Monday, February 1, 2016

Parsnips, Pie and ISSMA Gold

This week’s vegetable is parsnip.  At least that’s the felted vegetable I’m making for my piece in progress called ‘Fall Stew’.  I grew up with parsnips as a big part of our diet.  It’s a key ingredient in svíčková omáčka.  Every family makes it a little differently.  My father always prepared it with a meat roast surrounded by carrots, onions, parsnips and celeriac.  The key spices are peppercorns, bay leaves and juniper berries.  We used to collect the juniper berries, illegally I’m sure, at the Pinery Provincial Park during summertime visits.  That kept us in dried berries through the year.  After baking, the ingredients were combined with sour cream and milk and pureed.  This was an event where he always wore an apron because he managed to splatter the omáčka everywhere.  The sauce was then poured back over the meat and big knedlicky (big dumplings).  There was lots of sour cream to make it good and a little vinegar for flavor.  The carrots and parsnips were important to add a sweetness.  Many families have different versions, but that’s the basic recipe. 

As I was making the parsnips, which I always tried to sneak into my fall stew, I realized that most people aren’t familiar with the shape.  People around me who watch as I needle felt ask if I’m making albino carrots.  They’re probably the same people who can’t tell a loon from a duck.  It doesn’t matter, though—I know what they are. Next I’ll add to the composition a little garlic as my next ‘vegetable.'  You can’t really have a stew without garlic, can you?

I have a lot of art fairs on my summer schedule that I’m excited about doing.  That means I need to hide away in my studio and weave.  I always forget how much I enjoy weaving!  My frame maker, Tom Bertolacini, has been busy as well. He is a woodworker and photographer who lives out in Greene County and makes my frames from locally sourced oak.  He has been busy making seventeen new frames for me that he delivered on Friday.  I know I’m getting off track a little, but that was an incredibly busy day.  I have been going into South to work on the costumes for Pippin on Mondays and Fridays.  This particular Friday, the 29th, is exactly one month since my birthday.  I had lost track of that, but as it turns out, my husband and the SOS director (Gwen Witten) hadn’t.  As I was coming out of the costume studio into the big choir room to measure one of the girls for a skirt waistband, the spotlight fell on me and Gwen announced that it was my birthday!  Four big boxes of cookies came into the room from Baked in Bloomington, still warm and full of wafty smells to share with the room. It’s pretty amazing to have sixty-five vocally gifted kids singing happy birthday to you in perfect tune, all staring at you and smiling.  It was a little overwhelming.  My son Tommie was among the 65, but my husband and younger son Jacob walked in to be part of the experience.  I even got a present—a Kuerig coffee machine that will stay in the costume studio.  What a perfect gift and a wonderful surprise! It’s almost as good as the Bahamas!  Almost. 

Saturday turned out to be pretty intense too.  Both boys participated in the ISSMA (Indiana State School Music Association) voice competition.  Jacob was in Division 2 and Tommie in Division 1, and both received gold medals.  Tommie will be competing in the state competition on February 20th.  I’m so incredibly proud of them!  They are both gifted in many many ways. They sang with confidence and poise and passion.  When I sat in the audience and they opened their mouths and this beautiful sound came out of their mouths I had a moment of ‘who is this kid?’  We went from there to a 60th birthday party for a friend of mine who lives on a beautiful property in Brown County.  I saw an impressive field of turnips planted for ground cover, which got me thinking about Fall Stew again.  Sunday was my actual birthday party, with conch fritters, baked salmon and boca negra, a delightful flourless cake from Julia Childs.  

 Oh, and so much happened that I almost forgot to mention that it was a pie week!  Blueberry, yum!  I still have blueberry pie and chocolate cake in the fridge.  My life is complete.  At least for the moment.  I’ll probably want another pie by Wednesday.  

