Diálogo 365: New Rhizomes

Art-based community engagement has always been a cornerstone value of Fleisher Art Memorial. 360 Culture Lab is an example. In this program Fleisher teams with local Venezuelan and Indonesian cultural organizations to mount cultural exhibitions and arts experiences by lending resources, gallery space, and expertise, so these organizations can share their culture and traditions with the larger community.

Diálogo 365: New Rhizomes, a collaboration with Casa de Venezuela, showcases the work of 19 artists who have roots in several Latin American and Caribbean countries. The artists use a variety of mediums to connect the viewer to the places in their lives.

Untitled HenryBermudez
Henry Burmudez Untitled
Untitled HenryBermudez(detail)
Henry Burmudez Untitled
Patricia Patzi Armor Propio
Patricia Patzi Armor Propio
Patricia Cazorla One Walk (detail)
Patricia-c=Cazorla-one-walk-detail
NancySalmeNoMoreNoisySilence
Nancy Salme No More Noisy Silence
Lina Cedeno & Pedro Ospina Untitled(2)
Lina Cedeno & Pedro Ospina-untitled
Kalena Marshall Arroz y no Gandules
Kalena Marshall arroz y no gandules
Idalia Vasquez-Achury 12,980 Masque
Idalia Vasquez Achury 12,980 Masque
Gallery
Doris Nogueira-Rogers Amazon's Genesis (2)
Doris Nogueira-Rogers Amazon’s Genesis
Doris Nogueira-Rogers Amazon's Genesis (1)
Doris Nogueira-Rogers Amazon’s Genesis

Press here for more pictures from the 360 Culture Lab project.

Polymer Clay in Tokyo

I recently rejoined the International Polymer Clay Association after letting my membership lapse for a few years and I’m glad I did. The IPCA is sponsoring a host of online activities, including regularly-scheduled Zoom meetings, weekly letters from dynamic President, Amy Brown, and a Design Lab series where members can have their work critiqued and evaluated. A couple of weeks ago, Amy wrote about her experiences in Japan while she served the US Navy as a segway into an introduction to the Japan Polymer Clay Association. This really took me back, so I would like to share some polymer-related Japanese memories of my own.

Kaz Yamashita was one of the artists whose work was featured in Nan Roche’s The New Clay. Kaz was living in the Washington D.C. metro area, when the book came out, and splitting her time between the D.C. area and Tokyo.

Around the same time, my husband wrote a book that they really liked in Japan. So a Japanese business group offered to fly him and some other business consultants and writers to Japan to address a gathering of their organization in Tokyo. And here’s how I know how much my husband loves me. He traded his first class ticket for two tickets in coach so I could go with him.

Needless to say, I didn’t know anyone in Tokyo and have a hard enough time with English, much less Japanese. But I had heard there was a polymer community in Japan and I did some Internet sleuthing. That’s I found out about Kaz, who by this time was called Kaz Kono. I emailed her out of the blue, and even though she didn’t know me, she answered with her contact information, and an invitation to look her up when we got to Tokyo.

We met up with Kaz and one of her students before my husband’s conference started. They gave us the grand tour of Tokyo and we ended up in the family restaurant run by the student’s sister. The kind with paper screens where you kneel at a table, drink Saki, and the waitresses wear beautiful kimonos. It was quite an experience. When we got home, I mailed the sisters Navajo pendants I’d bought in an Albuquerque pawn shop as a thank you. I wanted them to have something that was truly American.

At that time, Kaz was teaching in Japan and in the Philippines. She also started a Japanese polymer clay group.

Kaz had an exhibit in a gallery and asked me if I was interested in seeing her work. Was I ever! But she was leaving on a flight to D.C. the next day and couldn’t go with me. So she wrote out directions to the gallery from our hotel. In Japanese. My job was to take the Tokyo Metro to a certain station, head in a certain direction, stop people on the way, show them Kaz’s instructions, and have them point me in the right direction. I am not sure about now, but in those days, the Tokyo Metro system had signs with station names in English, but not much else. And not a lot of people on the street spoke English. And it didn’t really help to have an address, because of the way the streets were laid out. Buildings were numbered in the order in which they were built and not their physical location. The first building erected on a block was numbered 1 no matter where it stood. Number two might be somewhere down the block. There was no GPS. None of this really bothered me, because I have a terrible sense of direction and have grown quite comfortable with it. Odd, but true.   So I had to rely on gestures, and the accuracy of Kaz’s directions. And the kindness of strangers.

