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Spring into Color: Holi Festival

The Holi Festival by onthegotours
The Holi Festival by onthegotours via Flickr

Color has its own festival in India, Holi, celebrated by Hindus as the end of winter, the triumph of good over evil.  One of my favorite people on Instagram is Bhavna from Just a Girl from Aamchi Mumbai.  She writes the exuberance of throwing color at aunts and uncles and other children of the neighborhood, and how wanting some of that where she lives now in Australia.  Go check out her blog for the recipe for pannacotta with raspberry sauce and garnished with flowers that she made to satisfy her desire for color amongst the gray days.

Dyeing eggs was a Spring tradition I loved as a girl, though it hardly felt like Spring, the bright colors in contrast to the lingering winter of my Canadian home.  My mother filled mugs with hot water and white vinegar and drops of food coloring.  My sister and I would dip the eggs balanced on spoons, and I was mesmerized by dipping an egg into yellow and then into red and coming out orange. I remember taking some sort of intelligence test in school, and one of the questions was how to know if an egg was rotten.  I knew the answer because of watching a dozen eggs boiling for Easter, and my mother scooping out the one that floated.  I was happy I knew the answer but the strangeness of this being on the test stayed with me.  What if I hadn’t been there to watch the boiling eggs?

Shine: Beauty in Imperfection

Perfection is not a Prerequisite for Beauty

Glacier Cross by Margaret Almon
Glacier Cross by Margaret Almon. Glass on slate, with HMB Studios bead in the center.

Do you plan to listen to something and then put it off?  I listen to podcasts in the studio, and I have meditation teacher Tara Brach on my list, and yet don’t get around to listening.  But I couldn’t resist the title of this episode, Relating Wisely with Imperfection. She describes how we react to imperfection in ourselves with anxiety and aversion, and how this creates a trance of unworthiness.  I am well acquainted with this trance, and how hard it is to break free of it.

Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.  ~Danna Faulds

Tara Brach read this line of poetry and it resonated.  Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.  I have many years of believing that perfection is the prerequisite for everything.  The talk begins with a story from Ed Brown, Buddhist and baker, about his struggle to make perfect biscuits.  He realized that he was attempting to recreate biscuits from a can or a mix, that if he actually tasted his own recipe, the biscuits were delicious. What should our lives be like?  I believed I needed to have a book of poems published by the time I was 30.   In my 30’s I believed I should have a “real career” rather than being a part time librarian.  I believed that not having children meant I was outside the human story, even though I never felt called to have children. In making mosaics in my 40’s, I realized that this was my delicious life, and it was my own.

The chunks of glass in the photo are factory seconds of gold smalti.  They are hard to come by since the factory strives to produce glass with the gold evenly applied, but these are my favorite because of the variations in texture.  Beauty in imperfection.

Shine: Beauty in Imperfection

ohn Willard Raught (1857-1931) Anthracite Collierr, 1925 Oil on Canvas (Dunmore native)

Industrial Art at the Michener Museum through October 25, 2015: Pennsylvania Labor History

Walter Emerson Baum (1884-1956) South Side, Easton (Industrial Scene, Easton) c. 1940 Oil on Canvas
Walter Emerson Baum (1884-1956) South Side, Easton (Industrial Scene, Easton) c. 1940 Oil on Canvas.  James Michener Art Museum, Photo by Wayne Stratz(2015).

Stratoz and I went to see the Iron and Coal, Petroleum and Steel: Industrial Art from the Steidle Collection Exhibit at the James Michener Art Museum(on view until October 25, 2015).  I was interested to note the context of this collection, assembled by the Edward Steidle(1887-1977) Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State.  Steidle purchased and commissioned these paintings to as a way to demonstrate the various industrial processes and the critical role of the extractive industries in Pennsylvania to his students.  The Industrial Art homage at the Michener is notable for the predominance of flame, with the glowing orange of molten steel.  Artists were drawn like moths to a flame, and each had a style that captured the scenes of the furnaces in a different way.  The blazing colors are beautiful, and yet ominous in the power to cause injury and in their intense heat.

