Thursday, June 26, 2008
The Bird Lovers Handbook above was given away as a freebie when motorists bought gas from Dan and Jim’s Esso Service station in Vestal, New York. The year was 1950, the very beginning of the decade of the automobile. The interstate highway system was soon to be built, and postwar prosperity allowed hundreds of thousands of families to own not one, but two, cars.
I can imagine a family driving to the station in their brand new Studebaker Champion Bullet Nose (purchase price: $1419; the average household income was $5000). An attendant—maybe Dan or Jim—filled up the tank for a mere 27 cents a gallon. He probably cleaned the windshield with a dripping squeegee, reaching across the broad windshield to wipe it dry with the squeegee’s rubber edge. He may have even checked the oil, cleaning the gauge with a pale red rag.
Then, with a full tank of gas in the car and his wallet not too much lighter, Dad could hop on Highway 17, which linked New York City and Cleveland, Ohio, for the long drive from the Southern Tier to the big city. The kids in the back seat could peer out the windows to try to catch a glimpse of one of the birds in the Handbook.
Today, with gas at more than $4 a gallon, I wonder if we will soon see an end to our car culture. The full-service station is certainly a thing of the past. With the average price of a new car at $28,400 and the median household income a bit above $43,000, driving seems like a luxury these days. We think twice about hopping in the car for that extra trip to the grocery store, and certainly the long trip to the big city seems like a splurge. Of course, the recent gas hikes hit people in poverty the hardest since a greater proportion of their income goes to buying gas for transportation to work and for buying food, whose prices have increased as a result of higher shipping costs.
The only upside that I can see to rising fuel costs is the benefit to the environment. Higher gas prices should mean fewer people driving gas-guzzlers and filling up the nation’s freeways with ozone-depleting exhaust. It gives cities more of a push to pursue mass-transit options and for national leaders to increase funding for research into viable alternative fuels.
Frankly, I will miss the freedom of being able to drive along endless miles of highway without worrying about the price I’ll have to pay, both at the pump and in costs to our environment. But maybe as I bike or walk around town to do my errands, I’ll be more likely to spot those birds listed in the Bird Lovers Handbook.
Next post: A Hundred Things a Girl Can Make (1922)
Note: Some related links: "Fuel Prices Shift Math for Life in Far Suburbs," from the New York Times. Two unsurprising statistics from the article: In five years, from 2003 to 2008, American households more than doubled the amount of money they spent on gasoline per year. From March of last year to this year, Americans "drove 11 billion fewer miles on public roads," which is the sharpest year-to-year drop recorded by the Federal Highway Administration.
"Fuels on the Hill," NYT op-ed column by Paul Krugman. The economist argues that higher gas prices are the result of rising demand from the developing world, and the price trend will probably keep going up.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
A vat full of strawberry shortcake fixings--a little too sweet for my taste, but it looks luscious.
I wouldn't have minded sipping a strawberry cooler on this porch all afternoon.
Friday, June 20, 2008
"Zen painting is free, effortless, natural painting. There is no planning, thought, or struggle. When one is engaged with Zen painting, there is no painter and no thing being painted; the painter and the painted are one."
Quotation by Gwendalin Aranya/Chuan Kung Shakya, Zen Priest and Artist
Have a happy weekend!
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
My new favorite finder site is Mint, a design blog by Ellie, a graphic designer from North Carolina. Ellie scours magazines and the Web for design trends and art treasures, and she obviously has an amazing eye. She's an artist and photographer in her own right, and you can check out her work on her Flickr photostream.
Here are two artists featured on Mint whose work resonates with me. English artist Claire Brewster uses found items to create her art. According to her web site, Brewster's work "is about retrieving the discarded, celebrating the unwanted and giving new life to the obsolete." This delicate rose papercut was crafted from an old map.
Brewster's biographical statement expresses perfectly how she finds art in what others might see as junk:
In between the glossy consumption of first-time retailed goods and those which are thrown out (to be incinerated or land-filled) is the netherworld of the second hand. Flea markets, carboots sales, and charity shops. Perhaps you can tell as much about a society by what it thows out as by what it puts in its museums as mementos of prior existence. It is the discarded and the second hand that provides Claire with much of her raw material and inspiration. In terms of her work environment, it is by surrounding herself with this that she creates her magical landscapes. This is not out of nostalgia but a genuine fascination with 'things', a desire to examine the overlooked. From this starting point, Brewster develops work that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Chris Kenny is another British artist whose work is featured on Mint. Like Brewster, he uses found materials in his work. This three-dimensional collage is called "The Norman Kingdom of Sicily," and the main images are from old maps. Kenny uses pins to suspend each piece, making each piece seem like a floating island.
Well, this past weekend two Craig's List posts caught my eye. The combination of items sounded like just what I was looking for, so I dragged my little one on an early-morning treasure hunt.
At our first sale, while my son was opening up baskets and boxes looking for treasure, I found a small pile of vintage linens. Among them was this beautiful red and white hand-knit potholder. It is double thick, and the knitting (or crocheting?) is delicate and perfectly done. Can anybody out there tell me how I might make one of my own?