Until next week,

Martina Celerin

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Fall Stew, Winter Citrus and Spring Flowers


It’s almost done!  Turn the stovetop to low and set the table because the feast is happening very soon.  I thought my Fall Stew was done and I’d have a great picture for the blog, but it looks like I’m a patch of parsnips short of a weaving.  Upon inspection, I also see that the ratio between the green beans and the veggies and roots that Jim finds more palatable might be a little high for his liking, but Grandma would love it.  I’ve been working on the vegetables since Thanksgiving.  It’s nice to be able to spread out making the little components of the larger composition over a long period of time.  Then the assembly phase brings a sense of anticipation and reward when I get to see everything together in my cornucopia.  I’m really pleased with how it turned out! 

The completion of one ‘some-assembly-required’ piece leads me to think about what I should make next.  This is where the different phases of my arts-filled life come together.  I’ve been working on costumes for the upcoming ‘Pippin’ production for Bloomington High School South.  In one scene I’m imagining a Jimmy Buffet themed set of costumes.  The kids will all be wearing Hawaiian shirts and leis in citrus colors.  Thinking about the citrus colors took me to slices of citrus fruits—lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits and even a kiwi.  It will be fun for me because I will get to return to my roots (ha-ha!) as a plant scientist, and think about the botany and structure of the citrus family.  I will get to teach myself what defines a citrus fruit while I bask in bright, happy colors. 

In last week’s blog I wrote a little about how another Sounds of South experience contributed to my art.  Two years ago I was the props mistress for the Phantom of the Opera performance, and that experience brought me into possession of a collection of gears and steam punk metal pieces.  I wove metal pieces alongside my chocolate-colored, earth tone yarns and created the ground for ‘Biological Clock.’ In essence, it will featured the below-ground gears and controls not visible to the rest of the world.  This week I wove the sky on top and now the piece is ready for the plant.  I’m going to make a flower with a clock face, which I think will incorporate a real watch. 

I’m presently spending about two days a week organizing the bits and pieces and found objects that will go into the costumes for the Pippin performance.  Specifically, right now I’m thinking about the circus costumes.  I’m absolutely loving the colors I chose, which are amethyst purple, emerald green and sapphire blue.  I have sorted through the costume studio's drawers of blues, greens and purples and pulled out the specific bits of trim and jewels that are the right match for the costumes.  I’ll keep collecting and adding to this collection each week as I go to the Recycle Center in town and take advantage of the Materials for the Arts program there.  It’s such an amazing resource to have in this community—it lets me raise the bar on the quality of the costumes and stay within a high school performance budget.  This week we have also gotten some real treasures, which are clothing pieces that are either not useable or sellable from My Sister’s Closet or the Bloomington Thrift Shop.  These organizations have also been wonderful about contributing their non-useables to the cause—a big shout out of thanks to them!

On Saturday mornings I do an exercise class, and this morning I came home to an amazing smell in the kitchen.  It wasn’t pie, but oh my gosh it had a sugary-buttery-smell of baking monkey bread.  I’m not sure what was in Jacob and Jim’s head, but I believe they were the chef’s in charge and I’m just delighted that they made it happen—yum yum!  There STILL hasn’t been a pie, though.  This is my birthday week, held in January to distribute the treats away from the week after Christmas.  I’m sure a pie will come my way in the next couple of days.  Stay tuned to see what kind it will be! 

Until next week,

Martina Celerin

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Treasures from the Earth and Travel to Memphis

As the demands of the holiday season fade, I find myself able to spend much more time doing the things I really like—I get to work in my art studio!
I have obviously been channeling a steampunk motif and I like it!  It’s a direction I’ve never explored in my pieces.  The aspect that is the most challenging and fun is dealing with the contrasts that arise.  I’m forced to marry rigidly symmetrical and circular shapes of the metal components with the very organic shapes of the stems and roots of living things.  The metals are hard and shiny, while the yarns are soft and matte.  Bringing everything together in a composition that appears natural is a very interesting challenge. 

I have three compositions in mind.  The first project is my heirloom tomato piece.  I dove into the project and managed to finish the entire cross-section through the ground phase.  I was having so much fun working with the chocolaty browns of the earth that I decided to launch onto a second ‘found object’ piece.  I’m trying to decide whether it will become ‘Biological Clock’ or ‘Thyme’.  The piece will concentrate on small, usually metal mechanisms from clocks or other mechanical devices that I have accumulated.  I owe a big thank you to Becky Delong on this score.  When she was downsizing and cleaning out her closets, she passed along her collection of broken clock parts left over from costume creation on the 2014 ‘Phantom of the Opera’ stage production by Sounds of South.  

