Monday, August 9, 2010

Three Grandmothers and Emily Rose

On the day before I went to Petaluma to take the Froud 3-day class, I was in San Leandro at the Barbara Willis Memory Box doll class. Barbara Willis is known world-wide for her exquisite dolls, classes and books. She is a long-time member of my Phoebe Doll Club. I had been wanting to take a class from her since I started making dolls and joined the Phoebes five years ago. I was thrilled when she decided to conduct one of our four Phoebe-sponsored classes held each year. The class was on her recently designed Memory Box doll, which hangs on the wall and is designed around a box filled with collected nostalgic items.

At the class Barbara demonstrated the various techniques for needle sculpting the face and assembling the box, but there was little time for other work in the class. The pre-work had included sewing and stuffing the legs and torso.

After I returned from Petaluma and finished Keiran and Valentine, I started working on finishing Barbara's doll. I decided to dedicate it to my adorable granddaughter, Emily Rose (now five years old), and incorporate meaningful items relating me, my mother, Sarah, and my grandmother, Amelia. We are Emily's grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother, respectively.

I never realized how labor-intensive this doll would be.

I cannot tell you how many hours and days I have worked on it. I can only say I spent more time on this doll than any I have ever made! I finally finished it yesterday. I scanned photos of all of us and reduced the sizes (Emily's two photos are in the heart-shaped locket hanging on the back right-hand corner of the inside of the box. The three grandmothers are in frames on the left inside door.

All four of us share similar interests in the ultra-feminine and we grandmothers have shared similar skills and interests. We have all three been interested in sewing. My grandmother would take my mother window shopping when she was a girl. They would pick out designs they liked and my grandmother would come home, draft patterns, and create copies. My mother made almost all my clothes until I was in high school—until I started sewing some of them for myself. Her sewing was amazing... she made beautiful garments and many of my prom dresses, often out of silk, and often beautifully and tastefully embellished with beads, etc. I started sewing and never stopped, eventually becoming co-owner of two tailoring, dressmaking and alterations shops. My business partner and I created many one-of-a-kind designs which were featured in the shop and many local fashion shows.
My grandmother and mother were masters at crochet. Between them, they crocheted hundreds of doilies, tablecloths, curtains and clothes from fine crochet thread in the most exquisite lacy patterns, sometimes incorporating tiny seed beads. I was the knitter and I was once really into knitting about anything you could think of, including dresses. We all three loved any type of crafts. The tiny hat hanging in the back of the box was made by my mother as a pin from some sort of natural coiled fiber. She won many awards for her flower arranging. She was constantly making centerpieces and decorations for parties and events she attended and I often helped her.

The buttons are from my grandmother's button box. The heart locket is some "junk jewelry" I had as a kid. The doilies and laces we all three collected. The perfume bottle was my mothers. I made tiny hat boxes by covering an old plastic zipper container (remember those?) and a small cardboard salt container we used to take on picnics. I made the dressform from black wire and stuffed doe suede. I put one of my grandmother's antique buttons on the heart in the doll's hands and scanned and reduced the images of some old postcards I had collected. I added a minature Eiffel Tower I brought back from my recent trip to Paris.
I will keep the doll hanging on my wall until Emily Rose is a little older and can understand the meaning of the items. In the meantime, I will go on sewing clothes for her—my living doll—because she really, really loves clothes and all things "girly." She definitely inherited her three grandmothers' genes!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Valentine (Colette) Is Ready For Houston

For the third year in a row I have been invited by Pamela Armas (The Gypsy) to submit a doll to the "In Celebration of the Doll" exhibit at the Houston Quilt Market and Festival, which will be held October 30-November 7, 2010. After finishing Keiran, my doll from the Wendy Froud class (see last blog), I moved on to finish my Houston doll.
When I submitted my paperwork a few months ago to agree to participate in the exhibit, I named her Colette, but when I decided to use the unusual heart/wings piece of metal that I had picked up at an antique store in Lafayette many years ago and incorporate it into her costume, perhaps I should have named her "Valentine."
Regardless of her name, she is finally finished! She is sculptured cloth with Tibetan lamb hair. I hope she enjoys her trip to Houston and I hope she is well received when she arrives in Texas in September. She is probably my last "ballet slipper" doll for awhile, as now that I have also finished my Memory Box doll, "Three Grandmothers and Emily Rose" (next blog), I hope to switch to clay and try my hand at creating something new with the techniques I learned in Wendy Froud's wonderful class. And, perhaps also a different style of cloth doll pattern.

