Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Inspired by Reading: The Interpreter of Maladies

It's been a while since I've participated in the Inspired by Reading challenge but this time I got a jump on the reading and obtained a copy of Jhumpa Lahiri's book of short stories, The Interpreter of Maladies a month or so ago. I've always been a fan of the writing of Indian women-- Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's Mistress of Spices is one of my favorites and was made into a great movie, by the way.

I love the short story format and was looking forward to reading this book but after reading a few stories, Lahiri's generally pessimistic characters and plots I found too depressing. She does have fine insight into the maladies of modern relationships, which apply universally and not just to Indian society. But how to translate this angst into a piece of jewelry?

I decided to meld elements from a few different stories into my design. In the story of the same name as the collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, the main character is a tour guide in his spare time but also works for a doctor as an interpreter for the numerous Indian dialects of his patients-- hence the title. Most of the story takes place as he drives around an American famiy of Indian heritage, visiting temples and places of interest. My imagination was captured by the author's description of an historic temple built in the shape of a gigantic chariot with elaborately carved stone wheels so since these could also represent the shape of a mandala, I decided to make that my primary shape and build the rest of the piece around that. I found this image of a wheel from the Konark Sun Temple, built in the 13th century. This ornate beauty is an impressive 10 feet high and is one of twelve pairs in all.

Another one of the stories focused on a character who moves into a home and finds in the attic a large statue of the Virgin Mary which offends her Indian husband but she becomes obsessed with it and at the same time, the goddess Kali. Kali-- such a rich source of imagery-- to me she represents an entire culture more than any other religious symbol. She is the goddess of time, change and distruction-- basically, entropy--we're born, we live, we die. From Wikipedia: “In spite of her seemingly terrible form, Kali Ma is often considered the kindest and most loving of all the Hindu goddesses, as she is regarded by her devotees as the Mother of the whole Universe. And because of her terrible form, she is also often seen as a great protector.” I love Her multiple arms so I determined that my focal must have some too. I decided on the 10-armed incarnation and included a turquoise and red palette as in traditional interpreations of the goddess.

"My Mother is the principle of consciousness. She is Akhanda Satchidananda; indivisible Reality, Awareness, and Bliss. The night sky between the stars is perfectly black. The waters of the ocean depths are the same; The infinite is always mysteriously dark. This inebriating darkness is my beloved Kali."
        -Sri Ramakrishna

Inspiring, huh? In college I had a real love affair with the writing of Rabindranath Tagore, a 20th century Indian mystical poet who was the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky”

But I was still searching for an idea for the interpreter portion of my design when inspiration struck and I decided to mix up my cultural symbolism and use milagros, traditional Mexican metal charms used for shrines and as personal amulets as a focus for prayer and healing. Luckily I found a 10-piece set on Etsy with just body parts that was perfect.

So I mixed up some bronze polymer, set about making the mandala/chariot wheel, backed it with some textured turquoise clay with red antiquing, added a spiky red halo to represent ones I've seen painted around Kali's head, then ten arms antiqued to match the pewter milagros charms. They spill through the mandala in a river of supplication to the Goddess. The arms could be angel's wings, carrying the prayers of the supplicants to Heaven where Kali can hear them. Write your own story about it.

Here's a list of the other participants-- be sure to check out their fine work.

Sarajo Wentling
Jeanne Steck
Mary Harding
Karin Grange
Ann Schroeder
Mary K McGraw
Rachel Stewart
Andrew Thornton, Laurel Ross, Alison Herrington, Terri Greenawalt, and Karen Hiatt


Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring on the Farm

Gazing out on several feet of slowly-melting snow from my studio window, it's hard to imagine that Spring will ever be here. But the signs are there-- robins hunting for worms in the muddy ground, the steam coming from sugarhouses all over my neighborhood, smelling like the world's best maple syrup, our chickens laying more eggs, allowing me to make my absolutely favorite treat in the world-- tangy lemon squares.

After such a long winter and months of light-deprived days, our minds are seeking a re-awakening, something to tease our senses and creativity into new and exciting territory. For polymer clay artists, our medium is gaining enthusiasts, among them my own students from the Art on the Farm workshop last year. When your students continue to grow and develop their own ways of working, and even organize times to work and share together -- a teacher can't ask for better than that!

Here are a few photos of work done by students in my class last Fall. Both these ladies were completely new to working with polymer clay.

Sharon Nodelman

Sharon Nodelman

Mary Harding

Stories They Tell & Christine Damm announce

   Art on the Farm: A 3-Day Polymer Clay
Intensive Workshop
New Ways with Construction, Texture & Color

   Bonnybrook Farm – Braintree, VT
May    27-29, 2014

This course was created to teach my signature techniques but also to provide insight into my method of working, with an emphasis on nurturing each participant's exploration of their own artistic expression and development of an individual creative voice. We all want to make art that is meaningful, emotional and that tells a story. My intention for this course is to facilitate that ability. I emphasize the teaching of ideas, not just techniques.

We'll begin this 3-day intensive class using my multi-stage method of working with polymer clay. Starting with a discussion of form, we'll use layering and other construction techniques to make our jewelry elements, then introduce texture, utilizing molds and everyday objects in unique ways as tools for impressing designs onto polymer.

Color will be considered using a wide variety of surface-coloring techniques, demonstrated on the completed polymer forms using oil and acrylic paints, chalk, texturing media, pencils and inks. In addition to studio time devoted to instruction and demonstrations, students will have ample time to apply the coloring techniques to their own pieces.

Then we'll explore innovative ways to use wire and other metal findings to create integral connections and explore different stringing techniques and designs.

In consultations with individual students we'll discuss personal style and how the techniques taught can enhance and broaden their work.

This intensive is suitable for beginners in polymer clay, as well as advanced polymer users, as the technique I teach involves a completely different approach from traditional color blending-based polymer applications such as cane-making and mokume gane. Artists from any discipline may benefit from this class-- mixed media and collage, painting and watercolor, stoneware clay and jewelry arts, to name a few. All that's required is curiosity and a well-developed artist's or crafting skill-set. Class size will be limited to 8 students.

Participants will have access to all my personal coloring supplies and my extensive collection of handmade silicone molds. Basic supplies-- clay, blades, scalpels, heavy medium, heat-set oil paint for antiquing, sanding pads and molding putty-- will be available for purchase. Upon receipt of class fees a list of useful tools and items needed for the class will be sent.

For more information about tuition, registration and all the other fine print, e-mail me at The class size is capped at 8 students so that everyone will receive the maximum of personal attention and instruction. I'm very excited to invite you all into my studio. I think we can do great things together.