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Thursday, February 21, 2008

First breathe . . .

. . . then take in the exquisite beauty in the work of Jim Kelso. Actually, you will breathe, because Kelso's work makes you feel relaxed. At the same time, his art is breath-taking. Contradictory, eh?

Working in ferrous (containing iron) and non-ferrous metals, he forges, chases, hammers and burnishes life into his pieces.

The "expression of Nature" he strives for is evident in every single piece I've seen. In his artist's statement, Mr. Kelso declares that he seeks to
"Work in gold, silver, non-ferrous alloys, iron and steel using the Japanese and European techniques of fabrication, casting, engraving, carving, inlay, coloration, patination, vitreous enameling and blade shaping. Also, [work] in wood and fossil ivory using carving, inlay, engraving and fabrication techniques to complete the piece."

"First Rain." Pendant by Jim Kelso.

As a young art student in the 70s, I recall well my drawing teacher reminding me to be very conscious of the "negative space," that is, the blank space on the surface on which I was drawing or painting, or the "air" around a piece being molded or sculpted. It's a very Asian concept - the yin and the yang: male and female, negative and positive, black and white, heaven and earth. One cannot exist without the other.

Using fundamental Japanese metalworking art theories and techniques, he creates captured moments of nature that whisper gently but leave a lasting impression on the viewer.

"Rabbit Over The Waves Brooch" (after painting by Zeshin) 18k gold, copper, pure silver, shakudo. 58mm x 28mm - 2.3" x 1.1" by Jim Kelso

Shibata Zeshin, innovative Japanese artist of the Edo Period and early Meiji Restoration, serves as an inspiration for the brooch pictured above. The rabbit is often used as a representative of the moon in Japanese art, and this piece depicts that plainly to me. The moon over the water. Here is one of Zeshin's beautiful paintings. Note once more, the negative space:

"Hawk and the Warning Bird." (Original Title: Yukiyanagi taka no zu) Japanese, Meiji era, late 19th century Shibata Zeshin, Japanese, 1807–1891. Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk. From the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

I find a wonderful contradiction in his work in that the noise, effort and even violence necessary in forging metalwork, and the hardness and sharpness of the materials used, has created objects of quiet and soft serenity. Moths and simple butterflies are a particular favorite of the artist, and these two pieces depicting them on ferns are perfect examples of my meaning:

Top: "Japanese Sword-fern Pin." 18k gold, copper, shakudo moth. Length 7cm - 2.75" Price on request. Bottom: "Fern and Butterfly Pin." 18k gold, copper, shakudo. 6.4cm (2.5").

Death finds its place among his pieces as well, as it should. There is no renewal of life if there is no death. The yin cannot exist without the yang.

"Ebony Leaf" by Jim Kelso

I've always been a great admirer of an artist who successfully uses hard media to create fluid objects. Gingkos and maples are personal favorites of mine, and Mr. Kelso recreates them in mouth-watering detail. The use of the translucent horn to create a gossamer effect is stunning.

Left: "Gingko Brooch." 18k gold, carved horn, moonstones 66mm x 54mm - 2.6" x 2.1." Right: "Samsara Brooch." 18k gold, carved horn 63mm x 44mm - 2.5" x 1.75."

"Samsara" is a Sanskrit word for the concept of rebirth/reincarnation - the cycle of life. Thus the maple "helicopter" seeds, the object of renewal for one living thing.

Jim Kelso's background is as diverse as the work he does. He is a metalsmith, a jeweler, sculptor, engraver. . . but he does so much more than these things, not limiting himself to jewelry by any means. His work is in the collections of a number of very famous people, not the least of which are Sylvester Stallone, David Crosby and David Mamet. Their Imperial Highnesses, Prince and Princess Takamodo of Japan own his work, and his work is on display in the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

If all of this weren't enough, he is one of those generous artists who shares his techniques with the world. His website features the Japanese patination and inlay techniques he uses to make his incredible work.

If you love Japanese art and metalwork, or if you just find gazing at beautiful art enjoyable (duh, who doesn't?), visit Jim Kelso's site and feast your eyes on his art. But take note of his extensive experience and dedication to continuing traditional Japanese theories and techniques as well. And enjoy.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

L. W.: Grandfather extraordinaire

When I was a teenager in the 1970's, my paternal grandfather would come to visit on occasion from Broken Arrow, OK or Gravette, AR - wherever he was living at that time. He'd drive up in his big yellow station wagon and we'd go to the art museum (it was the Nelson Art Gallery back then, now it's the world-class Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art), the local "health food restaurant," because he was a vegetarian, and the art supplies store. He always smelled of fresh soap and oatmeal.

