Monday, November 30, 2009

A Sign for All Time

If you've ever walked around Berkeley and stopped in your tracks to check out a well-made sign for a shop or restaurant, chances are you were admiring the work of Steven Vigeant, owner of Berkeley Signs. (Click over to Steven's portfolio for some memorable shingles.)

We hired Steven to make a sign to hang above the door at Castle in the Air, and look at the unbelievably gorgeous one that he brought us! Just like the artisan products we carry, the sign is made with the same attention to detail and old-school methods we love. Steven created it in a Victorian style, with chipped glass, painstaking hand-lettering, and three kinds of gold leaf.

From the moment the sign went up last week, people on Fourth Street have stopped to comment on how much they love it. It catches their eye because it's such a rare treat to see real art used in commerce. We're living in a time in which mechanization is favored for its convenience and craftsmanship is dying out. I'll venture to say that the only person who loves the sign more than us and our customers is Steven himself, because he got the chance to go back to the techniques and tools of a golden age. And because the sign's double-sided, he got to make two! I hope you can come by and see it in person. We're so pleased to have it pointing the way into the shop.

Friday, November 27, 2009

More Holiday Haps on Fourth

Santa Claus Comes to Fourth Street

Santa Claus is coming to...Fourth Street! Meet Santa and his elves at "The Berkeley Pole" in the courtyard across the street from Peet's Coffee on Fourth. And as artistic representatives of all things magical, Castle in the Air is providing the decorations!
Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 - 4:00 pm

Extended Hours
Castle in the Air is one of many shops open late during the holiday shopping season. Through Christmas Eve, our hours will be:
10:00 am - 6
:00 pm Monday through Wednesday
:00 am - 7:00 pm Thursday through Saturday
:00 am - 6:00 pm Sunday
We will also be open late December 21, 22, and 23 for all the last minute shoppers.
On Christmas Eve, the store will close at 4:30 pm.

Live Music and Entertainment

Local artists will keep your spirits bright with live music and entertainment all along Fourth Street each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and December 21 through 24.

Free Hot Cocoa and Cider
Warm up with a free cup of hot cocoa or cider at one of our newest neighbors, Chocolatier Blue Patisserie at 1809A Fourth Street.
Hot drinks every day from 4:30 - 7:00 pm (weather permitting)

Holiday Lights
Santa's reindeer won't have any trouble finding Fourth Street. Thousands and thousands of bright and colorful lights adorn the trees and lampposts, bringing holiday sparkle to the shopfronts and restaurants.

When Black Friday Comes...

The store and all of Fourth Street is teeming with humanity today, the day with so many names -- The Official Start of Holiday Shopping, Buy Nothing Day, Buy Everything Day, and Black Friday (both because the of the maddening hordes of shoppers and because this is the day that many stores go "into the black," beginning to make profit for the first time all year).

It's on the busy busy days like this that it's easy to forget that life exists outside our little world. But just a few days ago a nice woman came in and dropped off the postcard pictured above. She's helping to organize a crafts fair for the Pastures Preschool in Bodega, California, on December 4, and she made the fair's announcement card using crepe paper and Dresden from Castle in the Air, photocopying her work onto cardstock. It's always such a treat to see what people make from our materials. Have fun at the fair!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Blue Castle Badges In The Post

Noble & Noteworthy Individuals, perk up your ears!

Today we hand the postman the latest batch of Blue Castle Badges. If you have recently accomplished one of the Achievements, then you can expect your badge shortly.

(The Blue Castle Badger wishes to say that he found the scent of all the illustrated letters to be delectable. And also that he would like to have typed this post himself but, being a Badger, hasn't a clue as to how such things are done.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holidays Are Here!

Watch the video to fly among the branches of our Christmas tree!

A Walk-In Wonder

Now that the holiday season is in full swing at Castle in the Air, I can reveal to you the wonderful project we've all been working on. The picture above might look like a vintage postcard, but it's actually a walk-in tableau! You and your friends and family are invited to bring your camera to Castle in the Air and snap a holiday scene in front of the card, or step inside and pose in the wood-framed window in front of our snowy backdrop. Visitors who remember our Mermaid Grotto photo booth from early last year say that this one is just as grand -- come see for yourself!


Huzzah and Hooray! The Grand Transformation is complete and the Winter Wonderland is revealed! We burned the midnight oil, as well as a bit of dawn oil, putting the finishing touches on two floors of holiday ornaments, decorations, and treats. The gnomes were especially helpful, probably because we didn't have our fairy-hunting exhibit this year. And even though they don't have much use for metal pins, I hereby award our resident brownies the fairyland equivalent of the Blue Castle Badge for all their hard work throughout the year keeping our shelves tidy and labeled, with everything in its place. Organization pays off -- it helped us create our Wonderland that much quicker this year!

Castle in the Air has been through the Grand Transformation nine years in a row, and I've got to say that this year's holiday display is the most amazing one yet. We have so many new wonders to share with you, and for the first time ever, two floors for you to explore as you get ready for your holidays.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Holiday Haps on Fourth

Castle in the Air isn't the only place on Fourth Street to undergo a Grand Transformation for the holidays. In fact, the street itself turns into a winter wonderland with activities, treats, and visits from Santa. We'll be posting notices for the different happenings as they draw near. Here are a few starting this weekend.

Extended Shopping Hours

Beginning Monday the 21st, many shops will begin staying open until 7:00 pm to give you a chance to enjoy Fourth Street into the evening.

Holiday Street Lights
Beginning this Friday at dusk, Fourth Street will be aglow with thousands and thousands of colored lights. It seems the display gets bigger every year, and it turns the street into an even grander place for an evening stroll.

