Monday, November 29, 2010

 The Sacrifices We Make
        Norma DeCamp could have spent the rest of her life comfortably in her North Carolina Cottage.  If you haven't heard of her, she is a Santa  maker.  One of few popular enough to make a living entirely from her craft.  Norma, reaching a time when most would start thinking of retirement and a time to take a well deserved break, instead chose to spend her life serving others

Her son, David, has a mission on Samana Bay in the Dominican Republic, and Norma chose to join him. Since then it's been a life of work, physical work, emotional work with little time for Santas. For the past 6 months or so Norma has been battling pneumonia and other ailments. Finally she has turned the corner and begun feeling better. I have pictures of her latest work. It isn't for sale. Norma has a loyal customer base and only needs to contact them for her work to sell. I think these pieces are some of her finest work. Maybe it was the long absence that was her inspiration.

I really admire someone who would make the choice of service over comfort. As I sit comfortably in my own home with the holidays approaching, what would it take to move me to such a life? What does it take to move anyone to give up the life you know and venture off into the unknown? What can I do from the comfort of my home this holiday season?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pink Holidays

About this time of year my local hobby store starts clearing the aisles to make way for Christmas ribbons and ornaments.   I used to groan, it's way too early for this sort of thing.  But now after selling holiday things year round for several years the decorations themselves have become almost season less, almost meaningless.  I'm sure a lot of you who make Santas or Easter Bunnies are working out of season.  At first it was disturbing, I didn't like painting chalkware Santas in September or unboxing bottle brush trees on a warm summer day.  These things always seemed as if they should be accompanied by Christmas music and cookies.                                                                                I live in a temperate climate, in northeastern Wisconsin.   At times I've loathed the bitterly cold days that keep you stranded indoors, the cold at times so extreme that spending any length of time outdoors borders on reckless.  I have lived in a tropical climate with year round balminess, then on to a rainy place, followed by a dry arid place.  Perhaps it's just because I was born and raised here that I like the rhythm of this northern climate best.  The definite seasons, winter being broken by days almost unbelievably beautiful as the grass begins to grow again and the trees leaf out.  We tend to associate holidays with these rhythms, a white Christmas, a pretty spring day for Easter, corn shocks and fields of pumpkins for Halloween.
As time passes I make peace with unpacking Halloween decorations in the middle of summer and Easter bunnies showing up right after Christmas.  I've found I still really associate the holiday with the changing of the seasons and not the objects, the dinners and traditions and not the  decorations.  I have found the meaning lies not in the things themselves but the meanings we give them when we invite them into our lives and give them a place in our homes.  These things we labor on out of season are just waiting for someone's family and home to give them meaning.    
Just an added note, I didn't create any of the things in these pictures,  I do show some of my chalkware Santas in another post.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Walter Dworkin and the Pursuit of Pixieware

 I thought I had seen everything.  At least everything available in an antique store or antique mall.  Not so.  I came across Walter Dworkin a year or so ago and found that he had not only amassed a huge collection of a vintage collectible I had never seen, but he'd also written the definitive book on them.    Pixieware was created by the Holt Howard Company in 1958 and was produced up until the early 1960's.  Even though I'm no very familiar with Pixieware there is something instantly recognizable about it.  Something from that era of new ranch houses, backyard grilling, bouffant hairdos and John F. Kennedy in office.  I asked Walter how he started collecting and what follows are in his own words.
                                                     " My infatuation with Holt Howard's adorable Pixieware condiment jars started when I was just a young boy. I had ventured into a neighborhood hardware store looking for an anniversary gift for my parents. This particular hardware store sold a lot of kitchenware items also. While shopping in the store, I looked up above the register and saw a real cute display of Pixiewares---there must have about ten condiment jars all lined up like soldier's. I think at the time they were selling for approx. $3.99 each, and I only had enough saved up allowance to purchase 4 of them. I remember buying the ketchup,mustard, jam 'n jelly & onions.

