Thursday, September 8, 2016

Dog bowls

There are dog bowls and there are dog bowls. My version is stoneware and made over a pumpkin and has that characteristic fluted edge. It is all greens and blues inside, like the cool water it holds on a warm summer day. I like to put doggie things all over it—little houses, a few tiny bones and a bowl, and of course a plethora of dog prints and a couple lounging fur babies. Anything for our best friends!

From time to time, I make cat bowls too, for our other best friends. Those have different stories. Cats tend to take up residence and sleep in the bowls. The cat-themed bowls are the same size as the dog bowls, but I have never had reports of cats sleeping in a dog bowl, or of dogs mistaking their bowl for a nest. It is probably just as well. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Hard: Strokes of Distinction

There is a unique art exhibit currently showing at the Arts Council (311 South Main Street) in Harrisonburg, VA. It is called “Strokes of Distinction” and spotlights the experience of having had a stroke. My piece is called “Hard.” Here’s the story:

Dorothy was a young mother when she learned to quilt, which she did for the next 50 years. I met her when she was 77 and lived in the assisted living facility into which I moved my father. Whenever I visited Dad, I found Dorothy in one of the day rooms or on the patio with an oval quilt frame on her lap. She cheerfully stitched quilt after quilt as she chatted with anyone around.

Dorothy missed the big birthday party we had for my father when he turned 90. She had suffered a stroke and was in the hospital. When I returned to the assisted living several months later her gross coordination was good but her vocabulary was stripped to basics and her sentences truncated. Everything, she now said, was “Hard. Hard.”

The most striking consequence of Dorothy’s stroke was that she could no longer quilt. She could hold the frame but the stitches did not come. She sat with a half-completed quilt on her lap and whispered, “Hard.” Dorothy’s brain had forgotten how to work it through the layers of fabric and batting.

For me, Dorothy exemplified the old adage “When life gives you scraps, make quilts.” You can see from the photos how stoneware “quilt squares” make the make the quilt “hard.” I encourage everyone to visit the exhibit. From August 5th until Sept. 1st, it will be relocated to Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC), Park Gables art gallery space.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Rhubarb: No Rue and No Barb!

Here’s to the lowly rhubarb leaf! My octogenarian friend Ken called to ask if I’d like some more rhubarb. He was harvesting his patch and I happily said, “Yes! And please bring the leaves too!” Ken responded with a shocked, “No, they are poisonous!” Having been an extension agent for something like forty years, he knows what he is talking about. I explained that I use them on my pots, not in them. They have lovely veining—not as fine as that of the even-more-lowly burdock, but impressively dramatic and strong. Ken arrived on his 4-wheeler with an armload of magnificent rhubarb stalks with all their leaves.

Due to the thick center stalk in a rhubarb leaf, using the leaf as it grows can cut right through the clay when I lay it out. Hence, I trim that thick area down level with the rest of leaf with sharp scissors or a knife. This gets easier with practice and I go through enough burdock and rhubarb leaves in their season to have plenty of that. Then the leaf is laid on wet, rolled-out clay and I cut around it. (I never went to kindergarten and have been making up for that ever since.) Next the leaves are dropped inside a large, plastic-draped, aluminum bowl of a pleasant shape. I make sure the bottoms of the leaves are well smoothed (read that as “smooshed”) together and the upper leaves each free to show itself off. Two or three days later, I left the whole thing out of the bowl, clean all the many edges, and set it on the racks to dry. Those leaves are majestic! If I knew where to put it, I might keep one of these big pots!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

And it was GRAND indeed!

The parking lot was filled to capacity and the front desk busy every moment! It was the Lost River Artisans Co-op’s GRAND re-opening after moving. There were outdoor vendors, despite the chilly dampness, and the Chamber of Commerce officiated at our ribbon cutting with the lovely  Jordan Robinson (who we hope will be the next Miss West Virginia). And I just happened to wear purple that matched the big wide ribbon-- truly a wonder! The food was a hit, the kettle corn yummy. On top of all that, we learned a lot about what works and doesn’t in our new space!

