In The Studio This Week

This morning at the dam….just missed getting a blue heron in this picture.

Still working on the Responsibility Hands. One finished and another about half way.

The reason those fingers on the right hand are a bit crooked is a lifetime of abuse. Another thing I did these past few days was cover rocks with rawhide and kangaroo hide.

My friend, Gian, is a brilliant book binder and when I showed him the two rocks I bought from Shanna Leino he told me if I had a smooth rock he had the rawhide and could show me how to do it.

Here is our first attempt.

I drilled the holes for stitching too close in and when trying to close up the end I could not make the two pieces meet. So this happened and a bit of PVA and clamps helped seal the seam before sanding.

It was a great experience and very hard on the hands. Since Gian is leaving this weekend to go home to Canada I thought I would try again with the scrap of leather he left here in the studio.

And the back.

And this one.

These last two are still wet. But the one above had puckers in the back, the slits I made did not open and it was way too lose on the rock. I was over-correcting for the mistakes on the first one done with Gian’s supervision.

I was just about ready to cut the parchment-type leather off when it occurred to me that I would lose nothing if I put it in a boiling water with more of the corn paste that it takes to make the leather pliable. It shrunk down in no time and my slits opened into the elongated holes.

Here are the three of the rawhide covered rocks.

The two on the left will dry out as white as the one on the right. They feel wonderful in the hand.

Then I had a larger flat rock from a stream near here. I used up a couple of dremel tools making the pattern and then decided to use my last scrap of kangaroo hide to do one like Shanna Leino’s etched stone.

Here it is after being put in the pot, trimmed, sanded, waxed and buffed.

And the back.

My hands are very sore from doing this. The leather needs to be massaged forever with corn paste until it stretches. Holes have to be drilled…luckily I have a drill press in my studio. Sewing the pieces together halfway and then shoving the rock into place and trying to stitch the rest of the seam together. All of this has to be back stitched and the needle sometimes just does not want to go through. All the time the rock and leather must be kept damp and stretched.

It takes more than overnight to dry completely and then the seam excess has to be trimmed with very sharp scissors and then those seams sanded on the small belt sander next to the drill press, being careful not to get too close to the stitches.

And it all makes a big mess in the studio which has yet to be cleaned up.

I can’t wait to show these to Gian later today when we go over for a farewell scotch.

But this is hard work. My advice is to buy Shanna’s. Hers are so beautiful, I had to buy both of the ones she had left on her site a few months ago.

Her rocks are from Lake Michigan and her cover parchment is much thinner than the one I had, but aren’t they just lovely?

Til next time.

Wildflowers and Dictionaries

A young woman came to my door this week and before she entered the foyer, she handed me these. A bouquet of wildflowers that as soon as she was gone had to be placed outside as the goldenrod makes Lee sneeze. I can not remember the last time someone gave me a bunch of wildflowers all tied up. They are so much more magical than flowers from a florist. It might be the sense of urgency they project. And a bouquet like this can’t help but be received with a sudden smile of thankfulness.

She had called a few days before from Nashville, Tennessee to ask if she could come by to see me and talk about my art practice. How could I say no to that. An interest in combining art with what the natural world has to offer is her passion for now as she sorts out what to do next in her very young life. I showed her my work using earth pigments and constructions of altered plant materials. Then gave her a copy of my book after getting her contact information. There will be other things I can think to share with her somewhere down the line.

Something else I came across this past week was a letter to and from the Merriam-Webster dictionary offices.

I keep it in the back of my dictionary.

The background story is that in 2004 I had finished reading The Life of Pi. In the conclusion of the story it seemed that the evidence of a meerkat was in question. I was quite sure at the time that I knew what one was…but I must add right here that even now spellcheck is questioning me. Anyway, I went to my dictionary to look the word up and found it was not there….nowhere was the word “meerkat”.

I wrote to Merriam-Webster and unfortunately did not keep a copy of that original inquiry as to why the word was not there.

Here is their response:

April 5, 2004

Dear Ms. Webster

You did not mention which Merriam-Webster dictionary you are referring to, but I assume it must be Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary since meerkat was not included in the ninth edition (the one you apparently own). I can’t say for sure why it wasn’t included, but I can tell you that meerkat was entered in the tenth edition of the Collegiate published in 1993 and is still there for the eleventh edition published last year.

Since the English language is constantly changing, you might want to consider purchasing a more recently published dictionary at some point. For the Collegiate Dictionary, for instance, we typically add 10,000 new words and senses for each new edition. Thank you for writing. Feel free to write again.


Joan Narmontas

My response back to Joan on April 9, 2004

Dear Joan,

Thank you for your prompt reply. The dictionary I own that lays open covering the top of the “Information Center” and where the word meerkat is absent is a 1989 Webster’s Enclycopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the Enblish Language.

Surrounded with these books in all their permutations, you may not fully appreciate the value of a dictionary just sitting open at the height of a bent elbow. It is a 1,854-page invitation to learn and reaffirm what knowledge we have regarding meaning, pronunciation and spelling, not to mention the location of places and names in history. The pleasing pattern of a notched fore edge that seduces the fingertips into moving from one set of paired letters to another if for no other reason than to feel that place and flip whole sections of fluttering pages forward and backward.

And the Illustrations! On pages 278-279 there are drawings of a Clipper ship, Clipper bow, Cloister, and Close helmet with its Visor, Ventail and Beaver carefully labeled. How can anyone resist these small, well-placed visual definitions? Just the other day my husband (the same delightful man who built the “Information Center”) brought me an old hand forged iron piece to use in my artwork. “I think it is a clevis or something like that”, he said. We immediately turned to the dictionary and found a picture of a clevis, which clarified that what we had, was the hook that a clevis was constructed for in the first place.

