Monday, December 8, 2014

Little Boxes

A few years ago when my husband, Craig Cox, and I visited Susan Hensel Gallery, Craig was taken by a tiny paper box with a laser-cut design on the lid, titled "The Way to be Empty." It sits on his dresser still.

The Way to Be Empty, looking a little the worse for wear. It's about 1.5 inches wide.

Little boxes. Small packages. There is something appealing about them, even when they don't contain anything.

Or when they contain something surprising and silly, like this match box that my friend Carrie Mercer gave me years ago. (She sells a few zines in her Etsy shop, Alterior Motives/Cocoanap.)

Box by Carrie Mercer. Around the inside, it says: "Please do not wake the chicken until tea is ready."

Etsy shop The Paper Assembly makes a variety of finely crafted little boxes. Lately she has added house-shaped boxes.

Small house box from The Paper Assembly

An exquisite small-box maker here in Minneapolis is Jody Williams, aka Flying Paper Press. She calls her handcrafted containers, which are artfully arranged with artifacts and natural specimens, "Not Empty Boxes." They are like miniature cabinets of curiosities.

Transformation specimen box by Jody Williams

My own little boxes are much simpler (and cheaper!). You not only get to decide what to put in them (chocolates come to mind, always), but you get to assemble them as well. They are just 2 inches square.

Mindfulness DIY box/cube

Holiday DIY box/cube

I've created a Pinterest board for little boxes; you could follow it if you like that sort of thing.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Andrew, Whose Day is Today — is a Well-rounded and Well-traveled Saint

St. Andrew, sans golf clubs
"Hey, today is St. Andrew's Day," I say to hubby. "He's the patron saint of . . . "

"Golf?" hubby interjects.

I ponder this for a while, trying to think of a famous golfer named Andrew. I'm stumped.

"Why do you say that?" I ask.

"Because of St. Andrew's, the famous golf course in Scotland."

"Oh!" I say. "Well, he's the patron saint of Scotland."

Then I decided to do a little search on the saint, to see if anyone else has dubbed him the patron of golfers, and, well, yes. He is considered to be the patron saint of fisherman, evangelists, Scotland,  Russia, and golfers. (Russia has a few other patron saints.)

He is the patron of fishermen because he was a fisherman, and was fishing with his brother, Peter (aka Simon), when Jesus called them both to follow him, saying "I will make you fishers of men."

Andrew and Peter were also present when St. John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus the Messiah, and then the two of them followed Jesus to the place where he was staying at the time, but this was Andrew's idea, so that apparently made him the patron of evangelists. (They weren't stalkers, btw; Jesus invited them. Of course there are a few variations on this, and I'm no biblical scholar, so I'm referring to this source, and the first chapter of John, verses 40–42, in my mother's Revised Standard edition).

The Scottish flag, featuring the St. Andrew's cross, or saltire

And Scotland? Because some 300 years after he was crucified by the Romans on an X-shaped cross in Patras, Greece (because he did not feel he was worthy to be crucified on the same sort of cross as Jesus), part of his remains were taken by St. Rule (you look that guy up, I have a narrative to finish here) from St. Andrew's tomb in Constantinople because St. Rule "was told in a vision to take the bones to the 'ends of the earth' for safe keeping." So, naturally, he took them to Scotland, to a settlement that later came to be called St. Andrews. (From Scottish History Online.)

The X-shaped St. Andrew's cross is also called the saltire, a word with a curious etymology of its own, and which forms the blue-and-white Scottish flag and is also incorporated into the UK's Union Jack.

Image "borrowed" from True Fresco online art shop

Now, of course, the town of St. Andrew, Scotland, is best known for its famous and beautiful golf courses, seven in all, to date. The playing of golf in Scotland dates back to sometime in the 15th century, and the Old Course at St. Andrews was established in 1552.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Plaid Friday — It's a thing!

