Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Topiary Art or Art as Topiary?

“The Topiary Park is a landscape of a painting of a landscape. … If an artist can paint a picture of a landscape — art mimicking nature — then why not a sculptor creating a landscape of a work of art — nature mimicking art? The topiary garden is both a work of art and a work of nature. It plays upon the relationships between nature, art and life.”
— James T. Mason, sculptor and creator of the topiary interpretation of George Seurat’s famous painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte

We recently visited the Topiary Park in Columbus, Ohio.

I've long been fascinated with topiaries, with the concept of training and clipping a living plant into a predetermined form.

The art of topiary has a long history. The Latin word for a landscape gardener is topiarus from which the word topiary is derived. From ancient writings it has been established that topiary has been practiced for at least 2,000 years. Used in the gardens of the wealthy from early Roman times through the 18th Century, it then had a short period of being out-of-style and was revived during the Victorian era. It is seldom seen now in private homes, but is still used in public gardens and commercial enterprises.

The Topiary Garden in Columbus are based on Seurat' s monumental painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of the Grand Jette.

Influenced by the Impressionists' experimentation with color, Postimpressionist painter Georges Seurat worked with innovative techniques. On an enormous canvas (6'10" x 10'1"), the artist depicted city dwellers gathered at a park on La Grande Jatte (literally, "the big platter"), an island in the River Seine.

Seruat spent two years on the painting , including many preliminary drawings and oil sketches of the many people , of all classes, using the park to stroll, lounge, sail, and fish.

Using newly discovered optical and color theories, Seurat rendered his subject by placing tiny, precise brush strokes of different colors close to one another so that they blend at a distance. Art critics subsequently named this technique Pointillism. With his precise method and technique, Seurat conceived of his painting as a reform of Impressionism. The precise contours, geometric shapes, and measured proportions and distances in Seurat’s masterpiece (not to mention its size) contrast significantly with the small, spontaneous canvases of Impressionism.

The painting is currently owned by the Art Institute of Chicago currently displays the painting, it's well worth a visit to see in person - just amazing.

But back to the garden...

It was dedicated in 1992 and as can be seen in the photo's, is still a definite work in progress.

The visible framework really does not detract from effect and how often can you walk into a work of art, circling the figures within and making yourself a part of the landscape?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Saturday, March 27, 2010

La Petite Fleuriste

I was very fortunate to be a participant in a faux flower making workshop taught by Martha McCain. We followed the techniques used during the mid-19th century; the flowers are perfect for millinery decoration or evening dress trimming.

We made three types of flowers, a daisy, a wild rose and a carnation.

As the workshop was only three hours long, we did not prep the fabric in class - Martha had starched the cotton and silk fabrics we used.

The first step was cutting out all parts, petals, corollas, leaves, calix and sepals. Yes, some knowledge of botany is useful when making faux flowers.

Starched, flat fabric does not make for very convincing flowers, it's necessary to goffer to give a more natural shape. Goffering involves using hot metal tools in a variety of shapes (ball, spade, curler) to shape the starched fabric. Heat plus starch can result in a real mess, it takes a certain touch to get it just right.

It's a little hard to see, but I have a goffered daisy corolla in the following photo:

Depending on the type of flower being made, the addition of color may be needed and this will need to be completed before goffering. The carnation was cut out of solid pink fabric, but the wild rose needed a more subtle coloration. To achieve this, the petals were dampened and carefully dipped in groups of several petals, which were than separated to dry. The yellow at the base of the petal was added with a brush. Just like goffering, this takes just the right touch to give a natural look.

Flowers, of course, require stamens. These are formed with cotton and/or linen thread. For the wild rose, starched linen thread has just the tips dipped in colored gum arabic.

Which once dried, is bound to wire and bunched cotton.

Gum arabic is used to bind all the pieces in place, a bit of drying time is required between layers, making a hanging rack very handy.

Here's my three flowers (I didn't quite finish my carnation):

It's easy to see why flower making was a traditional "sweatshop labor" product - it's a very time intensive process.

Would I ever produce flowers for sale?

No, as it's too time intensive a process and very few people would be willing to pay the price.

Would I ever make flowers "just because"?


Once the initial tools had been purchased, it would be low cost in terms of materials. It would be a great group activity, many flowers could be produced in a weekend, with everyone working factory style. So we'll see....maybe!

I'm so pleased I was able to take this workshop, I'll certainly have a greater appreciation for those dainty beauties trimming my bonnets.