My walk took me down side streets and twisty little alleys. I didn’t know where I was going, but I soldiered on, asking (gesturing really) for directions as I went.

Then I came to a dry cleaning shop, and showed Kaz’s directions to the woman behind the counter. I still remember her big smile. She even spoke some English! She asked me where I was from and how I liked Tokyo, and then led me out of the store, and walked me a half block to the gallery. As we parted, she called, “Have a nice day!” The one time when someone’s said that to me where I really believed they meant it.

I bought this pendant at the gallery.

I also got Kaz’s cane pattern book. I have never seen it for sale anywhere else, so I’m glad I snagged a copy when I could.

A few years later, Kaz visited Philadelphia with a couple of her students in tow. I asked Ellen Marshall to join us for lunch, and for a tour of the neighborhood which includes Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens just down the street. I had never met Zagar and the Magic Gardens weren’t open yet, but we just waltzed right in and he gave us a personal tour. The world’s smaller than you think.

A gift from Kaz’s students on their trip to Philadelphia

Be sure to check out the IPCA and click here to join.

A Walk in FDR Park

The Fairmount Park Conservancy is a non-profit corporation that supports efforts to improve the public parks of Philadelphia. And there are lots of parks in Philadelphia. Click here for an interactive map. They sponsored a tour of FDR Park that I took a few weeks ago. I learned a lot about the park, its history and the ecology of the area.

FDR Park is located at the southernmost tip of Philadelphia in an area once known as “The Neck.” It was originally marshland and wetlands, which is probably why it didn’t get build up too much, although people did live and farm there. FDR Park, which was known as League Island Park when it was opened in 1913, was designed by the Olmsted brothers, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Central Park. FDR park contains a golf course, sports and recreation areas, playgrounds, landscape architecture, picnic areas, and lots of shady paths and trails to walk.

FDR Park is also home to the Asian Market. My neighborhood has a lot of Southeast Asian grocery stores and restaurants, so this was not too exotic to me. Still, the smells were wonderful and I jumped at the chance to try fried crickets. Hey, why not? But they were out. I had some water ice instead (this is Philadelphia after all) and bought a jar of kimchi to take home.

Meadow Lake in FDR Park is man made, but connected to the natural tidal wetlands that are low lying and increasingly prone to flooding. Climate change and increased usage is changing the park.

The park is also home to many invasive species of plants which threaten the delicate balance of the natural ecosystem if they are not eradicated. Not every non-native plant and animal is a threat, but when they interfere with the natural ecology of the area, they can be a threat to the well being of the park.

So there is a new plan to reimagine, reconfigure and redesign FDR park for the future. This will entail relocating ball fields, replacing some lawns used for sporting events with artificial surfaces, and moving things around. Not everyone is happy with the plan, which has been in the making for some time. Quite frankly, I do not have the knowledge to have an opinion, although it’s clear that something must be done to improve the drainage and clear out the invasive plants. Until the dust settles, I intend to go back and enjoy the park.

Hot Summer and Bob’s Garden 2022

The sun is beating down in South Philadelphia. One of the best parts of summer in my neighborhood is Bob’s urban garden.

It’s hot enough to make fish soup in the koi pond!

I wonder what kind of plant this is?

This picture is from earlier in the summer.

Suzanne Valadon at the Barnes Foundation

I saw the Suzanne Valadon exhibit at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia last Fall. Now that the dog days of August are upon us, I have finally decided to write about it.

The Barnes Foundation, for those who are not familiar with it, is an art oasis on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. It used to be located in Merion, a Philadelphia suburb. The move to Philadelphia was controversial, and a testament to the fact that money pretty much rules everything in the art world and everywhere else. But there’s no denying that it practically took an act of congress to gain admission to the Barnes when it was in Merion. And there’s also no denying that many more people get to see the collection now that it’s in Philadelphia. You can read more about the history of the Barnes Foundation here.

Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938) was a French artist who “never attended the Academy and was never confined to a tradition.

She was tough because she had to be. She was born out of wedlock and had to make her own way in the world that didn’t treat women very well unless they had money or position behind them.

But she was talented, ambitious and smart. She didn’t have any formal training but started drawing at an early age. She knew many of the French Impressionists, and served as a model for some of them. She was reportedly in love with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Edgar Degas was a friend who greatly respected her drawing and served as a teacher and artistic mentor. He taught her printmaking so she would have a way to make a living other than being a model, a laundress, milliner, waitress, or countless other jobs she held.