Image "borrowed" from Minneapolis Happening Mag

First, I'll just admit that I have never liked "Black Friday." The name just sounds dreary and ominous, and the shopping frenzy at the mall and big box stores even worse. I've never really understood the appeal or why so many people want to subject themselves to it, and with such zeal, no less.

So then there was Buy Nothing Day, an anti-consumerism campaign started by Ad Busters; an understandable rebellion against the rampant consumerism that reaches such a fevered pitch at this time of year.

But that always seemed a little extreme to me. Sure, I could take all the money I would normally spend for gifts and decor and such and give it to some worthy charities instead, while spending the holiday season on meaningful activities that don't involve buying things.

But, let's be honest here: What's the fun in that?

I think Buy Nothing Day misses a very important point: that it's possible to engage in the consumer economy in a moderate, enjoyable, and beneficial way, and set aside some of your holiday budget to give to charity.

And I think it overlooks the equally important fact that it isn't just about the mega retailers who depend upon Christmas shopping to keep their shareholders happy. Small, independent businesses in our communities need our dough for their very survival; and they aren't asking for charity, they're offering an excellent value, because they not only sell cool stuff—unique items, often locally  handmade, quirky secondhand goods, or imported through fair trade cooperatives, that you won't find at the big stores—but they also provide a pleasant, personal shopping experience, and help to make our neighborhoods vibrant.

So along comes Plaid Friday. Started in Oakland, California, in 2010, it's an initiative of small independent businesses to promote shopping local and small on what is otherwise known as Black Friday. And they encourage people to wear plaid while doing so!

The plaid gambit isn't just a playful thumbing of noses against the big guys, although that would be reason enough to get on the plaid bandwagon, but it was conceived as symbolic of:

weaving the individual threads of small businesses together to create a strong fabric that celebrates the diversity and creativity of independent businesses  (From the Plaid Friday website.)

It's been spreading throughout the country since its inception in 2010, and it has recently come to the Twin Cities (possibly last year, though I only learned about it a few days ago). 

I may have to start my plaid Friday outing by shopping for a plaid scarf to wear.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Invention and Imitation and a Dice Game—It's All Art

I made up this dice game when my kids were elementary-school age and we were homeschooling and I wanted a way for them to practice their multiplication that was more interesting than flash cards. Wouldn't it be swell if I could find a game that used multiplication in scoring?, I thought.

Well, I couldn't find one, so I made one up. I don't recall that we actually used it all that much. Kids don't always feel the same enthusiasm for our brilliant ideas as we do.

Years later, I thought this would be a good product to market to homeschoolers and other parents and teachers, so I designed a little booklet of instructions, bought dice through various educational supply sources, got some round tins from the Ax Man surplus shop in St. Paul, collaged the covers of the tins, and sold them at a homeschooling conference and then on Etsy.

With limited success. But just when I think maybe I won't bother with these anymore, someone buys one, or a few, and tells me how much they like it, and I decide to keep making them.

A third-grade teacher who bought one at a craft show later told me how well it kept a bright student occupied. A person who bought one from my Etsy shop said, "It's a fun game to work the brain." Another said, "Great for my third grader!" And this: "Great for all of us—kids and adults—in the car at first but they ask to play it at home now as well."

These little tidbits of encouragement have kept me making the games, even though they're not exactly a best-seller for me.

As my first few batches of games sold, I was scrounging for tins of various sorts to contain them, and eventually decided to buy the tins wholesale to be assured of a ready supply. Still, I was covering each one with unique ephemera from vintage bingo sheets, maps, and math books, always buffing the metal lids with sandpaper to make the glue adhere, then burnishing them to get rid of any bubbles, and glueing a label on each that coordinated with the colors on the paper. After that glue had dried, I then brushed on a sealant and left them to set overnight.

I knew I couldn't really expect to ask as much money for these as the time and thought I put into each individual game (searching for images, tracing and cutting and glueing, etc.), so I tried designing a standard cover for the tins to print out on sticker paper.

