Funny How Connections Happen

When I visited my family in SC, I spent time wandering around and taking photos of plants, interesting textures, possible art making materials and processes, and things that struck me as odd.


As soon as I saw the moss growing on the grate inside a free standing wood burning fireplace, Don McLean’s American Pie started looping through my mind. Especially the line: moss growing fat on a rolling stone.

And while writing this post, again the song is swirling though my mind.

Not being a sit around a fire person, I had to google the proper term for the fireplace. It is a chimenea. According to Wikipedia this is the definition for chimenea.

A chimenea /tʃɪmɪˈneɪ.ə/, also spelled chiminea (from Spanish: chimenea means chimney), is a freestanding front-loading fireplace or oven with a bulbous body and usually a vertical smoke vent or chimney.

So, a wood burning chimney. Odd that moss found its way to growing inside the chimenea. It is sitting on a concrete patio in daily full sun. The chimenea must offer enough shade and protection to prevent the death of the moss.


Sad that the moss will be destroyed the next time the chimenea is lit.

Don McLean’s American Pie was popular when I was in high school. So much so, my high school English teacher thought it would be cool to decipher its lyrics. The result, even today I remember the bulk of the lyrics for the 8 minute 36 second song.

More connections–I remember my best friend from high school who died suddenly five years ago. Not in a plane crash, but he was the director of my hometown airport. Connections of all sorts can be found when you least expect it. Certainly wasn’t thinking about him when I started this post, but it would have been something I would have shared with him. He would have understood my moss/song connection. We would have talked about the song. When we first heard it. And other reminiscing.

Thinking about my friend, reminded me of a Henning Mankell quote from one of his Kurt Wallander books, Firewall.

Who was left who connected him to his earlier life?

Washington Post article about American Pie written by Justin Wm. Moyer.

Restacked Mantel Wood

Our neighbor gave me a pair of columns that she had been using as part of a table. Each column is 29″ x 8.5″ x 9″ and solid concrete.


Columns on Hand Truck

Before placing them in the garden I made a couple of decisions. The first…the bottom should be the top.


Left Side Was How The Columns Had Been Used
The Right Side is the Proper Orientation

The thin section at the bottom will not be visible. So, the only thing that bothers me is the tulip-like doodad. Just too fussy.

Column Doodad

When I began converting the courtyard form exotic plants to drought tolerant plants, one of the first decisions was to remove the wallpieces and to paint the walls grey. It is difficult to tell from the photos taken in my studio, but the columns were too stark, too bright even in the shade.


The Whiteness of the Columns is Emphasized When Placed Next to the Grey Wall

Originally I wanted to break off some hunks before aging them, but thought I would wait to see how they looked with a found wood mantel. I snagged some ash from a friend’s actual fireplace to use, if I decide to fix the columns up a bit more.

Column Fixed Up

For 4 days, I had 3 pieces of wood stacked on top of the columns to help me decide if three boards had enough visual weight to work with the top of the columns.

Mantel Wood

The boards are not quite as wide as the columns. And they could not sit against the wall because of the wallpiece/trellises. Each layer will have two pieces of wood to make the proper width, with a 2″ overhang in the front.

Planning to strap the wood together with metal…aluminum or copper shim. I can patina copper, but the current appearance of the materials is a bit too clean for my typical gritty surface work. The width of the metal will probably be two thirds of the section at the now top of the columns.

When I was making my morning cocoa, thought I would take one last look before cutting the wood.

This is what I found–

Mantel Wood

The wood is nicely stacked in the opposite order it had been stacked on the columns. Lucky that the stack did not break plants or the stone defining the space for the hearth.

I phoned my husband to inquire if he had moved the wood. He had not. He seems to believe that an animal could have been responsible for the restacking. His best guess–opossum. We did catch a couple opossums over the years in our humane trap when we were attempting to catch squirrels.

This was the most recent captured opossum.

Opossum in Trap

And after it was released–

Released Opossum in Trap


Opossum After Release Stayed in the Wisteria for Several Hours

I restacked the wood on the columns and attempted to reproduce what I found this morning. Every time resulted in a messy stack.

Mantel Wood

So what did happen? Did an animal (opossum) drop down from the oak tree and cause the restacking?



