Friday, August 28, 2009

Against Book Breaking

After posting about it yesterday, I thought today might be a good time to talk about where I first saw Grandville's Laurel, and the artistic conundrum it always reminds me of.

When I was 16, I caught my first glimpse into Grandville's world. I was given his Laurel as a gift. It was a plate from an antique edition of Les Fleurs Animees, and I've always cherished it. I still see it every day, too, framed and on my mantelpiece at home.

It was only later on, in botany school, when I discovered that the Laurel was part of a larger collection of images, that my real love for Grandville's caricatures was awakened. My discovery had a dark side, too, because I also realized that my plate had once been in a book that was now, obviously, in pieces.

Just as the botanist is prone to plucking flowers from their natural habitat and flattening them into albums, we as artists have the same opportunity to rend the beautiful works of others and use the gleanings to our own ends.

Castle in the Air offers classes on altered book techniques, but when I've taken the classes I've always been the oddball using a newly purchased blank book. I've never been able to bring myself to break or modify an existing book with another artist's text and pictures.

By the same token, Castle in the Air sells our "Vintage Ephemera Packs" stuffed with trimmings from yesteryear's books and magazines. I have to say that for the record, none of the elements in the ephemera packs we've sold have been broken from their original source by us at the store. The pieces are brought in by collectors or found already disassembled at sales and flea markets.

For many people, old books are talismanic objects with their own inherent power. The act of dissecting the book and using authentic vintage pieces is thought to put some of that power into a new piece of art. It's a potent process even if you don't believe in magic, because what's happening is a real transformation. A more or less "original" source is destroyed, and what comes from it is a new statement from a contemporary artist. I won't stand in the way of anyone who wants to break books to get at that power, but I can't bring myself to do it.

My hope for all artists who work in collage and reinterpretations of vintage publications is that they take time to consider the effects of their actions, and consciously decide what is best. An antique book is a treasure unto itself, and even though Castle in the Air could make more money selling individual plates cut from a vintage art book, we would much rather keep the book intact to sell as is, or better yet, to add to our store collection, where choice images can be reproduced using modern methods. I've scanned the Grandville images I'm sharing with you using a computer. The same computer can allow me to recreate an almost perfect replica of the artistic plate from my copy of Les Fleurs Animees, one that I can cut and paste to my heart's content -- and probably on better paper to boot. To me, none of Grandville's magic is lost in this process. In fact, you could say that the magic is enhanced, because the image is now incorporated into something new that might turn on a new person to Grandville's work, and the original remains for those who want to experience the power that it has in itself.

As artists we live in and through our imaginations. Can you imagine a world where the beautiful original works that inspired us in the first place have all been destroyed?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Grandville's Laurel

Not long ago, my dear friend (and my girls' pediatrician) Dr. Wolffe surprised me with a gift he knew I would love. It was an edition of Les Fleurs Animees, or The Court of Flora, by the inimitable illustrator J.J. Grandville. I was delighted, of course, but had to sheepishly admit to Dr. Wolffe that I was such a Grandville lover that I had an original edition from the nineteenth century! It really was beside the point though, because in Wolffe's thoughtful gift I now have a copy that I'm much more comfortable enjoying without worrying about it falling apart in my hands.

Grandville is most famous for his
tete-de-bete -- animals in human clothing -- and his similarly anthropomorphic flowers. Les Fleurs Animees is, of course, about the latter, with full color plates and allegorical commentary by Taxile Delord. But I thought I'd share this particularly heraldric selection from the book. It's Grandville's picture of the Laurel, and the story that goes with it -- a conversation between a marquis and a colonel, with a closing thought by Delord -- is on a timeless subject:

"It becomes you to talk of love," said the marquis, "you who never made love to any but the burgher's dames in the small towns where you were garrisoned. You ridicule little attentions and pretty verses, because, old fox, halbardier, and pander that you are, you never experienced their charms."

The colonel grew angry in turn: "A fine woman, like a citadel, should be carried by storm."

"No, delicate attentions win the favor of the fair."

"To vanquish the most obstinate, one needs only to show a brow wreathed with laurel."

"Not so. It is with a belt of myrtle that we must bind the Loves."

Gallantry and bravery have gone out of fashion. Ridicule has done them justice. To whom should one be gallant? To women who smoke, who drink of grog, who ride horseback, who fence, and write novels?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Be the Queen of Halloween!

If you've been following our weblog for a while, then you're familiar with the work of Caron Dunn. Whether she's needlefelting a little friend like Thumbelina or illustrating a countryside scene in watercolor, Caron walks the path of the adorable and charming.

