Friday, December 12, 2014

The Grand Transformation: Crescendo


We’ve been in Venice all year at Castle in the Air, in spirit if not always in the flesh. It seems like ages ago we were stood in Piazza San Marco dressed head to toe as birds, jesters, and mysterious dames, so much has happened here at home in the meantime.


Like the water lapping the walls of Venice, the Grand Transformation occurs in waves. As visitors pass between the striped gondola pillars at our front door they witness the latest wonders—glass ornaments piled on trays as high as their heads, like desserts in a dream…the pyramid decorations spinning in the breeze…the incredible array of holiday cards…


A stone archway topped with the lion of Venice beckons friends into the classroom upstairs, where our teachers lead the final classes of the year, give crafting demonstrations, or just spend the day working quietly on their own, happy to share their knowledge with the curious.


Castle in the Air has taken on an even more festive mood than usual over the past few months, hosting many merry evenings for artists near and far. The masks on the walls take our thoughts back to Sergio Boldrin’s visit and the magic of that night.


In unexpected ways, our magnificent masquerade of a year has led to our dropping some of the masks we’ve worn in the past. We were so happy to see John McRae unveil his Dresden jewelry collection, and what a crowd came out to cheer him on and take home some of the treasure. Our launch for The Stumpers was equally festive, the song, dance, and feasting lasting long into the night. Gatherings like these seem to affirm the importance of letting down our guard a bit and sharing more of ourselves with the world.


And there’s still so much more to discover! If you’re nearby and haven’t yet come to swim in the spectacle, I hope you will. This really is Castle in the Air’s most amazing year yet, and all of us are so grateful for your help as we ferry our dreams across into this world.

Monday, November 10, 2014

We Grow Better Together: “The Stumpers” Book Launch 11/20



It makes me so happy to share my latest creation with you—perhaps you can come to the party?

The Stumpers is my new children’s picture-book about togetherness and the joy of working toward one’s dreams. It follows the life of a cozy family of gnome-like people and all the good things they enjoy as they live in harmony with their world. The the tale grew organically out of making the dolls and their forest home in my studio. Here’s a link to a video that tells more of how they came to be.

Music is an important part of my life, and it’s part of the Stumpers’ world too, so it was such a treat to include an original song in the e-book version of The Stumpers. “The Stumpers’ Frolic” is played by the talented Laura Cortese, who also narrates the e-book. As an added treat, Laura will be at the launch party, where she and I will chat about creativity, making art, and working together on this project.

The Stumpers is my sixth book with Dromedary Press, a publishing company I started with the goal of making beautiful books exactly the way I envisioned them. No one, whether they’re an independent or one of the big houses, knows what the future holds for book publishing, but one thing that’s clear to me is that great things are possible when we work together. If you enjoy The Stumpers, my wish is that you’ll spread the word by sharing it with your friends, both in person and online.

Gnomevember starts a grand season of merrymaking. I hope you’ll join me to celebrate The Stumpers and its themes of togetherness, joy, song, and dreams made real. Bring a friend!

The Stumpers Book Launch
Thursday, November 20, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
Castle in the Air, 1805 Fourth Street, Berkeley
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5:30: Autumnal feast with warming cider
6:00: Fireside chat with Karima Cammell and Laura Cortese
6:30: Book signing and live music
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A special a free gift with purchase of The Stumpers at the event!

Whether or not you can make it to the party, I invite you to visit TheStumpers.com, where you can not only order the book and some magical moving postcards, but also send your friends an email greeting straight from the Stumpers themselves!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Castle will be Closed November 3rd!

Castle in the Air will be closed Monday, November 3rd for decorating. Join us on Tuesday, November 4th when we re-open and unveil the Grand Transformation!

John McRae’s Jewels of Dresden


If you’ve taken one of his classes or simply set foot inside Castle in the Air, you know the work of John McRae. Whether he’s demonstrating decorative techniques to students or transforming our front window displays, John is a veritable magician when it comes to conjuring exquisite wonders out of simple materials.