Opa (my father's family is Dutch), was a self-taught artist (I snagged the painting above from his belongings after he died) and writer who had an appreciation for anything that enhanced life. He was kind and empathetic, concerned about the welfare of all living creatures, reverent and respectful, and still he was a hedonist in every sense of the definition.

Opa was a Theosophist. Most Americans aren't too familiar with the teachings of Madame Blavatsky. Her philosophy brought my grandfather friends from all over the world. Opa met my grandmother (Oma, of course) when, in Utrecht, Holland, he came across a meeting of the Theosophical Society and became interested in it. This was particularly disconcerting to his father who was an Orthodox Christian minister, but Opa was in love and undeterred.

Portrait artist Frank Szasz was a close friend to my grandfather and a fellow Theosophist. They met once when their eyes locked across a room and both were convinced they'd known each other in previous lives (reincarnation is a facet of the Theosophical philosophy). Most people are familiar with some of his portraits, which he rendered from life and from photos. Presidential portraits were a specialty of his, but he loved to capture interesting people in general, especially if they'd made a mark on his life or human life in general. To wit, his famous poster of Einstein:This happened to Opa frequently, meeting the fascinating. He knew Lili Kraus, the famous Hungarian classical

Lili Kraus

pianist (whom I met as a teen) and a very charismatic Egyptian stained glass master, Fadel, who had a wonderful shop here called Fadel's Stained Glass (we used to go there when we were kids and cut glass - I loved it). I never knew his first name, we just called him Mr. Fadel.

The one thing all of my grandfather's friends had in common was an intimate familiarity with oppression. Ms. Kraus was in a labor camp at one time, as was Mr. Szasz. I don't remember the nature of Fadel's oppression, but each of these people was deep and there was a brooding side to all of them. They were kind, but formidable, and I surmised being oppressed, repressed and suppressed was part of what made them this way.

I sat with my grandfather one afternoon as he regaled us with the family's escape from Europe as Hitler's army marched across and took it. It's too long to recount the entire story here, but I may in a future post. Oma's father had been Jewish and Opa knew that would be her end, as well as the end of his four sons.

So, from Compiègne, France, where they were living at the time, Opa manipulated his connections at Schell Oil and he and his family managed, against all odds, to escape on an oil tanker to Curaçao, in the Netherlands Antilles. From there, the family members all eventually moved on to different parts of the USA, where they were educated, married, and had children. I'm a product of that, and it's miraculous that I'm here at all. While telling the hours-long story, Opa would punctuate different parts of it with, "How can it be that I am here to tell this?" At one point I reminded him that if he weren't here to tell it, we wouldn't be either.

My Opa attracted the attention of fascinating people everywhere he went. He was an ambassador of sorts, and what my brother would call an "old soul." I loved him dearly and think of him almost every day.

So, with this post, I honor my wonderful grandfather, whose last words to me were, "You are very dear to me, Becky." He was very dear to me.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I heart these blogs

I have two friends who blog like madwomen, and I'm glad they do. They've both been phenomenally supportive of my own tiny blog, offering advice and encouraging me all the way.

This week, one of them, Lidy of French Garden House:

honored me with a blog award:

It's the "You make my day" Award. I'm flattered because for one thing, Lidy's blog is just incredible. She's an antiques dealer who specializes in the shabby chic, and besides that she's wonderfully strong, spiritual, thoughtful, smart, loving and generous. What more can you ask for in a friend? She's a marvel at what she does, and if you love beautiful things (who doesn't?) check her blog here at Little French Garden House and her web site here at French Garden House. She says my blog is beautiful, but it pales in comparison to hers.

Megan, at Beach Bungalow 8

was thrilled when she heard I was creating a blog, sending me a barrage of helpful emails filled with information, advising me on what to and what not to do, how to get traffic, and how to get actual income from it. She knows it ALL. Her beautiful and happy blog is a new adventure to read every time I click it, and she's always got great photos of whatever she writes about.

I check BB8 usually several times a week and I encourage everyone else to do so as well - you'll find funky things you didn't know existed, ideas for decorating (Megan is an interior designer with a fantastic eye for mixing the vintage with the modern), clothing, shoes, jewelry, music, just anything and everything there is to enhance living and life. She also has a "voice" that lacks the stodgy formality many people (like me) feel the need to use when writing for others. I love the way she words things. She's added some new words to my lexicon (I call them "meganisms" which makes her mother giggle).

Megan is also in the midst of planning her Mexican beach wedding (which I'll only be able to attend if my passport gets here quick) and still finds time to care for her two beautiful girlies and her handsome and big-hearted fiancé, run a business, a household and write a blog. She's also stunningly beautiful.

Megan's older sister was my best friend in high school (and we're still very close). She and I have become friends outside of that relationship and she has posted about my Etsy shop and this blog (she featured me as a "blog o' the week").

