Sunday, May 22, 2016

Doreen Kassel Workshop: Day One...

The Pittsburgh Polymer Clay Guild hosted a fabulous workshop with sculptor and illustrator, Doreen Kassel.  I was lucky enough to grab a spot.  On Day One we focused on learning her techniques for making her Uncommon Creatures.

Here's a snapshot of Doreen demoing her sculpting techniques with polymer clay.

It was a great turn out!  What a warm and friendly group!  People came from all over the country to take the workshop!  Some of the folks who attended were long time polymer clay artists and some were completely new!  It was an interesting mix of characters!

Speaking of characters, this is the piece that I made!  Here it is before it was painted.

And here it is all painted up!  It was interesting to see how she does surface treatments.  It's a wonderful technique that has a lovely glow and gives the pieces a muted vibe.  It's definitely something that I'd like to explore further!

These were some of the creatures that the other students made!  So cool!  So diverse!  It's interesting to see just how everyone took the same concepts and came up with completely different looking pieces!

Whenever I take a workshop, I like to get a little something from the instructor.  It's a nice way for me to commemorate the experience and add to my little collection of prizes! Here's a little bunny fellow that I picked up from Doreen!  I'm smitten with it!

I'm looking forward to Day Two of workshop!  Doreen will be showing how to make her pods.  I've had a long-time fascination with pods and seeds, so this will be an excellent way to add to my repertoire.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Tribes Competition Challenge...

One of the projects that we've been working on is the Tribes Competition Challenge.  It's really just an amped up version of the Design Kit Challenges we already do... except instead of one kit launch... there are SEVEN!  It's probably the biggest undertaking we've done in regards to our challenges.

I'm really excited to see what people make and which tribes they join.  While I was putting together the kits, I was inventing little stories to go with each of the tribes.  I thought about sharing those stories in the launch, but decided not to since I thought it'd effect the designs too much.  It has planted a lovely little seed in my brain and hopefully it'l turn into something more soon!

In any event, if you'd like to find out more about the project and to learn how you can participate, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Spring Days...

I awake to the sound of birds singing and the smell of fresh, clean air blowing through the window.  The curtains dance lazily in the breeze.  I spend quiet hours tending flowers, learning about the little plot of land surrounding our new home, and observing the bunnies and squirrels. I'm befriending the creatures that coexist with us.  I've been taking time to examine my heart and the contents of my dreams.  It's a rare and somewhat unfamiliar pleasure.  While I have not been wholly exempt from contributing to our household and working on the odd project, there's a beauty in the simplicity of these spring days.  I've luxuriated in allowing myself to prepare meals that nurture the soul and not just the body.  I've given myself permission to sleep in, if the mood strikes me.  And most of all... I've let myself enjoy silence.  My voice will sometimes crack from being so unused.

For the past few years, this really hasn't been an option.  I spent most days working relentlessly and laying a foundation for a future I am now exploring.  To the outsider, it might seem as though I'm wasting away in my self-imposed hermitage, but I feel myself blossoming.  I can feel parts of me coming to life again, just like the flowers laying dormant over winter, now unfurling from sleep and reaching up leafy limbs.

I can feel the energy building and growing.  Soon, I'll return to a little more frenzied pace... but for the time being, I'm fully relishing this bright, verdant period.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Forget Me Not...

Walking along the path, I noticed small clumps of tiny pale blue flowers.  They were so small and in the riotous blooming of spring, it would be easy to pass them by.  As I stopped to examine these little forget-me-nots, it made me think.

In the riotous blooming (and decay) of humanity, I'm but just a tiny flower, easily forgotten.  Ultimately, my impact is but a small one.  These words will disappear.  The voice of the one speaking them will one day cease to exist.  Their echoes will be lost in the cacophony of shouting voices.  Their significance will diminish in the multitudes of many songs spread out over an endless succession of years.

Even though the forget-me-not might be the slightest of flowers, this does not mean it refuses to bloom.  It will do so, whether there are larger more showy flowers around or not.

I like to think that even though one day I will be forgotten, I still manage to make the best of each day.  I know that my posterity is limited, and eventually my name will hold no meaning.  Despite that, I'll keep blooming.  (As if I could stop myself from doing just that?)  And if someone happens to stop on their way and takes a brief moment for my small flowers, I hope they will see someone intent on helping others, being an advocate for what is right, dreaming big dreams, and adding a little beauty to this world.  For it is the small things, in their great and abundant diversity, gathered and held together that makes the world so grand.  Each flower, no matter how ephemeral, makes the vista that much richer and more beautiful to behold.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Coming Soon...

One of my favorite events in town is the Ligonier Art Walk.  We help put it together and I'm super proud of it.  It's a special day dedicated to the arts and creativity!  The participating art venues all have exhibitions or activities geared towards the arts.  I love seeing people walking around town and exploring all the shops and talking about their favorite pieces they've seen throughout the day.  It's a wonderful celebration of the creative spark!  For such a small community, we're fortunate to have so many places to see and experience art.

Take a look at the line-up!  It's jam-packed with talent.  All of the venues are representing different facets of art and are shining a light on different artistic voices, some local and some from abroad.  There are seven participating venues this time.