She was an independent woman who lived as she wished and who was admired because she “painted like a man,” or with masculine sensibilities. Some said that she painted “with an energy unheard of in a woman.” I am not sure what that’s supposed to mean. She used bold colors and bold contours. I guess you could say that she painted like she meant it.

She ultimately married and had a son who became a well-known artist in his own right.

In an interview late in her life, she said, “I found myself, I made myself, I said what I had to say.”

If you are interested in learning more about Suzanne Valadon, here’s a timeline of her life, a short biography, and a summary of her artistic legacy.

A New Twist on Faux Techniques in Polymer Clay

Polymer clay can imitate just about any substance from turquoise, to amber, to red coral, to lapis lazuli, and just about any other stone you’ve seen. Beach glass, fordite, ceramic, and different metals. You can do it all.

Tory Hughes was, I believe, the first polymer artist to popularize faux techniques in polymer clay, first through her work, then through her videos, then in her book, Polymer – The Chameleon Clay (2002).

I tried most of the faux techniques when I first started working in polymer back in the stone age. (here’s an example), but I haven’t tried any of the imitative techniques lately. Then a friend gave me a lovely Southwestern silver cuff bracelet set with different colors of turquoise, onyx, coral and mother of pearl. Some of the stones had fallen out. Could I recreate them in polymer? Why not try? I don’t have any “before” pictures of the bracelet, but I am happy with how it turned out.

You can see that turquoise comes in many colors as does mother of pearl.

I used Premo translucent, white, and a bit of pearl and silver for the mother of pearl and a combination of a Premo blue mixture, green, translucent, and a smidge of black for the turquoise. I did my best to match the colors to the stones in the bracelet, baked them, and then trimmed and filed them to fit into the bracelet. I couldn’t bake them in the bracelet because the real stones are held in with epoxy which would have melted in my oven. Then I would have had to reglue all the stones!

Here’s one of the faux turquoise pieces and a tiny chip of faux mother of pearl that I glued into the bracelet with fresh epoxy. I roughed up the baked polymer and the metal as best I could before gluing. I left a dab of the mixed epoxy on my work table to make sure it cured thoroughly.

I hope my friend likes the results.

New Tools for Making Polymer Clay Earrings

I wrote last week about my latest attempts to design and create unique polymer clay earrings. I’m designing my own shapes rather than relying on purchased cutters. This involves creating designs on Vectornator and making templates on a Silhouette Portrait 3 machine using plastic notebook dividers I’ve found around my house. I’m able to design and cut almost any shape I want. The notebook divider material is not rigid, but it’s easy to trace around it with a craft blade. And you can use the shapes over and over.

You will always have to clean up your shapes, whether make them with a cutter, or a craft knife. But it seemed that I could never catch every burr and crumb before I baked. I thought that a bow sander would be handy for getting into tight places. Why not use an emery board, a sanding stick, or a file? Didn’t work for me. I wanted to be able to choose any grit of sandpaper, and I didn’t want to be throwing away spent sanding sticks and emery boards and constantly buying more. But most of the bow sanders I saw were too big or too expensive. Then I saw these.

The bow files are on the left and the sanding blocks are on the right. I bought them from Rockwell Exchange on Etsy. They are small, 3d printed, and reasonably priced. I started out with the bow sanders and liked them so well, I ordered the block sanders a few weeks later. The tools are held together with plastic screws. You unscrew them, insert strips of sandpaper that you’ve cut, reassemble them, and you’re good to go. Since they’re plastic, you can wet sand without fear of them rusting. Here’s how I’ve been using them.

Some shapes

You can see that the sanders let you get into tight corners and wrap around curves. I know that a lot of people like to use rotary tools or Dremels for finishing, and sometimes I do too. But a problem with mechanical tools is that they can spin too fast and do some damage if you’re not careful. Hand tools are great when you’re trying to slow down like me.

I’m not the kind of person who buys every tool under the sun, and I try to make my own tools when I can. And I don’t accept any payment or other remuneration for products I recommend on this site. (See my Disclosure statement.)

But I have found these sanding tools very useful and recommend them if you are looking for some sanding help. You can buy them here.

I’ve found a few other inexpensive tools to recommend and will write about them in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the earring adventures continue.

On My Work Table

I continue to experiment with making polymer earrings. Why earrings? I know that seemingly everyone went on a polymer clay making earring bender during the pandemic lockdown. YouTube is full of tutorials on how to make and sell them. There are Facebook groups dedicated to polymer clay earrings (including this group which I belong to), and a myriad of earring sellers on Etsy. But that’s not why I chose to start making earrings. I chose to focus on earrings (for now) because they’re small projects, I can move from project to project quickly, and I can try new things as soon as ideas jump into my head.

