Hopalong Hollow....

Hopalong Hollow, where the Blueberries grow sweet, and the moss feels soft beneath your feet.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Home for Christmas

         Over 4 years ago, a large  and hefty black pussycat appeared in our mudroom and made himself quite at home. His name became Boris, and his attitude towards humans was all sugar and spice. But Boris had a darker side in his obnoxious behavior towards other kitties. He bullied all other felines and was, in fact, a terror to any traveling puss who dared venture into HIS territory. HIS territory being the entire farm, the barn AND the mudroom.  I named him Boris, the same as a cat in the James Herriot books,  who was a "Gladiator in a former life".   I thought it fitting. My Boris was not allowed in the house, lest he disturb the peaceful lives of our 3 senior kitties, who simply detested him.
    Despite Boris's  less than jovial personality, I really loved him and believe me, he had  a face only a mother could love, what with all the scars from fighting and the threatening glare in his eyes. Boris accompanied me daily up to the barn and after a preliminary  search for small fuzzy rodents, would sit patiently atop a bale of hay whilst I did my chores. Then, I would gather him in my arms, he purring loudly, and carry him down the  hill.
     Boris never strayed from the property, unless it was to chase off an intruding cat, so when he suddenly disappeared over 4 months ago, I was perplexed. I searched for him to no avail and pondered aloud " I wonder what's become of Boris?".   Boris was gone; my cats rejoiced, the mice hiding beneath the grain barrel threw a celebration party and the rats moved  back into the barn with all their relatives.I knew he was not off on a romantic holiday, as he was neutered, so I imagined that his past had caught up with him, and he met his demise when a former enemy, (another Gladiator)  ambushed him in a dark Hollow. Over the last few months, I continued to muse, "Whatever happened to Boris?"
    Last night, I entered the mudroom, and who do I see, head buried in kitty bowl, ravenously devouring kibble...??? That's right, BORIS.       
   He seemed no worse for wear, hefty and muscular as ever, albeit a few more scars on his face. He greeted me with a loud purring and contented countenance.  I brought him in the house and he sat my lap for hours.

The other cats are not pleased, but they have no holiday spirit at all and
                    I think it's grand that my big Gladiator is Home for Christmas!
 I do wish he could tell me of his adventures, they must have been quite thrilling to keep him away for 4 months. Whatever they were, his disposition has not changed, as you can see by the look on his face.
Maybe someday, I will find out...
When he writes his autobiography.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Early American Christmas at the Museum of Appalachia

Decorating for Christmas, Pioneer Style at the Museum of Appalachia.
 It rained all day long in our Pioneer Village.. I call it ours because it is a State Treasure to those of us living in Tennessee. It is ours, and it is yours too, if you love American History.
Cabin decor at Christmas is just as you would imagine....

 a cedar scented cabin, a wiry, woody tree festooned with paper chains, strung popcorn, orange slices, cornhsuck dolls and tinsel garlands. Each of the dozens of cabins has it's own, unique Christmas tree and  a mantle hung with knitted stockings.
 Carolers stroll the village dressed in woolens as peacocks, goats, sheep and horses browse the grounds. The only thing missing is snow!  I love this place and have posted extensively on it in the past.
I love all the make-do fences, walls, steps and gates... often covered in moss and lichens. But mostly, I love the log cabins.

 In this tiny cabin, the spirit of Christmas is alive and well in such simple and charming displays.
 Berries, pine-cones, Oranges,Cinnamon sticks, Bay Leaves and fresh boughs from  nearby evergreen trees are placed upon the table, the mantle and in the corner cupboard.

  Sitting in a tin candlestick holder is a festive vignette from nature,
and this cedar tree is hung with sugar-dipped covered pine-cones and plaid ribbon.
 A basket of green leaves in an oak basket sits at the foot of the rope bed.
It is all so lovely in it's simplicity.

 Living a mere 40 minutes from this museum is a treat. This weekend I was doing a little book-signing in the Museum's gift shop and the silky grey shop cat sat in my lap for 45 minutes or so. He lives in the gift shop. They tell me he showed up 4 years ago and was such a wild little thing you could not even touch him. Now, he loves everyone.
on this day, he loved me.
A toasty fire crackled  all day in the shop to keep out the chilly, rain soaked air. I was inspired.