At Allegory Gallery, we're having a really cool show called, "3X3".  (You'll notice that this is a reoccurring theme.)  We're showing the work of NINE artists from across the country!  All of them will have nine pieces depicting their unique styles and vision.  Each of the pieces in the show measures approximately 3"X3" and are all affordably priced.  The idea of the show is to highlight a cross-section of some of our favorite artists that we've worked with over the years and encourage people to add pieces to their collections.  The display becomes a living work of art as pieces are purchased and removed from the wall.  We will be showing the work of Elise Wells (Ligonier, PA), Theodore Bohla (Pittsburgh, PA), Cheyanne Anderson (New Florence, PA), Cynthia Thornton (Asheville, NC), Wendy Wallin Manilow (Portland, OR), LES Polinko (Pittsburgh, PA), Shirleah Kelly (Greensburg, PA), Todd Beisel (Johnstown, PA), and Joan Tucker (Seattle, WA).  It's a really exciting group of artists and I'm sure they'll do a wonderful job in expressing their unique voices!

So mark your calendars!  The Ligonier Art Walk is scheduled for Saturday, May 28th!  To keep up to date with all of the activities, CLICK HERE to check out the Ligonier Art Walk Facebook page.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Beads Baubles and Jewels...

Look what came in the mail!  This past November, I had the honor and pleasure of filming an episode of Bead Baubles and Jewels with Katie Hacker and the team at KS Productions.  Yesterday, I received an advance DVD copy of Series 2400!  It's really exciting to hold it in my hands!  Somehow it feels more real.  I grew up watching PBS and all the great how-to content.  I remember spending many a happy hour watching Julia Child in the kitchen, seeing renovations on This Old House, and learning about flowers on The Victory Garden.  It's amazing to have dipped my toe in this legacy of educational broadcasting!  I hope that they'll ask me back!

The new season starts airing April 28th on some PBS stations.  For local listings, check out their website by CLICKING HERE.  You can also now see past episodes on CreateTV.  Make sure to tune in for episode 2409 and see me demonstrating how to make your own silicone molds and work with fast-cast resins.  The 2400 Series is packed with all kinds of interesting creative jewelry-making information and the line-up features some of my favorite people from the craft community!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Spiderwebs...

Summers in the City used to take on a carnival flair.  The baking concrete seemed to warm people's blood and there was a frenetic energy in the air.  Street Fairs and block parties blossomed like wildflowers and the toy phone version of the Piped Piper's song blared through speakers as the ice cream trucks made their rounds.  I remember walking around the sun-soaked streets on my rare day off and absorbing the atmosphere and trying not to trip on the curbs in my flip-flops.  Feeling slightly sticky and on the verge of being unpleasantly sweaty, I ducked into a bar to cool off.  The room with swirling overhead fans and bright yellow paint was mostly empty, save for one man and the bartender.  The girl behind the bar looked like she could have been Amy Winehouse's kid sister.  She seemed overly preoccupied with washing the same glasses over and over.  After sitting there for a few minutes with my cold beverage in hand, I could see why.  The man, sitting across the bar, was muttering to himself.  I knew what the girl was doing.  I had used the same trick in the past myself.  If you looked like you were preoccupied, it was easier not to engage difficult customers.  I tried not to eavesdrop, because if the bartender was trying to steer clear, it was probably smart not to show interest either.  But I couldn't help but overhearing a few things.  From the sounds of it, the person he was talking about was terrible.  He went through laundry lists of horrific deeds and I just assumed he had been dumped or that his significant other had cheated on him or something.  A few more people trickled in and as they did so, the man at the end of the bar got louder and louder. It was like he was feeding off their energy and used it to fuel his ranting.  One of the first things you learn when you live in New York is to raise your invisible shields and block out what you don't want to see.  None of us wanted to see this man.

Eventually his swelling diatribe made the energy so uncomfortable in the room that the newcomers started throwing their glances around the room desperately, as if they were looking for safety or some kind of solid ground.  They found me instead and we exchanged exasperated looks.  There's something about group dynamics where those who are not afflicted by the crazy seek reassurance in each other.  A silent communication of, "Can you believe this guy?" and "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" gets exchanged with a handful of expressions and a few eye movements.  The man picked up on our nonverbal interactions and broke through the wall.  Staring directly at me, he screamed, "HEY!  HAVEN'T YOU BEEN LISTENING TO ME?  I'M TRYING TO TELL YOU ABOUT MOTHER F**KING TERESA!"

At first I thought he was joking.  I mean, he was talking about someone who devoted her life to the service and care of others.  What he said was pretty nasty, but he kept talking and somewhere in his drunken fog and heat drenched madness, this all made sense to him.  Once he had our attention, his rantings took on a theatrical quality.  While he was expounding upon the supposed misdeeds of Mother Teresa, I noticed the bartender slip out of view.  I imagine she had placed a phone call to management, because not long afterwards, two VERY large men arrived and quietly escorted him out of the bar.

Even though it has been many years since that hot summer day, I still remember that man with his round, rudy face.  He was convinced that Mother Teresa was his greatest enemy and at least in that moment, it seemed completely real to him.  It didn't matter how many people she fed or clothed, she was still the baddest of the bad.

I think that in life, no matter what you do or how many people believe in you and your virtues, there will always be those that will cast you as a villain in their own personal movies.  You can devote your life to helping the needy and healing the hurt, and there will still be at least one crazy drunk guy in the crowd.  Why?  Maybe they're jealous?  Maybe they're insecure?  Maybe they are deflecting addressing their own problems and going on the offense?  Maybe they are the quintessential definition of a sociopath?  Or maybe it's like that song "32 Flavors" (sung by Ani DiFranco or Alana Davis, either version will do)... "'cause everyone harbors a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room..."?  I don't know.  And I urge you not to know either.  

