What’s on my Table

The days are flying by. We are now into week five of social distancing and I could use some nice warm weather and some sunshine. I have been working on the family genealogy and sharing what I find with family members on a Facebook page we set up for that purpose. I read David Copperfield and my new life goal is to be as wise as Betsey Trotwood. I ordered some Fairy Lights to brighten up my basement workshop. The Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild had its first online meeting and it went so well we are going to continue. I am baking bread having had the foresight to order 40 pounds of winter wheat berries (and two pounds of baker’s yeast by mistake; I could start a black market business) which arrived before the pandemic.

Here’s what’s on my work table right now:

I thought it would be fun to combine galvanized steel wire with vintage Swarovski crystals. I love making funky asymmetrical chains and I have a bunch of gorgeous crystals from old necklaces I snatched up at house sales. This is what I have so far:

I like the look, but I have to get motivated to to more. Here are some polymer beads. I am waiting for them to talk to me and tell me what they want to be (and if they want to be back filled first.)

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I have been experimenting with different methods of cutting jump rings.  I prefer sawing to cutting because I always have to spend time cleaning up the ones I’ve cut, even though I use good flush cutters.  Too fussy I guess.  But sawing has its own problems.    For a long time I was using a jump ring jig I made myself.

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The problem is how to hold the coils in place as you saw them.  The jig I made was small enough that I could hold the coils with my thumb as I sawed.

Here’s one great solution-using a wedge of wood rather than your fingers to hold the coils in place as you saw.

But there are other ways of sawing perfect jump rings and I continue to search them out.  I will share my favorites here.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Connecting with Beads

My friend Gladys Glass operates  the Woodstock Trading Company with her son Seth and husband Harvey.  Woodstock specializes in vintage one-of-a-kind Rock ‘n Roll memorabilia.  and Rock ‘n Roll oriented gifts, clothing, incense, posters and novelties.  (Their store is closed because of the Coronavirus, but you can shop on line.  They ship anywhere in the US. )

For years,  the spacious lawn in front of  Woodstock’s  colorful psychedelic storefront in Cherry Hill, New Jersey was a gathering place for people to enjoy live concerts,  Maypole Celebrations, and Drum Circles.

Until the coronavirus stopped all that.   It’s been hard not just for business, but also because of the loss of social interaction that people really need.

Gladys  was recently commiserating with her friend Suzanne about how difficult the isolation and social distancing can be, and suggested  the idea of stringing beads of “hope” to mark the days in isolation.  She thought that sharing  the beaded creations with like-minded people  would be a good way to stay connected.     A few days later, Suzanne  called Gladys back to tell her she and her friend Galen had created a web site so people could do just that.  It’s  called Safe-String.Com.

Safe-String.com is a free site whose purpose is to help its users “navigate stress, panic, raw nerves, uncertainty, and loss during one of the most challenging episodes in human history.”  And it uses beads to connect people to one another.

The Safe-String.com site offers a forum where its users can share their creations and ideas.  The forum topics are not limited to beading.  One asks, “What expectations of normal are you letting go of today?”   Another asks, “Who have you checked in on today?”

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If you are interested in joining the forums but need beads, you can  buy a kit  from Woodstock which contains  31 random beads, spacers, string, and  ending finial as an ornamental bead stopper.  Also included as a bonus is a hand-painted card, gift bag, and instructions.

But you don’t need to buy a thing to participate in safe-string.com  or to join the forums.   You can make beads  from cloth.  You can make beads from paper and old magazines.  And you can string anything with a hole it it.

Stay well and keep washing those hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Antidote to Fear

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Some years ago, I decided to interview any elderly relative who would share family stories with me.  I planned to tape and transcribe the conversations for the rest of the family.

Those who agreed to talk to me told me stories of  wars, epidemics, natural disasters, and the early  deaths of their children.   (And no, they weren’t used to that in the old days any more than we are now.) They told me their stories and recounted stories they heard from their  parents, and from their grandparents. They talked for hours, and I wrote everything down.

I was surprised by what I took away.  I discovered that I had taken so much for granted about the lives of other people.

For the first time,  I got a real sense of  the anguish that historical events could cause when they played out in the lives of real people.   I got a sense of the despair an Uncle felt as he  recounted stories of growing up as a teenager during the Depression,   I had never thought about the mantle of uncertainty he lived under-how he felt his life was on hold because he had no prospects- and how nobody around him knew when or even if  the Depression would  end,  because nothing like it had ever happened before.

And in my extended conversations  with my Mother  about her family’s daily life during the Second World War,  I got a kind of understanding of the fear and anxiety she lived with every day because no one knew how things would play out.

None one bit of this had occurred to me when I studied these things in school.  There was no suspense; we already knew how the Depression and World War 2 would end.  But it was different living through it.  Which brings me to the present.  Because this is where we are now.

