Little Bitty Pretty One: Deer on Tree Fungus

IMG_6680These deer remind me, a little, of photographs I’ve seen of ancient cave paintings, made by humans more primitive than we, who were driven by their need or desire to make a mark.

If you are creative, do you see every blank surface as a canvas, on which to make your mark? Does a plain piece of paper call to you, for the scratching of your pen or the wash of color from your brush? If you see a piece of fabric, do your fingers itch to embellish it, to add color and designs? If you have string, do you need to weave it or braid it or knit it?

I love when makers make with the materials at hand, simply because they are compelled to create, to make their mark. Men who spent time in the woods picked up knives and pieces of wood and whittled, pulling expressive shapes out of nothingness. Sailors passed the time at sea scratching intricate designs into whalebone, turning the blank surface into memories of a voyage and things of beauty.

Blank canvases are everywhere, to those who seek them.

It comes as no surprise that at least a few people who live in the Adirondacks have been unable to resist the impulse to decorate the blank surface of the huge tree fungi, Ganoderma applanatum, that grow on dead and dying trees in the forests. I’ve written about fungus art before but recently added a new example to my tiny collection.

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H. Newlove ’81–it’s there!

I got my pretty fungus at, yes, a garage sale. The people who sold it to me told me it was done by a man named Herb Newlove, who was an art teacher and assistant principal at a local school. With that information, when I looked at the piece, I could just make out his tiny, faint signature and the date 1981.

Mr. Newlove has since died but he lives on in this little treasure. This seems to me to be one of the best things about making, the tangible work that outlasts the maker and allows the maker to achieve a sort of immortality. When I think of Mr. Newlove or Harriett, for that matter, I realize that I feel I know them, that they are real to me because I know their work.

This piece works so well for what it is. This is a woodland scene, with two deer taking a close look at the viewer. We wouldn’t expect to see Disney characters or Pop Art in this medium!

The design is very faint and subtle, giving the impression that the deer are peering at us through a misty morning. The artist would’ve used pointed tools to scratch and stipple his design into the soft surface of the fungus, a surface that has hardened over time to preserve the work done.

The work is nuanced and expert, much more so than the work in my other deer fungus.

My own sweet fawn

My first sweet fawn

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The newer example

The very light touch used by the artist and the difficulty of making out the design invite us to look harder and longer, and the time spent is rewarded.

The compulsion that those who came before us felt—the cave dwellers in Altimira and Lascaux, Harriett, Mr. Newlove—is no different than what you and I feel, and it seems to be part of what makes us human. We use the materials at hand to make a mark, we make our mark, a mark no one else could ever make, and a part of us never dies.

Patty Yoder’s Beautiful Sheep, Again

IMG_8479Just about a year ago, when I started my blog, I wrote about an exhibit of hooked rugs I had seen at Shelburne Museum, in Vermont. These rugs, made by Patty Yoder, are so beautiful and so successfully bring an new artistic vision to an old craft form that I was excited to share them.

The problem was, I had just started my blog and almost no one was reading it yet! So the delightful, sweet, hand-hooked sheep were enjoyed by only about 4 people.

We went back to Shelburne last week, and visited the sheep again–they are still splendid. I took some new photos and am refreshing what I wrote, with hope that you’ll find them as compelling as I do.

The Shelburne Museum website says the following about the rugs: “The Alphabet of Sheep series combines two of [Yoder’s] favorite things: the sheep on her farm and the alphabet. Her rugs incorporate her family, friends, or sheep as the subject matter, a joyous celebration of one woman’s life.” And joyous is the perfect word to describe these rugs!

IMG_8477The exhibition features about 20 of the 44 hooked rugs Yoder made in the 13 years between her retirement and her death in 2005. That’s a very short time to develop skill and a personal vision but these rugs are amazing in both ways.

IMG_8476Have you ever tried rug hooking? I have. It was hard! All those strips of wool sitting around, flat and uninteresting, and the maker needs to be able to envision how those pieces fit together, how to vary color, how to bring them through the backing fabric in a consistent manner. Yikes. My failed attempts at rug hooking made me much more appreciative of what Yoder accomplished with her work!

I wish my pictures were better. I wish Shelburne had more photos on their website. I wish you could see these in person, to appreciate the texture and color with your own eyes. Patty Yoder found her creative outlet, building on a traditional, utilitarian craft and, like so many other makers, finding a way to express herself and her passion with her own hands.

