August 9, 2017
I had been thinking for a while that I wanted to improve and enlarge the stone patio that I had built 10 years ago or so on the west side of the house, but the job was daunting. The entire retaining wall would have to be dismantled and rebuilt and there is a lot of stone in a four foot high wall that is thirty feet long. I always know that I am ready to begin another stone project when I see a stone on one of my walks that I can’t resist carrying back to the house. One morning in early spring, I spied just such a stone, triangular in shape, about 2.5 inches thick and 16 inches on a side. It was covered with lichen and had fallen off one of our old walls. Without thinking about it too much, I picked it up and carried it the few hundred yards back to the house. A few days later, again without thinking about it too much, I started taking the old patio wall apart. I find that sometimes if you think about something too much, you never do it! After setting aside the top most stones, a collection of fossil laden and stream smoothed beauties, I started throwing stones off the wall at a steady pace. It really did not take long to make a huge mess in the yard, I was fully committed!
I love doing stone work in the springtime; it is a great motivator for getting out of doors during one of the most beautiful times of the year . The apple blossoms from the orchard smell wonderful, the birds are singing, and the black flies buzz merry circles all around your head. A few years ago when I was building a wall in a wooded area, I witnessed two male Pileated woodpeckers swooping through the trees, battling for territory.
When most of the wall was down, I laid out the new arc for the wall which makes a graceful curve around a bizarre Honey Locust tree which is covered with 3 inch long spikes that can, and have pierced our lawn mower tires. I feel quite sure that Sleeping Beauty was pierced by one of these thorns. And by the way, while taking pictures today, one of those thorns pricked me too. So…. I wonder what it will be like in 100 years when I awaken in 3017.
Stone by stone the wall grows taller.
Building a wall is a great metaphor for tackling anything difficult. One stone at a time and all of that. I find myself humming happily and completely absorbed as I work, I guess you could say that it is a form of therapy.
I had to make regular runs out for more stone pulling a trailer behind our heavy duty garden tractor. Because the wall is built on an embankment, I needed a lot of fill stones. I found some old chunks of concrete, left over from somebody’s project… and into the wall they went. We reasoned that we were discovering the remains of the original chimney when we found a quantity of bricks mostly buried at the edge of the woods. The bricks were really useful to use as spacers and shims on the back side of the wall. Fortunately, we have 13 acres of land which is well endowed with stones, so there are always plenty! I had to pay particular attention to the strength of the wall as it curved down the hill past the spike tree. This is where I was not careful enough last time and the wall had started to pull apart. Here in the Northeast, the frost heaves can really damage a wall that is not built well.
I worked on the wall for about a month, but only a few hours each day. It is very heavy work, and for me this works best.
Many people ask me for tips on wall building so here are a few. It is always one over two and two over one…but after abiding by the stone masons credo, I build small sections that are level and then try to seat a larger stone there in order to connect the front of the wall to the back for instance. I fit the stones pretty tightly so that if the frost pushes on a section of the wall, there is no empty place just out of sight for the stone to move to. I always wear gloves and I don’t pick up anything that I am not sure that I can handle. I roll, or flip heavy stones rather than lift them. I don’t work when the stones and work area are wet and muddy, one’s footing absolutely has to be secure. Lastly, I try not to be too attached to a section that I have just built. If I am stuck, or if I think that I can make it better, down it comes. It is worth it! At the end of a project, you have something that will be there for a very long time. People also ask me if I build walls for money. No, not usually although I have done so a couple of times. It is more fun for me to work on our own property where I can really enjoy the results.
August 9, 2017
We loved the setting of the new house. The ancient Sugar Maples in the yard, the apple orchard, the barn, and the pond made for an idyllic New England setting and we decided to go for it…. unfortunately, our “new” circa 1850 saltbox style house was just as small as our former circa 1850 saltbox house. No problem, we are good at renovation!
Although the house was old, most of the interior had been rebuilt in the 1960’s after a catastrophic fire. The 60’s not being my favorite architectural period made contemplating another big renovation/restoration plan seem like a reasonable idea. Like most renovation projects, the scope the project grew and GREW. Every time we turned a corner, we discovered something else that needed to be redone. Maybe I will blog about that another time.