Every day, I see draconian pandemic  headlines in the newspaper and online that are  geared to alarm people and gain readers, not to inform.   We don’t need toxic nonsense like this in our lives.  It’s  useless. As  Neils Bohr  said, “prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”     But we humans have a deep-seated need to fill in the blanks.  We have a hard time with uncertainty.   Where does that leave us?

When the world seems enigmatic, it helps to be  pragmatic.  And creative.  Theodore Roosevelt said   “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” 

If ever there was a time for creative thinking, it is now.   And people are creating.    Dyson is making ventilators.  Hospitals are developing ways to reuse N95 masks. There are many more examples.  Like this one.

The innovators, the makers and the creative thinkers will help us to get through this.  Creativity, coupled with effective leadership, and a rejection of ego-driven solutions are the best hope we have.  Of course no one knows how this is going to play out.  Don’t listen to those who claim to know and don’t forget to embrace your creative side.

Some more practical stuff:

Life coach and fellow creative Phyllis Mufson, @phyllismufson, recommends this article on health insurance for the newly-unemployed.

Here is another pattern for a face mask that has just four seams and no bias tape. Easy Sew Face Mask

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week Three and My Hair Looks Great!

 

IMG_4352Social distancing has changed my life.  I have finally learned how to clean and operate the various remote controls scattered around my living room.   I have learned how to use less toilet paper.  I have spotless  door knobs.  I have become acquainted with Joe Exotic, and wonder whether he had to remove his body piercings and start wearing underwear when he went to prison.   I have learned that when you can’t find tofu at the neighborhood Acme or Whole Foods, that a nearby Asian supermarket will have it in stock and everyone there will be wearing face masks.

I don’t have to worry about missing a manicure, because my nails are snowy white from all the hand washing and bleach.  I  don’t have to worry about my roots growing in, because they are the same color as the rest of my hair.  And I don’t have to worry about missing a haircut because my hairdresser and I are sheltering in place together.  Here’s how that happened.

A few years ago, I sent away for a hair cutting kit,  gave it to my husband along with a sharp pair of scissors and asked him to watch a YouTube video on how to use it.  Then I asked him to cut my hair.   Why did I do this?  I knew I needed to start getting regular haircuts but did not relish the idea of scheduling trips to a hair salon.   I see my dentist as recommended and that’s about all I can manage. But quite frankly I was getting to that age where every woman must pay attention to  personal grooming lest she start to resemble Alice the Goon.  And why did I pick my husband?  Because all men who love me must suffer.

My husband is not one to embrace new experiences.  He does not run from them so much as sidestep toward them kicking and screaming with one eye closed and his arms waving frantically.   But for some reason known only to him,  he watched the video then cut my hair.  And  he did a great job!  I was still working at the time and my office colleagues loved my new look.   When they asked me who cut my hair, I replied, “Mr. Ken.”  When they asked for his number, I said it was the same as mine.

So if you are fretting about your hair, hand your significant other a pair of scissors and have at it.  This coronavirus thing is not going away any time soon, so if your partner screws up your hair, you will have one more reason to stay inside.   And support  your hairdresser when this is over.   They will need your business more than ever.   Check out this link for more information.

 

Mr. Ken recommended this video.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

How Will the Coronavirus Change the Craft Market?

The next person I talked to was polymer artist  Janet Pitcher (Petal Pushers) from San Diego. I am always interested to learn how polymer artists discovered the medium, and  Jane’s story is not unusual.  She was 32 and trolling the aisles of Michaels with her 8-year-old son looking for a craft project.  She saw the polymer, tried it and was hooked.  Although she spent years in sales, she was a creative at heart and had a successful business  designing and making costumes. She was also selling her polymer work at retail shows  before she switched to wholesale shows about 10 years ago. 

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She is a consummate salesperson and her passion for polymer was evident.  Janet’s booth was crowded with buyers when I entered and they all left orders with her. 

I asked Janet whether she thought that polymer was a hard sell.  “It can be,” she admitted, ” but polymer is no less valuable than regular clay, cloth, glass, fabric, or a host of other materials.  The value is what the artist brings to the medium, same as any other medium.”   I listened as Janet told her customers  that polymer is “durable, light, and color fast.”  She stressed that she used “high-quality components: Swarovski crystals, niobium wire, and high-quality brass and metal parts” and let them know that she did all the hand finishing herself.   Her lariats are composed of polymer focals  strung on silk ribbon.  Her earrings have a corresponding lariats and can be worn as a set.  I didn’t see any bracelets. 

How to you explain the caning process to people who know nothing about polymer? I’ve seen many a polymer artist (myself included) struggle to do this or,  worse yet, have to explain it over and over all day long.   Jane’s solution was ingenious.    She had a speeded up video of the caning process playing on an iPad to one side of her display.   See the picture below. 

