Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year-End Wrap-Up

As the sun sets on this last day of 2016, which has passed more quickly than any year I can remember, I thought it would be a good idea to write one final blog entry.  I've been having some computer issues that have made it difficult to keep up with the blog and I haven't written in months.  I'm not sure how high a priority the blog will be for me in 2017, but I thought a year-end wrap up might be a nice way to finish off the year.

As you've probably guessed, life with three teenaged daughters, a husband who travels, and a high-energy over 30-hour-per week job leaves me with precious little energy and time for other things.  I do still attend FANE meetings once a month and take part in most or all of their challenges.  At the end of the summer, Jane challenged us to cover this building-shaped wood block any way we chose and had the group's completed edifices on display at an open studios day at The Nest in Bridgeport, CT.  The theme was "home" and I decided to turn mine into a home for fish, an aquarium.

I drew a rough pattern of the block on paper and sketched out some elements.  I wanted each side to have a focal point fishy character as well as some foreground plants.  I also decided to try to make it look like the water was truly translucent and you could see through to the fish on the opposite side, by adding a lighter version of the fish in the opposing panel.  For instance, here you can see a close-up version of the seahorse in panel 3, and a faded, faraway version of it on the opposite panel, #1.

I'm not sure this was totally successful, but here's my finished aquarium.  It was challenging and fun, and was the last piece of fiber art I created in 2016!

One thing that kept me preoccupied this fall was sprucing up the house a bit.  We'd become very overcluttered with things we didn't use or need anymore, so I took a lot of time going through drawers and closets and shelves and bins in the garage and attic to find stuff we could sell, donate, or just plain toss.  In doing all this, I also realized how badly much of the interior could use a fresh coat of paint and some new carpeting, as well as having the pictures and photos updated.

One of the weekends my husband was away, I spackled, sanded, and painted the long hallway towards the bedrooms as well as the high-ceilinged entryway.  When I was finished, I hung a lot of my art work gallery-style down the hall.  It looks clean and colorful now and I'm happy with the way the pieces look hung together.

On the opposite side of the hall, I took down old baby pictures of the girls and hung these more recent photos.  The matching black frames make everything look cleaner and neater.  We still need one more family photo for the center frame.  That should be my first goal of the new year!

Downstairs in the family room there were also lots of old photos and unimportant knick-knacks.  I weeded through them and replaced many photos with some of my favorites from the last few years.

I also started working on the far wall, which had gotten very messy.  We installed some shelves so I could get the photo albums out of the garage and I also had some of my favorite vacation photos printed on canvas at CVS.  One of them is the sunset photo of a bridge over the Arno in Florence in the lower right of the photo.  This wall still needs more work, as you can see - goal #2 of the new year!

Then the holidays hit, and things got very busy, of course.  I managed to get my cards mailed and many cookies and sweets baked, as well as decorations up.  We had an especially lovely Christmas season this year, beginning right after Thanksgiving with a visit from my in-laws which included a trip to the Danbury Railway museum, lunch at the Cheesecake factory, and another outing to the Culinary Institute of America with a tour and another lunch out.

I had many visits with good friends and neighbors, but the highlight of the season was really Christmas day when both of my brothers and their families as well as my parents were able to be here.  It's the first time I remember us being together on Christmas Day in several years.

So now the centerpiece flowers are starting to fade and the clock is ticking slowly closer and closer to midnight.  I'll remember 2016 as the year my DH's job got bought out by a Canadian company and he started traveling again, and I consequently took on a lot more of the home upkeep, including mowing the lawn, doing fall clean-up and painting the hall.  I'll also remember our trip to Charleston, SC, Chelsea's graduation, and she and Sarah both starting school full-time.  I'll remember it being the year I began leading the Light Bite Book Club at work and reading so much more adult literature.  And I'll remember this very lovely Christmas season.

