Belated eleventh day of Christmas

Taken by my wife of our (non-breakable, child-proofed) Christmas tree:


Ornament turned by my grandfather, one to the right made by my aunt many years ago.

Recent Playfulness: Mighty ugly felt

I love working three-dimensionally; I’ve prefered it to drawing or painting for the past 10 years plus. However, when it comes to portraying certain aspects of one of my few favorite subjects, storms on the prairie, I’m starting to wonder if certain two-dimensional media will serve me better. Actually, I’ve been wondering this for more than a year now.

So about six months ago I started messing around with felt (still three-dimensional) and nihonga — a Japanese technique I first heard of about six years ago now when introduced to Makoto Fujimura — after my wife gave me a starter set for my birthday. For Christmas I received some powdered graphite, another new medium for me that has shown real promise in helping me portray the kinds of light and spatial nuances wood and clay may not be best suited for.

Prior to last year, it had been an unfortunate long time since I played around with a new media, since I let myself approach a piece of paper with no other intent besides learning. I felt pressure to produce something for a reasonable portfolio (a goal I had set for myself) every time I sat down to create something. I wasn’t setting out to create something Mighty Ugly while engaging in this recent playfulness, but if the paper ended up being ugly there were no worries.

As much as discipline is important to being a successful artist, so is playfulness. So here starts a new series of my recent ugly works, starting with this felted cloud from my very first foray into felt, four plus months ago.

Thriving arts and crafts in [very] rural places

Yesterday my wife and I drove two hours north to the very small town of Clearwater, Nebraska. One of the seven or so yarn stores in the state happens to be in this community of 300+. We had a great discussion with MareLee, the proprietor of the business, about creativity, community and the unHurried prairie life.

Prairie Threads (website down at the time of this writing) opened about two years ago. When she told the town council she planned to open a fiber arts store they thought she was crazy but supported her anyway. Clearwater, like so many other tiny towns, is on the verge of dying.

Hannah & Maisie & threads

Her good friends back in Washington State, where she had recently moved from, thought she was nuts as well, certifiable. Why would someone move from a lush, populated, coastal state to the landlocked Great Plains, to the edge of a grass covered desert, to a sleepy little town?

All of those Washington friends have since visited her in the Nebraska Sandhills, and none of them are questioning her sanity any longer. Upon visiting, her friends realized how productive she was artistically after getting away from the frenetic city-dweller mentality. They realized you can sit and have a real conversation without the pressure of somewhere to go, someone to see, something to do. They saw how she is now a real part of the community she lives in — crazy or not — in a way she never experienced living in the big city.

We talked about Kathleen Norris’ book Dakota and how living on the prairie encourages a slower pace of life, a contemplative life that encourages creativity. We all agreed that, as artists, we become crabby if we don’t have the time to work out an idea that is simmering in our head, and that focused time — something that can look an awful lot like doing nothing to a casual observer — is a necessity in creative work.

I drew a lot of parallels to the Scissortail art center idea during the conversation. MareLee pointed out that the yarn store venture was a lot of work and required years of persistence preceding success. Teaching is a key aspect of her business (she has 40 years of experience to draw from across all fiber arts: knitting, spinning, dyeing, weaving, etc). She was able to purchase a home and place of business for a song (her son, living and working in Washington D.C., pointed out that what she paid was barely a down payment on a place in the city).

If you’re ever in north-central Nebraska, make it a point to stop into this prairie gem. While you’re up there, have a meal at Green Gables in Orchard, Nebraska, a barn converted into a restaurant.

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The economics of color in local culture

I’ve been reading a bit more on distributism at The Distributist Review. This quote captured my attention last night:

Local production for local consumption is a policy enabling the flow of an extensive variety of goods and services created by and sustaining the very community that makes them.

Mass production makes for very little local color. Everywhere, America ends up looking the same. Local culture looks like the variety of goods and service created by the locals. A Grand Island, Nebraska craftsman might use a different lumber, different joinery and different finish — in response to the land and weather around him – than one in Tennesee. Objects coming out of a factory respond to one thing by comparison: Market potential.

Haven’t we been here before, Rocky?

Craft as connection between generations

Fiber artist Betsy Timmer rightly observes that “There’s a growing value on things that are handmade . . . and it’s almost a reaction everything being so mass produced.” She’s interviewed in this really nice little spotlight on the Harveyville Project in northeastern Kansas. Timmer continues, “It’s just a reaction against everything being so slick and, you know, assembly line, made in China.” Have a look.

Christmas XI

Crocheted icicle ornament with wool

The icicle to the right is a handmade ornament by my wife, who is getting deeper and deeper into her fiber arts. She finally has a drum carder for prepping fibers to be spun, and I’m actually wondering with all of the fluffy wools floating around the house how I might incorporate the fibers into my sculptures.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christa the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Christmas IX

Quilt with pansies, hand-stitched

Every year we lived in Siloam Springs Allen Canning would plant pansies in the beds outside of their corporate offices along Main Street. They would do this in November, and the flowers would seem to last well into January after snow and ice blanketed them in the early winter months. “They are generally very cold hardy plants surviving freezing even during their blooming period,” Wikipedia says of the plant.

In light of this, I have a hard time understanding how “pansy” became a derogatory term referring to “a weak, effeminate, and often cowardly man.” Seems like a misnomer to me.

Which is why I have no problem with the new quilt hanging in our bedroom, hand-quilted by my mother-in-law. I wonder if they would survive a Nebraska winter?

Christmas IV

A handmade Christmas

Our tree, exponentially smaller than last year’s beautiful giantess, boasted handmade ornaments solely this year. Some we made, some our grandparents made, some from our childhood, some we purchased . . .

Some are clay, some are fiber, some are wood. Some are knitted, some are china painted and some are tied together. Two are nativity scenes, many are icicles and a few angels. One is an unglazed porcelain cloud, just for fun.

A couple are carved, a bear is felted and a proclamation is cross-stitched. The star on top is of questionable origin, but being out of cardboard we’ll call it OK.

Intentional Observation: Antique furniture

Helping my dad out the past week in The Milestone Gallery I noticed a few intriguing things about some of the old furniture. Some cameraphone captures:

Crafting for a craft

I mentioned the wife’s participation in Yarn School a few posts back. Since then she’s been spending a lot of time spinning yarn.

She takes pride in her yarn for the yarn’s sake, without necessarily thinking ahead to what she might make out of it. In fact she often doesn’t like me asking her what she’ll make out of it. That’s not the point. The process of taking fiber to yarn is thrilling enough in and of itself.

She is crafting for a craft, something I only realized last week. The same thing happens in other media as well when a guy thinks about it though. A ceramic artist can make tiles for someone laying tile or creating a mosaic, for instance.

It’s a new thought — I like new thoughts — and I don’t entirely know what to make of yet, but I like having the knowledge regardless.


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