Our renovations took the better part of a year, during which time we continued to live in our old house.
our son wasn’t at all sure about this…the fireplace before and after
After we were well underway on the main living spaces I decided to address the issue of the 8’ by 8’ 1960’s stone fireplace that dominated the small front room. It was too modern looking for my taste; I wanted something smaller made of river stone. Since we were doing a complete renovation on the house, it was not a problem to wreck off the old fireplace and fill the living room with piles of stone and bags of mortar while I worked on the project. Bret and Amy gave us access to the stones in their creek and I rebuilt the face of the fireplace with this beautiful worn stone. We had a lot of fun searching the creek beds for the perfect stones with which to build the arch. Our friend Gavin, a real stone mason, built me an ingenious wooden form to support the arch during the construction phase. The form was designed to drop down after the mortar had set, and it worked perfectly.
We have lived in the new house for 12 years now, and it has been fun rebuilding the many collapsed walls on the property .
The most ambitious wall to rebuild in terms of length was the 300 foot wall that lines the driveway.
The most ambitious wall in terms of the weight of the stones was this one to the right of the barn which contains many huge limestones. I found that with some antique pry bars and a heavy duty hand truck, you can move stones weighing a couple hundred pounds by yourself!
This wall defines the courtyard to the side of the barn. We keep our maple syrup boiler in this section of the barn, and boil the sap down in the courtyard in early spring.
August 9, 2017
I had always collected small stones and have always loved anything built of stone, but I never thought of doing it myself until I moved into my first house(circa 1850) which was so close to the road that the cars whizzing by seemed about to enter the living room. After an accident during which a car spun out and overturned just a few feet past our house, (nobody was hurt thankfully), we were very motivated to build a stone wall barrier between our house and the road.
My future husband Paul and I each tackled a section on either side of the front walkway. Neither of us had any experience, we only knew the basic stone mason’s mantra of “one over two and two over one”. Thanks to the relatively flat local bluestone, our efforts were somewhat successful and along the way I discovered that I totally loved wall building! For me it is a great complimentary activity to the fine detail work required in jewelry making. If you like doing jigsaw puzzles, you might like wall building. As in puzzle building, one has to remember the location of as many stones as possible from the pile, and be able to picture how they will fit. I particularly love that with perseverance and some time, a woman of average size and strength can build a massive wall!
Over the years that we lived in and renovated the house, my most ambitious stone project was working on re
storing the collapsed terraces behind the house. If you like gardening, (which I do), stone walls provide a fabulous background for flowers. While I worked on the terraces, Paul rebuilt the gorgeous exposed stone foundation.
We loved the old house with it’s hand hewn beams and wide plank floors, but by and by we had two sons and as the boys grew, our little house seemed to become ever smaller. The living room contained the wood stove, our only source of heat, and so we all gathered there in cold weather. We shared the space first with toy trains, tracks and cars, which were followed by a vast collections of K’nex and then legions of Legos. After stepping on lots of small plastic parts repeatedly, we realized that we had to move to a larger space. We looked for a new house for a couple years and then were lucky enough to know someone who knew someone who was selling an old farm house that was 400 feet off the road. The hardest part of moving was leaving behind my terraces and walls so I was really happy to see that our next house had plenty of stones around!
April 22, 2017
After leaving Killarney National Park, we continued our journey south to County Cork and the home of my Irish ancestors, the McKewans and the Renehens. This was my second visit to this area; the first was in 1976 when my mother and I bicycled the Irish coast exploring the homeland of my great great grandfather.
As we journeyed south, I was intrigued with the craggy stone walls that seemed to be everywhere. Huge slabs of limestone stacked at all angles made for amazing sculptural formations. Having built a limestone wall myself I know how sharp and heavy this stone is to work with and that the larger stones must weigh well in excess of 100 pounds!
Southern Ireland, which is moderated by warm ocean currents, does not have frost heaves like we do here in the Northeast. This aids the long term survival of these wonderful improbable walls!
Our hosts took us on a hike along the wild southern coast where we spent a lovely day. The kids found a beach with an endless supply of perfect skipping stones and thus were happily engaged while I took dozens of photos of the stone walls and escarpments all around. Some of my favorite one of a kind and production pieces are from drawings made here.
April 20, 2017
One of the things that I love about traveling is the release from the usual responsibilities… like blogging! In the spring of 2007, we received an invitation to visit the southern coast of Ireland from my long time craft show friend quilter Cherry Schacher who had recently inherited a house on the sea near Schull. The idea, which at first seemed impossible, gained traction when I found tickets to Shannon at a great price, yay! We packed up the kids, (then 9 and 13), and were off on our adventure just a couple weeks after the idea was hatched!