Free Cocoa and Hot Cider at Chocolatier Blue Patisserie
Just a few doors south of Castle in the Air (at 1809A Fourth Street), Chocolatier Blue Patisserie is one of the newest additions to the neighborhood. We're often stopping by for their scrumptious chocolates and tarts. Also starting this Friday, you can visit them between 4:30 and 7:00 each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening to enjoy live music and a complimentary hot cider or cocoa.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Whatcha doin'?"

"Whatcha doin'?" It's a fairly common question at Castle in the Air, especially among the staff. There are at least two qualities I would say we all share here at the shop -- our own artistic expertise and a curiosity about each others' work. So it's often the case that we collaborate on projects, especially large ones around the holidays. Sometimes it's planned, and other times it grows out of that simple question: "Whatcha doin'?"

Take the holiday wonder John McRae's been putting together for us. (I promise I'll tell you what it is soon. I know, I'm dying to tell you too, but I'm kind of enjoying the suspense!) When he realized that it needed a wintry backdrop scene, he asked if I could pitch in. Of course!

So here's one more tantalizing glimpse at what we're putting together. It will be up in the store after the Grand Transformation this Thursday. But until then, you can find out more by dropping by, peering over our shoulders, and asking "Whatcha doin'?"

Monday, November 16, 2009

Counting Down the Days

You might think that this scene is from our miniatures cabinet...

...but actually, it's one of our new Advent calendars! (Can you see the little "20" window next to the shop-keeper's head?)

This year's Advent calendars and cards have arrived, and as usual, they're a big hit with everyone who visits Castle in the Air, not to mention with all of us. We love this tradition, which grew out of different German customs of counting down the December days through Christmas Eve.

Some German families in the early 19th century would make a new chalk mark on their door every day beginning December 1. Others observed Advent each day by hanging a seasonal picture in their home. And other families used candled wreaths or clocks in anticipation of Christmas.

Of course, the most widespread Advent tradition today is that of the paper calendars with windows that open to reveal a sweet little picture for each day of the 24 days. Everyone in my family gets their own calendar to open, and then we have several that we share. In the past few years we've have six to eight calendars going in the days leading up to Christmas, but other years that number's been as high as 16!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rubber Stamping Wood Grain

Up in the classroom at Castle in the Air, John McRae's been busy constructing a truly marvelous seasonal surprise. You'll have to wait just a few more days before we show you John's invention, but in the meantime, here's a look at an interesting part of its construction.

John is a true blue do-it-yourselfer, so when he needed some planks with gnarly grain for a detail on the project, he decided to make them himself. He applied a coat of brown acrylic paint to a smooth board, then immediately went to work with his wood grain rubber stamp. Here's a video where John shows us how it's done. He says the secret is in rocking the curved stamp back and forth as he glides it along the board. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Heavenly Bodies

Here are some photos from the first of two Angel Tree Topper classes John McRae is teaching at Castle in the Air (the second class is tonight). Students begin with a special copper and wood armature finished with painted paper mache arms and heads pressed from 100-year-old molds. To this, they add a cotton batting gown dusted with vintage mica snow, then decorate their angels with stars, orbs, and other celestial accouterments.

In classical thought, angels are said to dwell in the space beyond the stars we see every night. Having seen these heavenly bodies in person, we have to agree!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Divine Lines

John McRae has been scouring his treasure trove, and today he brought in what he might call a "hank" of vintage postcards for us to see. He found a lot of great holiday cards that we'll be reproducing for the season. (It's only a few weeks until the holiday shopping begins, but of course we've been thinking about it and working behind the curtain for quite some time already!)

Here's a more everyday card about fortune-telling, a popular pastime at this time of year. Click on the picture to get a better peek at the prophecies. Looking at your own palm, can you divine what sort of lover you are?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

Autumn leaves aren't the only thing blowing in the breeze this month at Castle in the Air. Our cuckoo clock collection has been sprouting wings and flying right out the door! It always surprises us which items garner interest all of a sudden. The clocks, most of which come from Germany's Schwartzvald
, are a dear part of the shop, so we've placed orders for several more to arrive between now and the end of the year. Come by to check out the intricate woodwork and the whimsical dancing and chimes on these treasures.

(Strange cuckoo trivia: Did you know that the cuckoo bird lays its eggs in the nests of several other species of birds, and that the eggs always match those in the "cuckolded" nest?)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Worlds Within Worlds

We're all back from our jaunt now, transitioning from the fantasyland that is Halloween in New York to the equally bizarre and expectant pre-Christmas world at Castle in the Air. More on that soon, but today I want to describe my dream world experience on Halloween day.

Somehow my vacation let my body get a nasty cold, but I was determined to attend the amazing day of multimedia presentations that was Lawrence Weschler's "Halloween Wonder Cabinet" at NYU's Cantor Film Center. Weschler brought together a dozen speakers and performers to talk about the marvels of art, science, nature, and where they all combine. Listening to Laurie Anderson talk about hanging out with NASA was all the more spacy as I sat in the dark, my cold fogging my senses. I didn't know how out of it I was until the next day, when I realized that the familiar looking gentleman in the tiny audience whose identity I'd been puzzling over was Lou Reed. Or maybe not.

Weschler arranged the day's talks to progress from the macrocosmic to the minute, so after (among other presentations) hearing Walter Murch's concert of the music of planetary orbits and witnessing Peter Hutton's meditative movie of light falling on the fjords of Iceland, I traveled to the microscopic world of May Berenbaum, who gave an appropriately spooky talk about insect antics creepier than anything you'll see in a horror film, including bugs that wear corpses as disguises or mimic dung to avoid being eaten.

By the end of the final presentation, the neighborhood's trick-or-treating kids had already gone home to bask in glory of their candy cornucopias. I emerged into New York's Halloween night beset by demons in dime-store masks, carrying my own basket of imaginations and dreams back into the fantasyland we call the real world.