Category Archives: Fun art

On inspiration in art — 2015.2

I started creating with “jewelry and junk” after my Mom moved to an assisted living facility and weren’t sure what to do with her 27 drawers of jewelry — some of it of the costume variety but all of it special for one reason or another — mostly because it was hers.

Both Joan and I were looking for a way to celebrate our memories of which shell earrings she used to wear with which muumuu, the stunning pieces that she purchased on her travels — Mexican silver, a crown-shaped ring from Thailand, a seemingly endless supply of pins from cruiClock by Joanse-ships and state capitals and special events. We sifted through it all and separated out the “good stuff” between the three of us.

It wasn’t long before Joan was making bookmarks with beads (we sold these at Dark Horse Books), and treasures such as this lovely clock — which has been a beloved part of our home for a LONG time.

I started making frames and tins for friends, then tried my hand at more difficult pieces using all kinds of recycled bits. It didn’t matter whether it was a cap off a Bic pen or a spangly rhinestone earring — everything seemed to find a place somewhere (even if it rested a good long while in my collection of  “stuff.”) You can check out a lot of my work here and here, (this latter is one of three FB photo albums of my work).

Soon people were saving things for me; I’d be gone for an afternoon from the bookstore and might come back to find a box or baggie of jewelry, or odd-shaped bits of packaging, that some thoughtful person had brought in for me.

And then I started to hear Game Fish by Larry Fuenteabout “real artists” doing this kind of work. For example, “Game Fish” by Larry Fuente is at the Smithsonian Art Museum!

This giant piece is made of hundreds of pieces of kids stuff — toys, dominos, plastic figurines, even a baby-doll arm. Inspiration indeed.

And suddenly, in February, after years of doing my artwork, I have discovered many others who are working with found materials to create amazing pieces.

Check this out — by a British artist named Jane Perkins — a reproduction of one of my favorite VermeeJane Perkins Girl with a Pearl Earringr paintings but all done in  pieces!

She has created amazing canonical works — including Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” and portraits of Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe. She calls herself an “artist in found materials” — love that description.

I also recently learned that several of my cousins are making tins and other multi-media pieces, like these two made by my cousins Janie and Laura.

This was afJnJ_Janie_made_for_Margeter I had created “great women doodads” for all my girl cousins, and a tin for my Aunt Marge Rambo, which another cousin says sits on her kitchen. JnJ_Laura_made_for_Ally


I also really like these shoes, which a friend saya on Facebook and tagged for me. They’re of Swarovsky crystals, mostly…

I’m not sure how they get the beads to stay on them but they are certainly inspiring!

Sparkly shoes from FB

Which brings to my latest effort….

Last week, I donated this little book tin to Ollie-Fest, a fundraiser for the Eva Dahlgren/Dan Hundere family. It was given away in the raffle; not knowing the recipient, I found him on Facebook and send him a message, saying that I was hoping to chat with him about this unique piece.

book tin for Ollie FestHe wrote back that his daughters, four- and six-years old, “absolutely loved it. They filled it with all sorts of fun stuff and have carried it around the house the yard and collected shells and leaves from all over the yard.”

I’m so happy to know they are playing with it and enjoying it —  lots of good synergy there. The tin is from the Girl Scouts and the dominant color of green represents all things that are healthy and growing, as well as recycling, long a passion of Eva’s. This tin’s shape,  a “book,” is special because Ollie’s such a good reader — no surprise since Eva’s a librarian and was a long-time employee of ours at the bookstore.

All of this encourages me to work on yet another piece for a fundraiser, and to remember that inspiration comes from others’ joy in your work, from the examples one finds elsewhere, from sharing your ideas with others  — but mostly from within.




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Filed under Around the Valley, Cool causes, Fun art, Matters of the heart, other finds, Scrapbook, Sorting things out

Touched — O/N it 8

Surprise gifts are always a pleasure, and I’ve had some real doozies!  Topping the list: the set of rings Peter gave to me the holiday we spent in Greece (I thought we’d agreed to forego exchanging presents). I think my jaw dropped nearly to the sidewalk, when in the most romantic spot imaginable, in the shade of the Acropolis on Christmas Eve, he pulled a treasure box from his jacket!

Other surprise gifts aren’t nearly as dramatic but just as welcome. On Wednesday, at the strategic planning session of the Community Foundation of Teton Valley, my friend and fellow board member Susan Lykes pulled a Zip-loc bag from her purse for me; it was full of little rocks she’d collected for me on a recent fishing trip to Alaska.

photo 2Here they are. The only big one was distinctively heart-shaped. All of them had stripes or markings that Susan thought would be nicely put to use in my jewelry and junk art pieces.

Tough to see the detail and various textures in the photo, but trust me, each one is unique.

So thoughtful!

But this isn’t the first bunch of things from Susan; she’s also brought me a slew of precious seashells from Florida, gathered while she and husband Mayo were at the Lykes’ family beach-house there. But shells are lightweight and easy to carry: stones, not so much so!