My Pixieware gift was well received by my parents and promptly displayed in our kitchen on a shelf. Everyday at meal time the Pixies greeted us with their great facial expressions, and I grew up with these whimsical characters constantly around me. But, for many years it always haunted me that I was not able to afford the rest of the Pixieware that I saw in the store that day. As time went on, I had moved into my own apartment, and then a house. My parents had to down size and were moving into a smaller residence and asked me if I wanted to adopt the Pixies, and so I did. Now I was displaying the Pixiewares in my own Kitchen window and still wondering why I never saw the rest of their clan anywhere. One day friends came over and notice the Pixiewares ( this was already in the 1980's) and mentioned that they see more pieces of these Pixies at the Atlantic City Antiques Show, and my hunt was on and a collector was born !

I started tracking down the rest of the Pixieware clan at flea markets, antique shops and collectible shows, I had thought that there were only 10 condiment jars to the set (little did I know then that there were over 65 pieces created by the Holt Howard Company). After many years, I was able to obtain a vintage 1957 Holt Howard catalog and was shocked to see just how many different Pixieware items were made. I would not rest till I found them all !! After many long years of searching to complete my collection, I had finally found all the pieces to the entire Pixieware set (and Mr. Howard and Mr Grant Holt) and decided to write a book.

Today, Holt-Howard's Pixiewares are over a half century old one of the hottest nostalgic collectibles!"
Walter has written Price Guide to Holt-Howard Collectibles and Related Ceramicware of the 50s &  60s available on Amazon  He also wrote Vintage Christmas Ceramic Collectibles.  He sells the wonderful set of  Pixieware in the first picture on ebay under the user id twingableseast  You can contact him directly at
Thanks for your interest in the Pixies. My name is Walter Dworkin, I wrote the 2 Holt Howard books on collectibles. These cute Pixies on the first photo were made by John Howard of the Holt Howard Co and he created them in 2003 to commemorate the vintage Pixies from the 50's--they are NOT reproductions since they are the only ones of their kind---they are orignals made by the same person by only in 2003, thanks Walt

PS---if you look in my latest Holt Howard book 2nd edition on pages 32-33 these pixies are in there--if you would like a personally autographed copy of my book $19.99 + shipping-or I can mail the pixies & book together and save you the additional shipping, thanks again, Walt

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Little Luxuries

I was reading Inc. magazine the other day and came across some of the best ideas for a business now.  One was for a cupcake shop.  The premise being that in a down economy we may put the big purchases on hold, but we're quite happy to treat ourselves to a fancy cupcake.  The absolute other side to this are all the discussions being held about "The latte factor", that those little purchases add up and are what is putting us in debt.  You've heard the story, give up your $4 morning chocolaty coffee drink and in 40 years you'll have $810,764 or something like that.               I've lived for many years like Scrooge, seeing myself in Silas Marner--forgoing the latte, the cupcake, and a good many other things.  Undoubtedly it did build my savings account, and I was good at it, but anything taken to an extreme like a diet can lead to anorexia.  How to know when to stop.  Living that way can lead to a feeling of scarcity, that if I don't save this dollar another one may never come my way.  Better that I learn to make a few extra dollars here and there and have my little luxuries.   It's hard to believe that the pretty roses in the first picture are actually soaps.  I came across them in the etsy shop Satin & Birch  They're raspberry roses with a splash of lemon.  I saw them and lusted after them for days.  I just ordered and I'm awaiting their arrival. I will update when I get them in.  (They arrived and are sitting on a rectangular Japanese plate and sweetly scenting my bathroom, really lovel soap.) You get a set of 4 and I'm keeping 2 and giving 2 to a friend.  One of those little luxuries.
The remarkably frilly tutu is from the etsy shop of Tiaras Tutus
It's a little indulgence for my granddaughter.  It's still being made and I can't wait to see it.  I have no idea what possible use it's going to have.  Maybe a photography session, maybe Halloween, maybe just for dress up.  A play-pretty with no other purpose than being pretty.                                                     Life is just so much more delicious with little treats.  We need clothing to wear, but don't need tutus.  We need food to eat, but no one needs a cupcake.  We need soap to wash with but it's not necessary that it's shaped into roses and scented.  But, rather than worrying that today's little splurge will lead me into poverty in later years I should view it a challenge and an ambition.  How to make the extra money to give myself this feeling of being unabashedly wealthy.  Taken this way my treats aren't "guilty pleasures", they're spurring me to ambition and action.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ginger Beer, Cream Pots and Estonian Beer Bottles

