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Saturday, May 31

half time report

100 American is going really well. Maybe the stinky economy isn't going to drive us all into desk jobs after all.

I wish I could wrap up the customers that come to Kenan and let them out for all the rest of the shows. Smart, friendly, funny, willing to spend money on craft, informed.

Same for the organizers of the show. Tomorrow at breakfast, some artists will complain about one thing or another, but it can't be about advertising, booth spots, amenities, volunteers, quality of work or just plain working hard for us. Other than following the customers around with weapons and forcing them to spend upon penalty of death, I think they cover all the bases.

Need to soak my old, tired body. Full report later. Pictures, too.

Thursday, May 29

you light up my van

We started early this morning, determined to have our set-up for this weekend's show go smoothly, on schedule, organized, uneventful. Ha! If you want to make God laugh, make plans. He is hysterical tonight.

We got to the rental place to pick up pipe and drape for our booth. Never heard of us. Uh huh. Many indecipherable walkie talkie convos ensued. Calls were made and not answered. Busy signals echoed against the warehouse walls. Finally I said to just call us when they got it worked out, we had until 4. And we went off to do other things.

PIcked up miscellaneous supplies with no drama. Tried to find new shoes. Lots of drama. My feet don't want shoes on them. They fight me. I gave up. We had lunch at Olive Garden where the rental place found us and announced that they had our stuff. OK, this is good. Picked up the rest of our stuff at home and headed to Lockport.

Oh, I love the Kenan show. It's like coming home. Many old friends to see. Easy set up. That went so smoothly I was feeling smug. God was snickering. We left, expecting to be home by 8:30. A luxury. 20 minutes later, halfway home, I ask Russell where our card spinner is and we realize we left it outside. It was supposed to be in the van because we need to repaint it. So, OK, we turn around, head back. So it adds a half hour. No biggie.

Head back home again. Making plans for the evening. God gets the giggles. We stop at Mighty Taco for a roastitio. The night is looking good. Hop on the highway . A van near us honks and waves. We wave back. He honks again, gesturing. I roll down the window. He tells us we have no rear lights. Russell pulls off at the next exit and into a gas station, followed by another guy who wanted to tell us we had no back lights. (Is this a guy thing?)

The fuse box is located but provides no info. Triple A can only tow us. The clerk in the gas station can't get a mechanic but she can loan Russ a flashlight to double check that the fuse box provides no info. The triple A guy says if we are near a Wal-Mart, we can get fuses. We look up and, in the night sky, see the sign. Wally World. A block away. Divine intervention? Was that always there? Hmmmm.

Russ goes into the store and I follow, but head for shoes. And it is there, trying on a pair of 8 dollar sandals, that my cell rings and Russ says he has fixed it. I am surpi....impressed. Very impressed. And off we go. To be home at midnight, not 8:30, but it's OK.

There were other things. My printer defied every command I gave it this afternoon. Took hours to print up the basics I need for the show. I will only have a few journals with lines because of that. What can you do?

Our internet connection died for reasons Time warner could not decipher, even after an hour of plugging and unplugging and restarting. In the long card ride home I had a vision that perhaps I should connect the modem directly to the 'puter because it might be the AiPort thingy and I was right.

I'm going to go to bed before anything else gets screwed up. Tomorrow is Kenan, the show that really starts the season for us. Everything else is just the overture.

I will make no plans. Promise.

Monday, May 26

take me to the water

OK, it's Memorial Day and I need to be by the water. The city finally got the 1st phase of the Erie Canal part of the new waterfront plan finished so we went down to see it. Loved it. Especially considering how hard the citizens had to work to keep the faith with it. They wanted to demolish the original canal walls they discovered while excavating the site. Something about how the harsh Winters would crumble them. Yes, there was the sound of crickets after that especially erudite pronouncement. The community stepped forward and slapped them into lucidity and the plan to maintain as much of the history as possible went forward. Until Bass Pro decided they wanted to build their big box store on the main concourse/festival part of the new design and they were actually going to let them do it. More slapping ensued. I am very proud of the people who live here and love their hometown and "get it". It is hard work, maintaining integrity.

So the city that owns the terminus of the Erie Canal actually now has a place for people to visit it. The towns along the canal in central NY embrace the thing, we ignored it. I guess we had this big lake and ginormous river to deal with, so the canal was ignored? No more.

And then, at the marina, they tore a hole in the wall that kept the people away from the water and made a little beach to hang out on. No swimming. This is, after all, the Niagara River and we all know where that baby ends up a few miles down.

But still, sand in my shoes, gentle waves to lap my toes. I'll take it.

