Sunday, October 5, 2014

The simple pleasure of hand embroidery
An old fashioned art is still practiced fervently by those who love it

My mom took up embroidery when I was in high
 school and made me this crewelwork piece,
 which she created using at least a dozen
different stitches.
When I was in high school, my stay-at-home mom took up embroidery for a time. What most people today call crewelwork, she called stitchery. It was like painting with thread. She would buy a kit that had white fabric with a printed design, a needle, embroidery floss and instructions, and then hand stitch the image onto the fabric with in a variety of stitch patterns.

I have a framed piece of her work that I recently pulled out of storage (sorry mom) and hung in my bedroom: a whimsical picture of a smiling mouse and a bird with an arm and a wing around the other, as if for a photograph.

Crewelwork kits are still sold, but these days, needlepoint and cross stitch are the bread and butter of most needlework shops. You’ve probably seen cross stitch before—a series of tiny Xs on a field of white linen—created using a chart and by counting threads. Needlepoint, on the other hand, requires no counting because it’s done on a special type of loose-weave canvas which very often has a design hand-painted onto it. In addition, needlepoint can employ a variety of stitches whereas cross stitch employs primarily just one.

Crewel, cross stitch and needlepoint are all types of embroidery, and there are many more types such as beadwork, goldwork, couching, ribbon embroidery, monogramming, and smocking. Embroidery was basic knowledge for colonial school girls in early America, who learned to sew, count and read by stitching letters, numbers and verses into samplers. But today, hand embroidery has largely been replaced by machine embroidery, and relatively few stitchers carry on the tradition.

Elisa Papa demonstrates cross stitch in the Harvest Building at the Santa Cruz County Fair.
Papa was creating a frameable Victorian-style piece with images of ten symbolic
 pigs—a gift that she hoped would bring good luck to her brother who has leukemia.
To find out who’s still doing embroidery and why, I joined several members of Stitchers by the Sea (a local chapter of The Embroiders’ Guild of America) at the Santa Cruz County Fair last month, as they stitched away on their projects and conversed with curious fair-goers in the Harvest Building.

Elisa Papa—a member of the group for 27 years—was making teeny tiny cross stitches on 40-count linen (40 threads per inch), while Sandy Rich was making larger stitches on 14-count plastic canvas. Papa was creating a frameable Victorian-style piece with images of ten symbolic pigs—a gift that she hoped would bring good luck to her brother who has leukemia. “If pigs bring good luck, my brother will have ten times good luck,” she said. Rich was stitching butterfly wings which she would later cut out from the canvas and join together with clips as Christmas tree ornaments.

Georgann Lane won first prize at the Santa
Cruz County Fair this year for her original
 embroidery piece, “Slice of Lime.”
A newer member of the group, Brandy Shaw was just starting a counted cross stitch Celtic cross with an Irish blessing. She said that doing embroidery is “kind of like meditation, a time when your brain free-floats.” She also likes to multi-task, so she reads books on tape, takes her stitching projects to doctors’ waiting rooms and on vacation. “You’re doing something that people have been doing for thousands of years, so you experience continuity with humanity,” she said.

Only one member of The Stitchers—Georgann Lane—submitted work to the fair for judging this year. Although she submitted two pieces in the home arts department, the judge thought her work belonged with the paintings and sculpture in the fine art department. And there, in the Fine Arts Building, I found her two, small pieces with 1st and 2nd place ribbons.

Lane—a certified master of traditional Japanese embroidery and past judge for the Embroiderers’ Guild of America—learned to embroider as a girl. “My mother taught me to do pillowcases when I was 10 years old,” she said. She majored in clothing and textiles in college and isn’t afraid to create works of her own design. Most of the other Stitchers stopped entering work at the fair several years ago, when some works were stolen. “I’d like to see [the fair] create a category in fine art for needle art,” said Lane.

Mary Kelly’s sampler collection covers two
 walls of her dining room, and includes lots
 of examples from the 1930s and ‘40s when
 stitching samplers from patterns in books
 was a popular pastime.
Currently The Stitchers by the Sea have only 23 members—down from a much higher number in the 1980s when the group was formed. “It’s kind of dwindling,” admitted Elisa Papa. “Many have retired or moved away. And we don’t have a needlework store in Santa Cruz.” So she and other Stitchers take field trips to a shop they love—“Needle in a Haystack”—in Alameda, to stock up on supplies. Online purchases are difficult for textile artists, they said, because they like to feel the fabrics and check the colors.

