Friday, October 30, 2009

Frida and Her Huipil

The work on Frida progresses -- I have chosen an exquisite cross-stitched panel of unknown folk origins.  It is most likely Central Asian.  The iconography features concatenated diamonds with rows of swastikas.  Now a word on that symbol -- the name comes from the Sanskrit and it means "auspicious symbol."  It has different connotations depending on whether the running cross runs clockwise or counterclockwise.  Because positive and negative directions run along those registers, I believe this piece speaks of the wholeness of creation.  Never mind the fascist co-opt of that symbol.  Frida despised the fascists with all her considerable passions.  The swastika seems to cross-culturally universal, and it has showed up in diverse places from Buddhist to South American cultures.  The panel may even be Hmong (Miao) of southern China.  But my goal was to evoke Frida's taste for the rich, complex and finely crafted, so while it doesn't fit into the panoply of Mexican regional tradition, it feels right to me.  Her earring is a milagro of a smiling sun, which I think works, because the swastika is also believed to be a symbol of the sun, as well as of an active, creative life.  Next step, draft the pattern for her undergarments -- in all the resources I have seen, nowhere does it mention Frida's underwear, except the tortuous corsets that braced her poor spine.  I expect she either wore none at all or the very best embroidered, appliqued, monogrammed silk.  I think it'll be a camisole and tap pants with lace inserts, and a monogram, of course.  Frida actually monogrammed her own sheets in a Gothic script with black floss.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Flat Frida, a Work in Progress

About once a year, I like to make a Frida Kahlo doll, based on one of her self portraits.  Usually, it's sometime around Dias.  This year, after reading Hererra's biography and Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress, a book presenting her priceless collection of traditional Mexican dress, I feel I have a very close likeness.  As I embroidered the face, I was thinking, "aye, Frida-linda."  She will be a bed doll (a pro-pros, eh?), based on the pattern used in the 1920s.  I haven't decided yet about her dress, but I expect it will be a huipil and a Tejuana-style skirt with lacy white ruffle in good cotton batiste (if I can find it).  Or silk?  Her skirts were often silk and silk velvet.  Sumptuous!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Traveling Gingerbread

Here's a great recipe with a story.  It was given to me by a friend in 1976, written on the back of a campaign letter for Carter/Mondale.  That gives it some vintage cachet, I'd say.  The first time I baked this was one of those Thanksgivings when we went from house to house to see everyone.  That's when it earned its name; a good friend liked it so much, he humbly asked, "is this traveling gingerbread?"  So here it is,

Traveling Gingerbread

Serves 12 - 35 minutes - 350 degrees - 9x12 pan
1/2 c. sugar                      1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. butter                     1 tsp. ginger
1 c. dark molasses            1/2 tsp. cloves
2-1/2 c. sifted flour           1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. soda                 1 c. hot water
1 egg, beaten

Cream sugar & butter.  Add beaten egg and molasses (try substituting real maple syrup sometime, yummy yum-yum, but adjust moisture since the syrup is thinner).  Add dry ingredients sifted together.  Add hot water and beat until smooth.  The batter should be very soft.  Pour the batter into a greased and floured pan and bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees.  Cool, cut in squares and top with  whipped cream or frosting.  I like lemon sauce best -- a simple thing of fresh lemon, corn starch and sugar.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Plant Senescence (Autumn Colors)

We think they are turning colors, but what is really happening is that the chlorophyll that makes them green begins to recede, whilst the leaf base develops a "cork layer" that closes its venous system and gradually disconnects it from the tree.  The color you see is the tree's natural leaf color, minus the chlorophyll that masks it during the growing season and helps to nourish the tree.  The saturated colors create a bittersweet mood for me, a confusion of excitement, anticipation and nostalgia.  They are so bright on a cloudy day next to gray Puget Sound that they enter your eyes like sunshine, and scatter light in dreary places.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Home for the Holidays

Here's one of my doll assemblages, based on the mummies of Guanajuato.  All decked out for Dias de los Muertos and visited by a happy moth.  Ingredients:  a piece of a desert-wracked rusty metal sign with the most delicious peeling yellow paint, an old t-shirt (the moth), feathers, acrylic paint, paper flowers, paper clay, an old religious medal that turned up in a box of old buttons, tea dyed muslin, black taffeta.  And what pleases me very much, he has been adopted just in time for the holiday by a real fan of spooky art in Walnut Creek, CA.  I had just about given up, thinking well, folks won't understand how cute, funny, ironic and beautiful this doll is, they just get creeped out and think I must be some sort of an axe murderer or something.  But no, not at all, at least one discriminating collector understands.  Thank you, Lady X, you have restored my faith, may you have the most wonderful, juicy, spooky, hilarious happy Halloween and Dias, and even though it was a bit hard to let my friends El Guanajuatotito y Polillo go, I know they go to a good home.  Happy, happy.  And, warning to all who take up doll making, you do get attached to these characters as they take shape in your hands; I'll miss El G y P for sure.  Adios!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Secrets of Tomb 10A at Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Go here, and see an exciting show that proves the immense value of ancient artifacts is not intrinsic, as in treasure, but as in the record of lives lived 4,000 years ago, that still preserves a sense of their bustling vitality.  It's time travel.  This show was mounted from artifacts already in the collection, languishing in storage, but now brought to light.  Beautifully carved scenes of daily life and ordinary people, in which the ancient craftsman showed great care and delight, seem to repopulate a long lost past.  You can easily imagine the Nile, quite as busy with commerce and travel as any modern waterway.  All the more touching to understand that the inhabitants of this rifled tomb were a regional governor and his wife, persons of some wealth, but not of exalted divine royal lineages.  Of the body so carefully prepared for eternity, all that is left is a head.  It is humbling to look into the face of a person 4,000 years old.  Curators say it is not possible to know whether the head is that of the governor or the lady, but what would you guess from the features still faintly youthful and gracile?  You can compare this face to the carved features of votive statues from the tomb and make a guess.  And, to read between the lines, wouldn't it be mere justice to send these lovely people and things home, where their ka(s) can find them?  In a real sense, provenance of these antiquities always goes back to an original robbery, doesn't it?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Virtual Tour of Casa Azul

