Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What's a Weir??

I just had to share this one with you! This is a cropped view of a picture I snapped out my studio window .. though I will no doubt go to hell for having taken it. I've never actually asked permission to take their photograph (though there have been many occasions when a shot begged to be taken), but as I understand it it's verboten. But there they were .. right in our "front yard." Couldn't resist. Took it through the window screen.

That's Cara on the right .. she thought they were in her yard, too, as it was her barking about it that brought me to the window.

Apparently it has always been the case that the fishing is pretty darn good on "Eel Weir" (pronounced "wire" locally), and the Amish can be opportunists when the situation allows. We've seen a Great Blue Heron out there catching fish, too ... and as anyone with a pond knows, Herons KNOW where the fish are!

For an interesting rendition of the job an eel weir performs, check out this site. And this is OUR particular Eel Weir .. my husband tells me (he's the historian here) eels caught at this sight used to go to upscale restaurants in NYC. In another time, long ago and far away.

OK .. beads beckon! : )

Back to the Basics

After several weeks of some ache and discomfort in my wrist, I did a little research online and discovered that I seem to be suffering from an RSI - Repetitive Strain Injury. When you consider all the computer work and wrist wrenching that goes on in my studio, it's really quite amazing that it hasn't happened sooner. What I found online was a whole host of maladies that fall under this RSI heading, the most well-known being carpal tunnel syndrome. When my thumb began to occasionally feel numb about a week ago, I then went in search of some self-care sites. I found and have been using some stretching exercises, acupressure points and massage techniques - all of which have helped. Despite minor progress I made an appt. with an orthopaedic guy in town .. though as he's only IN town twice a week, I can't get in until June 13. So let us hope the things I've been doing continue to help and not hinder the situation.

In the interim I've been lightening up quite a bit in the shop .. there are several projects sitting half completed as they involve a lot of wrist wrenching activities. So .. it's back to basics for a while. I figure it took me three to four weeks to get to this uncomfortable point - it may take as long, or longer, to regain my strength and banish whatever is causing the discomfort. I'm thinkin' there are gonna be a lotta pearls and beaded things comin' outta here in the next coupla weeks! : )

The necklace above was completed during my artisan guild's Open House celebration at the Shops at 25 West in Little Falls on Sunday, May 20. Not a lot of pain in knotting. I finished it up here in the shop with a couple 14k jump rings and a 14k gold handcrafted "swan" clasp. The pearls are 5.5mm to 6mm cultured fresh water pearls in a color called Marine Teak - a really rich coppery brown shade - knotted on chocolate silk cord. As usual, if you're reading this on my blog and not in an email, you can click on the pic for a closer look.

Another thing I have to do is keep these posts short (my husband is no doubt laughing at the thought of my trying to do that ) .. I think it was computer activity and not jewelry work that did it. So I'm off to dig into some bead drawers and see what wonders are waiting to be rediscovered!

Ciao for now!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fly away home ...

Anyone who makes and sells stuff will eventually get approached by people looking for donations .. gonna happen, trust me. But I have always, pretty much right from the beginning, looked at charitable donations of my jewelry as a sort of advertising opportunity. Rarely, if ever, do the recipients decline my request to include a little placard showing other pieces I make, or a flyer announcing a future event in which I'll be participating. Plus I get a tax deduction for the material cost of the piece. I do try really, really hard not to think about the fact that I'm losin' out on the retail value of the piece when I'm takin' that material cost tax deduction, however. I may be charitable, but a saint I ain't ; )

Usually I just snag a piece out of inventory if I'm approached for a donation; but occasionally I'll get an idea for something specific. I'd been thinking for over a year about a piece for Waterfowl U.S.A., a local chapter of a larger national organization akin to Ducks Unlimited. An organization like this wouldn't even have been on my radar, but our contractor - a guy who knows pretty much EVERYbody in town - suggested their annual banquet and auction was something I should be involved in. This is the guy who was responsible for my making a spectacular sale to a local jewelry store back during the holidays; so when he tells me I should be involved in a particular annual event, I say OK, who do I call?!?! So, I called the current president of the local chapter last June (their annual banquet is in May) after I was made aware of the organization and their annual dinner, introduced myself, explained that a friend we had in common had suggested I participate in the 2007 event. He was surprised .. actually, neither one of us had been in this position before - an artisan offering a donation without being asked!! Egads! This is what it must be like in a parallel universe!! Anyway, we had a nice conversation. I gave him all my contact information and that was it.