At the second sale, there were lots of collectible and very breakable items that I had to keep my son well clear of. So I had to be quick at this one. I immediately spotted a vintage set of knitting needles that had belonged to the owner's grandmother and a botanical woodcut of a group of mushrooms. The woman selling it had bought it in the '70s from a woodworker in upstate New York. She said it was one of a series made by Alfreda Abbey, who was somehow connected to Cornell University. I haven't been able to find any information about her, so please let me know if you can tell me anything about the woodcut or the artist.
I can provide a reward for any information about either of these items! Thanks!
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
You just enter your blog or web site URL and watch the graph unfold into a beautiful pattern. It reminds me of how nature follows mathematical patterns. The whorled structure of a succulent's leaves, a flower's petals, the patterns of seeds in a pinecone--all of these follow the Fibonacci numbers.
In the graph above, each color represents a particular HTML tag. According to das kaninchen ("the rabbit," in German), who uses the Fibonacci sequence in her art, here's what each color stands for:
Saturday, June 14, 2008
I am nursing a wicked sore throat on this rainy Saturday, so the Honey Bear is almost empty, and my husband's split-pea soup is awfully comforting, despite the heat.
My toddler takes advantage of any chance to wield an umbrella in the rain, so we headed outside (camera in hand, of course) to look for the woodchuck's home. (I love our resident woodchuck, except when he dumps over our trash can at night and helps himself to our trash. I wouldn't have thought such a fat, lumbering creature could scale a tall trash can, but I actually saw him do the dirty deed. I much prefer it when he eats the dandelions in our yard.)
That sneaky woodchuck was too fast for us to get a (camera) shot of him, but we did see several snails. Though much slower, they proved tough to capture on film as well. Resurrection Fern does a much better job, so you can enjoy her snail shots here.
You can see the gray sky through these chestnut leaves, and the light made it challenging to capture images without a flash.
Friday, June 13, 2008
This Japanese Tree Lilac is spouting clusters of showy white flowers.
Not to be outdone, the trees are bearing fruit. My husband's favorite mulberry tree on his walk home--a good snacking opportunity--has its first green fruits to present.
The maples have been busy, too. Delicate green samaras dangle from my neighbor's Japanese maple. The green samaras--those winged, seed-bearing fruits of the maple--look delightful against the brick red leaves.
The samaras on our maple are not as showy, but the groups of them look quite healthy. They remind me of one of my first walks after we moved to our neighborhood. My children and I were walking to school, and we got showered with a storm of the brown samaras whirling to the ground in a strong fall breeze.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
The item in question is a soft stuffed creature with extravagant embroidery that's flitted through my head in various incarnations for several weeks (a chicken? a rabbit? a pig?). I've had an angora sweater in a deep red that I've been wanting to transform into a softie (see Softies Central for all things softie), and last night the Dala horse illustration pushed me to figure out how to make a horse in soft, three-dimensional form.
To do so, I copied the illustration from Flickr to my hard drive. Then I uploaded it to Powerpoint (lame, I know, but I don't have Photoshop, and it's the easiest image editor I have) and cropped one of the horse images and enlarged it. I traced the outline of the horse and used the pattern to cut two pieces from the red angora sweater, one side flipped, of course. Using a tip from maya*made, I traced the shape of the horse's legs to create a pattern for the bottom gusset and traced the horses ears, muzzle, and mane to create a pattern for the head gusset. I sewed the pieces together on my machine, which was a tricky puzzle with all the pins and seams coming together.
I wish I could say that my late-night crafting yielded a finished product, but my little Dala horse isn't done yet. Here's a peek at the prototype for my work in progress:
You'll notice that I haven't embroidered her extravagantly yet, but I have some trims and thread that I'd like to use. And I'll have to tinker with the bottom gusset, which turned out to be too fat. The Dala horse is a graceful creature, after all.
This little craft detour left me a lot more energized for my work and my kids, so I'm looking forward to a happier end to the week.
Monday, June 9, 2008
While I was folding clothes, he played with his toys. He kept up a running dialogue with me as we worked at our own tasks. I love how much he reveals about his inner life as he plays. He was playing with his train Spencer, when this little story emerged from our dialogue:
Spencer had a dream. He dreamed of an octopus. The octopus was on the track.
Spencer stopped. He put the octopus back in the ocean. He saved the octopus.
This “dream” was essentially my son’s imagination leading him to put some normally unrelated images together into one story.
It seems that with children there isn’t a rigid divide between their dream lives and their waking lives. Bad dreams seem very real and scary, and they get worked out through their imaginative play. As children get older, this distinction slowly becomes clearer.
My eight-year-old is in a middle phase in this process. A nightmare woke him up last night shaking, and he needed my company to help him get back to sleep. Usually his dreams are more pleasant. One morning at breakfast he commented out of the blue, “The real world interferes with my dream world.”