A few days after the fair I visited another member of The Stitchers by the Sea—Mary Kelly—to see her collection of vintage samplers. Kelly’s collection features several samplers from early America and many more from the 1930s and 40s when making samplers was again in vogue, and patterns were available in books. The early ones were created by girls to learn stitches, and to keep samples for later reference. Kelly has an impressive collection covering several walls, many with sweet, sentimental verses on them, like, “Warm friendship like the setting sun sheds kindly light on everyone.”

Kelly points to one of her oldest and most treasured samplers, created by a girl in Vermont almost 300 years ago. The dark-with-age, oblong sampler has a cross stitched saying and these identifying words at the bottom: “Sarah Bellows in the eleven year of her age done in the year of our Lord 1738.”

Mary Kelly and I met again later that day at the home of her good friend, Dorothy Clarke, a founding member of The Stitchers by the Sea, who, at 96, still does cross stitch every day despite her failing vision due to macular degeneration. Clarke brought out a box of small projects from stitching workshops she attended over the years.

Good friends Dorothy Clarke and Mary Kelly hold two needlework
 pieces made by Dorothy that she is especially proud of. The two
 friends are both members of The Stitchers by the Sea, a local chapter
 of The Embroiderers’ Guild of America.
It looked like she had tried (and mostly mastered) all 260 of the stitches in the “Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Embroidery Stitches,” from blackwork to Battenburg lace to hardanger to drawn-thread work. It finally hit home to me how endlessly varied the art of embroidery is, and how lovely it is in a quiet, unassuming way. And these women were a lot like embroidery themselves.

Mary Kelly admitted that not many people these days don’t take time for embroidery. It’s intricate, detailed work, demanding good eyesight, commitment and the willingness to spend good money on quality materials. “Let’s face it,” said Kelly. “It’s kind of fussy. But the ones who do love it, love it to death.”

The Stitchers By the Sea is the local chapter of Embroiderers’ Guild of America. They meet at 7:00 p.m. the third Monday of the each month at the Live Oak Senior Center in Santa Cruz. The gatherings include a short business meeting, refreshments and stitching programs which vary each month and cover a wide variety of techniques and methods.
Ten tips to taking selfies at any age

 Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel September 12, 2014
self·ie noun \ˈsel-fē\

  1. A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website. (

  1. Shy and selfie just don’t go together. After all, since you wanted to be your camera’s center of attention in the first place, there has to be at least a part of you that’s narcissistic. (
Here’s a collage of selfies I created during my own one-week self-portrait challenge. 

Selfie experts abound and the proof is in the hundreds of websites ready to coach you on taking better selfies. The advice ranges from standard photography rules about good lighting, framing, and backgrounds, to, “Abs look best taken from the side. For males, leave the shirt off, it’s better than pulling it up, which looks sloppy and half-hearted.”

In 2013, when “selfie” was Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year, there was a flurry of reactions running the gamut from selfies being the hallmark of Western decline and image-conscious narcissism, to a few brave souls defending the practice of casual self-promotion as maybe being not so bad, especially for girls. Self-promotion, pointed out Rachel Simmons in Slate Magazine, is a skill which will serve girls well later on when they interview for jobs, and negotiate for raises and advancement.

The photo my husband posted on Facebook to mark my
 birthday last month was taken 20+ years ago of the two
 us on a hiking trip. As many women my age might do,
 I asked him to not post a recent photo. 
If you can see the selfie as empowering—a chance to create and interpret the way you want to be seen by others—then you begin to understand how selfies present an opportunity. One savvy student, Elizabeth Alvarado, writing under the headline “Selfie-esteem” in her college newspaper, defended selfies by young women, saying that, “They challenge the idea that we should always remain modest, and instead they say, ‘This is me, and I deserve to be seen,’ because in the end, no one deserves to be invisible. This is an entirely different experience than when someone takes a picture of you because in the latter case, you have no control . . .”

My husband recently posted a photograph on Facebook to mark my birthday, and I asked him to please not use a recent photo. So he found a selfie we took on vacation 20+ years ago—looking so much younger and bohemian than we do now. It seems many women like me reach an age at which they no longer want to be photographed—which is sad. Perhaps it’s time to take control of our image-making and turn around that impulse to hide from the camera.

A new photo idea book named after a DIY website, “A Beautiful Mess,” created by two young women, Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman, got me thinking about how women of my age—or any age—can begin to feel good about themselves in photographs through selfies. In the process we can not only use photography to our advantage, but also become better photographers in general.

So, extrapolating on the photo-taking ideas in Larson and Chapmen’s book, here are my ten tips to taking terrific selfies at any age.

     Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman’s 2014 photo idea
     book, “A Beautiful Mess,” is named after their
     popular DIY website,
    Their newest book, “Happy Handmade Home”
     was just released last month. 
  1. Selfies don’t have to be distorted arm’s length close-ups. You can use a camera with a timer or shoot into a mirror, so that the photo includes more of you, your friends and your surroundings. To use your cell phone for better selfies, download a free timer app, and use a selfie stick, which extends your camera out three feet beyond your reach.

  1. Make the picture say something about you. Surround yourself with you things you love: your garden, your home, your hobbies, your collections, your daily routine, your favorite gathering place or hiking trail.

  1. Use beautiful light. Shoot in open shade or window light, rather than direct sun. Shoot your silhouette or shadow. Use backlighting to highlight your hair. Consider dim or diffused light such as candles, string lights, or city lights at night.

  1. Highlight your best features. Let your gorgeous black hair, your ice-blue eyes, your shapely calves take center stage.

  1. Experiment with styling. Wear a fun hat, sunglasses, a scarf, a bandana. Add jewelry, a new hairstyle or dramatic make-up. Get dressed up. Wear a costume. Use props.

    “A Beautiful Mess Photo Idea Book” has lots
    of tips and examples for capturing yourself. 
  1. Don’t just stand there. Sit, kneel, squat, lie down. Look over your shoulder or through your legs. Bend. Twist. Cover your eyes and laugh. Hold the camera over your head, upside-down, at an angle. 

  1. Crop to your advantage. Use a photo-editing program or two L-shaped pieces of cardboard to find the essential, defining elements of you in a photograph.

  1. Add motion to your images. Let your hair blow. Jump, run, spin. Speed by on your bike. Slow the shutter speed down to accentuate the motion. Be a photojournalist: shoot a lot and serendipitous moments will happen.

  1. Consider smartphone apps or photo editing programs. Try black and white, tinting, filters, and other enhancements.

  1. Take the 30-Day Self-Portrait Challenge. Each day, the portraits have to be of you and shared with a close friend, your spouse, or online via Facebook. At the end of the month you will end up with some photos you will actually want to share. You’ll also experiment with photography techniques that can help you take better photos of your friends and family, or whatever else you decide to capture.
In Korea recently, I witnessed hundreds of young tourists using
 selfie sticks (also called handheld monopods) to their advantage.
 Lightweight and retractable, a selfie stick holds your cell phone
 further away, allowing your photos to include much more of your
 surroundings or a whole gang of friends. Free timer apps are easy
to download and use. 
Quiet that anxious little voice of discomfort in your head. Are people going to think that you think that you look good, and that you want others to know it? Absolutely. This is your chance to shine—outwardly and inwardly. And you may be making a more lasting contribution to ageless self-confidence than you realize. Selfies of people like you and me may have the potential to reset the air-brushed, Botoxed, movie star standard of beauty to something more realistic.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

For Suzi Ortiz
Originally published August 8, 2014 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Suzi and I were different in many ways. She listened to The Fray and Florence and the Machine. I prefer Paul Simon and Crosby, Stills and Nash. She was a dog person; I am a cat person. She has a vast network of friends that she worked hard to cultivate and preserve; I have only a small handful. We were 16 years apart in age and maybe not so much alike; but that didn’t seem to matter much. She had a green thumb when it came to nurturing a friendship—diligently tending to ensure it would thrive.

Suzi and I didn’t read the same books. She loved the “Twilight” series and traded books with her sister, Michelle, but we rarely recommended books to each other. I think I only passed along one book to Suzi - “The Art of Racing in the Rain” - because it was the best dog book I ever read, and she loved her dogs. But she ordered tons of magazines to support the various school fund-raising causes of her nieces and nephews, and brought them all to work for me to enjoy. I suspect she ordered Rolling Stone just because it was my favorite.

Unlike me, Suzi wasn’t exactly an art consumer. She had trouble covering the large white walls of her home with art – most of what she framed was small drawings by loved ones and photos of her nieces and nephews – items with sentimental value. But the “walls” of her Facebook page were covered with photos of her wide circle of friends, her family, her projects and trips, and her beloved golden Lab, Mia. In that way, she was a great historian – documenting and reminding me and all her friends of the great times we spent together.

Suzi wasn’t a maker in the traditional sense—she didn’t paint, build, knit or sew. But she did have some very special talents. Every spring she made the very best strawberry jam, in huge quantities, to share with all her friends. For many years at Halloween she dressed in elaborate costumes and decorated her house for all the neighborhood kids to enjoy. And, for every baby shower she was invited to, she made a personalized diaper cake.