I want to thank Lidy and Megan for their kind support and assure both of them that I'll make an attempt to repay their kindnesses some day, somehow. I know that friendship isn't about keeping score - and I don't do that - but I'd like to be supportive of their endeavors too.

So this is a shout out to just two of the many very supportive women I have in my world. I'm lucky; women need other women, and I've got the best of 'em!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Open to the light

Blue-winged Grasshopper Brooch by Bernard Doherty. See more of this piece and buy it here.

I wanted to write about enamel jewelry, an art form I've loved since I was a girl. Mind you, I was just thinking about what we all pretty much know as "enamel" which is basically melted colored glass on copper or other metals: what is called vitreous enamel. I was also familiar with champlevé and cloisonné. Then I discovered Bernard Doherty, a fantastic jewelry artist in Victoria on the southeastern coast of Australia, and his incredible plique-á-jour.

Plique-á-jour roughly translates to "open to the light," and that's because it is. In contrast to other enameling methods, there is no metal to back the glass in these pieces. They are like small stained-glass jewelry objects. And yes, it's more difficult than Mr. Doherty as made it look.

Platinum Dragonfly by Bernard Doherty. $15,048 AUD (about $13,450 USD). See more of this piece and buy it here.

As you can see in the astoundingly beautiful dragonfly piece above, the light is free to move through the finely detailed wings of the insect. The light will also be dancing off of the 6.97 ct pink tourmaline at the center of its back and the five diamonds set in its head and wing points. The tail is enameled, and both the wings and the tail are hinged and sprung to allow them to move on the 18k yellow gold and platinum exoskeleton. I know it looks tiny on your screen, but the wing span is a full 85 mm (about 3.5")!

As you may have guessed by now, work this fine and in materials this precious is not going to be priced at bargain basement rates, but if you have the money to spend on yourself (or your Valentine), these would be a fine investment (just the gold and platinum will likely appreciate even more than they have in the last five minutes). This is not merely jewelry; it is fine art in every sense of the word: museum pieces.

Whether you can afford it or not, you can appreciate it, so I'm featuring more images of Mr. Doherty's incredible insectarium here.

This amazing pendant is a fine example of champlevé. I love the colors and the form, and that gigantic pearl is so beautiful as to be ridiculous.

Champlevé Scarab Beetle Pendant, by Bernard Doherty. 1.75 x 3 cm. 18k yellow gold, south sea pearl, blue champlevé enamel, 0.20ct champagne diamond. Find more info about purchasing this piece here.

Brian Doherty, Southeastern Australian enamel jewelry artist. See more of his work here.

Two Butterflies Pendant by Bernard Doherty. Plique-á-jour enamel set in 18k yellow gold with about .12 ct. of brilliant cut diamonds, two pear-shape blue topaz and large pear-shape amethyst. Get more information and price for this piece here.

A dragonfly and its bug:

Dragonfly Brooch by Bernard Doherty. Ask for more information about this piece here.

Above is a gorgeous brooch with a security chain and clip in the shape of a small bug, set with an oval blue topaz and a yellow diamond. The brooch itself is another beautiful dragonfly in blue and green plique-á-jour with hinged wings. He is 18k yellow gold and set with a blue topaz cabochon, ruby baguettes and a garnet cabochon. The tail is brown enamel. So very Art Nouveau.

Dragonfly Brooch & Pendant by Bernard Doherty. Get more information about this piece here.

And this one may be my favorite. Red and green plique-á-jour, yellow diamonds, white diamonds, tsavorite and green garnets. The tail is articulated and studded with those yellow diamonds. This is a brooch and pendant, and frankly, it makes my mouth water. The pearly iridescence of the wings and the articulated tail draw me in completely. I'd love to handle it. Wouldn't you love to wear it?

Please, do yourself a favor and visit Mr. Doherty's own site here, Brian Doherty Artist in Gold. There are so very many more amazing pieces there.

More of Vick's fighting dogs at Utah rescue

Another 22 of Michael Vick's Pit Bulls now reside at a no-kill shelter and animal behavior compound in the mountains of Kanab, Utah. They've been there only ten days but are already showing signs of improvement.

Best Friends Animal Society, Kanab, Utah.

Lucas, Vick's top fighter, is there and will remain there, at Best Friends Animal Society, for the rest of his life. As affectionate and people-friendly as he is, a judge ruled he can never be adopted because of his past.


The dogs were not neutered when in Vick's "care." The females were bred, especially if they were good fighters - a valued trait at Bad Newz Kennels, obviously. One unfortunate female named Georgia had all of her teeth pulled, possibly to prevent her harming males being forced on her to breed. I guess that was easier than trying to muzzle her, eh?

