Testing, Testing

19 04 2017

This week, as part of my duties as vice president of standards for the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen, I chaired a Master Artisan jury session – a formidable event for jurors and candidates alike. (For details on this, visit https://www.pacrafts.org/our-guild/master-status)  It brought back memories of my experience on the applicant side of the equation.

How long had it been since I looked at the work that earned me Master status? How would those pieces look to me now, after all those years? I’ll admit, I was a little more than nervous, but I hung the works together and stepped back.

Damn. While they are not representative of my current work, they are part of me. They still speak to that place I was when I created them.

I am humbled and honored to chair this year’s Master Artisan jury sessions.  Remembering what it feels like to take the test helps make better teachers. I will not forget.


Time for a Palette Cleanser

17 09 2014

Have you ever had the joyfully gluttonous experience of a major multi-course dinner? If you have, you know the value of that little sphere of frozen citrusy goodness that appears between the chicken and the meat courses:  the palate cleanser.  That small gesture of refreshment – that complete break from what has come before and what is about to follow – amplifies the deliciousness of both.

Fine arting is a lot like fine dining. To keep the experience exciting and fun, we need to refresh our appetite, from time to time; otherwise, we can find our senses dulled and the delight we usually feel in our studios has turned to tedium.

For a long time – many months – I feared I had lost my passion for my chosen medium, enameling. I had works in progress that I couldn’t look at; the kiln was long cold; maybe I wasn’t an artist, after all . . .

When I mentioned my doubts to a few very good friends, who happen to be very fine artists, they suggested I try different media – just for fun. They encouraged me to play in their toy boxes – to experiment with their materials and working styles – just for the fun of it.

Boy, was it fun!

It was also refreshing. Without even realizing it, I found myself back in the middle of my begging-to-be-finished enamel works, looking on them with a very different perspective.  As I put the final touches on the things I’d been neglecting, Miss Muse is whispering in my ear (okay, she’s hollering) about all sorts of new enamel works to be created.

tourmaline detail 1


Feeling a little bit stale? Cleanse your palette and your palate. Squeeze a few bright new colors from some fresh tubes, pick up a crochet hook or a pen or a box of scrap wood – dive into the toy box for a while.  When you clamber back out, you just might find your old familiar tools are, once again, your very favorite toys of all.

counter sift


Permission Slip

26 02 2014

I am an artist. I am not a teacher. Sometimes, though – when I am asked by someone who’s important to me – I’ll give in and spend some studio time showing others how to do what I do.

I dread the whole process because I do not like to teach; but yesterday, I realized I do not teach – I give permission.

Okay. What does that mean?  What does that look like?

Here’s what it looked like, yesterday:

A dear friend came to my studio, expecting an enameling lesson. Her goal was to create one enameled switch plate to complement the art in her beautiful kitchen. My goal was to find a way not to teach.

I explained the tools and media to her in the same manner as a car salesman reviews how to set the rearview mirror and adjust the seats before you take a test-drive: perfunctory and blasé.  Then, I stood back. I let her make her own artistic decisions. She was off and flying.  With very little coaching, she completed her project. It was such a success; I suggested that she make a second one. She selected an entirely different style and completed it well, too.

This was not a lesson; it was an experience. There was no doubt; there was excitement and anticipation. There was no pressure; there was the joy of doing something new.

My friend executed several different enameling techniques that were beyond beginner level, without trepidation and with very good outcomes, not because of my grandiloquent explanation, but because I just told her she COULD.

If you want to try something new – a new medium, a new recipe, a new dance step – give yourself permission and go for it. Don’t hurt yourself or anyone else and there’s no chance of being sent to the principal’s office.

Live It Up!

9 10 2013

My fine artist friend, Annie Strack, (http://www.anniestrackart.com/) recently made an eloquent argument in favor of NOT copying another’s work that led me to a little artistic introspection. I trust you’ll indulge me. Thanks.

Annie said, Artists don’t need to copy photos on the internet, or magazines, or books. It’s much better to paint the things that they see all the time — the things that surround them in everyday life. There’s an old adage for writers “Write about what you know.” The same sage advice applies to art. 

I’m not suggesting that you should never leave your own back yard; I am 100% in favor of expanding one’s horizons, but what I got from Annie’s comment –  what moved me to think and write about this, today –  is that, to understand a thing, to make it a part of us,  we must experience it.

We must actively live; to merely observe is not enough.  It just makes sense. It makes all of the senses, actually.

When I consider my own journey as an enamelist, I see how far I have come from my student work, where I learned technique by applying it to subject matter that was useful to my education, but not particularly meaningful to me.

Now, I see my life in my work. Of course, everything I experience informs, inspires, influences, and impacts it; however my art is more than that.  It is more than my physical world; it is my honest response to my world.10-9-13 2

Thank you for informing, influencing, and inspiring me.  Thank you for being part of my world. It’s a lovely place to live.

When You Give, You Get (Lots More!)

4 07 2012

My sister called me late last month to ask whether I could repair one of the art enamels I’d given her; she’d dropped and broken it.  The piece was a very early work, not one I was particularly proud to have hanging on her wall, anyway, so I was not sorry to hear it was a goner. I was sorry that she felt bad about it.

It’s already July and I have four fine craft shows on my schedule – two in August!  Miss Muse has been conspicuously absent for much of the early summer and I had begun to stress, well more like panic, about my paltry inventory. I felt like I could not afford to give up even one piece, but Phyllis never refuses when I need her, so I did the only thing I could do – I gave her another piece.  The moment I gave it to her, I knew it was the right thing.

The piece was a new work, one I was very pleased with and one she had commented on when she helped me at my last show.  I had initially thought I HAD to have that piece for my August show. It was one of a new series of just a few pieces and I needed it to give the display the proper cohesive feel.  Boy was I wrong!

Since giving Phyllis that piece, Miss Muse has been alternately dancing for joy and cracking the whip.

I am making new work.

I am finishing work that had been ignored for weeks in the studio.

I wake up with ideas and ambition.

I have seven (7!) new pieces completed and several more good works will be ready for show time.

Give ‘til it hurts? Nah.

Give ‘til it feels great.

Excuse Me, Don’t I Know Me?

6 10 2010

This year, I started collecting and pressing leaves from some of my best loved Japanese maples, some intricately formed conifers, and a few lovely perennials – and some interesting weeds – and using them as stencils for a series of enamels I call “Garden of Dreams.”  Gardening has been one of my great loves for over twenty years.  It was only a matter of time until my inner plant geek insinuated herself into my art.  I was unprepared for how much more satisfying the resulting work was – how much more it felt like “me.”

Now that I think about it, I am kind of surprised it took as long as it did.  Realizing that it had not just been “automatic” made me recognize how I have artificially and unconsciously segregated areas of my life. What I had viewed as separate cogs in a machine are more like leitmotifs in an opera – the distinct melodies that represent various characters and ideas, but are interwoven amongst one another to create a powerful, complex masterpiece instead of distinct points of contact that move me forward in turn, instead of in concert.

Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken,” but it takes a lot to be yourself – there is so much of yourself to be.  What a relief, though, to realize that if I am disappointed in myself, I can shuffle the parts and make myself better. All those separate facets of personality can combine and collaborate in virtually infinite possibilities – and they are all still me.  I just need to get the proportions right.

Speaking of getting proportions right, here is a recipe to honor my sister and her husband on their anniversary this month. They were married twenty-nine years ago and I made this appetizer for their wedding reception.

Spinach and Feta Strudel                             

10 oz fresh spinach                     2 egg whites

2T butter                                   1 t  fresh dill, chopped

¼ c green onion                            salt and pepper

¾ c feta, crumbled                      ½ c melted butter

¼ c minced parsley                     8 phyllo leaves

fresh bread crumbs

Wash spinach and wilt, using just the water that clings to leaves after cleaning, over medium heat in covered sauté pan.  Cool.  Wring out excess moisture, using a kitchen towel you don’t mind tinting money green.  Chop fine – can use knife, processor, or blender.  Sauté onion in 2T butter until soft.  Mix onion, spinach, cheese, 1T bread crumbs, parsley, egg whites and salt and pepper to your taste.  Heat oven to 375º.  Hold thawed phyllo as per package instructions.  Brush a sheet of pastry with melted butter and sprinkle with crumbs.  Repeat to stack 4 leaves of pastry.  Place half of filling across the short end and roll like a jelly roll.  Repeat with remaining 4 phyllo leaves and filling.  Brush tops with melted butter.  Bake on greased cookie sheet for 30 min.  Slice with serrated knife.  Eat at least six pieces to be sure it is acceptable to serve to family and guests. Serve warm or room temperature.


28 09 2010


Last Wednesday, I took four pieces of work – and my soul – to the amazing pottery studio of Kevin Lehman, the head of the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen’s Standards Committee. There, along with the work of several dozen other hopefuls, my offerings would be reviewed and critiqued by a panel of expert fine craftsmen to determine whether or not we had achieved “mastery of our media” – whether or not we would be awarded state juried status.

After we delivered the best of our creativity, we were banished from the premises while the jurors deliberated. When that studio door closed behind us, I was not prepared for the weakness in my knees and the knot in my stomach. After about half an eternity (about ninety minutes, really,) we were ushered back into Kevin’s studio to learn our fate.

There they were – right there on my display panel – the coveted tulip stickers, signifying I’d made it.  I was juried!  My ability as an artist has been verified  .  .  .  wait a minute! 

What am I talking about?  Does being an artist require independent confirmation; of course not. Since the first time I witnessed someone’s reaction to one of my enamels, I knew I could create an emotional connection with the viewer through the work. I belong to a wonderful group of artists and craftsmen who support and nurture each other simply because we love fine craft and the people who make it. They have been generous and lavish with compliments and encouragement.

Then, why am I so giddy? What made me want this recognition with such intensity?

Oh, how I hate the cognitive dissonance this kind of situation creates in my weary mind.  Upon closer consideration, the real issue came to the surface. I need to answer the question “What does juried status really mean to me?”  It is not about the affirmation that my work is good, although that is always nice to hear. It is not about the (very cool and prestigious) tulip stickers that I can proudly affix to my enamels.  

Reaching this goal has lifted me. I am so happy to share my victory with my beautiful and creative friends.  I suppose it is reason enough to set goals – simply to have something to celebrate with those you love.

Okay, it’s also about the stickers.