Sunday, December 25, 2011

An unglazed Baby Jesus.

Years ago, when my mom enjoyed working in ceramics, she decided to make Vicki and me a nativity set, one for each daughter to cherish for years to come. 

Now, there are a number of pieces to the nativity sets that mom decided to make for us.  Not only are they made up of the three wise men and the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus, our nativity sets have a glorious Angel of the Lord, a camel, a shepherd holding a lamb, a sheep, a cow, a donkey, and a ram. They are full and unique nativity sets.

And my nativity set is even more full and unique than my sister’s.  You see, somehow, my set ended up with two identical sheep (well, identical except for the one sheep that has the broken and mended ear), an extra wise man or two, and a random guy standing solemnly looking on.  And unlike the fired glossiness of all the other figures in the set, my Baby Jesus has the matte finish of chalk (his straw-lined manger is glossy, but He is not). 

I remember the first time I opened my box of nativity figures, and the first time I laid eyes on my chalky Jesus.  “What happened to the Baby Jesus?” I asked mom.  “Well, I was making so many nativity sets at the same time (which explained my extra wise men and my Dolly the sheep with her clone), and I guess I forgot to glaze Him with the rest.”

I stared down disapprovingly at my little unglazed Jesus and sighed.  He wasn’t very pretty, and He sure didn’t fit in with the rest of the shiny figures…

Now, over the years I’ve come to really appreciate everything about that nativity set.  First, my mom made it for me, herself.  So it is special in that, when she wanted Vicki and me to have nativity sets, she didn’t go out and purchase us mass-produced ones from Kmart.  She made them for us with her own two hands, with love for her daughters and with the spirit of generosity.  Second, the sets are not perfect in a traditional sense. Speaking only for my own nativity set, I have an unglazed Baby Jesus, some extra wise men, a solemn unidentified guy, and a broken-eared sheep to go along with all the usual nativity stuff.  Nobody else’s nativity set has all that, which means that my set is all the more special.  It also means that when Eric and I eventually get around to building a crèche for the set, we will have to include an annex to house all the extra figures…

Thursday, December 15, 2011

First Paper

From GPL Book Arts Project:

Had my first papermaking outreach session yesterday at Gaston High School. The school media specialist, Heather Mashburn, allowed me to essentially take over her library and turn it into a papermaking factory! Throughout the day, I worked with over sixty teens, aging from 8th grade up to 11th (and possibly 12th) grade, and even did a quick impromptu demo for a group of elementary kids who had a counciling class in the library during my visit (the fact that the paper pulp looked like snot, that I pretended to sneeze the pulp out of my nose, AND that I allowed them to dip their hands in the pulp to touch it made the moment all the more magical...yes, I did actually do a demo of papermaking during all the playing).

The response was better than I dreamed it would be!  The students were interested and very engaged, as was evidenced by the five or so young ladies who cleared the rest of their school schedules for the day so that they could be my helpers.  And helpers they were…making paper until there was nothing left to make paper with.  I’ve never seen a pulp bucket so clean in my life…

Some folks have expressed interest in my method of papermaking.  Well, to be quite honest, after researching and considering a number of different papermaking techniques (paying special attention to things such as time consumption, availability of materials and equipment, cost of materials and equipment, etc.), I opted for a technique that combines two online tutorials that stood out to me for their use of recycled material (we are a library, after all, and have lots of used copy paper, discarded magazines and catalogues, old newspapers, and plenty of junk mail…all the things that regular folks would have lying about their own homes).  The two processes that I most closely followed are those by Christina Fajardo and Kim Logue.  Both artists offer similar techniques that I could replicate easily with a crowd.  I highly recommend you check out their websites.

To view photos of Gaston High School's Papermaking on The Gadsden Times website, click here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thrift Store Harmonica Player

On my way home from Mom and Dad’s house last week, I decided to stop at the thrift store to pick up some books to use for book art.  While I was browsing through the 5 for .99 paperbacks, I hummed along with the live harmonica performance of “Shall We Gather At the River.” 

Yes, you heard me correctly, a live harmonica performance of “Shall We Gather At the River,” and it was being played by a frail-looking little old lady who was sitting in a metal folding chair by the cash register. 

As I gathered five paperbacks I absolutely HAD to have (Emile, The Portable Sherwood Anderson, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Holidays On Ice, and a second copy of All Quiet on the Western Front, 'cause you can't have too many copies of All Quiet on the Western Front), I listened to several other songs that I took to be spirituals, but cannot confirm as such.

By the time I came up to the register to pay, the harmonica player had stood up and was walking (with one of those pronged walking canes that ALWAYS make me think of Posiden) towards the door.   She stopped and gave me a once-over.

“I like your pants.”

“Thank you, ma’am.  They’re my painting pants.  I was just painting over at my folk’s house.  I like your harmonica playin.”

Well, about that time, the thrift store harmonica player reached over and took my hand, and she and I proceeded to walk out the door together, talking like me and her and Jesus had known each other for years.  During the conversation, I realized that something about her was a little different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. 

Me:  “You live ‘round here?”

Harmonica Player:  “Just about two blocks away.  Where are you headed?”

Me:  “I’m headed back home.  My partner and I live downtown.  How’d you get here?”

Harmonica Player: “I walked.”

Me:  “Well, can I give you a lift?”

Harmonica Player: “Oh, that would nice.”

So, I cleaned out the seat and helped the thrift store harmonica player into my car. 

Sure enough, she lived just a piece down the road, in a modest brick ranch house that she referred to as “the retirement home.”  While we sat in the car together for the next thirty minutes or so, I learned that her name was Ethel, that she was 90 years old, and was blind (macular degeneration, like my gran).  She had several children (two of which she had outlived), and a husband she had been married to for many years (he passed away about eleven years after purchasing the retirement home, thereby not getting to enjoy the retirement home much). She loved Jesus deeply, and she enjoyed hamburgers.

I also learned some things about Ethel that her kids may not even know about, personal discoveries (that I’ll not mention out of respect for her privacy) that she seemed to come upon for the first time while sitting in my car with me.  She was a revelation to me and to herself.

She lives alone.  And likes it that way.  Probably because there is no one there to stop her from walking down to the thrift store to play the harmonica for folks on a sunny Saturday afternoon…

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Just the Facts

So now, let’s get back to the grant writing process.

Several blog entries ago, I promised to be as transparent as possible about my grant writing process.  I also promised to post some of my responses to certain queries on the Alabama State Council on the Arts grant application.   I will do this today.

Section A of the ASCA application requested information about the applicant organization.  This section focused on identification (name of organization, legislative districts, federal identification numbers, etc.), contact information, and grant amount being requested.  It was all pretty straight forward information.

Section B requested some projected statistical info (who will participate in the project, number of participants, number of educators involved, number of artists involved, etc.), and “a brief narrative paragraph that summarizes your proposed project.”  My brief narrative looked like this (keep in mind the strict character count I mentioned in an earlier blog post):
The Gadsden Public Library will offer a series of educational book arts programs to the public designed to instill an appreciation and passion for the book as an art form (from both a literary and from an artistic perspective), and to present book arts in an accessible way.  Programs will consist of lectures, demonstrations and educational outreach in the following areas:  papermaking, letterpress printing, bookmaking, altered book forms, and creative writing.  The lectures and demonstrations will take place within the library facility; the educational outreach will take place at schools, an alternative teen living facility, and assisted living facilities.  Additionally, there will be ongoing educational benefits after the project is finished through continued letterpress and papermaking outreach conducted by the library outreach coordinator.

Section C asked for a project description, which allowed me to flesh out the narrative a bit more:
The GPL Foundation seeks funding for lectures, demonstrations and educational outreach in the areas of papermaking, letterpress printing, bookmaking, altered book forms, and creative writing.  Through these programs, the GPL will provide a variety of educational, hands-on opportunities for the community to learn more about book arts.  Additionally, the GPL will purchase letterpress equipment to use for educational in-house and outreach programs.  There will be eight total school outreach programs (to schools and living facilities) divided up into four days of papermaking demonstrations and four days of letterpress demonstrations.  The GPL will host three educational hands-on demonstrations/classes for the general public in the following areas:  papermaking, letterpress printing, and book making.  Internationally recognized book artist Brian Dettmer will present a lecture on altered book forms.  There will be a writer’s residency with Alabama author Irene Latham (author of Leaving Gee’s Bend, What Came Before, and The Color of Lost Rooms) that will consist of three creative writing workshops for high schoolers, and one public reading/book signing at the library.  The entire project will culminate with the Print, Paper & Poetry Exhibition (P3), which will be made up of works from participating students and patrons.  There will be ongoing educational benefits after the project is finished through continued letterpress and papermaking outreach conducted by the library outreach coordinator.

Nothing fancy.  Just the facts.  Which is hard to do sometimes if you are a fan of creative writing.

More riveting grant writing info soon…