All in all, a good day for water-loving Buffalonians. Tough to live on a virtual peninsula and beg for access to the water. Things are looking up. Soon you won't have to drive 15 minutes to actually get in the water. One can only dream.

To see my canal/beach pictures click over there----->on, yes, canal/beach.

Break over, back to the attic.

Sunday, May 25

view from the porch

I was busy in the attic, making a collage for a book cover, when I became aware of unexpected movement on the street below. Sunday mornings on this avenue are usually pretty quiet, except for the occasional marathon. And sure enough, it was a marathon morning. I called to Jake that we were going on the porch and I heard his click-clacky nails on the stairs. (I delude myself that he knows the word "porch", but the word he probably knows is "go").

Traffic was stopped, so all you heard as the runners emerged through the trees was the rhythm of their feet, soft and strong.

A traffic cop was on guard to keep any wayward cars from competing with the runners and they made their way in dappled sunlight, quietly, determined and focused. I envied them their energy and good knees.

You know, I think Winter truly is over.

Thursday, May 22

looking for luck in all the wrong places

OK, so in my ongoing, one-woman crusade to bring sanity to the art show world (a thankless job, but needs to be done), let's look at yet another little doo-dad that manages to worm its way into many art/craft shows despite the fact that it is not crafted and it certainly isn't art.

Lucky Bamboo.

Yes, I see you hanging your head, hoping I don't see you out there. You bought some, didn't you? Couldn't resist the curly little stalks and what if it DOES bring luck? Right? Besides, it was so cheap and it came in a pot/glass/crock/bucket/vase/cup! Sigh.

For the unititiated (and, apparently unlucky), this is lucky bamboo:

I know. Takes your breath away. Actually, the stalks are usually sold in bunches of 3-4 or more, so the display of botanical artistry is not quite as pathetic as the picture would have you think. Almost, but not quite.

Now here's the thing. You don't just pull up your van on the morning of an art show and set up a table. There are requirements. There are standards. There are rules like "must be made by the artist". Slides are submitted. Artist "statements" written. Description of process is a biggie. What do the purveyors of botanical totems submit? Hmmm...

"The lucky bamboo pictured in the enclosed slides is grown in my home garden, under a handcrafted pergola covered in handwoven cane, harvested by me wearing a handcrafted caftan of fibers gathered on my sheep farm and handwoven on my loom. I trim the plants according to established artistic protocol, utilizing traditional standards of form and symmetry. Then I stick them in a 50 cent vase from Wal-Mart"

Or something like that. The reality is that the stalks are 42 cents wholesale and vendors sell them with a 500% markup and people buy them like crazy. I know. These silly things are fun to buy at festivals I get that. What I don't get, and never will, is why I have to jump through hoops with essays and slides when the bamboo-zlers (thanks to Conard for the play on words) somehow qualify to exhibit next to me.

OK, end of sermon and confession time. I bought lucky bamboo last year. At the Kenan Christmas show. (if you live within 2 hours of upstate NY, this is not to be missed).Now, granted, what I was really buying was the beautiful hand-etched glass vase it came in. But it looked pretty on the tiny table by my bed, under the collection of B&W photos by John Parasack. It pleased me. But it did not please our resident art critic, who promptly removed the offending stalks from the pretty vase, stripped the leaves and left the stalks to wither. I think I need to have a talk with said critic, since, contrary to what he thinks, he does not rule the house.

He doesn't look worried.

Thursday, May 15

mirror, mirror...

I came up with this idea just before Christmas '06 and quickly made some to bring to Women's Gifts. They were a hit, so I worked on technique and design over the Winter. They were popular at last Summer's outdoor shows, too. There is a steep learning curve here and I have a long way to go with them.

Basically, you need a plain wooden mirror or you can cut your own wood and glass and make your own base mirror. We do both.Then you apply a raised design to the wood. There are many ways to do this. You can apply cut shapes, draw with wax or 3D paint, anything that will make a raised design that holds up to pressing and shaping the paper that will go over it. The paper you use has to be the kind that you can bring down to a pliable state with water or PVA or meth cell or a combination of them. I like mulberry or lokta the best. You apply a thin coat of whichever adhesive you're using to the back of the paper. I like to use an old credit card to spread an even coat.

I sometimes spray this very lightly with water to keep the paper soft during the application. When the paper is first applied, it looks pretty hopeless.

But then you start to press the paper into the design. You can use your palm, a bone folder, the round part of a brush handle, the bristles of the brush, a combination of all those things. You need to get the paper tight against the opening and solidly cast to the design. (This is a different mirror at the same stage and with a similar design.)