The motivations that fuel the machinations of others are spiderwebs.  Rarely do they make sense.  There's no logic or reason.  If you try to get involved, you'll get stuck and eventually, if you're not careful, you'll get eaten.  It is a tangle and designed to trap you.  And it is best to focus on the positive, mind your own business, and do what you feel is right and good.  If you do your best and guide your actions with gratitude in your heart and a clear conscious, you can sidestep the sticky mess.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bead and Craft Bloggers...

Draw a Map of your Daily Route
Look at your routine in a new way by drawing a map of your route to work or school.

Embossed Aluminum Postcard Art
Embossed aluminum postcard art is made with inexpensive aluminum foil tape stuck onto scraps of card stock.  Take a look at these four examples using different techniques.

Interested in a great creative learning opportunity this summer?
Allegory Gallery is pleased to present: Creative Camp!  This weekend intensive features workshops taught by Eva Sherman, Heather Powers, and Cynthia Thornton!

What Inspires Me When Making Jewelry
Having a hard time coming up with beading ideas?  Terry Jeanette of the Tappingflamingo gives you some ideas.

Charms!
Charms make for a great way to start jewelry designing just for the fun of it.

Beading Arts
Cyndi shows you how to finish up and "frame" a single block quilt.

Snap out of it, Jean!  There's beading to be done!
Jean reviews, "Play with Chain Mail: 4 Weaves = 20+ Jewelry Designs" by Theresa D. Abelew.  Lots of fun!

Free Journey Proverb Free Pattern
Graduation season will be here before we know it!  Connie's added a super simple free chart that will be great for making up into graduation cards.  It is also suitable for a friend who is moving or making a change in life.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

BeadFest Philadelphia Spring 2016...

I shared these pictures on Facebook already, but I thought I'd post them here as well.  We attended the BeadFest Philadelphia Spring 2016. It was a fast trip!  A group of us drove across the state in the morning and drove back in the evening.  As we discovered, this is the last spring event that they're doing.  I have mixed feelings about this.  The spring show was never as big as its August counterpart (and has been steadily shrinking), but it was still a place that the tribe converged and a place to catch up with those who I don't get to see on a regular basis.  I understand the reasoning behind this decision and know that it's important to make the financials work out, but it's still a little sad.

I didn't get a chance to take as many pictures as I would have liked!  I get so caught up in talking to people and looking at things that I'm lucky I have these images.  Here are some snapshots taken during our trip:

 Eva Sherman

 Liz from Saki Silver

 Beth and Tom from Kabela Design

 Maria Richmond and Ren Farnsworth

 Dana Groves

 Adam from PJ Tool and ImpressArt

 Marsha from Marsha Neal Studio

 Jenny Davies-Reazor

 Kris Schaible and Maureen Henriques

Terri Powell

Friday, April 08, 2016

Live, Learn, Teach...

When I think back over my involvement in the arts, I feel really fortunate to have been able to work with some incredible teachers and mentors.  Even at an early age, I had some really supportive and encouraging people in my life.  Growing up, we didn't have a lot of money and with four kids in the family, resources were stretched.  Of course, at that age, I didn't really understand the obstacles my parents faced.  Now, I can appreciate all their hard work and sacrifices to keep us fed and clothed.  I actually believe that because we didn't always have store-bought amusements, it forced us to think outside of the box and be creative.  My first art teacher, Mrs. Dillard, probably had a sense that there wasn't a large budget for art supplies at home, so she used to put together packets of scrap paper for me to take and use.  She also gave me my first watercolor set and told me never to leave a brush in a cup of water.  She said it would mess their hairdos up and we wouldn't like it if our hairdos got messed up!  I remember one afternoon, I helped her dab the ends in soap and reshape the tips of the abused brushes into a semblance of their former selves.

Later, when I was in high school, I faced some odd opposition to my artistic development.  The head art teacher said he didn't have time or want to instruct me for the college exams.  He said that he didn't think I had what it took.  But when one door closes, another opens.  A new art teacher came to school named Phi Yoba.  He had a ZERO budget and had never worked with me before, but he said, "Let's show them what you're made out of!"  We had to dumpster dive for art materials and worked out of a storage closet, but I ended up passing all the exams with high marks and won a laundry list of awards.

When I was in art school, I had a lot of really amazing professors.  They pushed me and forced me out of my comfort zone.  It wasn't always easy and sometimes the critiques were brutal, but I learned a lot.  One of the most important things that I came to understand is that even if you're the most talented artist, without community and a support group of your peers, you can only get so far.  It's not a competition.  Your fellow artists will propel you to the next level.  Not only will they inspire you, but they'll also humble you and ground you.

Even now, I have so many truly wonderful people in my life who constantly make me think and challenge me.  I am fortunate and feel so lucky to be surrounded by people who are passionate and full of fire!  We don't always get along and sometimes our differing opinions can be humorously polar, but our mutual respect and desire to see everyone succeed drives us to find common ground and make the most of it.

For the past few years, I've been seeing my roles shifting slightly.  People would look to me for advice as an "expert".  Someone even called me a "guru" and I couldn't help but laugh.  I still think of myself as a perpetual student and someone intent on learning.  The world is so full of possibilities and new things to find out.  It sometimes boggles my mind to think of myself as a businessperson, a mentor, and a community advocate for the arts.  It sounds so grown up and so adult.  When I doubt my abilities to make an impact, I think back to my first teachers.  With a few pieces of paper and encouraging words, they left a lifelong impression that has led me down this beautiful and wondrous path.