You’ve heard about the move before, and the amazing community participation it involved. It really does take a village, but it works the same way when we are scattered around the beautiful rural countryside! Members and volunteers worked incredibly hard to make the opening a huge success. People donated wonderful raffle prizes and the museum continues to be ever more interesting. With the co-op adjacent to the museum now, people wander from one into the other. Local people point out their homes in old photos, or tell stories about ancestors or farming practices prompted by the artifacts. What a rich culture Appalachia has, to say nothing of this little corner of West Virginia and the Lost River Valley! People even share stories about our 60 year old “big red building,” in which their fathers or uncles worked during its former lives as a sink factory and a feed store.

Our display men, Albert Hutchings, and co-op member John Geiger (who goes through life moving things around to make everything more beautiful) have truly worked their magic on the place. The co-op has 44 talented, juried-in members now, so we have an incredibly diverse and creative wealth of great items with an emphasis on the heritage arts.  People made signs for along the road, and put out traffic cones to slow down traffic. Julia Flanagan, the only octogenarian I know who introduces herself as a stripper and a hooker, demonstrated her hooked rugs. Tom Reid, our other demonstrator, showed us how he puts together intricate stained glass pieces. It was indeed a great grand opening! Come on by! (See more at and you can also follow us on our Facebook page. So go ahead and give us a like.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Open co-op!

The Lost River Artisans Co-op and Museum spent the winter moving—and no small task that was! Their new space is a 60-year old building that once housed a marble sink factory and then became a feed store. After being empty for years, the co-op and museum have rented the center section and worked very hard to make it functional, beautiful AND ADA-compliant! The square footage is the same as we had in the old barn, but we now have amenities that old barns do not. YEA! We opened the weekend of April 16, and will be open Saturdays and Sundays, 10 AM until 5 PM, until December.
April 30th is our GRAND re-Opening! We remain the same co-op and museum we have been since 1996. (The co-op itself actually goes back to 1988.) We’ve simply moved 1.8 miles south along WV State Route 259. The new street address is 8937. There is a big re-Opening sign out front, and it’s a big red building. Outdoor vendor spaces are available for the 30th at $15; call 304-897-5250 to sign up. (Vendors keep all additional monies.) There are great raffle prizes, a ribbon cutting with the Chamber of Commerce, and great events and fun planned all day—from 10 until 5 PM. Come on out on April 30th and help us celebrate our new space!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Happy birthday!

Oasis FineArt and Crafts at 103 South Main Street, Harrisonburg, VA, has a different Featured Artist exhibit nearly every month. April focuses on that phenomenon we all know so well: birthdays. I didn’t have much time, but I made a few simple plates to play with the theme.

Birthdays mean so many different things to people. We all know some to whom a birthday is, they claim, “just a number.” To someone else it may be a day of joyful anticipation, although in the predominant American culture that stance is probably popular only among the very young or radically different. Birthdays terrorize some, so they deny them with either outright lies or by helping plastic surgeons send their kids to ivy league schools. They never get away with that for very long, but at maybe it’s the race against time that counts. Other people let birthdays turn them into ossified old fossils, grumpy and disheartened, while others just as old decide to appreciate the time they have and work at staying chipper. My friend Evelyn acknowledges that she has “a hitch in my get-along” (that’s an octogenarian “get-along”), but she refuses to let it get her down when she can be out in her garden or visiting with her family or pets.

Whenever your birthday is, whatever mass of numbers you may have accrued, may it be happy! Take time to celebrate you and every one of those years that you’ve had to grow and do whatever you enjoy doing!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Oh those sea grapes!

For a non-Floridian, I have become awfully fond of the sea grape. In various places around the state, I collected sea grape leaves again this year. Actually, I have never seen the sea grapes, only the leaves—but I sure like those! The grapes form in the autumn and the birds eat them, and the leaves fall off whenever. There are always new ones forming. I look forward to putting my new collection of scavenged leaves to work on my clay when we get back to the hills of West Virginia later this week. 

I met sea grape bushes a year ago, and they hold all the same charms for me now. I love their colors, shape, simplicity, sturdiness, and sheer abundance. Rare is the Florida garden that includes them, although they are sometimes planted as hedges. The Botanical Gardens in Naples are a lovely exception to the apparent horticultural “no wild sea grapes” bias. Those are not only exquisite gardens (perhaps my all-time favorite, which is saying a lot), but they include a natural area of beach-dwelling plants. That exhibit beautifully embraces the lowly sea grape in both shrub and tree sizes-- my kind of place! I will keep this short and say it with pictures.