Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ephemera with Meaning

Note from Mel:  I'm re-running this post today - I'll be attending my Grammie's memorial service.  I thought this was a most fitting tribute to her.  :D

Sorry I haven't written for four days - I was with my mom, visiting my Grammie at her assisted living home on Friday.  It was great to see her, as I hadn't seen her for about 5 weeks.

My Grammie is 86 years old.  She has been a constant presence in my life since birth.  She was even my grade school music teacher (although there, I called her Mrs. Seiler because the kids laughed at me when I called her "Gramma").  I saw her at least once a week as a kid since we'd car pool to church together.  She and I also sang in Collegiate Chorale together, a choir consisting of all types of people in the community.  I'm lucky that I'm 42 years old and I can still say I have a grandma - and she's the last one (I never knew my dad's parents - they died before I was born or shortly after).

Things are a little different now - inside, she's still the same person but she can't walk and suffers from dementia so a lot of times she thinks I'm my mom.  She gets confused often and doesn't converse much anymore (which is a MAJOR change - we're all big gabbers in my family!).

When we moved Grammie into her assisted living place and sold her house, we each got to go through and take what we wanted - some people did the typical thing and went for the "good stuff" - the expensive china, the silver set, the beautiful (and real) jewelry - but not me.

Aside from a door stop that I loved (that is only a painted rock but I treasure it nonetheless), I didn't really know what I wanted.  But then I saw a brightly colored bag and a big box and I knew immediately that I was going home with them.

I somehow instinctively knew that these were things that Grammie had saved from her first trips to Israel in 1979 and Europe in 1984.  I was shocked to find letters that my family and I had sent to her overseas!  I was only 15 1/2  when she went to Europe and I remember thinking this was the most glamourous thing anyone in my family had ever done  (imagine my excitement when I was able to take my own trip to Europe a mere 4 years later).

As you can see, she saved EVERYTHING. this where I get it from?  :D
Grammie's travel diary, stuffed to the gills with ephemera

 Some of you reading may be shocked to discover that yes, I have used some of her items in my work.  You may wonder how I could possibly part with these things, especially when our time together is drawing to a close.  Here's how I see it:  her truly personal effects will ALWAYS be preserved - her travel diary, her notes about different composers and history - that's stuff I'll never touch.  But I know that she'd want me to use the other stuff however I'd like and she'd think to herself, "Now WHY on earth did I keep this?" about most of it. 

I'd like to think that I'm elevating those tickets stubs to a higher purpose and preserving her memories in a different way, one of which (I hope!) she'd be proud.

ATC made with some of the (MANY) ticket stubs Grammie kept from her travels

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday is Food Day!

Remember the newspaper?  You know, that thing that was delivered every morning or afternoon, right to your doorstep, that held all sorts of local information?

Well kids, before the Internet, this is where most folks found out about local doings!  And on Wednesdays, the ladies got a special treat - a whole section devoted to grocery shopping and new recipes to try!

Many larger cities even had their own food editor.  I worked at the Green Bay Press-Gazette in the early-to-mid-Nineties and the food section was under the guise of the Lifestyle Editor.  Even as late as the early Aughts, the Reporter here in Fond du Lac still devoted at least a couple of pages to recipes or food trends.  

During my tenure at the Press-Gazette, I HATED Mondays - that's when we'd lay out the Wednesday paper.  This was my job - to place the ads on the pages before they were sent up to Editoral for the news to fit around them (yep, that's right - the ads come first!  Just like TV, where shows are just filler for the stuff they're trying to sell you!).  In those days, the food section was typically 16-20 pages.  YES!  Can you believe that?!?  And Sure-Way. a smallish local grocery store, always had the "double truck", which meant that in a 16-page section they would have pages 8 and 9, or right in the middle.  There was always a full-page ad on the back page, and one on page 3 also.  These were all full-color ads, too.  Ah, the heady days of a newspaper actually having a profitable revenue stream!