Bravo, Martha!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Construction Update

Having completed the major structural work, it's time for interior decoration.
Our squirrel mama-to-be has been making innumerable trips up and down her oak tree carrying mouthfuls of last years fallen leaves and dried pine needles, creating a cozy space for her babies.
It's been quite interesting watching her industriousness, she's well aware we're watching her - she pauses to glance at us each trip. I hope she will be equally comfortable with us once the babies arrive.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Early, It Just Seems So Early!

First boat was yesterday, March 15th and 64 people were on board for that first trip across in 2010.

There have been years when first boat meant literally pushing or breaking through flow ice, but not this year - there's still a bit of random ice bits out there, but not much.

Last year, the first trip to St. Ignace was successful, but ice prevented the return trip to the Island - lots of unexpected plane trips that day.

We made an early bicycle trip around the Island today; the shore road is perfectly clear.

Again, there's just a few remnants of ice on the shore - the melt is resulting in some interesting sculptural effects,flat plates almost floating on just a few stones and other stones gradually appearing, yet still surrounded.

Will this early warmth continue? Or will we get one more blast of winter?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Van Dyke Bracelet

This image is from the March 1858 edition of Peterson's Magazine. I've had my eye on this for quite some time; it is accompanied by quite detailed directions and I've used beaded vandyke's frequently in my beadwork, but....

It turns out the directions are nearly worthless!

It is not possible to construct a bracelet that even remotely approaches functional following the directions. The image is also somewhat problematic, as it is not possible to construct beaded vandykes that will lay so completely flat on the round, but to be fair, it does show the beading pattern well.
I tried faceted and smooth beads, in a variety of sizes and using a variety of bead counts, here's what I ended up with after about six attempts, using size 11/0 faceted antique beads:
The bracelet is constructed in two layers, which are connected with the vandykes being offset for each piece; a piece of elastic is added. The pattern states: "This elastic causes the vandykes slightly to diverge, which improves the effect of the bracelet.", ie - it's meant to be a bit ruffled.

This next photo shows an individual vandyke, as well as the connection between the two layers and the elastic

I actually made a pair of these bracelets, as wearing pairs was a common Victorian practice.

These are great fun to wear, they have so much movement. These are another great example of a period reproduction that could be used for modern day wear; my experience has been that no one will believe they are based on a 150+ year old design.

So why "vandykes"?

The name "vandyke" originated from a beard, Sir Anthony Vandyke’s beard, (1599-1641), which was short and pointed. From beards to beadwork, the basic shape was recreated in netting, for this design.

Vandykes can be seen in many other forms of needlework and are a common motif in dress trimmings from a variety of eras.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

It's Just Not Pretty, but...

It's that time, the "Shoulder Season", and it's come early this year.

It's all melting during the day and refreezing at night - falling has become a fact of life.
And the "debris" revealed by that melting sight is not pleasant viewing and even less pleasant to walk through.

The main roads are clear for the most part, but those less traveled were still quite rough - until today, when they were scrapped. Yes, there are plows on the Island.
The speed limit signs won't be needed again for awhile.
And there's sleds, as well as bikes, parked (temporarily abandoned?) in some odd places - where you need to be dictates how you'll get there.

But the melt can lead to some interesting patterns; the dark color of a leaf fallen months ago, provided just enough heat retention to melt the snow in that spot first.

It's not all bad, the tulips have broken ground in front of Grand Hotel - very early. Will they bloom equally early?

And the best sign of spring - BOATS!!!!!

Well, maybe. I'll get really excited if the make it out of the harbor on the St Ignace side.

I'll be riding my bike to work tomorrow, well actually I'll be pushing it through the sludge for awhile until I reach the main road, clear sailing then!

The big question - will I be able to peddle all the way back up after a winter of walking?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Ball


I apologize for having only a few images, I missed many wonderful gowns, but we were just so busy socializing and time flew away.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Conference Fabric

Each year, each conference presenter is sent a length of fabric, with the instructions to "make a dress"(ladies) or "make a vest" (gentlemen).

Having made three conference dresses (and two vests) sometimes it's a challenge - the fabric doesn't always want to "speak" to you, it may take time for you to become friends and chat, of course, other times it nearly deafens you with the screams of delight.

Everyone is free to have someone else make the garment if sewing is not amongst their skill set, but they need to be prepared to stand up on stage Saturday morning and give a brief explanation of the garment that resulted.

It's always quite amazing how different all the dresses look; vests don't have quite as many variations, but are interesting none the less.

Accessories, decisions regarding fabric placement and trimmings, as well as the figure of the wearer all contribute to a unique look.

Here are some photos of this years fabrics - the photos are not the best, I'm crouched on the floor in front of the stage and flash was not allowed - but here they are:

And finally, Mike Mescher and "Luigi" - please note his self fabric fringe!
Those of you who now Mike will understand.