I think that's one of the reasons why I've made such a mental effort to find ways to encourage young artists and people exploring their creativity.  With the store, we can offer educational opportunities and help bring awareness to things that people might never have known about.  We also create chances for artists to show their work and get their feet wet with the art world.  I've met some established artists who are very territorial and proprietorial about their corner of the art world.  I'm not so much interested in them.  I applaud them for their hard work and ability to achieve what they set out to... but I feel it's almost my responsibility to protect and nurture people who are genuine and show a passion for living a life with art.  When I find myself in the shoes of the teacher, I always try to make people feel good about what they are doing and feel empowered.  I've heard horror stories of how some "teachers" are simply on an ego trip and are more concerned about collecting their fee or selling their work instead of having their students feel successful.  For me, it's important that people feel good about their work and confident in exploring their voice.  I think part of this desire is based in curiosity.  Where will they go next?  How will they make this idea or technique their own?  What makes them unique and their story special?

Later this month I'll be participating in a really cool opportunity to be the juror for the local National Art Honor Society Art Show and be part of the induction ceremony.  It's an honor and a privilege to be asked to be involved.  I'm excited to see what they've made.  Whether or not they intend to pursue the arts as a career, I sincerely hope that each of them knows that there is a creative spirit within each of them and that to honor that spirit will enrich their lives a thousandfold.  I also hope that they know that they have the ability to raise each other up and build a better, more beautiful world.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Deep Roots...

I've been thinking a lot about community lately.  In particular, I've been thinking about my deep affection for the community of makers and dreamers that I belong to.  We are a tribe of creative thinkers and explorers of the heart and mind.  I feel so blessed to call these artists my peers, my colleagues, my friends, my family.  I was moved to make something to show that love.

In creating the design, I thought of another design that I made a few years ago.  I called it the Love Grows Pendant and it is probably one of my favorites.  CLICK HERE to take a look and to read about it.  (After you read the inspiration, you'll know why!  By the way, the plant is still going strong and loves its new perch in our new home!)  While the motif is similar, this new piece shows a different aspect of the same idea – deep roots, the stars that guide and protect, and the branches flourishing.  The artists that I respect and admire all have deep roots.  Their work grows from a special place that is uniquely their own.  If you look at their careers, you can trace the evolution of their work and see how tiny seeds have developed into healthy, abundant cosmologies.

If you're curious to learn more about the Deep Roots Bronze Coin Pendant, CLICK HERE.  You can also purchase it for a limited time.  I've made a (literal) handful of coins and they make the most delightful sounds as they clink together.  I'm contemplating keeping this a limited edition and once they sell out, not making more.   So, if you're interested in calling one your very own, make sure to claim one for yourself.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Allegory Gallery Presents: Creative Camp 2016...

Last year, Heather Powers of Humble Beads came to Ligonier, PA for a workshop hosted by Allegory Gallery.  We had so much fun!  By the end of it, we were already plotting ways we could all get back together and see each other again for more creative fun.  As we were talking, we started to throw around ideas and the idea to have a "summer camp" for jewelry-makers and people interested in the arts came up!  Thusly, the Creative Camp was born!

The Creative Camp will feature workshops by Eva Sherman, Heather Powers, and Cynthia Thornton. The topics of their workshops spotlight techniques like soldering, working with metal clay, "metal sketching", and playing with fibers.  It's a really wonderful chance to work with some of the leading names in the jewelry-making world!

Simple Soldered Silver Wire Rings Class by Eva Sherman

Simple Soldered Silver Sheet Rings Class by Eva Sherman

Sweetest Song Metal Sketch Class by Heather Powers

Luna Moth Metal Sketch Class by Heather Powers

Alchemical Bronze Medallion Class by Cynthia Thornton

Tide Pools Necklace Class by Cynthia Thornton

To find out more, CLICK HERE.  Sign-ups start at 11AM on Wednesday, April 6th!  Space is limited, so make sure to sign up quick!  We have all kinds of fun events and activities planned to supplement our classes held in our picturesque town nestled in the stunning Laurel Highlands.  I hope you'll get to join us!

Monday, April 04, 2016

Quiet and Silent...

During my time in the craft community, I've seen several times when things derailed and conflict arose.  Don't get me wrong... for the most part, I believe that the craft community is very supportive and encouraging and is filled with multitudes of wonderful people.  However, there have been instances when bad things have happened.  As my most recent experience reminded me, there are those who want bad things to be kept quiet.  The person that I considered to be the one perpetrating the misdeeds threatened to sue me for slander and tried to bully me into removing my posts.  (Which were eventually reported and forcibly removed.)  While most of the comments on my posts were very supportive and positive, one commenter said that I should not have spoken out publicly and said that I was causing a mob mentality.  Another person said that it was unprofessional.  It gave me pause to think.

On one of the posts, several people admitted to seeing "The Culprit" commit similar crimes in the past and had used scare tactics and threats to keep those who spoke out quiet.  The commenter even said that this person attempted to bully another crafter into closing their Etsy store.  When I hear things like this, it makes me mad.  Why is it that this person wasn't called out earlier?  Why is it that this person was allowed to do this all over again?  Why is it that I'm saying things like, "The Culprit" and "this person", instead of using their full name?

We are trained and conditioned to keep quiet and silent.  If we speak up, we're troublemakers who should mind their own business.  If you speak up, you'll be branded unprofessional or slanderous or a liar.  If you speak up, people will try to sweep you under the rug.  Sometimes those who try to get you not to make a fuss are the ones who are guilty of crimes.  Sometimes they are trying to protect those who they think have been falsely accused.  Sometimes they are people who have been trained to suffer in silence and therefore expect others to do the same.  Sometimes they just don't want to deal with it and feel that if it's out of sight... it's out of mind.