That said, how thrilled we were to see Caron's take on a project a little creepier than what she's done before. Here's a picture of her
Bat Wing Crown, the perfect finishing touch for your spooky costume this Halloween. Best of all, the class is on All Hallows Eve itself, finishing around tea time to let you put on the rest of your party paraphrenalia as you become the Queen of Halloween.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Bactrian Camel in California

"The Bactrian camels, fifteen in number, which reached San Francisco in July last per schooner Caroline E. Foote, from the Amoor river, and which still remain in our neighborhood, deserve much more attention than they have as yet received. Not so much because they come from the far interior of Asia, and are curiosities in themselves, are they entitled to consideration; but we think that the animal will yet be acclimated in America, and that the present importation is only the first of a series of private ventures, which will eventually result in giving the United States a domestic animal of great value and importance.

"It was supposed by Mr. Otto Esche, the importer of the present herd, that they were well adapted for the transportation of goods from point to point in the mining regions, or, if not there, certainly on the sandy plains which are found between the Sierra Nevada and Salt Lake, and on the desert wastes which make up the southern portions of the United States territories from San Bernardino across to El Paso.

"It seems, indeed, to have been the intention of establishing a Camel Express from California to Salt Lake, and, if the animals were found well adapted to the country, to extend it as far east as Missouri. Hitherto, however, no trial has been made of the animals, and with the exception of a few days of exhibition for the benefit of the German Benevolent Society, they have attracted but little public attention."

(From Hutchings' California Magazine, Vol.5, No.5, November 1860.)

P.S.: This is our weblog's 200th post!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Balloons, Birds, bonus!

The purgatorial period has passed! Pop to the Online Shoppe for forty-plus new papers in popular and peculiar patterns!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pomegranates, Pocketwatches, plus!

Presently preparing piles upon piles of pretty paper to post to the Online Shoppe! Expect another exultant exclamation upon our eventual effectuation!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fierce Felts

For me, one of the many joys of going to Castle in the Air every day is meeting the amazing artists who stop by. Whether they're shopping for materials, showing us items they've made, or just spending time on Fourth Street, the artists who come into the store all have wonderful stories to tell, both in words and in the works they bring with them.

Take Uma Schaef, a felting force of nature who visited Castle in the Air recently to show us her woolly wonders. These pictures are closeups of a great coat and a shawl she wet-felted featuring depictions of mythological creatures. She regaled us with the folklore behind the visuals for these fierce characters -- did you know that lions are sometimes depicted with antlers, which signify the king of the beasts' roar?!

Uma also showed us a knapsack and a few hats that she'd made. All were incredible in their detail and the freshness of the creatures. It seemed as though they were ready to fly right out of the wool. If you would like to see Uma's creations, give her a call at (510)486-0333.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Minding my own beeswax

Earlier this summer my family inherited two beehives, setting them behind my home studio and peering out occasionally to see the bees as they buzzed to and fro, collecting pollen and nectar and returning home to build their intricate homes of wax.

A few days ago we carefully took the lids from the boxes containing the hives. While both colonies had been active, one had been much busier, and we suspected that the other hive wasn't doing well. Our guess was confirmed -- the hive had been abandoned!

Before a new colony could move in next spring, the box had to be cleaned and put away for the winter. One of the fringe benefits of this process is the stockpile of beeswax and honey left behind by the departed bees. We divided the golden treasure with some friends who were helping us with the inspection. Taking our portion into the house, we began a long evening separating the wax from the detritus of the hive. I always save the last bits of my beeswax candles, knowing how much the bees work to make the wax. It's a good thing, because we soon realized that we weren't left with enough wax to make a new candle for our dinner table. Melting all the waxes together, though, we were able to fill a mold we purchased the next day from a local candle-making shop.

It's so easy to take honey and beeswax for granted when we see them at the farmers' market or the store. But the process of making this candle with my family left me with great feelings of awe and gratitude for the bees and their work.

Monday, August 17, 2009

My Heart's in the Highlands

This summer I'm teaching my older daughter about the history and culture of Scotland, our ancestral home. This morning, we began with a poem by the country's national poet, Robert Burns.

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer --
A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birthplace of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

Farewell to the mountains high cover'd with snow;
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods;
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer --
A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Batting Birds

John McRae and Ulla Milbrath were talking about taxidermied birds this week, so today John brought in his collection of antique cotton batting birds, all perched on a glittery branch he made himself.

John says these chirpers are probably from the 1920s or 1930s, with batting bodies and legs made of stiff wire, then wrapped with finer gold wire to simulate the scaling of actual birds' legs.