That seemed so adult of him, and I identify with his sentiment. There are many mornings when I wake up and want to hang on to the wisps of a happy dream, full of music and color and people and places to explore. I have had some powerful dreams that have inspired the beginnings of stories. My 12-year-old is in the same place now and often uses her dreams as fodder for her writing.
Because they can blend fantasy and reality so well, children can create the most imaginative and spontaneous stories and art. I’ve been trying to be open to letting more of my dream life leak into my crafting and writing. Lately I have even had images of lovely things that I want to create pop into my head while I’m just about to fall asleep (a result of late-night Flickr browsing?). I try to sketch them as soon as I wake up, though they don’t look as fully realized as in my dreams.
How does your dream world inspire what you create?
Friday, June 6, 2008
As an amateur blogger, I was very interested to read Emily Gould's recent article, "Exposed," a first-person account of a professional blogger. The article has aroused quite a powerful response, just judging from the comments on the New York Times site. Here are just a few of the criticisms leveled at Gould, and bloggers in general:
- "Thanks for exhibiting the empty narcissism of so much blogging." [Sounds like this person reads a lot of blogs!]
- "The whole computer "relationship" concept is so anti - human ... regardless of those who would sell it as some sort of way to "interact." Don't you think that interaction should be only used as a term for real human contact?" [Does this comment strike anyone as ironic--the need to post a comment seems to me like an attempt at human contact.]
- "The blogging epidemic strikes me as the height of self-indulgence, without any real regard for the common good. There are other, more graceful and enduring forms of self-expression." [Yes, like quilting, knitting, painting, etc.]
The article has inspired some bloggers to engage in some critical, and constructive, self-examination. Is blogging just an exercise in narcissism? Do I reveal too much personal information? Some of the craft bloggers in particular have written thoughtful posts about Gould's article. Floresita wrote intelligently about the distinction between "TMI" (Too Much Information) blogs and the craft blogs. Essentially, she writes, the craft blogs are all about "creating rather than dissecting life." Astulabee tied blogging back to her own art, which is extremely personal, as much great art is.
In defense of blogging, I side with Floresita that the craft bloggers are doing something far more positive and worthwhile than bloggers like Gould are. Although she may be a good writer, Gould occupies a unique blogging niche in which gossip and negativity are the coins of the realm. (No, I'm not going to link to those sites.) I have to admit, I read these sites compulsively for a while until I realized how juvenile they all were in making snarky fun of the way people dressed or how fat they were. Gould, and bloggers like her, depict themselves as outsiders, and yet what they seem to be doing is reinforcing really negative social norms about how people should look. Reading that kind of negative message daily was making me feel really low about myself, and it doesn't seem like a positive trend for our culture.
Luckily, one day I discovered a much sunnier place to spend my limited Web-surfing time. I wanted to know how to make a yarn pompom for some now-forgotten project and found a handy tutorial on Belladia's blog. Belladia's happy, beautiful pincushions and purses inspired me to start making things again, which I hadn't done for several years. And her long list of Wonderful Blogs gave me multiple windows through which to view what other people are creating for additional inspiration.
Unlike the solipsistic exercise that Gould is engaged in--consuming online culture and criticizing it and making her personal life part of this online culture to be consumed in the same fashion--the craft blogs emphasize production rather than consumption. Craft bloggers produce handmade items, usually for other people. And they are engaged fully in the real world and in fostering positive human interactions through the things they make.
I think that Astulabee hit on something very important in her post as well. Craft bloggers reveal personal details, and there is a tension between demonstrating how a creation was inspired either by personal experience or by a loved one and revealing too much about one's own life and family. But for the most part, I would say that the revelation of personal details helps explain the creative process and is not all about receiving attention for the revelation itself.
I love that there are tens of thousands of art/design/craft bloggers trying to make some sense and beauty--and perhaps even meaning and order--out of our sometimes crazy lives and express this in written and visual form. Rather than tearing people down, they are attempting to create a world that we'd all like to live in, as Astulabee put it.
Like me, craft bloggers are trying to learn new methods, stretch themselves creatively, find inspiration, keep track of and stay on track with their creative endeavors, meet like-minded friends who share their interests, and even feel a part of a community of sorts.
I know that I appreciate the feedback and support I've gotten from participating in the craft blog community. I'm sure that I'm not alone in getting a little thrill from receiving comments on my blog. It's a feeling that, Yay!, someone out there has seen and appreciated what we've put so many hours into creating. (Even without these comments, though, my blog has been a great way to keep me committed to creating regularly. It's almost like a regular journal in that sense.)
Reading other people's blogs and taking part in a dialogue by leaving a comment is another way to feel a part of the larger virtual craft community. I've realized that I'm not alone in feeling unsure about what I'm doing or in feeling frustrated at the lack of time for crafting, among many other issues. And it's nice to share voyeuristically in another crafter's triumph at finishing a project or achieving success commercially or artistically.
Personally, I feel that this sort of positive reinforcement is a crucial part of why I continue to blog. It keeps me creating things despite the fact that crafting is sometimes viewed at best as frivolous and at worst unnecessary or wasteful by the people around us. But then a defense of crafting will have to be left for another post!