When I was a little boy, my mom felt that I had lost touch with her Filipino heritage.  So she signed me up for a dancing group that one of her friends had organized through the church.  A group of us learned traditional folk dances and performed them in front of the congregation.  We would meet several times a week after school for practice.  I had grown up in a pretty Westernized home and all of the dances were new to me; it was awkward and there was a huge learning curve.  I embraced it though, because it got me out of helping with my family's lawn care business AND the family who hosted the practices had a pool!  As the recital drew closer, it was clear that we weren't any good and they increased the number of practices.  The mother of the family that ran the group was also a nurse and had to work a lot.  Her husband was recently unemployed, so they would often times leave us with him to supervise.  Usually he would drink beer and fall asleep.  Being kids, we didn't mind.  Instead of practicing, our little gang would run around and play.  The son of the family, who was a little younger than me, was always getting in trouble.  He had a temper and would hit his older sister and say mean things to her in front of us.  He would say things like, "You're just a stupid girl!" and then slap her across the face.  But we all had siblings who we fought with.  So while it seemed extreme, we wrote it off as sibling rivalry.  He was also the first person to ever show me pornography.  The boys snuck off to his parent's bedroom and he pulled the dirty magazine out from under the bed.  We tittered and tried to suppress our giggles as we flipped through the pages curiously.  I remember one time we had a sleepover and he would fast forward through movies like CaddyShack and Back to School and play the sex scenes and then rewind and replay them, or pause on scenes with nudity.   He seemed fixated with sex, and everyone would joke around that he was a pervert.

One day, after we had spent the afternoon in the pool instead of practicing, his father called us over.  Like many homes in Florida, they had a bathroom off the patio that connected to the rest of the house to the pool area.  His son and I rushed in from the bright patio into the dim, yellow light of the bathroom.  He was sitting on the edge of the tub with a beer in his hands.  He said, "Close the door."  And then he threw a towel at us and said, "Dry off."  We both were in our swimming trunks and had t-shirts on and were still dripping wet.  I just thought he didn't want us to get water all over the house, and proceeded to pat down.  He got mad and shouted, "Not like that."  I stood there, shaking and not knowing what to do.  His son began to strip his cloths off.  The father said, "You know, it's okay to take your clothes off.  You're both men.  It's okay if you touch each other and play with your privates."  He then grabbed his crotch and shook his manhood through his red shorts. Sensing that something was wrong and definitely NOT OKAY with this situation, I ran out of the bathroom and through the house, leaving a trail of water on the white tile.

I didn't say anything at first, because I didn't want to get in trouble.  Although I didn't really understand the situation, I knew it wasn't right, but I also knew that our little gang had been up to mischief and I didn't want to get in trouble either.  But a keen mother finds out one way or the other.  My mistake in keeping the secret was that I didn't dry off and my shorts were still wet when she came to pick me up.  She got mad at me for getting the backseat wet.  Upon prompting, I told her what happened.  I can still remember how mad she was at me.  She called up the mom and told her what happened.  I thought that was the end of the practice for me.

A few days later, after school let out, she told me to get my stuff ready for practice.  I was shocked.  I argued with my mom and begged her not to make me go.  But she said that the mom questioned the son, he said that I was a liar and making stuff up.  She said she didn't believe me and I was always making things up.  Why was I trying to ruin all her friendships?  Was it something I saw on TV?  Was it something I learned at school?

When I finally did go to practice, the mom answered the front door.  She had a bruise on her cheek.  My mom asked her what happened to her face.  She said she ran into a door.  When we went inside, the husband got off the couch, turned off the TV and headed to the bedroom and closed the door.  The rest of the practice, her son gave me dirty looks and the rest of the kids gave me the cold shoulder.  I guess the mom said that she had arranged it so that she'd be there for every practice from then on and the kids were mad that they couldn't hang out and were forced to actually practice.  Before I left that day, the son punched me in the face and split my lip open.  He said that I was trying to get his dad in trouble and to stop telling lies.

From then on, the rest of the kids treated me like a leper.  I still had to go to the mother-supervised practices, but all of the other kids wouldn't talk to me.  When they played games, they purposefully left me out.  And when it came time for the actual performance, I was so nervous and apprehensive that puked my guts out during the middle of it.  I didn't have to do any more traditional dances after that.

Years later, when I was home from college and struggling with life as an adult and reliving all my past childhood traumas, I tried to talk to my mom about it.  She remembers it completely different.  She said that the reason I quit going to dance practice was that the mom was pocketing money that was supposed to go to the church.  And anyways, they didn't want me to embarrass myself again in public.

The reason I mention that story, one that I've rarely shared, is that it was the first time that I was kept quiet.  They didn't want to make waves.  They didn't want to cause trouble.  They didn't believe me.  They didn't want to believe me.  It was safer to keep the status quo.  They didn't want to believe that one of their own could be capable of doing such a thing.  I can't know if that man did anything else... all I know is that someone who was very much in the wrong was protected by silence.  When I think back to the son, I see now that he must have learned his behavior by what he saw and patterned his actions off of his father and a fear of causing harm to the family by rocking the boat.

Sometimes when I see someone doing something that I perceive to be wrong, I think of myself when I was a little boy.  I didn't have a voice then.  So now I speak up.  I stand behind that little boy, who no one believed.  I stand behind that little boy who was told to be quiet.

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with another artist friend and we were talking about all the little foibles and frustrations along our creative careers.  Since "the recent issue" had just went down, the topic of copying in the craft community came up.  It was interesting to hear her stories, because she purposefully and rather vehemently left out the names of the people who had done her wrong over the years.  I also caught myself protecting the identities of people who had done wrong to me.

