Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cincinnati Classes

So when did you last have Skyline Chili or Graeter's ice cream? Next weekend, I'll be teaching three book making classes in Cincinnati, my last classes for calendar 2010. I call this grouping the Bookmaker's Gifts; all are structures that will make beautiful gifts for the people on your holiday list this year. There is a hardcover paper pad folio, the two-sewn-as-one book structure, also with hard covers, and a lovely little leather book sewn in longstitch with a decorative spine weaving. The little leather book is one of the most popular projects I've taught anywhere; it never fails to please the maker or the recipient!

Classes are taking place at Stamp Your Art Out, one of the largest and longest surviving rubber stamp stores in the U.S. I first wandered into SYAO back in the early 1990's, shortly after the store opened, and was immediately sucked down the rubber stamping rabbit hole. I volunteered with the first Stampaway USA convention by designing the logo and helping to lay out the vendor booths, crawling around on the floor with my carpenters ruler and a big roll of masking tape. Connie Williams is the proprietor of both the store and the event; she has managed to thrive in a time when most other stores and events have folded.

All of the materials for these projects are precut so we can get right to work, and require only a minimum of book making tools. There are just a few spots left in the classes; if you are interested, visit the website here or call the store to register. I'll be going out for a 4-way and a mocha chip that weekend; hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Marble-ous Weekend

The Newberry Library in Chicago is a fabulous resource for study in many areas of the book arts, including decorative papers. Their first floor gallery is currently showing the work of local artist Norma Rubovits, with about 60 examples of marbled paper and 17 books she has bound, taken from their larger collection of 4,000 (be still, my heart!) marbled sheets. You can preview the exhibit here; it will be on display until the end of the year, and I highly recommend it as a field trip.

Norma, who is now 92, donated much of her work to the Newberry when she downsized her home and no longer had a laundry room to serve as a marbling studio. She is particularly noted for her marbling vignettes, tiny manipulated images in the vein of Turkish Ebru marbling, and they are exquisite. How small are they? Let's just say there is a bowl of magnifying glasses available at the door with which to look at the images in detail. So much to see in so little space!

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Newberry scheduled a lecture and a demonstration by well known marbling artist Steven Pittelkow on Saturday afternoon a few weekends ago. My friend Leslie and I attended the event as a kind of preview of things to come. As we waited in the meeting room for the lecture to begin, in walked Norma Rubovits to attend the lecture. What a treat! She is sharp as a tack and a really lovely lady. Another role model for how to do your 90's in style!

Pittelkow is also pretty amazing; he works at an incredible rate of speed, using acrylic paints applied mostly with eye droppers and corn broom whisks. Keep in mind that he was marbling in a lovely library type lecture room; if you have made any marbled papers, you know how slimy a newly marbled sheet can be, and that of course comes after the flinging of the paint onto the surface ahead of printing the paper. Somehow he managed to just keep on producing one beautiful sheet after another (those are snippets of one of his papers, above) despite the challenge of his location. Amazing!

We returned to my studio inspired to make tools, and so went to Lowe's and bought a corn broom to dismember, and to JoAnn's for hundreds of long straight pins to fashion ourselves a Norma comb with a book board handle just like we saw at the exhibit. Although it is quite a task to take apart a broom, the whisks came out terrific; we wrapped the handles with thick waxed polyester thread in different colors. Today I finally began the task of gluing straight pins onto the book board, one eighth inch apart. This one is going to take some time to complete!

All this in preparation for taking Galen Berry's marbling class at Hollander's the following weekend. More about that in the next post!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Cautionary Tale

Since we've already left the tour for last week's sad news about Mike Meador, I'll just go ahead and use this opportunity to tell you another story about why you can never take anything for granted.

Shortly after returning from our British Isles vacation this year, I spent a week going around to all the various annual health check-ups I do at least once a year —general check-up, dental, ob/gyn, annual mammogram, vision. All the usual routine boring stuff . . . except for that spot on the mammogram. If you've been paying attention in October, you might already know that 80% of these spots turn out to be nothing. This year, I found myself in the 20% that are cancer. The big C. The club I never wanted to join. Stunned is the only way I can describe it.
No family history, no hormone therapy, I was sure I was exempt.

After surgery to remove the lump came some good news: it was very small, and it had not spread to the lymph nodes. I'm healing from the surgery and, every day this week, I am having follow-up internal radiation therapy twice a day at the hospital. I come home between treatments each day and do lite versions of my usual daily activities. By Friday, the device that delivers the radiation will be removed after my last treatment and I will be done with the hard stuff. The return rate on this type of breast cancer is very small.

