Though it may not be know for its floral abundance, winter opens our eyes to subtle beauty. After Autumn’s winds have blown, trees’ leaves lie rotting back into the soil, only graceful armatures remaining. Bring them into your home to appreciate the details of their bark’s color and texture as well as the lines they make in space. I am thinking about this as I select and combine different pieces from the VIT holiday collection. Quiet warm gray is elegant with the soothing coziness of fresh thick snow outside. Berry red, bright, pops out and reminds one of flocks of small brown birds that swarm in on a bush, chatter and feast, then, blast away to new shelter. The branches were a lucky find on my walk to the studio. Placed with care, they flatter both the taller, “Torso” vase and the chubby “Bubble” vase. And it doesn’t take much to fill the “pear” bud vase. I am inspired by these humble sticks!
It’s about the light, capturing it and bringing it into your space. It’s about the branch, bringing life. It’s also about original objects giving authenticity. Not much is needed to add these elements to ones living space. But what a difference it can make!
One can usually sense foliage that is artificial, and the feel in a room is different when fresh flowers are in a vase. Likewise, an original object possesses life that a machine-made one doesn’t. Objects made by hand retain energy of the of human that made them and give some of that back when we place them in our environment. Having artisan made things, and art, in my home inspires me toward perfection, but gently reminds me that there is beauty in the struggle to do ones best. As well as marveling at a skillfully handcrafted item, I relish its imperfections. Perfection may never be reached, but along the way there are so many wonderful discoveries to be made. My accumulated objects remind me of the winding path I have been on to the present me. Most often it is those made by hand that revive best and nudge me to keep on climbing.
Just before the big rains hit last weekend (almost 2″ in about as many days), my brother Brad and his wife, Jian, dumped several pounds of gorgeous, golden chanterelles on our doorstep. Without hesitation, I began spreading them out on newspaper so that they wouldn’t get soggy. When I am ready to cook, I begin by sauteing them, or heating them in a skillet to cook off the water they contain. This is a good way to concentrate the flavors. Once the excess water is removed, wine, white or red, can be added to create the foundation of a lovely sauce that can be used on pasta, meat dishes or as base for soup. Just add a little salt and pepper, some butter perhaps, and extend with creme fraiche or sour cream.
I picked up my basic knowledge of wild mushroom preparation from my husband, Nigel Foster, a veteran outdoors man and amateur mycologist from way back. Together we have hunted many a kilo of chanterelles during autumn kayaking trips in Sweden. To this day, I have yet to find a chanterelle in my home state of Washington, although they are abundant in the Pacific Northwest. Every fall, I purchase them for a good price at local Asian markets. Chanterelles are a gourmet treat that can be had for free, if one takes the initiative to seek them. With an absolutely singular flavor, and among the richest sources of vitamin D known, the delicious chanterelle is a signal to me that autumn has arrived. I enjoy them fresh while I can and make sure to dry a few to savor later on in the winter when their prime has passed!
The evolution of the vase range has been organic, with one thing leading to another very naturally. I knew that I needed a larger vase and had been mulling over some shape ideas in my head for sometime. Then, along came “Grammie’s urn” project. That took my thoughts away from a just a vessel for flowers to a shape that required a more intimate involvement. Developing the urn made a fine launching pad for this vase. As mentioned in my last post, I considered Grammie’s femininity and incorporated that into the design. Nipping the vase in at the waist, in an allusion to the female figure, allows the shape to support the flowers. With a classic full bouquet, this could be seen as a warm, overflowing bosom. Is there anything so welcoming as a bountiful floral arrangement?! Like the idealized woman, my new vase is also accommodating. Take pleasure in highlighting the qualities of a few large blossoms. Look forward to spring when this vase can host a bunch of inky blue irises.
Now that summer has passed, casting and drying a ceramic piece takes a lot longer. Then, there is the process of glazing and firing. One by one, as they gradually come out of the mold, I try the vase in a new VIT color. It is always delightful to see a new shape in another color for the first time. Much in the same way that it is a pleasure to see a good friend dressed up in a new outfit, one sees the piece differently and can appreciate another facet of its beauty.
Each piece needs a name and this vase vase will get a one special one. I will call it “Eve”, after Evelyn Nelson Hildebrand, for my own indulgence. But, most will be able to identify the name with the feminine form which inspired it.
My Grammie came over from England when she was 4 years old and lived more than 100 years in the USA. My father, her son, and his sister asked me to make an urn for her ashes when she passed away in June.