And all the rest of that day... I thought of the little boy I used to be.  I thought of why we protect those who do bad things.

I get it.  It's easier not to say anything.  It's less messy.  No "drama".  We belong to a culture and a society that protects the guilty and vilifies the innocent.  The victims are told to be quiet and silent.  Don't make waves.  Don't make trouble.  You'll get sued for slander if you don't play nice.  You'll get sued for defamation of character if you talk.  We can pretend that it doesn't happen, but all you have to do is turn on the news.  Kesha, a singer and performer, was raped by her producer and emotionally abused and won't be released from her contract.  She stated that they offered her freedom if she publicly apologized and recanted her story.  If she wants to make music, she has to work with her rapist.  This isn't the 1700's.  This is happening right now.

We belong to a culture that cradles wrongdoers and shelters them.  The anonymity allows these people to continue their behavior and if they don't like you talking about it publicly, all they have to do is report your post.

I've been around long enough in the craft community to realize that the bad apples usually get weeded out.  For the most part, our community is made up of genuine creative thinkers and these fellow artists become more than just colleagues and friends... they become family.  We support each other and look after our own.  We are a tribe of dreamers and makers and people who believe in manifesting a better life full of beauty.  And eventually... people figure things out and the culprits of misdeeds can't sustain their wrecking momentum and get sorted out.  The progress of this process usually gets delayed though, because people who have been victimized are often times too afraid to speak up or they're pressured into silence.  So it takes awhile for those who thrive off the misfortune of others to be fully acknowledged for what they are.  Unfortunately, it usually takes a critical mass of casualties and collateral damage before anything is happens.  And even then, there are a few good chameleons out there that can turn a story around and gaslight others into believing that they are the victim or that their accusers are crazy or trying to achieve some gain by naming wrongdoers.

When I finally vocalize my thoughts, I don't do so lightly.  I understand that sometimes people can make mistakes or that they have their reasons for doing what they do.  I know that not every situation is the same.  I also know that sometimes there are people who abuse their voice and call down harm without due diligence or proper reflection or thorough examination.  I know that there are those who use their voice to manipulate and coerce others and use it as a call to false zealotry.  Knowing these things, I try to be extremely careful and am always willing to back up what I say 100%.  I believe in the importance of being honest, genuine, and truthful.

One might ask... why speak out at all?  Why do it, when it'll only cause "drama" and heartache for myself?  When people ask me why... this is why.  When people call me unprofessional or try to make me feel bad for saying what I find to be true in my heart, all I have to do is think of that little boy who was kept quiet and silent.

All The Gifts...

In life, we are often times told to sit down and to shut up.  We are put down, held down, and made to feel less than.  Sometimes those messages are communicated in direct orders and sometimes they come from societal pressures, silent but persistent.  Whether we want to or not, the messages hammered into our hearts and minds shape the way we live.  They are blows to the subconscious, like a blacksmith's dint.

I'm here to say... if you are sad, I give you permission to be happy.  If you are feeling lonely, I grant you serenity and comfort.  If you are suppressed, I tell you to stand up and stand tall.  If you are hurt, I compel you to heal.  If you are silenced, I implore you to raise your voice and be heard.  If you are without love, I give you love.

I give you all these things.  I give them away freely and without expectation.  I give them away so easily because they are not mine to give.

Ultimately, my words mean nothing.  They are sounds that come out of my mouth and words that dance across the page, but they hold no special power.  The power to realize and actualize your best self resides in you.  Each of us carries within ourselves the ability to achieve the person we hope to become.  We can be powerful.  We can be strong.  We can be wise.  We can be all the things we dream to be.

You might be thinking... what gives him the right to tell me anything?

And really... I have no right.  I am just someone who was told that I was wrong.  I was told that I was defective and broken.  I was told that I was unworthy and a waste of space.  I was told that I was a monster and an abomination.  I tried not to believe them, because surely they were mistaken, but even so, in the dark hours and the quiet times, I would wonder... are they right?

In that dark mirror, I did not see myself.  I saw what they told me to see.  And even though everything within me rebelled at this and I felt uneasy wearing the skin they'd pieced together for me, a small part of me listened to their words.  But as I looked closer and deeper, I noticed that that image was cracked.  And if I looked closer still... I could see between the lines and past the false self blinking back at me.  I could see the real me shining through.  And I realized that their words meant nothing.  The power they had over me was the power that I gave them.  And if I wanted to be happy, comfortable, proud, and whole... I had to give myself that strength.  I had to raise my voice to break the bell jar.

I give you all these gifts... not because they are mine to give, but they are yours to take. They already belong to you.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

A Good Life...

At an art opening we just had, I was talking to someone about our local arts scene.  It got me thinking.  Not just about my role in the arts community here, but my role in art.

A few year ago, almost a decade ago now, I was riding the train home.  I had just pulled a double shift at the restaurant that I worked at.  I was tired and my feet were sore and I smelled like food.  As I rode the train, speeding through the darkened tunnels, heading home to my far flung apartment in Brooklyn, suddenly the view opened up as we crossed the bridge.  I watched the lights in Manhattan, like twinkling stars.  I traced the buildings of the skyline I knew by heart.  I found the statue of liberty and the spot where the Trade Towers used to stand.  I cast my eyes towards a city of sleeping strangers and people like me, just getting off work or going in for the nightshift.  And then it went dark again as we plunged back into the earth, the drumming of forward progress in my ears and the silent breaking of my heart in my chest.

