Monday, April 30, 2012

Chapter Two

Monday Evening

Chapter Two:  A Book

Thatcher Freund wrote an article that was published in the New York Times Magazine Section in 1994.  His topic was a card table that had been made around 1750 in Philadelphia by a cabinet maker known as the Garvan carver (Garvan after a piece of furniture made by the Garvan carver and owned by a family of that name).  Indeed, the cover of the Magazine Section was deep blue with a photo of the card table on the cover.  It was stunning!  The article impressed me so much that I managed to snag a second copy and laminated both of them because I thought I might be able to use it in the class room (unfortuantely that didn't work for a number of reasons).  Freund told the history of the table using the few facts available about the table itself, its owner, and the possible craftsman who made it.  Some of the article was speculation based on historical research for the earlier years but then it followed the "life" of the table up to its sale at a Sotheby auction in 1991 for $950,000. 

I still have one copy of that article. The second one I gave to the man whose family donated the Severin Roesen paintings to the Metropolitan Museum. I thought he would appreciate the story of the card table and the family that owned it. As I glanced through the laminated copy, I was struck once again by the writing. Thatcher Freund has an easily style; he could be sitting at a dining room table telling his story much as our host told me the story of those paintings. The next step was to find the book from which the NYT article was adapted and to read it. His book is Objects of Desire (Freund, Thatcher.  Objects of Desire.  New York: Pantheon, 1993), and it is available by request through our library system. 

In it Freund tells the story of three specific and truly outstanding American antiques in such a way that you understand how some people fall under the spells those pieces weave. In Freund's book, it isn't about coveting something no one else has because that will make the owner special and powerful (he gives that a brief nod and one owner may suffer a little from that), but rather it's the beauty of the pieces and their histories that evoke visceral responses which fascinates the author.  

But it's the Willing card table (commissioned by Thomas Willing) that drew me to the book, and then the Garvan carver about whom I'd love to know more.  I don't want to dwell on those things because it was something else I found in the book that caught me and that I want to share.  But first,  I've found some photographs of pieces attributed to the Garvan carver on Google Images that you must see.  The first is a Chippendale clock, and you can see immediately why people find his work amazing.

The second is the card table.  Imagine having this pass down through your family!  That story is amazing.  The card table was discovered wrapped up within a sealed storage crate in the basement of a bank.  The family name was on the crate as well as an address and some other specifics that I don't remember right now.  The man who found the crate wasn't looking for it because he didn't even know it existed.  He just happened to be a direct descendent of Thomas Willing.  Now did he find the card table or . . .

Did the card table find him?

If you need any more clues, here's the part that relates this chapter to the one I posted yesterday,  Towards the end of the book (p 287), Freund has this to say:

"Things possess the possibility of immortality.  They are pieces of human industry frozen in time.  They connect their makers to everyone who ever owns them and everyone who ever touches them and even to those who only stop to look at them.  When a mother hands down her silver service, she is connecting her child to a past full of rich texture and meaning to her.  She is connecting the child to her past, but she is also connecting herself to her child’s future.  She is passing a piece of herself to the hands of her great-grandchild.  She wants to survive.
Even those things people don’t inherit – things that hold no ancestors inside – can affect their owners through their histories.  The objects tell stories.  They hold the dents from room handles and the oils from a thousand hands and the unconscious thoughts of everyone who has dusted them."

Think about this.  What's your reaction to Freund's statement?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Three Chapters

Sunday Evening

Table of Contents

Chapter 1  Two Paintings
Chapter 2  A Book
Chapter 3  A Quilt

Introduction:  Have you ever noticed how some things come to you gradually?  A realization or an understanding may take days, months, or even years to make itself apparent.  Such a thing has happened to me, and while writing helps me learn, this is an understanding that I'd like to share with you.  It will take a bit of background because, as you probably guessed, it involves some paintings (not mine), a book I just finished reading, and a quilt.  At this moment I don't know how many days this story will take to tell so I've already decided on at least three days - hence the chapters.

Chapter 1  Two Paintings

My story begins at a Seder David and I attended this spring.  Two years ago David did a lot of work for  the Jewish Community Center by helping their board write a mission statement and decide on a direction they wished to take.  There's more to what he did than that, but basically it took a tremendous amount of time and energy.  One of the board members invited us to his home for a Seder, possibly as a thank you, and we attended.  The hosts were very gracious, the meal was delicious, and we learned a lot.  End of story, or so I thought.

However, this year, the same board member and another man who works at the JCC asked David to do a similar job at the Daughters of Sarah Nursing Home where both of them serve on that board.  David agreed and has been hard at work helping that organization.  Again, the board member invited us to his home for this year's Seder, and again we accepted. 

As it happened, that evening at dinner, I was seated next to the host in a chair that faced the wall (the previous time I had been on the other side of the table).  On that wall hung two paintings only one of which I could see reasonably well.  As the dinner progressed when it was possible for my attention to leave the company and the Seder itself, I kept looking up at that painting wishing I could see it more clearly.  It reminded me of the Dutch still life paintings I admired so much as a teenager and young adult.  The meticulous details, the realism, the composition, use of colors, the glass!  You understand.  At one time I wanted very much to be able to paint like those Dutch painters.  And there I was, seated where I could see, but not well given the candlelight, two paintings that might possibly be Dutch still lifes.

Finally, there was a time when I could politely ask my host to tell me about those paintings.  "Oh, those?"  He turned to me with a smile.  "It's really a long story involving my family.  Are you sure you want know?"

"Yes, I do," I responded.  "Now that I know they have something to do with your family, I want to know even more. A family's connections to objects are important to me."  Or words to that affect.

Eventually, he realized that I might be interested and not just polite so he told me the story.  As well as I can remember it, here is the story of two paintings.  But first, the painting that caught my eye:

Still Life with Fruit and Wine Glass by Severin Roesen
First my host told me what I was looking at were copies of the actual paintings which had once belonged to his grandmother.  Or, he said, they belonged to a several times great-grandfather who was a tailor in or near Philadelphia in the mid 1800's. 
Okay, how does a tailor manage to acquire two paintings of such obvious worth?
The story as I was told it, is that Severin Roesen, lived in Philadelphia (my host suspected that he had gone there to study with one of the Peales) but wanted to return to New York City so he could exhibit at the Academy there.  For that he needed a suit so he could make a good appearance in the city.  He went to a tailor even though he did not have the money to pay for a new suit (and probably not even for an old one).  Following an age-old custom, the artist bartered for the suit - two paintings for a suit of clothes.   The tailor was no fool and accepted the bargain.  Mr. Roesen got the clothes he needed, and the tailor received two obvious excellent paintings.
Years pass, the paintings were not so much forgotten as merely taken for granted.  They became part of the furniture that one saw in a room every time one entered it.  One doesn't ask questions about a rug that one walks on every day, and one ceases to think consciously about it.  In the same way the paintings were handed down through the daughters as part of household goods.  Fortunately, the bare bones of the story were also handed on. 
Still Life with Strawberries in a Compote by Severin Roesen

The two paintings and the story of how they came to be owned were re-discovered when my host's grandmother died and his father had to take care of the estate. I believe his father was the only one who had an interest in the paintings and he started to investigate who that artist was. Then when his father died, my host and his siblings had to decide what to do with the paintings
They were able to have the paintings authenticated much to the general excitement of everyone in the art world interested in American paintings of this particular time period.  Severin Roesen and his history is rather well known but there was no record of these two paintings.  They were being seen and discovered by the art establishment for the first time.
Eventually, the family gave them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in honor of their father and with the understanding that my host would be given decent reproductions.  
Here are the details and the provenance which I copied from the Met's website when I searched out the paintings:

Severin Roesen (active United States, 1848–72)

Date: 1865–70
Medium: Oil on board with gold leaf frame
Dimensions: Oval: 16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm)
Classification: Paintings
Credit Line: Gift of Carl S. Salmon, Jr., 2004
Accession Number: 2004.541.2
This artwork is currently on display in Gallery 774
       Provenance:  Moses (Ulman) Allman, Williamsport, Pennsylvania (in trade with the artist for a suit of clothing); to his daughter, Rosetta (Ulman) Allman Kaufman; to her grandson, Carl Salmon, Jr. (the donor)


Friday, April 27, 2012

Dogwoods and Fabric

Friday Morning

Last night I was too sleepy to write, but I have time for a quick note before the day takes off.

Esther commented on my entry that included my discussion of dogwood trees.  She said there were plenty where she lived and was surprised that we didn't have any.  Well, I may have overstated the case a bit, and proof of that came yesterday as I drove to my piano lesson.  My preferred route takes me over Manning Boulevard on both sides of Western Avenue (from Washington to Western and from Western to New Scotland Avenue).  Both halves of Manning are a pleasure, especially at this time of year.  And both sides have some dogwoods, not many, but some.  To clarify the point about these trees we don't have many up here and most are older specimens.  What we have lost are the dogwoods that used to peep out from the edges of woods, their horizontal branches just glimpsed as we drove past.  Those "wild" trees are gone, decimated by disease years ago.  Now there are only the specimen, nursery grown trees.  Remarkably enough, the dogwood fell out of favor (most likely because of that disease) so they have become rare.  One doesn't seem them in the nurseries as flowering crab apples, cherries, and redbud are more popular. 

Yesterday afternoon, I spent a delicious amount of time sorting through the fabrics chosen for the girlfriend quilts Mary Ellen and I are going to make.  As I mentioned before, she and I selected the fabrics together, but each of us will put together combinations that are pleasing to us. Part of the fun of this is waiting to see what Mary Ellen's blocks are like compared to my use of the same materials.  That was in my mind as I selected combinations from among the fabrics.  First of all, it was simply fun to look at the lovely colors we chose (I keep my fabrics in Roy G. Biv order - as I do with anything that isn't otherwise in alphabetical order, like my spices).  As I decided on the colors for one block, because of the organization method I use, I was able to find those fabrics easily within the pile while still keeping the pile neat.  That's helpful when the choices varies from block to block.  The second and equally enjoyable part of that job was wondering how Mary Ellen would combine her colors.  There were some that I was able to say, "Oh, she'll choose this color instead of my choice," or "She might choose this pattern but in the same color choice as mine."  There are all kinds of surprising pleasures in this shared project!

Today, among other tasks, I will iron those fabrics that need it, re-checking the combinations as I do so, and maybe have enough time to cut out some more blocks.  Both Mary Ellen and I use small plastic storage bags to hold the cut pieces for each block, and then I put those bags in a larger tote bag that can hang on the chair I use while sewing.  All I have to do is reach in the bag, and I have a block all ready to sew.  I don't allow myself to choose which block I'll sew next.  This is the only time I seem to be able to tolerate true random choice (as compared to my "controlled random" selections!).

I hope your day has a special pleasure in store for you, too!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Did You Really Believe Me?

