28 August 2010

Summer Flowers

Summer Flowers, Necklace of handmade glass, Swarovski crystal, and sterling silver

One of this week's creative prompts from The Gritty Bird is "summer flowers," and this necklace seems to capture the feeling of the season. Summer in New Mexico is, despite what many people might think, usually rainy and sometimes even lush. Once the rains start in July the earth comes alive with grasses and wildflowers of all colors. Most delightful are the sunflowers that spring up everywhere, including along just about every road in the state. Last year I took some seeds from a local roadside and scattered them in my front and back yards; this year I have been richly rewarded with my own personal flower show. These beauties reseed themselves, so the show will go on as long as I let them grow.

27 August 2010

Home Is Where the Dog Is

Lucy in the Gila Wilderness near Willow Creek, August 2010
The only thing keeping me from diving back into the Gila Wilderness is the threat of rain this weekend; I'm okay with camping, but in the rain... no. Thanks to Dad I now have a much shorter, more scenic route into the area via forest and county roads, making it more likely that I'll go back soon. The aspens will start changing in the next month or two, and now that I know where they are I can spend time photographing them rather than searching them out. Of course, the aspens up north, around the Jemez Mountains for example, will be turning sooner than those further south in the Gila and elsewhere, so perhaps a "practice shoot" up thataways might be in order. In the meantime, though, I'll enjoy views like the one below, taken near the Silver Creek Divide in the Mogollons. Even at 9000+ feet the flowers are still in full bloom and will be for another few weeks at least. I hope I get to see them again soon, and I'm sure Lucy hopes so, too.

A New View: The Fire Within

Mexican green apatite chunk in sterling silver with crystal quartz and peridot

I created and photographed this necklace in April but today decided to re-photograph it with my new DSLR, and WOW what a difference. Spectacular resolution aside, this camera (a Nikon D-3000, just their "entry-level" DSLR but a huge step up for me) grabs the light in a way my old point-and-shoots never could. Notice the flash of rainbow in the stone's center? That is no surface reflection but actually comes from within the stone. I had to do way less Photoshopping on these images than the earlier ones; the colors on the originals of the images here are much truer and the focus and clarity are exactly where *I* want them, not where the camera's "brain" decided they should be.

Now to get busy making more jewelry. And plotting another photo trip... maybe just into my backyard to capture the late-summer fiesta of wildflowers stirred up by the rains.

25 August 2010

New Kumihimo Braids (Yes, I still make jewelry)

Kumihimo Lariat 1: Sari silk ribbon, glass beads, and rayon/cotton with glass button clasp

Kumihimo Lariat 2: Sari silk ribbon, mohair, silk cord,
and rayon/cotton with glass button clasp
I found some beautiful sari silk ribbon at Convergence last month and decided to see whether it would work for kumihimo. Although it's much wider and a good bit heavier than the silk, cotton, and other fibers I generally use, its brilliant color and texture work very well in the round braids, especially with the larger (size 6 glass) beads I'd strung a while back for a different project. I have this particular braid (an 8-strand) down pat but have only recently figured out some good ways to finish the ends; here I've strung a handmade dichroic glass button on one end and made a beaded loop on the other, leaving the fiber ends loose at the button end for a more dramatic look. I don't even think this necklace needs beads; the button and tassel seem to work well as a focal. I finished braiding the piece above on the plane trip out to Philadelphia last month, and finished braiding the one at right on the plane trip home two weeks ago. So these have a bit of "heaviness" emotionally as well as physically... but their spirited color seems appropriate for honoring my mom, who I only got to see for nine hours during that visit before she passed away. The second kumihimo lariat here uses one of her yarns, in fact: a beautiful hand-dyed mohair and silk blend she had used for one of her many projects that became cherished gifts. I brought home this and many other yarns, as well as two unfinished projects that I will finish for her this fall or winter.

As for the sari silk, I have plenty more and will figure out how to use it in my jewelry and other handiwork. This tutorial for sari silk and stone bangles seems a great way to weave together ribbon and wire, and Stefanie uses a lot of sari silk in her exquisite creations. These are more than enough inspiration for new fiber projects, which always start coming to mind as shadows lengthen in August and autumn approaches...