How marvelous would it be to reach into your refrigerator for cream for your coffee and pull out this bottle? Or the 3 in the next photo?  These are cream pots from England and Scotland from 1890-1900.  The owner is a friend,  Peter Anthony van de Griend of Belgium.  He is a mechanical engineer and worked for Elopak, the maker of the first paper carton and what we all see milk packaged in today. He traveled all over Europe working with their milk packaging machines.  The interest in packaging and labeling led to collecting vintage packaging and containers.  And of course traveling all over Europe for work certainly helped to grow his collection.

I find it fascinating what people collect and why.  How one innocent item picked up leads to another and another.  In the pictures that follow you'll see the collection that grew and grew.  It seems now we just contain things in the cheapest possible way and then throw out the container.  But once bottles were so beautiful they outlived their purpose and  became little works of art on their own.   When Peter retired he continued to travel and collect.  He sought out rare vintage scrap pictures for Mamelok press who reproduced them.  He is shown here with the director of Mamelok Press.  He is on the right. He bought a house in the countryside in Estonia and began a new interest in items of the Soviet era, being so close to the border.   But most of all he collected bottles.    The earthenware can in the next photo is the oldest piece in his collection from the 17th century.  It was made to hold wine and named the Jacoba can from the ruler of the time, Jacoba van Beieren.  Following is a rare pair of Latvian liqueur containers in the shape of a pipe and pistol.  The bottles on the high shelf are all Estonian hexagon shaped beer bottles.  The next display are all ginger beer jugs and bottles.  And finally displayed above the kitchen cabinets, a long line of beautiful cream pots.  Imagine all the homes these cream pots graced over 100 years ago, and they're still gracing a home.  And what more fitting a home than someone who spent their life engineering packaged milk?!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and Wendy Mullen

Imagine a life where a business trip involves going to France and Germany and perusing chocolate shops and antique stores!  It really is true that if you follow your dreams you never know where they may lead.   I can't even tell you how many times I've been on the website . I've admired the molds for sale, looked at every link to artists who use the molds for chalkware, paper mache-- even chocolate!  But I never knew the person behind the site.  Wendy Kolar-Mullen is the author of 3 books, two on chocolate molds and one on candy containers.  She is a collector and businesswoman, wife and mother to 5 children.   I wanted to know when she came across her first mold and somehow turned it into such a unique and intriguing business.  In her words-"I first started collecting 22 years ago. I was decorating cakes and in a cake supply store in San Jose--looked up on the top shelf and saw my first chocolate molds!

Immediately-I loved them..asked the owner--he said if you ever see one buy it--they are very hard to find especially here on the West Coast!

This was before ebay of course

So, I scoured flea markets, antique stores--called every store in the phone book. At that time few people knew what they were--they could only identify the heavy duty cast iron cake molds--very frustrating!

After a year of searching, I was at my local antiques barn in the country and there I saw a hinged group of 4 bunnies on the wall--$45 about lost my mind!! Still have the mold and love it!

I started finding more and then with ebay -made a friend and - we bought a large collection from Belgium--I had so many unique molds I started photographing them and decided to write my first book. Then of course I had more info and more photos and did the second book--the third book was on Antique Candy Containers-- inspired by beautiful plaster type molds used to make the containers--

I had the good fortune to meet the Great Great Granddaughter of mold maker Anton Reiche and learned so much about the mold making process and history from her--she showed me around Dresden, Germany where the Anton Reiche factory once operated --it was very special. I also collect the chocolate mold catalogues and have done much research and identfication of the molds that way.