I've been fondly reminiscing about those days lately, because I found this marvelous relic at the estate sale I attended on Sunday:

This paper is actually from a Monday, because it's the week of Thanksgiving and Wednesday would obviously be too late to shop (unless you're a masochist!).  It's also dated November 25, 1963, which as most of you know was only three days after President Kennedy was assassinated.  These ads were assembled probably a week in advance (all set by hand back in those days) and it was too late to change them, but if they could've they probably would've had some mention of "praying for our country" or some such.  That had to be a pretty dour Thanksgiving that year.

But anyway - aren't these ads AWESOME?!  This paper is the Sheboygan Press - Sheboygan is about 35 miles due east from Fond du Lac, right on Lake Michigan.  Milwaukee is about 50 miles south.  Sheboygan is also home to the "brat", and as you can see in the above ad, Johnsonville was actually a grocery store before they streamlined into only meat.   Yep, it's that Johnsonville!  The next time you sink in to a juicy brat or Polish, you'll now know where it originated.  :D

Of course, it's also fun to compare prices.  Some things are FAR more expensive, like butter - OUCH!  But other items, like the turkey itself, is almost exactly the same!  I know that these modern behemoth superstores purchase massive quantities of turkeys and use them as loss leaders to get people into their stores, but wow!  In some cases, you could buy a turkey for cheaper in 2010 than 47 years' prior!  That's CRAZY!

I can't wait to sink MY teeth into these ads and cut 'em up!  Yep, that's right - I WILL be using this section.  I know I'll find other newspaper sections in the future and these are just too good to lay dormant.  This section was just laying in a basement for 47 years, waiting for the nutso lady with itchy scissor fingers to seal its fate.  I think it's a noble way to go.  :D

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tobacco Tags

Check out these REALLY old babies - aren't they cool?  This is part of my durable ephemera collection, and one of those items that I can't believe actually still exists.

Okay, first - a little history!  I don't know about you but up until two or three years ago I couldn't have told you what a tobacco tag was, let alone what it was used for (before tobacco was sold like it is today, it came in huge slabs or "twists", and the tags were needed to keep the "twist" from unraveling). Because of their size and their age, they TOTALLY appealed to me.  Mini and old, just the way I like 'em!  :D

According to Tony Hyman at the National Cigar History Museum, tobacco tags were one of the first tobacco collectibles, starting as early as the 1880s (there is a MARVELOUS collection of tags on this page, but I don't like to use other people's photos on my blog unless I have permission.  So hop on over to see what I mean!).

What's so cool about these tags is that they were rendered obsolete so early - in the 1920s, when tobacco started being wrapped in cellophane.  So basically, my collection of tags is AT LEAST 90 years old, and possibly older.  And yes, you can come across them pretty cheaply!

When you look at the tags, you can definitely see how old they are by the racial, ahem, "ignorance".  I don't collect African-American items normally, but this Black Maria tag (shown above) came in a lot.  I hesitated putting it in this photo but then I thought maybe it would be better if I did, just to show how different the world was a century ago.  I'd love to think that this sort of prejudice has been completely eradicated, but I'm not that naive.  I certainly won't be using it in my art, unless I'm making a political statement (and as you've probably figured out already, that's really not my style).

But I have used these tags in my art!  I love them!  Much like my beloved European food stick pins, they are the PERFECT size to use in collages, especially ATCs!  :D

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lo, How a (Compass) Rose E'er Blooming....

How are you all at directions?  I'll let you in on a Mel-ism - I'm TERRIBLE!  I can't tell you how many times I've gotten lost in my lifetime.

I take great solace in the fact that I come by this trait very naturally - my Mom and Grammie are/were the same way.  In fact, on certain occasions we managed to get lost together!  I can even go somewhere three times and STILL find a way to get mixed up.

Here's the thing, though - if I'm in the passenger seat and giving directions to someone from a map, I'm A-OK.  Maps make sense to me; written directions do not.  It's only been since Brian that I can think in terms of north-south-east-west.  Up until about six years ago, I always spoke in "left-right".  It has made a (slight!) difference in my directional ability.  :D

I've spoken of my love of maps before, but I'm going to take it a step further and discuss my fondness for the compass rose.  They're beautiful parts of a map, a key that unlocks direction and points you northward. I love how some are very nautical-looking, while others are little inside jokes to the mapmakers, and still others are very modern and angular. Even on the various maps I own there's a lot of variety:

I had never really noticed compass roses until I took Jill Berry's "Personal Geographies" class at Valley Ridge Art Studio (look for her companion book, due out in November!).  In the class, Jill suggested we try making our own, from any shape we'd like.  When we compared at the end of class, there were roses of all types, each more wonderful than the next.  When I got home from the class, I was inspired to make this ATC, which features one of the finest compass roses I've ever seen:

The rose was taken from a trilingual European BP map from the early 60s.  Isn't it fantastic?