22 August 2010

Into the Wild 2: "Live in the moment, where your feet are."

Hiking in Willow Creek, Gila Wilderness, August 2010

Willow Creek (looking east)
When I seem restless and discontented, a dear friend has often exhorted me to remember and meditate on living in the moment by asking me, "Where are your feet, Anna?" Yesterday they were in Willow Creek, which winds along the northern edge of the Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico. On Friday evening, as Dad and I set up camp, I strode into and across the creek to gather wood for the fire; these water shoes have proven all but useless for regular hiking due to New Mexico's predominately rocky, thorny, rattlesnakey terrain but carried me comfortably and safely into the water for the task at hand.

In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I took several "water hikes" up and then down the creek a ways, enjoying both the incredible scenery and the deliciously cool water that flowed gently and only occasionally came up to my knees. As I walked, butterflies and dragonflies flitted around me, tiny fish scattered around my toes, and an occasional frog leapt from the grassy water's edge into the water. The shoes' tread kept me from slipping and supported my feet perfectly as I walked, making this my new favorite hike -- not much of a physical challenge but perfect for a morning wakeup.

Black-eyed Susans by Willow Creek, Gila Wilderness, NM, Aug. 2010

09 August 2010

Magical Mosaics 4: Faces in the Crowd

Detail from Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens mosaic art, Philadelphia, August 2010
I got so many photos from my mosaic walk last Friday that I'll be processing and posting them for quite a while. In addition to inspiring my photography it has awakened my long-dormant desire to do mosaics, and I'll be able to resume that endeavor in a few weeks once I'm home (tomorrow!!) and have rearranged the house a bit. Isaiah Zagar's mosaics are spontaneous and rambling, two things I have definitely not achieved in my work yet. I get very finicky about shape and fit of my tesserae (I use mostly glass and have taken to cutting rather than breaking it), which makes for very slow going and sometimes frustration that can dampen the fun. That might just be my style, but in addition to refining my skills I need to make it more fun so I can create "moments" like the ones pictured here.

I really like how Zagar incorporates pieces of things from other genres, such as the South American pottery in these photos, the bicycle wheels, the many different sizes and shapes of bottles, and so many other found objects. Again, I need to free myself up a bit... I think that will come with lots and lots of practice. I can't wait to get started again.

Detail from Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens mosaic art, Philadelphia, August 2010

08 August 2010

Magical Mosaics 3: Details

Detail from Isaiah Zagar's Schell St. Wall Mosaic (1996), Philadelphia, August 2010

Detail from Zagar's Alder Street Walls, Philadelphia, Aug. 2010

"Art is the center of the real world," a frequent quote in Zagar's murals

Detail from Zagar's Grotto mural, Philadelphia, Aug. 2010

07 August 2010

Magical Mosaics 2: South Street Seekers

One panel of the South Street/4th Street Facade mosaic series by Isaiah Zagar, Philadelphia, August 2010

Among Isaiah Zagar's many public mosaic murals in South Philly and beyond is this 1996 series, dubbed 4th Street Facade, just off of South Street. It clearly shows the Cubist bent of his work, as well as his populist spirit that celebrates not national heroes or celebrities but everyday people in all their... well, not exactly glory, which is exactly what makes us so human and worthy of real celebration.

I don't know who is pictured in the mosaic at left but he reminds me of a Greek God of sorts. I especially love the giant hand; look more closely and you'll see several small ceramic hand-like shapes embedded in the mosaic. Zagar's compositions are fascinating; they're so freeform that they seem almost haphazard and even chaotic, yet as I study them I begin to see patterns. Not predictable ones, but even more interesting ones that play on color and texture and shape. Is it entirely intentional: does Zagar plan where each piece goes, meticulously placing them following a clear image in his mind? Somehow I think not; I sense a very strong flow to these pieces and can imagine him working with wide sweeping gestures and almost a sense of flight. (I haven't seen this, having been away from Philly for 17 years now except for the occasional visit). Watch a short video here to learn more about his vision and process. One of the more compelling lines from the video, which struck a personal note for me, comes when Zagar says, "I used the technique of mosaicking to get well, to get better." Art can heal both creator and viewer, in ways we might not even realize until we look up from our feet one day and see the life around us, and the sky, and the possibilities.