In the new year, I hope to begin some new ventures.  I have the beginnings of what I think could be a fun novel, and I'd like to focus a good chunk of my creative time and energy writing this year.  I may have to squeeze it in first thing in the morning, before I get too busy and too tired to write during the day or in the evening.   I wonder if I have the self discipline to do it!  I also started at a new fitness club over the summer and I hope to continue getting stronger and eating more healthfully in 2017.  So even as the Christmas flowers are fading, the Amaryllis bulb is beginning to grow, reminding us that the new year is a fresh start, to make the most of each day, and that spring is right around the corner.

Happy, healthy New Year to everyone!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Filling the Well

Yesterday I was fortunate to have a good reason to wander around one of my favorite museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I haven't been in a few years, but my daughter has a summer art assignment, so we spent the afternoon among all the awe-inspiring works.  I saw some things I don't remember seeing before, and visited some of my old favorites.

Among these were the European sculptures and paintings.  When you head to that wing, you walk through the hallway with all the Rodin sculptures.  This one, depicting Adam after the fall, is so powerful in it's tormented strength, agony, and despair.  

After being amazed by the emotions expressed by Rodin in bronze, I headed into the Impressionist rooms and absorbed the grace and peacefulness of the Monets, relaxing into the soft reflections and soothing pastels.

Then I was uplifted by the playfulness and beauty of the Renoirs and Degas.

 Finally, I stood rapt in front of the van Goghs.  The intensity and passion behind those thousands of flickering brushstrokes make his paintings almost shimmer.  It's hard to tell in these photos, but the skies and backgrounds are filled with dashed swirling brushstrokes that make the paintings come alive.  I'm more astounded every time I see them.  His subject matter is often so ordinary - a cypress tree, two browned and drying sunflower heads, a pair of old, worn shoes.  But they're treated with such love and care that they become extraordinary through the filter of his brush and paint.

This one below was my favorite this time.  Again, such simple subject matter - an ordinary family, a farmer at work in the garden in spring, a child taking her first steps.  The passion and emotion expressed in the father's open arms, the child's delight in this great accomplishment, the beauty of the light shimmering on the trees and making their cottage glow.  All of this conveyed without facial expressions but with simple gestures and postures and the soft dreamlike colors.  Just breathtaking.

After being sufficiently awed by van Gogh, I headed down to see some American art.  I was particularly interested in seeing the collection of Tiffany glass after having just read Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland.  This historical fiction novel is the story of Clara Driscoll and her female coworkers who worked in a division of Tiffany studios, designing and creating many of the extraordinary windows and lamps but never given much credit.

The windows are displayed beautifully, lighted from behind, and it was great to get close up to see all the different types of glass used.  Tiffany had a glass factory in Queens, NY, where large sheets of glass were made in different colors and special effects were achieved by mixing and swirling colors, make some with striations, swirls, blotches, and other textures to resemble tree bark, water, rocks, and mountains.  Sometimes pieces of glass were layered to get just the right effect.

According to the book, Clara Driscoll came up for the idea to make lampshades out of stained glass.  Nature was a huge source of inspiration for her and she made lamps with dragonflies, butterflies, and a variety of flowers.  This is her water lily lamp, with the stems cascading down into a froth of blossoms that seems to float at the bottom.  Having an irregular edge like that was very time consuming to create.  And the bases were sculptures in themselves to coordinate with the theme of the shade - this one depicts lily pads.  Brilliant!

Here's another window, with iris and flowering dogwoods.  Spectacular!

Tiffany also had men who created fantastic vases and goblets by blowing colored glass.  This one is called the Peacock vase because of the feather motif on the fan-like top of the vase (it's difficult to see in this photo, because it was lit from behind and you're not allowed to use a flash).  It's amazing to think that the artist started with a lump of hot colored glass and was able to achieve those very fine feathery lines to resemble a peacock feather and work it into such a graceful, delicate shape.  And it's all attributed to Louis Comfort Tiffany, although he wasn't really the one doing the work!