Well, from that point on I started thinking about what I could do that would be duck related. Most of what was on the list of auction items from 2006 was artwork by a well known local artist, and many various duck decoys ... with only a few other items scattered among them (a hand made waterfowl quilt, an oak blanket chest, pottery, a hall entry bench ... nice stuff, to be sure). I was thinking I could include a couple of my nicer pieces ... a hand knotted pearl necklace and maybe a Byzantine bracelet .. but the "big" thing ... the "advertising piece" - the design that might spark some interest - needed to make a little splash, so to speak : )

It all began with some polymer clay beads I spotted on a site I monitor occasionally for new things .. they were pretty much the exact colors you find on a female mallard. So I bought 'em .. twelve little roly poly round beads and ten cylindrical beads, all using the same swirling color combos. I combined them on a sterling charm bracelet chain with smoky quartz, Swarovksi pearls and crystals, mother of pearl and coconut shell .. finishing it with a faceted apatite briolette on one end.

I had mentioned to the creator of the polymer clay beads what I was going to do with them; and when she sent them she included two additional freebies that looked exactly like little wings! So with the two extra round beads left over from the bracelet, and the little wings, I made earrings. (If you're reading this on my blog, and not in a "new post" email, you can double click on either pic and see it close up).

Once I had them all assembled, I made a little placard - mostly so the colors evident in the female mallard would be on hand for comparison. Gotta toot yer own horn occasionally. : ) Here's the set all together ...

I called the Pres again in February (or maybe it was March), just a heads up, and spoke to his wife. She was quite excited about the prospect of jewelry in the auction and thought the wives would all be delighted to finally have something of interest to bid on for once !! Another nice chat .. once again passed on all the usual information.

And here's the kicker: I never got a call. Didn't know when the event was taking place and didn't realize it had passed until I saw a little piece in the paper about it. So .. here's a whimsical n ducky set with no where to go.

I may put it out at a show or two, but I'm not sure if anyone other than a waterfowl enthusiast would care .. maybe I'm wrong. I may send a letter to Pres with the three Publisher pages I created for this set and the other two pieces (which I had intended to include with the pieces when handing them over) and ask if it wouldn't be too much trouble, could he please CALL ME next year. Not too much to ask, do ya think?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Crafts person is just one role I play ...

... the other is "Mrs. Executive Director", aka Offsite Support. If you've read the bit over on the right about why we're now planted in northern New York, you'll already know that my better half is Executive Director of the Frederic Remington Art Museum here in Ogdensburg.

I occasionally get called upon to shmooz with attendees at events throughout the year, provide an extra pair of editing eyes for various publications, set up all the silent auction items for the end of the year funding raising event (in addition to digging up a few auction items as well), and am generally back-up support whenever needed. As our lives rarely coincided in this way while we were in our respective finance and telecom careers in Albany, this has been a new and fun melding of our individual talents.

One of the things we need to begin doing in this relatively new life we've entered up here is entertain more. While not total recluses in our other life (B.O. - Before Ogdensburg), we rarely if ever entertained .. friends and family on rare occasions, and that was about it. And for those of you for whom this skill comes naturally, you'll have no idea what I'm talking about when I say entertaining on a large scale intimidates me just a bit. We, like the good little students we are, have been working up to it. I'm happy to say that it does get easier with each and every opportunity. And I now actually look forward to the chance to try some new set up, idea, or recipe ... much like jewelry designing. What keeps it interesting is maintaining existing skills and incorporating some new ones occasionally to keep it exciting! : ) And, of course, the whole point of the thing is to get to know your guests a little better, if you don't already have a good handle on them and can just enjoy the opportunity of spending a little time with them. Being a gregarious sort, I like this part best, especially when there's someone new to meet or some interesting new tidbits to file away.

