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:   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.