Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Chance Encounters

For listening to the stories of others ... is a kind of water that breaks the fever of our isolation. If we listen closely enough, we are soothed into remembering our common name.  - Mark Nepo

I am most thankful to two recent reminders that I am on the right path even though I struggle. The first was a touching note from a woman who I met only briefly and did not even know her name. When I began reading the note, it took me a minute to even recall our encounter. I am not sure how she tracked me down. I suspect someone from Dominick's helped since this is where the we "met."

I was in a hurry, running late, and just a tad annoyed, but the child sitting on the floor sobbing just couldn't be ignored. I sat down next to him, "How can I help?" "No one will listen to me." "That's not quite true. I'll listen." And I did. Robert, "not Bob and definitely not Bobby," had just lost his best friend to a move and he was sure that he would never find another one. I asked him to share his favorite memory of his friend and was promptly corrected "best friend." And so I listened to all the adventures they squeezed into their last day together. Next I ask him to share all the things he loved about his friend and was  impressed by the long list of attributes including his best friend's amazing ability to fart on demand which "always made me laugh." Next I asked if he knew anyone else that might have some of the same qualities and he paused and thought a while until a big smile appeared on his face.

Just so you know Robert's mother was struggling with a toddler, obviously not feeling well and dealing with some issue with the pharmacist. As I was leaving, she thanked me. Robert's parting gift to me was given as a comment to his mom, "Can you believe it she's a grown up!" I took that as a compliment.

We all want to be heard.

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to , worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. - e.e. cummings

The next was a former student, Amy Wilson Cavaness, who reached out to me via Facebook. She will never know how much this was appreciated and how much her reaching out was needed. I was seriously considering giving up teaching.

"Hi Karen, Do you remember me from the quilt shop in Lisle? I made my first landscape/memory collage wallhanging and you loved it and told me, "you are an ARTIST!" It really made an impact on me and now I am having some success in various aspects of my artistry with fabric! I have a thriving online commission business and am being published regularly in various Stampington Press magazines. I moved about an hour southwest of Naperville, to Marseilles. I have loved watching your growth and success, too. Just thought I'd say "hi!"" Of course, I remembered her.

"I didn't actually say "thank you" in my previous message, but that was my intent. I'm sure you didn't think too much about it---you never know what little things we say to others can have such a big impact. I WANTED to be an artist.....didn't know how to get there...but your comment (coming from a professional artist) was the first real affirmation that I'd received in terms of being an "artist." Now my kids are grown and that's my identity!  I hope to see you at some event or show soon."

I think this is the greatest compliment a teacher can receive and it inspires me to continue teaching and sharing.

We all need to be acknowledged.

The reminder of these encounters is giving me food for thought and helping me set my goals for 2014. I am so thankful. Hoping 2014 brings you lots of growth and wonderful reminders.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Resolutions and Wabi-Sabi

Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. - Richard Powell

I am someone who makes and tracks New Year's resolutions. I don't know why I had not thought about it before but when did New Year's resolutions get started? A little research turned up that many historians think it began with the Babylonians, then grew in the Roman empire.

One recent study estimates that nearly half of us will make promises to improve ourselves in various ways starting this week. The statistical success rate of said goals : 8 percent. Not very hopeful, is it?

This got me to thinking about wabi-sabi or "imperfect beauty," a Japanese aesthetic philosophy. I learned about wabi-sabi in the 1980s from my friend Sumiko Fujisiro. The concept has its roots in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and is sometimes explained by using the example of a well-loved teacup, made by an artist's hands, cracked or chipped by use. These cracks and chips remind the observer that nothing is permanent and everything changes. Even fixed objects are subject to change. When my favorite handmade coffee cup got accidentally dropped and cracked, I was sad until I remembered wabi-sabi.  It's the true acceptance of finding beauty in things as they are. Maybe if we embraced how wabi-sabi prizes authenticity instead of perfection, we would have a better success rate than 8 percent.

So I am working on my list of goals for 2014. Keeping it simple and hopefully doable. How about you?

I know one of the ways to be successful is commit your goals to paper (write it down), formulate action items, share with a friend about them and send a weekly progress report are 33 percent more successful. So maybe we should all share and check in! I am determined this year to NOT have any library fines. This year I made it until September and only had a 50 cent fine. It is not about the fine it is about mindfulness for me. I think this will be the year! More on my goals soon!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Inspiration Struck

On Christmas Eve, inspiration struck and I answered the call. Advice I strongly advise doing. I was finished with all I could do for the 18 family members that were arriving the next day but too geared up to sleep. With couple of friends, Marie Z. Johansen and Linda Edkins Wyatt, we have decided to do small art trades next year starting in February. Linda had sent me an angel for the last heARTist trade. I was intrigued by her jointed angel and spent part of an evening putting her in different positions. This is one of the many reasons that I like trading. I am exposed to a different perspective, styles and techniques.

I thought it would be fun to try and make a jointed figure that you could simply pull and get it to move. Ta Da! My dancing bears were created. I use cardboard from the post office (I ordered some Modern Art stamps) which seemed to be the perfect color and weight. I had purchased the button brads earlier in the year and they also seemed perfect. The theme is "hearts" so he has a heart in his hand and a heart belly button.  Besides, bears have always held a special place in my heart. We are suppose to create pieces that are 6-inches or less. The bear is 6.5" but I am certain the .5 inch will not be held against me. Marie and Linda are fabulous artists and people who are easy going too. We are also allowed to create anything we want for the theme and in any medium. Can't wait for February to come around so I can put my bears in the mail. I am so looking forward to trading with these two wonderful women next year! What are you looking forward to doing in the new year?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Another Loss

It seems my year of loss is continuing. Thankfully the year is almost over. My grocery store is for all intensive purposes closed. The last official day is the 28th. I began going to this store when I moved to Illinois the first time in 1987. It was the place, borrowing from the Cheers theme song, where everyone knew my name. Naperville is not a small place, nearly 150,000 people, so having a place that was a small community was wonderful. I would write out my list by the aisles and as I went through the store, I would visit with different people. I knew when Scott's dad died and what a great man he was. I will miss hearing about and seeing photographs of Rita's twin grandchildren who are due in January. I remember Alex's first day of work twenty-six years ago and how he let me sit in his brand new PT Cruiser. Now some anonymous person will bag my groceries and probably not remember how I like them packed. I will miss Kevin who loves telling the check out person that "No, she doesn't want me to take her groceries out for her, she wants me to come home with her and put them away." I never tired of this joke told over and over nor did he ever tire of sharing it. I could go on and on but you get the idea and I get too said.

It saddens me that we are so in need of making a profit that we don't think about the bigger picture. As of Saturday, 6,000 people will be unemployed in the Chicago area. I am fortunate because I have choices about where I can shop. This is not true of many people in the city especially those on the south side. And so I am sad. I did not get to say good-bye.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Simple Request for an Act of Kindness for Michelle

It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.  -Nelson Mandela 

In one of Frank Baum's Oz books, Dorothy winds up in prison in Oz and is treated to luxury, kindness and warm cookies. When she asks why, the guard says, "Why would we treat people meanly when we want them to be kind?" The prison system in the U.S. often runs counter to this notion of kindness and rehabilitation.

I have been corresponding with women being held in the Ohio Reformatory for Women since July 2009. I traveled to Maryville, Ohio, to interview some of the women there who had participated in a special quilt exhibit, Beyond the Barrier, at Sacred Threads. I have watched as these women have grown and made life changes. Many of the women, including Michelle, made bad choices especially with the men they married which is why they are incarcerated. Michelle is going through an especially tough time right now. I am hoping that you will take a moment and send her a store bought card or even one of your holiday cards. Don't include anything handmade. If you want to include something, include a postage paid envelope and no, you can't send an envelope with a stamp on it. If you do, it will get thrown away and possibly get her in trouble. I think knowing that people care makes a huge difference. Don't expect that you will hear back from her unless you send an envelope. She is paid less than a dollar an hour, must pay for her own medications (she has several health issues) and things like socks, winter coats, etc. Thanks.

Michelle Owens 57937
Ohio Reformatory for Women Rgl 209T
1479 Collins Ave
Marysville, OH 43040-8808

Friday, December 20, 2013

Musgrave Makes a Moss Mustache

"Musgrave makes a moss mustache. Say that five times fast," was said with a chuckle by my friend Ken Maloney at ClaySpace. I wanted Ken's opinion on my moss mustache. He just kept laughing. He thinks the mustache is funny. My youngest son thinks it makes him a '70s Green Man. I just thought the mustache would make him more interesting. Your thoughts?

I had always wanted to add moss to my Green Man mask but couldn't figure out how to do it when suddenly the idea of making his mustache mossy came to mind. I had the perfect yarn to make it happen. Jon Pacheco, my sculpture teacher, pointed out the the eye brows should also be mossy. I am so thankful I made enough to add moss to them!

The moss was created using Sulky Solvy which is great fun. It's a stabilizer that dissolves in water. I put the yarn between two layers, stitched like crazy, dissolved the Solvy in warm water (a bit slimy) and let it dry. Presto! Moss! I am now sticking a fork in him and calling him done! I have to stop being in denial about the holidays.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Green Man

Maybe because as a child my dad made leprechauns real that the Green Man--the mystical spirit who stands for Nature in it most wild and untamed form, a man with leaves for hair, who dwells deep within the forest appeals so much to me. To date, he is also the largest clay mask I have made. He is nearly 24 inches tall by 20 inches wide. Whether he is completely done is uncertain. I need to live with him for a few days, but I did want to share. I know that tomorrow I see if I can tone down the shininess of the glazes that I used. And yes, each leaf is two layers fused together and stitched. Overall, I am happy. Much happier than my attempt many years ago at making a quilted one. That said, I still like my journal sized Green Man which hangs in my studio.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Clay and Fiber: More In Common Than You Think

In September 2012, I decided to move outside of my comfort zone and take a pottery/ceramics class. In addition to learning the art which I have truly come to love, I began studying the history and the work of ceramic artists. I discovered that the historical flow of knowledge and influence began in China then moved to Korea and finally to Japan. I choose to spend some time studying Japanese ceramics because I could more easily find translations and information. As I studied, I was struck by the many similarities between ceramics and quilts. There is the art vs. craft debate. Despite names like “bowl,” “jar,” or “vessel,” that imply some sort of practical function, pieces are created with the idea that personal fulfillment and self-expression are often more important than practical utility and commercial success. There is also the tension between the traditionalists and those who breaking away from tradition.  And finally, there is the educated vs the self taught debate.  It is my hope that this provides food for thought.
Kishi Eiko (1948-) took archeology and anthropology courses in college, studied dyeing and painting and art history before taking up clay. She has no formal ties to a ceramic tradition. This independence has enabled her to develop a unique style. She uses a technique of her own invention, which she calls “color inlay” and usually works on two pieces at a time for months at a time. This piece took three months to make. “It is only in making my work that I understand where the piece is going.”
Katsumata Chieko’s (1950-) work reflects a distinctive ceramic education. All her formal training took place in France, where she traveled with a plan to study industrial design. A meeting with Texas-born potter Fance Franck inspired her to pursue a ceramic career.  Her love of ancient artifacts bearing the marks of time owes something to the sixteen-century Japanese tea-ceremony masters and the aesthetic of wabi sabi. Yet Katsumata uses colors that are far removed from those traditional Japanese ceramics. “I am attracted to things…that convey the passing of time.”
Yabe Makoto (1947-2005) lived and worked full-time outside of Japan. He began studying ceramics at 18 and completed his training at twenty-four, following a four-year apprenticeship with Shikokai, a small avant-garde group. He moved to Massachusetts in 1977 and remained in the U.S. until his death. Yabe experimented with the demanding nerikomi marbling technique that originated in Tang-dynasty China ((618-907). His work reflects the struggle between functionality and expression. “Mostly, it doesn’t come out as I expected!”
A great book to lean more about contemporary Japanese ceramics is Contemporary Clay: Japanese Ceramics for the New Century by Joe Earle (2005, MFA Publications). I look forward to your thoughts.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The End of heARtist but Not the End of Small Art

The final trades of heARTist Trading Cards is complete. The trades were map ATCs and a flat Santa or Angel (taken from the Flat Stanley books of the 1960s). It is always sad to see the trades end especially since it was such a wonderful group of people. Life has changed for the people in the group so we are ending on a high note instead of fading away.

For my maps ATCs, the saying "wherever you go there you are" was my inspiration. I also wanted to play with a different kind of layering. So travel inspired tags were added with a brad holding everything together.

Since I had already done a flat Santa for a previous trade, I decided this time to do a flat Angel. I combined fiber and paper. I used Timtex (a stiff interfacing which is no longer on the market) and fabric for the wings. I added some dimensional paint dots for interest. Painted tissue paper was used for her halo and paper with colored pencils for her face and body. Dimensional paint was used for her necklace and I added glitter around he edge of her hair.

For the final component, I created cards with the Blue Angel, an amazing fresco from a church in Georgia. Artists painstakingly removed the paint that covered it during Soviet times. When I stood in the church, I was truly moved. I can also tell you that the monks from the region where the church is located are incredibly handsome- tall, dark curly hair and piercingly blue eyes. We all joked with the unmarried women and girls with us that it was too bad that they had given up women because even if they weren't great husbands at least it would be nice to look at them. I have such wonderful memories of my times in Georgia and miss my friends. Hopefully I will be returning next year when the 30th anniversary of the Georgian Textile Group will be celebrated.

So I am a little sad and happy to have this opportunity to share. While this is the end of trading with this group, it is not the end of creating small art. The wonderful thing about making art is that you can always make more. Happy creating!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Small Art Making

You can’t use up creativity. The more you 
use, the more you have.   - Maya Angelou

I am excited! On Monday, I will be giving a hands-on program on making small art for Village Quilters Quilt Guild in Wheaton, Illinois. This group has dedicated this year to increasing their creativity. How cool is that!

If you are in the area, come join the fun- Blanchard Alliance Church, 1766 S, Blanchard St., Wheaton, IL 60189 at 7 p.m. We will be making ATCs and inchies. This is a small guild of 45 members and one of the friendliest I have visited in a while. This is my second time sharing with them (did a program in September) and I cannot wait.

Do you create small art? Do you like to trade?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Weeding and Wonder

We are each of us angels with only one wing
and we can only fly by embracing one another.
                                 -Titus Lucretius Carus

I am one of those people that access goals, life, direction, etc. toward the end of the year. The realization has come that I started this process much earlier this year. My dreams of late have been filled with storms. I finally for out my book The Secret Language of Signs by Denise Linn. She says that a storm can indicate an internal conflict and it can also indicate that the air is clearing in regard to a situation in your life. I think both are true for me.

It occurred to me today that I am weeding. Weeding out the thoughts that I no longer want to carry. Weeding out the people in my life that pull me down instead of help me fly. Weeding out groups that I have outgrown their usefulness. Weeding out things in my home that I don't love or  use. I remember a time when all of this was difficult. And while not all is easy, it does feel good. I know that as I weed I am creating an empty field waiting for new seeds to be planted.

Since creating more income for my family has become a need, I have been wondering what I can do that does not require employment at McDonald's. The realization is to create gifts that I feel have meaning. Here is my carved ceramic wing (13" l x 5" w) which is based on the quote I shared above. I created a fiber feather on the back with the quote.  It will be going into the gallery at ClaySpace and hopefully it will sell this weekend at out holiday open house.  I have also donated a "Create" journal for the raffle (tickets are $1.00 each and you don't have to be present to win). I feel that giving back is important.

So are you doing any weeding? What are you contemplating for the future?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Imagine Journal Give Away

The winner is Gill! Thanks to everyone for entering the drawing. Gill has 48 hours to send me information. If not, I'll have my husband pull another name out of the hat.

I give away things when the spirit moves me so there is hope that you can still win something in the future. Make it a great day!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Living Without Internet

Our Internet stopped working on Friday. My youngest son who is the computer whiz in our house could not figure out how to fix it. He went out of town frustrated. I realized how dependent I have become on my computer and yet the disconnect was good. Even when my husband got it working again, I stayed away and concentrated on other creative things. Of course, now I am playing major catch up. No good deed ever goes unpunished as my friend Bernie would say.