To assemble these signature cakes, she spent countless hours searching for just the right diapers, tiny wash clothes she rolled into flowers, and other decorations to complement the theme of the party, and the interests of the mother-to-be, from Mickey Mouse to the University of Oregon ducks.

One thing we did have in common—besides working together in adjacent offices for 6-1/2 years—was hiking. We hardly missed a week, hiking 3-4 miles after work with Mia (an ardent squirrel-chaser) in the hills surrounding our Morgan Hill office, at parks like Christmas Hill, Harvey Bear and Mt. Madonna. Sometimes friends Celia and Angela would join us. These were special times, when Suzi photographed unexpected encounters with snakes, lizards, coyotes, tarantulas in the fall, and radiant sunsets, posting them all on Facebook. As Uvas Reservoir evaporated to almost nothing this spring due to the drought, she documented the stages and posted them on Facebook. I was the former newspaper photographer, but she was doing all the reporting.

Unless it was breaking news, we usually didn’t share too many personal details at work – instead saving all our updates for the weekly hike. We recounted TV episodes we loved: Naked and Afraid (Suzi), Work of Art (me), and Project Runway (both of us). We shared the highlights of weekend trips: Suzi to Reno or Cedarville with her boyfriend Leo and the dogs, or me on various outings with my family. We blabbed about the usual stuff: family, friends, our health, home, projects, work, fun, etc.

She may not have been the devoted crafter I was, but she supported my obsession in countless ways. When I got interested in making furniture out of pallets, she asked Leo to find some discarded ones at work. When I wanted to make a chair for the Symphony League’s Rare Chair Affair, she started collecting rusty cans, bottle caps and other cool detritus for me on the beach excursions she and Leo took with his metal detector. She had a large collection of colorful duct tape and brought me a flower she had made along with the instructions for other duct tape creations. She also sent me photos of projects to inspire me—like a floor covering made from pennies and resin, or the striking garden bench Leo made from a vintage Chevy truck tailgate.

I still have the instructions for a project Suzi emailed me a few months ago: making accent garden lights using Mason jars and stake solar lights. This week, I shopped for the materials and put some together to serve as glowing reminders of my bright, nurturing friend.

Suzi died suddenly on July 16 at the age of 43. Every day I encounter another detail of my daily routine that has been forever altered by her loss: our Rav4s are no longer parked next to each other at work; there was no flurry of texts last Thursday night when season 13 of Project Runway began; I can no longer overhear her phone conversations at work, charming all her clients with her endearing laugh. I miss Suzi in so many ways.

But it also hurts to know that I missed an opportunity—the chance to recognize, while she was still alive, what an extraordinary friend I had.

Friday, July 25, 2014

What it means to be a geek
To boldly go where lots of people are headed
Originally published July 7, 2014 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel


More than a few DIY books are being published lately with the word “Geek” or “Nerd” in their titles: “Geek Crochet,” “Geek Chic,” “Knits for Nerds,” and “World of Geekcraft” to name a few. So it follows that there must be a lot more geeks out there than I would have guessed. Just exactly what is a geek?

What was once used to describe a socially inept person (and before that, a bizarre carnival performer à la Ozzy Osbourne), “Geek” now describes someone who is no longer so marginalized. It has become more broadly inclusive, referring to knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiasts, with just a whiff of awkward and weird.

In his new book, “The Geek’s Guide to Dating,” Eric Smith says that even though geeks may need some extra help when it comes to social skills, they “possess plenty of admirable qualities that are sorely lacking in most normals,” such as the ability to think deeply, recall minutia, find solutions and retain a wide-open mind.

He also defines three broad categories of geeks:

  1. Pop Culture Geeks – includes comic book fans, TV and film geeks, and gamers

  1. Technogeeks—includes geeks who favor internet, Apple, PC, or social media

Angie Pedersen says she wrote “The Star Trek
Craft Book, “to pay homage to the quintessential
 essence of ‘Star Trek’—[which is] the encouragement to
 seek out new experiences and embrace the spirit of
adventure.” Projects in the book include a Spock Monkey
 (made from socks), Coasters, Reversible Dog Vest,
Vulcan Hat and Tribbles.
  1. Academic geek—includes book geeks, history and politics geeks, and math and science geeks

To find out more about geeks, I talked to freelance writer Chris-Rachael Oseland, who proudly refers to herself as a second-generation geek. Since being a geek wasn’t exactly trendy in the late 1980s, she says, her mom would lie rather than tell people she was taking her young daughter to a sci-fi convention. But Oseland remembers those gatherings fondly as “a safe place to grow up.”

