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.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Santa Claus, Samana Bay and a Cat Named Mango

     If you collect Santa Claus figures, chances are you've heard of Norma Decamp.   For 35 years she's been making Santas.  Her style is instantly recognizable, faces full of expression and character, beards of wool, robes made from bits and pieces of  rich antique fabrics.  And then there are the embellishments: little vintage dolls of German bisque, tiny handmade toys, bottlebrush trees, sleighs and wagons pulled by reindeer.
     In 2006 Norma discovered ebay and a whole new world of people discovered Norma.  Her work was sought after, bid up and just generally created a stir.  Norma sometimes sold molds of her Santa heads which were quickly snapped up so that others could try and recreate the magic that Norma has.
She could have remained content in her North Carolina cottage creating her art and creating a stir, but success is not always measured in dollars and praise.
     Just this year Norma joined her son David at the mission he started in the Dominican Republic. This is from Norma's latest letter. "My son is the one that started this mission, it was a dream he had years ago, in fact he was only 15 when he thought of it, he wanted to try to help people to not only know the guiding light in their lives better, but to teach them how to raise gardens, purify their water, just how to survive in the country and like it. The cities are getting so crowded and so full of crime, country living is fantastic if one is willing to learn. We grow 30 different fruit trees on this compound, and have three different gardens here, there are lots of wonderful palm trees supplying us with coconuts, and we grow pineapples, bananas, plantain, we have avocado trees and mangos, in fact we have a wonderful cat named Mango that thinks he is a dog and hangs out all the time with our 7 dogs."
     The sailboat, the Santa, and the fisherman are all Norma's latest work.  I wonder what effect living in a tropical climate will have on future work.  Geography and a "sense of place" tend to have such an effect on our lives.  And a sense of purpose will have such an effect on others through Norma's life.
  For more information on the mission visit

Monday, May 10, 2010

What Lies Beneath The Doll Collection Part 2

Looking at this charming vignette I wonder if it's not a portrait of the doll collector, Dorothea, as a young girl.  A time more innocent, before WWII.  Yesterday we met the doll collector and today we will see a few of her dolls.  Her husband Manfred built this window seat and Dorothea painted the watercolor "window".  When one flees ones' country with only the clothes on their back and their childhood doll I suspect either a person would either grow to love or hate dolls.  Dorothea grew to love them.
Posted by Picasa  Curious about the celluloid dolls in this photo I had to do a little research.  Celluloid was first made in the 1860's and is semi-synthetic.  It's clear and could be dyed to imitate many natural materials.   The dolls have a sort of luminosity that you just can't get with the darker Bakelite.  Celluloid has a few drawbacks, it's extremely flammable and deteriorates with moisture.  Celluloid dolls needed some care to survive and to continue to survive.    Most celluloid dolls were made between 1900 and 1950.  When you think of war and upheaval in Europe during these times think how squirrelled away and cared for these dolls must have been to have survived.  I can only imagine some young girl having one as her only possession and keeping her safe as she was kept safe.
The Christmas scene and the grouping on the left are new dolls, some of them made by Dorothea and some made by other doll artists.  I often wonder how anyone in this world can ever get bored when there are worlds within worlds.  Worlds for you to create.   Just open the door to the next room and create a miniature world.  A world of never ending ideas for the next display and to come up with the  suitable clothing and accoutrement's.   The dolls dressed in their  white lacy finery and perched atop little wicker chairs are antique.   The massive case divided into kitchens and schoolrooms and scenes of everyday life was built by Manfred who didn't take up woodworking until a few years ago. A retired man and woman in a small English seaside village create perfect little scenes of everyday life and care for the dolls.  And someday a new generation will delight in these and take over their care and keep them safe.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

What Lies Beneath The Doll Collector Part 1

How could you help but be absolutely charmed by this pair?  Dorothea in a striking red cape by the sea and Manfred on vacation in Texas looking the perfect rancher.  Perhaps you'd come across them gardening in the yard of their modest brick home in a small English seaside village.   Their lives would appear quiet and idyllic and seem as if life has always been thus.  Dorothea is a doll collector and maker and Manfred builds fine cabinets, merry-go-rounds, bay windows and other settings for her dolls.  He has his own collection of 7000 seeds, but that is a story for another day.
Dorothea was born in Eastern Germany at the very end of the war.  Her early life was spent often in bomb shelters and they could see the burning of Dresden from 40 kilometers away.  "This time and this unpleasant start in my life had lots of effects to my life, my health and my soul."  The family had never been communists and life was hard. She attended school in Eastern Germany until the age of 16. "I loved going to school and learning was very easy for me and pure pleasure."    On the 10th of December 1960 she decided to escape to Western Germany and take her mother whose health was failing with her.  It was 8 months before the wall was built.
"We left home in the very early morning and had to catch a bus to the next village and from there we went with the train to Berlin. Outside Berlin there was a train (something between a train and a tram).. a special transportation system in Berlin: some of the lines crossed the City and one was going in a ring road around Berlin... so for sure you came into West Berlin... but you had to KNOW when West Berlin started. When we entered this special train we could see this police pulling people out of this train ... just this one and an other one.. and 2 of this police man (in black leather coats with NO writing on) have been standing on both ends watching everything was was going on in between... and my mother could not move a step forward from fear... so I cried to her... come on we HAVE to go in this train and she came and we went in and the train started... We have been still on the Eastern side. I think we had 3 or 4 stops before we have been in Western Berlin. After 4 stops my mother asked a middle aged women what the name of the next stop is... this woman did not answer my mothers question, she said: you are safe now... If she could see (or read on our forehead or otherwise in our faces!!!) everybody else could have guessed what we have got in mind. The next stop WAS West Berlin and we have been safe on the Western part of Berlin. We had to go up steps and then I throw our key from home away... We knew we could never go back... All what was HOME, the past and the life so far was behind us... "
"We had only the clothes on our body and a small bag and my DOLL!!!!! from childhood. Then we went to the place were all this people had to go first... and lived with 6 people in one room and had to go to several authorities and answer questions... why we came and if we would have relatives on the Western side (which we did not have) and were we would like to go.... we had NO idea.. Ohhh I could tell you lots of stories which happened there... But I remember - as it was shortly before Christmas - there was a choir from the US-Army and they sung "White Christmas" for us... I still get goosebumps when I only think about it... And we get vouchers... for fruits, for milk, for chocolate and and the end of this 10 days we have been in different camps in Western Berlin."
She needed to work to support herself and her mother and she attended school at night.  She marries and her mother re-marries. But Dorothea has done it more for convenience than love.  After 7 years she divorces and moves to Switzerland to work for a bank.  The bank invests in her education and she becomes a personal manager and life is good.  But about to get better. "In 1973 I get married again and this time it was like the biggest win in the lottery: when I write this, we are happy married for 37 years."  25 of those years are spent in Zurich, Switzerland and 12 more retired in the south of England.  This is where you find this couple today in their modest brick home surrounded by gardens, living their idyllic life.
The story behind the story, so much more compelling.  The road one takes to find their way home.

