Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Frankie and The Wheeler Byrd

The Wheeler Byrd
My daughter Alicia and I visited this awesome shop in Joplin this past weekend and as we browsed through the magnificent displays we noticed that someone had left a door open to a small utility room. I stopped immediately, no longer interested in any of the beautiful wares they were selling, but instead found myself snooping as unobtrusively as I could at what lay behind that open door. I didn't go in, of course, but both Alicia and I peeked inside. There was a ridiculously big water heater and a few plastic shelves with odds-and-ends cleaning supplies. That's all. Why, we asked one another, was that so interesting?

I don't know the answer. But I've been a snooper of private places in stores anytime I've had the chance since I was a little girl. Back then, people bought their groceries at either Kroger or Hillcrest Big Star. Today, decades and decades later, I can perfectly visualize their stock rooms because you had to go through them to access the bathrooms. As a kid, I thought those areas were fascinating. I liked running as quickly and silently as I could on the sleek concrete floors in those long cool stock rooms and exiting out a different door than the one I had entered. I was never caught... or more likely, no one really cared what I was doing... but I felt adventurous and wild and free back there in that forbidden place.
These days, here at The Frame Shop, we have more space as private work area than we have as gallery. It just seems to me that it takes a dadgum lot of space to make a frame -- but I love it so much. Now that we've moved to our own little building our work space is pretty personal and organized to how we like to work and to what we like to do. 
The back room where I spend a lot of my time is decorated with green walls and pink curtains, magnificently framed fairy tale book pages, a rocker-lounger (for when I'm near death but still have to work!), a little television for my grandchildren, and two little dog beds.
Yes. Two little dog beds.
Frankie and Lucy, my little wiener dogs, have come to work with me at various times for several years and while Lucy always behaved better than Frankie, she finally became so frail and disoriented that she couldn't come anymore. We lost our little Lucy a month-and-a-half ago at age 16 years and 9 months. She was beloved and is dearly missed.
After we lost Lucy, our Frankie was really distressed and sad. We decided he should just come to work with me every day and he did. His behavior while he was at work was fairly good (although he really likes to bark at the neighborhood -- I'm so sorry, dear neighbors) and he would be pretty happy all day, but as soon as we'd get home, his ears would go flat and he would be sad again. He missed Lucy.
Wheeler, interrupting work (again)
So here came The Wheeler Byrd. 

And what is The Wheeler Byrd, you might ask?

This is The Wheeler Byrd.

He's just a little past six weeks and he is Frankie's new wiener dog puppy.

Now, bringing The Wheeler Byrd to work everyday along with Frankie has been an adventure.  He's really little but I can already tell he's going to be a porker if something doesn't change. This wiener dog eats, runs all over the back yard chasing Frankie as he makes his rounds and searches for squirrels and rabbits, then he collapses alongside Frankie into their little beds where they sleep like there's no tomorrow. An hour or so later, they repeat the cycle.
Frankie has his morning routine down so well that when I leave for work at The Frame Shop now it's really  difficult to leave the house without him. He is excellent company, but this Wheeler Byrd...

When I got Lucy all those hundreds of years ago, I was still working at Rolla Public Schools as the Board Secretary. Sometimes, after a board meeting, I would stay home the following day in order to complete the minutes from the meeting in as timely a manner as possible. I would sit at our old wooden school teacher's desk and write but before I ever started, I would prop up the girls' bean bag chairs one on top of the other then lift Lucy into the little trough they formed, right beside me. She would snooze there. Excellent, excellent company.

The Wheeler Byrd doing wiener dog work
We see all kinds of people in this little shop. Sometimes they are lonely. Sometimes they are stressed beyond what they can bear up under. Sometimes they are filled with worry about many things. Sometimes they are bringing things for me to frame that is a wound to their hearts because they have endured unimaginable loss.

Of course, having a little dog as a companion doesn't solve any of their problems. But when these customers leave, I sometimes come to this back room and see Frankie and Wheeler doing whatever doggy-things they are doing and I think maybe they know something we haven't learned. 
Although they may feel sad sometimes like Frankie did at the loss of his companion, Lucy... and although I know they feel afraid sometimes like Wheeler does when he hears someone operate a chainsaw or I shatter a piece of old glass so it will fit into the trash bin... and although I know they feel stressed sometimes (like when I'm eating a bologna sandwich and not giving any to them)... they also know how to recover and live in the moment. I don't know how to do that. When I can't get my work done, I worry and sometimes can't even figure out what I need to do first because I'm too busy acting like a fool because I have too much to do. If I encounter someone who is a little rude or terse, I can't stop thinking about it and sort of -- and this doesn't even make sense -- worrying about it. Why am I dumber than a dog?

These little wiener dogs are innocent, I suppose. Although I don't know that humans will ever be restored to an innocent state as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden (I'm thinking that ship sailed and we can't undo the partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), I believe God will make all things new and relieve us of the anxiety, worry, care, stress and sadness that plagues this life. While our precious little animals still have to endure these emotions because they do live in this fallen world with us, they are still innocent and so they aren't tormented by these emotions like we are.

I think we weren't really designed to live like this or in this type of day-in and day-out stressful world. We were designed to be awesome in an awesome place. But until then, I would recommend everyone consider  getting their own versions of a Frankie and a Wheeler Byrd. Because it gives a person perspective. It gives a person laughter. It gives a person a really cool looking dog. And most of all, it gives a person hope.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Old, Hard, Stiff, Uncompromising Clay

Late in the afternoon on Thursday of this week, we were still so covered up in projects at the shop that I was just an overwhelmed wreck. So, with a less than stellar attitude, I made an abrupt decision that there wasn't enough time left in the day to either finish a project or begin a new one. After tidying the fit table I opened the closet (where precious Martha has graciously organized row after row of supplies) and after a few indecisive moments, pulled out some clay.

