Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Reclaiming Small Things

There is a business in Canton, Ohio that sells reclaimed architectural elements they salvage from houses slated for demolition. Unfortunately, their warehouse burned to the ground recently, and they are busy rebuilding, not just their structure but their business in total. Last weekend, they had a sale on the now empty lot, selling what was left of things piled and stacked here and there.

I found an arm full of treasures—a couple of old wooden boxes, some little wooden things that might have come from a staircase, some rusted antique door knobs, an old metal vase that seemed to be covered in soot... I walked away very happy and look forward to when this great business can reopen.

So, what does one do with salvaged things that didn't burn up? Well, one of the boxes, an old cheese box, had an odd hole in the side, and I noticed it was the perfect size to accommodate the metal vase. And those old door knobs—once they were cleaned up, they would become a base for the box, I declared.

With the vase as the focal point, I searched for a poem about a flower and found a doozie, William Blake's "Ah Sunflower"

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

On the surface of this poem, you'd think it's about an actual sunflower that turns its face toward the sun. But poetry scholars believe it might be about Clytie, from Greek mythology. The little nymph was tortured by unrequited love, having fallen for Helios, the Sun god. She sat naked before the sun for nine days, exposed and tormented, and then she transforms into a sunflower, forever turning her head toward her far off love interest.

So, this new box with its embedded vase would hold the sunflower poem and small prints of classic paintings of Clytie. It's my new favorite.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What's the Best Thing in the World?

This question is rhetorical, surely, and I won't presume to answer it. But when Elizabeth Barrett Browning asked the question in her poem by the same name, I am drawn to the attempt. And I am drawn to working the poem into a shadowbox.

As I wrote in a previous post, I am in possession of several antique wood boxes, which I bought to turn into assemblages. The one I tackled today is a small one, about 11 x 3, that was painted silver at some point. The box came with a lid, to suggest it was an oversized pencil box, although I really don't know what it would have been used for. I decided to ditch the lid.

I am currently in love with Browning's poem, "What's the Best thing in the World," and I wanted to present a poem in a straight line the length of this long box, and this particular poem fit in that form. Well, it fit in two lines, but I'll be damned if I could find a worthy poem that could fit on one line at a readable point size.

I am also in possession of some old photos I picked up here and there that either show people in relationships or out of one, judging by facial expressions. I added to this collection a photo of Browning with her son, printed brown and mounted on card stock cut from one of the other photos.

I lined these up with scrap pieces of old jewelry and an old key. I attached the strip of poetry to some ripped cotton from an old sugar sack (or maybe it was used for flower) and attached that to a dowel rod that I threaded through either end of the box.

And this is the finished result. Now I'm not just in love with the poem. I'm in love with the box. Damn it. It's going up in the shop anyway. Tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Everything In Its Place—A Poetry Assemblage

I have a nice stash of antique boxes to play with, wooden containers of various dimensions I picked up recently while on a wild tear through some local antique stores. I picked them up with no specific intentions but have found myself dreaming up ways to fill them. Actually, it's more like day dreaming—I see the box and I see the other elements I have laying around and I see a poem that ties them all together. And then I see a finished goal to work toward.

That's how it was with this drawer I was looking at, an old thing with no drawer pull. I stood it on end and stuck an old whisk broom in it, and thought it fit just fine. Now, what to go with it?

Emily Dickinson wrote a delightful poem entitled She Sweeps with Many-Colored Brooms, using a housewife's busy activities as a metaphor for the sunset, sweeping east to west, leaving threads and emeralds behind. "Come back and dust the pond," Dickinson begs.

So, I set out to put the poem into the box, but I didn't want to just slap it in there. I created a shelf with a small piece of wood that I stained to match. And then I created a miniature book, printing phrases on tiny pages and linking the pages with metal rings I created to fit around a dowel rod. The rod fits through the hole where a drawer pull once was and then goes through the new shelf with a black wooden bead at each end.

I remember my grandmother's old dresser drawers. I would rummage through them when we visited her as children. She kept every greeting card and school picture anyone ever sent her, and those things were bundled inside the drawers, or scattered under old gloves or lipsticks. The drawers were lined with paper and smelled of something. Dust, maybe? Mildew from the humid Alabama air? Time?

I lined this old drawer with pages from a 1903 magazine to finish the effect—imagine you're peeking into the drawer of the housewife-sunset, the place where she keeps her whisk broom before dusk. Her forgotten earring is there, too, and her loose threads and an image of a sunset she has in mind.

So, everything in its place. You know, I would love to sell this assemblage to someone who would treasure it, but if it doesn't sell, it will have a place on my own shelf. Here is the full poem as it appears on the pages of my miniature book:

She sweeps with many-colored brooms,
And leaves the shreds behind;
Oh, housewife in the evening west,
Come back, and dust the pond!

You dropped a purple ravelling in,
You dropped an amber thread;
And now you've littered all the East
With duds of emerald!

And still she plies her spotted brooms,
And still the aprons fly,
Till brooms fade softly into stars - 
And then I come away.

Friday, April 29, 2016

La Wilson

It has been way too long since I posted here, and I have no excuse. So, I'll make up for lapsed time with a great post. It's great because of the subject, more than for any other reason.

About 45 minutes from here is an artist not many have heard of, but she has made an impact in the region. La Wilson is her name, and she creates collages, or assemblages she calls them. I should speak in past tense, not because she is deceased but because she is no longer working.

I visited her spontaneously a couple of years ago, feeling emboldened by a mutual friend who didn't mind just popping in. La was very welcoming, allowing us to tour her home, which has become some what of a museum of her work. And she let us wander through her studio filled with bits and pieces stacked and stored in all manner of containers. She said she didn't go into the studio any more because of her health—she is elderly and unwell and not able to stand for long.

We talked about her work and my poetry, something I was working on at the time, and she talked about how her work is in a gallery in Manhattan. It fetches a mighty price when it sells, but selling didn't seem to be a big priority for La, or at least she didn't let on. Thus, displaying her assemblages in her large living room and around her property.

Beside the front door of her very old but well-kept home in what used to be the Western Reserve of Connecticut before Ohio became a state,  there hangs an old mail box with a glass face, the kind a mail carrier would leave mail in for you to retrieve, flipping the lid at the top. This old box was filled with alphabet building blocks a child might have played with decades ago. A box full of letters. Get it?

So, to honor La Wilson and her work that will outlast her will and her wit, here is a brief video of her after winning a prestigious art prize in Cleveland:

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Time Management OR Doing What You Can Do

I have some kind of sinus thing going on. It's like my head is in a small tank of water, and the contraption is wobbling around on my shoulders, swishing and splashing and making my ears go quiet. We used to have a pool, and one of my favorite ways to use it was to float around with my ears submerged, and as I drifted around watching the clouds cross the sky, I would focused on the stuffed up noise I heard below the surface. That's what I'm hearing now.

So, I am not inclined to make a shadow box today, not even one of the little ones with the moss and little sticks and the burlap. Of course, I could sit here and watch all of "Gone With the Wind" and eat another chocolate chip cookie, but I would like to use my time well today, even if I'm in a nasal fog.

I picked up some unfinished wood pieces this morning—I did have to leave the house because it's voting day here in Ohio, and even if I am on my last leg, I WILL vote, damn it. Might as well stop by the craft store, too, I decided, and replenish my frame supply.

I set the pieces out on a covered work surface (aka—my kitchen counter with a well-worn piece of foam core for protection) and got to work, leisurely, with coffee, and with cookies, and with "Gone With the Wind."

I love working with this chunky block frame that is only about six inches square but sturdy. I painted it with a light green base coat and followed up with white chalky paint. While that was drying, I painted four little ones with black acrylic, and then I used a two-coat stain on the little crate. It's meant to look like barn wood.

Then I sanded the black boxes to roughen them up a bit, and then, following directions for an effect I'm interested in, I sanded the white frame as well (you use chalky paint because it sands well), working down to the surface to work the two coats of paint into the grain. Then I coated it with a wax surface. That has to dry until tomorrow when I can buff it.

So, that's that. Time managed well, I think. I don't have a box to post, but I have the makings of several new projects and proof that slow-moving days don't have to be wasted days. And now I can go back to sitting still and blowing my nose and watching Scarlet manipulate her way through a difficult world.

And while I'm doing that, the Big Puppy will lay beside me wishing I felt well enough for a walk.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Little Out of the Box

I'm not sure if this is Weather faking us out or what, but it seems to be spring in Ohio this week. Every day calls for the temperature to be somewhere in the mid-60s, so I intend to walk the big dog more often than I have the last couple of months. We could both do with some outside time that doesn't involve freezing our noses and ears.

Today, I wore a jacket as we walked around the neighborhood, and its big pockets came in handy as I found plenty of things to pick up off the ground. Here is the morning's haul:

I won't use it all at once, of course, but I decided to pick out a couple of treasures the wind blew and use them in a box today. I have discovered blocky unfinished wood frames at a craft store (Michaels, if you must know), and I had stained one just yesterday. I used a two-coat process to make the thing look a little weathered, and it was ready to go today.

I also had on hand an excerpt from an Emily Dickinson poem I had already printed on card stock, so I cut that out and made it the centerpiece. Given the poet wasn't much for church, I decided to be cheeky and include a glimpse of St. Paul's Cathedral in the background, an image I found in an 1894 edition of Around the World in 80 Minutes, which I've had on a shelf for years just collecting dust.

Then I got to work playing with twisted twigs I have been collecting. I love how some of these sticks refuse to be contained inside a square space. They need to branch out (I know, I'm sorry), so I accommodate them by gluing in one end and tying down another using fine wire and nails. Here is what I finished with, a box soon to be available on Etsy:

When you make arts and crafts that you sell online, people tell you to keep a blog where you can share your expertise and creative ideas. Well, I'm full of ideas, but expertise I do not have when it comes to things like moss. I used it here, as you can see, and I have read what I can find about it, but I still have questions.

The moss I use has been preserved, not necessarily dried, and it should be kept dry. I do use glue, which might be considered moisture, but it's not like I'm dousing the stuff with water. When I'm not using it, I keep it in a zip locked bag, but still, some of it is growing mold. At least I assume the black stuff is mold. So here is my question—how does one keep moss from molding while in storage? And is there a chance it can grow mold just sitting in a picture frame away from water?

I keep checking some of my earlier work in which I have used moss, and it all seems fine, even the stuff kept in glass-faced frames. But I wonder. And I worry a little. Advice?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

I Almost Misquoted!!

So, here's what happened:

I was poking around the Internet the way one does, and I was looking for a quote to build a shadowbox around, something lovely and inspiring and not too sappy. Well, first, I found this one:

The earth laughs in flowers.

I'll admit that caught my attention initially, although I thought it might be a little too thick and syrupy for my tastes; but it was attributed to Emerson, and it didn't seem to ring true to his style. So, I did some digging for the context and found Emerson's poem "Hamatreya." In it, he described the way we claim a spot of land as ours—"Tis mine, my children's and my name's." You can envision the chest pounding that goes with this kind of declaration. But no sooner have we claimed a piece of earth when we die and are buried in the very same earth and on and on it goes. So, when the earth laughs in flowers, it isn't being cheerful. It's mocking us "to see her boastful boys, Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs." Because how can you own something you cannot hold, but it holds you?

Well, that makes more sense, then. Of course, Emerson would say something like that. And suddenly, this little quote is not so little, and it's not so appropriate for a shadowbox filled with dried flowers, unless I'm trying to convey a message to unsuspecting buyers, which I am not.

So, on with my search, and I find this quote:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Now this is something I can use, especially since it's attributed to Mark Twain, so I get to work. I find a suitable illustration to build around and gather my belonging to start fitting them together.

I make the prettiest damned box you ever did see and set it aside to let the glue dry, and then I discover I have forgotten to include Mark Twain's name anywhere in it. I printed that little bit, aged the paper somewhat, curled the paper at the ends and glued it right where I wanted it to be. While that last element was drying, that's when I decided to do the investigative work I should have done earlier.

And that's when I discovered Mark Twain never said any such thing, nor did he write it. In 1991, H. Jackson Brown wrote P.S. I Love You, a book of advice from his mother, and in it he includes this quote. Somewhere along the line, someone said it was from Twain, but Twain scholars who have pored over his papers have concluded it was not Twain's at all.

All the quote websites still include it as Twain wisdom, and lots of Etsy artists have done what I have done with it, but we're all wrong. Fortunately, I found out before the glue dried, and I was able to remove that little bit of curled paper.

So, it pays to do your research and not just assume something is true because it's on the Internet. You should be laughing at that sentence, because of course, we're now at the point where we should assume it's a bold-faced lie, or at least lazy writing, when we see it on our screens.

Oh well. Here is my finished work, no worse for the confusion: