Monday, May 31, 2010

The Least of the Mammals

From our copy of Ernest Ingersoll's 1884 collection Country Cousins...

These smallest of all the great company of
mammals conceal themselves from the student with true coquetry, baffling nearly all his efforts to get a glimpse at them. Nevertheless they are widespread, numerous, and sometimes familiar, occasionally making their home in the wall of a house-cellar or about the barn.

In color and form the shrew suggests a house-mouse, but his nose and teeth declare him of the entirely different race of Insectivora -- a companion to "the moles and the bats." No part of the world (save, possibly, South America) seems to lack representatives of the shrew family, but its stronghold is in northern regions. America owns a dozen or so doubtfully defined species, grouped by Coues into three genera --
Neosorex, Sorex, and Blarina.

The whole shape and organization of these little creatures show that they live in burrows. The proboscis-like nose -- cartilaginous, tough, and flexible -- is fit for probing without injury into all sorts of crannies, and for forcing a way through leaves, tangled grass, and loose soil. The feet, nevertheless, though compact and strong, are not modified into such a combination of pick and shovel as the moles carry, but are mouse-like.

Like the kinglet and hummingbird, who, though pygmies among their kind, begin and end a fight with an impetuous fury no eagle could exceed, this diminutive quadruped feels that he has courage as big as a lion's. It is rare that two strangers meet without a battle. ... This courage will explain how the small creature can attack and conquer frogs and other animals far larger than itself, as, according to European writers, it is well known to do.

It is extremely difficult to keep them alive in captivity.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"I do not pretend to give such a Sum..."

One of the ways people can earn their Blue Castle Badge is by writing to us telling of a good deed they've performed. Here's a reprint of a letter that in itself is a good deed, from Benjamin Franklin to his friend Benjamin Webb:

Passy, April 22, 1784

Dear Sir,
I received yours of the 15th Instant, and the Memorial it inclosed. The account they give of your situation grieves me. I send you herewith a Bill for Ten Louis d'ors. I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you.
When you shall return to your Country with a good Character, you cannot fail of getting into some Business, that will in time enable you to pay all your Debts. In that Case, when you meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro' many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money. I am not rich enough to afford much in good works, and so am obliged to be cunning and make the most of a little. With best wishes for the success of your Memorial, and your future prosperity, I am, dear Sir, your most obedient servant,

B. Franklin

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Suitcase of Gnomes

If a few fairies are good, then an entire suitcase of them must be amazing, right? This assembly of friends are from the imagination and studio of Lucille Miles, of Forest Whimsy. For years, Lucille's been bringing us felted flower fairy ballerinas, knobby-nosed gnomes, flame-haired mermaids, and elf children. They're a perfect match for the fairy houses that crop up from time to time at Castle in the Air. Take a look at our selection of Forest Whimsy characters on the Online Shoppe and maybe you'll find a few for your fairy house.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Summer Classes Are Here!

We're all aflutter at the store looking through our preview copy of the summer class schedule. The paper ones will arrive from the printer's a few days from now, so be sure to pick up your copy the next time you're in the store. In the meantime, you can download the schedule via PDF (555 KB).

The photos above are from three classes coming up in June, Caron Dunn's Miss Mousey Felted Figure and two from Ulla Milbrath, Summer Blooms Fabric Necklace and Reliquary.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Merry and Mischievous Masks

Congratulations are in order to the students in Emilia Sumelius-Buescher's papier-mache masks class, held this past weekend at Castle in the Air. At the end of two days, their hard work with paper, paste, and paint produced masks full of life and character. And thank you, Emilia, for bringing your talents to the Studio for the Imagination.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Happy Days are Here Again!

It has been a desperate week for the Blue Castle Badger. Our post about his fixation with Jean Wilson's Pushing the Envelopes weblog, along with a promise for more illustrated letters for him to snuffle, persuaded him not to leave us for a more abundant mailbox. But when our promise failed to materialize immediately, the Badger was nearly impounded by the mailman for savagely attacking his bag. Since then we haven't been able to trust the wee fellow and he has been grounded to the back room, where he sulks in a pile of shredded junk mail envelopes.

All this is to say that when the latest fresh crop of illustrated letters arrived it was quite a scene. Ecstatic does not begin to describe it. I can say that anyone would be thrilled to receive the beautiful correspondence we have gotten in the last few days. Each has been an exquisite example of artistry and penmanship. Treasures all! A warm thanks go to Peggy, Jean, and Patricia for taking the time and initiative to help us and the gratified, much happier Blue Castle Badger.

From the Postman's Bag...