Twenty-five years later, geeks have mainstreamed and their conventions are more popular and numerous than ever. “This is truly the golden era,” says Oseland. “People want to be a part of the subculture because it’s trendy.” Oseland links the geek rise in acceptability and desirability to the growth of tech jobs and big special effects in movies. With a masters in ancient Middle East history—she says she’s both an academic geek (owner of 3,000 books) and a pop-culture geek (sci-fi, gaming, steampunk, horror, comics, your name it).

She lives in Austin, Texas, self-publishing her cookbooks with geek-themed recipes. By far her most successful cookbook, “Dining with the Doctor: the Unauthorized Whovian Cookbook,” has sold an astounding 15,000 copies. To create the recipes, Oseland spent a year re-watching the first six seasons of the popular BBC series “Doctor Who,” to create dishes that would tie in with each episode.

Those who crochet may enjoy making these
 amigurumi figures of Lieutenant Commander Data
 and Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next
 Generation. Besides step-by-step instructions,
 The Star Trek Craft Book also provides background
 information about the characters and lots of
 photos from the many seasons and incarnations
 of the popular TV series. 
Other cookbooks she has in the works are “The Kitchen Overlord Illustrated Geek Cookbook,” “An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery,” and “The Noshing Dead: the Unauthorized Walking Dead Cookbook.”

In true geek fashion, her first cookbook, “Wood for Sheep: the Unauthorized Settlers Cookbook” was written to enhance her social life. “It was in self-defense,” she says. “I don’t know what it is with geeks, but if you get five in a room, at least three will have something wrong with their digestive system.” To keep the game nights she hosted going, she developed recipes that were sensitive to everyone’s dietary restrictions.

Chris-Rachael Oseland’s website,,
features many of her geeky culinary creations, including
 this “Dune” inspired Sandworm Crudite made from cucumbers,
 red bell peppers and hummus. In her illustrated recipes
 she says, “Whether you’re entertaining visiting guests from
 Caladan or have recently had emergency dental surgery, this
soft crudite platter should delight any new visitors to Arrakis.”
But her bizarre culinary creations are as much fan art as they are tasty, diet-sensitive party food. Picture a giant sandworm from the classic sci-fi book series, “Dune” (a sequence of sliced cucumbers), rising up from a desolate sand dune (a bed of spicy hummus), with gaping jaws full of crystalline teeth (pointy chunks of cucumber), surrounded by the gory remains of some unfortunate natives (shreds of red bell pepper)—a dish she calls “Fremen Crudite Plate”—and you begin to realize there’s a whole genre of cookery never explored on Iron Chef.

“Making is a huge part of geek culture,” says Oseland. “It’s one of the defining hallmarks.” And what special talents do geeks bring to making things? “A lot more attention to detail,” she says. The geek maker-mentality is, “If you’re going to make something, make it well.” Oseland is currently taking sewing classes to costume herself for sci-fi, fantasy and comic conventions. “You gain street cred for having made it from scratch,” she says.

But can anyone who is passionate and knowledgeable on a topic be a geek? Can one be a baseball geek, a yoga geek, NASCAR geek? Oseland refers to this recent trend as “the devaluation of geek.” When it’s applied to everyone and everything, it loses its meaning. She says “nerd” might be preferred by true geeks.

For a good dose of authentic, fun, geekiness, log-on to Chris-Rachael Oseland’s website,, for her recipes, cooking videos, cookbooks, commentary and photo index of her bizarre culinary creations. To support her next project, publishing “The Kitchen Overlord Illustrated Cookbook,” look for the link under the “Books” tab.

“Today we use the magical powers of prayer, insanity and root
 vegetables to create a very special hero formerly unknown
 to the worlds of man,” writes Oseland in her introduction to
 her Potatoes Diana recipe. Not only does she provide the recipe
 with step-by-step photos, but also the backstory of th
e famous superhero, Wonder Woman.

A little something for everyone from a fake-meat-stuffed Starfleet Insignia made with puff pastry for vegans, combined with her non-vegan Starfleet Academy Cafeteria’s Horta Meatloaf.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Art Abandonment Project
Random acts of guerilla art
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

On a bench along the shoreline of Lake Balaton in
Hungary, Friedel Kammler dropped handcrafted
 jewelry made by Jenny Potter and Donna Furgason,
 Canadian friends that Kammler made through the
 Facebook group. They sent the jewelry to Kammler
 to be abandoned in Hungary so their work could
 “crossover the ocean.” (Photo by Friedel Kammler)
You’re sitting at the bus stop, anxious to get to where you’re going, and you notice a Ziploc bag with a small note inside and something else you can’t quite identify, resting beside you. The note has an elaborately penned letter “A” and the title, “A Gift for You.