The Patty Yoder show is up through October 31, 2014. I know most of you will never be able to see these in person but I hope the photos give you a sense of how loving hands can transform strips of fabric into a whimsical farmyard of sheer delight!

Honoring Folk Art: The Shelburne Museum

IMG_1622If you love that which is handmade, homemade, made with love, you are probably drawn to collections of folk art.  There are lots of people, however, who turn their noses up at items made by untrained makers and at “craft,” in general.

The wealthy parents of Electra Havemeyer Webb were just those kinds of people. They collected “real” art of Europe and Asia and brought their daughter up to appreciate the best of the best.

Electra Havemeyer Webb

Electra Havemeyer Webb

But what Electra thought was best didn’t follow her parents’ tastes. Electra was drawn to art in unusual places. In the early 1900s, this pioneer collected American quilts and samplers. Figureheads of ships. Decoys and advertising art. And historic New England structures that she had brought to the museum she founded, the Shelburne Museum.

This fine museum of folk art and Americana is the Shelburne Museum, located just south of Burlington, Vermont.

The museum is made up of the 18th and 19th century buildings that Electra found and had moved to the museum grounds. These buildings, as well as more traditional galleries, serve as home to the thousands of items in the collection.

Today, at the Shelburne Museum “impressionist paintings, folk art, quilts and textiles, decorative arts, furniture, American paintings, and a dazzling array of 17th-to 20th-century artifacts are on view.”

If you visit New England, and there are dozens of excellent reasons to do so, treat yourself to a visit to Shelburne Museum. Go in the summer or fall, when the whole museum is open and you can wander the campus and spend time. You’ll be amazed at the art you see there, both old and new:

Folk Art

The buildings themselves are beautiful examples of craftsmanship and the range of folk art is stunning.

Textiles

The museum has more than 400 early quilts, as well as hooked rugs, coverlets and samplers.

This current exhibit features the work of John Bisbee, a Maine artist who makes all of his work with nothing but 12-inch nails!

The other current exhibit combines old glass from the museum collection with newer pieces by contemporary artists.

Yes, Virginia . . .

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.    –Francis Pharcellus Church

IMG_4141Reading your blogs has taught me so much. One thing I’ve learned lately is that decorating for Christmas is a passion. I knew this on a theoretical level before but, now, having read about and seen so many of your decorations around the world, I understand it in a much more fundamental way.

Even those of us who could only be described as cultural Christians—non-religious now but having been brought up in religious homes, with lots of Christmas memories—find joy at this time of year in bringing out the crèches and other Christmas treasures.

And, when we decorate, many of us seem to focus around collections of meaningful objects and feature them in our homes.

For me, I love Santa. So, even when we don’t do the full-blown decorating of a big tree and the whole house, we always bring out our main collection at Christmas—these Santas that line the mantle.

Our Santas have been coming to us for over 20 years and are primarily from the line of Great American Collectibles Old World Santas. These are carved and hand-painted resin figurines, made in the US. A few new ones are released every year and depict, mostly, folk art-style Santas from around the world.

The first one of these Santas that we received Mickey, an Irish Santa given to us by a friend after we went to Ireland on our honeymoon.

We liked Mickey’s look so much, we’ve brought many of his brothers home over the years.

Many of the Santas have sweet animals with them, which adds enormously to their appeal for us.

Some of our Santas come from other places.

We have our Millennial Penn State Santa:

Penn State Santa

Penn State Santa

And our Santa from the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.

American Folk Art Museum Santa

American Folk Art Museum Santa

And we have Santas from garage sales!

3 garage sale Santas

3 garage sale Santas

These Santas sleep patiently in storage for most of the year, waiting to come out at Christmas and remind us of all the good that Santa Claus symbolizes—love and generosity and devotion. I believe in Santa! Do you?

Manly Hands at Home

Don stitch-4To read my blog, and much of what is written about the handmade and hand crafted, one might reach the conclusion that the only “loving hands at home” are female hands.

It’s time to challenge that thinking and start talking about the men who make beautiful things as well. While crafting often seems to be associated with women, we can find lots of examples of beautiful work, in many different media, done by men. And we should encourage it—why should women have all the fun and satisfaction?

It’s not surprising or unusual to find men working in wood and metal and clay. A museum of folk art, like the Shelburne Museum that I’ve mentioned elsewhere, has many examples of furniture and metalware, like weathervanes and hardware, made by men.