Anyone who has traveled to Europe knows that odd jet lagged feeling of being so excited and at the same time so tired after a long flight. We really needed to get out and walk after a long night on the plane, and determined to stop at beautiful Killarney Park. The opportunity to row out to a small island on the lake there presented itself, and provided for a lovely picnic and an exploration of the ruins of the 12th century Augustinian priory. As always, I was keeping an eye out for interesting rocks, and there I found many! My geologist brother tells me that the combination of hard and soft rocks, (in this case sandstone and basalt), make for these very interestingly eroded specimens. Two of the rocks discovered on the island inspired the Fossil Pin and the Killarney Bracelet!
February 16, 2017
It is my belief that most of us on both sides of this great political chasm that exists in our country want the same things. Peace, prosperity, safety, clean air to breath, clean water to drink and a planet that can sustain us. The complex problems facing us as a country, but more importantly as a species, demand that we find a way to work together. These basic human aspirations shared by all people across the country and throughout the world should make for a unification of purpose.
I have been doing a lot of reading and thinking in the last couple months, searching for a way that I could make a difference. Barbara Kingsolver’s recent essay urging everyone to contribute according to their own abilities, was inspirational. “Craftivism” is defined as a world wide movement that operates at the intersection of craft and activism; just what I had in mind! While I have done quite a lot of petition signing, emailing, letter writing and donating to charity since the election, I wanted to also bring my own talents forward to create works that in some way could help to make the world a better place.
I have been an avid outdoors person for the whole of my life, spending time almost every day hiking in the woods, cross country skiing, and enjoying being out on Adirondack lakes in various small boats. I find a great deal of personal solace and artistic inspiration in the natural world. I passionately believe that we must act to preserve our wild places and the balance in our environment. The Sierra Club, 350.org and NRDC are all working hard to educate and influence public policy to these ends. I have already donated to these organizations, but I wanted to do more to promote awareness about climate change in particular, and raise money to benefit these organizations. I designed a new pendant and earrings which I am titling “Rising Waters”. I will be donating 10% of each sale from the Rising Waters series to the above mentioned organizations.
Like many of you, my family and I participated in the Sisters March on January 21. The world wide turnout was just amazing and a wonderful ray of hope amidst all of the negative energy. I believe that we must continue the impetus forward as compassionate caring people. This piece, which I have titled “Onward” came to me in a flash of inspiration. In the center of the circle I have put the arrow symbol indicating our direction and momentum, surrounded by the colors blending together, symbolizing our diversity and unity as a nation. For those who want to spend a little less, I will be offering this piece with no enamel for $55. Both are available for purchase on my website. I will be donating 10% of each sale to Doctors without Borders to support their brave and important work.
I hope that you will join me in my venture in Craftivism! Onward!
December 1, 2015
All through my life, I have gone to the woods for solace and inspiration. While hiking one day, I passed by an escarpment where chunks of rock had fallen out of the cliff face making for an interesting composition. I was intrigued with the idea of these “windows” into the rock. I did some drawings and made my first pieces in my new style. It was the beginning of the Stone Age!
My new one of a kind pieces, all brooches, were done in the champlevé technique. The small enamel “window” inlays were surrounded by silver which was scratched, engraved and oxidized to look more like the stony cliffs that were my inspiration. I created the recessed areas to be filled with enamel by soldering together two thin layers of sterling silver. The “windows” were pierced out of the uppermost layer. I often engraved and scratched the underneath layer; these marks would be visible underneath the transparent enamel.
Later on, I began to experiment with more minimal windows underlaid with fine silver and 24K gold foils. The glimmering of the foils beneath the surface suggested an air of mystery. For my production line of earrings, pendants and pins, I used more color and less silver. I wanted to emulate the soft feel of sea glass and weathered stone, so I began to etch the enamel surface with acid, as well as oxidizing the silver. Finally I had found a direction that felt right and my sales started to increase rapidly. I did my first wholesale show, and a couple of years later was selling my work through more than 100 galleries and museum stores across the country.
October 14, 2015
It was the early 80’s, and at this point in my career, I was committed to being an enamelist, but not committed to being a jeweler. In fact, my first production items were fruit shaped light switch covers. People loved them, and the most frequent comment I heard at shows was “Oh look, switch plates, cute for a kitchen!” Funnily, the most frequent response to that comment from the accompanying friend was “Whaaat! Switch blades?!?” (No!… Not cute for a kitchen). I was surprised one day to see my fruit light switch covers on their own cover…on the back of a catalog in my mailbox. I had been ripped off! I decided to shift my focus entirely to my jewelry line.
I was most often working in the cloisonné technique, and my wall pieces, brooches and pendants were all one of a kind… . I was inspired by botanical forms and used lots of swirly lines, somewhat in the style of Art Nouveau.