When our children were growing up, every Sunday morning at breakfast we had to all come to the table with a new word. Pronounce it, spell it, define it and use it in a sentence — then you could eat. Our dictionaries have always been used and loved for what they bring into our lives.

So far I have had to add a piece of paper with the formula to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit and I see no reason why I can’t simply place the definition for meerkat in the same way….tucked in at page 891 where the word megajoule sits in upper right, just begging to be read about at the bottom of the page and insisting I moisten my finger to turn the page and view a megathere. I love this book. Keep making them.

Best regards,

Sandy Webster


I put these letters about our use and love of a dictionary in this blog with the bouquet of wildflowers because I wonder if these are things of the past.

It would be a shame if they were.

To rely on “spellcheck” all the time can be a mistake, especially when they question “meerkat” and want to turn it into “marketeer”. To use an app that is supposed to identify plants is also not such a good idea. Recently mine could not even recognize a Japanese maple. I still turn to my Audubon and Peterson books for identifications so I can turn actual pages, see a variety of illustrations and read.


Til next time when there seems to be something to say or show.

Making Adjustments

Three years ago the crepe myrtles outside the studio looked like this….manageable and quite pretty.

But this year they really grew tall and floppy, so the woodsman was called in.

Now they look like this. Next spring they can start over.

We walked at the dam again this morning. It is getting chillier out there. For some reason this Canadian goose decided to leave his group and turned back to stay behind….complaining all the time.

Here is a picture of the river birch or paper birch in the yard two days ago when the late sun was doing its best to cheer things up.

There is more maintenance to do around the house and yard, more than Lee can do anymore. It is strange to come to grips with the idea that some of the most simple tasks that I took for granted he was doing or could do are just a bit out of reach. Since there is just the two of us living here, those tasks fall to me.

I can do them but it is the remembering to do them before heading off to bed early with my kindle so as to get up at four a.m. to prepare for the gym. While I am gone he takes his shower and starts his toast. He used to make the coffee every morning but forgot the sequence. Now I prepare it the day before so all he has to do is push the “on” button.

Anyway with the art group here last Sunday and everyone showing their work, I got to thinking, “What to work on now that the samples for the class, Books All About the Stitch is over?”

I need something that I can leave at a moments notice. Something I can control size-wise, and of course, something that has meaning.

So after taking apart this old sketchbook and removing the signature that had drawings from my now deceased brother’s home, (the fact that they were still there in the book prevented me from continuing to use it) I am working on a new idea.

The cover paper that covers the board is an egg tempera painting I did of a collected nest. The binding for the pigments was glaire and not egg yolk. Glaire is what is made from the egg white and used on more flexible surfaces. The size is about 9 inches by 11 inches.

Anyway back to what it is being used for now. I drew the outline of one of my hands and am filling in the space with all the things that are now falling into my hands to do. Here is the start of the first hand.

This will be easily filled in to the wrist which is just to the left of the deer. He still feeds the deer but sometimes needs reminding. It will all fill in like the index finger is.

I will continue to make pairs of hands in the sketchbook. One hand on each page. I might try different ways of holding my hands but not sure how good an outline that would be as far as seeing that it is a hand.

These should be not only therapeutic but a good reminder of what has been added to my list of things to do. And what else I like about this idea is that the images are all random which is so much like it is as he needs help or just stops doing something.

I think that if someone else was going through this and they could not draw or did not want to, they could fill the outlined hand with words of what needs attention. A hand full of written tasks going in all directions. It would be also very interesting visually.

Okay, enough. Til later.

Finishing Up The Stitched Australia Book

Here is the finished book with its wrap tie. I got to use the last two small pieces of wood patterned by Toni Rogers in Queensland.  All threads used in the book came from Australia.

And besides using Australian tea to color the pages and shellac that I bought in Australia, I used my little geometry set bought in Brisbane many years ago to make circles, etc. Even my needles came from Richmond, Tasmania.

The images were harvested from this book.

There is something magic and charming and educational about all the pictures used in this book to tell a bit about the settling of Australia.

I used a coptic binding for the folios and spacers in the book.

And after I got all the folios shellacked, tea dyed and stitched I put them into some sort of order of settling the land.

I realized that I wanted it a bit thicker and had this picture of four surveyors/telegraph workers sitting there. The reason it sat there was because it is my romantic idea of what a true Australian male looks like. In fact several years ago while teaching in the Northern Territory the assistant to the Craft Alliance there introduced me to her husband. She knew I would like him because he had this look of pure Australian bloke. When she finished work that week he was going to take her on trip around the perimeter of the continent on his motorcycle. He had that truly capable look about him and had me grinning in his company. Any one of the men below could have been related.

Anyway aside from all that, these men in the picture and two more random images became the in between two-folio signatures to make the book larger and eliminate seeing the empty space between those folios.


I liked how they inserted themselves into the other images and the country. It might matter that I listened to Lyle Lovett music while I put these boys into the book.

There are other images, lots of other ones of people settling into the country, displacing the aboriginal culture.  And kangaroos.

And the convicts….all accused of one of the nineteen crimes that got them deported to the other side of the world.

I will stop here and maybe figure that I have enough samples and books that involve the stitch. There are only four in the class so far and I have no idea until I start teaching where each of their interests lie.

It will be my last class taught for John C Campbell Folk School here in Brasstown, NC. Thirty years and six months is quite enough. I look forward to really enjoying this last one and hope the students do as well.

Til next week when I can show pretty outside pictures again.