It’s less expected to see men’s work in the textile arts. The weaver’s trade was historically a male-oriented art, at least in some cultures, but work with textiles seems, now, to be heavily associated with women. And yet men are just as capable of beautiful, expressive hand-wrought work as women—so why don’t we talk about it more?

I’m going to and I’ll start at home! My husband has been making beautiful cross-stitch samplers for almost 25 years.

It all began in the early 1990s, when I started to make quilts. My husband, Don, was drawn to the craft, the colors and patterns, and wanted to jump right in and work with me.

What he found was that, with his big guy hands, he had trouble making the tiny stitches needed for piecing the patches and for hand quilting. But he wanted something creative to do while I quilted.

A trip to Colonial Williamsburg found him pondering old stitch samplers. The gift shop sold cross-stitch kits and, on a whim, he picked one up. And the rest, as they say, is history!

When he finished that design, he went looking for a new pattern. We went to an embroidery and quilting shop, where he picked out a pattern that looked more advanced. All the women in the store gathered around this guy who was, of course, the only man in the shop. “Oh, you’re going to make that one! How much cross-stitch have you done?” they asked.  “One project,” he answered.

Stunned silence. And a dozen women’s voices, all at once, trying to talk him out of it. To talk some reason into him. They said he should choose a different pattern and go slower and work his way up to the pattern he chose.

But we’re talking about a man, here! A former Marine, with two tours of duty in Vietnam. A college professor who doesn’t know the meaning of self doubt. A guy who, just like all of us, hates to be told he can’t do something and wants to prove he can!

So, of course he started that project and slogged through it. He pulled out a lot of stitches (and swore like a Marine every time!) but he finished that sampler, perfectly, and has gone on to make many more.

Our house is full of these beautiful creations, and other equally beautiful ones live in the homes of our family members. He has done marriage samplers and Christmas stockings for babies, all the kinds of projects one would expect from a pair of loving hands at home.

Don stitch-6 Don stitch-3 Don stitch-2And he gets such a kick out of it! Autumn weekends find him parked, with his enormous stitching stand, in front of the TV. He watches hours of college and pro football, while cheering on his teams and making teeny-tiny stitches on linen in a rainbow of beautiful colors. I’ve never quite figured out where he gets the patience (or why his big guy hands have adapted to this precise craft when they couldn’t adapt to quilting!)

I’d love to hear more about the men who make. Was your grandfather a furniture maker? Does your Dad have a craft? Does your significant other ever join in when you’re making something? Or are you a guy, yourself, who can tell us about what you make? Let’s hear it for manly, and loving, hands at home!Don stitch-7Don stitch-1

Hands at Home: Rug Hooker Patty Yoder

Patty Yoder-1

If you love quilts and coverlets and samplers and hooked rugs, you NEED to make a trip to Shelburne Museum in Vermont. The museum provides a fascinating view of Vermont cultural history, with some of the most spectacular displays of antique American textiles you’ll ever find.

We went to Shelburne last week, spent the day, and just dipped our toes into their vast collection. They have 700 quilts, although they only have about 50 on display at any given time so it’s always an adventure to go back! I’ll write more about the antique quilts and other textiles at some point but today I want to focus on a current exhibition that is simply stunning—The Alphabet of Sheep series of hooked rugs, made by Patty Yoder.

The Shelburne Museum website says the following about the rugs: “The Alphabet of Sheep series combines two of [Yoder’s] favorite things: the sheep on her farm and the alphabet. Her rugs incorporate her family, friends, or sheep as the subject matter, a joyous celebration of one woman’s life.” And joyous is the perfect word to describe these rugs!

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The exhibition features several of the 44 hooked rugs Yoder made in the 13 years between her retirement and her death in 2005. That’s a very short time to develop skill and a personal vision but these rugs are amazing in both ways.

Have you ever tried rug hooking? I have. I was awful at it! All those strips of wool sitting around, flat and uninteresting, and you need to be able to envision how those pieces fit together, how to vary color, how to bring them through the backing fabric in a consistent manner. Yikes. My failed attempts at rug hooking made me much more appreciative of what Yoder accomplished with her work!

I wish my pictures were better. I wish Shelburne had more photos on their website. I wish you could see these in person, to appreciate the texture and color with your own eyes. Patty Yoder found her creative outlet, building on a traditional, utilitarian craft and, like so many other makers, finding a way to express herself and her passion with her own hands.