  Decorating for Christmas in our house, with Simplicity
Inspired by the pioneer decor at the Museum, I determined to give it a try.
      On one of our mantles sits this 14 inch long Beeswax leaping rabbit. He is adorned in rose-hips and pine  gathered from the woods. My friend "Bunny" made this rabbit, ( yes, that is her real name, and she makes bunnies)
She and her husband create these and numerous  other images molded in beeswax. Her husband  inherited hundreds of candy molds from his Grandfather who was a chocolate maker in Germany.

Here is a row of vintage Santas on the Parlor mantle.
 My mantles may be a little more ornate than those in the cabins, even though I am trying to be frugal.

  It's not all that easy to decorate Pioneer style...when you  have a bunch of Santas in a box.


One feather tree with red stitched samplers and wooden Dutch shoes, that's pretty simple, right?

Berries and bay leave garlands atop the curtains, easy to do and very Early American.

  The only thing I got carried away with, was my toy display; then all my decorating frugality went out the window.

This feather tree has these wonderful little sheep/candle weights ( made by the same friend who made that big beeswax bunny).

Since the tiny tree is covered in sheep, I decided to put fuzzy farm folk beneath the tree as well.

Don't you love those little donkeys?!
Next, I had to add the
.Dollies in a Shoefly rocker beneath the tabletop tree,

And a buggy full of Teddies old and new to add to the festivities.
  Okay, I am finished! That is, until I decorate that Douglas Fir in the Keeping Room. So much for my Pioneer Decorating.
Oh Well, I can't help myself, I love Christmas.

Monday, December 1, 2014

WHEW! bring out the Holly and the Ivy, the needle and thread

What a year! I don't know how many events we participated in but it was A LOT, and we are happy to be done with the shows and festivals. Aside from a few local book signings, our season is over and we are free to breathe a sigh of relief and spend the next 4 months doing as we wish.  HURRAH!  Out come the needles, twist, paints, pencils and brushes; it's time to start creating STUFF!
  I will be pouring over the online catalogs to replenish my supplies of Mohair, wool roving, glass eyes and armatures to create the many characters that inhabit "the Hollow". 
My creatures are to be Christened :
     There was a fabulous artist at the show in PA. who created the most  realistic rabbits out of mohair and felting, her characters had a marvelous look that was all her own. That's  important  in any artistic endeavor. It's great to be inspired by
other artists, but in the end, one needs to create their own style, hopefully a distinctive style that will stand out in the crowd on it's own merit.
This is especially true of sculpted critters, because their are so many wonderful doll and bear artists. Therefore, I have been practicing on my animal heads until I have them looking as I think they should.
              I have this  pile of Head blanks I had sewn from ordinary wool fabrics and  plush felt.
These, I am using to build upon with Wool roving, embroidery thread and mohair.

 My goal is to accomplish the same feat I aim for in my illustration; that is, a blending of realism with  whimsical anthropomorphic fantasy. You know, Hopalong Hollow-ish?
  It will require a good deal of  trial and error, I am still new at this.
Lopsided faces, perhaps... but then, few of us have a perfect face, right?
When I painted the 400 rabbits in my first book, I somehow managed to give each individual bunny a unique look... or maybe I just couldn't replicate the same rabbit over and over again?

Getting those eyes on straight can be a real pain sometimes.
I am getting a chuckle with this little bear and his extremely long nose; needs some long fur surrounding his muzzle, I'll add that as I go.
So far, I like him, he has personality.
Below is my first squirrel, so it will require a lot more practice, looks a little messy right now.
I am using my own storybooks for reference pictures,
and I know that little squirrelys have tiny hump noses, large black eyes with a heavy lid and small ears with a pointed tip.
Hmmm, looks more like a chipmunk? Well, he/she won't look a bit like a chipmunk when I give her/him a long bushy tail!