I’d never seen a steel factory until I moved to Bethlehem, PA, from Canada in 1985.  It rose up like a mountain from the South Side, and had produced steel for the Golden Gate bridge and much of the New York skyline.  1985 was at the tail end of the Steel, losing money, cutting workers.  When I started college a few years later, I took a class in United States Labor History, and have been drawn to stories like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser who wrote movingly of the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster.

ohn Willard Raught (1857-1931) Anthracite Colliery, 1925 Oil on Canvas (Dunmore native)
John Willard Raught (1857-1931) Anthracite Colliery, 1925 Oil on Canvas (Dunmore native). James Michener Art Museum. Photo by Wayne Stratz(2015).

We lived in Dunmore, PA in the early 1990’s. The coal mining industry left its mark with a network of tunnels beneath the town, and the threat of homes and grounds sinking.  Subsidence was a new word that I learned in those years, especially when a hole opened up in a friend’s backyard in a neighboring town.   I was interested to see that the Michener exhibit had a painting by a Dunmorean, John Willard Raught(1857-1931).  He studied art in New York City, and returned home to paint portraits and landscapes of the area.  He had an exhibit at a local club in 1915, where most of the paintings appear to be tranquil landscapes rather than the mining scenes. The Michener Museum notes that Raught felt conflicted by the coal industry which while providing jobs for those he knew, also scarred the landscape, and the forboding fears of disaster, and painted many of the anthracite breakers which he called “Black Castles.”

 

 

Art Deco Spiral Mirror Makes its Way

Art Deco Mirror by Nutmeg Designs
Art Deco Mirror by Nutmeg Designs with Wayne Stratz Selfie.

Our visit to Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton NJ was on the way to deliver the Art Deco mirror to a client. Stratoz had drafted the design and cut out the black stained glass pieces, gluing them to the mirror frame. I then had the mirror in my studio for several months, waiting while I created house number commissions.

Collaborative pieces remind me of jazz improvisation ~ the listening between musicians.  What I heard in the smooth black glass, was a desire for silver contrast, for textures and speckling and mottling.  The focal point arch at the top spoke in white gold nails ~ offcuts that are considered seconds by the factory, but which had the right shape to fan out.

Our client had cleared a space for the mirror, got the nail ready for hanging, and she showed us the gray violet wall, and the vase of white peacock feathers adjacent, echoing the shape of the white gold.  Another conversation begins.

* * *

It was a day of spirals, with two cool ones at the sculpture park.

Karl Stirner Steel Sculpture
Karl Stirner Steel Sculpture, Untitled(1987-1992), Grounds for Sculpture Hamilton, NJ. Photo by Wayne Stratz. Inadvertent inclusion of Margaret Almon.
Urchin Bronze Sculpture by Howard Kalish
Urchin Bronze Sculpture by Howard Kalish(2001), Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, NJ. Photo by Wayne Stratz(2015).
Rainbow Nametag from Junior High Camp, circa 1980.

Rainbow Language

Portable Rainbow by Margaret Almon.
Portable Rainbow by Margaret Almon. Glass on slate, 4×8 inches, ©2015.

I have a compelling desire to create rainbows.  I have made many of them in mosaic.  Once a woman came into my craft show booth and was smitten with one of my rainbow panels, but said she couldn’t buy it because her husband would be affronted by the gay implications, and gave an awkward shrug.  This made me both sad and angry.

With the Supreme Court ruling about marriage and gay folk in June, 2015, there is an abundance of rainbows appearing on my Facebook stream, and it’s outburst of talking my rainbow language, and to me this ruling good news, just as God’s love is good news.

 

Rainbow Nametag from Junior High Camp, circa 1980.
Rainbow Nametag from Junior High Church Camp, circa 1982.