When I’m not in my art studio I keep busy on my ‘Fall Stew’ project.  That means when the boys are doing taekwondo, jiu-jitsu, hip-hop, or singing, or when I’m watching an IU basketball game on TV, I get to poke away at vegetables.  This week I finished the green beans and launched into making broccoli.  It’s a big part of our current diet, and especially favored when covered in my homemade sharp cheddar cheese sauce. 
The cheese comes from Linwood, Michigan, on our trips to Grandma’s house when we visit ‘The Cow.’  You can’t miss the Williams Cheese shop with the twelve-foot tall Holstein standing in front.  To make the broccoli I have been crocheting four stands of green cotton chenille in a random clump to make the florets.  To make the stems, I roll narrow strips of army blankets for the fibrous heart then sew the tubes together.  I needle felt the skin using a green fleece that I bought probably ten years ago at the Fleece Fair (now known as The Fiber Event) in Greencastle, Indiana.  I remember buying a pound of uncombed, soft green fleece that I could never imagine consuming, but now I'm down to a tiny fluff that I hope will cover the stem of the third broccoli crown. 

My big travel news is that I’ll be taking my show on the road to Memphis, Tennessee.  I’ll be running a workshop on February 27th and 28th.  If you’re interested in participating, I think there are still a handful of the 20 slots available.  Here is a link to the Memphis Guild of Handloom Weaver and the application should be posted soon, and as well, here is an email address for the guild:
mghw@mghw.org   I’m so looking forward this!  I currently have fifteen looms ready to ship, so I’ll be scrounging around at the Re-Store and other recycling places in town to come up with the materials to build a few more looms.  Mostly I need one-by-twos, finishing nails and L-brackets to give the structures some rigidity. 

If you were worried that I had forgotten about the costumes for Pippin, rest assured that I have not!  I’m moving that project forward on my Monday and Friday visits to South.  I ordered a few things online, such as a funky parrot hat for the Jimmy Buffet scene.  I managed to fit each of the boys into their pre-pants (aka conventional clothing) that I will alter pretty drastically for the stage.  All the girls have been matched with bodices that I will use to make the base of their costumes.  I feel like I’m on track to match boys with jackets and shirts and girls with skirts and pants this coming week.  I’ll be ready for my self-imposed February first deadline for starting the truly creative process of building a cohesive and expressive collection of costumes.  There will be a lot of cutting materials and exploring how things look pinned together before they are passed on to the sewing faeries.  Oh, and hot glue—I ordered twenty five pounds of the indispensible adhesive so we can put our heads down and keep working without the interruption of a trip to Joanne’s once a week for more. 

On the home front, the boys are slogging through school.  After two weeks they are already ready for a break from school. The crazy Indiana weather we’ve been having hasn’t been helping.  We oscillate between fifty degrees and pleasant some days, before it turns rainy and slick and drops down to zero and windy.  It’s like spring is teasing us, then pulling the rug out from underneath.  My summer art fair schedule is coming into focus, with trips to the Des Moines Art Festival and Madison’s Art Fair on the Square, two of my favorite shows.  Throw in a couple summer vacations and the day planner is filling up!  Sadly I’m still waiting for my first post-Christmas pie…but the pretty bouquet of flowers that appeared on the dinning room table almost filled in. Almost.


Until next week,

Martina Celerin

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Green Beans in the January Snow

Winter has taken hold of Indiana, bringing the first real snowfall to blanket us in white.  Besides being pretty, it’s a nice backdrop to my current focus, which is making green beans between other family activities.  My bigger-picture objective is finishing my ‘Fall Stew’ piece, which will provide a cameo appearance space for my beans.  I can’t use too many, though.  I learned this important fact when I made the actual fall stew years ago.  Because Jim really doesn’t like green beans, I had to be careful with the ratio of beans to other vegetables so I could slip them in and not have him notice.  After the beans are done I’ll make some broccoli and parsnip and I should be ready to assemble the final piece.