Practice make perfect... or perfectly imperfect.
I predict this little Bushybottom will be an aggressive collector of acorns.
Are these boys or girls? I don't know until I try a variety of hats upon those noggins, then I will know for sure.

 This is a lot of fun and a natural progression for me in my art life, for I dearly love animals. That is why I paint them, write stories about them and have a farm full of all creatures great and small. What a fun journey to begin adding to the population of Hopalong Hollow with fat and fuzzy and feathered creatures!
In addition to this project, I have a few more on the burner, including my own punch needle kits and the beginning illustrations for my 4th book. I will update as things progress. So happy to be back to the blog world. Now, time to visit all of you whose posts  I have missed out on for weeks! See you soon my friends, fondly from the Hollow, Jeri

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Music to our ears

      Is there anything more universal than a love of music? I think not. Although our tastes in tunes vary from person to person, there is one thing for certain: music has the power to overwhelm, to excite, to entice, calm and entrance us.
       I have my own little  gathering of musical instruments which I've taught myself to play, but I am no musician. I am simply able to pull together a few tunes on my lap harp, my flute and my psaltery.

This I do in the quiet corner of my bedroom, so as not to disturb anyone. It is simply for my own pleasure... the pleasure of creating music; but as I said, I am no musician. Therefore I have great admiration for those who really are musically inclined. Just as some have artistic talent, or talent for writing, some people have a gift for music, whether singing, composing or playing an instrument, we are so grateful for those with a gift for music.
What brought about these thoughts today? I was packaging some art to take to our show in York,Pa. this coming weekend, with "Pandora, (online music) playing one lovely melody after another, when one of my favorite musical compositions began to play. I had to stop what I was doing, for this hauntingly beautiful opus always stops me in my tracks and leaves me breathless. I will reveal the song below.

Although my musical tastes run the gamut from Celtic to 1940's Big Band and many other styles in between, it seems some of the most incredible music ever made is that created for Movie Soundtracks and so, without further adieu, please listen to some of the most incredible sound tracks ever made.... in my humble opinion.
Please put on your headphones for maximum pleasure and indulge in something uplifting, exciting, slightly sad and exhilarating for your ears!
First is the theme song from
 "ROB ROY",  great movie and an amazing composition, so beautiful.

Next in line is the powerful theme song from "Band of Brothers". Whenever we watch this set of 9 discs, James wants to fast forward  to the movie, but I must  hear this majestic theme song that plays at the beginning of each disc. You may not be interested in  World War II stories, ( I am), but you cannot deny the strength and glory of this music.

Another fantastic movie with incredible soundtrack, "The Last of the Mohicans".  The beauty begins at :39; then, at around  3:30 things get really exciting and it just gets better and better!  Of course, it doesn't hurt if you've actually watched the movie, which I highly recommend. It's incredible to experience music like this with an amazing script and fabulous acting.

Good grief, I'm on a roll! How's about the soundtrack from "Out of Africa".
It takes awhile to set up the scene, but hang in there, the music starts at 2:24 and really  hits you by 3:56, WOW!
Perhaps you find the love story in Titanic a bit corny, but the theme song is anything but.
 I can't deny this makes me tear up. If you really want to be touched by this music watch the second  video beneath it, same music with photos of Titanic passengers

 And, if you are still with me this is the song I mentioned at the beginning. Years ago, I had fallen asleep with the television on late one night only to be awakened by this haunting music from the movie "Sophies Choice" I sat straight up in bed, Oh my gosh, what IS this song??! "Ample Make my Bed", the movie is heart-wrenching, as is the soundtrack.

Cider House Rule

And now, for a lighthearted and happy ending, the theme song from" Nicholas Nickleby".
This one  is delightful, I even recorded it for one of my own videos.

 I could go on and on, " Braveheart", "Cider House Rules", etc. etc,  Music, music music!
Please feel free to add to this list.
 I will be back to posting more frequently after my last show of the year, Thanksgiving weekend. Till then, Fondly from the Hollow, Jeri

Thursday, October 30, 2014

On using Chalk Paint and wax to create a unique piece of furniture...