My love of rainbows began at Moravian Church Camp Van Es at Cooking Lake in Alberta.  The theme in 1982 was The Rainbow Connection.  We each had a  slice a log, and a volunteer had applied rainbows and written our names.  We watched The Muppet Movie with the theme song The Rainbow Connection, and learned the to sing it.  We painted a large rainbow backdrop, in an open area in the woods.

We memorized Bible verses about the rainbow as a symbol of God’s promise to never again cover the earth in a great flood, a sign of God’s love.  What gave it power was the idea that this love extended to me, though I felt flawed through my core, cracked with no method of repair.  True grace is a very difficult thing to accept, because the bruised soul assumes it applies to everyone else except her.

The Rainbow Connection
The Rainbow Connection

I took the idea of hope and love to heart.  I bought a pewter pendant cast in the form of a rainbow and embedded with an Ichthys fish(a visual pun, an acronym of the Greek letters spelling out Jesus Son of God, which also meant fish).  I wore it often, as a way to remain hopeful.

Now, some 30 years later, I look at it and wonder at the grayness of this rainbow, and no wonder I feel compelled to create them in full color.  For a girl of 14, coming out of a year of depression, the colors were intense.  There is power in symbols, but also the power of color itself, the incarnation of beauty.

 

Collage Meets Glass: Braque and Gemmaux

La Aquarium au verre by Georges Braque with Roger Malherbe-Navarre(1954).
La Aquarium au verre by Georges Braque with Roger Malherbe-Navarre(1954). Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

This piece caught my eye at the Corning Museum of Glass.  It was mounted in front of a lightbox and the colors of glass emerged in glowing layers.  Before I started making mosaics, I made collages with magazine paper and the Gemmail technique is like having those scraps of paper turn to glass.  Artist Jean Crotti wanted to incorporate light into his paintings in a new way and began working with thin glass glued and then fused, and called it Gemmail from combining the French words for gem and enamel(Gemmaux in the plural).

Crotti sought advice on the logistics of his technique with his neighbors, the Malherbe-Navarre family, physicists studying light and fluorescence.  Eventually Roger Malherbe-Navarre became the primary maker of Gemmail, and artists like Braque and Picasso were enchanted, and wanted to translate their paintings into glass and light.

A reviewer of a set of Gemmail windows, Winefride Wilson from a 1964 issue of Tablet, was ambivalent, torn between the wonder of the effect and concern that it reminded her of childhood kaleidoscopes, and hard to take seriously.  I have no such reservations ~ I am on the side of wonder.

 

Jean Crotti and Georges Braque, ca. 1956 / Guy Suignard, photographer. Jean Crotti papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

 

Pablo Picasso: Le Gemmail

A Brief History of Gemmaux, Corning Museum of Glass

Jean Crotti Papers, Archives of American Art

 

 

 

Listening by Nutmeg Designs. Glass on slate, 6x15 inches.

Listening: Gift for a Spiritual Director

Listening by Nutmeg Designs. Glass on slate, 6x15 inches.
Listening by Nutmeg Designs. Glass on slate, 6×15 inches.

Listening was my natural state as a child.  Listening to the adults tell stories to me, or talk to each other above me.  I became a writer with my storehouse of listening.

Stratoz and I had a Christmas commission to create a sign with the word Listening for a spiritual director.  Listening had become a gift of her vocation, when her natural state was talking.

I was introduced to spiritual direction at the University of Scranton in the early 1990s, where I had my first librarian job.  The University had a contemplative spirituality program, and I started seeing an Ignatian nun(as she called herself) once a week.  She asked me about my experiences that week, and asked me where I found God in this.  Then she would listen.  It was as if she was handling a treasure, gently holding it in her hands.

Winding my way around the letters of listening many years later, I am grateful for the listeners in my life who encouraged me, recognized me, loved me, and my desire is to stay true to my listening nature, and in turn encourage, recognize, and love.

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