Shades of Blue Earrings


You can read my newest project article on how to make these cool drop earrings  in the November/December issue of Step By Step Beads. You probably know that SBS Beads will cease publication  with the January/February 2010 issue,   The good news from the Interweave site is that it is being merged into Beadwork Magazine, and that Step By Step Wire is still going strong.  I had a clasp making article published there earlier this year.

Bob’s Urban Garden at the End of Summer.

Real Steampunk

     The Steampunk  genre (or more correctly, sub-genre) encompasses moviesclothingartfiction,  jewelrysculpture and more.  It draws heavily from old fashioned technology and appeals to those of  us  interested in technology, fantasy, and exploring mixing materials from different times and places. 

     I never really thought about why Steampunk is called Steampunk (as opposed to Technopunk for example) until I visited the Treadgar Iron Works in Richmond Virginia.  Tredgar churned out ammunition for the Confederacy during the Civil War, but also manufactured steam locomotives and other new inventions of the Industrial Revolution.   The  perfection of the steam engine changed everything and took large parts of the Western World from an Agrarian to an Industrial Economy.  Hey-sometimes it takes me a long time to see the obvious, and then I see it everywhere.

     Here are some pictures I took of the old machinery at Tredgar.


     The first museum exhibition of Steampunk design will take place at the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University later this year.   This is appropriate in so many ways.  Be sure to check out the blog devoted to the exhibit.

And the Beads Go On

I’ve fired up my torch after almost two years and I’ve been trying different techniques including hollow beads, encasing and working with enamels and baking soda.

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve made so far:

I’m really looking forward to Bead Fest this year.  Aside from seeing all the lovely lamp worked beads,  Wale Apparatus one of my favorite suppliers, is on the vendor list.  How cool is that?

Fifty Years of Public Art in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its Public Art Program this year! It had one the first “percent for art” public art program in the United States when it passed an ordinace in 1959 that required that a percentage of construction costs for municipal projects be set aside for fine arts. Read more about the program’s history here.

The pictures below are a sampling of some the public art in Center City Philadelphia. I’m sure you’ll recognize some of them. Yes, those are huge dominoes and Monopoly pieces! One of my favorites has always been Claes Olbenburg’s Clothespin in Centre Square. That’s a reflection of City Hall in the building behind it in the picture below.

You can find out more about the great public art in Philadelphia here and here.

My Blue Heart


My husband had an extremely difficult 2008- so bad his heart was broken and he finished the year undergoing open heart surgery.    He’s  getting better,  regaining his strength and looking forward to becoming a Grandfather.

I intended to make a totally different piece when I made the heart bezel used in the above pendant.  But my materials told me to take a different course and when I finished,  I had the pendant you see here.   It wasn’t until I showed my it to my  husband  that I realized I had made it for him.


The Soul of a Tree

Nak037Last week, we made the trek to the Nakashima Studio in New Hope, Pennsylvania. My in-laws made this trek in 1959 with Shari and my husband in tow.  They put a deposit on  a slab coffee table and hanging wall cabinet, and were nervous about spending so much money.  Who in his right mind would spend $300.00 on furniture with knot holes in it and cracks fixed with inlaid butterfly shaped pieces of wood that didn’t even match?

The furniture was delivered to their suburban home a few months later and they enjoyed it for the next 48 years. That furniture saw a lot of parties and family celebrations.  When Milton died, the guest book for the memorial ceremony sat on the cabinet for guests to sign.

When Vicky died, the furniture passed to Shari who enjoyed it every day of the short time she had left.  Shari longed to make one last trip to the Nakashima Studio but was too sick.  At her memorial ceremony we set a beautiful wooden box holding her ashes on the coffee table along with her glasses.

Last week, as I was walking on the gravel paths that lead from one studio building to the next, I realized that trees tell a Nak020story.  You can read history in trees if you know how.    Nakashima understood the soul of trees; he did not alter or mask a tree’s spirit with detailed carving, paint or heavy hardware.  Instead, he engaged in a dialog with it, and listened-really listened-to each whorl, knot and wormhole.  George Nakashima’s work is a reminder that imperfection has its own beauty.   If we could take those principles and apply them to each other, we would understand  that our imperfections are what make us remarkable.  And beautiful.