One part of the museum that I visited for the first time was the furnishings of the American wing.  I wandered through rooms and rooms decorated in various styles depicting different time periods, from early colonial up through the civil war and into the 20th century.  Much of it was very ornate and heavy, with velvet and lace draperies, dark, heavy carved furniture upholstered in dark velvets.  It seemed very stuffy and uncomfortable to me.  Then I came upon the Frank Lloyd Wright room.

I never really understood the appeal of all those straight lines and spare furnishings until I saw it in comparison to the clutter of the previous rooms.  It literally seemed like a breath of fresh air, with the clear light coming through the many windows, the use of natural stone and warm (but not dark) wood.  Now I get it!

So now that I've filled my creative well, I've made some good progress on my own simple art.  I've selected all the book parts, decided on their placement, and glued or fused them all down.  I've even done a bit of hand stitching.   I like that the piece is made up of squares and rectangles, which references a quilt, although I've used paper.  It looks very architectural, and as I was working on it, I felt like I was building it, using the rectangular spines as columns and text pages as blocks.  I've stitched some lines to indicate windowpanes and the door is the hard cover of an old Reader's Digest Anthology titled "Getting the Most Out of Life."  The steps leading up to the door are titled "Making a Habit of Success" and "Improving Your IQ."

I made a point of selecting titles, words, and a few images that depict the importance and value of the written word, storytelling, libraries, and their importance in a democratic society.  Here are a couple of close-up shots of the stitching and some of the textual details.

I think I'll need to pick up some more pearl cotton in bright colors to hold all the pieces firmly in place and highlight certain things.  I figure I'll keep stitching until I think it's done or until September 8th, whichever comes first!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Dog Days

Are you keeping cool?  It's tempting to just stay indoors in the AC but Cassie and I still venture down to the garden a couple of times a day to pull a few weeds, enjoy the view, and contemplate the miracle of a flower.  It's nice and shady down there early and late, although since we took down that huge oak in the spring, there's been several hours of direct sunlight in the afternoon, allowing for the waterlily and trumpet vine to finally produce some flowers.  Hooray!  All that hard work and expense paid off in blossoms.

Cassie likes to gaze into the pond for another reason too:  the frogs.  This week, there are two rather small ones, but they're fast.  She likes to watch them float up to the surface, then she puts her nose almost on top of them, and they zoom away.  Then the process starts all over again.  Can you see the little guy's head sticking up out of the water?

And aren't those waterlilies breathtaking?  I just love the layers of arrow-shaped petals tinged with pink and the bright yellow center - just gorgeous!

     You're probably wondering what else I've been doing for the past two months, besides admiring the flowers.  I have to admit, I have been doing a lot of gardening and other yard work, especially when the weather is not too hot.  Our yard has several huge challenges: the slope of the land, very poor clayey soil, and deep shade behind the house.  In the last few years, my DH has been driving his little ATV up and down the hill (it was a  huge help when we were putting in the garden three years ago) and that has eroded the soil on the sloping path from front to back.  Last summer he spent a lot of time and effort trying to dig "French" drains, but I'm not sure they're working as well as we hoped.  I'm furiously planting english ivy and spreading pachysandra in an effort to slow things down in the planted spaces, but the path has been quite an ongoing challenge.

Our front yard also has some challenges.  We had a trampoline here for a year or two (because it's almost the only somewhat flat spot) and that caused part of the grass to die off.  Rather than replace it, we decided to expand the front foundation garden, which was overcrowded anyway.  So late this spring, we defined the area with edging, and moved some of the smaller bushes out. I scattered some seeds that my daughter picked up and I put in some marigolds and salvia to help get us through the rest of the summer.  We'd eventually like to put in a small flagstone patio area, just enough for a small table and two chairs, so we can sit out here on in the sun on warmer afternoons in the spring and fall. And then I'd love to fill it with perennials, like an old fashioned country garden.  The front gets a good deal of sun so we can actually plant dahlias, hollyhocks, sunflowers, and all kinds of colorful, tall bloomers!  Next year...