I didn't like the design I came up with, so I went back to crafting them one by one. (I disliked the design so much I can't even find an example to show you.)

Then I had a customer want six of the games for her son's birthday party. When I asked her if she had any preference as to the design on the tins, she replied "Math symbols, please."

And that made me recall a recent cover of Conduit magazine featuring chalkboard math symbols in the background.

And that made me think of a book I read earlier this summer, Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon (which I bought at my local independent bookstore, Moon Palace Books), which pointed out that all artists get their ideas from somewhere, and we shouldn't be afraid to imitate and adapt ideas we come across, because those artists stole ideas and motifs from someone else.

Or, as my art buddy Brian Western once reminded me, "There is nothing new under the sun."

So I designed new covers for the dice games, featuring numbers and equations in a white chalkboard font on a variety of colored backgrounds, and I printed them on sticker paper, which means I don't have to buff, glue and burnish them anymore.

The customer was pleased. And so am I.

You can find these games in my Etsy shop, btw.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I Am a LoLa Artist Too!

The LoLa art crawl is this weekend, August 23–34!! I will be participating this year at the Minnehaha Professional Building, 3960 Minnehaha Avenue (site No. 39 on the LoLa map), with artists Jymme Golden and Laura Burlis.

What's the secret of secret Belgian binding? I will show you at the art crawl.

Stop by between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday to enjoy shelter from both rain and heat in this comfortable air conditioned space on Longfellow's main drag, as well as refreshments, cool demos (Laura Burlis on making millefiore canes, me revealing the secret of secret Belgian book binding, and Jymme with her sketchbooks open to show her process), and a give-away drawing by Jymme, and maybe me, too.

I have been making a few new things for LoLa and I thought I would give you a little preview of some of them.

A fun series of projects I started this spring are little hand knit pocket doll critters to tell your troubles to or play with (for children older than 3) or display on your desk to remind you to lighten up.

Each of these is knit by hand without a pattern or instructions. I just wanted to have fun with free-form knitting without having to follow directions or take notes. As I finished up knitting them, I pulled all "tails" of yarn, and sometimes a little extra yarn, to the inside to serve as stuffing.

Then I put them in mesh bags and sent them through the wash several times to felt them, which makes them even smaller and "knits" the fibers together for extra firmness and body. After they're dry, I add wooden beads for heads and sew on their hats and embellishments.

They are all less than three inches high.

I've also been making more journals, some from beverage boxes and some repurposing the covers of vintage books.

Then I've taken the text blocks from the books and have been turning them into little stand-alone art pieces of their own.

I've also been working on some upcycled decorated tins. I have been making these little kits or treasure boxes for kids for a few years now, each one is unique and is filled with assorted small toys and other objects. I have several of them ready to bring to LoLa.

But sometimes people give me their used mint tins to repurpose, and so I thought it would be fun to try something different: to fix up the tins but sell them empty so that other people could have the fun of putting together their own treasure boxes, whether as gifts (for kids or adults) or for themselves.

One of several tins-in-progress

In fact, there are a few stops along the LoLa art crawl where you can pick up some fabulous tiny things to put in your own tins, and I will have information and tips about them available for you.

Finally, I designed a DIY "mindfulness cube" with sayings on each side, to use as an object of contemplation or even as a small gift box. I will have a few of these assembled as examples, but will be selling only the flat sheets, printed on card stock, for people to make their own.

I hope to see you at the crawl!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A North Shore Vacation: It's All About the Rocks

We had a little vacation last week; a road trip to Grand Marais, Minnesota, on the north shore of Lake Superior.

My husband, Craig Cox, often says that his primary goal for vacation is to "go and sit on a rock."

Craig at Beaver Bay on Lake Superior in July 2013

But I think throwing rocks is also an important vacation task for him.

I, too, am a fan of rocks. And, for most North Shore visitors I think it's safe to say, it's all about the rocks: stunning lichen-covered rocky cliffs with waves crashing against them and silky smooth beach pebbles that feel luxurious in your hand.