If you will explore the Museu de Frida Kahlo, Casa Azul, link to the right, there is a wonderful virtual tour of the house where Frida was born, lived and died.  Frida fans, enjoy!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress

I have this wonderful book after waiting for for two years.  Frida's personal wardrobe was sealed in a dressing room after her death and was to remain sealed until 50 years after the death of Diego Rivera, in 2007.  Now the room has been opened and the exciting work of curatorship and restoration has progressed to reveal these incredible garments.  Frida wore the native dress of her land, but also wore garments from China and Guatemala.  And she had some marvelous shoes, handwoven and embroidered handbags, and brilliant ribbons for her headdress.  It's especially exciting to compare, for instance, the Tehuana headress she actually wore to the one she painted in "Diego in My Thoughts," and see just how masterful a painter she was.  As Diego had said, "you are the only one who has painted the life of a woman from inside," yet her clothing, still scented with her cigarettes and perfume when found, vividly brings her to life, so much so that I dreamed of Frida one night after sitting up late pouring over this sumptuous treat of a book.  It's a fine companion to the biographies written by the contributors.  Recommended reading.  And now, I shall don my huipil!  A mujer doesn't have to wait until Dias de los Muertos to enjoy such comfort and luxury.  [Amazon has the best price:]

Rain, Rain Here to Stay

Summer's gone.  Sometimes we squeeze out a few, rare, brilliant October days in Western Washington, but today is not the day.  Fat rain drums on the roof, gurgles in the downspouts and drips from the eaves.  Yesterday was like that, tomorrow will be like that. All this comes to us on prevailing southwesterlies saturated as they pass over the Pacific, then drop their cargo to rise over the crest of the Cascades.  Somewhere up there, it's snow, but down here, my driveway runneth over.  It's the Pineapple Express. 'Think I'll go brew up some soup.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's Jewelry Making Time Again ...

I've revived a dainty rose bead (real petals used) necklace, and put it up on Etsy.  Very girly, totally unique and affordable as well. 

Time to give the dollies a rest and play with some of my favorite jewelry parts, which are begging to become something more.  Like this curious etched piece that I made in a Keith LoBue class ---

It's "Mr. Wind" blowing up a storm, image from a very old Bell Telephone brochure, patinated to the natural verdigris color, in jeweler's bronze.  (River rock not included.)  So, it's off to new adventures in my workroom.  For me, jewelry is always adventurous and filled with interest and story telling.  It will be fun to see how Mr. Wind ends up, and I'll keep you posted.

Scale:  4.5 cm x 2.5; 20ga.

PS:  I like the rock, too.  Looks like an asteroid at this scale, doesn't it?  Both these picks enlarge if you click them, and then the rock is full of craters!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


 The treasures are going home.  Check the History Buff link on the right for more news.  This is a very happy outcome.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Schoolmarm is on Etsy Now

Check my Etsy gadget below and visit my little shop of ghostly characters.  They're seeing their favorite holiday just around the corner, where the veil between their world and ours gets thin.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Louvre Is In the Wrong

It is time for great institutions to cease purchasing stolen goods.  If collectors refused items without legal provenance, it would do much to defeat the tomb robbers, wouldn't it?  I for one would like to see the artifacts of this great civilization repatriated, to a home where their ka(s) can rest.  Surely, out of context, they are only treasure, when in truth, they are so much more than that.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Louvre and the Berlin Museum returned these to their home?  Imagine Nefertiti's beauty at home again.  Imagine the joy of that return.  Imagine the joy of the return of the noble dead to the land of their birth.  I wonder if we shouldn't see any Egyptian artifact outside of Egypt as contraband, even if archaeologists of other countries acquired them.  And another thing!  Did you know that when Napoleon went into Egypt, his soldiers made potshots at the face of the Sphinx, that plundered mummies were taken away, and it became a fad of the elite and they would have unwrapping parties, that the ground remains of their bodies became a nostrum, as though the beautiful mystery of their true lives could heal the ill so greedy for life.  No such travesty could heal anything.  Repatriation could, though.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Another Ghostly Figure

A mere shadow of her former self, yet somehow happier (she's kicking up her heels to show the giddy stockings that match the hornet), the Ghostly Schoolmarm.  She haunts the Museum of Antiquities and Dry Goods Emporium and discusses ancient history with the mummies but is also very happy to have free access to the dry goods as well; she can be a bit of a poltergeist, but it's retail therapy in the afterlife where things are free.