The reddish brown stalk is from a volunteer that I think is a variety of mullein. It is nearly ready to harvest.

I have been fond of mullein since I used it in my Greta piece, part of my MFA exhibition.

An additional note…the garden was sloping when I began planning for the faux fireplace. I leveled it by adding soil that I removed from the now rock/succulent garden. I also added gravel under each of the columns. I had to build up the right side with nearly 4″ of gravel more than uncer the left column.

I leveled the garden area, each column, and the columns together. Then I placed a single piece of wood on the columns and leveled the lot. Pretty sure the faux fireplace will appear level and straight when it is completed.

Can’t wait to see it with snake plant (Sansevieria) inside for faux flames. I have wanted to use snake plant for flames ever since I viewed Blue Velvet.

Blue Velvet Snake Plants

A Quick Screenshot From the Film Blue Velvet

My plan is to plant the snake plant directly in the garden inside the faux fireplace. The weather is so mild, for the most part, on the California Central Coast. And since they will be protected, they should thrive.

Slat Book in Progress

I snagged some Pandorea jasminoides seed pods from a friend’s garden. They are woody and beautiful.


Open Pod

Open Pod Exposing Seeds

Pod Interior

Pod, Seeds Removed, With Interior Part

The pods have been used in my Change series.

Change Series

I kept the interior bits and seeds for possible future use.

Interior Bits


Curious if the seeds were viable, so I planted a few–


I kept thinking about the interior bits. How could I use them? Recently ran across reference to slat books in one of my sketch books.

So, I selected the bits with the most interesting light lines.


The plan is to stitch a letter on each bit, then stitch them together. I had thought about using Ogham or A-tom-tom code, but for various reasons they didn’t feel right. Instead I made a stitch pattern based on Morse code. I actually made three versions. This is the phrase: Long forgotten memory.

Code for Long Forgotten Memory

For the slat book, I am deciding between the phrases, link with the past and accustomed to being invisible. Probably will use bamboo cord or Egyptian cotton thread for the stitch work.

When I quickly searched for the two types of code that I decided not use, I realized that both times I hit Omniglot, the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages. It is a great site with loads of information.

Strip or Slat books were made of a variety of material–bamboo, bark, and palm leaves. The material was cut into slats. The slats were either bound together or holes were made and cord was threaded through binding the slats together.

Information about the history of books and slat books can be found on the
Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin website.

Slat Book

Information on Horizontal and Vertical Writing in East Asian Scripts can be found on Wikipedia.

Writing in vertical columns from right to left facilitated writing with a brush in the right hand while continually unrolling the sheet of paper or scroll with the left.

A brief description about slat books and a nice image can be found on Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord’s website

Slat Book

Information on early Chinese inscriptions can be found on Jeremy Norman’s website

Roger Ebert, You Will Be Remembered

My nephew was born on April 11th, 1973. When he was 18 months old he was admitted to the hospital. While there he was given an injection of insulin that resulted in coma and brain damage. He died after surgery in 1990. When his birthday comes around I still celebrate his life. I have baked cakes, made sculpture, gone for hikes, whatever seemed appropriate for remembering him.

What does that have to do with Roger Ebert? On April 11th last year Roger wrote a blog post about the recent losses of family and friends.

“Memory. It makes us human. It creates our ideas of family, history, love, friendship. Within all our minds is a narrative of our own lives and all the people who were important to us. Who were eyewitnesses to the same times and events.”

My memory includes watching Roger talk about film, reading his books, and over the past year reading his blog. If I read reference to a film and wanted to know more I would read Roger’s review. He was like the professor who exuded so much passion about the course, you never wanted it to end.

See a Penny… I will finish this piece?

The following quote from François Truffaut’s film Day for Night comes to mind when thinking about the Penny piece.

“Making a film is like a stagecoach ride in the old west. When you start, you are hoping for a pleasant trip. By the halfway point, you just hope to survive.”

I have been living with the penny piece hanging in my studio. Before I wax the piece and construct a cedar box/frame/crate for it, I must be happy with the border.
See A Penny

It is not substantial enough so I decided to make an I-cord to bind onto the edge.