While I had liked my work in the restaurant and working with so many great people, it wasn't what I had come to New York to do.  I had come to New York to make artwork.  And while I sat on the train in a crumple, I realized that I hadn't made anything new in months.  In the span of a lifetime, that's not altogether that long.  But I am my most happiest when engaged with the act of creating and I hadn't made anything in a long time.  What was I doing with my life?

As the conductor signaled my stop, I gathered my belongings and headed towards the door.  I precariously balanced, trying not to fall as the train slowed and then came to a stop.  The doors opened.  I got out and the doors closed behind me and the train kept going... without me.  While I made me way to my apartment, I realized something.  At some point, what some would consider a promising career in the New York art world took a turn and without me really noticing, it had left me behind.  It dawned on me that I'd never be a famous artist and it was unlikely that my work would ever hang in the Whitney or be on the walls of MoMA.  I was experiencing what I like to call a "knowing".  It's the profound sense of understanding something completely in a moment.  I've had these experiences only a handful of times in the past and each time, whether I wanted it or not, the knowing came to pass.  And I was a little sad.

I didn't have too much time to be sad though.  I had to prepare for a trip to visit my family and then when I got back, I'd start my promotion at the restaurant...

Needless to say, things changed.

When I was away, I realized that I had to change the direction I was going.  While I had been sad at first about letting go of this imaginary future, there was something empowering.  Knowing that a certain path was closed to me, allowed me to make decisions that would impact the rest of my life.  William and I discussed the logistics of me leaving my job and we figured that with what he was making at his job, my freelance jobs, and working with my family, we could afford to do it.  It wouldn't be easy, but he could sense that I become less and less fulfilled and needed this change.  I contacted my employers, and while they didn't want me to leave, they also understood my need to embrace my creativity and pursue my passion.

Looking back at these moments in my life, I realize that it was a very powerful time.  Magic was afoot.  All I had to do was open my eyes and reach my hands out and grasp the invisible reins.  Over the years, I've been able to explore my path in the arts and while many things changed – dramatically at times – what didn't change was that I was my most happiest when I was creating.  Recognizing this, empowered me to encourage others to create.  While I may not be a famous artist, this does not mean that I couldn't be an artist.  It's my goal in life to create things that connect to people and make them feel.  Creation is magic.  It is a spark and a light and a source of power.  It is a gift and something that can used to influence the world.

I've made it my life's work to not only create things myself, but encourage others to create as well.  I believe in education and inspiring others to find their own creativity, their own magic.  We made our lives about the promotion of the arts.  In the business, we've used this mission statement to create opportunities for artists to share their work and opportunities for people to see and experience something different, that they might not otherwise have had the chance to engage in.  I find joy in promoting and encouraging artists and work tirelessly to lift others up.  Often times, there's no direct gain for me in that endeavor, but it's not so much about doing what's good for me, but about raising the tide and lifting everyone up.  I see myself as the gardener, who plants seeds and watches things grow and bloom.  I am an advocate for other artists and their ability to create and share their creativity.  And... yes... when it is necessary, I am a defender of artists and their voices.  I do not go out of my way to harm or hurt others, but I will protect those who are in my tribe of free-thinkers, makers, and doers.  I will protect those who also aim to inspire and encourage and bring true beauty to this world.

And... I have to say... it has been a good life.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Do The Right Thing...

When I was growing up, I didn't always get along with my father.  We often times would butt heads because we saw the world differently.  I was an unruly child, looking for myself and as a result, questioned everything.  I'd shave half an eyebrow off to see how it looked, or would throw rocks in the air to see high they would go, or paint my arm with Shellac to see if I could make my skin look like glass.  (Sometimes the results of my "experiments" were... well... less than ideal.)  And there was my father, scratching his head and witnessing my unusual shenanigans.  He was raised on a farm in the Ozarks and served both in the Air Force and the Navy – he was very salt of the earth and very regimented.  The tensions in our family were heightened after my brother went missing and it only added fuel to the fire.  Even though we locked horns often and disagreed on about almost everything, I love and respect my father.  He worked hard to support his family and did what he thought was best.  His work ethic was impeccable and he had a mantra that he would repeat... especially if I was caught doing something wrong.  He would recite the Cadet Honor Code.  Just thinking of it, I can hear his voice in my head saying, "I will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do."

Earlier this week, there was an issue about copying.  I won't go too much into it, because I've already rehashed it on Facebook and have already said all that I've really had to say on the subject there.  But to provide a little context, I had noticed someone in the craft community who was creating work very similar to a famous designers.  I thought it was a fluke, but the more I saw, the more I saw similarities.  Unbeknownst to me, there were several others who saw the same work and came to the same conclusion.  No one was publicly named, we all just expressed our feelings about the topic of copying and shared some of our experiences.  When someone else said that it could be also be just happenstance, I mentioned my reasonings of why I thought it was not coincidence.  I didn't have any strange fixations or vendettas.  I had no intention of ruining her reputation or going out of my way to destroy her business.

The thing is... I will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.

I believe in integrity and standing up for what I think is right.  I believe in doing the right thing.  I'm by no stretch of the imagination perfect, but I will strive to be better and expect better from my peers and colleagues.  In theory, it would have been easier to say nothing and pretend that I never saw anything at all.  But that wouldn't be right.  I expressed my viewpoint and my feelings on the subject.  I didn't go out of my way to be mean, malicious, or call anyone out.  (The person inferred that it was about them... and honestly, a guilty conscious is the best confessor.)  But if you see something that you identify as wrong, don't you have a duty to at least say something?  