Another quote I like: "I'm not a soldier, I'm not a president, I'm an artist. I need to embellish."

06 August 2010

Magical Mosaics 1: I (heart) U

Mosaic by Isaiah Zagar, near South Street, Philadelphia, August 2010

Scrap mosaic by Zagar (or student/s), Phila., Aug. 2010
Philadelphia is home to many artists, among them the prolific and wildly unconventional mosaicist Isaiah Zagar. His mosaic murals first started appearing in his once-dilapidated South Philadelphia neighborhood around in the late 1960s and now grace 100 walls around Philadelphia and in various places around the world. His mosaics have been described variously as "amazing immersive artwork," "ebullient," and "garbage," the latter uttered by the previous owner of a building Zagar covered top to bottom with shards of glass, pottery, mirror, bottles, bicycle rims, and whatever else he could get to stick in the mortar and grout holding his creations together.

Thanks to generous benefactors and ardent fundraising this building now houses Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, the official home base for Zagar's mosaics and for walking tours, classes, and special events for people of all ages. If I were staying in town I'd likely be taking the next mosaic mural workshop.... When I get home to New Mexico, maybe I'll start my own renegade mural movement....

Detail of large firehouse mosaic mural by Isaiah Zagar near Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, August 2010

04 August 2010


Washington Square Monument, Philadelphia, July 2010

Philadelphia is full of monuments paying tribute to the many citizens who have shaped the city's and the nation's destiny. Here are just a few I photographed last week; I'm putting them up both to share and (to be perfectly honest) because I'm tired of seeing my tired face in the picture I put up of me and my family last Sunday.... So here are some more polished faces: George Washington (above), and Robert Morris (below), one of Washington's main benefactors who raised significant sums of money to help finance the Revolutionary War. Amazing history, and beautifully rendered in these and the many other monuments around the city.

Statue of Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution, Philadelphia

My dad and I are doing okay but are really wanting to get back to New Mexico, so we're flying out next Tuesday and will leave the house for another time. Anyone who has ever had to go through and clean out a house after a loved one's passing knows how overwhelming it can be....

Pigeon on the Washington Square monument, Philadelphia, July 2010

01 August 2010

Mi Familia: Portraits

Corey (my sister-in-law), Dad, me, and Charles (my brother), 7/31/2010
The Lear siblings: Jim, Nancy, and Bob

Almost everyone important to my mom and to my family was able to come to Mom's memorial service yesterday, and I'm so grateful to be able to see everyone together since I live so far away. Except for my parents and brother, I hadn't seen anyone in my family for at least 3 years; for some, it had been much longer, as long as 17 years for my uncle Bob and cousin Michelle. Way too long, and although we hate that it took a funeral -- Mom's, no less -- to bring us together, we celebrated being together for the several hours we were able to spend catching up on each others' lives.

Carol (Mom's older sister) and Larry

Three key people were missing: Mom (of course; yes, she was there "in spirit," but really I think we say that to try to feel less bereft about her being gone), and Lazarus and Maggie (who had to stay behind in New Mexico with their dad). Two other cousins and their families were also missing because of vacations and such, which I completely understand, and in any case thanks to Facebook and Blogger we're in closer contact than we've been in years. Whatever people may say about the Internet and social networking, I really appreciate how it has narrowed the distance, at least in some ways, between people who want to stay in touch with each other even if they live far apart.

Carol, Nick (2nd cousin via Sherry), cousins Sherry and Bonny, and Bob

Still, there's no substitute for seeing each other face to face, sharing all the stories of Mom that people have been collecting over the years, and just offering hugs and solace for the grief that we all share. I know I have no right to complain -- I'm the prodigal one here, having headed west in 1993 -- but yeah, I really, really miss my family.

Bud and Jenny (cousin), Judy (Mom's younger sister), and Jim

And yes, I finally stepped out from behind the lens and made it into a few family portraits. I will treasure these all forever. I hope it's not quite that long before I see my family again.

Lears: Dad, Nancy (my aunt), Bob (my uncle) and Diane, Michelle (cousin via Bob), Garrett (cousin via Nancy), and Carol (my dad's aunt); Corey, Charles, me, Beth (2nd cousin via Carol), and John (uncle)