Now the fun starts. On this mirror, I sealed it with poly-crylic (you can't paint on the paper unless you seal it because the paper just soaks up the paint on contact) and used acrylic paints in purple, green, white and cream and glazes in copper, bronze and gold. I use thinner and a soft cloth to blend the paints. This is what I got:

I like this one. It has a feel of stone and metal combined. It looks old, like the patina developed over time. And it's just paper! Very cool, I think.

It just needs to have the mirror placed and then I finish the back with a dust cover and a hanger. There ya go. It will make me happy when people come up to it, gingerly touch it with a finger tip and say "This is paper??" That's the best part.

back to work

I actually think I'm finally all better. I didn't quite realize how sick I was. Looking back at the weekend in Virginia, I see it. Cold showers to bring the fever down, unable to walk a short distance without my legs giving out. Sleeping, sleeping, thirsty. Yikes. It's taken another week to come up from under the fog, but here I am. People who make all or most of their income on the art show circuit fear illness, not because you feel lousy, but because you might not be able to work. It's not like my old government job with paid sick days that allowed you the luxury of burrowing under the covers and whining when you got sick.There's no whining in the festival business. You get out there and tough it out. Remember that the next time an artist at a show seems grumpy to you. He might be unwell. Of course, he might also be a jerk.

So, anyway, happy to be feeling better, I worked on some mirrors. But first I took Jake to the dog park.

He made friends, I breathed in the sweet air of Spring and watched the first hardy boaters make their way down the river. Felt good.

I think the mirrors are cast paper. That's what I call them, anyway. Paper is cast to a form, so not sure what else they could be. Over the years I have come to love the properties of paper and paper pulp, experimenting to see what I can make the material do. I'm going to post on how they are made next. Now, as usual, the nitty gritty details will be missing because, although I tend to be a bit of a Pollyanna most of the time, I have yet to hitch a ride on the proverbial turnip truck and therefore cannot be said to have just fallen off said truck yesterday. I haven't seen anyone else do these. Having something unusual is really important in this business. I'm not about to divulge any secrets. But people are curious about them, so I'm going to allow a peek.

The journals are my babies, but you have to be so precise when you are making them. The mirrors and bowls are just fun. No rules, no measurements, nothing has to fit. It is what it is. I need something like that or risk having the book-making become drudgery. And I like playing with paint and glaze and micro powders and generally making a mess.

OK, off to scrape said paints, glazes, et al from my person. Then I'll post the tutorial.

Tuesday, May 13

art festival irritant #2

Wooden roses will be number one this season, I'm thinking. Right behind them, will be the dreaded kettle corn invasion.

Let me tell you why many art show artists hate kettle corn. If the promoters have set the up the kettle near the art booths, you will waste a lot of time sweeping out the popcorn that floats and skitters for blocks, usually coming to rest inside your tent. If you are set up within 20 feet of them, your booth will be shrouded in smoke/steam and your product will take on the sticky sweet smell of the corn. And then there is the line of people waiting to buy the stuff, blocking the front of your display and effectively rendering you invisible.

But the number one reason many art festival artists hate this ubiquitous snack (I'm sounding like Letterman here) is that invariably a customer will comment that your prices are too high as she digs her fist into a 15 dollar bag of kettle corn.

Some friends are doing the Lilac Festival weekends and one of them commented on slow sales but noted that there was no shortage of folks munching on 5 dollar cones of french fries.

I love to snag a snack at festivals, especially when it is something that I don't get to eat any other time. (chicken "French" folks I'm looking at you..) I totally understand the allure of junk food consumed outside while walking along the sidewalk in the Summer air. The smell of hot dogs grilling. Lemon. Those waffle thingies that you sprinkle sugar on. It's all part pf the celebration. It's also competition for the dollars to be spent that day.

Maybe the art show promoters could be convinced to bring in snacks like tofu nuggets and squid "French" and turnip fries.

And no kettle corn.

Wednesday, May 7

she lives

This tree grows at the tip of the corner upon which our old house stands. I doubt that she is as old as the house, but she's no sapling. Her beautiful display every Spring always gladdens my heart. But we almost lost her during the October storm and last Spring I thought her will to bloom had died.

