busy streets and row houses. The prison was considered an improvement on crowded, violent penal conditions of the day. It was felt that giving an inmate solitude and opportunity to reflect would help rehabilitation. But the road to hell, so the saying goes, is paved with good intentions. And so it was with Eastern State. Solitary confinement proved to have a disastrous effect on inmates who it destroyed psychologically. Charles Dickens witnessed this when he visited Eastern State in 1842 and later wrote about it.

Fast forward 160 years and the inmates are gone. Eastern State has been cleaned up, is open for tours, and beautiful playgrounds and gardens cover the grounds where the feral cats roamed. Funny how these things work. Here are some pictures.

Speaking of cats, I met two of them on the way home and they graciously let me take their pictures.

Official Portrait

More from the mind of Marjorie Waxman.

How Irises Almost Led Me to a Life of Crime

I have always been a sucker for irises. They are my favorite flower. And of all the colors irises come in, my favorite is purple. Purple irises impede my judgment faster than a couple of shots of whiskey on an empty stomach. The closest analogy I can make is to people who turn stupid and gaga at the sight of a cute baby. They struggle to maintain a sense of boundaries and decency as they poke some stranger’s child and go kitchy-coo. I feel the same loss of control when I see a purple iris. I want to pluck it and take it hostage. I am an adult woman and these days, I manage to control myself when I see irises. But when I saw the riot of purple irises you see below during a recent walk in Philadelphia, I was taken back to my youth and recalled the time I did something that could have gone terribly wrong.

I was attending a small college in central Pennsylvania. My dormitory was next to a ramshackle wooden house with a detached garage that was not part of the college. A fence surrounded the house which had a small yard and garden. I never paid much attention to it.

But one day when I was coming back from class, there they were. The irises. Purple irises, bales and bales of them growing like crazy in the yard, under the fence and fairly stuffed into a narrow strip of ground between the fence and the sidewalk. Hundreds and hundreds of irises. I had never seen so many irises. I was gobsmacked.

I decided right then and there to liberate some of the irises. But not in the light of day-no I didn’t dare. I didn’t want to hear the disdainful clucks of any townies or my fellow students who, I felt, were so judgmental and so conservative that they ironed creases in their jeans. So I hatched a plan. I set my alarm to wake me at 5:00 am on a Sunday morning when I figured most people would be sleeping. I threw a coat on over my pajamas and crept out of my dormitory with a pair of sharp scissors, a flashlight, and a paper grocery bag. I made my way down the road and crept behind the garage where the irises where growing profusely. I knelt down and began to saw away with my scissors.

“Do you go to college here?” I heard a voice behind me. My heart jumped. It was a woman’s voice and it sounded pleasant enough, but maybe she was softening me up for the kill before marching me off to the Dean’s office where she would tell the Dean, in a shrieking and not so pleasant voice this time, what I had done. Then the Dean would call my parents. I had visions of drama. Much drama. The kind of drama only my parents were capable of. Followed by my father having a fit of apoplexy and exploding into little bits (which he never did) or screaming and threatening to write me out of his will (which he did all the time.)

I decided to play it cool, and took a deep breath. “Yes, ” I replied trying to sound as innocent as I could, trying to sound like secreting myself behind an old garage dressed in a coat and pajamas, and cutting some stranger’s flowers and shoving them into a grocery sack as fast as I could at 5:00 am on a Sunday morning was a normal activity for a college student.

I looked up and she was holding some small magazines fanned out like a deck of cards. “Would you like one?” She asked. I didn’t dare say no. “Sure,” I replied, “I’ll take one. She pulled one out and handed it to me. When I saw the name of the magazine, I knew I was home free. There would be no visit to the Dean’s office and no drama.

“I’ve heard of The Watchtower,” I said, “but I never read one. I’ll take a look at this. Thanks.”

“Do you think any of your classmates would be interested?” she asked, pressing the rest of the magazines into my hand. “They might be, ” I replied, “I can put these in the student union lounge.””Thank you, she replied, “and have a blessed day.

I returned to my room, and put my purloined irises into a jar. I can’t remember if I put the magazines in the student union building. I probably did, after my heart stopped pounding. But that is the last time I ever helped myself to anyone else’s flowers. Not that I haven’t been tempted.

Make a Pottery Throwing Gauge

One way to make similar-sized pottery plates, bowls and mugs is to start out with a given weight of clay for each item. Here’s a handy chart of recommended amounts of clay needed for certain items. But I have a hard time throwing consistently-sized items even if I do start out with equal weights of clay. It would be nice to make a set of four mugs that are nearly the same size on purpose and not by accident. A pottery throwing gauge is a tool that is supposed to help you do just that. You set the gauges to the height and width you want your piece to be and, if you don’t knock it over, you might end up with an evenly-matched set of bowls or mugs.

I’d never even heard of a pottery throwing gauge until I saw this video by Florian Gadsby on YouTube. I was intrigued needless to say. I love tools but I’m not the kind of person who buys tools willy nilly thinking they can make me a better artist. But I will buy a tool if I think it will be helpful. (I just snagged a KitchenAid mixer on Craigslist and it sure makes kneading bread easier.) And if I think I can make a tool that will be helpful, even better.

So I decided to make a pottery throwing gauge. I gathered up my nut and bolt collection, and my scrap wood. Aside from some wood screws, the only other material I used was a broken set of pottery calipers from the pottery studio. I sawed these in two, to make two positionable gauges which can be used in tandem to measure the height and width of the pot. They fold up out of the way if they’re not needed. I fastened the gauge parts with bolts, wing nuts and rubber washers like these because they make it easy to tighten the wing nuts and position the gauges. I used bigger bolts, washers and wing nuts to attach the gauges to the center post.

My tool list was short: a drill and bits, an electric screwdriver, a metal saw, a wood saw, a ruler, and a clamp to hold the wood during sawing.

The gauges cover a pretty wide range of sizes. I drilled holes in the main post about four inches apart so the gauges could be taken out and repositioned as needed.

I screwed the main post into a crosspiece which seems steady, but I might have to weight it down with a brick when I am throwing pots on an active wheel. I also drew lines at one-inch intervals let me know how to set the gauges. The center post is about 15 inches high.