My surgery was done on September 30, one day before the start of breast cancer awareness month. I know, it's a lot of pink ribbons and heavy merchandising all month, but if you take nothing else away from the campaign, ladies, please get those annual mammograms. My spot wasn't there last year. If I had waited two years between mammograms, I don't think my outcome would have been nearly as positive as it has been.

So that's my story. At the end of this week, when the last treatment is done and the device comes out, I'm tossing my apron in the car, picking up my friend Leslie in Valparaiso, and heading out to make marbled papers with Galen Berry at Hollanders, something I've wanted to do for years. More details to come!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Farewell, my friend

Along with many other friends today, I am stunned at the news of Mike Meador's untimely death yesterday. Mike was the owner, or rather the instigator, of the artistic craziness that was Coffee Break Design. With humble beginnings as a rubber stamp company, peddling images that were so not cute from the back of RubberStampMadness magazine, Mike moved on to products that would soon change the world .... small colored eyelets in every possible color, stencils that came with the admonition to use them responsibly, and the world's best double stick tape.

Mike was a show man, a great think on his feet comedian, a musician who wrote about us. Who can forget the Ode to Keith LoBue? Or the exploding Peeps in Ginny's classroom, and the stencil barista who worked for tips? His delight in coaxing his wonderful wife, Chris, to do her imitation of Dorothy Hamill skating backwards into a room. Those late, late nights at Ginny's during ArtFul April weekends with MaryJo and Gayle, where we never stopped laughing with Mike. I will miss him dearly, but I can only imagine the tremendous vacancy that Chris and Andy feel in their lives.

I can see him now, working on that next stencil: This is heaven, this is not heaven .....

Monday, October 18, 2010

Arts & Crafts in Glasgow

After that lovely day in the Irish countryside, we decided to do city sights at our next stop in Scotland. Glasgow was the birthplace of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, architect, designer, painter and sculptor, a leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement and Art Nouveau. When I was a graphic designer in the 1990's, one of my favorite fonts was inspired by Mackintosh's meticulous hand lettering, and it is still available today from ITC fonts.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh showed talent for architecture right out of the gate, winning competitions for building design in his early 20's. While in Glasgow, we visited two of his early works: the Lighthouse, which now houses a Mackintosh museum of his drawings, models, and designed objects, and the nearby Willow Tea Room. Alas, Mackintosh got into architecture just as the country was falling on hard times economically, forcing many architectural firms to close. He migrated to watercolor painting, then fabric design, often struggling to make ends meet. Sadly, he died of throat cancer at the age of 60. His work has become much more celebrated in recent years; there was a sort of Macintosh revival in the 1990's. We noted many similarities in his life and work to that of Frank Lloyd Wright in the U.S.

After our little Mackintosh fest, we decided to tour the streets of Glasgow to get a feel for the city. Many cities in Europe have these convenient "hop-on, hop-off" double decker buses, where you purchase a ticket for the day and are then entitled to board these special buses at any of their stops, getting off and spending time where you like, then re-boarding. It's a handly, inexpensive way to get around, and allows you to be somewhat spontaneous if you see something along the route that you'd like to explore in more detail. We hopped on at George Square, a main public area in the heart of the city, and rode around until we reached the Glasgow University area where we hopped off for our next adventure.

It was lunchtime, and although we rarely eat fried food, we had promised ourselves we would have a real fish and chips meal sometime during this trip. When we got off the bus, we were clearly in a student area—dozens of coffee and tea shops and Thai restaurants populating the street. But there, on a corner, we saw Tennants, a classic looking Scottish pub, and decided to poke our heads inside to see what they had to offer.

The interior was everything you might expect in an older pub; the menu claims it has been in this location since the 1500's. Tables were populated with older men, fixtures with their newspapers, swapping stories and downing pints, all of them characters. We sat down; I was longing to pull out my camera and take some photos but didn't want to jeopardize our position with the locals. We ordered lunch, and had the best fish and chips ever for less than the cost of a mediocre burger in the states. Outstanding!

Fortified by our substantial lunch, we walked on until we reached the fabulous Botanical Gardens, and could not resist going in for a visit. The conservatory was quite large and beautiful; the grounds even more so. We spent most of the afternoon there, then walked to another bus stop to catch our ride back to the heart of town. A short train ride back to the ship, and we were off to our next port in Scotland.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How McCool is this?