But that stupid shameless clay... it was old and harder than granite. The last time it had been used was when my daughter Ashley made a rabbit and gave it to my Father -- probably six or seven years ago. And naturally, all my clay tools and the mechanical roller used for kneading were at home...

So, with no tools except two rough and cut-up hands I started smashing and crushing that clay. It crumbled. I rolled it and squished it with a tiny wooden dowel rod. It stayed as hard as ever. I took an old Altoid box and clobbered it over and over and over and over. It became too thin in some areas while still rock hard in others and it stuck to the marble I was using as a work surface. I got mad at it and threw it at the floor but it just rolled around picking up dust. Finally, since it wouldn't relax and soften, I plied some of it apart and began working on it in sections. I rolled it. Tweaked it. Patted it. Pulled it. Stretched it. Tiny part by tiny part. And it softened. It yielded.

Oh my goodness. With it ripped into small and manageable sections, pretty quickly it was ready and I could put it all together into one lump and work it. What had been as hard as a rock was now pliable and easy to knead.

These little wings were fashioned in just a few minutes. What took the time was the preparation of the clay. Once it was ready for use, forming the tiny wings and laying out how they were to be sculpted was so simple. The work was in the preparation, not the sculpting.

Old. Hard. Stiff. Uncompromising.

All ripped and torn and crushed and smashed and dropped and then kneaded back together soft and useful.

Then quickly fashioned in the way I knew they'd be before I even retrieved the clay from the cabinet. So easy once the clay was willing.

Oh, to be willing clay.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

All Kinds of Paperwork


Today was spent doing all kinds of paperwork that didn't involve artistic creativity in any way. The paperwork consisted of tax reporting and W2 forms and bank ledgers and invoices and then reworking our embarrassingly out of date website.

After gathering what was needed and moving from my disaster-of-a-desk in the office at the shop, I moved into the back workroom. On that large and spotless table (normally used for fitting projects) I had plenty of space for two laptops as well as all the stacks of papers I needed. At the end of the day, everything was more-or-less finished, but the entire landscape looked like an elementary student's desk. Geez.

I did paperwork of that sort and similar other tasks for almost two decades when I worked as a secretary years ago. I used to write the minutes of Board meetings and before that I kept track of how millions of dollars were spent dollar-by-dollar for the city department I worked for... and I was happy enough in those jobs. But these days, the only paperwork I really want to do is paperwork involving painting and cutting and pasting.

A few of the "wings" centerpieces.
This past fall, my major paperwork consisted of creating several small and one large three-dimensional  "wings" sculptures to be used as centerpieces on tables for a group one of my daughter's is involved with. After those were completed, I thought it had been successful enough to begin a more challenging wings project and decided to create a set that is over five feet tall and sturdy. I got a fairly reasonable start on them, but then the shop got too busy for me to devote any time on them.

One of the small "wings" centerpieces.
It's incredibly challenging to take up an abandoned project -- and the reason for that abandonment makes no difference. It seems there's always something new I'm wanting to do (and probably never finish either.) It's one of the worst traits many artsy-fartsy people share. We are super at starting. We are frail at finishing. It's a terribly immature, destructive, wasteful and lazy trait.

This spring, we'll see how lazy and immature and wasteful I am... oh, how I hate being accountable! But my daughter Alicia... she'll be asking about them. God bless Alicia. God bless all her pointed little comments to her beloved Mother-Sweet-Mother!

I started by cutting out the basic shape of the wings and sanding each piece.  I've been trying to improve on my poor circular saw skills.  My dad used to tell me that I was going to cut off a leg because I was careless and didn't use good judgement about how I set up a cut.  To combat this proclivity for recklessness, I've tried to behave slightly more like a human instead of a monkey when I'm cutting. But I still love power tools so much it's hard for me to settle down and behave.

After the boards were cut, it was on to figuring out how they would actually look.  Unfortunately, I made a mistake right at the beginning and started forming the left wing from the right cut-out and the right wing from the left cut-out so my original sketch of what they were supposed to look like was messed up.  Another GEEZ!

I made extensions to flesh out the support out of foam core and screwed them to the base. They seemed sturdy enough to withstand the process but I really wasn't confident about how well they'd hold up when they were drenched with water.

The bases made, I noticed they looked more like giant ears than anything else. I'm still bummed that I messed up the original design, but think they'll work.  They are folded wings, after all.

Next came the foundation for the "feathers." It's just water-logged paper soaked in flour. I'm always amazed at how well this elementary school trick works.  Thank you, Mrs. Stormes (my grade-school art teacher!) for this tip as well as the millions of others you shared with us. God bless you.
It took so long for the wing-folds to dry, I started to become wonder if it would even work. It was also hard to leave the folds alone and stop fiddling with their positioning. I was a little concerned with the possibility of mildew they were so big and so wet, but it dried a little each day and finally they were as stiff and sturdy as I could have hoped for.

They dried a little each day -- very little each day.

I began to add the layers of "feathers" but didn't get far. We got so busy beginning in August that I haven't been able to work on them since. This winter I'm likely have a few days. Oh how I love a quiet snowy day in February and March! I'm anxious to take this project back up. They've been hanging in the mat-cutting room taunting me for months. I desperately want to finish the feather-work so I can begin the painting. That's the part I am most excited to do. NO! I'm most excited to hang the finished wings in the gallery!