P.S.  Don't forget to sign up for the Old Stuff Only rebate giveaway, going on now through Friday!  :D

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Saturday Afternoon Post!

Yes, I know - it's so rare of me to post on the weekend!  But I got the go-ahead so I thought I'd get a head start on the week!

And guess what?  IT'S GIVEAWAY TIME!  :D

Yes, we are once again offering a $20 gift certificate (in the form of a refund) from Don & Chris' Old Stuff Only!  The are in the process of relisting old items and adding a bunch of new ones -it's the PERFECT time to pop on over to their site and see all of the new labels, minis, trading cards, political stuff, and everything else they've got for sale.

Old Stuff Only, if you'll recall, is a wholesaler - which means that you have to amass at least $20 worth of stuff per purchase.  But with prices like theirs?  You should SEE what you'll get for $20, especially if you're buying paper.  It's marvelous!

I want ALL of you to get in on this contest, so I'm going to leave it run until next Friday, July 1, at noon.  I'll draw the name then.  I realize this is the start to a long holiday weekend, so I'll give you until Tuesday, July 5 to respond if you've won - after that, I'll draw another name.

So, here are the rules to the contest:

  • Visit Old Stuff Only's Web site and pick out your favorite item.
  • In the comments below, tell us what that item is
  • "Like" my Facebook page (to the right)
  • Be sure to include your email address in the soandso(at)suchandsuch(dot)com format
That's it!  I hope a lot of you sign up for this awesome giveaway - and have a great weekend!  :D

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rethinking Scraps

Have you ever been able to meet someone who you admire in your chosen field?  Perhaps if you're in the healthcare profession you've met a surgeon whose work you've tried to emulate.  Or if you're a writer, a noted author whose books you've collected for years.

I got the same privilege last Saturday!

For the last two years or so, I've been a big fan of Randel Plowman.  Perhaps you've heard this name before; if you're in the collage world I have no doubt that you know his name.  He is the author/curator of "Masters: Collage: Major Works by Leading Artists", which came out last June (here's the link).Or maybe you've seen his blog "A Collage a Day", which has been featured in many magazines.  That's how I found him - in "How".  He was a featured Website in that magazine back in 2009.

So, imagine my delight when Randel set up a collage workshop right here in Fond du Lac.  Yeah, little ol' Fondy was privy to a world-class artist!

We had about 15 people sign up, which was perfect.  There was a great mix of artists of all ages (all women, surprisingly) who unleashed their inner (or outer!) collage artist.  I'm not going to give away much of what we did in class - you'll have to take Randel's class to find out!  :D  But I will tell you that a few of the exercises had me a little stressed out.

Take, for example, that pile of scraps that you see above.  What was I supposed to do with THOSE?!?  I mean, there's nothing workable th.....

Oh yeah, there is!  Oh, and that would look good there!  And, well, this piece fits here!

And before you know it, I had six mini-collages.  All from scraps that I thought couldn't be salvaged.  :D  Here are a few of those collages:

We also learned some new adhesive techniques, and here is my collage from that experiment:

And finally, we learned some image transfer tips.  Here is the collage that I made using my new-found abilities:

What a fantastic way to spend the afternoon!  I know everyone had a marvelous time and I think Randel enjoyed himself too.  It was such a pleasure to finally meet the artist behind the work I've admired and which has been an inspiration to me for half my collage career.

Thank you, Randel, for showing me that I need to save my "unusable" scraps!  :D

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Look what I Found! :D

I ventured out in the rain yesterday and visited Gallery & Frame Shop because I had to get the collages I purchased from Randel Plowman framed (more on that fun day in a later post!).  I also had to return some of my own work that I had brought home to photograph - almost all of my work for sale is now at this wonderful store and I couldn't be more thrilled!  :D

I wasn't planning on visiting the Fond du Lac Antique Mall but they're right next door to the Gallery & Frame Shop and I had some time to kill.  What a fortuitous visit!