Needle felting vegetables gives me some much-needed thinking time.  When I made the tomatoes for my ‘Fall Stew’ creation, I got to thinking about heirloom tomatoes.  I was remembering how recognizable they are on the tables at the Farmer’s market with their yellow shoulders, which take longer to ripen.  That got me thinking about what it takes to be an heirloom.  Objects don’t necessarily need to have a large actual value, just a perceived value to the owner or family.  I thought about the things I have inherited, including some great tools from Grandpa (Jim’s dad) and family jewelry from my Grandmother.   
This summer I went to an estate sale of a person whose mother was a hairdresser, which was her whole life, and she was selling her collection of rollers.  Jim’s family fishes, so we have lots of old lures, rods and gear that have been around forever.  The heirlooms are often tools of the trade that define that person or family (and I love tools!).  Each object comes with a story, and the stories draw me in and demand that I translate the objects into art.  I have all sorts of interesting heirlooms in jars downstairs, from an old tool that looks like an ancient pizza cutter with a wonderful patina (but is really a tailor’s fabric cutting tool), to tarnished silver spoons from long-forgotten collections - all waiting for the right composition.

All that musing helped me decide I needed to make a piece called ‘Heirloom Tomatoes’.  Of course an heirloom tomato composition would feature an elegant fruit with lots of character springing up from a soil permeated with heirlooms.  We’ll have to see how it comes together!  

The other major project that looms in my future (everything in my life has looms) is costuming.  This year’s musical performance at Bloomington High School South is ‘Pippin’.  I’ve done all the sketches and I’ve been actively collecting and organizing clothing built around the color palate I designed.  All of the clothes have spent two days in the freezer, a half an hour in the washing machine and an hour in the dryer before being sorted onto racks.  I just love organization—it makes it so much easier to view what I have and then to get things done.  On February first I hope to start actually building costumes for Pippin from all the recycled clothing pieces that Nancy Riggert and I have collected.  The local thrift shops have been incredibly generous to us.  MySister’s Closet has given us all their damaged or stained formal wear.  Imperfections are easily mended and small stains mean nothing on the stage, so I can get a lot of mileage out of unwanted clothing.  The Bloomington Thrift Shop has been wonderful about sharing clothing that doesn’t sell and sharing their excess hangers.  Being able to start costuming with each of the starting materials hung and organized is hugely useful and will make the task of outfitting sixty-five kids a lot easier.
 
On the home front, hmmm, let me see.  The Christmas tree is down and the decorations are put away.  The snow is pretty, but the kitchen does not seem to be filled with the glorious scent of a freshly baked blueberry pie!  Whatever shall I do?
 
Until next week,

Martina Celerin 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Rothko counsels me on making red potatoes


My recipe for last week called for felted snap peas and potatoes—more about the details of creating them in a moment.  Before I started poking, I hunkered down in front of my computer.  Because my background is in science, not art or art history, I often feel as if I’m missing some key historical parts of my chosen field.  When I get into intensive handwork projects, as I have lately, I have been watching YouTube videos that give a historical perspective of art movements.  They’re from the OOAC (Open Online Academy of New York) hosted by John David Ebert, my new bff.  I felt as if I was presented with a temporal review of contemporary art, starting with the influences of impressionists and ending in 2013.  One of the earlier artists highlighted by Ebert was Mark Rothko.  What really struck me was the translucence of paint layers used to create the glowing rectangles for which he is so well known. 


Coming back to my potatoes, that concept of layering of colors turned out to be the answer for achieving realistic vegetable colors.  If one looks at a potato carefully, it isn’t solid brown or red.  The brown potatoes, for example, have an under layer of yellow glow with a brown over layer toning it down.  So first I created the potato shapes by felting, then I applied a layer of yellow fleece to the surface of the structure.  The yellow color came from a dyeing experiment using turmeric.  I then overlaid the yellow with a thin layer of tan fleece dyed with Osage orange.  
 The funny story about that fleece was that I received a large quantity of the orange tree wood chips from Tom Bertolacini.  I plowed ahead with a big dye pot using the material without doing any background reading on protocol or recipes.  I ended up treating it the way I did with maple bark from Gramma’s house, which essentially meant boiling it in a big pot and letting it steep outside for about a week.  Instead of a bright orange I ended up with a drab brown color.  That was about four years ago.  I’ve kept the fleece in storage since then, and when I was digging for a potato color decided it was exactly the color I needed.  It’s more evidence that there are no mistakes in dyeing, only happy unexpected outcomes. 