I don't personally know the successful artist who in my opinion was being copied, but I respect them and their abilities.  I respect their success and their recognition.  Most importantly, I respect their voice as their own.  What I have to say and how I have to say it is completely different than anyone else.  You could argue that there's no original stories or ideas or that everything has been done under the sun, but what makes a difference is when someone takes those things and owns them.  And let me say that I don't think the person who is making work that looks eerily similar is necessarily a bad person... at least I hope not... I just hope that they explore their own voice and use the comments from others as a way to grow as an artist and embrace their own style and aesthetic.  I have no intention to ruin this person's business.  I believe that people can either buy it or not buy and it's really up to them.

What prompted me to write this morning was a message that I received from the person.  They were upset with me and threatened to sue me for slander.  They also made accusations that I was a copier.  It struck me that it was easier for them to strike out at me, instead of internalize what I and several others noticed.  Instead of identifying the problem, acknowledging it and working on it, they picked the easier route.  I think it's easy for people to lash out at me, because I am very vocal and I'm easily accessible.  I seem to find myself at the receiving end of scathing emails or remarks more often than I would like.  But most of it comes from people seeing me expressing my opinions on right and wrong and not agreeing with it.  I think having my father drill the Cadet Honor Code into my head has deeply effected the way that I navigate the world.  Sometimes I think it would be nice to take the easy way out and stay silent, look away, mind my own business, know my place... but ultimately I'm drawn to do the right thing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Quick Trip...

William and I just returned from a quick trip South to take care of some business and visit with family.  We started our journey to the Durham area.  According to the GPS and our directions, the trip wasn't supposed to take that long... but we got snared up in traffic and it added several hours to our travels.  It was a beautiful day though and we were listening to Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris, so the extra time spent in the car wasn't so bad.

Our stay in Durham was really short, but we got to see a good friend and talk business.  We also got a chance to visit Scratch and had some tasty treats.  I ordered a slice of sorghum shoofly pie and some cheesy grits.  Durham seems to be a really cool town with a lot of interesting businesses and a lot of potential.

Once we finished up a quick tour of Durham, we headed across the state to Asheville.  Of course, we got caught up in traffic again and it put us way behind schedule.  But we arrived and it was good to see my sister and her family.

It's a little heartbreaking to see the kids.  They're growing up so fast.  I remember when Azalea was a baby and I was afraid to hold her, because I was worried that I'd break her.  Now she's on the verge of being a teenager and is a little person with her own thoughts and ideas.  I know she was a "person" before, but it just seems so much more real now.  Above, she was showing us one of her costumes for a school project.  She was emperor Hadrian and was sporting a wig/beard combo that Cynthia made for her.

Here's another picture of Azalea.  She had just finished baking a butter cake!  She made it all by herself and was so proud!
We weren't supposed to stay in Asheville as long as we did, but we were fortunate enough to stay a few more days.  We wanted to stay and she Azalea in a play she was in, so we extended by a few days.  Above is a picture of Max observing Cynthia crocheting while waiting for food at the Sonic.

I really enjoy my time with my family.  Not only do we get to catch up and spend time with each other, but we also get to make things.  Above is a picture of a collaborative project that I worked on with Cynthia.  Cynthia and I came up with the concept, Cynthia sculpted the wax master, Greg molded it and cast it, and I bezel set the stones.  All of us worked on the finishing.  I love them.  Each one is different and unique.  I also love the heft of each of the pendants.  They solid sterling silver and a have a comforting weight to each of the pieces.  If you're interested in taking a look at them, CLICK HERE.

Here's a snapshot of Azalea on stage in As You Like It.  She did great!  She played Jacques and performed the "all the world's a stage" monologue.  I'm really proud of her!

I'm really glad that we got to stay.  William and I probably won't have our own children, so these moments that we get to spend with our nieces and nephews are gold.   It's weird.  Before the kids were born, it was hard for me to imagine children or wanting to be a parent.  When I was little, I remember play acting as a father, but after that, I couldn't really picture being in that role.  I guess my complicated relationship with my own father and my self-absorption with my career put a damper on all that.  Now I've reached a point where I could see myself being a nurturer, but know that it is unlikely that we'll go down that road.  I guess the world really is a stage, "and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances..."

Before we departed, we stopped at the Moose Cafe for lunch.  It never ceases to hit the spot, filling that hunger for home cooking and sweet tea.  

On the way back, we listened to Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin.  It was nice to listen to the interconnected lives of the characters, as we wove our way through the mountains and along the highways headed home.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

PayPal Donation Button for Creative heART Challenge...

When I first mentioned the prospects of acquiring the additional inventory of the store that closed, we received a lot of great feedback and suggestions on how best to fundraise to make this project a reality.  One of the ideas we got was to create a PayPal Donation button.  At the time, I had this thought that if someone wanted to contribute money to us, they should get something tangible in return.  So, they might as well buy something outright.  But after evaluating what worked and what didn't work during the first run of the Creative heART Challenge, some of the points that folks brought up made sense.  For instance, what if all of the current items are above their budget, but they still want to contribute?  Or, what if they'd rather donate money directly to the cause instead of having that money go towards shipping?  Also, what if someone wasn't interested in acquiring more things, but wanted to contribute funds without strings attached.  So... at the urging of a friend and fellow blogger, I decided to give it a whirl.

While I would prefer participants of this fundraiser to find things that speak to their hearts and creative spirits, if this is something you're interested in doing, we want to thank you in advance and let you know that we appreciate every little bit!  Little by little, the bird builds its nest!  Every penny helps us get a little closer to achieving our goal.  

Here it is: