Here is why I make an "ofrenda" or altar to honor the dead.
because by placing a necklace on the altar, I am reminded of the hands of my grandfather that made it.
because by arranging flowers, I am reminded of my grandmother who loved to do the same.
because by placing his book, we are reminded of my husband's father who wrote it (and who would have loved to know his grandaughters).
because by hanging a collar on a painting of my dog, she gets affection.
because by leaving chocolate, cigarettes, a bottle of coke, and other treats, we give the dead the things they loved in life.
because by lighting candles we show that we miss them and invite them back for a visit.
because by honoring them, they live on through us.
Reverse glass painting is an art form popular in West Africa. I was introduced to it when we lived in Senegal many years ago. Mor Gueye, who did the painting above, used to sell his work at the Dakar outdoor artisan market and my Mom bought quite a few of his paintings. Inspired by the process, I did a reverse glass painting project with my daughters classroom last year which turned out really well. They were studying "sequencing", so her teacher and I thought it would be interesting to have the students depict what they did each day from getting up to going to bed. The students took the final paintings and hung them in the hallway in proper sequenced order.
Fast forward a few months, and the painting-on-glass process got my Urban Craft Lab business partner and I thinking about using the same technique for a silhouette class. The best thing about this technique is that because glass is clear, you can trace an image from a photograph or book, making your artistic ability seem through the roof! We held the class a couple of weeks ago and people made incredible work. There were a few people who couldn't make the class and wanted to see how it's done. Coincidentally, I have been wanting to start making craft tutorials, so here you go:
MODERN SILHOUETTE TUTORIAL
Picture frame with glass or Plexiglas
Black acrylic Paint
1) Remove the Plexiglas or glass from the frame and place it on top of the image.
2) Using a sharpie marker, trace around the outside edge of the image you want to make into a silhouette. Remember that the final image will be a reverse of the original.
Have fun! This is a great project to do with kids.
On one warm, sunny day, our neighbors decided to take trip to Strawberry Banke Historical Village
and invited us along! It had probably 10-12 years since my last visit there, and my oldest is the perfect age to start to understand history, so we said yes! We happily piled into two cars, crossed the Piscataqua river on the big green bridge into Portsmouth, NH and found it easily. It being summer and midweek, we almost had the place to ourselves.
Barrel construction demonstration from a cooper.
The kitchen in the Wheelwright house. The day we were there, a leg of lamb was roasting in the fireplace on a handmade tin spit, corn pudding was being baked in a dutch oven and an apple pie was being made using apples from the trees on the property. I love when history can be brought alive by demonstrations, costumes and hands on activities. The kids and I walked away with a tangible appreciation of what life must have been like for residents of Portsmouth in 1785.
Feeling inspired by our trip to Strawberrry Banke, I wanted to make something edible from a native plant growing in the neighborhood. Every year when we are there, the Rosa Rugosa bushes which grow in all the public areas in York, are laden with the hugest rosehips. I found a rose hip jam recipe online. After enlisting some kid labor to help me do the picking, I got to work.
I cut off the tops, scooped out the seeds with my thumbnail, added sugar, lemon juice, a grated apple and a chopped up orange. I let the mixture boil for about an hour. After it had "jelled", I poured it into bowls and let it cool. It ended up a lot like a marmalade, but with a flowery taste. It tasted good on toast!
We celebrated a birthday dinner with lobster and fries.
The annual fireman's parade.
My guy had the best job on the parade; driving the Reo Speedwagon.
Two happy, contented faces!
We had a beautiful day for a trip out to the Isles of Shoals. Off the coast of Portsmouth, NH, the islands of Star, Smuttynose, Appledore, Cedar and Malaga are rich in seagulls, seals, marine life and marine labs. Most interesting to me is the artistic history of the islands. The daughter of the lighthouse keeper was Celia Thaxter. She became a celebrated poet of her time and invited Nathanial Hawthorne, Childe Hassam, and other artists out to the islands for creative retreats. One thing that always sticks in my mind when I think of the Isles of Shoals is the gruesome history of a double-murder which was fictionalized in the book The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve. Star Island has a Unitarian Universalist hotel on it which is very busy all summer long.
The island trees and brush are scrubby, the rocks are many, yet the light is stunningly beautiful. We walked around a little, but spent most of our time in the kid-friendly interpretive center playing with snails and crabs in the marine life touch tanks.
The last really fun thing I did on my summer vacation was take a cooking class at Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School The class title was "A Maine Summer Lunch with Pat Bagg". We made Tomato tart tatin (my favorite), Crab cakes, Corn Risotto, Blueberry Cobbler and Corn Ice Cream. We left with our stomachs full of delicious summer-inspired lunch and our hands full of Pat's recipes. She was a great teacher. She had been making these very same dishes for years and knew her ingredients and techniques hands down. She had such confidence and was a joy to watch work.
I wish I could be a more regular projectland writer, but I am just not, so I will just try to do the best I can with posting when I can. The lack of time for writing has been supplanted by starting a business with my friend, Alison True.
The Urban Craft Lab was born from trying to find a way to combine all of our interests into a job with a flexible schedule where we could be creative and interact with the world outside our homes. (sounds kinda perfect, huh?!)
We have been teaching "pop-up" style craft classes in existing retail and bar businesses and at private homes. So far, we've taught: making your own set of collaged greeting cards, painting papier mache birds, sewing mini-quilts, making a mobile from scraps of fabric and pom-poms and decoupaging lampshades for lamps made from recycled bottles. There are lots more classes planned including making a butterfly collection from decorative papers a mini retreat making and then painting papier mache birds with lunch in between in the garden at Tre Kronor restaurant in Chicago.