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The Patty Yoder show is up through October 31, 2013. While you’re there, be sure to visit the “Wyeth Vertigo” exhibit as well, with paintings and other works by 3 generations of the Wyeth family, N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and Jamie Wyeth. Not exactly “hands at home,” but a wonderful chance to see paintings of this American art dynasty all in one place!

shelburnemuseum.org/

Patty Yoder-6

Hands at Home—My Top 10

Because I’m thinking a lot about makers and making, those “loving hands at home,” I want to explain my thinking a little more. I have certain activities that I love to do, to participate in, and others that I want to learn about and appreciate. These are some of the topics I’ll be writing about so you can think of this as a preview of coming attractions! If you love the handmade, too, what would you add to the list?

  1. candy making—this is on my mind a lot because it’s a business for me. I make caramels and chocolate candy. It’s a great creative outlet and makes the people around me happy, too.
  2. quilt making—this, to me, is the ultimate “hands at home” craft. The colors, the textures, the design possibilities!  The connections to the past and other makers. I love the most utilitarian quilt as much as the most carefully crafted, beautiful quilt.
  3. jewelry making—I studied this in college, took it up again at a later date, and should do more. I never feel more powerful and accomplished than I do with an acetylene torch blazing away.
  4. music making—do you play an instrument? Sing? I think we all should. I don’t do it often enough but there’s something about participating in the making of music that is essential to human nature, I think.
  5. gardening—I came to this late and have a lot to learn. For me it’s about flowers and loveliness but maybe you grow vegetables. Either way, watching things grow . . .wow.
  6. folk music—I like homemade music. I put this as a different list item than “music making” because, while I think we should all play our own music, I also want to listen to the music of the average person. I especially like the music of protest and rebellion.
  7. weaving—I don’t have the first clue how to do it, which is too bad since we have a big loom, an impulse purchase, sitting in the garage. I’m drawn to the woven items every time I go to a craft display or historical museum, though.
  8. textiles—I guess I should just admit that all textiles appeal to me. Those samplers done by nine-year olds. Those rugs hooked from rags, to warm the feet AND beautify the home. And all those tablecloths and dish towels, embroidered with bright colors. So much tradition and personality in each piece!
  9. folk art—this is in the front of my mind because we just made a trip to Shelburne Museum in Vermont, where they have a huge collection of folk art and it’s so cool. It focuses on utilitarian items, like weather vanes and duck decoys and scrimshaw. These were made by unknown hands, by people not trained as artists, and each item is simply lovely.
  10. 10. enough about me . . . what would you add as the tenth item on the list? What do you make by hand?

The Human Touch

Quilt-making, artisan chocolate, metal smithing, garage sales, vintage linens, ironing, folk music . . . what do these things have in common?

They’re a few of my interests but, because I am known to over-think things, I’ve always looked for a theme that connects them and that would give me insight to what makes me, well, me.

Then I read a phrase in a novel that gave me a starting place. The character receives a gift and reflects that it has that “loving-hands-at-home look.” The phrase “loving hands at home” was used as if it was a well-worn term but I had never heard it before.

So, I looked it up! I didn’t find anything definitive but learned that it’s a phrase used to talk about something that is obviously handmade by someone with a love of making. And, it became clear that the phrase is generally used in a disparaging way, to imply that the hand-maker might mean well but that they have more love than skill.

As I thought about it, though, I realized this was the connection among the activities and interests that have motivated me for much of my life, and I think they motivate many others as well. We are humans and we are drawn to that which is made by human hands. We appreciate the exceptional and the talented but also see the value in anything handmade, even if it is inexpert or awkward, because it reflects a desire to do something for oneself, to create, to participate.

Click, click, click . . . the seemingly unrelated interests in my life fell into place. All those things I’ve made and crafts I’ve dabbled in. All those exhibits of folk art I’ve sought out. All those items I pick up at flea markets and garage sales. All that music that moves me. They’re essentially the products of loving hands at home, not made by professionals, or mass-produced. They have the imprint of an individual human being on them. That human being might be me or you, or someone long gone, but the “hands at home” speak to me.

So, this blog is initiated to celebrate the hands at home. You won’t find me using that phase in the condescending way it is often used—I really do love those hands at home! If you do, too, I hope you’ll come back often and participate in the discussion!