This month we’re thrilled to unveil what may be John’s greatest creation yet: a collection of more than 30 pieces of handcrafted jewelry that rival any fabled treasure hoard. These are John’s “Jewels of Dresden,” wearable art that combines gemstones and other precious objects with the exquisite Victorian crafting material known as Dresden trim.

Castle in the Air invites you to join us for the unveiling of the entire collection these highly desirable pieces. Set amidst Castle in the Air’s pre-holiday transformation into a Venetian fantasyland complete with Carnival costumes, this one-of-a-kind exhibit will truly be the jewel in the crown. We’ve held off on pre-selling pieces to share them with you all at once, but the night of the show all of these incredible pieces will be available for purchase.

Jewels of Dresden: An Evening with John McRae
Saturday, November 8, 5:30–7:30 pm
Castle in the Air
1805 Fourth Street, Berkeley
Event guests will enjoy food, beverages, and a souvenir catalog.

For further event details call Castle in the Air: 510-204-9801
Read more about John McRae on our blog.

Further afield? Join in the reverie on Instagram.

Castle in the Air Artist Profile: John McRae


Don’t miss John McRae’s “Jewels of Dresden” trunk show Saturday, November 8th.

 Based in San Francisco for nearly three decades, artist John McRae was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and grew up in rural California. He remembers a childhood of constant creative activity—making, doing, and exploring.

“My family always knew I’d be an artist,” says McRae. “We couldn’t afford traditional art supplies, but I would use whatever I found. Odds and ends … house paint … whatever. Now there’s an entire industry around found-object art, but as a kid I was just putting things together in ways I thought were interesting. I was curious about the world, and I learned that something doesn’t have to be a diamond or a ruby to have value. I could never pass a dumpster without looking in. I had a magpie mentality. Pretty! Shiny!”

This inquisitive approach to art stayed with McRae into adulthood, and led to his discovering Dresden trim while hunting for art materials at Bay Area flea markets. The foil-coated paper fascinated him, and he started using it to decorate boxes and other projects. When McRae realized the material was from Germany, he traveled there to learn more. “I found it and ordered it all,” he says. “I had to have some of every design I could find.”

Further research into the history of Dresden trim, and his own experimentations with the paper, led McRae to see it less as something purely for ornamentation but as a foundational art material.

“It acts almost like metal,” he says. “You can bend it and twist it and it doesn’t break. After a while I could look at the pieces and imagine how I would cut them up and remake them.”


Christmas ornamentation has always had a place in McRae’s artistic life. He discovered its range and history over the course of years of scouring shops and markets in Europe and America, trying his hand at decorating retail interiors. This eventually led to McRae opening his own shop—Every Day’s A Holiday—with partner Byron Bentley in 1997 on San Francisco’s Divisadero Street.

“Seeing Dresden ornaments for the first time inspired me to make this jewelry,” says McRae, who acknowledges further similarities between his work and ornate jewelry of Renaissance and Victorian Europe. “Dresden decorations are the holy grail of Christmas ornaments. My work is a progression of that idea. I always try to push my own work further than what I’ve seen or previously done.”


Over-the-top displays inside Every Day’s a Holiday took decorating to new heights. McRae and Bentley brought back wonders from across Europe and reimagined them for a hungry American audience. In one of the shop’s best-loved displays, hundreds of glass ornaments turned into a vegetable stand—a farmers’ market for the imagination.

A riotous cavalcade of tiny gnome figurines filled another display; McRae made the miniature men using vintage paper doll faces. The gnomes caught the eye of a visiting shopkeeper, Castle in the Air’s Karima Cammell.

“She bought a bushel of them,” recalls McRae. When Every Day’s a Holiday closed in 2002, McRae and much of the store’s stock—including the rest of his gnomes—migrated to Castle in the Air. He and his collection have been an integral part of the shop’s look ever since.

Get your Jewels of Dresden souvenir catalog when you visit Castle in the Air.