It feels good to be working away from my basement art studio. I love meeting and interacting with other crafters and artists. Working side by side with other creative people is very satisfying. Encouraging that through classes and workshops is one of the main missions of the Urban Craft Lab.
The following pictures show some of the projects, artwork and creative experiences that have kept me so busy these last couple of months. As you can see, we have been having fun!
I have also continued to work at Binth once a week where I teach two crafting classes for kids. We read a story and then do a project related to the content of the book. This week we are reading Pretend by Jennifer Plecas and then making a fathers day portrait. Last week we read a Japanese folk tale about how birds got their colors and then made feather covered birds from paper cut outs which Suzanna then framed.
I was a little nervous the first day that I taught because I had not taught kids other than my own for a while, but it was so much fun. To see what they come up with is the real reward. Kids make the best artwork. Hands down. The class is so popular that we have started to take reservations to make sure that we have enough space for everyone to work. (If you are near Forest Park and have kids who would like to come to these craft classes, they are at 10:30 and 3:30 on Thursdays. Sign up on the Binth website to receive weekly updates on the projects we will be doing and to register.)
I have also continued to make my own papier mache birds and scrappies and work on another little project which is keeping me busy in my art studio.
So, all is well. We are healthy, happy and busy. Very, very busy. But I would not have it any other way!
Last week I had the opportunity to learn how to make a Sami bracelet. For years I had admired my neighbor Lynette's Sami bracelets. So when she told me her cousin Laurie who had made the bracelets for her was going to be in town in a few weeks and would be more than happy to have a small class on how to make them, I jumped at the chance! I find them just the perfect mix of handmade yet polished.
Below are the steps in pictures. The materials are tin thread, Reindeer leather, and a shed Reindeer antler button. Laurie special ordered the supplies from Sweden. Interrupted only by a delicious cup of hot chocolate and some butter cookies, we got down to work and as is typical when working hard on learning a new skill, the four of us fell silent. We worked for two hours and I left with my bracelet only about half done. I stitched the tin-braid down, closed up the leather in the back of the bracelet and sewed in the braid button loop and the button on the next day.
I love my bracelet and am trying to find a couple of hours of un-interrupted time... (huh?) so I can start another one, or two or twenty...
It has been very warm here in Chicago so the dandelions have been growing like, well, weeds. One of my favorite spring rituals is to make salads made from the dandelions that grow in the yard. Their taste is so bright and fresh and their texture soft. It's rewarding to eat something that naturally grows abundantly, is considered a nuisance and best of all tastes delicious!
Yesterday I made a twilight harvest from our yard,
...and tossed them with a slightly sweet balsamic vinaigrette. We ate them with pasta topped with a garlicky sauce made using homegrown tomatoes from last summer, a bit of goat cheese, salt and pepper. Not bad locavore eating!
It's February, not April that should be named the "cruelest" month. I usually find it so hard to get through without getting depressed at not seeing green leaves on the trees or hearing birds singing. But this year it has not been so hard. Maybe its because it started out with a very enjoyable afternoon at Binth, where I have been working part time, attending a Letter Writers Alliance social. It is very inspiring and satisfying to be creative with a bunch of other people also being creative. The fact that it has been sunny and occasionally even warm, has also been a check in the plus column of February.
I think I was supposed to write a letter, but inspired by green jello's blog, I made a valentine boat instead, and gave it to my sweetheart of 20+ years.
Working at Binth part time has been so rewarding. I enjoy the space, the beautiful Binth paper goods and design, but of course it's the people there I enjoy the most. When I started there, Suzanna asked if I wanted to bring in my paper mache birds to try and sell. I had been working for months to make an "alphabet" of birds and I had completed it. But I wasn't sure what to do with them once they were finished. I wanted to initially make a book, but it just was not coming together for me: is it a kids book or one for adults? Is it a story book or an ABC book? Is it for people who want accuracy in their bird models or don't mind a little creative interpretation? Too many questions for this frazzled mom-mind. Really, the important thing to me was that I had gotten from A to Z. Literally. So I brought the birds in to Binth because they were not getting any younger sitting in my basement studio, and to everyone's surprise, they were snapped up by bird fans! I have been making more birds, but also started teaching paper mache bird painting workshops. I make the paper mache "blank" birds, then bring paints, brushes, bird ID books and start up the "Chirp USA" app on the ipad so we can listen to different birds songs while we paint. I have really enjoyed getting to know fellow birders and crafters at these workshops, and I had no idea there were so many bird fanatics out there! If you are interested....check here to see when another workshop will be held.
One of the other things that has made this winter more manageable is that I've managed to fit in a few lunches here and there with friends. One of the more interesting meals was shared with one of my best friends, Bonnie from Goods and Heroes . We were at Ba Le enjoying sandwiches and when we were done with lunch, of course I was craving something sweet. I was in luck because in the cooler were packages of flourescent green, orange and purple rice. (I picked purple because it reminded me of Easter and springtime and the other two colors were just too other-worldly...) I don't know its name, but it is made with coconut milk and has a topping of coconut, sugar, peanuts and sesame seeds. Yum!
The next food adventure was with Fumika Yamamoto, who Bonnie by chance discovered was interested in teaching Japanese cooking classes. Bonnie wrote about our experience here and so did Fumika here. So, I won't repeat the event, but just share the pictures from my camera that morning.
The mountains of deliciousness!
And the final dish "Okonomiyaki in the Hiroshima style".
February, you truely are not soooo bad.