A small cliff on Artists' Point in Grand Marais, Minnesota

The beaches along this side of the big lake are made of pebbles, not sand. Pebbles that have been rubbed smooth over the eons. They are mostly basalt and granite and quartz, with enough agates scattered about to make them an agate-hunter's destination. Some people also find beach glass here—bits of broken glass bottles that have been rubbed smooth over the decades. I love beach glass, but have never found any.

Craig throwing rocks in Grand Marais

We are not agate hunters, however; we are indiscriminate rock gatherers and throwers. Sometimes I even manage to skip a stone across the water's surface, when I get the angle and the spin just so.

We were sitting on the beach near our motel (about eight miles out of Grand Marais) one evening, digging our fingers into the pebbles, showing each other a perfect oval or an exquisitely silky smooth dark stone. I was preoccupied with stacking and arranging them in various configurations, making little ephemeral assemblages.

Sometimes I would find a rough stone and throw it in the lake, saying that it needed a couple of million more years of wear. While we were doing this, a woman came along walking the beach with a plastic bag in her hand, looking down. When she saw us, she asked, "Are you finding any?"

"What? Rocks?" we replied, then realized she meant agates. We confessed that we were not looking for agates,  but then I asked her, since she seemed to be good at finding things among the rocks, if she had found any beach glass. "Not this time," she said, indicating that she has found it here before. She told us that she comes all the way from Texas to look for agates along Superior's North Shore.

The next day, when we were doing much the same thing along the beach in Grand Marais, Craig found a teeny tiny bit of green beach glass. I put it on the top of the tiny cairn I was making and left it there.

Tiny cairn with beach glass on top, on a very large boulder, with a penny for scale

I confess that I did take a few pebbles home. But no agates or beach glass.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Nostalgia and Other Uses for a Vintage Book of Recipes

An old book called Tea-Room Recipes caught my attention at an estate sale last winter, and when I looked inside and saw that it was published in 1925 and its authors were from Minnesota, I decided I had to have it.

When I got it home and perused the recipes, I decided that the content wasn't for me and proceeded to take it apart to make it into a hand-bound journal with a coptic stitch binding. I added a few embellishments from a tea packet to give it some color, plus my linocut of a teapot, and a snippet from the book's index.

Then I came across a little column in our local paper in which restaurant critic Rick Nelson was asked, "If you could pick one Minneapolis restaurant from the past that you would like to revisit, what would it be?"

And he replied, "It might be Richards Treat. It closed three years before I was born, so I have no firsthand knowledge of the restaurant. ... It was owned by two remarkable women, Lenore Richards and Nola Treat."

I thought those names sounded familiar, so I looked at the book again and realized that they were its authors.

The Minnesota Historical Society published an article about the women and their eponymous restaurant in the fall of 2007, and a page of comments offers many fond memories of the once-iconic establishment.

Another website, called Restaurant-ing Through History, shows what a charming place it once was (the building was torn down in the 1950s).

And my mother, a dietitian who studied at the University of Minnesota, remembered the restaurant because it was run by two professors of dietetics from the U of M. But she had never actually eaten there.

Now I wondered if I had been too hasty in taking the book apart.

So I looked at some of the recipes again.


People often wax nostalgic about the way something was in the past, like Grandma's cooking or a long-closed restaurant that had been much loved in its day, and it's easy to forget that the generations preceding us were a little too enamored of what was thought at the time to be the modern thing, like using canned vegetables and puréeing everything to mush. And flour. Lots of flour, whether it makes sense to use it or not.

For example, as you can see in the above spread from the soup chapter of the book (click to get a larger view)—split pea soup that uses only 2 cups of peas for 18 servings and then calls for flour to thicken it, and a cream of spinach soup that starts with a purée of canned spinach.

So, what to do with those pages whose recipes I don't care to use?

