Thursday, April 29, 2010

Noonlight and Magnolias?

Moonlight and magnolias - a vision typically associated with the old South, but let's consider my recent find on a lunchtime walk: noonlight and magnolias?

I'm always delighted when I discover a new (to me at least) hidden bit of beauty on the Island, and these magnolias certainly qualify.

I found these when a bright spring day enticed me out for a stroll and these images are a great example of breaking the rules - after all, everyone knows you can't take decent photos with harsh mid-day light. I must admit that the softer more diffuse light of dawn or dusk would give a much different effect, but it's simply not an option for this particular garden as it's tucked away in a cedar grove - only the light of mid-day penetrates this hidden gem.
Magnolias are ancient plants. Fossils belonging to the Magnoliaceae family and dating back to 95 million years ago have been identified.

Because these plants evolved before bees existed, they developed very tough flowers able to avoid damage from the beetles that pollinated them. Their flowers are thick and strong. They do not have distinct sepals or petals, as more modern flowers do; scientists have named the corresponding part of the magnolia flower a tepal.

Try taking some photos in light that breaks the rules, you may be surprised at the results!

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Spring beauties are another of the early ephemerals currently in bloom, with us for only brief time but utterly delightful to encounter on a woodland walk.

They are small plants, only reaching 6-7 inches tall. They have two opposite, smooth and slender, grasslike leaves. Several flowers may be found on each plant. The flower buds tilt gracefully down before blooming and then lift their heads to look up when the blooms open. Even though the size of the flowers is only about a half inch across, they still stand out in the woods.

Their Latin name is Claytonia Virginica, named for John Clayton. He was a government official in Virginia with an interest in botany. He collected plant specimens, sending them on to a botanist to name and categorize. Claytonia Virginica was named for him in 1739. The common name, Spring Beauty, is obvious.

Spring beauties are not only a beautiful spring ephemeral, but reported to be a tasty spud-like vegetable. The tubers, or the fleshy underground stem or root that provides nutrition to the plant, are a half inch to two inches in diameter, and are often compared to radishes or small potatoes. They are said to taste much sweeter than the average spud - more like a chestnut than potato - and are rich in nutrients including potassium, calcium and vitamins A and C. I've never tasted them, I'd need to be desperate before I could bear to dig up such a lovely plant.

Just for fun, here's a link to a tutorial from Toad Hollow Studio, on drawing a spring beauty.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Playing With Dirt

Or otherwise known as Pottery Class Year 2.

I'm definitely not a true potter, but I discovered last winter that I really do enjoy playing with clay and getting my hands dirty.

Last night was the grand unveiling of our completed projects; I chose to create items with ferns as my inspiration this year and I'm quite pleased with my creations. Fiddlehead ferns have such a beautiful form as they slowly unfold and my interpretation of a tightly coiled fiddlehead is by far my favorite.

Most of my classmates were concentrating on creating functional items, they seemed to find my pieces troubling, "What are you going to do with it?" was a frequent question directed to me. And when I replied, "I have no idea - I just wanted to see what I could do", it was clearly an unacceptable response.

Sometimes it's good to just play, to see what happens, to not be so terribly serious about results, especially when you're working outside your usual medium.

Have you played recently?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Creative Exercises

I just found a folder of photos, from nearly 10 years ago, taken for an exhibit at the Lowell Arts Council.

Participants in the exhibit had to follow several guidelines:

1.) The photos had to be black and white,
2.) They needed to depict something from nature,
3.) And they needed to be abstract.

At first glance, it seems as if the guidelines would really stifle creativity. I think just the opposite is true, as the guidelines forced me to look at and consider everything differently, angles, light, field of focus, etc. and I had to work much harder to express my vision. I took literally 100's of images and discarded about 99% of them, fairly typical for photography.

Here's a just a few:

While any of these could have been used, properly cropped, of course, here's the one I submitted:

Viewers of the exhibit were encouraged to try to identify the images - mine was the only one that no one successfully named - I managed to nail the abstract concept!
Creative exercises or challenges can be a great way to expand your personal vision or to jolt you out of a mental rut; you need not participate in a group, although many are present online. Work in a color you dislike, a different medium or size, a shorter or longer time frame than is your norm, the options are endless and you just might be surprised at the results.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

First Wildflower of Spring

On Mackinac, one of the first flowers to bloom is Hepatica - and I spotted some today. Hepatica flowers early, before the trees leaf out, emerging from the leaf litter to nod in the breeze.

This strategy allows the wildflowers to utilize the sun’s energy to photosynthesize while the sun's rays are still able to reach the forest floor. In the case of hepatica, the leaves produced in the spring of one year remain on the plant throughout the year and into the next spring’s blooming period. The leaves may photosynthesize to a minor extent on warm winter days and are ready to begin full photosynthesis before the leaves of other plants have even appeared.

So, hepatica is able to produce its flowers earlier than other spring wildflowers. The old leaves wither only after the flowers have begun to form fruits and new leaves are produced. By May, fresh green leaves unfurl and begin to capture the sun’s energy once again.

Hepatica is a member of the Ranunculaceae, or buttercup family. When Linnaeus published his Species Plantarum in 1753, in which he gave two-part names to species of plants and animals, he used the name Anemone for the genus of hepatica. Throughout the years hepatica has been placed back and forth again from Anemone to Hepatica by different taxonomists. Botanists currently place these plants in Hepatica.

It’s from the leaves that both the scientific name, Hepatica, and the common name, liver-leaf, originated. The leaves are lobed and typically become a deep burgundy color as they age, attributes that reminded people of the shape and color of a liver.