The day of the storm, I had gone off to work with no coat. It was a cool Fall morning. When the temperature dropped and the sleet started, I thought my biggest problem was going to be the hundred feet from the back of the theater to my car. But on the way home I already had been detoured by fallen limbs and the snow was falling in clumps and the sprawling, meandering branches of the corner tree lay heavy on the sidewalk and I felt the pain of it in my gut. With no coat, only a long scarf I snagged from the back seat wrapped around my head and neck, I ran to save her somehow but it felt like a losing battle. I shook the limbs and some of them rose up a bit. Encouraged, I went around to the others, shaking branches, jumping up into the center to dislodge the heavy coating. Snow fell into my collar, down my back, my hair was plastered to my head. I dashed into the house for a coat, and by the time I came back out, the tree was loaded down again and the branches were back on the sidewalk. I took a broom to it, swinging it like a wild woman from beneath it's canopy, ignoring the wet snow that covered me, unaware of how absurd I must look. I would get enough snow off one side to get the branches up and by the time I did the other side, the first side was collapsed against the walk again. I felt powerless and angry and sure I would lose this cherished tree. Shivering and sad, I went in and told myself it was just a tree, for cripes sake. There was nothing I could do.

During the night, along with everyone else in the city, I listened to trees snap, the sound like breaking bones, heard the whoosh as they fell into the snow. With no light, no heat, the long hours til dawn were interminable. The devastation in the morning was so vast, so incomprehensible, my little flower tree on the corner became just one of many heartbreaks, the realities of the cleanup taking precedence over sentiment.

A few days later, Russell said he thought a major limb of the tree had to go and that it might be more than the rest of it could bear. We might lose the tree. He removed a huge piece from its very center and we hoped for the best.

She didn't die, but the next year, when May came, it was a sad sight. Some buds came, but few opened. Leaves came, but sparingly and they were dry and looked spent before they had been out a week. We trimmed branches as if that would help. I thought the days of glorious Spring color were over and it made me sad. For 10 years, that explosion of pink outside the front window meant the end of Winter. It used to be against a backdrop of the white blossoms on the street behind it, but we lost those to the chain saws.

So, last week when Russell asked me if I had seen the tree, I expected more bad news. But he said she was loaded with buds. Yes, but would they open? When we came back from Virginia, there she stood, welcoming us home, full of flowers and life and Spring.

An expert said that our trees had been traumatized and that it might take a year or 2 for the survivors to come back. I guess that's all it is. But to me it is an old girl, bowed and broken, raising her arms once again to the sun, offering her beautiful blossoms. It is joy.

Monday, May 5

heading home

We left Richmond and drove a few hours to get a start on our journey home. So here we are in Hagerstown MD at a lovely Hampton Inn to which we escaped after almost being incarcerated in a cheap-o motel with low ceilings, metal doors, indoor/outdoor carpeting and so much room deodorizer that the stench filled the hallway as soon as you opened the door. We wanted a place where we could have a peaceful morning, watch the Today show, have coffee and take off rested. That place would have had us on the road by 5 just to maintain my sanity. We made a vow a while ago never to stay at a roach motel just to save 20 bucks. We renewed our vows last night.

Anyway, I'm drinking coffee, propped up in the creamy bedding and blogging. And contemplating whether it was really dumb to spend so much on a show in times like these. It was really expensive to do Richmond. Hotels, gas, meals. Aaargh. We'll be lucky to get home without being in the red. I love this show for many reasons, one of which used to be good sales. Well, all the other reasons (great setting, lots of people, responsible, dedicated organizers) just don't matter if sales aren't there. And they weren't. For anyone. Well, except for the wooden roses people.

Let me tell you about the wooden roses. Every couple of years a fad infects the art and craft circuit like kudzu. Weathervanes, lucky bamboo, root baskets, wooden roses. These are items purchased at insanely low prices from China or somewhere and passed off as handcrafted by the seller. The latest is wooden roses.

They cost 6 cents apiece and sellers charge about $15 a dozen. They come in colors, they come scented. And people buy them like crazy for some reason. The first time I saw them, every other person passing us had a bunch. With that kind of markup, the guy made enough to buy a house that day.

So, Saturday, when the roses people set up next to a ceramicist, her immediate reaction was "Oh, no you don't!" The line outside the roses booth extended past her booth, blocking her customers. She notified the organizers and they said they needed proof. She marshalled her forces to go Google the needed info and they came through with enough evidence for the committee to come tell the folks they had to leave. Yay! Right? Wrong. They wouldn't leave. Kept selling and selling for the next half hour until the police came to remove them. The organizers said the rose creeps had sent in a photo of "the artist" painting the tip of one of the roses. Sigh.

Kudos to Pat Lovelace and her crew. Many, many promoters would have shrugged it off and said there was nothing they could do.

Most artists we spoke to had poor sales this weekend. One who starts his year early in the Southern circuit said all his shows have been down 50%. Yikes! I don't usually listen to that stuff. If there's anything art show artists like more than free coffee and danish, it's bemoaning the fate of their industry. I started over 10 years ago and they were griping then, forecasting gloom and doom.

