Monthly Archives: October 2012

INVISIBLE SUPPORT

HOW MUSEUM DISPLAY REMINDS ME OF HOSPICE

I’m taking an online class on making mounts for museum display through the Northeastern States Conservation Center. A mount is the supporting structure that allows an artifact–a bone, a book, a bonnet, a basket–to be safely displayed in an exhibit. I want to learn more about making such displays, for my new series of artwork.

I’m in way over my head. Almost four weeks in and I’m still three weeks behind. There is so, so much more than I could ever have imagined to the incredible world of mount making. Mounts can be as creative and beautiful as any art form. And like many art forms, the discipline is formidable. So many things to consider: How fragile is the artifact? What do you want the viewer to see? What materials will not interact and damage the artifact? What will protect it from shock–everything from bumps and shakes to vibrations from passing trucks and earthquakes? The reading requirements looks about as manageable as WAR AND PEACE, without all the Russian names.

I’ve been reading an article called MOUNTMAKING by Pam Gaible, then Mount Making Supervisor at the Field Museum of Natural History. Ms. Gaible presented it at the American Association of Museums Convention in 1991.

I was fascinated by this paragraph:

How do you make a mount?
There are lots of factors to be considered when making a mount. A very important one is to have open channels of communication between the developer, mountmaker, conservator, and designer.

First the developer compiles an artifact list. Then the mount shop supervisor, the developer, and the conservator review the artifact list and create a photo book of the artifacts. The book contains a page for each artifact, which shows photo, measurements, material notes, and conservation concerns for mounting of the objects. It also contains a rough sketch of how an object can be mounted and a time estimate for making that mount.

She shows a few pages from such a book. The drawings and illustrations are beautiful. It looks like an artist’s sketchbook.

I once had the honor of viewing Cynthia Toops‘ sketchbook. Cynthia is one of my favorite polymer clay artists. Her work has a narrative feel that resonates with me. Sometimes playful, always thoughtful, charmingly folkloric yet sophisticated. Her sketchbook was as beautiful as her artwork, with tiny, exquisite drawings, details and notes. I am reminded that sometimes our tools and processes, just like museum mounts, support our art. And yet are so very artistic in themselves.

Then I read this paragraph, describing kinds of mounts:

* A typical disappearing mount. A mount that you aren’t aware of
when you view the object.
* A mount that keeps an object from migrating in the case.
* A mount that absorbs shock.
(This shock may be as small as the vibration of air conditioning
equipment or as large as an earthquake) [West Coast Style].
* A mount that helps preserve the existing structure of an object.
* A mount that is semi-permanently attached to the artifact and
functions as a handle and support.

(Rather than handling the object, you handle the mount.)
* A mount that supports an object while at the same time creates
the illusion that the mount is something else.
(Such as a mount that looks like a person, horse or campfire.)

I know this is weird–Lord, I can find synergy in anything these days!! But I thought this sort of sounds like my grief writing workshop.

A disappearing mount….that you aren’t aware of when you view the object. My purpose is to get people writing and talking about their grief. But it has to be subtle, almost invisible. Almost effortless. I do this by keeping the writing tasks short and directed. Even the poetry writing exercises are originally designed to be used with elementary school children.

But simplicity does not mean meaningless. Even the “easy” outlines create powerful results.

* A mount that keeps an object from migrating in the case. We use topics and time limits so that people can’t sink into their grief. Everything is quick, moves along. We take time to share, and cry. But we aren’t left to wander off into our misery.

* A mount that absorbs shock. A person who is grieving has suffered an enormous blow to their system. Everything hurts. Nothing brings relief. In our class, people feel like they can relax. They can cry. They can say what they really feel. Because everyone there knows what it’s really like. As one writer said, “It’s like we’re all on the same lake in a different boat!”

* A mount that helps preserve the existing structure of an object. We are deeply changed by grief. We will never be the same. But we are also still…..us. We remain. We survive. We go on, alone.

* A mount that is semi-permanently attached to the artifact and functions as a handle and support. People don’t stay long in the support groups. They come when they are ready for something more, something to help them move along. They get what they need. They heal. They go back to their lives, a little stronger, a little more resilient. They move on.

A mount that supports an object while at the same time creates the illusion that the mount is something else. I had to think about this for a moment. Then it dawned on me….

People think they come to a support group or a support workshop for help. They think we have the answers, or a process that will help them feel better.

But all we do is provide a safe place for them to talk. To share. To contemplate what this loss means to them. They do the hard work, the heavy lifting. They look at the things they’re afraid to say, or think, because that might mean they’re “not a good person”. (Almost all deaths are complicated, and some are more complicated than others.)

They dig deep into themselves, and let the light in.

They share with others who are in the same place. They sympathize. They offer comfort, courage, support. Wisdom. Understanding.

They do this for themselves, and for each other. We, the facilitators, sit and look on in astonishment.