Early herbalists often looked to a plant to give some sign of what it might be used for, a belief called the Doctrine of Signatures. In the case of hepatica, the resemblance of its dark, lobed leaves to a human liver indicated that it should be efficacious in treating diseases of the liver. In the late 1800s, hundreds of tons of the leaves were gathered for use in patent medicines. Demand was so great that additional quantities of the dried leaves had to be imported from Germany. Analysis of the chemical constituents of the plants has not found any components with documented medicinal value.

Hepatica flower stalks emerge clothed in a protective “fur coat” to help insulate them from the cool temperatures that prevail in April. Both flower stalks and the young leaves clustered at their base are covered in these downy hairs. The flowers are usually produced before the new leaves expand. The dark leathery leaves from the previous season help to make the plant somewhat easier to spot among the brown leaf litter.

I had no expectations of spotting any wildflowers when I was out and about today, but I was quite pleasantly surprised, and I have the muddy knees to prove it!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

We Are NOT Amused

I stopped on my way home yesterday to shoot these gorgeous buds that are breaking free nearly a month early.

And this is what I awoke to:

I know, I know it won't linger for long, but it's still rather dispiriting.

It meant I walked instead of biking to work today, which forced me to go a bit slower and look around a bit more...

And here's the results of a different point of view:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Blue Skies Inspiration

We've been experiencing a very early spring here on Mackinac, with all the plants responding to the warmth of the sun coming down from bright blue skies.

To celebrate those incredible skies, here is some work from some fabulous Etsy artists - enjoy!

We start with "Away We Go" from aliherrma, an encaustic piece composed of paper collage and seed pods.

Next an original oil form ashleywhitejacobsen, an incredible representation of clouds and sky.

Wearable art, a hand painted silk crepe scarf - can't you almost see the wind blow? This piece is available from CFCameron.

"Sapphire Sky with Birch Forest", a lovely print of an original pen and ink illustration created by tamaragarvey.

Greenluck33 has an original acrylic of a just starting to leaf out tree in silhouette - just beautiful!

And to finish, a trio of porcelain bottles glazed in vanilla and robin eggs blue, from dbabcock.

Just as blue skies need at least a view clouds to give some contrast, all of these artists have added contrast in a variety of techniques to complement their beautiful work - please check out their shops to see more!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Fogotten Pair of Boots

When you finally sort through unpacked boxes, it's amazing what you find, for example, this pair of side gusset or "Congress gaiters" boots:

Half-boots (ankle boots) were popular for men from the 1830s right up to the Depression in the 1930s. Most were made of leather, though softer materials were popular for informal wear.By the mid 1800s they had become the most common form of footwear for both sexes in all social classes.

In 1837 Queen Victoria was presented with a pair of dainty 'elastic' sided boots, the first to be invented, made by an Englishman, Joseph Sparkes Hall.

The difficulties of fastening a boot with buttons and laces led London shoemaker Joseph Sparkes Hall to experiment with fastenings and the elastic-sided boot resulted. The elasticated side gussets eliminated the need for laces or button fastenings. Instead, the boots could simply be pulled on with the help of the fabric loops positioned at the ankle.

The gusset for early elastic-sided boots is made of tightly coiled wire covered in cotton. By 1840 coiled wire was replaced by rubber. By 1850 techniques for making the elastic gussets had much improved, though the elastic tended to perish after a number of years. It was not until the early 20th century that techniques for using elastic in clothing, underwear and footwear were perfected.

Improvements in his design led Sparkes Hall to describe the elastic-sided boot as 'the most perfect thing of its kind'. Sparkes Hall patented the design on 14 May 1840, the first registered design to feature elastic. In 'The Book of the Feet' written in 1846, Sparkes Hall claims the Queen was well satisfied with the design, noting that 'Her majesty has been pleased to honour the invention with the most marked and continued patronage: it has been my privilege for some years to make her boots…and no one who is acquainted with her Majesty's habits of walking and exercise, in the open air, can doubt the superior claims of elastic over every other kind of boots'.

The influence of Queen Victoria in the area of fashion is noteworthy. Styles worn by the Queen, such as the above boots, the white wedding dress and riding habit, were quick to become popular, spreading throughout England and the Americas. The elastic sided boots soon became the most popular form of footwear, worn by both men and women.

By the 1850s most boots were mass produced. Some, however, were still partly made at home. Women often embroidered the uppers of boots and slippers for their families as well as for themselves. Patterns for these were readily available, but the results were sometimes gaudy as some of the colours favoured for the embroidery were produced by bright chemical dyes.

Side gusset boots are still in production - good design is timeless.

As for my "found" pair of boots - they are a heavy duty pair, with thick soles and stout leather uppers. They have a B.F. Goodrich sole and while well worn, are still in remarkably good condition with the elastic still having stretch. I would date them to approximately 1915-1930, probably owned by a working class man, they certainly aren't high fashion, but very serviceable.

I've listed these at Just Too Much , I hope they find a new home with someone who respects the elusive clothing worn by the everyday person.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Island Topiary

Topiary was a frequent garden feature of the grand estates of the past, but these days, most grand estates are actually commercial enterprises.

Here on Mackinac, it's Grand Hotel that includes topiary in their Tea Garden, a life size team of horses and carriage. This style of topiary differs from that shown in the Topiary Garden's display, being formed of chicken wire forms filled with moss and dirt and planted with ivy and other plants.

This style is more typical for indoor applications, but it has some definite advantages for this type of display: it can be easily moved, especially important for winter protection, using a variety of plants can add to the look and plants can be replaced if damaged.

These are a favorite photo opportunity for visitors, it's easy to see why: