Ornamental

My favorite Christmas tradition is decorating the tree, because years ago I banished all the generic sort of ornaments and went with only special and unique ornaments.

I remember buying this ornament at an after Christmas sale (surely the best time to acquire these). It must have been about 35 years ago, or more (that can’t possibly be true). I had gone to the St. Louis Zoo with my friend and his dad, and we went a little crazy buying things. There was something about this fox that spoke to me, so I bought it even though I did not need it.

I bought this one on vacation in Hawai’i and it is a Humahumanukunukuapua’a (spellcheck actually accepted that word) which is the state fish of Hawai’i.

M and I used to go to a couple of conferences every year, and while the men were busy, S and I would go in search of Christmas ornaments. She loved Christmas decorating but was a purist and would not buy anything made in China, which sometimes made it hard to shop. But we were in San Antonio and I found this lovely lizard which was made in Africa, so it came home with me. I can’t remember if she bought anything on that trip.

This elephant came from another conference trip. Me and S had gone to Macy’s in San Francisco and I got this beast, while she found some ornaments that were made in Germany (the former primary source of Christmas things).

I bought this one right here in town, I’m just including it because I love it. And I have had it for the past 32 years.

I’ve only had this one for two years, a friend gave it to me after Miss Dog died, so in many ways this is the most special ornament of my collection. But they all bear the weight of memories of times and places past, like Christmas itself.

Italian for a day

I finally noticed that it is quite close to being Christmas (that ubiquitous music was my first clue) and so I decided that I must drive south to obtain some tamales before it is too late. (If you don’t order them in time, there won’t be any for you). So I called up a friend and asked if she would like to go along, and she said “yes”. And she had other goodies in mind, so off we went.

And what she was in search of was Italian treats. So the first stop was a tiny old-fashioned corner store that has been there since 1921. I know that Dean Martin is an Italian icon, but I did not realize that this was also the case for Bing Crosby and Elvis.

I did stand in the long line to buy a few treats, but they had been sold out of her favorite since 9:00 am. But this was not the only game in town.

So off to the tamale place, only to find that they were sold out. Fortunately, there was another batch steaming away in the kitchen, so we paid for some to be picked up later and then it was off to yet another Italian store.

Eight miles out of town was this family-run farm stand (it’s actually a giant steel barn). It was loaded with everything one needs for a festive feast, freshly made cookies and confections of various sorts, locally produced jams and jellies, frozen ready to bake pies, and much, much more. This was definitely the place to be.

There were the bakers rolling out long strips of dough to make potitca (yes, spellcheck that is how it’s spelled). What is potitca? Well it’s some sort of yeast dough that is traditionally covered with finely chopped walnuts, sugar and cinnamon, then rolled into a spiral and baked. And it is necessary for Christmas! We bought some (and a few other interesting things that they had) and it was back on the road to home. Mission accomplished.

Making crafts

Besides making the occasional piece of art, I make a lot of crafts. What is the difference between art and craft? That depends on who one asks, but in general if a piece is decorative, useful or made by a woman, then it’s craft. And here is what I have been up to.

I did not make this quilt top, but I did all the stitching that holds it together. I have a giant industrial sewing machine and I move it around (by hand) to sew the patterns. I used to do this for customers, but I rather lost interest when computers became common for quilting. I only quilt for myself and two others now. The owner of this top said that my name was in the “Navajo Times” for some quilting I did for her, so I guess I am famous for quilting. 😉

I always say “If you can wrestle an octopus, you can knit a sock,” because I use five needles for this sort of knitting. Some of my friends like to knit the sort of things that are art, but I stick to the practical and mundane.

So this is my most recent project, indigo dyeing bits of fabric. I have done lots of dyeing with chemical dyes, but this type of resist dyeing was a first. These bits are not exemplary, but I love them and can’t wait to make more and sew them into some sort of project.

And then there is this sort of craft, done using a machine (laser cutter). I’m not really sure if it counts as a craft, because I had to learn a computer program, and it was somewhat automatic from there. But this is unique, and I caused it into being, so I suppose I can include it.

This really had minimal input from me, it’s someone else’s program and I made no changes to it. What is it? Why it’s a 3-D printed DNA cookie cutter, but I did sit there and watch the machine do all the work. Perhaps that will be the way of the future, but I hope not. It is interesting to see a machine make something, but I have much more appreciation for items that show the maker’s hand.

Making art

I do end up taking the occasional art class; sometimes it’s to learn a new skill, sometimes it’s to improve a skill, sometimes it’s just to be sociable, and sometimes it’s to meet the instructor (after all, that’s how I got started in blogging). So I had signed up for this class with an artist whose work I admire, it was called “Making Armor”. What exactly this meant, I had no idea, but I forked over my money and showed up on the appointed day.

What we were doing that day was making masks and possibly helmets. The instructor was quite shy, the instructions were to use the basic patterns and make whatever we wanted with them. We were using foam sheets and had a heat gun to shape the masks. He said, you can shape them over your leg after they’re heated up, of course I was the only person wearing shorts. And as usual in a class, I thought of all the stuff I had at home that I needed or wanted. So I worked along as best I could, without any idea of how it might turn out.

I didn’t want to just make a random thing, I wanted it to be part of the series that I had previously done, so here’s the start of it.

The crows have featured in a number of pieces that I have made. And the background reflects images from southwestern chief’s blankets.

This was a piece that I made inspired by Custer’s guidon. He lost, so I made this piece for the winner, incorporating the personal symbols of the winner, lightning bolts, hailstones and a hawk. I put the stars in because the enemy did not stay defeated for long.

So here’s my finished piece and I must say that I’m rather pleased with it.

And the second piece, which has hailstones, lightning and feathers in the back to represent the bird spirit.

This piece is by the artist, and reflects a bit of his personal obsessions. I would say that everyone in the workshop made interesting pieces, but I’m glad that I pushed through doubt and uncertainty to make the sort of art that means something to me.

Art day

I finally decided to become a member of the local art museum, so I don’t have to only go on free days. But, I could get a free cupcake on this day, so off I went. They were celebrating having an art school for 100 years, and thus were having a special exhibit of some of the former students of this art academy. And the pictures were of varying interest to me.

This was this large landscape of a local area, it’s a fairly realistic depiction done up in the bright colors of a sunny day. What was most interesting to me was how the artist used large gobs of paint on this canvas. I could never be so bold (or so extravagant, but I might try).

Styles come and go, and if one wishes to sell one’s work, one must follow the fashion. From the 1930’s or 40’s, here are dated views of the local landscape, and it seems a rather bleak place.

A clearly stylised view of a mining town, it’s not really what they look like, and I can’t imagine wanting to hang it in my living room (which is how I determine the worth of art 😉 , rather than the dollar value).

Then I came across this bit of art. A famous (sort of, he at least made a living at it) artist from the village. Why they were only on the 5th annual celebration the year he was born, he could have attended until the 84th, but I don’t know that he did. It’s clearly done in a grim and dated style, and does not fill my soul with envy, but I was amazed to find that the artist was from a familiar place. I suppose that this is one of the pleasures of art, finding a bit that somehow speaks to one, even if it is a limited language.

More stuff

I went to Santa Fe recently to see M’s cousin. And I was reading the newspaper while I waited for her to get ready to go to dinner, when I saw a notice in the paper about an interesting looking estate sale. I looked up the addy on my phone and thought I knew where this was (as it turns out, I didn’t) so the next day we were off, looking to score some treasures.

The sale was at an impressive house up in the foothills. The guy selling the stuff said that it was mostly from his uncle, although some of it was his. The uncle liked to collect things so much that when he filled up one condo with things, he had to buy another one to live in. And here it all was, and although there were no bargains to be had, it was fun as usual to be able to snoop through someone’s life.

It was an interesting collection of bits and bobs from various cultures Native (Red Indian) and foreign (Thai artifacts are quite popular). M’s cousin bought the basket visible in the upper left corner and it fits in nicely with her decor.

There were two rooms of this stuff. Here we have a bronze lady lamp and an African thing in the back, then a Native storyteller figurine (very popular in the 80’s), a bodhisattva from India, an antique Hispanic Santo, modern Santos, a bust (could this be of the uncle?) and a bit of hand painted pottery all mixed together on this one shelf.

This grouping was interesting to me because of the dolphin vase and Aegean candlestick figurine. I guess he must have touristed Greece (they don’t sell this stuff in the local tourist shops).

The seller had so much stuff to get rid of that he had hired a person to come in, price everything and display things, and he still had this collection of figurines and artifacts shoved into a box. One could purchase similar items in the smarter sort of tourist shops today. But one has to remember (I’m talking to you, self) that this is the ultimate fate of our personal talismans.

Stuff

I think that we all start out with a fairly minimalist home at first. As a young person one can hardly go out and acquire everything at one fell swoop. And our style changes over time as one has leisure and money to pursue objects that mean something to us. And then there comes the time when we are gone but the stuff remains. What’s left is the estate sale.

I went to a nearby estate sale after a friend mentioned that it was full of interesting stuff. And it was packed to the gills with items, so I took a few pictures in lieu of buying things and adding to my personal hoard.

These are empty commemorative whiskey bottles. Shortly after I took this picture the coal miner was sold and was off to a new home. Perhaps it will be sold again someday from it’s new estate (or perhaps it will end up in a charity shop).

The woman of the house was a doll collector and these represent a few of the many trips she must have taken. They are the sort of thing sold to tourists, they aren’t really made to be played with.

When I first moved here (many years ago) I worked in a toy store. The doll department (Mrs. O) had a list of collectors that she called whenever a new shipment came in, I’m pretty sure that this woman must have been one of those customers. And now her entire room devoted to dolls was being sold off, bit by bit.

There were these unattractive figurines representing medical conditions, so I assume that her husband must have been a doctor (why else would one have these?). It was her estate sale, so he must have predeceased her.

These are not exactly dolls, but are Kachinas, which are spirit beings in Pueblo religions. They are carved from Cottonwood and represent both the spirit and the dancer. These were originally made as an act of devotion for family members, but now are made for sale to tourists. These are a popular decorative item for Southwestern decor, and she obviously loved the Southwest and Native (Red Indian) culture.

It is a somewhat melancholy experience to be going through the detritus of someone’s life, but on the other hand, she had lots of pretty things and obviously enjoyed them. A minimalist like Marie Kondo would be appalled at the quantity of stuff I’m sure, but we each live to please ourselves. I would much rather be surrounded by beautiful things, like the late Mrs. X, and I suspect that I shall go the same way. 😉

Cooking

My friend D called me last night to say that something had come up, would I like to take her place in a Thai cooking class? Well of course I said yes! I love Thai food. So this morning I got up early and hauled myself over to the class. Me and seven other women were there to learn how to prepare these delicious Thai dishes. A pair of us were assigned to each of the recipes and this is what I made.

Yes I know that this does not look like much, but, it is red chili paste, the basis for many different recipes. The hard bit is having all these weird ingredients on hand (galangal, lemon grass, shallots, chilis, etc.). I chopped thing up and then whizzed it into a paste with a hand blender (my partner had toasted and ground the spices).

This was being made by another group, and was for a pork and noodle salad (much tastier than it sounds).

This was shrimp and pineapple fried rice, served in a pineapple bowl. It’s a lovely presentation, but I am not the sort of cook who fusses much with the appearance. If food is good it quickly vanishes.

Here’s our tasting plates: shrimp and pineapple fried rice, laab woonsen (pork and noodle salad), tom kha gai (coconut chicken soup). And all of these were quite delicious.

This was the one I worked on, beef Massaman curry. It has thinly sliced beef, white sweet potato and onion, cooked in coconut and beef broth with the delicious red chili paste and other spices. It’s served with toasted peanuts, cilantro and chopped up hot chili. Although I had carefully chopped up the chili per the recipe, neither me nor any of the other diners added this to their curry.

There really wasn’t anything difficult about these recipes, other than they were multi-stage preparations with weird ingredients. So I think that I could make this again, after a trip across town to the local Asian market. I probably shall do this, someday, perhaps.

Set dressing

Before me and Miss dog were movie extras I had no idea what actually went into making a movie. The movie we were in (we were sort of in, our scene was cut) was set in present day, so we just dressed in a tidier form of normal wear. But the movie that M’s uncle was in was a period piece, dust bowl 1930’s so the town had to get a few additions to make it look the part. It did not need much to make the town appear old and decrepit.

This is actually the window of the old post office, they built a new one about 15 years ago. Perhaps there was once a barber shop in town, but not in living memory.

An elderly resident remembered when this was a general store, but of course the window sign is new. I don’t ever remember this being open for business in the past 43 years.

The set designers stuck up a few posters to give some atmosphere, I guess this sort of thing might have played in small towns. Maybe?

A faded circus poster for an imaginary circus. I suppose that elephants could have got here on the train (back when it stopped in town).

And here’s another poster for a competing circus, they were certainly popular, I guess. The other addition to the town, a dirt street, was removed after filming. Only these signs and posters show that they were ever here.

All of this flotsam of moviemaking has piqued my curiosity about this movie. I did check and it has only been released at a film festival and in Russia (?). But I expect that one day, sooner or later the movie will be released on Netflix or Amazon Prime and I will be able to satisfy my curiosity (or the scene will have been cut). 🙂

Art Day

Every so often I simply must take an art day to get some creative inspiration or just to take time to bunk off from doing nothing. And as there was an artist talk at the local museum, I decided that this was just the thing.

So there she was, going on to her fans about how she uses her inspiration to make work. I had been listening, but the chairs were uncomfortable after a while, so I decided that I was as inspired as I was going to get from this.

This artwork is by another Native American (Red Indian to you Brits) artist. I like it both as a piece of art, and as something that casts a lovely shadow. You know how obsessed I am with shadows and the play of light.

Today I was captivated by this shadow, from a well-known piece of Pop Art. I have previously featured another part of the shadow, the horse he rode in on.

But it wasn’t this horse! This horse is part of a fashion exhibit and definitely an inspiration. After all who doesn’t want to go about looking like a horse? So with all this new inspiration floating about in my brain, I galloped off (actually, I got in my car and went home. Perhaps I shall create some art another day).