Hello, Long time no see!
Remember that old boring broom closet I acquired a few weeks back? It was sporting it's original depressingly DARK Victorian stain.
 Normally I am not one to paint over wood, for I love the patina that only  age can give a nice old table or dresser. But this is different, it has no patina and is not a valuable antique by any stretch. I purchased the piece for $40 to use on our porch for garden tool storage. It really is an ugly thing.... and I have a PRETTY porch. My porch has wicker furniture and flowery cushions and antique metal plant stands with moss covered clay pots, AND a "shabby but sweet" 1920's Sellers Cabinet to hold my garden books, seeds and such. Yes indeed, my porch is quite romantic, despite the frequent unwanted visits of my feathered friends, who tend to spoil my porch's perfection; what with their scattered feathers and unmentionable deposits I must clean up every day.
 But, I digress. My plan was to paint aforementioned Ugly Duckling Broom Closet to match the look of my porch. I decided upon Chalk Paint, which has many nice qualities, one of which is the fact that it can be painted over any surface at all with no need for stripping or primer.
There are several brands of Chalk paint, so named for it's chalky, antique-like appearance on furniture. Most of these brands are outrageously expensive, BUT, you can make your own chalk paint using this simple recipe: Your choice of latex paint, flat or satin, water and Plaster of Paris. Mix water and  the Plaster of Paris to  a syrupy consistency. Next use a ratio of 3 parts paint to 1 part P.O.P mixture and mix well.
 Now, Paint right upon your ugly broom closet. I started with an off-white and painted  the entire closet. You can be pretty sloppy with the paint, you can see the dark walnut stain still showing through. I actually want this.
On top of my white, on the center panels, I apply a sea foam green.  I mixed my own colors for the green .
 The neat thing about chalk paint is that you can wipe it off in spots while it is still wet.You can see  the white paint coming though, AND the dark varnish underneath where I have "wiped it off" on the left side.
My goal is to create a piece, that looks as if it were painted  a hundred years ago. If this were the case, the piece would show it's age with worn corners, missing paint, cracking and darkening of the color. To achieve this look, I will have to distress it.
So, as soon as my chalk paint is dry to the touch, I am going to begin the distressing technique using a rough, and then a fine, sandpaper. I will wear down the paint on corners especially, around door handles and hinges.... flat surfaces as well. This is fun!
You can see the dark wood coming through, you can also see the white paint coming through beneath the seam foam green. I want a REALLY REALLY distressed piece. It is not necessary for you to "age" a piece to this degree, but it IS what I want on my broom closet.

This was a old doorknob I already had, it was covered in rust. I painted with the chalk paint, let it dry and sanded it . It now looks as if it has been on this piece of furniture from the beginning.

 Although the piece is now painted and distressed, it is not complete until you do the final and most important step, WAX.
 Above and below  is the surface after a coat of dark wax.

It is the wax that transforms a chalk painted piece from Looking as if it has just been painted and distressed.....
to looking as if it REALLY IS is 100 year old paint.
 The Wax seals the chalk paint, giving it a wonderful smooth surface and a patina.
 First I used a dark soft wax by Annie Sloan. This really did the trick, the dark wax settled in the cracks and crevices and was amazing in aging the paint.

  I buffed it  and then applied  "Annie Sloan's" clear wax atop, this softened the surface and made it smooth, albeit aged.
 This has been waxed on the front but not the side....YET.  You may see the subtle difference if it weren't for my bad photography.

I wish you could run your hand across the front of the piece, it is smooth as glass.
 I still must wax the sides, but I have already stuffed the inside of the cupboard with garden tools.
Now the porch is covered in leaves and I've gathered the last bit of garden sedum and twigs of beauty bush for the market basket... also chalk painted!

SO, if you have an  ugly piece of furniture that you would love to re-create, I recommend trying out the Chalk Paint. I advise you to mix your own Chalk Paint. DO, however, spend the extra money on the wax. I tried Min-wax, and it just didn't do the trick. I splurged  on the Annie Sloane soft wax,  and there are several other brands which are just as effective: CECE and American Paint Company make a nice soft wax as well.

( I had a little paint leftover and used it a the wicker table to tie it together with the broom closet)