I'm sure I'll think of something.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

How wildlife rehab, craft beers, and a hand-bound journal are all connected

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a representative of Duluth-based Wildwoods Wildlife Rehabilitation center to see if I would consider donating an item for their silent auction fundraiser, which is happening this Saturday evening, June 7.

After a quick check to assure myself that it was all legit, I said I'd be happy to send along one of my respite boxes (aka meditation kits/mindfulness boxes, or cool stuff in a box for grown-ups), as requested.

But then I said I thought it would make sense to include some boxed sets of my animal notecards, which have animal facts on the backs. So I offered to include a few of those, too.

And then when she said the event included tastings of craft beers, I said, oh, well, then I should send you a journal made from a craft beer box. I didn't have one from the specific brands she knew they were featuring (mostly because many of our terrific craft beers don't yet have bottling operations, so, no six-packs). But I rummaged through my collection and found a box from Lift Bridge Farm Girl, a Belgian-style pilsner from Lift Bridge Brewing of Stillwater.

I thought it would be appropriate because Duluth has a lift bridge too. Funny thing is, I don't think we've actually tried this beer yet ourselves; I must have pilfered the box from one of our local sources  of beer, wine and other libations—they make the empty six-pack boxes available for people to buy an assortment of single bottles from a variety of craft beers, and sometimes I rummage through the boxes and ask if I can take a few home.

I used the secret Belgian binding, which allowed me to incorporate more of the design by using the black-and-white strip on one side for the spine. (And it is a Belgian-style brew, after all.) I used the other strip and a piece from the bottom, which credits the sources of the photographs, to make tags.  

All the cover pieces are glued to thick fiber board for sturdiness. I cut pieces from a vintage map of Minnesota for the end papers (featuring Duluth, of course).

And I put my trademark library pocket inside the back cover, with a knock-off of a library card inside, providing the details of this journal (how many pages, the materials used, etc.)

As I was packing everything up in a medium Priority Mail box, I decided to toss in a few packs (sets of 18) of my bookplates, which also feature some of my animal drawings.

And all of that is now on its way to Duluth for the event this Saturday. 

Best wishes!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Little Road Trip that Leads to Pottery and a Secret Garden

Yesterday we took a little road trip down along the Mississippi, crossing at Prescott over to Wisconsin and following highway 35 all the way to Alma.

Stopped in Stockholm, Wisconsin, for lunch and to once again admire but not buy the Gaylord Shanilac woodcut prints at Abode Gallery. (One of these days I really am going to buy one!) And the many other pretty things at Abode.

Enjoyed lunch at the Bogus Creek Cafe, where the owner is something of a cheerful bodhisattva, always calm and centered. The food is also very good, and the garden seating is delightful.

Judy in Alma (photo, which I "borrowed" off of Facebook, by Rob Stealcheat)
Then onward to Alma, for the main object of (or excuse for) this trip: to see the newest pottery creations of my longtime friend, Judy Anderson, aka Dragonfly Guild. She is having a one-artist art fair/pottery sale on a little piece of property she and her husband recently bought just north of town.

We actually missed it driving down, but turned around in Alma and headed back north about a mile, and found the sign easy to spot from that direction.

It was great to see her new glazes and designs in "person" (she has posted photos on her Facebook page of the various works in progress).

We bought a couple of mini sauce dishes (for holding chocolates, of course), and sweet little vase, and a demitasse (more or less) mug, which I put to use this morning by brewing a pot of espresso.

Ceramic vessels from Dragonfly Guild, with a tile from Stone Hollow Tile and an espresso pot from, er, *cough*, Target.
And after I finished my coffee, I picked a couple of lilac blossoms hanging over the fence from my neighbor's bush and put them in the little vase.

Oh, about that secret garden. In Alma, there's an establishment called Hotel de Ville, which, besides having rooms for visitors, as you might suppose, also has a little coffee-and-ice cream shop, behind which is their "secret garden," a playful mix of old retaining walls with plantings and sculptures. Definitely worth a peak when you visit Alma.