You are intrigued, so you pick up the bag and squint to read the rest of the note: “Art Abandonment is a group of artists sharing what we love to do by leaving artwork in random locations across the globe for other to find and enjoy. Today the Universe picks you to receive this gift with the hope that you enjoy it or pass it onto someone else. If you wish, you can send a message to to let us know it was found.”

You turn the bag over to inspect the contents. You think, “Is this for real or some new advertising scheme? Nothing is free, right? What do they want?” There’s a bracelet made of strung beads inside the bag. You open the bag and slip the jewelry around your wrist. It’s kind of cool. You start to relax and feel kind of lucky, like the universe is smiling on you.

The founders of The Art Abandonment Project—Michael deMeng and Andrea Matus deMeng—want you to feel this way. It’s their hope that, through giving away art, the world will become a slightly better place. They created a Facebook page for the group ( and have just published a book, “The Art Abandonment Project: Create and Share Random Acts of Art,” promoting their concept.

Michael deMeng and Andrea Matus deMeng, married
authors of The Art Abandonment Project, teach
 and exhibit their artwork internationally. They live
 in Vancouver, British Columbia and started the so that
 others could share their techniques for making and
 abandoning art. (Photo of their artwork provided by
Michael deMeng)
In the book, Michael deMeng (a Canadian) explains, “Obviously, one could easily abandon art without becoming a member of the Facebook group. This [Facebook] page merely provides an opportunity for others to see the good deeds of the group members as well as share experiences and feelings about the topic.” So members use the page to post photos of their artwork at the drop sites, discuss creative topics, and suggest good locations for abandoning their art.

Michael also discusses the pros and cons of various drop locations:
·         Retail stores: Good for exposure, but the juxtaposition with items for sale might be confusing to shoppers, or unappreciated by store owners.
·         Planes, trains, boats and other public transit: Your art could travel far and end up on another continent, but unidentified packages aren’t popular among security personnel.
·         Nature: Remote locations make your gift that much more unexpected when found, but weather is a factor and discovery may take longer.
·         Adrift at sea: Romantic notion, but not worth the pollution potential (unless it’s biodegradable)
·         Hotels: Good chance it will be found, but may end up in the lost and found cabinet since housekeepers don’t want to be accused of stealing.
Joanne Archer contributed several photos of her abandoned art
 for The Art Abandonment Project book, including this piece left
 on a rocky beach, including one of the standard labels provided for the
 Facebook group. In the book she says, “Once I abandon something,
 I can forget all about it. I have no wish to know who found it,
 nor receive thanks. I only hope that the finder enjoys it.”
(Photo by Joanne Archer)
·         The Big City: Plenty of people in all walks of life, but avoid locations where it might just be perceived as trash.

On April Fool’s day, Friedel Kammler dropped a collage he created with
 parts from printed paintings, on a safety-ring in the Harbor in Fonyod,
 Lake Balaton, Hungary, which made a nice tableau. The second drop that day
—a tiny altered matchbox, with a golden stone inside painted with the
 words “Love is Forever”—was left in the clutched hands of two public
 statues—Adam and Eve. (Photo by Friedel Kammler)
Some abandoners prefer complete anonymity and leave their gifts without a note or even a signature on their art. But, those who leave a note of explanation with the opportunity to respond by email, can sometimes get encouraging validation for their efforts. One example: “Last night we decided to take the kids to the park just before dark, and there on a tree was hanging the most beautiful piece of art, with such an appropriate message, (live out loud) with a clock and beautiful flowers, it brought tears to my eyes, I feel so lucky to have found this beautiful work of art, how can it get better than that? Thank you!!!”

With 14,000+ members, the Facebook-linked group has spread all over the world. When I sent out a request to members for photos of abandoned art, the first response came from Friedel Kammler of Hungary. For April Fool’s Day, he made two “drops”—a collage he created from a painting, left on a life-preserver near a harbor; and a tiny, altered matchbox, with a gold-painted stone inside inscribed with the words “Love is forever,” left in the clasped hands of a naked Adam and Eve statue. Friedel also scatters the work of two Canadian friends he made through the Facebook page, who send him packages of their own handcrafted items to be abandoned in Hungary.