This week had a couple of wonderful "hosting" opportunities ... just last night we brought the assistant curator of the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute from Williamstown, MA out to dinner. He's here for the week researching some of Remington's sketches and journals for any information they might hold in helping him to better understand a piece of Remington art the Clark Institute owns (one of only three Remingtons the Clark has in its collection). The piece is one of Remington's nocturnes .. a body of work where Remington explored the many and varied sources of nighttime illumination. This particular one shows an Indian on horseback, snow on the ground, stars in the sky, a settlement of some sort off in the distance .. it's somewhat vague in its overall setting and meaning. And therein lies the need to research. The curator believes it may have been purchased by the Clarks shortly after its completion, as there is very little information about its being exhibited anywhere. He'd specifically like to understand Remington's mind in creating it. What kind of Indian (both the horse and the rider's accoutrements may or may not provide clues) and where is it set. Even the title of the piece has come into question. The curator (aka Cody) is even looking into the constellation represented in the night sky - though he feels he may only discover it depicts a location east of the Hudson, as this is where Remington spent most of his life. Still .. a wonderful little exercise in historic detection, and a lot of fun to talk about!

The other opportunity was here at the house Sunday night .. the museum was hosting a couple of personable guys (an engineer and a sales rep) from a company whose primary product is aftermarket turbine parts. They had approached the museum to discuss the possibility of providing an exciting new way of creating Remington bronzes (for sale). They had sent a mock up ahead (kept under wraps by the curator on punishment of hard stares and a severe chastising if unveiled before the formal presentation) and were driving down from their arrival in Montreal, where they were doing a tradeshow on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Though it's only a couple hours to Ogdensburg from Montreal, we really had no idea what time they'd be arriving; so we decided to keep it simple with a variety of cold cuts, fresh bread and sandwich makings and a bunch of fresh greens and salad fixings. We initially thought dinner out would be the way to go, but being Ogdensburg, little is available or was open .. and the one place that WAS available was shutting down at 7 PM (and on Mother's Day, too!!). As it turned out, they arrived at the house around 8:30. I set everything up on the island between the kitchen and dining area and everyone helped themselves. Informal is sometimes best .. and I used to travel a lot; I know a heavy meal after a long haul tends to weigh ya down - especially so late in the evening. Sandwiches and salad were perfect .. and apparently they thought so too, as they were the reason I now have the incredible floral arrangement you see at the top of this post sittin' on my diningroom table. Totally unexpected, but received with a great big smile! The piece is one of those designer arrangements ... Todd Oldman has tacked his name on it and called it Houndstooth Baking Dish (it arrived unharmed via FedEx in a cardboard container that must've been an award winner in engineering). Yellows, greens, a little white and those splashes of little red berries .. wow. I love flowers, but I especially like things out of the ordinary; and this little number is not your usual stickin'-out-of-a-vase flower arrangment!! Thanks guys! Ya shouldn't have, but I truly appreciate that you did : )

... Though I'm wondering if the "Baking Dish" theme means I should offer a hot meal next time?!? ; )

Monday, May 14, 2007

Silver is a nobel metal

I had hoped to get these two images posted before last weekend - when I had a couple shows to do and a trip to Albany to get to the second of the two - but things don't always go as planned.

I've got a little breathing room this week - though I have a gallery Open House in Little Falls on Sunday, so will probably spend the balance of the week trying to pound out multiples in copper and silver of several of the chain maille designs you've already seen here.

The image on top is another new one called Harvest Moon. Though I must tell you I found it nearly impossible to photograph the thing in a way that allows the viewer to discern the pattern. I even tried hanging it from a decorative hook inside my light cube. When viewed this way, it was easy to see the pattern - but then, like earrings when I try to snap a clear, unblurred image, it wouldn't stop swaying long enough to get the picture. It's a light weight, delicate design, though a little tricky to put together. The alternate name for the pattern is Tomato Sandwich, because - when held taut on both ends - the pattern reveals a series of rings "sandwiched" between two rings. The Harvest Moon aspect is also visible when the bracelet is held taut .. three inter-connected rings seem to represent a waxing or waning moon.

I took the second image in an attempt to get a quick representation of a variety of different types of wire bracelets I've been working on .. and hope to create as the design ideas flow (as I have a TON of beads, it's my Design Muse I'm waitin' for!!) The top bracelet is a variation of the Byzantine chain with the addition of some gorgeous, handmade Bali beads; the bottom is the Harvest Moon bracelet; and the two on the sides are "brangles" - a term coined by Connie Fox, one of those wonderfully creative jewelry folks out there willing to share their skills with the masses (brangle, of course, being a combination of bracelet and bangle). These are created using a large gauge wire core on which twisted wire, ancient trade beads, handmade lampwork glass beads, sterling, and various handmade and purchased charms and dangles are added or attached. They're best made to order, but I've found that, like regular beaded bracelets, there's an "average" size that fits most people. The good news for those who revel in their individuality is that these bracelets are usually one-of-a-kind. There is a solid sterling design which can be repeated; but when you're working with old trade beads and individually made glass lampwork beads, it's difficult to find two exactly alike. But then, this is what generally makes handcrafted artisan jewelry desirable. I stopped wanting to look like everyone else around age 16 ... when I finally decided that Karen spelled KarAn was pretty cool afterall. I'm like that with my jewelry, too.

OK .. to explain the subject of this post, I must begin with the mundane: making and cleaning rings and finished bracelets. Wire is a pretty cool medium in which to work .. I haven't yet mastered it, but I get a little closer with every new project, tutorial and design. The task of winding rings on a mandrel and then cutting them is an assembly line kinda routine. I try to make as many as possible when I have all the devices set up to do it. Once I have a little pile of ring spirals, I go through the process of cutting them, suspending the cut rings on a piece of teardrop shaped copper that gets twisted at the top to hold them all on, and then dumping them all into my rotary tumbler with some steel shot, some water, ammonia and a drop of Dawn dishwashing liquid. Tumbling for an hour or two will both "work harden" them a little bit (as did the act of winding them onto a mandrel) and clean them up as well. After I've made a bracelet with the resulting rings, I dump the bracelets in and tumble them for another hour or two. Mostly because after handling the rings in the making of a bracelet they get a bit dull and a little marred. They always come out of the tumbler sparkling. I'll often toss one of my own solid sterling bracelets in along with new ones, just to clean them.

Just before the show on the 5th, I had several copper and several sterling bracelets I wanted to tumble for a bit and so dropped them all into the tumbler together with my usual solution, set the thing in motion, and went off to romp with the dog and run some lunch time errands. When I returned to the tumbler a couple hours later, my sterling bracelets would about blind ya, they were so bright n shiny. The copper bracelets, however, were no longer their lovely coppery color, but were totally washed out. Or at least that was my initial impression. What I had discovered I'd inadvertently done by putting both copper and sterling in the tumbler, together with ammonia, was to plate the copper with a thin layer of silver. Apparently the ammonia worked as an electrolyte. If I had tumbled the copper along with iron, it would have been the iron that would have emerged plated with copper. Something about Silver being more "nobel" than copper allowed a layer of silver to come off my sterling and overlay all the copper in the tumbler. So, instead of copper I now have some "silver toned" copper. Next to the sterling bracelets, they don't quite look like sterling ... and I have no idea how long the silver will last or how easy it will be for the silver to wear off. It will tarnish, however. I at first thought I might run them all through the tumbler again ... without the ammonia this time .. and see if I couldn't tumble them long enough to remove the layer of silver; but they're really kinda pretty the way they are. And at the copper price, you get what looks like a silver bracelet!!

Who knew you could silver plate in a tumbler?!?! Kinda cool, kinda humorous .. but definitely a lesson learned!!

OK .. back to the bench. Got a busy week ahead! Talk to you again soon : )