When I finished the I-cord and placed it next to the piece it didn’t work for me. Too many different stitches and too many colors of cotton. The wax application will help integrate the materials, but the I-cord does not add what I had hoped.

I-cord with piece

Decided rather than the border as just the edge, it will include the few inches to the edge. Added jute and coconut fiber to the piece to define the “new” border and to add some color.

Jute and Coconutfiber

If you haven’t used coconut fiber, be prepared to wear safety gear—mask, goggles, and gloves. The fiber is quite sharp and dirty. Actually it is a good idea to wear a mask when working with jute and some other fiber.

This is how the I-cord looks now.
I-cord on Piece

The current plan is to insert jute rope through the I-cord and then bind the lot to the piece with a combination of cotton and jute.

Jute Rope

When I bought jute rope the blurb stated it was treated to prevent rot. I asked the representative from the company what that meant. He said the rope was treated with kerosene. I knew it was a bit dangerous using a hot wax technique and torching the lot, but the word kerosene gave me pause.

Why hadn’t I set myself on fire?

When using hot wax and a torch I always keep a fire extinguisher at the ready. I was using bamboo as part of the structure for some pieces and apparently the interior of bamboo can be in flames before the exterior. Rather exciting to see it happen.

La Nuit Américaine (Day for Night) is a film within a film, the director is the actor playing the director, and there are loads of bits about filmmaking. And day for night is a technique for shooting film during the day to give the illusion of night.

François Truffaut
Hack Writers
François Truffaut – the man who loved actors
Day for Night

The Comfort of Books

When I packed for my trip home to attend my Dad’s funeral I included Joe Coomer’s book, Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God. I read the book several years back and liked it quite a lot. Coomer writes women who seem familiar, interesting, and some are even artists. It is a pleasure to read descriptions of artists whose creativity isn’t a form of mental illness.

While I was home, I helped pack up my Mom to move her to another state. Going through my parents’ things was an odd experience. I am too sentimental at times, attaching meaning to objects. This passage from Beachcombing rang true for me.

I’d walked into the hospital with dirty hands and knees, holding what I thought was a box of love and memory and hope, and walked out with the same box, a loose collection of yard-sale merchandise.

My Mom left her home of 62 years with four boxes and a few bags of clothes. I have been attempting to lessen my possession responsibility, but again being a mixed media artist it is difficult to give away potential art materials.

My favorite Joe Coomer books–

The Loop

Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God

Pocketful of Names

One Vacant Chair

The Loop has finally become a film, A Bird of the Air. I can’t wait to see it.

An interview with Coomer can be read here.

Neil Gaiman–Make Good Art

Today I received an email with a link to Zen Pencils. There are some illustrations based on comments made by Neil Gaiman in a commencement address given to the University of the Arts. Thank you Neil for reminding me to not forget “the journey to my destination.” Sometimes I allow life stuff to consume my studio time.

Neil stated that he learned to write by writing. That brought to mind Art & Fear, a book that I read during my first year of college teaching. There is a story about a ceramics class and their project for the term. The class was divided into two groups–the “quantity” group and the “perfection” group. The quantity group would be evaluated on the weight of their work at the end of the term and the perfection group would be evaluated on their one perfect pot.

Most folks know that the more work you make, the better work you make. Mistakes and pieces that don’t quite work can offer loads of important information, perhaps even new techniques added to your bag of tricks. I feel that making lots of work allows me to be more creative and not too fussy with a single piece.

If a piece doesn’t quite work, why? Perhaps something does–the combination of materials, a technique that I might want to develop, or maybe the work is so ugly a hammer is in order.

In undergrad there was the Ugly Wall and in grad school Bisque Ware Bowling.

“the journey to my destination”

I had the pleasure of taking a film class when I was an undergrad. Much has stuck with me. We viewed François Truffaut’s film, Day for Night, a film within a film. Truffaut is the director of the film and plays Ferrand, the director in the film. There is a quote about process that often comes to mind when I am working on a piece and something isn’t going quite right.

“Shooting a movie is like a stagecoach trip. At first you hope for a nice ride. Then you just hope to reach your destination.”

The titles of my Avian Headboxes are the result of my love of literature and film.

A few of the titles are Ferrand  from Day for Night, Adele  from The Story of Adele H., and Victor  from The Wild Child.