And of course, the summer is also the busiest time of year for the Youth Services dept. of the library.  I worked four days a week for the last 6 weeks and when I got home, I often just wanted to sit and chill out with a cold drink and a good book.  And of course, my DH has been traveling again, which leaves me in charge of our 3 lovelies.  They're pretty self-sufficient at this point, but still need a parent around.  I've been doing quite a bit of reading as well, now that I'm leading one of the adult book discussion groups.  Among my favorites this summer were Clara and Mr.Tiffany by Susan Vreeland, The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian, and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (which will be released in the movies in October).  Looking forward to that!

And yes, I have been puttering around my art table now and then, but not as much as I'd like.  Norma guessed correctly when she said my plan is to make a library.  All summer, I've been collecting discarded books and their jackets and cutting them up for collage.  I'm making progress, but it's slow, and I think I'll still need more.  Luckily, titles cannot be copyrighted, and I'm using mostly the book spines and trying to choose texts that are old enough to be in the public domain.  I'm considering adding some color with paint and stitch, after everything is glued down.  It's very slow going.  Our deadline is Sept. 8th, so I still have a few weeks.  Now that work isn't as hectic, I hope I'll have more energy to continue working in the evenings.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Sewing Again!

Since my last post, I actually started two new sewing projects, one of which is completely finished!  We have a window seat in the lower level of the house which looks out on the deck, backyard, and lake.  We've never bothered to get a cushion for it, but recently my daughter suggested it.  I remembered that I bought that cool burlap print last spring, and I loved the way it looked with the pale green and yellow walls we have downstairs, so I decided to use that for a seat cover.  I measured everything out and took a trip to JoAnn's Fabrics for all the supplies.   Even with my coupons, it was a bit pricey (that cushion foam is expensive!) but I like the finished look.  So do the cats! (and the girls, who can now sit there and look out the window and daydream, or watch the birds).  It's a cozy spot, especially in the morning when the sun comes through.

While I was at JoAnn's, I also picked up these fabrics, below.  Even though our Fiber Fall chains were exhibited at the NSQG show in early May, we have the opportunity to exhibit these three or four other places in the next year, so I thought it would be worth completing all the elements.  The last chain would be "fire," hence the shiny orange, red, and yellow choices.

I decided to make a new fabric out of these three, and to use the burnt orange sheer with the sequins as the outside portions of a sandwich.  Inside the sandwich, I layered wavy strips of the other two fabrics, plus a sheer red paper-like material that was wrapped around my Valentine's Day flowers.  I used a fusible webbing between the layers to hold everything together, pressed it, and then stitched with black thread in wavy lines.  Here's what the fabric looks like now:

And here's a close-up:
Certainly looks like fire, right?  And it's still pretty sheer, to suggest flames even more.  I still want to do some more stitching with orange thread.  Then I plan to cut it up into asymmetric triangles to resemble flames.  I'm hoping it will have a real flame-like effect with all the triangles strung and spinning as they hang.  I hope I can have some of the triangles cut up and strung by our next FANE meeting this Thursday evening.

Our next FANE challenge (due in August) is to create a flat fiber art building that is 12-18" wide and 36" tall or taller.  The roofline can be whatever shape we choose to give our building character.  I already have an idea of what I'd like to create so I've started collecting materials.  Here they are, below:

Can you tell what these are and guess what type of building I want to make?  I hope I can pull it off....
Stay tuned to find out!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How Do I Begin... catch up on the last six weeks?   It's hard to believe that much time has passed since my last blog post!  I haven't been sick or away on an extended vacation - just trying to juggle it all and getting a little lax about posting (okay, maybe a lot lax!).  So I'll try to catch up as succinctly as possible.

 I'll start with the "Lace" show that was in the gallery for the month of April at the Mahopac Public Library.  Three of my FANE friends participated in the show, as did I.  I only took a couple of shots of the pieces, but here they are.  In this one, you can see two of the three pieces that Gail Ellspermann submitted, the blue lacy one on the left and the one on the left in the group of three.  I wish I had taken some close-ups, as her work is visually very interesting and detailed, made up of a variety of materials and colors.  

Below is my piece which I ended up calling "East-facing window:  February morning."  I was trying to capture those winter mornings from my childhood when the window would be decorated with frost crystals and the beams of sunlight streaming through produced sparkles and a pale rainbow of colors.

At the end of the month, FANE displayed our collection of Fiberfall pieces at the NSQG's annual quilt extravaganza.  I wasn't able to get over to Western Connecticut State Univ. to see the show this year (I worked that Saturday and had other obligations on Sunday) but Norma Schlager took some fabulous photos that she posted on her blog.  Please visit by clicking here to see the dramatic impact of our group display.

Since the fall, FANE members have been researching and sharing bios of modern artists at our monthly meetings to help us expand our horizons, gain some insight and maybe even some inspiration.  I was assigned Josef Albers and at the May meeting, I took an easy approach by reading the children's picture biography about him titled An Eye for Color by Natasha Wing.   Josef studied how our perception of a color may change depending on what other colors surround it.  He published a book about his findings titled Interaction of Color in 1963.    Using the example shown below on the cover of his book, the small tan square is the exact same shade of tan, but it looks different on the aqua background on the top than it does on the orange background below.  Josef also noted how dark colors tend to recede while lighter ones tend to come forward.

As part of our study, we could create something in the style of the artist, so I made this group of squares below.  Josef Albers worked almost exclusively with squares and rectangles and paint straight out of the tube.  I tried to keep things simple and fun by placing orange polka-dot squares on four different fabrics.  As fiber artists and quilters, we have the added dimension of fabric prints and texture.  Do the orange squares look different on the different backgrounds?  Which do you prefer?

 Another thing that has kept me busy this month has been the garden.  Now that the weather is better, I like to get outside as much as possible.  We took down a large oak tree in the backyard to let more light in, and now we have a lot of wood and branches to remove!  The people we hired to take the tree down piled everything very neatly, but right where my ferns will be growing, at the bottom of the new stone steps.  You can see the many logs piled up along the property line in the background - some of those are about 2 feet in diameter - it was a BIG tree!  They need to be split before they can even be moved.  Someone will be very busy for the next few weekends....

It's very exciting to see things turning green, blooming, spreading, and growing.  Last year I only had a few tiny blossoms on this forget-me-not, but this year it looks full and healthy.  Yay!  I also moved some of my large irises from the front of the house down here around the pond.  I hope they do well here.

And the fairy garden is looking good too!  The Irish moss, sweet woodruff, wild violets and other low-growing things are all spreading around and filling in.  It's beginning to look truly enchanted!

Cassie certainly enjoys hanging out in the garden with me while I putter around.  It's a very pleasant and peaceful place to be.

And although we removed a perfectly healthy tree and we have a huge amount of wood to move, it has opened up a nice big piece of sky above the garden.  I'm looking forward to seeing everything thrive now that the plants will be getting a better dose of afternoon sunshine!

Finally, I've been busy doing some spring cleaning and organizing.   This area under our stairs was originally a small mud room, when the girls were little and we parked the car in the garage and came and went through that door.  Then, it became our rabbit habitat for about a year.  When we could no longer tolerate the mess (and the smell!) we moved the rabbits outside and reclaimed this space.  We hung coats here but never bothered putting in a shoe rack or shelves.

Well, I finally took the time to pick up a couple of shoe shelves at Bed Bath and Beyond.  They were easy to put together, hold a ton of shoes, and can be moved easily if my DH needs to get back there to change the water filter.  What a huge improvement!  Why didn't I do this sooner?  Now I just have to pack up those winter coats....

Hope you've been busy enjoying life in the spring!  Leave me a comment and let me know what you've been up to!