Nor is Susan the only one who has contributed items for my artwork over the years.  Both Joan and I started making different kinds of art pieces with costume jewelry that had belonged to our mom. It was a way to honor Mother’s memory and assemble something incredibly special from the memories…..I’ve simply expanded it from that original idea.

Our employees found me things. So have my sisters, and Rusty, too. And it was always a fun day at Dark Horse Books when someone walked in and said, sometimes shyly, “I have something for you, if you want it.”

These surprises came from a host of friends and customers — Carole Flaherty, Janna Rankin, Erica Burns, Joyce Zajac, Jeannette Boner, LaVon Grandy (especially poignant as some of them had belonged to her mother Bertha Gillette), from the now-gone Carolyn Kasnak, the then-newly arrived Mona Monroe, to mention a few. I apologize for not listing the names of others.

I’ve received special boxes of shiny buttons, Mardi Gras garlands, a fishing tackle with sorted beads, a basketful of earrings, strings of necklaces (some falling apart from frayed fittings but all still beautiful), wedding cake decorations, tiny kids toys, a beat-up brown bag of old keys, and much more.

It was always like Christmas to hear the particulars about what was inside.

I especially love the feeling of connection I have when I find the absolutely-perfect piece and place it on a work in progress. The person who gave me the bit becomes part of the story for the recipient of the finished frame, tin, or whatever I happen to be working on. Put them all together and even the smallest thing is transformed.

Thank you, again, Susan, for thinking of me and carrying this precious cargo all the way back to Teton Valley for me!

And to anyone out there who would like to take part of the ultimate in upcycling, well,  start me a small container (a plastic bag that closes works especially well) and just throw any piece of jewelry or junk you had thought about pitching into the garbage into the container instead!  Let me know when it’s full, and we’ll figure out a way to get it to me.

I know I’ll be once again touched by the effort, and surprised, too!

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Filed under Fun art, Matters of the heart, O/N it

More than paint: O/N it 3

From my very first days as a journalist, when I used to write the “St. Mary’s Report” for the high school page of the Wyoming Tribune (or was it the Eagle?), right through my days on Wingspan at Laramie County Community College, decades later at the Teton Valley News, in all the Powder Mountain Press publications, on the op-ed page of the Idaho Falls Post Register and as a guest columnist for the Valley Citizen,  I always thought it was just a little bit fun to see my “byline.”

It’s an ego thing, I know. But there’s something about writing something, putting it out there for people to read, and then rereading it yourself and saying YES, this is good work, recognizing that the words you’ve crafted together actually say what I want to say and in the way I wanted to say it….

I’m sure architects feel something of the same rush when a building they’ve designed is finally bricks and mortar and people are actually walking in and out of the doors — I’m sure theirs is a much bigger rush!

Oh well. it’s ll about scale and satisfaction.

I don’t see my byline in print as much as I once did, but it seems just as fun in cyberspace, especially when it’s NOT here on my blog.

Right now I especially like writing for my friends at CityPASS, the Victor company that offers combined prices for admissions to must-see attractions in about a dozen cities. Here’s a sample, a look at Philadelphia’s Murals, which was just posted on the CityPASS CityTraveler blog yesterday.

This photo is  somShelter_Mural_detaile of the cute-critter detail of the “Gimme Shelter” mural. You can almost hear that dog barking, can’t you?!

It’s just one of the many pix I have of these Philly treasures. It was tough to chose which of them to send to CityPASS. It’s never a bad thing to have more images than fewer, as selecting just the right ones becomes part of the communication challenge, a step on the journey.

Here’s to a great Sunday, whoever’s bylines you might be reading, whatever pet you might be caring for, and wherever your feet may wander today.

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Filed under Around the Valley, Fun art, Journeys..., O/N it, On writing, other finds

Treasure box (8/18)

I’m a piler, I must admit; the employees at Dark Horse Books good-naturedly put up with my stacks of things, then I would try to get rid of at least one or two big ones before going away, even if it was just an overnight to Boise for an Arts Commission meeting.  I’m in that mode again, not because we have any trips planned at the moment, but because it’s part of the spring cleaning I usually start at the end of each summer….

So, over the last two weeks I have been going through a lot of old papers and baskets of collected memorabilia, clearing out what’s no longer relevant and finding some fun things along the way.  One of them was a “treasure box,” a reminder of an exercise that I created for a retreat of the Teton Arts Council.

The page inside was dated Oct. 28, ’00 — must have been when I was chairing TAC —  a few months before Spindrift was published, before I was appointed to the ICA, way before “instant sharing” of any sort.

But I remember the day, and prepping all the items to share with my fellow TAC board members. As I remember it, everyone took my silly bits of wisdom, expressed with a lot of cliches and puns, in the spirit they were given. Hope you all will do the same.

Some of the selections were “cosmic,” which means that everyone chose their own from a generous assortment. For example, I had saved little baskets, boxes, and tins for containers, the “treasures” included all kinds of things I would eventually use on my artwork (i.e., pieces of jewelry and junk, and toys, office supplies, etc.), and the wrapping paper was everything from Santas to wedding-shower-themed — get the idea?