Upon arrival in Belfast, we immediately departed for the countryside. There is nothing more green, and more beautiful than the Irish coastline. On earlier trips to Ireland, we had seen the Ring of Kerry, and took this opportunity to see the coast from the northern part of the island. These earlier trips had taken place during times of conflict in Northern Ireland, and we had never been able to come as far north as Belfast.

Our destination this day was the Giant's Causeway, a breathtaking group of about 38.000 interlocking basalt columns, ranging from ground level to 36 feet high. They are mostly hexagonal, but some rocks have fewer or more sides. Grouped together, they form stepping stones leading from the surrounding hills into the water. Scientists explain that the formations are the result of volcanic activity 60 million years ago, but locals and storytellers have a much more colorful explanation.

Legend has it that a giant named Fionn macCumhaill—Finn McCool— lived on the north coast of Ireland with his wife Oonagh. Finn was being tauted by his rival across the water in Scotland, the giant Benandonner, and created the Causeway as a challenge to lure Benandonner across the channel for a showdown. Oonagh, however, decided to use a tactic of stealth over strength, and disguised the sleeping Finn as a baby in a large gown and bonnet under a blanket. When Benandonner arrived, she invited him in for tea and asked him not to wake the baby. Benandonner took one look at the size of the baby and thought better of the challenge, retreating home to Scotland and tearing up the Causeway on the way back.

Remnants of Finn can still be seen, such as his giant boot in the photo above. The rock formations are fascinating, and then there is the breathtaking sea beyond the rocks. You can probably find a remnant of Finn yourself if you live in a town with an Irish population... there are dozens of pubs and restaurants that bear his name here in the U.S. So now you know all about Finn McCool.

From the Giant's Causeway visitor center, you can see the town of Bushmill, famous for, well, Bushmill's whiskey, and site of the oldest distillery in Ireland.

On our return to the ship, our guide took us through the streets of Belfast, something we were never able to do in the past. Despite the relative calm that now prevails, there are plenty of signs of previous strife. Neighborhoods are either Catholic or Protestant; you instantly know by the flags that are flying from the houses and businesses. The two simply don't mix. Between neighborhoods, you will often find empty blocks of "no man's land", keeping the peace by maintaining some distance. In some parts of town, streets are blocked off with large iron gates and mural covered walls to keep the factions apart, a grim reminder that things haven't always been quiet in Belfast.

This was our last stop in Ireland, but it won't be our last visit. Ireland will always be on my list of places to return to again and again.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Happy Birthday John Lennon

When I was about 15, I was lucky enough to see the Beatles in concert at Cincinnati Gardens during their first tour of the U.S. Never mind that this was a terrible venue for musical events; you couldn't hear the music anyway for the screaming that accompanied all of their early concerts. I was one of those screamers; a fan then and still a fan today. You can find me every Sunday morning having Breakfast with the Beatles, a radio program on Chicago's WXRT-FM hosted by Terri Hemmert.

So naturally, we opted for the In the Footsteps of the Beatles tour when we landed in Liverpool. There is a wonderful museum to visit, The Beatles Story, which starts at the very beginning, long before the group came together. It is jam packed with audio and video clips, musical instruments, items of clothing, and other ephemera tracing the amazing journey of the fab four from poor scruffy lads to larger than life musicians. After the museum, we boarded a bus and went to see first hand the childhood homes of John, George and Paul; Ringo's home, alas, is in a part of town than has been blocked off for redevelopment and is no longer accessible. We went to Penny Lane, the roundabout with the bank and the barber shop, and stopped at the gate to Strawberry Fields, a former orphanage. All of these once ordinary places, now forever famous in songs we'll never forget. It was a fantastic day.

Next weekend, October 9, would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday, and I know I've gotten older as well, but every time I hear a Beatles song, I become 16 or 20 again. Long live the power of music!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

The Book of Kells was just the tip of the iceberg in Dublin. After our morning visit to Trinity College, we found our way to Dublin Castle and finally to one of Ireland's greatest treasures, the Chester Beatty Library. If you love books you must add this spot to your bucket list; I promise you won't be disappointed.

First of all, let me tell you a little about Chester Beatty. He was born in New York, and graduated from Columbia University as a mining engineer. (My husband, who is also all of these, felt an instant kinship.) Beatty headed west and started shoveling rock in Denver, worked very hard, and before long had built a successful consultant business based in New York. His first wife died of typhoid fever; Beatty left New York for London.

As a child, Beatty had collected minerals, bottles and stamps; as an adult, he moved on to Persian and European manuscripts. In a position to travel the world with his successful business ventures, he expanded to Japanese and Chinese, Egyptian and other bindings. He was particularly fond of highly illustrated books, fine bindings and beautiful calligraphy. In 1950, he moved to Ireland and built a library for his collection, which was given to a trust for the public when he died.

The Library consists of two floors of books and manuscripts. The first floor features the Arts of the Book which, at the time of our visit, had several books from India from the first half of the 17th century, mostly very small, so small you were provided with a hand magnifying glass so you could view the remarkable details of each page through the glass. The illustrations were absolutely breathtaking! The color, facial expression, costume detail and page composition were all exquisite. As no photographs were allowed, I'm reproducing several note cards I picked up in the gift shop just to give you an idea of what we saw.

On the second floor are the Sacred Traditions texts, including Jewish torahs and scrolls, early Christianity testaments, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism manuscripts, Egyptian papyrus fragments and scrolls, along with videos that explain the various rites of passage for the different belief systems. There is also a lovely roof garden, and in the library book store there was a little niche filled with marbled papers and handmade books from last year's discovery in Florence, Il Papiro.

Outside the Library, there is a delightful walled garden with a view of the Castle and surrounding buildings. Nearly the entire day had passed, without stopping for lunch or noticing the time, and we had to rush to make our way back to one of the last shuttles to the ship. All in all, what a great day for enjoying book arts!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Book of Kells, Dublin

Our next stop was Dublin, home of Trinity College and the largest collection of books in the world, including the enchanting Book of Kells. Trinity College Library houses over four million volumes, collected since the end of the 16th century. It was certainly going to be a book lovers day, to be sure, overwhelming and inspiring at the same time. So let's begin.

We took a shuttle bus into the city, as we had decided to do Dublin on our own instead of with the group. As you draw closer to the main part of town, the magnificent Samuel Beckett bridge greets you, spanning the Liffey River. Designed by architect Santiago Calartrava, the cable-stayed structure resembles a giant harp on its side. It appears to be weightless, a stunning contrast to the surrounding buildings, typical Dublin skies and dark water below. Lucky for us that the timing of this trip made it possible to see, as the bridge was only installed in late 2009.

Dublin is all about the book. Our first stop was Trinity College, where we joined the long line waiting to view the Book of Kells. We had last visited Dublin about 30 years ago; at that time, the Book of Kells occupied one modest glass case inside the Long Hall Library. Today, there are several rooms and a wonderful exhibit that accompany the display of the Book of Kells, located on the level below the Long Hall. Before you view the actual Book folios, there is an exhibit that explains the history, the production (thought to be done by a team of four monks), the techniques, tools and materials, all fascinating details to those of us interested in making books. Examples of Ethopian bindings, many with their own box-like leather carrying cases are included in the exhibit, and don't be surprised if some of next summer's workshop projects are inspired by what I saw here.

Alas, no photos were allowed inside, so you'll have to do a little online surfing of your own to see photos of the magnificent pages. They are incredibly colorful, almost contemporary in appearance; just imagine this intricate work being done with a tiny fraction of the tools and resources we have available today.

After the Book of Kells exhibit, we took the stairs up to the Long Hall, a library so over the top that you must take a deep breath when you enter and just take it all in before you proceed. Picture two very tall stories of floor to ceiling books for more than the entire length of a city block, with an even taller arched ceiling joining the two sides. The length is broken down into nooks, each with its own ladder to reach the upper shelves, and on both floors. It is more books than I have ever seen in one fell swoop, enough to make a book lover swoon.

The walls between the nooks each have a bust of a literati. Many volumes, due to age or condition, appear to have pages and covers tied together with a length of linen tape; you can see these bundles on the shelves in the photograph reproduced above. And then there is that wonderful library book smell that fills the hall. I'm pretty sure this must be what heaven is like.

After our visit, we walked around the Trinity College campus for awhile, noting that even the statues here are all holding books. It was a lovely morning, and in the afternoon we had another book related adventure which I'll share in the second part of this post.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Colorful Kinsale

In the afternoon, we went off on a side trip to Kinsale, famous as the town closest to where the Lucitania was sunk by a German U-boat in 1915 during World War I; the wreckage lies under the sea about 7 miles from the lighthouse. Of the almost 2,000 passengers on board, only about 800 survived, as the ship sank in less than 20 minutes after it was attacked. This was the second of what would become three major ship losses from this area; we'll talk about the third in a future post.

What a visual treat we encountered when we entered the town! The buildings were painted in rich colors, adorned by beautiful flowers in window boxes and shop goods hung outside to lure the customers in. And there were plenty of customers ... this town was hopping! Lots of lively little outdoor cafes, bookstores, pubs and shops -- and for once, it was mostly the townspeople and not so many tourists. I popped into the town's two bookstores, hoping to find some older titles on bookbinding but, alas, there were none to be had. We did find some lovely Aran yarn to bring back to our knitting friend, and Irish tweed woolen goods were plentiful and nicely priced. We marveled that even this town had a Thai restaurant. No Starbucks, and not missed.

So, enjoy this charming tidy town through the photos, and next post we'll enjoy the delights of a big city.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cobh, Ireland

We spent the next morning walking around the town of Cobh (pronounced Cove), our first stop in Ireland and port for the city of Cork, Blarney Castle, the Waterford Crystal Factory, and Kinsale (more about this in the next post). Cobh is known for a few things: it was the last port of call for the ill-fated Titanic on her maiden voyage in 1914, before setting out on the Atlantic. Cobh was also the departure point for many thousands of Irish who fled the country to escape the potato famine in the mid 1800s.

Cobh is a town of tiny houses painted in wonderful bright colors, dominated visually by a ginourmous cathedral on top of a hill. Once again, we marveled at the lavish use of flowers all over town, and began to covet the tall, three-tiered flower boxes for our own garden at home. We spent our morning walking the streets, slowly winding our way up to the cathedral, and were rewarded on top by some lovely views.

My memory of this port will be the texture of all the houses when seen from the ship; row after row of tiny random color chips that seem to get along with each other just fine. Shown here are a few photos from our morning walk; in the next post, we'll take a field trip in the afternoon to Kinsale.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Guernsey Literati

Last year, our book club read the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel based on the German occupation of Guernsey during World War II. Guernsey was the only part of Britian that was so occupied; the island is located just 8 miles off the coast of France, so it was inevitable that the Germans would take it after France had fallen. Britian could not afford to defend the tiny island without tremendous loss of civilian life, and so decided to evacuate all the children and adults who wished to go, leaving behind a handful of brave men and women to continue. It's a great read, written in the form of correspondence between the main characters on Guernsey and mainland Britian and U.S. I didn't know at the time that I read it that I would be visiting there so soon!

We had sailed from Southampton the day before and arrived in St. Peter Port early the next morning. The dock there is quite small, so our giant ship could not come all the way in; we anchored just outside the harbor and went in by tender (small boat). Approaching the island, you can't miss the giant fortress; while many others in the group opted to go there on a tour including the underground tunnel museum, we decided to stay above ground and explore Guernsey by foot.

Our first stop was St. James Church, the tall spire you can see in the photo above. Housed inside St. James are the Guernsey Tapestries, a collection of 10 unique, heavily embroidered works, each depicting a century of Guernsey history. They were created as a collaborative work by residents of the 10 boroughs that make up the island. Dozens of needle artists of all skill levels contributed hundreds of hours to the completion of these tapestries over the course of about three years. They were finished around 2002; the Queen visited for the opening and awarded a medal to the organizer of the project. She probably was invited to one of those garden parties as well. You can see more of the tapestries here .

Guernsey has more claim to fame than good looking cows; it was also where the first post box was invented. While French is the official language, English is most often spoken; they have their own pound currency (I brought a bill home to press in my book) and postage stamps. One of the churches that we visited was having a sort of spontaneous rummage sale, and I purchased several collections of colorful Guernsey stamps to use in future art projects. As we passed the pub shown above, I wondered if it was the site of the original cock and bull story. Who knew?

Next stop was the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery, high atop a hill with the best views in town. The Museum is full of war time memorabilia and provides an excellent commentary on the German occupation. The adjoining Art Gallery was showing art created during this time by residents who had the added challenge of not having very much to work with. It's amazing how resourceful people can be when circumstances call for it. Many household items were repurposed during this time, and here you thought our current frenzy for altering things was a brand new idea! At the museum I purchased a great little reproduction book of a government war publication, titled Make Do and Mend -- I see it is also on Oh, and there was tea and scones at the adjoining cafe in the gardens.

Our final destination was to find the house where Victor Hugo lived for about 14 years while in exile from France. It was here that he wrote Les Miserables among other works. The house is lovely; the gardens in the back even more so, with views of his beloved France from the upper windows. I've included a few photos above. Alas, all we could see across the water on this day was the giant cruise ship waiting down in the harbor.

Long before our day ended there, I had fallen in love with Guernsey. The flowers all over the island were magnificent; hundreds of hanging baskets and tiny courtyards filled with beauty; the temperature was around 75 degrees; a welcome escape from our sweltering Chicago summer. So, if I go missing sometime, there is a good chance you will find me here again in this charming, inspirational setting.