We recently received the most amazing of letters from our friend Peggy, all about a little escapee from Castle in the Air following Ulla's Wooden Marionette class:

Dear Karima,
I had the loveliest time at Ulla's workshop this past weekend. When I got home from my sojourn at Castle in the Air, however, I was slightly alarmed to discover I had a small stowaway. He is 12 1/2 inches tall and says his name is Mossy Fine-Fernfeather (of the Fine-Fernfeather Clan, hailing from Oak Grove, north of Marshy Glen).

He's been following me around all day, pulling my skirt hem, thrusting tiny fistfuls of feathers, toadstools, and fern fronds in the general direction of my knees and insisting I repair the embellishments on his cap. (Apparently, he has mistaken me for some kind of millinery expert.) He says if I do not see to his hat soon, he will invite 17 spiders from the garden to take up residence in our house. (What he doesn't know is that we like spiders spinning quietly in our corners...) He threatens mischief but seems harmless...

Peggy also included a book kindly recommended by Mossy, a copy of Arnold Lobel's Owl at Home, about a sleepless character similar to the baggy-eyed owl who stowed away with me. Thanks much, Peggy!

Toad's Holiday

It has been remarked that I share quite a bit in common with the beloved Toad in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, not least of all for my love of Gypsy caravans. I have dreamed of running away in my own canary-coloured cart since I was a little girl. So when John offered his Gypsy Vardo class I was the first to sign up. Making the cart was a holiday indeed! There are few things better than spending the day crafting with John and Ulla (who joined the class and taught the dressed Gypsy figure class the next day).

I admit that I did not complete my project in the one day allotted -- I didn't want to rush all the details that I knew would make my vardo authentic and unique. So over the past month I have had no end of fun dreaming about how I would finish it. Yesterday was the first day since the class that I was able to sneak away into my studio for any length of time to put on the finishing touches. I spent the entire morning and afternoon in reverie as I worked on my caravan and as I fiddled and tweaked it seemed as though I were growing smaller and smaller, until I felt like I could climb right on and take off down the bumpy road on an adventure to visit the Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Class Joy

For as long as we have been offering classes at Castle in the Air I have relished the afternoon spent reading over the new class schedule and selecting the classes I am going to take for the season. It is quite a production and involves hand wringing over the choice, juggling my calendar, and hoping that the class will still have room for me to sneak in, not to mention the lovely anticipation that precedes each class.

So it gave me no end of delight to watch my daughter go through the same process when our latest class schedule arrived. She made a wish list and agonized over which class to choose as her "one." Next, we had to ask permission from the teacher since she is a good bit underaged. The class that my daughter and I anticipated together was Ulla's Wooden Marionette class -- a two-day wonder!! Spending a weekend of long uninterrupted days crafting with my daughter was a golden treasure.

Two little creatures were born from our work. My daughter created a little pixie with more than his fair share of attitude and I brought home a very tired owl. Bringing home these two new characters was the icing on the cake.

(P.S.: The summer class list mails next week! Join the mailing list to get your copy.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Going Off the Barrel

The whiskey barrel boat I used in my art show at the gallery is now moored in the Castle in the Air office, and my younger daughter has been having fun sitting in it and having adventures "out to sea," as she puts it.

Perhaps the fun she's been having with the barrel made my discovery today of "tub tilting" that much more exciting. It's a game outlined in our copy of How To Do Things, a compendium of practical crafts
and fun games published by The Farm Journal in 1919. Here are the instructions (or "destructions," as we sometimes call them) on how to play tub tilting, along with a few more diversions you might try this summer.

Tub tilting on land is equally as exciting and requires just as much skill as tilting on the water.

Secure two barrels, about flour-barrel size, and two poles. Each pole should be from eight to ten feet long, of the lightest possible wood, with a big soft pad on the end. These are spears for attacking. The barrels are set level, exactly at poles' length apart, center to center. Each contestant takes his place on a barrel, and he must try to put the o
ther fellow off. The umpire stands alongside, near the middle. For safety's sake it is a good idea to have some one stand behind each player to act as a catcher in case of accident.

It is counted a foul to push the other player below the knees, to use the spear as a club, to push the barrel, or to take hold of your opponent's spear with your hand. A foul gives the round to the other boy. A round is up when one boy goes off his barrel. If one drops his spear and can recover it without getting or falling off, it is all right.

A battle usually lasts for about seven or eight rounds. The best players gain their points by wriggling their bodies and keeping in continual motion. The
re is a lot of fun and excitement in keeping your balance.

This target allows shot to be used over and over, dozens of times. With it the air rifle can be used in the house without any danger of injuring the walls, furniture, etc. Upon a wooden support forty-eight inches high place a box built in the shape shown in Fig. 1. This may be made any size desired. I built this one with the front, or target, twenty-four inches square. The slanting back is thirty-six inches, base twelve inches, and the tapered conductor, which runs the shot into the can has its sides sixteen inches long.