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Caning video playing on iPad explains the process to customers

 

I had originally planned to post this article (on the changes in the market for hand crafted items) before the coronavirus swooped in and upended everything.

The coronavirus has already unleashed significant changes in our lives.  One more thing it is destined to change, although we don’t know how yet,  is the craft market.  Some entities are trying to address this right now.    American Handcrafted is compiling information for Artists and Makers.    Square is helping local businesses to support each other. And some folks on Etsy are selling washable face masks and face mask making tutorials (although there are many sites on the Internet with free directions.  I put some links on a post a couple of weeks ago. More are being added all the time.)    But everything is up in the air right now and no one knows how things will shake out for commerce in general much less the craft market.  With that in mind, here is what I learned from two artist/business people at the American Handcrafted wholesale show in February, before things changed yet again.  

Artists Selling Wholesale: American Handcrafted in Philadelphia

Before 2005,  I sold my work (mostly jewelry) in several galleries and stores, and did a few shows every year. Craft sales were not my main source of income but I did well enough to keep at it.  Family obligations put a stop to that and by the time my life settled down again, the 2008 Recession had caused major changes in the market.   I have done a  little selling since then, but remain mostly ambivalent when it comes to marketing and selling my work. 

 

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Outside the Philadelphia Convention Center

While I am not interested in wholesaling and  rarely do direct sales, I am  interested in the experience of Artists who sell their work in the retail and wholesale arenas.     I was lucky enough to score a ticket to the American Handcrafted (formerly American Craft Retailers Expo) show in Philadelphia in February, and managed to talk to a few of the vendor/artists who exhibited at the how.   Here are two of the most interesting interviews.

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Stickball Studio’s Diana Taylor (Ficklesticks Fiber Jewelry and Fiber Art from Little Rock Arkansas),  has been selling her hand made creations for more than 30 years.  She has seen  craft shows change greatly during that time,  In the 1980’s, she observed, the show aisles would be so crowded with people that you could not see to the end.  And crafting was very popular, getting some of its momentum from the handmade movement of the 1960s and 1970s.  There were a lot of stores and galleries looking for products to sell to their mostly Baby Boomer customers.  Business was good.  It took a downturn with the recession in the 1970’s but improved in the 1980’s. The 2008 Recession cut back business and it has never fully recovered, 

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Today’s typical craft show customer is older.  Stores and gallery owners are leaving the business or retiring.  There are younger makers and sellers, but things are moving on line.  Ficklesticks has adapted  to the changes in the market and is still thriving.  They maintain  an online site in addition to their wholesale business. 

One major change Diana that mentioned she made in her business,  is that her sales reps are bypassing the galleries and gift shops and marketing to the fashion industry.    (I note here that two other artists who have successfully marketed to the fashion industry are Veruschka Stevens (Veru Designs) and Susan Lenart Kazmer.)  

Check out Ficklesticks’ colorful fiber jewelry creations here.

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Janet’s observations on marketing were equally interesting.   She said that people were increasingly less likely to buy products like hers from galleries and more likely to by them as a way to cement an experience, making tourist souvenir shops and museum shops good outlets for handcrafted items.

Something to think about.  Check out Janet’s web site here.

I close with a link to a funny song that you have probably already heard unless you are hiding under a rock.  Enjoy.  And stay safe.

 

 

 

Remember: We’re Resilient

This is the second week that I have been “sheltering in place” with Boris and my spouse (who has been doing the grocery shopping and duly sanitizing household surfaces.)  We are probably getting some things wrong, but doing our best.

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The stay home order in Philadelphia does allow residents to go outside for, among other things,  exercise so long as we observe social distancing rules.

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We’ve been having some beautiful weather here, so I’ve been trying to get out when the weather is nice.  The streets are nearly deserted.  Most of the people we encounter are cheerful and careful to keep the prescribed distance.  Perfect for an introvert who just wants to take a walk.

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Lombard Street near dusk

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Moshulu Penn’s Landing

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Turtle, who lives in Bob’s koi pond, catching a few rays on a sunny afternoon

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Boris relaxing on his cat tree with his stuffed cat, Sweetie.

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I got a new hair cut courtesy of my husband, and made some masks in case friends or neighbors need them later on.

And now for some useful stuff.  Press here for information on sites offering longer free trial video streaming.  I’ve cut my cable, but I might actually try some of these.   I already have tried the live streaming from the Metropolitan Opera.  If you think you hate opera, try streaming one of the Met’s operas complete with subtitles.  For more information, press here. Or explore some  art museums online here.

And finally, a recommendation by my friend Olivia.   Even if you are a non-believer, this is sure to lift up your spirits.  We are nothing but resilient and need a reminder from time to  time.

Creativity in the Time of Coronavirus

Most of us are stuck at home and the more fortunate of us are merely apprehensive or bored. Not knowing what’s going to happen is a scary, but think about it-when did we ever know what the future held?  And if we did, who among us is smart enough to know what to do with it?  With brings me to today’s question:

Should we wear face masks to protect ourselves from the coronavirus?  Here’s one point of view.  Here’s the other.   This link goes to an article that says that DIY face masks can offer protection from coronavirus.  I am not prepared to debate this with anyone because I simply don’t know the answer.  I have resolved this question for myself with an “off label” application of Pascal’s wager.   I  know that wearing a face mask does not offer immunity or an excuse to dispense with hand washing, etc.  But if you are already taking all the precautions you can, how can it hurt?  That leaves the question of where to get face masks.  They have become a precious commodity.

I already have some N 95 respirators that I use for enameling and metalwork.  But you can’t wash them and they say to throw them away after one use.  Who knows how long the pandemic will last?  I need a better face mask option.   For me, the option is to make some face masks.  Will they offer any protection?   As you can see from the chart below,   certain materials offer more protection than others.

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I don’t have many vacuum cleaner bags, but I have many dish towels (a more accurate description would be old fashioned tea towels-a closely woven cotton fabric made for drying dishes and glass ware).  Here is a link to the kind of tea towels you would use to make face masks.  I would not use terrycloth or micro fiber.  You have to breathe while you wear the mask.

There are many sites with directions for sewing face masks.  Most of them use two or three layers of material.  The tea towel fabric is tightly woven, however, so you will have to adapt any pattern you use to make it work for you.  A single layer with a thin cotton fabric as a liner might be best.  I plan to experiment.

Here are some links if you are interested in making face masks.

CraftPassion

Medical Mask for cancer or COPD patient (including child’s masks)

 

Hand-sewn mask

And here is some helpful advice from Ana Belchi

 

Since I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, the CDC has changed its no face mask position.  The CDC now advises that wearing non-medical grade face masks might help to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  For instructions on how to make a no-sew face mask, press here.

 

Fleisher Student Show 2020

SS59Fleisher Art Memorial cancelledl the closing ceremony for  its  122nd annual Student Exhibition because of the Coronavirus.  That didn’t stop me from taking pictures of some of my favorite entries.

Pottery and Ceramics

Painting

Works on Paper and Prints

Fiber Art and Mixed Media and Mosaics

SS67Sandrine Sheon won the Student Advisory Council award for her ceramic piece, Credit None, Trash Walk, 2019

This is my contribution,  Eleanor Rigby’s Secret Jar.SS63, SS60

The World According to Rina Banerjee

Colonialism. The policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically

Make Me a Summary of the World  was a 2019  PAFA  exhibition of  Rina Banerjee’s  work.  Banerjee’s paintings, mixed media sculpture and installations serve as her commentary on what she calls “the splintered experience of identity, tradition, and culture within diasporic communities.”   Banerjee’s  powerful  work seemed all the more compelling to me because it was juxtaposed  with  the more traditional Western works of art  gracing the hallowed halls of the Academy.

 

Banerjee’s  recurring themes are environmental awareness, colonialism, the perils of globalism and the “splintered experiences of identity, tradition, and culture, prevalent in diasporic communities.”

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A World Lost

A World Lost is Banerjee’s representation of how an imaginary island changed after pollution set in,the water evaporated,  the population migrated, and the wildlife became extinct.

Banerje’s sculpture is replete with found objects:  eggshells, discarded plastic,  light bulbs, shells, ornaments, doll parts, rocks, feathers, stones and anything else needed to carry the message.

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One of my favorites inspired by Banerjee’s daughter.  The background is a schematic rendering of the air duct and electrical system of the Columbia office of the CDC that the artist found in a dumpster near her studio.

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Detail

Other recurring themes include feminism, mythology and the impact of colonialism.  There was a lot to see in this exhibit and even more to think about.

For more information on Rina Banerjee and her work press here and here.

What Inspires You? Cat Pottery

I’m back from Clayathon with too much to do today so this week’s post will be short. What inspires you?  I am not ashamed to say that my cat Boris (and animals in general) is a big source of inspiration for my pottery.

Boris I’ve started throwing again after a hiatus because of thumb problems.  And I like to draw on the pottery which is white earthenware clay.  Here are some small bowls that came out of the kiln this week.

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We have sponge eating monsters  in our pottery studio, so I marked my cleanup sponge accordingly:

 

Screenshot_2020-02-26 Martha Aleo on Instagram “Theft prevention in the pottery studio #humor #donttakemysponge #potteryand[...]
Remember this is a joke.  Just don’t walk off with my cleanup sponge!