Chocolate Molds are magic...they are versatile--I am still as thrilled by molds today as I was 22 years ago! My favorite are German Bunnies and Santa's--

I have used my molds for chalkware, papier mache, soap, candles and of course chocolate--most of the time however, they are on display!!"
  I've included pictures of two of her favorite molds, a gentleman rabbit and a very unique Santa holding a child.  The last photo is of her latest book on antique candy containers. It's full of beautiful pictures that are just inspiring to me.  I'd like to drop everything I'm doing and learn how to make these.  But it's more than just pretty pictures, there's also a history of the largest manufacturers and the artisans who decorated them.  There are even photos of a house made of the discarded molds used in place of bricks.

Her two books on chocolate molds are absolutely indispensable not just to the collector of molds, but to those who make paper mache or chalkware Santas and Easter rabbits.  Which mold is rare, how much is this worth, what does the number imprinted on the side mean?  All these are answered in her books, The Complete Guide to Chocolate Molds and Collector's Guide to Chocolate Molds.  
   And I'll be returning again and again to her site looking for that special Santa or bunny and perhaps your interest is piqued enough that you will be there too.

Pink Saturday Glitter Winner

I want to thank everyone that stopped by and left a quote for me.  I love to see what get's other people motivated.  The winner in the random drawing is Leann.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pink Inspiration

   Today I'm trading a little something pink for some inspiration.  I have six 2 ounce packets of German glass glitter and micro beads (all pink of course!) to give away.  In the comment section leave your favorite quote that inspires you.  The one that actually gets your butt off the couch and gets you moving.  The one that works.  I will put all your names in a bag and have a disinterested third-party (my husband) randomly pick one.  The little glitter prize will go to the winner.   I will announce the winner in this very post on Sunday morning.                                                        One of my favorite quotes is by Stephen Pressfield and contained within The War of Art.  Absolutely one of my favorite books, read and read again.  The sort of book you follow someone around with reading aloud just in case they need a little inspiration too.                                 "Creating soap opera in our lives is a symptom of resistance. Why put in years of work designing a new software interface when you can get just as much attention by bringing home a boyfriend with a prison record."                                               You all know someone like this.  And it works, drama gets attention and it's really not all that difficult.  Studying, creating, writing, getting up each and every day and doing what you need to do is difficult.  When you're starting a business or
learning a craft, or just trying something that's outside of your comfort, it would certainly be easier to stop and distract yourself and everyone around you with a little drama.  And you will get attention, but you'll never get anything done.
Let me know what motivates you.  What gets you off the sofa and on to writing your book, sewing your quilt, making pottery, creating your dream.
Photos are of Rosa rugosa "Sandy" and Lonicera halliana.  I especially love the rose.  The deer who devour everything else they can in my yard do not touch it, insects don't eat it, and it grows fast and smells wonderful.  In fall there are enormous rose hips.       


Monday, May 31, 2010

Made in Maine: Paper Mache by Jackie Wildes

  I was familiar with making chalkware rabbits and St. Nicholases, but not paper mache.  So I got in touch with a paper mache artist for some pictures and tricks of the trade.
  Jackie Wildes lives in Maine and works full-time.  She started making chalkware about 6 years ago but has been enthusiastically painting and making things since she was a young girl. Selling her paper mache on ebay is part-time and a passion.  Jackie like to work with new reproduction molds that are clear and easier to work with.  I've done that too and believe me it's much easier when you can see air bubbles before you unmold your piece.  It's less expensive to get started too.  Antique molds are very dear and becoming dearer by the day as more people discover them and want to collect.
  "Here are a few tips- Spray a thin coat of cooking spray in both sides of the mold and lightly wipe them with a paper towel. Mix the paper mache (craft stores sell bags of the dry paper mache or a paper mache compound called Sculptamold which I like because it does not shrink) with water using enough water to get a meatloaf mix consistancy. Fill both halves of the mold and try to press out most of the air bubbles. Using an old credit card plane the surfaces so both sides are flat and put both sides together so they line up and next clip the sides together using strong stationary clips. It will set and become firmer in about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the size of the mold and and the humidity. Once it is set carefully pull the molds off the piece. Using a flat edge clay tool scrape off any of the paper mache that may have oozed out of the seams and fill in any holes that will appear using a small batch of paper mache and the clay tool. Once the piece is molded let it air dry .