And I haven’t really been making earrings. What I’ve been doing is making components and shapes.

See all the shapes I’ve been collecting? Some of them might even find their way into earrings one of these days.

Here’s one of my favorite tools: a hair curler that Susan Gross gave me at a Clayathon. It’s great for texturing the back of earrings.

For now, I am designing new shapes with Vectornator, and cutting out templates on my Silhouette Portrait 3. I want to stay away from cutters except for basic shapes I can alter. I am trying to make something unique. I have succeeded in making plenty of duds but I am making progress slowly.

I’ve also been working on my craftsmanship and slowing down. And making a LOT of pieces. Practice really does make better. A few years ago, I designed this necklace for Step by Step Wire Magazine. It took 10 feet of wire and someone remarked that I was very good at making those coils. I replied that if I didn’t start off that way, I was certainly good at it by the time I finished the necklace. You’d be surprised at how good you get when you do something over and over.

People always say that it’s easier to smooth out the boo boo’s in polymer before you bake. Well, yes and no. The key is touching the clay as little as possible to get the effect you want. And that takes practice. The right tools help, but a tool will not automatically make you a better crafter unless you know how to use it. And that takes practice. Didn’t I just say that?

Another thing I learned is that UV resin, as beautiful as it can be, can’t make up for bad craftsmanship. Ask me how I know.

And with earrings, you can get the shape and the color, and you still have to decide how to hang it from the ear. Kathleen Dustin says that the ear wire should be an integral part of the design or totally invisible. Beading Yoda agrees. I like to make my own findings so I can try different alternatives and see what works.

At the rate I’m going, I wonder if I am going to have any of my own teeth left when I finally produce a well-designed, well-crafted pair of earrings. We’ll see.

The Cat Collection

I wasn’t always a cat lover, believe it or not. I didn’t dislike them, but I didn’t understand them. I loved dogs, but I didn’t get cats at all. Then, when I was in my 20’s, someone offered me a cat. It seemed like a reasonable proposition. I had mice in my apartment. So a cat named Electra came to live with me. That pretentious name had to go, and she became Pooky. It took me a year to get used to her. And then I was a cat lover.

That’s Pooky on the right in the little frame and her nemesis Bandersnatch on the left. Boris’s likeness is on the mug to the rear.

Pooky and Bandersnatch have gone to the bridge, as well as Plumpton who lived with us for 20 years.

Why did I start collecting cat memorabilia. Why do people collect anything? We traveled widely before the pandemic and it seemed nice to focus on one kind of travel memento. Plus I have a very small house and there’s not a lot of room to display things. An added benefit is that it makes it easy for people who want to give me a gift. I can always find room for another little cat on the three shelves and corner walls in my dining room that hold the collection. And unlike Pooky and Bandersnatch, the cats never fight with one another.

Boris

I haven’t shown all of the cats in this post. Even a cat lover needs a rest now and then. If you are ever in Amsterdam and want to see a great collection of feline keepsakes, be sure to check out The Katten Kabinet.

Ziggy Stardust (A cat from Japan)

Young Artists at Fleisher Art Memorial

I didn’t have regular art classes when I was a child. I went to a Catholic grade school and art class happened a few times a year. The teacher, usually a nun, would give each child one piece of art paper, a box of eight Perma Pressed crayons, and a postcard with a religious painting on it. A painting like The Last Supper, or The Flight into Egypt. We were instructed to copy the painting onto the art paper with our crayons. That was it. I remember one nun must have been having a particularly bad day because she informed us that she would inspect our work carefully when the class ended. If there was a trace of white anywhere on the paper, it would mean detention for a week for the hapless child artist. We spent most of that class filing our crayons to nubs on the rough art paper terrified of the prospect of detention with this whack job dressed in a habit. To be fair, not all of them were quite so bad. I finally got to take a real art class in the 7th grade with Sister Louise who was a great teacher. I still have the box of pastels from that class.

I’ve always loved children’s art. I’m not sure why. Children’s art displays a simplicity and an honesty that can get suppressed as people grow older. (See above for one example of how this happens). We know now that art is important to a child’s development, and not just a frill. I mean, there was a time when going to school after the second grade was considered a frill, right? Art education, like all education, costs money. You need more than supplies and teachers, you need access in the first place.

Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia offers low cost art classes for children and teens. Every year, Fleisher puts on a Young Artist Exhibition. This year’s exhibit closes on July 29. It’s always better to see the work in person, but in case you can’t, here are some pictures.