Others from the list were passed around from a common source — a single roll of toilet paper and paper towels, a box of baggies, that kind of thing.

In case you’d like to put together your own treasure box, here are the original contents:

  • A cosmic container;
  • A clear plastic bag (to remember to try to see through to the heart of the matter);
  • A cork: must always celebrate life’s joys and more importantly — no whining!
  • A plain ‘ol clothes pin: sometimes it’s the most simple thing that can hold us up or keep us together;
  • A crayon — for color and beauty and talent;
  • Playing cards: regardless of what life hands you, you have to just deal with it;
  • Paper stuff used every day: a couple pieces of T.P. (no job is finished ’til the paperwork is done), and a paper towel — as there’s no mess so big it can’t be cleaned up — both also come in handy when you’re in a sweat (as Thomas Edison put it, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration”);
  • A piece of cosmic wrapping paper, symbolizing all that we’ve been given that isn’t able to be tied up with a bow (like friends, family, health, and inspiration);
  • More cosmic choices, of literary stuff: a pen and and a little notepad, since we all write our own story; an envelope (a reminder to push outside it, when you need to think creatively), and an eraser — to learn from our mistakes!
  • Sweets for the sweet: hot tamales, as variety is the spice of life, a “tootsie” to always “roll” with the punches, and kisses (you know that someone loves you!);
  • A cosmic “treasure,” be it playful, emotional, about a place, a time in your life, a particular loved one, something you need, or the answer to a question.  (I picked the stone heart today — not sure what that means, it just felt right).

In putting this together, updated after 13 years (!), I decided to add:

  • A kazoo, since music is important!
  • A pipe-cleaner (another under-appreciated bit that has more uses than one realizes, unless you’re decorating a Christmas tree or entertaining some kids);
  • A key and a shell, two things I usually add to my artwork — the former to honor the idea that “when one door closes, another one opens,” the latter to represent the natural world and all its mysteries;
  • A battery, a reminder that technology is a tool (and sometimes you just need to dig a little deeper to find your own personal “juice”);
  • A bottle cap — never a bad idea to consider “putting a lid on it” before speaking out of turn;
  • And some “smarties,” the final lesson to always be like a woodpecker and use your head.

I’ll be taking the candy to the Community Foundation office to share with them at work this week. With any luck, the tin will just about close until the next time I need some inspiration — or when I rediscover it among some of today’s piles of papers — hopefully sooner than 13 years from now!


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Filed under August '13, Fun art, Matters of the heart, On Being Human, Scrapbook

Piggy-backing posts (8/16)

Short and sweet today: linking you to a blog post (about Philadelphia, where else?) that’s first appearing elsewhere.

How fun to write something for my friends at CityPASS!

I researched this piece before our trip in May, sPMG_detailpending a warm and entrancing afternoon at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.

Alicia used all the photos I sent; this is another I liked but that didn’t make the first cut. Taken from the top of one of the intricate staircases looking down into the lower level, to me it shows the depth and variety of the work and type of materials used.

And of course I *did* come away inspired about my own mosaic work…. starting with cleaning and organizing our craft room!

Here’s to a terrific weekend, wherever magical spot you may find yourself.

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Filed under August '13, Fun art, Journeys..., other finds, Scrapbook

Magic Gardens, ho!

In Philadelphia right now with Peter, and today I’m heading to the Magic Gardens to write a post for my friends at CityPASS in Victor.  It should run sometime in June on their blog

The Magic Gardens holds a fond spot in my heart; its mosaic style and free-form use of objects of all shape and color (while communicating meaning!) is, to me, so much like the artwork I create.

Thanks, Ellen Owens (PMG executive director) for sending some wonderful images, including one shot from a bird’s-eye view…. of course, I’m having trouble uploading any of them, just because I’m in a hurry!

Oh well. Even from the ground, the Magic Gardens is an AMAZING place.  (I’ll be sending pix, both mine and theirs, to CityPASS — which gives you another reason to look for the story.)

If you haven’t visited the Magic Gardens before, it’s *definitely* worth checking out!!!

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Filed under Fun art, Journeys...

March Madness 24: On blogging

One thing about writing these posts is that I never know exactly what will hit a responsive chord in either my regular readers (i.e., those who have subscribed and receive them via email) or to those who happen to see the posting on my Facebook page.

Well, what I wrote last, on Saturday, “Ella at Eleven,” certainly did! Nearly 100 people read that piece, and the blog received a lot of hits both days over the weekend. (For those who like to track numbers, I’ve written 170 posts and have had nearly 5,000 hits over the three-plus years I’ve done the blog.)

Now every topic I consider seems a little pale and/or paltry. I must admit that since I’m still not feeling 100 percent, my judgment might be affected. So, rather than skip another day (which is tempting!) I’ll just go with this little cartoon I ran across somewhere.DogCartoonAlexGregory_On_BLOGGING

Hopefully, the remainder of the month’s writings won’t just seem like so much noise….

Twenty-fourth in a series:
stay tuned for more
March Madness.

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Filed under Fun art, March Madness