Tomorrow the dolls.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Words Mean Things

Consider the Common Lilac, Syringa vulgaris. Syringa stands for tube (like a syringe) and refers to a young state of the twigs of the plant and vulgaris just means common. Isn't it funny how something vulgar now is coarse and low, but really means common? Lilacs are exuberant flowers, you can gather them by the armloads from the roadside or abandoned farms. They're not royalty like roses, they don't last long in a vase and I've never seen them in a flower shop. In an old book of mine entitled Rural Wreath, Or Life Among the Flowers it shows that Lilacs mean "The first emotions of love" . And it would be a fitting flower to present to a new love.
Nowadays we don't think much about the meaning of flowers. We give red roses to sweethearts on Valentines Day bound by tradition and the receiver knowing they cost you dearly. But there was a time when there was a secret language of flowers and you could give a bouquet fraught with meaning, delicious to the receiver. Perhaps a bouquet of Flowering Almond (Hope), Jonquil (Is my affection returned?) Snapdragon (Dazzling yet dangerous), and Tulip (Beautiful eyes) . What would such a bouquet say to the receiver? How much more flattering when filled with meaning? A secret passing between two rather than a showy display. A vase overflowing with Common Lilacs, the first emotion of love?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Norma Decamp Update

Some of you are waiting for a cd of Norma Decamp's work. If you're not familiar with her she's an artist primarily known for her Santa Claus figures. Her work can be found in collections around the world, from Tom Cruise to Oprah. She lives now at a mission in Samana Bay in the Dominican Republic. The mission was founded by her son David, also an artist. Although she meant to devote herself to the mission, Norma can't help but create and she's still making Santas and other figures like this. The cd will be made in the near future and I'll be offering it for sale. In the next few weeks I'll do some installments on Norma's life and work. She recently generously shared lots of photos and a lovely letter about life at the mission, which I will soon share with you.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pretty or Painfully Pink?

I've always been a lover of deep colors. Jewel tones and spices. My favorite is Chinese red. Pastels just seemed too insipid.

Today these pink foil German Dresden papers arrived for my store along with some velvet millinery flowers. I just happened to have out some vintage French postcards. It was a perfect storm of pink. Somehow it doesn't seem too insipid. Somehow it looks rich and glorious.

Ever wonder what part color plays in your everyday life? I don't have the answers, just the questions. I just know that I lived in too many rented places with all white walls and the minute I owned my own place, the walls were sage and sunflower. Every last bit of white, even every ceiling was a rich color. And looking around makes me happy. A friend once looked at the red walls and midnight blue ceiling of one of my rooms and said "I sure wish I had the nerve to paint my bedroom like this." She was in her 70's. If not now, when? Who are your rooms for?

Monday, May 3, 2010

A smiling Face

Today was a good day. I thought a smile would be appropriate. It's not my smile but it certainly captures the way I feel. Not that anything spectacular happened. I didn't win the lotto, magically drop 5 pounds or have Oprah or Martha Stewart call inviting me to appear on their shows. But it's a beautiful day, the air is filled with the scent of crabapple and lilac blossoms. I accomplished pretty much everything I set out to, all the nagging unanswered emails, the paying of the bills. I'll soon be on my way out the door to a drawing class I'm taking. I'm excited about the possibility of sketching a face that looks more like a portrait than a cartoon. Maybe it's just spring and life feels full of hope.
The little pumpkin man is a reproduction of a vintage Halloween toy. And really in honor of a friend recently passed who loved Halloween very much. And I miss her very much. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Pretty White Dove

What a lovely little image this is from The Graphics Fairy. I just love antique advertising. Imagine how long it would take to shop if we had labels like these to pore over when buying cosmetics or groceries. Instead we're looking for ingredients or to see if there are transfats or high fructose corn syrup. For me I'd love to see appealing labels like these. Sometimes I buy things just for the packaging, like tins of steel-cut oats or Caswell-Massey soaps.
A pretty white dove in the moonlight, what could be more appealing?