Ah, yes, museum display and hospice/bereavement services. Who knew how much they have in common?!

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Filed under art, hospice, lessons from hospice, museum class

GREETINGS FROM NEPAL

My first open studio is done, and my next (last) one is on November 3 & 4. We had gorgeous weather, lots and lots of people, and strong sales. (Yay! I can buy more beads!)

In between I got a call from a bead trader. He’s one of a large group of people who are originally from Gambia in Africa. They all seem to be related. (Mention one to another and they always reply, “Oh, he’s my cousin!”

Several times a year, they travel back to Africa, to Gambia and Ghana, to buy “African trade beads.” (To learn more about trade beads, try this British source, or Picard Beads and Bead Museum, and this amazing online resource and discussion group. (Briefly, trade beads mostly refer to either a) glass beads made in Venice and Bohemia in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, made for trade throughout Asia, Africa and the American West, or b) handmade glass or metal beads made in Africa.

Anyhoo, a couple times a year I get a phone call from one of them. They are usually passing through my area, and would like to stop in to show me their wares.

It’s divine.

Imagine a large white van filled with about a hundred large Rubbermade totes full of hanks of….beads. They are carried into your living room and spread out on your coffee tables, chairs and dining room table. They are all colors of the rainbow, with some colors in between. They range in value from a few dollars a strand to a few thousand dollars a strand.

Given enough time, I try to email and Facebook people to come by and share the joy. One visitor fell into a chair and gasped, “It’s like I’ve died and gone to bead heaven!”

I feed everybody (but usually everyone but Baba or Kabba or Abdul is too busy buying beads, and Baba and Kabba and Abdul are too busy selling beads.) Everyone leaves a little poorer (except for the trader) and a lot happier.

So what’s with Nepal?

This year, a fellow craftsman appeared at the door with her mom and a friend. They were the first to arrive and dived right in. When the buying frenzy had eased a bit, I asked her how she found out about the event.

“I got an email,” she said.

“But you’re not on my email list!” I exclaimed.

“I got the email from Victoria E.”, she replied.

“But she’s not on my list, either!”

“Right, but she got an email from Lisa G.” she said.

“I forgot Lisa G. is on my email list!” I laughed.

“Not only that……Lisa G. is in Nepal!”, said my friend.

So, Lisa, wherever you are today….

Thank you so much for passing on my invitation, and thanks to your friends for passing on my invitation, and so on and so on.

And the next time you’re in MY neighborhood, come on by and I’ll give you some beads!

And for my readers: Never, ever underestimate the power of social media in getting the word out about your events.

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Filed under art, networking, selfishness

THE ARTIST IS IN….

And boy, is her studio clean!

Well, not clean, but neat. Yes, I’m finally ready for my Open Studio today (because I just looked at the clock and it’s after midnight!) Saturday and Sunday, October 6 & 7 from 10-5.

If you haven’t been to my open studios in the past, I hope you’ll stop by. It’s pretty informal here. I sit around making stuff for people, or showing them how to make something, while other people poke around in all my drawers, admire all the bones, shells, stones, antlers, dolls, fabric and sticks.

If you’ve been here before, you know the drill. Wander, peek, open drawers, touch, talk, eat, drink, be merry, talk, laugh, talk some more.

I have work for sale, of course, but it’s okay to just hang out and have a nice time. Have some cider, or coffee or tea, and munchies. Ask for the secret chocolate drawer! (Carrying on a proud tradition–KRISTEN!!) Oh, and the wine comes out when it’s 5:00 somewhere in the world! :^D

My artist friend Nicole is in her camper, parked on my lawn, with her work on display, too. And she's making cookies!!!

I have plenty of brochures if you're doing the entire Fall Foliage Art Studio Tour, so come grab your copy and git goin’!

Hugs,
Luann

P.S. THANK YOU for the people who pointed out my revisions added up to a lot of stuff being repeated. This is why we should not do brainy stuff at 3 a.m. !!!


Luann Udell
“Ancient stories retold in modern artifacts:
Jewelry, sculpture, fiber works inspired by ancient and tribal art.”
271 Roxbury ST
Keene NH 03431

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Filed under announcement, art, open studio

THE BEAUTY OF STUFF

As I clean my studio, I find my solace in a blog post I wrote six years ago on August 27, 2006. (I accidentally typed “1006″–ah, yes, my musings before the Norman Conquest….)

THE BEAUTY OF STUFF
I’m a highly successful hunter-gatherer. My home and studio reflect that.

I love yard sales, antique stores, thrift shops, craft galleries, hardware stores…you name almost any kind of store and I can happily shop in it for hours. I always find something that calls to be taken home. The bumper sticker “I brake for yard sales” could have been written for me.

