Olivia’s Studio

We all know what fun it is to peek into someone else’s studio.   I got the chance  to peek  into Olivia Surrat’s studio not too long ago.   Olivia works in metal and  wire with some polymer clay added for color.    Her studio is compact and efficient.  She’s lined it with Billy bookcases and added  doors to take away some of the visual clutter you get when you have thousands of components stored in see through containers.  Olivia also snagged couple of old card catalog files and a great long sturdy jeweler’s bench that looks much more comfortable to sit at than a regular bench.  And will you look at that stake in the picture with the anvil?  She found it at a house sale.  That’s where you find great stuff.

The doorway  to Olivia’s Studio

The window gives lots of light

Metal waiting to become jewelry

Here’s that great forming stake!

Some polymer clay beads in the making and some interesting glass and shell beads.

View from the bench.  Note the slots for pin vises and mandrils.

Polymer clay and PMC bracelets, and some strung glass beads.

Close up of polymer clay beads in various stages of finishing

Some of Olivia’s wire work.  She was lucky to be able to take a class with Lynn Merchant

 Beads from around the world or the house sale around the block

Olivia collects polymer clay pieces but we were having so much fun we never got to pull out her collection.  The item above is a purse by Kathleen Dustin.  The  sign on top of the shelf is a reminder that you don’t need to take everything so seriously.

Truman, Olivia’s Canine companion  is a charmer.  He’s not a true studio dog because he’s not allowed in the studio, but he gives encouragement from the hall way where he plays with his toys and anything else that people bring into his house that seems new and interesting.  Like my husband’s  briefs which kept him occupied for a good long time until we realized why he was so fascinated.

The Story of Shari’s Rainbow

I don’t like to remember people on the day they died; I’d rather remember them on their birthday. It seems happier somehow. My sister-in-Law Shari Baskin was born in Brooklyn on May 24, 1950 and died last September in Baltimore at the age of 58. She moved to Baltimore with her family in 1955, rarely traveled and worked in retail for most of her life.

Shari was known among her friends and family as generous person. Once my husband Ken admired a leather jacket she was wearing and she took it off and gave it to him. She dearly loved Max, her only nephew, and made sure his holidays and birthdays were filled with gifts. She did the same for her family and friends.  She asked for little in return save loyalty and honesty, because she always suspected that any generosity paid to her came with hidden conditions she would be expected to fulfill without warning.

Shari’s parents were good people, but damaged by their families. Shari’s mother was incapable of respecting Shari’s boundaries because of her own tortured personal history. She loved Shari very much, but she constantly worried and fretted about Shari, projecting her own fears onto her daughter in an effort to shield her from hurt and disappointment. She thought this was love, but Shari experienced it as an attempt to control, and her response was to cut herself off emotionally and sometimes physically.

Shari’s mother saw her children as an extension of herself and didn’t understand that they were separate people.  She was terrified that they would be hurt by life. She worked hard to prevent this and her efforts manifested themselves in ways she did not foresee. For example, she got frantic with anxiety and exploded into anger every time when her children took steps toward becoming independent. How many of us are afraid of success and sleepwalking through life because of a dynamic like this? How many of us are so terrified our children will be hurt that we won’t let go and we call this love?

For years, Shari only dated men who were emotionally unavailable. She never let a man get close to her until she met Ray, her life partner for the better part of fifteen years. They were both complicated people, battered by life. Their relationship was far from idyllic. But they could relate to one another on a level few people could understand.

Ray was in a motorcycle accident that left him a paraplegic in August 2007.  He was still in the hospital and Shari had just moved their belongings into a wheel chair accessible apartment when she was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2008. When Ray died in April, Shari moved in with her mother to take care of her because she, too, had lung cancer. Her mother died in May. Then Shari began to change.

The changes weren’t obvious at first. She spent every day sitting on the porch, thinking. Ken, who relocated to Baltimore to take care of Shari, didn’t interrupt her or try to control her. He didn’t try to make her talk. He didn’t insist that she was sick and should be in bed. He didn’t get angry when she started smoking again.