Today, these birds' natural habitat is in antique shops or at the flea market, sold in actual bird cages! Originally they could have been Christmas tree ornaments from a time when the Christmas tree was decorated with the accouterments of spring, a magic spell to make a wish for winter's end come true.

They're getting a bit worn with age, but John says that just helps them look more like their taxidermied cousins.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cooking with Mariaelisa and Friends

"Where there is no bread, there is no love."
--Italian proverb

Cookbooks are second only to travel guides when it comes to books that help you daydream your way to far-off lands. Although, since cookbooks help you recreate one of the best parts of any visit to another country -- the food -- maybe they are the best way to go on an imaginary vacation.

We recently received our latest shipment of woodblock-printed wonders from Mariaelisa Leboroni's Xilocart workshop in Perugia, Italy. Among the treasured greeting cards, journals, prints, and other goodies were copies of three cookbooks Mariaelisa published with writer friends of hers, one for breads, one for seeds and grains, and one about those plump garden favorites potato, tomato, and squash. Each of these cookbooks gives the history and traditions associated with these foods in Italy, and a cornucopia of recipes.

Mariaelisa's woodblock prints of farm scenes, rustic baker's ovens, and lucious plants decorate the pages, and the text for all three books is in both Italian and English. Talk about a way to travel without leaving the house, or even the kitchen!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Rubber Stamp Carving with Alice

We only stock blank cards at Castle in the Air, because we figure people already know what they want to say when they're sending a message to a friend or loved one. Why use someone else's words? And if this sentiment is taken even further, why even use another person's pictures?

Rubber stamping is the best way to print beautiful, inexpensive cards with a p
ersonal touch. We're so lucky to have rubber stamp queen Alice Armstrong as a regular teacher at Castle in the Air, and this fall she'll be in the Studio for the Imagination showing how to transfer found or drawn images to your own rubber stamps. The pieces pictured here are from some of the cards she's made with stamps she's carved herself.

To learn more about this class, which will be held on Sunday, October 4, visit the Castle in the Air Online Shoppe.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sandcastles, anyone?

We had a hot weekend down on Fourth Street, the sun finally showing its face after weeks of typical foggy Berkeley summer weather. When the sun came out again today, one of the store mannequins decided it was so warm that she wanted to take a trip to the beach. So, using crepe paper, Dresden trim, and some spun cotton "buttons," John McRae helped her into some brand new beachwear. (He's such a gentleman!)

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Cup of Inspiration

We're giddy this afternoon over this shipment of earthenware mugs. Everyone at the shop's picked their favorite, tall or squat, solid colored or two-toned. An assortment of mugs will be available for students in our classes, and we've put the rest on display in the store for anyone who wants to take a piece of Castle in the Air home with them. Most great projects start with a cup of coffee or tea, why not use your own Castle in the Air mug?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Christmas in August!

Yesterday John and I went to Golden Glow of Christmas Past, an annual gathering of Christmas connoisseurs. Hundreds of collectors of antique Christmas ornaments converged in Sacramento to shop, attend talks and workshops, and witness room-sized displays of holiday treasures. I first heard about Golden Glow from an Italian ornament artisan when I was in Europe earlier this year. Even though the show travels to a new city every year, it was pure luck that this year it was in Sacramento, not far from Berkeley. We had so much fun that John and I are going back this Saturday to socialize and attend a banquet and special events.

The pictures here are of a special Christmas optical toy John made. A convex mirror at one end makes the wintry scene seem much larger. It seems Santa Claus is already awake and on the move!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Art of Sealing a Letter

Alongside our seals and sticks of sealing wax at Castle in the Air, we offer a free little handout from the early 1900s describing how to properly seal an envelope. If you're one of our readers who hasn't yet made it into the store, this one's for you!

Do not begin by thrusting the end of the wax into the flame and conveying it in a flaming spatter to your envelope. Take plenty of time and hold the wax above the flame of the candle, but not near enough to burn (about one inch); a burnt wax makes a streaky seal and is hard to manage.

When a marble-sized amount of wax has gradually softened, but is not dripping, apply it with a circular movement upon the place to be sealed, rub it around and down until you have a circle of proper size and thickness, then pull straight up and apply the seal. The result should be a clear-cut impression.

And remember, if you're planning to send your wax-sealed envelope using the U.S. Postal Service, it will need another 20 cents of postage for hand-cancellation.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Fall Classes Are Here!

For the first time ever, Castle in the Air is selling its entire season of classes through our Online Shoppe! Don't miss your chance to fall into a seat in the Studio for the Imagination!