For those who didn’t take part this time, let me show you the mystery item all Ironcrafters received. This bulbous spun-cotton shape was given to each participant, who then took it back to their home studio to turn it into something magical.
Some people gave the mystery item a personality, using it as the head or body for incredible dolls. Our popular Santos classes even got a nod, with a few entrants hollowing out the doll’s torso to hold tiny wonders.
My own thought, when I first saw the mystery item, was that it could be a hot air balloon. Everyone at Castle in the Air has a love of airships, obviously, and we did get a few entries along those lines. The aerialist theme was especially appropriate this month, because one of our class teachers, master calligrapher Bill Kemp, took to the skies for the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival. Now we have a fleet of our own!
Ironcraft isn’t a competition, unless you think of it a challenge for your imagination. Everyone who entered is a winner. As the Castle crew marveled at the incoming entries we all felt like winners, too. Intention, skill, and imagination shine through in each entry, and the commitment it took to send us the finished artwork (or a picture of it) fills me with joy.
If you participated in Ironcraft and gave us your postal address, then you can expect your prize soon. In the meantime, I hope you take pride in your work. Show it off! Maybe we can revisit Ironcraft in the new year?
What wonders flowed into Castle in the Air in response to our first Ironcraft challenge! The entries came in all shapes and sizes, and showed such effort and imagination.
The entry window is closed, and we’ve done our best to ensure that every entry we received is represented here. If you sent us yours and don’t see it, please let us know.
We’re floored by our community’s creativity—take a look!
Hooray for musical ogres! Carl’s mandolin is tricked out with Dresden trim, and his puffy Renaissance sleeves lend him an air of sophistication, not that this good-looking fellow needs any help with that.
“I didn’t want to do something predictable,” says Alexandra, who says she took inspiration from one of our own favorite painters, James Christensen, adding that Carl is “ready to entertain the Goblin Queen or Dwarf King.”
Carmen’s hot-air balloon is busy setting a land speed record with the help of no fewer than eight tandem cyclists. We love the ballast bags tied to the basket!
Between her serene countenance and somber clothing, it would be easy to think that Esmerela has settled down for the Big Nap, but her note assures us otherwise. We hope she wakes up soon so we can ask her where she got her cool boots.
Where do you keep your fairy dust? This fairy keeps it on her windowsill to share with the local butterflies, who are no doubt attracted to the other bits of bling encrusting this scrumptious fairy nest.
“The Aurora Rose,” by Lori Clayson
The Aurora Rose takes flight under Captain Clayson’s able hand. Check out the cotton batting smoke rising up to fill the balloon! The detail in this giant piece is incredible, right down to the Dresden edging and the miniature family portrait.
“I decided to create an airship that seemed like it could take us to Oz, Narnia, or the Shire,” says Lori. “I christened the airship the Aurora Rose after my daughter.”
Viva vintage toys! So many from my childhood are making a comeback, including this familiar face. Mr. Potato Head had better hide from our calligraphy teacher Bill Kemp, who is famous for cleaning his pen nibs by sticking them in a spud.
Nona’s daughter Nysa says of the genius creation of this piece, “She thought the mystery ingredient resembled a potato. She dunked hers in her coffee cup and then dusted it with powdered eye shadow to get the desired potato coloring and texture.”
“Dotted Hot-Air Balloon,” by Nysa Wong Kline
Nysa’s festive balloon lifts our spirits with its bold colors and high-contrast background. The flag-waving pilot reminds us of the etchings of the famous early balloon flights of the Montgolfiere brothers.
“I was eager to participate and find out what the mystery ingredient could be. I was so excited to get my box in the mail!” says Nysa. “This was a fun idea that I hope you’ll continue.”
“Lantern Gnome,” by Margaret Bloom
Margaret is known for her friendly peg dolls (we’re looking forward to her next book of them, out this December), so we’re thrilled she made a bigger figure out of our mystery item. Love the knit cap and the lantern—let it shine!
“Red Ribboned Striped Balloon,” by Melanie Ann Mercado
This jolly confection-colored balloon looks good enough to eat! I can picture it carrying Marie Antoinette, who once called ballooning “the sport of the gods.”
Melanie writes: “I already make hot-air balloons using paper mache so it was a fun challenge figuring out how to work with this new medium.”
Sometimes animals get conscripted for aerial adventures (one of the earliest hot-air balloon flights was “manned” by a zoo crew including a sheep, a rooster, and a duck), but this time it seems the flying foxes have persuaded a girl to come fly with them.
“I was inspired by lovely vintage images of hot-air balloons,” says Tricia. “I covered the ‘mystery ingredient’ with white gesso, then painted on red stripes. I used gold thread for the strings, paper and Dresden trim for embellishments. I found the little characters amidst my stash.”
Imagination just drips from this piece from Mary Dupen, with its brightly colored flying boat and its hard-working crew lassoing the stars. All the gold makes this balloon extra-celestial.
Mary tells the story of the Starcatcher: “On nights of the full moon, vigilant babies are awake by their nursery window, silently waiting for the approach of the Starcatcher balloon. When it floats by, they can climb the gold ladder to the dragon gondola, filled with Milky Way clouds. They are off to a night of celestial mystery, harvesting stars ’til first light. Then back to their beds, where they dream of their adventures!”
Jeanie’s doll reminds me of eastern European figurines for its use of velvety fabric and its nesting-doll style painted face. She affixed a stick to the base of the doll, making it into a perfect actor for a puppet show.
Jeanie writes: “As soon as I saw the challenge form, I knew I would be making a face. I’ve done numerous art dolls, so I used the materials I already had. It was great fun to have participated.”
“Colorful Hot Air Balloon,” by Meredith Johanson
Pastel colors and Dresden trim help take Meredith’s balloon over the top. The gold netting and encircling pink and green pennants are adorable touches. We would love to be part of the celebration aboard this airship. Where can we buy a ticket?
“Tassel,” by Elizabeth Turnbloom
Elizabeth adorned her mystery ingredient with thin strips of Castle in the Air’s crepe paper to create a black, gold, and white tassel fit to adorn a queen’s bedstead. She included a lovely written history of the tassel with her piece, from which we learned that at the height of their glory tassels decorated everything from ladies’ shoes to the throne of Emperor Napoleon.
Of her visit to Castle in the Air, Elizabeth says, ”Perusing the shop inspires one to put the handheld device down and pick up pen, paper, scissors, and glue. After picking up the craft treasure, I thought that it should be in keeping with the ambience of the store. I adore passamanaria (Italian for “tassels”) and soon decided that’s what I would make.”
“Snowman,” by Valentina Sa’ida. More is more! Valentina stacked extra cotton-batting orbs beneath her secret ingredient to make this jolly fellow. We never get snow in Berkeley, which is why we were excited to get this early glimpse of winter wonder.
“Robot,” by Ian Greeb
We picture Ian’s robot coming to life at night to do the bidding of the other Ironcraft entries. Maybe his giant eye can serve as air-traffic control for our fleet of miniature airships. Ian included a list of the components he used to make his robot, including “1 hanger, 1 thumbtack, 1 bottle cap, and 1 spray cap.”
Phoebe regularly wows us with the inventive figures she makes in Castle in the Air classes. Where do we start talking about all the fantastic details on this guy? The iridescent glass in her doll’s torso makes it look like he’s glowing with life’s spark.
“I was inspired by the Santos figures that John has taught at the Castle, but wanted to do something a bit more nontraditional,” says Phoebe. “I have also taken a class involving a mini glass garden and thought that plants might factor into my creation.”
“Skull Figure,” by Ruth Van Slyke
Ruth captures the spirit of the season with her lovely skull figure. From its wise eyes to its ornate gown, this figure seems to know something about eternity. The creases in the aluminum crepe perfectly evoke the folds of fabric at this scale.
“As it was October, I decided on making a skull,” says Ruth. “I’ve always been fascinated by reliquaries, memento mori, dolls, and any old bits and bobs of fabric and jewelry. I’m so happy with the results that I can’t wait to make more!”
“Our Lady of Upcycle,” by Heather Jacobsen
Divine inspiration! Heather’s contemporary take on a saint figure is worth praying to when you need a project’s pieces to come together, and proves that we often have what we need close at hand.
Heather says, “‘Our Lady of Upcycle’ is a 17-inch icon celebrating creative reuse of odds and ends. With the exception of the ‘secret ingredient’ and the wine bottle and base from the kitchen, she is made entirely from stuff found in my sewing room.”
April’s entry literally turns the dollmaking concept on its head, using the “neck” of the mystery ingredient as a snout for a canine housewife. The shaggy fur, bright eyes, and patchwork dress charm us to no end.
April sent us a new take on the familiar nursery rhyme: “Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard, to find her poor husband a bone. But when she got there, the cupboard was bare, and so she said ‘You know what that means—we’re going out for dinner! Yay!’”
“Lightbulb Shrine,” by Julie Liebenbaum
Julie’s winged “Lightbulb Shrine” flew in like a fantastic bird from the wilds of Mendocino County. She tells us she created the shrine for her father and daughter. We should all be so lucky to be immortalized in such a gorgeous way.
Julie writes: “Thank you for the opportunity to spend the afternoon drinking tea and crafting our hearts out! Thanks for the challenge. When’s the next one?”
“Fairy Mother,” by Susan Gross
Susan crafts her creations from her wondrous Boonville “art barn.” She pried open the mystery ingredient to reveal the fairy baby inside. The velvet leaves and snippets of text (is it from Pirate & Hoopoe?) emanating from the top are inspired touches.
We feel blessed to have had the chance to send a secret ingredient to the rugged Mendocino countryside, where, as Susan’s friend Julie puts it, “mail delivery takes just a bit longer than it does in areas with more paving!”
“Spider with Pumpkin Flowers,” by Julie Rubenstein
Julie took a cue from the season with this giant spider tending its web, which seems to have caught some pumpkin flowers!
Julie writes: “I was inspired by an orb weaver spider that I noticed living in our garden for the past few weeks. I am not generally a big fan of spiders, but I really looked forward to seeing her each evening.”
“Exposition Gnome Balloon,” by Jamie Guajardo
Talk about trading up! These gnomes wanted to visit Paris after hearing about the Exposition of 1900, so they bought a hot-air balloon with some of their gold. Jamie’s balloon can be hung or stood upright thanks to his Dresden-reinforced base.
“Thank you for such a great challenge,” says Jamie. “I used a lot of what I already knew, however I did challenge myself.”
“Miss Spinster,” by Bethany Mann
Bethany’s dapper arachnid is ready to weave a dark web from her spool of spider silk, and in fact she does spin in place when the crank on the side of her base is turned. Miss Spinster’s fuzzy pipe-cleaner legs and ornate headdress are the icing on the cake.
“Rose,” by Caskey Weston
Touches of purple and white give Caskey’s rose sculpture such painterly qualities. It just bursts with life. She cut open her secret ingredient to create the rose’s folds, and it goes to show that sometimes the most beautiful part of anything is the part you can’t initially see.
“The uniqueness of this odd item was that it is made out of paper. I wanted to see what I could do with its paper qualities,” writes Caskey. “I briefly soaked the top in water and saw the spiral core start to appear, and I pulled and twisted the spirals to make petals.”
If Ironcraft proved anything, it’s that there is an endless variety of ways to look at a simple object. As soon as we can, we plan to post tutorials some of our entrants sent us. In the meantime, we’re sending out prizes and puzzling over the mystery ingredient for the next challenge. Thank you for being part of Ironcraft!