I got all sorts of wonderful old teachers' edition textbooks from the Forties with MARVELOUS illustrations that I know I'll be using in my work - some of the books were only a BUCK (love that)!

But then, as I was perusing another shelf, I saw a nondescript folder that looked to have quite a bit of stuff in it.  I took it out and....


(Cue choir of Ephmera Angels singing)

I knew I had hit the mother lode.

Yes, ALL of these books (including TWO copies of the "Alexander Graham Bell" booklet) were included in the folder and I got the entire set for....$7.50.  :D  WOO HOO!!!

My guess is that someone worked at the telephone company and this was their introductory packet.  Either that, or Wisconsin Bell (as it came to be known until 1982) handed out these marvelous folders to everyone who had the phone connected in their home - maybe even as a "new home" welcome pack?  Either way, how cool is it that someone had the wherewithal to keep the folder and its contents intact?!

Oh boy.  See, this is the type of ephemera that teeters on the line between using and collecting....I mean, it's so complete!  If it were one of the booklets, no problem!  But the whole set?!  I'll have to snoop around and see how rare that is.  The illustrations are marvelous and I have an idea in mind - so tell me:  what do YOU think?  Should I use them?  Should I not?  I'd love your input!

UPDATE:  I did indeed use one of the booklets - The Magic of Communication fell at the hands of my X-Acto knife.  :D  Here's the piece I created:

The operator is what I cut out of the book; but I created a stitched "triptych" using a schematic from the book, too!  It's one of my favorite pieces I've ever done.  :D

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

When it comes to notes I want a shorthand....

What?  Those aren't the lyrics to that Pointer Sisters song? :D

Now here's a topic that utterly fascinates me because I honestly don't know much about it.  I am humbled to say that they still taught shorthand (or stenography) when I was in high school, although the only girls (yeah, no guys took this class!) that took it were those who knew they were on the "secretarial" track for work after high school.

Shorthand is cool.  I like the "secret message"-ness of it.  This is quite culture-centric of me, but I always thought that Americans were the only ones who used shorthand.  This notion, of course, is ridiculous.  Looking at the Wikipedia entry for shorthand, one can find the Ancient Greek, Japanese, Chinese, European AND U.S. shorthand histories.

Most of us here in the U.S. are probably most familiar with the Gregg method of shorthand, which uses only thin lines in different lengths (as opposed to the Pittman method, which uses thick AND thin lines to distinguish sounds).  Here is a Gregg Writer magazine I picked up somewhere along my ephemera journey.  Inside are all sorts of articles pertaining to the "modern" secretary:  how to dress, how to behave (i.e., no crying at work!), decorum, etc.  It's 75 years old and I LOVE that!

A couple of weeks ago, I found this teeny little shorthand dictionary at an estate sale for a buck.  The woman's address label is still inside the front cover and I can just imagine this little dictionary hiding in a corner of her desk at work, probably well-used at first and then, as the 1963 turned into the 70s and 80s, being buried beneath computer manuals.  Such is the way of the office in the latter third of the last century.

I haven't used these squiggles often but I know I will eventually - I did do a little pendant with shorthand and a pen nib from Esterbrook called the "Gregg" - see how ubiquitous it used to be?  :D

Monday, June 20, 2011

Church Stuff

I grew up Presbyterian - actually, we were unaffiliated until I was in 2nd grade.  I knew about church from my very Catholic neighbor friend Jodie, because we'd "play church" by eating "communion wafers" (cookies) and saying "hey, man" a lot (that's actually what I thought "amen" was until my family started going to church).