Painting is the fun part of the process. I use acrylic paint and depending on the piece I use a sealer or use decoupage glue with a dusting of glitter. If I want to get a real vintage look I apply a coat of stain and wipe it off to age the piece."

   Jackie's tips really make me want to try casting paper mache. And if you try it yourself you will appreciate the work involved, from mixing, to casting the figure, to painting, glittering and choosing just the right accessories for the piece.  I especially like her pieces like the snowman where a little winter vignette was created.
  You can find Jackie on ebay under the ebay seller id jacksonrackson in case you'd rather forego the work involved and buy one of these pretty pieces.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pink Mountains, Scouring Powder, and Starry Nights

     I noticed the other day that all the mountains
in the paintings I own were pink.  Am I attracted to pink mountains?  Or do many artists paint their mountains pink?   Here in north central Wisconsin I am too far away from mountains to do my own research.
   Many mountains are made of granite.  Granite consits mainly of quartz (the clear white part), hornblende (the black part), and feldspar which can be many colors but is often pink.
  As an aside, feldspar is the most abundant mineral on earth.  It's used as the abrasive in at least one scouring powder.  The next time you're scrubbing your sink it may be with powdered rocks.

No two of us are ever going to see things the same way.  Perhaps great art is brought about by not only seeing a little differently, but be being daring enough to paint, write, or compose that very thing we see or hear.  When I see Van Gogh's Starry Night, I think of fireworks against that dark blue sky.  I'm sure others of his time (and ours) couldn't or weren't willing to see the fireworks.  Afraid to stray from what's accepted.  The legions of us who color within the lines, never stray from the path and keep ouselves locked within, afraid, will never paint pink mountains or fireworks in the night sky.  We'll stay at home content to scrub our sinks with the dust of mountains.  Just once see a thing as it really is--to only you--and follow where it takes you.  You never know until you put hand to brush, or clay, or loom, what may spring from your heart. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How to Make a Chalkware Santa

                                                                                     I still remember the very first piece of chalkware I poured.  I had obtained a couple of molds, some plaster of Paris and a little spare time.  I clamped the molds, mixed the plaster according to instructions and poured.  How easy is this!  It's like pouring Jell-O in a mold!  15 minutes later I open the molds--my chalkware Santas look like Swiss cheese--full of holes.  I was so discouraged I put the molds away for a year or so.
Now 100's if not 1000's of chalkware pieces later I have a little confidence.
What you'll need:

Metal or plastic mold with open bottom, Plaster of Paris or art plaster, Cheap plastic or rubber mixing bowl, Cold water, Spring clamps, Sanding pad and knife

Don't count on the little clips that may come with your mold to hold up to plaster.  Get some spring type clamps from the hardware store.  Use more that you think you'll need.  You can use 2 oversize ones to stand your mold upside down or place it in florist foam or packing peanuts, anything to keep it standing straight when full of plaster.
Fill a large flexible plastic or rubber bowl with some cold water , (keeps the plaster from setting too quickly).  Just estimate the amount of water based on the molds you have ready.  Just start with one or two until you get experience.
 Gently shake some plaster into the water, as it keeps absorbing keep adding plaster. At some point you'll see the plaster (roughly a 2 parts plaster 1 part water ratio though I never measure) peeking up from the surface.

I wear a disposable lightweight rubber glove to mix. Just start squishing the plaster around, squeezing out lumps and making it uniform. Do this carefully to not create air bubbles It should be the consistency of a thick milkshake. If not add a little more cold water or a little more plaster. You only have about 20 minutes total before your plaster sets so work quickly. With practice this will become easy. If your plaster is too thin your casting will be weak, if too thick it will be difficult to pour. You're shooting for as thick as you can mix it and still pour.
Slowly pour the plaster (I dip a plastic measuring cup in the mix) into the mold, not in the center, just carefully to one side.  Keep tapping the mold while pouring if you can.  This will release any air bubbles.  Make sure your mold is perfectly upright and bring any sort of straight-edge across the bottom to level it.  Now just sit back for about 15 minutes. 
The plaster will heat up and expand a bit.  When it starts cooling down it's ready to unmold.  Take off all the clamps and carefully pull the mold off.  There will be seams along the edge.  It's best to take a little knife (a woodworker's curved carving knife works well) and shave off all the seams.  If there are tiny air bubbles here and there you can fill them with ready mixed spackle.  Large voids are almost impossible and that's why careful mixing and pouring are so important.  It keeps you from tearing your hair out when you're unmolding.
For clean-up let the plaster dry in the bowl and flex it out when dry.  Have a five gallong bucket ready full of water and clean the molds and clips in it.   Don't put any of this water down your drain.  Just let the clean-up bucket sit and the plaster will eventually sink to the bottom and dry.  You'll be able to pour off the clean water and the find the hardened plaster at the bottom.
Let your casting dry.  Take a sanding sponge and smooth all the seams until they're no longer visible.  Level off the bottom by firmly drawing it across a sheet of sanding paper on a work surface.   Now you're ready to paint.  But that's a story for another day.
In the photos are  some molds and finished and partially finished chalkware.  Last photo is a St. Nicholas with lots of hand painting and embellishments.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What Santa Claus Does in Summer

The  latest work from Santa Claus maker Norma Decamp and her son David Decamp.  Accompanied by a bit of prose that Norma writes about each piece that she makes.
Benjamin has been carving birds all his life.    His father was once a pirate and Benjamin
grew up loving the sea.
Homer is Benjamin's grandson.
Ben carves birds down by the sea each day
and brings his work home at night to paint.
He sells them to the tourists that come by
and Homer is usually close by his side.
He lovingly carved Homer's sailboat and horse 
and Homer is so proud of them.

Benjamin stands 15 inches” and Homer almost 8”
They are sitting on a piece of driftwood from Samana Bay
It measures 15 inches”. The birds were all hand carved by David, and hand painted. The tallest is an Ibis and stands 3 ½” tall. They vary from Spoonbills to Peacocks.

Work is designed and created by Norma DeCamp and David Decamp of Samana Bay Mission, Dominican Republic

Mother and Son

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Which Came First?

Imagine a caveman at work on his cave paintings, he mixes together a little iron oxide and lime and makes pink.  Does he think "hmm, this go in daughter's cave".  Do we grow up learning that pink is a more feminine color or would we just naturally respond to it that way?   If we paint prison walls pink does it calm the prisoners?  And if so does it just have a naturally calming effect or does it remind the prisoner of Grandma's powder room or frosted cupcakes  and these things do not connect with bad behavior.  I once bought my husband a shirt that was yellow and blue (when he had a job that required the wearing of a tie) and a little too flamboyant for him.  He wore it once and gave it to Goodwill.  He swears the shirt was pink.  Pink may well be the most one of the most polarizing colors.  You don't dress your baby boy in pink, paint your house pink (unless you're in the John Cougar song Little Pink Houses) or paint your pick-up truck pink unless you're really making a statement.  You do put pink roses on a birthday cake, dress little girls in pink tutus, wear pink lipstick and plant pink roses.  It's a color  you choose carefully.  You don't fall back on it because it's safe, it's far too powerful.  It's strength lies in it's connotations.  When our caveman mixed up his first batch of pink pigment he knew he couldn't paint animals with it, it wasn't a practical color it was an extraneous luxurious color.  A color to delight in.