And another thing happened. Instead of abandoning her, her friends lined up to help. All the favors, hospitality and gifts she had spread among those around her over the years started to come back to her. Shari never asked for anything, because she never expected to receive anything unless she paid a dear emotional price. But her friends and relatives wanted to give back and asked nothing in return. Shari was mystified, but too sick to refuse. So she accepted help for the first time in her life. And as the weeks passed, her view of the world shifted. She was recreating everything she had believed.

Shari didn’t change because her mother died. We all have the power to change and Shari was no different. Shari didn’t change because she was dying. I have seen more than one person die repeating the same insane mantras they recited though their lives. Was it religious?  I never asked her if she believed in God. In the end, I don’t know why Shari changed. Maybe it was because she accepted the fact that unconditional love can exist and under the direst of circumstances.

Even though we knew Shari’s death was close, Ken and I took her to Nags Head, North Carolina that August. Ken’s son Max and his wife Leigh rented a beach house for all of us. Shari spent most of her time outside looking at the beach and the ocean. We didn’t need to do anything. Being together was enough.

A few days after Shari died, her friends, Sandeye and Phil Jurus went to a restaurant for dinner. Both were grieving terribly and Phil prayed for Shari to send him a sign that she was all right. As they left the restaurant, Phil noticed that it had rained while they were inside, and he looked up at the sky. He saw something that he feels was Shari telling  him  she was at peace. Here is the picture he took:

This time last year.

What I Learned from Susan Lenart Kazmer

Mike Models Susan’s Bracelet

If you read this Blog last week, you know that I was heading down to Damascus, MD to take a class with Susan Lenart Kazmer at Polymer Clay Express. The two-day class was fantastic. Here’s some of the things I learned:

I learned how to drill a hole in a stone.slk4
I learned how to fabricate a cone out of metal.
I improved my torch enameling skills.
I learned how to make and use different kinds of rivets.
I  learned a cool way to put a red patina on copper.
I  learned how to preserve found items like paper and twigs with resin and incorporate them into my jewelry.
I  saw an ingenious way to make hinges that I’m going to try because now I am more confident in my sawing skills and I think I can do it!
I  saw how to make dapped forms to turn into cool rings and pendants.
I  learned new ways to incorporate fiber with beads and metal.

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Now every day the sidewalk holds more treasure than ever before.

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Thanks Susan for teaching this class and Terri for telling me about it and giving me a ride! 

Ray Kremzner Goldsmith and Bladesmith

Ray and Raoul
Ray and Raoul

Ray  was first and foremost a bladesmith.  I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of his museum quality knives to show you. Most of them are in private collections.  Ray had been interested in metal working all his life, taking his first jewelry class in high school.  He wanted to be a jeweler, but his father was mortified that any son of his should sit at a bench and work with his hands.  Never mind that Ray had talent, intelligence and a desire to find his own voice-his career plans didn’t fit in with his father’s myth. 

Ray and Shari
Ray and Shari

His parents split up early and his mother left.  His father remarried and had a new family.  Ray didn’t fit in. He left as soon as he was old enough, but he had a way about him that made people invite him into their families almost everywhere he went. Ray settled down with my sister-in-law Shari, pictured on the left around 1993. Phil and Sandeye Jurus, who own Baltimore’s Jurus Gallery which carries some of Ray’s work, became like second parents to him. Ray always managed to appear right when Sandeye was cooking something. My own mother adored him and wanted to have her picture taken on his motorcycle.

 About three years ago, Ray heard that his father had died. I think this liberated him somehow, because he started making jewelry again-this time in earnest. He also started a job as a machinist working with high tech metals for the defense industry. The proprietor and his boss was Sam who was also like a second father to him.

Here is some jewelry Ray made for Shari.


In August 2007, an SUV turned in front of him as he rode his motorcycle to work. Even though he was rendered a paraplegic, he and Shari were determined to get on with their lives when he got out of the hospital. Shari moved their belongings to a wheelchair friendly apartment. Friends offered to build him a wheelchair accessable jeweler’s bench. His friend Kelly planned to teach him how to use precious metal clay. But since the accident, he suffered from constant bed sores and MRSA infections. He never did leave the hospital. His body finally gave out and he died in April, 2008.