We gave the furniture to family members who we hope will enjoy it for the next 48 years.

Come See My Etchings


DSCF0200My latest passion (aside from my husband)  is metal etching.  I am so obsessed that I even cut up some brass charger plates (flea market finds) and am etching and making  jewelry from the brass.  I’m using copper too.

I started my etching explorations with ferric chloride, which you can buy as  PCB Etchant at Radio Shack.  Rumors abound that Radio Shack no longer sells this.  It’s not true.  Much to my delight, however, I found you can purchase ferric chloride for half the price at Dick Blick.

Ferric chloride is not acid, but you don’t want to get it on your hands, clothes or in your eyes.  I wear gloves and eye protection when I use it, and I work in a well ventilated room.

After scouring or sanding your metal to make sure it is free of tarnish, dirt and fingerprint oil, you put an image on it that will resist the ferric chloride.  In othe words,  the ferric chloride will eat away whatever you did not cover with etchant resist.  Sharpie permanent markers provide an effective resist as well as Stayz On Ink which enables you to use your favorite rubber stamps.  Sharp black and wDSCF0259hite images work best. Another method is to photocopy or laser print your images onto transparency film sheets and iron the image onto the cleaned metal.  DSCF0251Transparency film is expensive.  I have had success with the backing for a sheet of labels made to be printed with a computer.  If you work in an office, ask  people to save these for you instead of throwing them away.   I print the image on the side of the sheet where the labels were and iron it onto the metal, image side down.

After you prepare your metal and fill a glass or plastic container with a couple of inches of ferric chloride, you cover DSCF0242the back of the metal with packing tape and suspend it, design side down, into the solution.  Why?  The etchant eats the metal and metal fragments flake away.  If the metal was right side up, the fragments would sit on the metal and interfere with the etching process. 

When you remove your piece from the solution, neutralize it with baking soda or ammonia, rinse well with water and clean off the resist.  The time you have to etch depends on how strong your solution is (e.g. how many times you’ve used it).  Ferric chloride, which is a salt and not an acid,  is considered a slow etchant, so your etching time might run from 30 minutes to several hours.  You need to check your metal from time to time until you know what to expect.

You can reuse the etchant until it’s too weak to perform.  Then you must dispose of it.  Don’t pour it down the drain.  It contains metal fragments and you don’t want to add them to the water supply.  Contact your local government authority for instructions on how to dispose of hazardous materials.

I learned of a great alternative to ferric chloride works faster and eliminates those pesky metal fragments.  It’s called the Edinburgh Etch and it’s composed of ferric chloride and citric acid.  Citric acid is a natural substance found in citrus fruit and many soft drinks (It’s not just the sugar that rots your teeth.)  I have seen many complicated formulas and equations for mixing ferric chloride and citric acid.    I mix 4 parts ferric chloride to one part citric acid.  The citric acid is composed of 3 parts water and one part citric acid by volume.  Translated, this means  1  cup ferric chloride (16 oz), added to a mixture of  4 oz  citric acid.  You mix the citric acid by adding  1 oz powder by volume to 3 oz water.  Increase this formula to get more etchant solution.  You can buy citric acid on ebay.  For more information on metal etching, go to Makers Gallery, Ganoksin, etsymetal and DIY Network.

Next week I’ll post some pictures of my etched metal.


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.

Inspiration is Everywhere

I find inspiration in the strangest places. I spent a day in a boring seminar at the Philadelphia Convention Center staring at the patterns in the carpet and spent the night making geometric canes. The outside light sconces on a neighborhood apartment building are evolving into a pair of earrings in my brain. Patinas on weathered metal gates and fixtures make me think of new ways to finish metal. Bark on a tree can look like nubby raw silk fabric. Plaster ornamentation on old buildings makes me wonder about the workers who put it there and what their lives were like. I like to roam around taking pictures of odd bits of Philadelphia. I see something new whenever I look. I love to travel, but there’s plenty of inspiration in my own back yard. Maybe these pictures will inspire you to start looking more closely at your everyday surroundings.

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