I liked cloisonné, but was feeling a little limited in that all of the lines that were such an integral part of the design were of the same dimension, defined by the thin cloisonné wires. It must also be said that cloisonné is a very labor intensive technique! In 1984 I began to work on designing a line of production jewelry in the champlevé technique. Cutting out the intricate piercings with a jewelry saw to form the design was labor intensive as well, but gave me the freedom of form that I had been seeking. After I had fabricated each design, I was able to duplicate the tedious metal work through lost wax casting, and move on to enameling the pieces in a variety of colorways.
I had been taught that it was always necessary to counter enamel. This is when enamel is applied to the back of the piece to balance the stress on the metal from the enamel on the front of the piece, and is meant to insure that the enamel will not pop off of the surface . I certainly found this old adage to be true when enameling large pieces like the switch plates, but I began to experiment with using thinner layers of enamel that were protected on all sides by the silver structure of the piece. To test their durability, I tentatively dropped my prototype on the floor to see what would happen..all OK! Next, I threw it at the floor vigorously, inadvertently put a brooch attached to a blouse through the washing machine, and again inadvertently, ran over a pendant with the car…it looked fine until I ran over it with the car…(not recommended). Once I found that my pieces were sound with no counter enamel, my production time was cut in half! I introduced my “line” for the first time, mostly floral and bird forms. Success was slow in coming, but soon I was getting into larger and better shows. I learned a lot at these shows about selling and the art of display. My first booth was so unstable that I had to construct a spider web of strings across the top to keep it from listing to one side. My second booth utilized some old porch posts that I had laboriously stripped and transported from show to show on the roof of my VW Bug. Unfortunately success was still too slow in coming, and it was not just because of the funky/folksy booths. It was a eureka moment when I realized that though I liked my work, I didn’t love it, and that was the key. I was trying too hard to design for what I thought that other people would like instead of designing for myself. I was rapidly transforming from a hippie into a hipster , and my work had to evolve!
September 20, 2015
Hello all, and welcome to my blog!
Way back when…
I first encountered enameled objects at the World’s Fair in 1964!
I was fascinated with the intricate color inlays. Not long afterwards at a small craft show, I saw further examples of enameling and signed up right away for a class at the local YWCA. By age 12, I had my first kiln and was on my way.
In 1974, I enrolled at Skidmore College as an art major. I dropped out after one year in order “to find myself”, aka move in with my boyfriend. I worked full time as an upholstery seamstress for that year which cured any romantic notions I may have had about life in the blue collar lane. My teacher from the YWCA told me about a famous enamelist, Bill Helwig, who was teaching out in Buffalo. What did I do? I shuffled on out to Buffalo to study with him of course! Bill was an enthusiastic, eccentric and demanding teacher and was encyclopedic in his knowledge of enamels. I have always been grateful for what he taught me. Unfortunately, my arrival in Buffalo a few weeks prior to the bizzard of 77.… coincided with Bill’s decision to leave Buffalo not long after to work at Thompson Enamel.
I stayed on in Buffalo for a while taking jewelry classes. Even though I hated the picayune nature of the work at first, enameling on pre-cut pieces of metal was not where I wanted to go. I have since grown to like sawing and soldering, and it allows me great freedom of form. Most importantly, in 1978 my jewelry instructor took a van full of his students down to the American Craft Council’s flagship show in Baltimore MD . At the show, we studied booth design and booth sat for the exhibiting artists. What a world! Thanks to my teacher Jack Jacquet for opening this door. I determined to be a Baltimore exhibitor some day. It took a while to get there… I was accepted for the first time in 1986, and have exhibited at Baltimore 28 times since!
After leaving Buffalo in 1978, my home base became the foothills of the Catskill mountains. During the summers, I continued my studies in the art of enameling as a scholarship student at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. During the winters, I worked on business building, which in reality meant I was baking a lot of organic muffins and cookies to sell and doing a few shows. I moved into a lonely Civil War era salt box style house located in the middle of a windswept field. One of my roommates in the house was to become my husband…but not for another 14 years. I had a studio along one wall in my bedroom with deeply slanted ceilings. In fact the ceilings were so low, that when I stood up too quickly from my bench my head would bounce off the ceiling. It was cold enough to freeze a glass of water on the night stand and snow blew in through the sashes of the windows. Having the kiln on was a good thing in the winter! In the springtime, pigs from the farm next door regularly escaped and routed up my garden. I knew that I had to move when the farmer next door came over one night all spit and polished and patted me on the back side. I found a house sitting gig for the winters and lived in a teepee from April through November for the next couple years.
to be continued…