Those who truly knew Ray knew he was a complicated man who struggled with serious demons all his life. But they loved him anyway. I suppose this is what you call unconditional love.

I have some of Ray’s jewelry tools now and I will think of him whenever I use them. But most importantly, I am again reminded that for anyone who is hurting because he was denied unconditional love when he needed it most,  his pain will be healed if he can find the courage to give love unconditionally.

Life’s Rich Fabric

I have boxes of old family photographs that bring back memories every time I look at them. But the women in my family preserved the family history  with different materials.  They sewed, knitted, crocheted, tatted, and quilted.

In my living room an afghan my maternal grandmother Emma crocheted is draped over a chair. Over another chair is a patchwork quilt my paternal grandmother Mattia pieced together from her bag of fabric scraps collected over the years. My mother Rosemary, who is still living, was a marvelous seamstress and I treasure her Singer Slant-O-Matic from the early ’60’s. Clothes she made for me still hang in my closet, and I have scads of towels and aprons she embroidered.

My mother-in-law Vicky, who died earlier this month, was also an accomplished seamstress. She made beautiful jackets for a few lucky women in the family (including me) from vintage velvet, lace, and her stash of fabric scraps. I wear mine on special occasions. I was fortunate  to have  inherited her sewing machine.  I will remember her every time I use it. 

Here are some pictures.








Final Pictures from Synergy

 The View from My Hotel Room


  Some of the other things I enjoyed at Synergy were Jana Roberts Benzon’s Dimensions in Polymer Clay workshop, Tim McCreight’s Design Decisions, Good, Better, Best presentation, Blogging workshop with Cynthia TinappleSusan Lomuto, and Alison LeeCraft in America lecture with Art Historian Jo Lauria.    I hear they are already thinking about Synergy 2010. Enjoy the slide show!


Mann Beside Himself at Synergy


  Ok, so that’s a bad joke.  But there were a lot of new and interesting products at the Synergy Vendor Fair.  Jeweler Thomas Mann was there with his Studio Flux products. Eberhard Faber brought  Efaplast, a microwavable modeling clay that looks very intriguing. I got to examine some of the cured stuff. It seems buoyant, almost cork-like and they say you can carve it and paint it. They recommend you use a dedicated microwave for this product.

  Polymer Clay Express was there with their new Bracelet Angle Jig Kits. Wilma demonstrated making bracelets for six hours!  Ann and Karen Mitchell were there displaying products for Amaco and had a new pendant roller that I’m definately going to get.

 Dan Cormier was there with Cutting Edge Peelers and new tools he developed to expand  your Skinner Blend repertoire.  Kato PolyClay was there with new liquid clay colors I don’t see on the website yet. Robert Dancik sold Faux Bone and a neat beveling tool to cut it with. I bought one and am going to try it on cured polymer clay. 

Here are a few pictures from the fair.

More Pictures from Synergy

The only problem with claiming that you took more than 300 pictures is that not all of them turn out.   But never mind.  There are some more pictures of old friends and new acquaintances all having a good time at Synergy.   And I still have more to come. But someone is going to have to tell me who that is sitting with Melanie West.  It’s a great picture of Melanie and I forgot who the other gal is!

Synergy I Banquet.

The highlight of the Banquet on the last night of the conference  was Cynthia Tinapple’s keynote speech, Watch Where You’re Going Effects Ripple Out. You can see the slide show from the speech on her blog, Polymer Clay Daily.

The conference organizers asked us to bring items to decorate the banquet tables.  Aside from the occasional snapshot of someone wearing something interesting (“Please, would you mind if I took your picture?”) these are the only pictures of polymer clay I took at the conference.   I will post more pictures soon, but you can feast on these for a while. And yes, the dessert was as good as it looks. 

Synergy I: Looking Back

The National Guild asked  Synergy attendees to bring memorabilia to pin on a giant bulletin board in the back of The Big Room.   The idea was to commemorate milestones in polymer clay.  If I’d been more attentive, I would have noted things like Marie Segal adapting the pasta machine and Judith Skinner’s invention that ranks up there with antibiotics and air conditioning.  But I didn’t.  I was having too much fun.  This is what I got. I hope these pictures bring back some memories for you.