The back and sides of the conductor are lined with felt. The target is a bull's-eye drawn on a cardboard twenty-four inches square, and the cardboard is tacked upon the front of the target box. The dotted lines show how a B. B. shot passes through the cardboard, hits the slanting back, bounds against the conductor side and drops into the can behind the target. The slanting back, with its felt lining, kills the force of the shot without battering it, and so the same shot can be used dozens of times.

The apparatus can easily be made and should be in every community playground. It is the next best thing to flying. A strong old wagon-wheel, a pole eighteen feet long and five inches in diameter at the smallest end, and sixty feet of one-inch manila rope are needed. In almost every district some one will provide the wheel, and the pole can be cut in the woods. If the wheel has a wooden axle hub, remove the axle from the skein, which is the metal sleeve surrounding the axle spindle to protect it from wear. Shape the top of the pole to fit into the axle skein, then fasten the skein securely in place.

If the wheel has a metal axle, get, if possible, a blacksmith to help you. Have the axle cut off about a foot from the hub and sharpen it to a point. Into the middle of the small end of the pole bore a two-inch hole six inches deep and drive the axle into it. Then have an iron collar shrunk around the pole to prevent it from splitting. An all-metal wheel and axle is better than a wooden one.

Cut the manila rope into four lengths of fifteen feet each, and with copper wire or by splicing attach the four ropes to the hub. Knot each rope every two feet from the bottom for a distance of six or eight feet. Set the pole securely four feet in the ground in concrete. Cover the hub with a tin shield to protect it from the weather. Have the ground around base of stride free from stones.

How to use the giant stride: Catch hold of the rope, start to run around the pole, and the momentum will soon take you off your feet.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Coming of the Fairies

With such nice weather this week, our thoughts have been turning to the green meadows and woods, and this led us to think of Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, the young cousins who in 1917 discovered and photographed fairies inhabiting the stream near Elsie's mother's house in Cottingley, West Yorkshire.

Some people say that the fairies in the famous Cottingley photographs were cut out from a book. We don't think the girls would have done anything as beastly as book breaking, and we wouldn't expect the fairy photographers of today to do it either.

With that in mind, here are links to three images for you to print and cut out to arrange in your own fairy photographs. We think they would go nicely with the Gilded Fairy Chair we talked about on Monday.

Fairy Mischief JPG (3.62 MB)
Thistle Tassel PDF (322 KB)
Fairies Dancing PDF (188 KB)

(A May 12 P.S.: Many thanks to our friend Caron, who pointed out that our fairy downloads were the work of Pre-Raphaelite artist Florence Harrison. We found the pictures in our 1912 copy of her book Elfin Song, A Book of Verse.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Winner!

This afternoon we gathered up the names of all the contestants in our Papier-Mache Mask class giveaway, inscribed them on slips of paper, and dropped them in John McRae's stylish paperboy cap. Then we closed our eyes, wiggled our fingers over the hat, and drew the name of the winner.

We're thrilled to announce that Melanie Hatch has won a seat in Emilia Sumelius-Buescher's Papier-Mache Mask class.

Congratulations to Melanie, and thank you to everyone who participated in the contest. Even if you didn't win, there's still time to sign up for this amazing two-day class happening May 22-23.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pushing the Envelopes

While we have been receiving some illustrated letters in response to the Blue Castle Badge program, the pace is never quite enough to satisfy the Blue Castle Badger. He's been chewing on this envelope from our calligraphy teacher Bill Kemp for the past week.

We were feeling sorry for him, but we became downright alarmed today when we saw him pacing back and forth in the store, alternately checking a careworn train schedule leaflet and stuffing his collection of illustrated letters into a padded mailer he had scavenged out of the recycling bin. What could have caused the Badger to want to leave us?

The answer came when we saw a Post-It note and some printouts next to the the store computer. It was a letter from the Badger's pen pal Lana, who was telling him all about Jean Wilson's Pushing the Envelopes, an illustrated letter blog. Lo and behold, the web browser was open to the blog, and there were nose-prints all over the monitor!

We think the Badger is planning to move to Des Moines to live with Jean, and we'll miss him terribly if he does. For the moment, we've distracted the Badger by tossing him a few albums of Victorian postcards, but we don't think they will appease him for more than a few days. If you care at all for the Badger's happiness, please send us illustrated letters for him to snuffle. And of course, when you do, you'll receive your very own Blue Castle Badge.

Monday, May 3, 2010

New Quick Craft: Gilded Fairy Chair

Ulla Milbrath has dreamed up the most regal fairy chair and now it can be yours! Download the .pdf instructions here, and visit the Online Shoppe to pick up the Dresden trim and other materials you'll need.