Evelyn Nelson Hildebrand was widowed in the 1950’s and went to work sewing drapes. She delayed retirement, to work for unionization of her shop. She was fair and just, and took time to write her congress-person on issues she felt strongly about. In her late 60’s she re-married Dick Hildebrand. They lived in her house in Tacoma Washington, ate lunch out almost daily at MacDonalds or Jack in the Box and walked the water front. Together they celebrated her 100th birthday. He passed away a year later when he was 93. Grammie, as we grand-kids called her, went to live with my cousin Randi and her family after that.
Grammie was spunky and loved dancing. She and Dick were always first out on the dance floor. When I came to visit she always had a joke to tell, frequently over a glass of jug wine. Once, when we were out to lunch together, (she was then in her 90’s), the waitress asked her if she would like some water. “Water?”, she said, “It will only make me rust! I’ll have a beer”. When she could no longer remember jokes, Grammie used her natural sense of humor to her advantage. When her hearing failed her, she enjoyed turning around what someone had said that she didn’t quite catch, into something quite ridiculous and funny.
Grammie’s was the first urn I have made. I thought long and hard about how it should be. As I was running one evening and mulling over my task, the concept came to me. Grammie was thoughtful, loving and kind; feminine with a beautiful spirit. She appreciated simple and good. Her urn should capture that essence. I chose a flower shape and made it curvy. The colors, because she wore reds and pinks when she dressed up, and her living room was bright, warm and yellow. I made her urn with love. This project was an honor and a challenge which I thoroughly appreciated. It allowed very special time to remember her.
Stick small succulent in round vase. Tough to decide which color looks best. They all looked good. Each brought out different colors in the plant. But it needed to be just a bit higher. A little sand does the trick. Now its a gift! I take advantage of the moment and snap some shots. The best one was the one taken when I returned to the kitchen a few hours later. Lower sun and long shadows make the moment.
I got my succulent at Terra Bella Flowers… there are still some left.
I ate the clementines on my way home. Succulent!
Saturday’s bouquet has been whittled down to one last un-wilted sprig. As I twist and position the vase to be photographed, increasingly the branch becomes the object of my focus. Like a mobile by Calder, the leaves and their joints circulate in space creating shadows and patterns (that distract from my lovely handmade torso vase!) Soft, silver green shapes are simple and graphic, bringing calm to the kitchen I stage my shoot in. The vase I ponder has similar qualities. It acts as an anchor for the floating foliage. A feminine form in warm gray with thin white stripe detailing, the vase has its own sculptural presence. Equally important is its supporting role; to let the contents take the stage.
Alternate use for tiny sake cups: salt dishes. This pink flaky salt came from the Murray River in Australia. Bringing it back to the USA in my hand baggage caused me some delay in customs. After convincing the authorities that it really was only salt, I discovered that it is easily found at my local market. Much of the pleasure of the specialty salts for me is in the variety of the texture and color. These soft, apricot pink crystals dissolve on the tongue and add sparkle to food. Hawaiian black lava salt that I purchased for the photo shoot was true to its name, possessing the texture of crushed lava. However, it provided a good color contrast to the pale hued dishes as well a curious flavor contrast to the Murray River salt.
These small dishes have been on the kitchen table in the studio for days now. I snap photos of them when the light is right, sometimes dipping in a wet finger. This Monday, when I was done for the day and locking up, I noticed that my shadow on the table made these amazing wave patterns visible. The resulting images seem to capture the “power of salt”. I left with my new images, thinking beyond color and texture and began to ponder the necessity of salt to our bodies and about its history on planet Earth. Salt, pretty powerful stuff!
Jil Smith of Insatiable Studios surprised me last week with one of her creations, an amazing rice paper shade, custom striped, to partner with a tall VIT lamp base. Each shade has been built up with layers of rice paper. Each stripe is cut by hand with a razor. Jil’s shades are surprisingly durable and not prone to fading. I like how she has taken the stripes and applied them horizontally to the shade. The result of pairing this shade with the vertical stripes on the VIT base creates a lamp with a completely different character than the same lamp with a white shade. I look forward to seeing the stripes in other colors next.
It is a pleasure to be collaborating with someone like Jil who has a similar commitment to enduring style and quality.
If you would like to have your own custom made lamp shade, contact Jil Smith through her web site; www.insatiablestudios.com