The red potatoes are a similar story, although the underlay was a brown fleece that arrived on my doorstep just a few days ago.  A fiber guild friend decided that she was not about to sort through a big bag of fleece that she was given.  Of course it turned out to be perfect for my latest project.  The over layer was a plum color from my stored collection.  I don’t remember its origin, but there’s probably a good story I’ve forgotten.  Each of my materials seems to have some story that makes it special. 


This week I also turned out some felted snap peas for my ‘Fall Stew.’  The peas were relatively easy—I just needed to create the right shape.  I began with some felted green balls and stitched them on to pieces of felt I cut out into pea shapes.  I needle felted pea green fleece over the top as a thin layer to maintain the bumpy surface.  The green balls are a slightly lighter shade of green than the overlay color, which I used to create an artificial reflection on the surface that emphasizes the bumpy shape.  My success was validated when Jim walked by and said:  Peas!  Nice!  When the simplicity of the final object translates without needing to understand the complexity of the process, I know I’m doing something right. 


Many more vegetable contributions to my fall stew came to ripeness and harvest this week.  On Facebook I posted images of the onions and eggplants that I completed.  Next on the agenda are sweet potatoes, which got me thinking that about how much like eating them.  I think I’ll make a sweet potato and black bean stew for dinner.  I’m only missing one key ingredient, but I’ll ask Jim to stop by the store to pick up some sweet potatoes. 

On a sad note, I lost a close friend this week.  Jerry Farnsworth was the treasurer for the Fourth Street Festival, a wonderful musician and a sweet supporter of mine.  He will be missed.  I think it was partially his passing that kept me hunkered down in front of the computer this week, working away at projects I could control. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Winter tomatoes and holiday treats


Today brought a wonderful day of relaxation after a fast-paced few days with family for Christmas.  I needle felted tomato slices as I watched old movies on TV.  I needed the break after the intense week of preparation, cooking, family activities and ultimately cleanup.  A lot had to happen before Grandma and Aunt Lois came on Wednesday afternoon.  The boys and I prepared eight different dough varieties to make multiple tins of cookies.  They included traditional Czech linecky kolacky (with black current jam, of course), a delightfully intense frosted lemon cookie, and a concoction Jacob cooked up that involved peanuts, peanut butter, and dark chocolate assembled in three layers.  Everything came out well this year and we delivered and shared many treats with family and friends.  On Christmas Eve morning I assembled the other family baking tradition, which is a stollen for Christmas morning breakfast.  My dough is filled with rum and orange juice soaked currants and raisins, nuts and candied fruit that we make ourselves.  The filling is either marzipan that I make or rum-soaked sweet cherries.  When everything cools I glaze them with a butter and powdered sugar frosting.  Both varieties very successful and well received for Christmas and Boxing day breakfast. 

I got a little carried away with the delightful foods!  I wanted to mention that I was fortunate enough to have previously blended the red wool for the tomatoes.  I was able to go straight to my stores and pull out the fleece that I needed for my slices.  I also have special wool that I use for tomato seeds.  I dyed the material using bark from a fallen giant maple tree branch at Grandma’s house.  It just made the absolutely perfect color for the seeds.  After attaching them I usually layer a bit of the dark red fleece over them to make it look like the seeds are embedded in the internal chambers of the tomato.  These are part of the cast of vegetables that will make up a larger piece I’m working on, Fall Stew.  I have the carrots completed so I’ll be moving on to snap peas and red-skinned potatoes next. 