It helps to know I’m not alone. Quilters hoard fabric, gardeners hoard seed catalogs and flower pots. Cooks collect exotic spices or recipes or kitchen gadgets. Woodworkers have barns full of wood and tools. Want to see my yarn collection? Ya got a few hours?

We collect stamps, coins, rocks, books and duck decoys. Even thrifty folks collect coupons and grocery bags. I’m told the new collectibles are those colorful cloth bags that are supposed to eliminate the need plastic bags.

Sometimes I think I have too much “stuff”. I know I could work more efficiently if my workspace were streamlined. I know my home would be easier to keep clean if it were more spare. I know there will come a time in my life where I’ll HAVE to cut down on the responsibility of owning so much stuff. And I know my relationships with people are much, much more important than anything I own.

But I still love, love, love my STUFF.

I had a delightful conversation about s*t*u*f*f a few daysyears ago with the owner of a flower shop here in Keene. In the Company of Flowers is a beautiful store, with lovely floral arrangements and potted plants. The owner, Mary, also offers an eclectic assortment of gifts and home accessories, all beautiful and unusual. (Note–still true!) I always enjoy browsing there and often leave with a trinket or two.

I’d just discovered a strand of unusual beads, like nothing I’d ever seen before. I could not take my eyes off them. My budget brain fought with my primitive hunter-gatherer brain, and the budget brain lost. The beads were soon mine. They sit by my keyboard even now as I write so I can enjoy looking at them. (Note–Now I have no idea where I put them.)

I asked Mary what she knew about them. She told me about the bead dealer she’d bought them from. I told her about my own bead collection, especially my strands of antique African trade beads. She told me about her collection of “kissy pennies”, antique metal pieces with enigmatic shapes. They’re used for money in some parts of Africa. “I just love how they look, so organic, so spiritual,” she said, her hands moving to illustrate their shape. “There’s something about them that moves me deeply.”

As we talked about our unusual collections, she told me the story of a good friend who had recently died. He’d amassed an amazing collection of objects. When his estate was dispersed, it was broken up and auctioned off in bits and pieces.

I made a little whimper of sympathy. No, she said. Instead of feeling sad, she felt elated. At peace. While he lived, he’d enjoyed his collection so much.

And now it was disassembled and put back out into the world. For many, many other people to see, to be collected and cherished all over again.

She said, “I’ve let go of the idea that we actually ever own anything. We just have the keeping of it until it finds it’s way back into the water again.”

What a beautiful sentiment!

There are people who claim they hate shopping, or who periodically purge their belongings. We all go through periods of de-cluttering, letting go of certain things. After all, it is just “stuff”. And in the end, we all know that relationships and people are always more important than any “thing” we own.

But being attached to stuff is NOT just a nuisance, nor a character flaw. Nor is it self-deception about true priorities or our own mortality.

Collecting stuff is a deeply human activity. It tells us so much about who we are and who we’d like to be.

People come into the world as unique individuals. We feel connection to certain kinds of things.

We accrue those things, or collect them. These items aggregate around us. We pull them from the stream.

When we die, that aggregation is released again, like a dandelion’s seeds blowing into the wind. They return to the stream. And other people find those same pieces, find joy in them and gather them. The cycle continues again, over and over, century after century.

Each collection is unique. A stamp dealer once told me that in over 50 years of selling stamps, she never met two people who collected exactly the same stamps.

Certain objects speaks to us. And they speak for us.

From the collectors of the finest art in the world to the hoarder of string and rubber bands, what we collect says something about who we are, what we fear, what we value and what we yearn for. Our stuff helps us remember a certain time, a certain place, perhaps even a certain person. Our collections can give us solace and amusement, curiosity and knowledge, beauty and joy.

Yes, there is a spectrum, as in any human behavior, from one extreme to the other. I secretly fear my kids will nominate me for the show “Hoarders”….

But it is still a process that I find heart-breakingly human.

So go ahead and enjoy your stuff. You have my permission, as my friend Diane recently gave me hers. (Permission, not stuff.)

If it bothers you, sort out whether that comes from how you feel about it or how others feel about it. If others, how much do you care? Find your own balance point between the convenience of having less stuff and pleasure it brings you.

As another friend quipped years ago, “I love my stuff, and I’m not getting rid of it! I don’t care what they do with it after I’m dead. They can burn it or give it away. They can build a pyramid above me and fill it to the top with my stuff for all I care! I’ll be gone!!”

I can still see her face lifted to the heavens as her hands formed a giant pyramid over her head….

Laurie, you go, grrl!

You can see more pics of my stuff from last year’s open studio here.
Watch for new photos from this year’s open studio soon!

Ya like thread? I got thread.


Ya like sticks? Got sticks, too.


Beads? Got beads.


Dolls? Check.

More dolls? Yep.

Buttons? Yeah, I got buttons.

What color buttons?

Just come to my Open Studio this weekend. I guarantee you’ll find something you’ll like to look at!

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Filed under art, cleaning the studio