So, what explains this bad show? I dunno. I was hoping that the gas prices might keep people closer to home (except for nut jobs like us) and they would spend their vacation money on other fun things like art festivals. Sounded good to me!

Oh well, some folks sold nothing, We, at least, sold enough to finance our jaunt into a warm climate for a couple of days, got to try out and tweak our new booth design which worked great, tested some new designs which turned out to be popular and met wonderful people. Could be worse.

Now, home to Jake the wonder dog, who has been "suffering" without us in the loving home of our neighbors, Marie and Jolene. Home to start getting ready for the next show.

And on we go...

Sunday, May 4

morning story

Russell is into eating healthy. Way in. He juices. Greens, carrots, garlic, celery, name it. Whrrrrrrr. Every morning our house is fragrant with the aroma of fresh veggies ground into pulp.

He brought his juicer with him on this trip. Forgot a knife, though. The hotel said they couldn't let him borrow a knife (Patriot Act, I guess) but he could bring his juicer into the breakfast room and use whatever he wanted. Nice.

Did I mention this is NASCAR weekend? That the luggage of choice is matching beer coolers? He goes down with his veggies and his juicer. The room is packed with NASCAR guys. He says he doesn't think they were into juicing because they seemed puzzled.

No. Really? I am not a NASCAR guy and a man cutting veggies and running them through a juicer in the hotel breakfast room just might peak my curiosity.

Russell, of course, is blissfully unaware of being unusual. He just is Russell. The love of my life. :)

angels on the powhite

There is a major highway here called the Powhite Parkway. Try to say that out loud and NOT sound Southern. :)

We had to take the Powhite to our show. It is sometimes called 76 and sometimes 195. The guy at the desk pooh-poohed our mapquest directions and directed us the other way. Which was, of course, the wrong way and we bear part of the responsibility because when he never heard of Byrd park which is downtown, 7 miles away and quite the big deal, a warning bell should have gone off. He said he wasn't a park person. But we took his short cut behind Olive Garden and headed out. The wrong way.

The first turn off was to be after 5 miles and we went 8 with a serendipitous belief in desk clerks and with a certain understanding of the vagaries of mapquest and the Virginia highway sign department. Russell says we should turn around. I say give it 2 more miles. But this terrain is not at all familiar and I know we are lost. He is the anti-guy-stereotype. He loves to ask directions. He has chased frightened people down the street, waving his arms and calling "excuse me? excuse me?" I like to use the iPhone or a map. He always gets us there, I never do.

We are winding our way through a lovely, wooded neighborhood and finally pull into a driveway to turn around. Russ spots people at the top of the drive and gets excited about asking directions and pulls all the way in. It is a very long driveway so they have a few seconds to get concerned and puzzled about this NY car disrupting their quiet morning.He hops out, all smiles and Russell-ness. They furrow their brows. I can't hear him, but I see him gesturing and pointing and then I think I see the guy say "That's where we are going" No. How odd would that be. But when Russell gets back in, he says that is indeed the case and we are to follow them We have trouble calculating the odds of this happening. There may be no formula.

We follow our angels back in the right direction, to our area of the park, to our spot which is just a few away from them.

I'm still shaking my head. I wish I could say sales were miraculous, too, but everyone was commenting on how slow the show was and there seemed to be fewer people in attendance than in the past.

Oh well, perhaps today will be better. If we can find the place.

Saturday, May 3

road warriors

I'm still trying to figure out how it took 12 hrs to go 423 miles. I slept most of the way. Did Russell start daydreaming and forget to press down on the gas pedal?

Anyway..I got a call while we were apparently taking our own sweet time crossing the Mason-Dixon line. Roycroft. What were they thinking? They couldn't have a show without me. Why, the very idea made them shudder. This had to be corrected immediately and heads were gonna roll, I tell ya. The nerve to put someone as wonderful as me on a wait list! How could they ever make it up to me?

Well, it was something like that. Or somebody dropped out. One of those. So, the schedule gets fuller. Cool.

Off to navigate Richmond..City of No Signage...we will have to find the Powhite Pkwy which will not be identified and take an exit that will have no number, even though mapquest thinks it does.

Another show begins. And I am actually feeling the tiniest bit better. I am encouraged.

Friday, May 2

early morning fever dreams

OK, so I've been fighting this flu thing since Tuesday. Fever, tired, headache, achy. Great timing, eh? But Russell is packing the van and we are soldiering on. The biggest problem is that I fell behind on finishing stuff which breaks my heart. I won't have that funky wall of mirrors I designed the booth around. Bummer.

A cool shower, a big gulp of OJ and I'll be ready to hit the road.

Oh, geez, I didn't pack......