The highlight of the holiday entertainment season was a trip out to see Cardinal Stage Company’s performance of Mary Poppins.  Grandma buys the family tickets and the whole crew goes.  Mary Poppins is a hugely ambitious challenge, but Cardinal rose to meet and exceed the standard.  Mary flew, kites flew, the children flew, and Bert walked up a wall.  The performance was great, especially the woman who played Mary, Elaine Cotter.  She was sweet but completely in control of every situation.  The two children she managed were terrific young actors as well.  The sets really stole the show, though.  The attention to detail and complexity of the rollaway pieces were truly amazing.  The structures reminded me of the fold out children’s books where whole buildings and animals pop up from the page.  At every turn there were structures that introduced something unpredictable and captivating.  The whole thing will be lodged in my brain for a long time.  Thank you David Higgins!

The days with Grandma brought some fine meals and good times.  Jim put together some wonderful dinners, including a raspberry pie for dessert that has become a Christmas tradition.  Grandma has fond memories from when she was a girl of raspberry pie from the farm on New Year’s Day.  Because of the stollen, there are even a few pie slices left over for breakfast the next couple of days!  A little pie, a little espresso and I’ll be back in the art studio with a smile on my face.


Until next week,

Martina Celerin

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Art and Merry Making Collide in the Holidays


I carved out some time this week to get some work done in my studio while the boys were still in school and the full pressure of the holiday crunch had yet to set in.  My focus was on a willow piece, and I made wonderful progress on needle felting tree trunks.  I wrapped wires to create the branches using a mottled fleece combination of slate brown and cream colors.  The background is now also complete, which features a water structure that I created by crocheting together about twenty different yarns.  I like to use some silvery-sparkly threads to get the glistening effect of the midday sun on the water.  I crocheted a green peninsula into the piece to serve as a base for my willow on its own little patch of land.  Sometimes I feel this way about my more outlandish ideas, like I’m out on my own little peninsula trying to make things work out!  I have attached the willow to the background, but I still have to attach the dangling branches that will flesh out the tree.  The last touch will be to add some weathered rocks that we collected last summer from Topsail Island in North Carolina. 
 
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Dawn Adams and I went to see the latest exhibits at the Indiana University art museum.  One exhibit (Grand Allusions) was by an emeritus faculty names Robert Barnes.  These were large-scale narrative pieces perhaps four feet square each and loaded with visual information.  I was simply enchanted by the works.  The one striking feature that connected many individual pieces was the use of a brilliant red color.  Earlier in the week Dawn had invited me to go to a noon talk at the art museum where the speaker discussed the idea of amulets created from natural materials, which inspired me to re-imagine my own earth pieces and design a new composition (Amulets for the Earth) for my ‘From the Earth’ exhibition for next year.  But as I sat and listened I kept looking at the artwork around me and was drawn back into the brilliant reds hanging around me.  The color had been haunting me to the point where it had to come out in some form.  I interrupted my willow piece to do something crafty, kind of like eating some salty potato chips when you know you should be eating salad—there was an immediate craving I had to satisfy.  Because I’m also focused on the Christmas season I made two wreaths.  The first included the ‘Barnes’ red, while the second one blazes with it.  Now that I’ve finished the second one I’ll get back to my willow. 

The big family project for the week is home decoration for Christmas.  The boys are hugely enthusiastic to tackle this, having already put a tree and lights around their room.  They put on jingly elf garb, played Christmas carols and started decorating.  The tree was the target for yesterday.  They put up all the ornaments collected over the years, so it’s fun for me to pull them out and remember the stories around them.  Next on the agenda is cookie baking for the boys and stollen for me (yes, spellchecker, I mean stollen—I’d wrest an umlaut from you too if I could, Microsoft!). 
 Grandma tells me every year that she doesn’t care if the house is clean or if anything else is on the menu, but we must have stollen (two kinds) for Christmas morning breakfast.  As I sat and enjoyed my Sunday morning espresso (thanks Jim!) and read the newspaper, I came across a big image of my work from the Convention Center exhibit (thanks Herald Times!).  The only thing that was missing was pie.  I hear raspberry goes well with the holidays!

Until next week,

Martina Celerin