Wednesday Evening

This was a busy and successful day!  I hope yours was, too.  David was off visiting his father (after some discussion, we decided I wouldn't go this time as they were meeting with a realtor) so I decided the rainbow painting had dried enough and was ready for another attempt. 

Surely you didn't believe I wouldn't put you through this again, did you?  

After circling the easel by doing the breakfast dishes and starting a laundry, I got to work on the painting.  Last week I laid down an undercoat by painting sky and clouds over the previous attempt at a rainbow (this was after Sharon had scraped away the annoying ridges made of dried paint).  For this attempt, I needed the surface painted last week to be pretty well on its way to being dry.  If it had been wet, today's paint would have blended with last week's and the distinction between cloudy sky and rainbow would be lost.  I wanted the sky to be visible through the rainbow as though the rainbow was tinted window. 

However, I did need a light coat of fresh paint over the sky where the rainbow would be so those rainbow paints would have a specific area to blend into without obliterating sky.  Sound confusing?  Let me explain.  I painted a very thin coat of white with an almost dry brush (meaning very little paint on the brush) as a path for the rainbow.  Then I added four stripes of very, very pastel color (for example, lots of white with the merest suggestion of red) and allowed them to fade out as they reached the point where I wanted the rainbow to disappear (I decided I didn't like the way is was going straight up and off the canvas even though that was the way things really were that day).   With a different, wider, dry brush, the colors were blended from the red to the violet.  While that wasn't as successful as it was with an earlier attempt (there was so little red and yellow that there's no discernible orange, for example), it did allow the paint to blend into the white.  Then I worked on blending either side of the rainbow into the sky.  This procedure had to be done several times until I was satisfied with the transparent look of the rainbow and the way it fades out at the top of its partial arc.  Because of the amount of white, this part of the painting is full of light.  AND the sky shines through!!!

My teacher declared it finished after viewing the slightly blurry photo I sent her. 

I finished my day by dancing a jig.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Tuesday Evening

I just have to share these with you.  If you've already seen them, read them again, then copy and send them to someone who could use them today (or any day).

Couple in their nineties are both having problems remembering things. During a checkup, the
doctor tells them that they're physically okay, but they might want to start writing things down to help them remember

Later that night, while watching TV, the old man gets up from his chair. 'Want anything while I'm in the kitchen?' he asks.
'Will you get me a bowl of ice cream?'

'Don't you think you should write it down so you can remember it?'she asks.
'No, I can remember it..'
'Well, I'd like some strawberries on top, too. Maybe you should write it down, so as not to forget it?'
He says, 'I can remember that. You want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries.'
'I'd also like whipped cream. I'm certain you'll forget that, write it down?' she asks.
Irritated, he says, 'I don't need to write it down, I can remember it! Ice cream with strawberries and whipped cream - I got it, for goodness sake!'
Then he toddles into the kitchen. After about 20 minutes, the old man returns from the kitchen and hands his wife a plate of bacon and eggs.. She stares at the plate for a moment.

'Where's my toast ?'

David forwarded this joke and a few more to me about half an hour ago.  After reading this I laughed and laughed and wiped my eyes.  Then while still snortling, I went to find David to thank him for forwarding the joke to me.  He was coming up the stairs so I said, "Where's my toast?"

He looked bemused.  "What?"

Still laughing, I repeated, "Where's my toast?"

"I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't hear you ask for toast."

By that time I was howling with laughter again, but I managed to point to the computer room, and the light dawned . . . "Oh," he said starting to laugh himself, "the jokes!"

Well, I guess the joke is on us (it could have been me) - which is just fine because laughter is truly the best medicine, especially when you can laugh at yourself!

Monday, April 23, 2012

And in addition . . .

Monday Evening,

Just in case you thought I was incredibly noble about going to Pennsylvania without visiting any quilt shops, let me set you straight.  I did indeed go to a quilt shop and spent enough to keep the gross national product statisticians very happy. 

Last year I went to Intercourse and spent most of my time in Zook's where I did quite well.  This year I wanted to go to a different place, and I had heard that Burkholder's was the place to visit.  As can be expected, I didn't get going early because there was a shower to take, breakfast to eat, and company to be, but around ten o'clock, I took my trusty GPS, shopping bag, and headed out.  Fortunately, the GPS seemed to realize I didn't really want to go in a straight line so it took me by back roads over to Lebanon.

In case you didn't know, the dogwood tree is alive and well in that part of Pennsylvania.  We've missed it here for years now, and I didn't think I'd see it again.  The winding roads that took me through the countryside and farm after farm had hamlets with ten houses on either side.  Of those ten houses maybe four had at least one and some two dogwood.  They weren't young trees, either.  Most of them were pink, but there was the occasional traditional white to be seen.  I knew they were not the Korean dogwood that had been introduced to take the place of the dying dogwoods because these trees had the silhouette of those old trees.

photo from Google's Image library

Here's a photo of one I took from Google's images which show what a specimen tree can look like.  It has the typical horizontal branches loaded with flowers though this one's flowers are more white than the ones I remember.  In contrast, the Korean dogwood's branches have a more upright growth and the flowers have petals with a point rather than rounded.  Well, anyway I had a great time enjoying the flowering trees and lilacs; I hope they're still there and haven't been destroyed by the snow!  

The old stone barns and houses are also amazing.  The barns are huge while most of the houses were smaller and far more modest in scale.  It reminded me again of what was of greater importance in the lives of those who built the barns and houses.  Shelter for the animals and their grain came first, and the family could manage with far less space.  Did I really see arrow slits in the barns or were those slits for ventilation?  The latter is more likely, but I had a great time imagining the former possibility.  While I looked for suitable landscapes for painting, the white barns I liked the best were not in great places for me to stop for photo opportunities so I'll have to get those next year.

Eventually I did get to Burkholder's (although at first I thought it was a farm stand!).  My goodness, now that's a fabric store!  I think that if they don't have it, it can't be had anywhere.  Fortunately, I did have good intentions, and so I carried my pocket photo holder with fabric swatches tucked inside the slips for photographs and yardage requirements with me!  When I left home, I had two projects for which I needed some coordinating material.  When David told me he thought my star hexagon piece was too big for a table mat and really should be a quilt for our bed (more on that story later!), I added a third project in need of a variety of fat quarters (of which I have maintained I wouldn't buy any more).  I was doing very well ignoring the fabulous bolts of batiks, the splendid Orientals, and the shelves of designers' collections, but then I saw the sale shelves.  What a great way to get yardage for backings!  Once the dam was breached, that was it.  A few more goodies made their way into my cart.  Not many, but more than I needed. 

Oh well, I didn't buy a single book or pattern.  Wasn't I noble?

Bonsai Trip

Sunday Evening

We returned late this afternoon from a weekend trip to Pennsylvania to a Bonsai Show put on by the Mid-Atlantic Bonsai Societies (MABS).  This is the second year the show has been held in Grantville, PA as well as the second year I have attended.  There are two main exhibits of bonsai (pronounced bone-zigh not bon-sigh)specimens, and I went and lingered over the exhibit of trees styled by the members of the various local societies that make up the MABS.  To me, this exhibit is the more interesting of the two.  The trees are styled by non-professionals and range from trees exhibited by rank beginners to those of amateurs-who-might-as-well-be-professionals.  In addition, those trees tend to be younger and usually have been under the care of bonsai enthusiasts for a shorter period of time than those of the professionals.  Finally, there are more of them to see so there are more varieties of trees styled in nearly all of the traditional forms of bonsai.  This year I didn't take any photos, but here is a photo from last year's show of a tree styled by an amateur:
It's a knockout, isn't it?  Few trees were in bloom this year, and I learned from the Japanese translator (a Japanese woman from California who is a bonsai artist herself and who doesn't let the fact that she's in her 80's stop her from doing what she wants to do) that this is a good thing.  She said that the message of bonsai is to show "what can be, the promise of what is to come" so buds are preferred for a show, not full bloom.  I can understand that because looking at the azalea, all one focuses on is the bloom.  The tree itself is wonderful, but it was overlooked - paled in comparison with the dramatic, intense color.  Here's a cropped version the same photo:
Can you see how the flowers show through from behind?  Look at how some dead branches (jins)  have had the bark carved off so one can see the beauty of the shape that is left.  It's definitely not a good photo to show a particular style of bonsai, but it is lovely.

I did go to the professional show because their trees are beyond drop-dead-wonderful, but this year I spent more time looking at the scrolls and the companion plants shown with some of the trees.  Oh, I should explain that bonsai trees are sometimes, but not always exhibited with a scroll, or a companion plant (hosta, for example, in a 2-inch pot), or a special rock.  Working together these additions should help present a finished piece of art for the viewer.  This is what I would like to learn more about.  Even though I, as a member, have been to many of our local bonsai club's meetings, demonstrations, and classes, I haven't heard this part of bonsai discussed.  It could be that it is discussed as part of show preparation or something like that which I may not have listened to as carefully as I should have.

I'll have to ask about it.


Thursday, April 19, 2012


Thursday Evening

As I was tidying the basement before the advent of the plumber, I came across some fabrics that I had packed in a bag with a note that they were to be used in a wonky log cabin wall hanging (I even had the book title on the note - sometimes I do things right!).  That got me started thinking about some of my favorite kinds of patterns, you know, the kind that seem to call to you from the page.  I keep (or try to) magazine quilt patterns in a binder with divisions for types of quilts.  Most of the divisions are by type: applique, embroidery, paper-pieced, table runners, bags, wall hangings.  Other divisions were decided upon after noting the kinds of patterns I am drawn to, more of a subject matter classification: Christmas, stars, log cabins and houses.  I have a lot of patterns in the last category and several books as well.

I began to wonder why I find the representation of houses so appealing.  I remember that I painted a folk-arty rendition of our home on wood (D had cut it out for me after I had given him a sketch of the outline of our house) that hangs above our family room door.  I had a ceramic bank on display (until it broke) that was house-shaped and glazed in the colors of our own house.  For the last several years I have sent a photograph of the previous year's Christmas wreath as it hangs on our front door as our Christmas card.  The symbolism of a front door is pretty clear.  It denotes an entry point, and if you show others where to enter, you are offering a welcome. 

Maybe my attachment to the images of houses goes back to my childhood.  I didn't care a lot for dolls and didn't play with them often.  As I remember it the dolls I had were few and usually stayed in one place for a long time while I busied myself with other toys.  However, my grandfather made me a doll house that I adored and played with for hours at a time.  Maybe that's it.  Who knows?  And it really isn't very important except for quilts and mt back yard.

We have recently acquired a fifth bird house, and it's a gem.  It's only the second one we have purchased as most of the others were gifts.  We refer to the houses by the giver's name:  Cindy's house, Nancy's house, and Alice's trailer (it's a darling old time trailer shape in red).  The first one we bought is called the Vermont house as we bought it there, but our latest one doesn't have a name, yet. 

It's between one of our forsythia on the right and bridal wreath on the left.  Quite something, isn't it?  It has an opening for birds on each of its four sides but only one area in the house itself.  This one was purchased at a home near where our daughter lives.  They had quite a few in style similar to this.  Some were smaller, a few were larger, and they were painted in different colors.  There were a number of choices, but I really love this one.  What should we call it?

No matter where my admiration for houses comes from, I enjoy my small collection of birdhouses, and I look forward to making house-themed quilts.  Think about it.  Do you have a symbol, shape, or object that calls to you?  Do you know why?  Does it matter?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Wednesday Evening

After doing a good job (if I say so myself) on our dining room aka my sewing room, today I allowed myself to spend some time sewing.  I attached navy blue borders to a tumbler wall hanging that I had made in 2009 (yikes!).  There is a reason it took me so long to do this simple task.  I had designed some applique to sew on the border and into the wall hanging itself, and at the time I sewed the tumblers together, I wasn't experienced with applique.  Or at least I wasn't experienced to deal with the kind of applique I design.  Now I can handle it but now I also have a multitude of hand sewing tasks to do.  Well, this just gives me one more, and it will provide a respite from the hexagons and the crazy quilt.

After completing that minor task and reviewing the applique design some of which had to be re-sized (a trip to an office supply store to copy the designs is now necessary), I moved on to the Girl Friend quilt Mary Ellen and I are working on.  Well, sort of working on.  We did start in January as we had planned, and we both have blocks cut out, but that's where we put it down.  Today, I thought, would be a good day to make half a dozen blocks if lucky, four if not.  After one block I was ready to give myself a very severe talking to.

We chose a Kim Diehl pattern that we both like, and it's not a difficult one. It is a primarily scrappy churn dash block quilt with equally scrappy sashings and border.  In the center is a large applique section that each of us is going to alter to suit our individual tastes.  It's a GF quilt in that I make two of every churn dash block I make and give her one of them.  She does the same.  We had agreed on our fabric choices and have pretty much the same ones, but we are bound to put them together differently.  Sounds good, doesn't it? 

My problem today was that when I did the first cutting back in January, I neglected to sub-cut the squares to make the triangles for the dashes of the churns.  And I didn't mark the diagonals on the eight 1.5" squares that will make the points of the star that is in the center of the churn dash (since I was making this for a best friend, I felt I should be super accurate and mark those diagonals.  Eight per block.).  Remember for every one block I make for myself, I am making one for Mary Ellen by string piecing as I go.  Today each time I had to get up from the machine to take care of one of the things I had over-looked while cutting, I snarled to myself.  It wasn't a nice sound.

After completing the two blocks, I pulled out all the baggies (each with cut pieces for two identical blocks) and completed sub-cutting to make the triangles.  I even marked the diagonals on 4 or 5 (double the number for both mine and Mary Ellen's) blocks until I decided that she is a very good friend and I could stop.  She won't mind if I take a short cut or if my star points aren't mathematically precise.  I hope.

Now the blocks I had precut are really ready for sewing.  Ready for the next time I sit down to sew.  After spending another day to cut out some more blocks.  You see, I do have a king size bed.

Who said quilting isn't fun?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Some Points (but not all) of Clarification

Tuesday Evening

Clarification #1: if you thought you'd never have to read about my painting again, I'm sorry but that's not what I meant.  Painting is something I love and about which I want to learn more.  Writing is one of the best ways of sorting through one's ideas and feelings in order to come to some realizations.  So:

Looks like the case of the vanishing rainbow, doesn't it.  Okay, here's the story.  First I'm going to go back to the day I showed the various stages of painting the rainbow for Clarification #2.  The very first picture, the one that looked as though I flew over the lake scene in an bi-plane and dropped a huge plastic banner with a child's representation of a rainbow on it?  Remember?  Big bold stripes of red, yellow, blue, and purple?  Several people commiserated with me on that failed attempt.  I didn't fail at the painting, I failed at the explaining.  That dreadfulness was the necessary first step in the rainbow-painting techniques I used.  I was merely recording the steps (not for posterity but so I'd remember them!).

Clarification #3: I talked about the ridge line without explaining what I meant.  It was like a flashing red light to me, and I thought you'd immediately see what I was talking about.  On either side of the rainbow, there was a raised ridge of dried paint.that acted like a fence corralling the rainbow or a channel holding a rainbow-stream in place so it can't escape or flow into the rest of the sky.  Very disconcerting to me.  What was that canal doing in the middle of my sky?  I couldn't get rid of it no matter what I did.  My teacher Sharon, when she commented on the "No-Noel-it's-not-finished" painting, told me she'd help me with that.   I won't go through all the gory, scary details except to say that it involved an Exacto knife and maybe 10 - 15 minutes of patient scraping on Sharon's part (I was almost too scared to watch!).  Once that was all done, my Erie Canal was not only not visible, it was also absent in the tactile sense.  Hurray!

Now I have laid the ground work for the next in the series of rainbows.  This time it will be done "properly" and will, I most sincerely hope, be the final and most glorious of all the aforesaid trial runs.

Let's just hope that David doesn't sink to his knees when he sees what I've done to his painting!

Monday, April 16, 2012

If It's Monday . . .

Monday Evening

Somehow in my head Monday seems to be laundry day, and don't ask me where that came from.  I don't think I've ever used Monday as my standard day to do the wash (for me it was always Sunday).  Now that I'm retired, I could wash on Monday, but I rarely do.  However, this weekend we were busy both days so doing the laundry today became the plan.

Or it was until D reminded me that the plumber was coming to work on the well this morning.  That threw me into a blue haze.  Now not only couldn't I use the washer (almost on top of the well and therefore the plumber and helper/intern, too), but I also couldn't continue with the massive rearrangement of "my" half of the basement.  Which in turn meant that on Tuesday I couldn't do the dining room clean up I had planned.  And as in the standard domino effect that meant that Wednesday I wouldn't be able to sew in the dining room.  I was not a happy person.

Do you believe all that?  That was my I-haven't-had-my-breakfast-brain at work (or not at work more likely).  My after-breakfast-brain said, "Self, be sensible and tackle the dining room today."  And that's what I did.  Is it all finished to my satisfaction?  No, but I'll be able to work in there Wednesday if I want to.  Or Thursday.  Or Friday.  Or . . . whenever.

I've been missing my sewing, and tidying the basement has reminded me of the lovely fabrics I have in my stash and the plans I have for it.  Time to get to those plans.  Over the weekend I made the decision that I was going to spend no more than three days per week on house and garden unless there was a special reason not to.  To me a special reason is that it's the end of May and time to plant for the summer or it's whenever and company is coming.  Anyway, that decision is why I was upset this a.m. until I fed my brain and realized that I need to be flexible.

Let's see if I can make this work.  Any bets????

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Sunday Evening

Thanks to all of you who commented on "Rainbow Over the Gap" and also to those of you who sent best wishes to David.  He was very surprised and delighted with this gift.  We moved it down to a small, portable easel on the piano where he can enjoy it as he walks through the living room. 

My teacher thinks it's really almost there, but she want to help me try to remove that annoying ridge of dried paint so I can have a smooth surface.  It scares me a bit, and I have to admit some reluctance to work any more on it.  I confess I'm a bit tired of that rainbow!

Which brings me to my main point of this entry.  It seems to me that I spend a lot of time describing in possibly tedious detail the minutiae of my painting activities.  This is because, as with a quilt, every facet becomes supremely important.  Being new at this kind of painting is like being new at quilting, trying to get one's points right, and obsessing over it.  It doesn't make for very interesting reading for others who may not share the interest and who don't give a hoot about making a rainbow look atmospheric rather than solid or cutting off the points of triangles. 

This blog is becoming quite helpful to me in that writing about my ideas, my experiments, my frustrations, and my modest successes clarifies each step, what I've learned, and what I should do.  It has become a record of my journey to many exotic locations (okay, more often than not the journey arrives at a dead end and a u-turn is needed).  So this is terrific for me, but maybe not so for you. 

I can't promise to write less about painting, but I can promise to write about things other than just that topic.

So here's a discovery.  Tulips, as I think we all know, sometimes have glorious interiors, but have you ever looked at the underside of the outer flower?  It's not quite the "here there be dragons" of uncharted seas, but there are the occasional idyllic shores.  Who would have expected that collar of pristine white under the tulip?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Final Attempt?

Wednesday Evening

Clearly, I haven't been hard at work at clearing out the basement, but I have been focused on the lake painting.  This morning after David left to go see his dad, I poked and prodded various things, delayed some more by doing the normal morning chores, read a chapter or four . . . you know.  I was circling the Big Project waiting to get my courage up enough to pounce.

Finally, I did it.  After all I said about what my teacher, Sharon, recommended, I didn't follow her advice after all.  Here's what she thought would be the best bet.  By the end of the class yesterday, we both thought I wouldn't be able to get the top half right for a variety of reasons.  We also thought the rainbow shouldn't extend all the way up to the top of the painting as it does in the photograph.  Again, one doesn't have to take every detail exactly as it was; there is always room for artistic licence.  And I take it with both hands.  Sharon's advice was to paint out the top half and add more clouds.  Now that is a very good option, and I may still have to take it.  If you look at photos (and I did - many), you'll notice that rainbows frequently disappear into clouds and don't come out the other side.  One issue I had with that though was that most often that occurs when the rainbow appears during the rain when the clouds and sky are quite gray.  I didn't want to change the painting that much as that would require - well, repainting the entire thing.

What I decided to do was to give my original technique (the one I learned by watching a YouTube video) another go, but to take some of Sharon's advice and let the rainbow disappear into the ether.  This is the way it looks now:

Rainbow Over the Gap

I've sent this version via e-mail to Sharon and my painter friends with a request for thoughts and critique (I won't tell you my concerns, yet). Tomorrow is David's birthday, and I'd really like this to be finished. Oh, I'll give it to him, of course, but it would be nice if I didn't have to snatch it back to continue working on it.

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

the Elusive Rainbow

Tuesday evening

This morning, I packed my painting gear in the car a little earlier than usual and set off to class.  I made a stop first, though, at a craft store where I could buy a decent sized sketch pad for use in class IF I finished the landscape.  My teacher wants me to practice sketching figures before starting my next work which includes people.  That's not a problem and is a very good idea since I haven't done very much drawing in a while.  However, all my so-called sketch pads are of the small, easy-to-take-on-a-trip variety.  I want to try to keep my work loose and thought bigger would help - freedom of movement, large gestures instead of tight little lines.  I hope.  I don't know because I didn't get to it, yet.

Once at class, both my teacher and my friend gathered around when I put my painting on the easel.  Now that could be flattering only I knew they wanted to see if I had a coup.  Did I manage to get the rainbow right?  Well, you know what I think.  My friend was delighted that I had captured the arc correctly.  My teacher?  She took a look, turned to me, studied my face in a can-she-take-the-truth sort of way so I nodded and said, "I know.  It's not right; I'm hoping you can help me fix it." 

She laughed and said, "Well, it is tacky!"  Trust me, she didn't mean the paint was tacky to the touch.  She meant the rainbow was garish and awful.

Turns out she agreed with me completely.  The lower half of the rainbow works, but the upper half is a disaster for the reasons I mentioned last week.  The paint is too heavy; it lacks the necessary luminosity that is there in the lower section.  The red has an especially hard edge.  She didn't think the angle of the arc was correct until she looked at my photo again.  Then she realized that it was the width that was wrong.  Anyway, we discussed various solutions and settled on what we thought was the most likely to succeed.

We were wrong.

I tried another possibility, and that one was better, but . . . No banana.  I fixed another problem areas in the sky (clouds on the diagonal pull the eye down in the same way the hills already do).  By that point it was almost time to go, and I said I'd work on it tomorrow by simply starting over and doing what worked on the bottom portion.  That's when my teacher had an epiphany, "Aha," she cried and proceeded to tell me what she thinks will work best.

After spending a little time looking the photographs on line, I agree.  I'll show you on Thursday (David's birthday) what I paint tomorrow.  Keep your fingers crossed; I'd hate to show D a birthday gift that's been sawed in half!

Spring and Consequences

Spring cleaning has me by the throat and won't let go!  We're are making a concerted effort to get rid of things that we don't need and/or don't use.  Goodwill is probably cringing every time they see us coming (especially when I give them 3 or 4 Easter decorations on the Thursday before Easter!), but I truly want to make the house more livable and more functional for the life we lead now.

When I first retired, I really hoped we would look for a new house, one that would suit our lifestyle and would be a realistic home for people who are getting a wee bit older.  David was adamantly opposed to the idea which at first really surprised me, but eventually I came to understand his feelings and respect them.  Part of the issue for him was packing up our belongings which are legion.  Now I giggle a bit, because if we had moved and had packed up everything, what we are doing now would already have been done!  No matter how one looks at it, the clutter has to go, and we could have done it when moving into, ahem, a house that would have a room I could dedicate to my artistic endeavors.  Did I say that?

Ah well, as I say, we are in the midst of trying to make order out of chaos so I haven't a lot of free time.  My entries may become more sporadic, but I will write as often as I can.  Wish me luck, energy, and the strength to get rid of those things I should get rid of!

Friday, April 6, 2012

McCall's Design Star Contest 2012

Well, the rumor is true.  This month's issue of McCall's Quilt Magazine has photographs of the twelve finalists in last year's McCall's Quilting Design Star Contest with their final quilts and a quotation from each person.  It is an honor to be selected as one of the finalists and another honor to be in the magazine.  I recommend that anyone who thinks they might be interested to grab the opportunity and do it.  The rewards are many, and I don't mean the prizes.

But speaking of prizes, there is also a full page color ad for the contest, and it sounds as though they've upped the ante.  They are talking about two grand prizes (that could be the Horn cabinet and the sewing machine or it could be two people winning), many prizes, and cash.  It seems that so far the contest has been a success for them, and they are now able through the generosity of sponsors to make it worth more to participants.  Another reason to seriously consider entering.  It is nice to receive unexpected, mystery packages that contain quilty things one can actually use.

If any of you are thinking about it and would like to talk to me about it, I'm willing to chat and answer your questions.  If can't manage to comment on this entry, ask any of the local quilt shops for help reaching me.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Do you know what it means to overwork a creative piece?  It doesn't matter if it's a bonsai tree, a piece of embroidery, or a painting, or a story; overworked basically means that you had something that was good to excellent, thought you could improve it so you worked some more on it, and wound up taking it past "good" to something "less-than-good".  It makes you want to tear your hair out or worse -  especially if you think it can't be remedied.

That's what I did yesterday.  During Tuesday's painting class, we discussed how one could paint a rainbow.  It seemed impossible to me, and, unfortunately, it's the final element (the one I've been avoiding tackling) in my landscape painting.  By the end of the class we (my teacher, another interested rainbow painter, and I) turned to the Internet, searched, and found a video of a painter working on a landscape (in oils) that included a rainbow.  Even with no narrative (which would have made it perfect), it was quite helpful.  Aha!, we said and off I went.

Yesterday David went to visit his father and the house was empty for a reliably long period of time during which I could paint to my heart's content, and he wouldn't see what is to be his birthday surprise. First, I watched the video again several times. Then, on canvas paper I practiced the techniques that I had just reviewed. It was a wise thing to do (and one that I don't always do even though I know it's wise), and I'm glad I did it because I learned some valuable lessons. Then I started on my canvas. Here's the first go at it, and luckily I had seen the video so it didn't send me into a spasm. Hold on to your hats -

Scary, isn't it?  It looks like a banner has just been unfurled from a very, very high place and has crashed into the hills on the right.  "Whew," I said to myself, "it's a good thing I know what to do with this mess!  I think." 

I went to work using once again knowledge I had gleaned from the video.  Here's the intermediate-almost-finished stage.
Not bad, eh?  Too bad I didn't leave it alone at this point.  However, as you may have noticed, while the bottom portion of the rainbow has been toned down considerably and, I think, effectively, the upper portion is still a bit strong, a bit too solid looking.  So, thought I to myself, I'll make that better because it isn't perfect.  Alarm bells should be going off in your minds as they should have been in mine.  But no, over-confidence had set in.  I thought I had done a very good job, and if I could do "very good", I could do "perfect".

It's now officially overworked.  Not only is the upper red side still too solid, it's even worse than it was before because now the yellow has joined in, and the red's too hard line on its outer edge is even harder, too.  Let's hope my teacher can find a way to help me out of the hole I've dug for myself!

Lessons learned: first, remember the saying, "Leave well enough alone."  Second, beware over-confidence.  Third, over-confidence leads to over-working.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lovely Spring Day

Wasn't yesterday a bonus day?  It was so sunny, I forgot I had had to wear a jacket to painting and left it there when class was over at noon.  I drove from my painting class directly my crazy quilt class at Log Cabin.  That was an experience!  My GPS took me by a completely foreign (to me, anyway) route, and I had a glorious time enjoying countryside I'd never seen before.  A few areas had possibilities as painting subjects so I'd like to drive that way again  when I don't have to be somewhere.  Of course, with the sun shining as brightly as it was, I could have been driving through the seedy side of Chelmsford (if it even has a seedy side) without minding it at all.

Saturday our sewing group got together at my house, and one member brought me the lovely tulips you see below.  Not only was it a very gracious gesture, it was also the perfect spring offering in the perfect color.  Wasn't that a generous and thoughtful gift?  It's one that we will enjoy for some time to come. Let me share this bouquet with you.

Have a wonderful day!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Crazy Quilt Block 2 Day 2

Today I have both painting and Crazy Quilt classes.  Since it is almost impossible to paint on a secret birthday gift painting while the birthday person is in the same room, when I had time for fun things this week (thank you , again, Karen!), I worked on the second block of my crazy quilt.

Here you can see them side by side (click to enlarge).  I have added some ribbon embroidery around the two purchased flowers on the
upper left of my mother's photo, and somehow an orange tree emerged from my needle on the ribbon frame to the left of the flowers.  Mother is wearing a pearl necklace now, and there is a matching pearl on the taupe flower .  There are also some gold beads in the center of the gold outline-flower on the black fabric.  The skylark/swallow has been removed until I find a better placement. 

I've also changed some of the fabric placements.  The broad twill ribbon with the music on it has a different slant, and I think it looks better where it is now.  It's too bad some of the musical notation is lost with this new position, but one can't have everything.  The angles of the two greens and the orange fabrics on the right-hand side have been reduced, but whether this will be final, I don't know yet.  The problem is the orange fabric is the intended "canvas" for my large embroidery work.  In the Day 1 photo you can see there is ample room to work; Day 2's alteration offers less.  I will have to draw what I want to embroider on paper, cut it out, and place it on the block to see if it will work as things are now or not.

That actually has to be done before I do any of the seam covering embroidery.  Once those seams receive their "fancy stitching", there won't be any changes made (unsewing complex stitches on fragile fabrics is not recommended - as least I don't recommend it!)  and the resultant fabric shapes will be permanent.  This time I will stitch the seams before doing the embroidery, I think.  On the first block, I worked the butterfly before the seams and my threads kept catching on the pins securing the unstitched seams.  Quite annoying!

However, a heavily stitched area such as the one I am planning for the orange, may pull the fabric in  and possibly distort the seams.  Hmmm . . . I think I have a problem for Bonnie (crazy quilt teacher) to help me solve. . . .

Monday, April 2, 2012

Thank You, Karen!

Sometimes life plays lovely games with us.  Last night on my way upstairs, I thought that I would write about what my friend Karen has done for me.  So I'm going to start this entry with what I intended to write, and then explain the lovely game so I can tell you what else she did for me most unexpectedly.

Last week I wrote an entry in which I almost-whined about not having had the time to sew.  Then I came-even-closer-to-whining when I talked about the reasons I hadn't sewed in a while.  One of those reasons was writing the pattern for Miss Ruby and that it was far more difficult than anticipated.  Another reason was the hand-sewing of samples for classes, and still another reason was that I had taken on more than I should - which at least I did acknowledge.  Anyway, Karen read that blog and quite rightly scolded me.  Hadn't I learned anything, she asked me knowing that clearly I hadn't.  Didn't I remember how close she had come to losing her love of quilting, something that had been precious to her, because she spent too much time doing quilt samples she didn't really want to do.  Oh, there were a host of other reasons she and others like her (and like those of you who read this)  nearly lost her pleasure in doing all the wonderful things she does (she has such a deft touch in decorating her house, she comes up with creative ideas for her much loved grandson, her mini-books are treasures . . . and so much more).  She reminded me that I can't let that happen to me.  Because of that reminder from Karen, I spent Saturday sewing with friends and almost all day Sunday working on my crazy quilt block.  Thank you, Karen, you pulled me back from the edge of a yawning black pit!

That was what I planned to write about - how friends can save you from your worst enemy - yourself.  Then I opened my e-mail before I got down to entry writing, and what did I find?  Not only did Karen tell me to wake up and smell the roses in that e-mail I told you about above, but she then also made sure I would have do what I love by gifting me with on-line classes in  painting on fabric for use in quilts.  Now how perfect is that; my two passions rolled into one glorious gift from a dear friend.  At a time when she needs more from her friends, she still reaches out to others when she sees a need. 

Karen, you are truly a lovely lady in all respects.  Thank you for giving me the best gift of all, your friendship!