Art Abandoner Gari Vibber says she left this parcel
 on the Oswegatchie River before ice-out. The April
 Fool’s Day challenge put out on the Facebook page by
 Michael deMeng was to make a drop in an unusual place.
 She says the gift was a photograph with an inspirational
 saying, “double-sealed in a waterproof container
 and set free to find its way.” (Photo by Gari Vibber)
Another artist I heard from—Gari Vibber—who creatively abandons jewelry and photographs in icy locations in upstate New York, said, “First, I must tell you that this is such an enlightening, upbeat, encouraging group. I have long been an anonymous, pay-it-forward, random-act-of-kindness kind of gal... this growing movement has insisted I step out of my comfort zone and try new things.”

Besides this drop on a car wash change machine, Gari Vibber of
 upstate New York sent photos of her artwork left on a
 windshield while the owner was out on Lake Ontario ice fishing,
at a restaurant counter with pasta and spaghetti sauce for sale,
 and on a “take me” table at a local church. (Photo by Gari Vibber)
After hearing from these artists and their generous pay-it-forward attitude, I decided it was time for me to step out as well. But deciding what to leave seemed as challenging as finding the right location. Should the gift be not too gender specific? Should it be something practical, such as note cards or jewelry? Should I make my first drop locally or further away? I wanted to be anonymous, but I also wanted the finder to know that this was an intentionally abandoned item, not just forgotten. Maybe too, it was a little hard for me to let go.

Finally, I put the standard AAP note inside a Ziploc (along with my gift) and asked my husband to make the drop. He chose a picnic table near a church parking lot. The gift was gone by the next day, set free to find its own way.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Vivian Maier and Jon Sarkin
Artists by strange circumstance
Also: Cabrillo Extension, Aromas Garden Tour, and Bay Area Maker Faire
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel May 2 and May 9, 2014

“Finding Vivian Maier,” currently showing at the Nickelodeon Theatre,
 is the critically acclaimed documentary about a mysterious nanny, who
 secretly took over 100,000 photographs (including this self-portrait) that
 were hidden in storage lockers and, discovered decades later. Some consider
her one of the 20th century’s greatest urban street photographers.
Finding Vivian Maier
I’m hoping I have the chance to see “Finding Vivian Maier” (currently showing at the Nickelodeon) at least one more time before it’s gone. I loved this documentary about a mysterious woman, who knew she was a good—maybe even great—photographer, but kept her massive body of work hidden away until the day she died. She worked in New York and Chicago as a nanny for over 40 years, had no close family or friends, and even the families she lived with were unaware of her passion and unusual talent for photography.

She was born in New York in 1926, moved back and forth to France with her mother, and returned to New York as an adult in 1951 where she was hired as a live-in nanny, and purchased her first serious camera: a Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex. On her days off she wandered the streets of New York, documenting urban America. 

When she moved to Chicago in 1956, Maier was nanny to three boys, and had access to a darkroom, which allowed her to develop film and make prints. After the boys were grown, she bounced from family to family, accumulating hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film. By all accounts—from her employers and the now-grown children she helped raise—she was an eccentric, fiercely opinionated, intelligent and intensely private person. Some implied that she may have been mentally imbalanced as well. Making photographs must have been Vivian Maier’s way of understanding the world, and finding her significance within it. She didn’t need any more than that.

Maier’s massive body of work—kept in delinquent storage lockers—would come to light when, in 2007, cardboard boxes of her negatives were purchased at a local thrift auction house by a Chicago real estate agent, John Maloof. Ever since his remarkable find, Maloof and others have dedicated themselves to collecting her work, constructing and printing an archive, and promoting her rare talent through the making of a film and gallery exhibitions around the world.

View her beautiful black and white street photographs and read more about Vivian Maier at

Cabrillo Extension SummerArts Program
May EL Wire Class Land Sharks (photo by Tina Baine): Todd
 Williams, who will be teaching in Cabrillo Extension’s
 SummerArts Program, likes to take his remote-controlled EL wire
  land sharks to Maker Faire Bay Area each year, thrilling the
 crowds as them “swim” around one of the darkened exhibit halls.
EL Wire expert Todd Williams shows his Cabrillo Extension class, how to 
work with electroluminescent wire. Explorations in EL Wire 101 is just one 
of 33 community art classes being offered this summer at Cabrillo College.
 For a tour of the amazing art facilities, exhibits student work and
 demonstrations, come to the “Art Party!” at the Visual Applied & 
Performing Arts (VAPA) Open House on Saturday, May 17, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
In order to make the impressive Cabrillo College visual art facility more available to the people who paid to build it (see your property tax bill), and to offset the fact that CabrilloArts (community courses) will be taking a one year hiatus starting next fall, Cabrillo Extension is offering an unprecedented 33 SummerArts classes beginning this June, including 21 new classes that have never been offered before. The selection is broad and tantalizing, and includes stop-motion animation, handmade teapots, stained glass and steel-based furniture. I took the Explorations in EL (Electroluminescent) Wire 101 class from Todd Williams last year, and I can attest to the high-quality of the facilities and equipment available at Cabrillo, and the value of learning from a professional, experienced artists.

Workshop Coordinator Patrick Stafford says Cabrillo Extension is also offering something new for teens this summer. “There will be 2 one-week sessions in which [middle and high schoolers] will be able to experience a sampling of most of the different media taught in the art department,” says Stafford. In DiscoverArts Camps, teens will have the opportunity to experience ceramics, jewelry making, woodworking, collage, screen printing, painting, 3D assemblage, blacksmithing, camera-less photos and hacking toys (ala Sid from Toy Story). To register go to

Maker Faire
The next Maker Faire Bay Area is coming up soon, May 17 and 18 at the San Mateo Event Center. If you’ve never attended this making-frenzy-fest before, I promise you won’t be disappointed. There is so much to see and do—from high- to low-tech DIY—so plan to arrive early and spend the entire day (or two). For details and advance tickets go to

Candy-colored irises stretch over a broad hill-side at one of the stops on the Aromas Country Garden Tour, held Saturday, May 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Aromas Garden Tour
Sponsored by Aromas Hills Artisans, this year’s garden
 tour held the day before Mother’s Day, will featur
e artists in each garden, demonstrating their talents.
If my mother lived nearby, I would treat her to a day of exploring country gardens and art on the Aromas Garden Tour, held May 10, the date before Mother’s Day. Local artists will be stationed in each garden, painting irises, carving or weaving guitar straps, with some of their wares for sale. In my opinion, the three not-to-miss gardens are the iris gardens, where you can see hundreds of these candy-colored rhizomes in bloom and pick out ones you’d like to own; the protea farm with these incredibly large and extraordinary South African flowers, blooming on a lovely hill overlooking Aromas; and—because it’s time to replace your thirsty lawn—the brand new, drought-tolerant demonstration garden behind the Aromas Water District, with drip irrigation and all plants labeled. For details, go to
Jon Sarkin: When Brain Trauma Results in Art
I just finished reading “Shadows Bright as Glass” by Amy Ellis Nutt, the remarkable story of a man who became an artist overnight, with an obsessive need to create. In 1988 Jon Sarkin was suffering from tinnitus, hearing a continuous, high-pitched screech that grew louder and shriller every day until it was nearly deafening. After months of seeking treatment, he resorted to radical brain-surgery, from which he suffered a major stroke. To reach the clot and save his life, his surgeon had to carve away thin layers of his brain. During surgery his heart stopped twice, depriving his brain of oxygen. When he awoke later, he was a completely changed man--emotionally detached from his wife and child, and, although he tried, unable to return to his normal working life as a chiropractor.

Jon Sarkin is described on his website as “a prolific, 
even compulsive, artist who creates elaborate drawings
 and paintings cluttered with words and images.” Sarkin
 became an obsessive artist overnight after complications
 during brain surgery. (Courtesy of Princeton Day School)
The transformation was very difficult for his family, but even harder on Sarkin, who not only knew that he lost a part of his brain, but that he had lost his identity as well. Nutt’s book chronicles this prodigious alternation in Jon Sarkin’s personality and sense of self, and how making art became the bridge back to a meaningful life. For me, the transformation of Sarkin from a hard-working family man who occasionally sketched and painted, to someone who had become completely consumed with the need to make art, says a lot about the brain’s belief in art’s ability to provide answers.

For Sarkin, his brain was working overtime to solve the essential problem: Who was he? “He knew he was consumed with getting his thoughts and sensations down on paper, as if only then, looking at the colors and shapes and words, would it all come together into a pattern and make sense of his past and his present,” writes Nutt.

Jon Sarkin’s cluttered, stream-of-consciousness, crazy quilt style is anything but linear, but it has caught the attention of the art and publishing world, where his work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, ABC Primetime, This American Life, GQ, ArtNews, and galleries in New York, Los Angeles, and around the world. I encourage you to see Sarkin’s work at