Our church was about seven miles away from home and it was a good 15 minute drive, which seemed much longer when I was ten.  My Grammie also belonged to this church; that's how we wound up going there.  Many times she would pick us up and we'd carpool - I'm sure my mom loved it but my dad and the two of us girls?  Not so much (Mom and Grammie are like my mom and me - LOTS of talking).  :D

Much like this Mormon sticker suggests, tithing (giving
10% of your income) was strongly encouraged, if not
expected, in the church where I grew up.
Even then, I loved the paper items I'd see at church - the tithing envelopes; the gossamer-paged Bibles;  the membership forms we'd fill out (which were more like attendance records).  My sister Jen and I would write notes to each other on the envelopes when the adults weren't looking - if we got caught we'd get stern looks but we'd never get punished.  I think my dad understood because many a time he'd duck out halfway through the sermon and hang out in the church library or Fellowship Hall.  If it was football season he'd go out to the car and listen to the Packers pre-game show.  Sometimes we'd even leave early - if it was a Packers home game week my dad wanted to beat the horrendous traffic (I grew up a mile from Lambeau Field).

Notice the play on words - our church was in De Pere and
this is the newsletter!  Get it? "Press-DePerian and Presbyterian?
I always thought that was so clever.  :D

My whole family was very involved in church activities - my parents and Grammie all taught Bible classes; my mom and Grammie were deacons and my dad was an elder (stewardship roles); my mom and dad taught our 5th grade Sunday School class; Jen and I were in youth group - we grew up there.  When I was twenty, though, our pastor moved away and being a sophomore in college I had already dropped out of the whole church thing (when we turned 18 Dad let us opt out).  I have very fond memories of that church still.

I'm not a very organized religion-type of person - there are many policies with which I disagree.  I think I'm just too liberal in my thinking to ever attend church and I don't want to be viewed as a hypocrite.  Indeed, my live-and-let-live attitude would probably not bode well for me in church, especially with those who see life with no shades of gray.  I have done a few ATCs that could be considered religious but with no real "message", per se - read what you want into them!  :D

Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy Father's Day!

It seems like dads were always associated
with barbershop quartets in the 70s -
why was that? (Ironically, my dad WAS in
a barbershop chorus!)
I've always liked Father's Day - it's like Mother's Day without the guilt!  :D

I'm kidding - sort of.  Have you ever noticed how differently Mother's and Father's Day are marketed?  For the former, it sounds like, "the LEAST you can do is send your mother, the woman who gave you life, a card.  If you're a good person, take her out to brunch, you ingrate."  For the latter, it's more like, "Buy a card for your dear ol' Dad - your buddy, your pal!".

In my house, neither my mom nor my dad really cared about either day.  I do remember having some great picnics with my dad's side of the family at Ashwaubomay Park on many a Father's Day in the 70s and 80s but it was just an excuse for the family to get together.

My dad passed away seven years ago.  He was a great dad and I miss him terribly.  Here's a photo of him from his Marine days in WWII:
Wasn't he a handsome devil?  :D  He was only about 22 in this photo.  By the time I came along all of that beautiful black hair was gone (he was 47 when I was born).  He never lost that mischievious look, though!  I know that's where my sister and I get our sense of humor.

For all you dads out there, have a nice, relaxing weekend.  For all you folks out there who've lost your dad, pause and remember him.

I don't have much art that represents "dads", but here's an ornament that I made for my sister the Christmas after my dad died - I made one for my mom, too:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

For the Birds

Birds.  Never thought much of 'em, until I started walking on my favorite trail and I would hear their beautiful songs.  If I were feeling particularly contemplative that day, I'd stop and just listen for awhile.

My doggie Dudley REALLY notices birds - and they're terrorized because of it!  If I ever take Dudley for a walk on my favorite trail, I won't be able to contemplate any bird calls because they will have all skedaddled, unless they're perched high in the treetops.  :D

It's amazing to me how much bird ephemera is out there, too - stamps, books, brochures, magazines, just everyday stuff - check out the image above!  They're EVERYWHERE!

I started to realize that birds are one of my favorite collage subjects, too.  As far back as 2007 I was making art with birds  - doesn't seem like a long time but considering I didn't start creating art until 2006 it's a good percentage of that time.

Here are some pieces I've done using our fine feathered friends:

I started looking through all of my bird collages and I got an idea - why not make a Blurb book out of them?  I had just bought a Groupon (for free!) for money toward making a book so I tried my hand at it.  And here's a preview of that book!  :D

I'm happy to say that I also made my first sale today - a HUGE
shout-out goes to Eileen Schwanke, who bought my book
as a birthday present to herself!  Thanks so much, Eileen!  :D

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Following a Pattern

Isn't it funny how certain hobbies go in and out of style, just like anything else?  If you're into handiwork, you've certainly noticed this trend.
One hobby (or art form) that ducks in and out of our collective consciousness is embroidery.  
Embroidery, in the form of counted cross stitch, was the first creative endeavor I pursued on my own.  I remember my first project so clearly - it was a Ziggy pattern on a very open-weave cloth (if you know how they measure Aida cloth, I believe it was 10 count).  I think it still exists somewhere but it would take me a fortnight to find it.  Take my word for it - it wasn't good.  :D

I took the hobby back up in college - for a while all of my roommates were stitching too.  In my early twenties I was too busy whoopin' it up to be bothered with a hobby so it lay dormant.

When I was 24, however, I joined the Embroiderers' Guild on the advice of one of my work friends. At that point I was all in.  It became my one-and-only hobby.  I really enjoyed it and my sister Jen and I would take classes together when she lived in Minneapolis, where there were wonderful needlepoint shops.  It continued this way until I took up knitting when I was 31.

I still have all of my framed pieces up on my walls - they may be a little outdated but I just love them.  It reminds me how far I've come  - from stitching other people's designs to creating artwork that's entirely my own.  I don't think I could go back to following a pattern again - too constricting!  My hands aren't as nimble as they used to be,either; I think holding a needle for long periods of time would be pretty painful (let's not even talk about my eyesight!).

I love these brochures and digests, though!  There's something so comforting in knowing the womenfolk (and confident menfolk!) before me were doing the same things.  Of course, they probably weren't into the Subversive Cross Stitch that's so popular now (Warning - some of the designs in the link are rated M for mature).  :D

I have combined my love of embroidery with my paper passion a couple of times, with great enjoyment.  We have a textile art exhibit coming up in August and I'm once again going to try my hand at it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Storing my Stuff

As you can probably surmise from my blog posts (and this photo), I really enjoy collecting my ephemera as much as I love using it in my art.  In the last year or so it has become abundantly clear - I have a lot of stuff.  :D

So much stuff, in fact, that storage was becoming a real issue.  Every drawer, nook and cranny was stuffed to the gills with stuff.  What to do?

Well, some of you reaped the benefits of my overage with the ephemera giveaways that I've been doing this year.  It felt good to know that I could share my stash with like-minded souls.  :D  But even with those, I was still knee-deep in Golden Guides and coloring books (more on those things in later posts!).  So what now?

Enter Super Dave!

Dave is my dad in-law.  He is an extremely talented woodworker.  No, scratch that - he is a craftsman.  He loves making solid wood furniture as much as I love to create art with ephemera.  It has gone beyond the hobby stage into a passion.  This past (very cold!) spring, he was really itching to make something and he's always on us (Brian and me and his brother Rick's family) to find stuff for him to make.  I always felt a little uneasy about asking for something for myself - it just seemed kind of selfish.  But after much cajoling by the whole family, Brian and I finally came up with a blueprint for this cabinet:

From L to R: Rick (Brian's brother), Super Dave, me and Brian.
How lucky am I?  :D
Isn't it spectacular?  And all it cost us was materials.  I just can't believe my good fortune.  I think (nay, I KNOW) this is the most beautiful piece of furniture we own.  I just got it on Saturday, so it still has that wonderful varnish-and-wood smell in my studio.  I began filling it with my excess ephemera on Saturday afternoon and was amazed (or appalled) at not only the amount of stuff I have, but the amount of stuff the drawers can hold!  Why, I could acquire three times what I have now and still be okay!  I can think of some places to go shopping, too (hint - look on the right hand side of your screen)...  

Okay, maybe I should just stick with what I have for the time being.....or not.  :D

Of course, I can never really repay Dave for this amazing gift; all I can do is treasure it for the rest of my life. One good thing is that he knows it's going to be used every single day.  Oh, and if you could send all of your healing thoughts his way today, that would be great - he's having knee surgery as I type.  Yes, he built that cabinet even though he was in a great deal of pain (we begged him to wait on the project, but he insisted - I think it took his mind off of it).  So give my awesome dad in-law a big ol' shout out today!  :D