Some of the dogs will never go to homes. Some will never be able to associate with other dogs. But at least they will live their lives in a place where they'll be loved, regardless their past or their training.

Here is a video from CNN on a few of the dogs (I warn you that there is a clip of a dog fight in the middle of it - it's grainy and pale so it's instantly recognizable, and there is no sound to it, so it's easy to look away [as I must] while it plays for about 10 seconds). You can also peruse some pretty eye-0pening information about Pit Bulls at Best Friends Animal Society.

As for whether the rescued Pit Bulls can ever be good house pets, the good people at Best Friends are optimistic but realistic:
We’ve worked with bully breeds and dog-aggressive dogs for many years. And we’ve had very good success in rehabilitating many who have been as severely abused as these have. So we’re quite confident that in recovering their trust and then teaching them new life skills, many of them can be adoptable, given the right home environment. We’ll see how it goes, and take each one on a case-by-case basis, but our trainers are already making breakthroughs in just the few weeks the dogs have been here. It’s really amazing to watch them working together.
I still maintain that they're dogs and dogs want to be good. I also still maintain that Vick got off easy. Why do people do bad things to animals when it's so easy to do good things with them?

And again, I'd like to encourage my friends and readers to donate to your local Humane Society, local animal shelter, or any of the organizations I've written about in my blog. Remember that money isn't the only donation possible. I'll be buying all new bath towels soon and all of the old ones will be finding their new home at Wayside Waifs here in Kansas City.

And please, be kind to animals.

Update from Best Friends:

I received an email from the Animal Society in Kanab, and inside it was a great link with an overview of the Pit Bull "breed." It's great reading if you're interested in knowing about the various bully breeds and why they have the bad reputation they do.

Read here at Pit Bull Rescue Central.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Colombina Decor Aria Half Mask - Pink/Silver at Masks of Venice, £23.40 (about $46 USD Buy it!)

Unless you've been living in a cave, you must know that today, Tuesday the 5th of February, 2008, is Mardi Gras. Based in many beliefs, Mardi Gras is the last day of Carnival before Lent, when for 40 days, the passion of Christ is observed and the faithful give up something they love, some indulgence, for that time.

Colombina Jolly Mardi Gras Half Mask - Black/Pink/Gold at Masks of Venice, £39.00 (about $77 USD. Buy it!)Naso Turco Half Mask - Red/Gold at Masks of Venice, £33.00 (about $65 USD. Buy it!)

The celebration in this country has always been associated with New Orleans, and yet, the Carnival celebrations elsewhere in the world are much older and even bigger. Rio de Janeiro holds a fantastic celebration (one of my all-time favorite films, Black Orpheus, is set in Rio during Carnival and is based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice - I recommend it, and you won't be able to get that happy sunrise song out of your head).

Colombina Luxury Half Mask - Gold, from Masks of Venice, £62.00 (about $122 USD. Buy it!)

Liberty Full Mask - Red from Masks of Venice, £100.00 (about $197 USD. Buy it!)
Pulcinella Pittura San Marco Full Mask at Masks of Venice, £65.00 (about $128 USD. Buy it!)

Venice has long had a celebration, although it has been banned and discouraged on and off over the centuries. These days the Carnevale di Venezia is back in vogue and so are its traditional and beautiful masks. The six beautiful masks above are from Masks of Venice, which, oddly, is not in Venice, but Wales. They are made in Venice, however.

My friend Kyle sent me this picture, along with some others, of vintage photos of Carnival around the world. The slide show is here from Slate.com, and, as he says, the shots from Italy "naturally look like stills from a Fellini film."

© John Vink/Magnum Photos

Down in post-Katrina New Orleans, the party must, of course, go on. You can see part of Bourbon Street live here, via Earthcam.com.

Patrick Burke, a photographer and native New Orleanian, has the following two (among other) fabulous photos for sale in his Etsy shop. I think both of them capture
some of the mystique and excitement of Mardi Gras in the Crescent City:

"Cordial and Content," by Patrick Burke. $40 (Buy it!)

I love the purple, green and gold in the background - so very Mardi Gras! And the masks - they impart facial expressions that probably aren't actually under them. Masks during Carnival are a symbol of the spirit - dead or alive. The mix of the sacred and
profane during this celebration may seem contradictory, but all of our "holiday" (a word adapted from"holy day") celebrations are mixed with the pagan.

"Crime and Passion," by Patrick Burke. $40. (Buy it!)

Again, the revelers' masks belie the expressions that may be on their faces - they could be absolutely hammered for all we know. And seeing as it's a 24-hour party in the Quarter right now, they probably are.

Many thanks to Patrick for permission to use his photos. As usual, they're on Etsy, the best e-commerce site on the internet!