My Fabulous Wendy Froud Sculpting Class

After I returned from my trip to Europe, the next big event I had been eagerly anticipating was my 3-day sculpting class taught by world-renowned Wendy Froud, which took place at the Petaluma Arts Center in Petaluma, CA.

Pictured on the right is the "furry creature, Keiran (little dark one), who was the result of three days of building an armature, sculpting the head, hands and feet, fleshing out the body, covering it will fake fur, and finally costuming it. When I signed up for the class, it was to be a fairy sculpting class. Due to time constraints, Wendy decided to make it a "furry creature" class, as the same techniques apply to both. I was a little out of my element when it came to dreaming up a fantasy creature. After struggling horribly, I finally crafted a furry little man, who seemed to resemble the little spirit guide in the "other world" Wendy led us into during a 15-minute pre-class meditation.

When I got home, I finished costuming Keiran by creating his little leather bag for amulets, his tiny rolled map of the "other world," a lamp to show the way at night, and a tiny dagger for dangerous situations.

My Phoebe friend Mary, whom I had driven up to Petaluma with (visit our Phoebe club's blog at, had already conceived the idea for her tall, leaf-nosed furry bat creature well before the class. It turned out to be a fantastic Tim Curry-like creation. How I envied her imagination!

Wendy and her son Toby, also a talented sculptor, taught us so much during those three days.
In the class group photo, Wendy's husband Brian is shown on the right. He is a renowned author and artist. He and Wendy met when they both worked on the Muppets building puppets for Jim Henson. Wendy has been a sculptor for films such as The Dark Crystal (she sculpted Jen and Kira), Labyrinth, and The Empire Strikes Back (Yoda). They now live in Devon, England.

Here is Keiran again at the class, with some of his furry friends. There were so many talented people in the class!

Wonderful! Look at those claws!

Geri Olson (left), Curator for the Petaluma Arts Council doll exhibit that was taking place at the Center during our class, took Wendy's class with us.

Westly (right) was another of the participants with amazing imagination and sculpting skill.

The doll exhibit taking place is entitled "Art of the Doll: Protection, Healing, Power & Play." The Phoebes were invited to display dolls in a special display at the exhibit. I submitted a recently completed ballerina series doll, "Nicole."

Below is Nicole and the Phoebe exhibit. The exhibit runs through September 19, Thursdays through Mondays, 1 to 4 p.m. The Arts Center is located in the old train station, 230 Lakeville St., Petaluma. Exhibiting doll artists include Akira Blount, Wendy Froud, Toby Froud, Sha Sha Higby, Barbara Redemer, E.J. Taylor, Christine Shivley, and many more!

Since returning home and finishing Keiran (as well as two other dolls to appear in my next blog), I have ordered the materials I need to try some more sculpted dolls, including (hopefully) a pretty fairy. It will certainly be fun trying! I can't wait to start!

Three Dreams Came True

In June, three of my life-long dreams came true in one trip. My friend Shelley and I spent the past year planning a 7-day Mediterranean cruise on the Norwegian Jade, departing from and returning to Barcelona, Spain. We included three extra days in Barcelona and an additional five days in Paris. Shelley had already been to some of the sights we planned to see with her husband and daughters, but was eager to revisit them and linger longer!

Since high school I had been obsessed with traveling to Paris... I studied French, had two French poodles, and loved everything French. During my college days as an art minor, I dreamed of visiting the beautiful city of Florence, Italy and especially exploring the fantastic Renaissnace art in the Uffitzi museum. And, finally, I had always wondered what it would be like to take a cruise.
We flew from San Francisco to Barcelona. What a beautiful city! We stayed at the Hotel Colon in the old part of the city (Barri Gotic), right across from the Barcelona Cathedral and only a couple of blocks from Las Ramblas—Barcelona's main boulevard for strolling. Fantastic shopping—so many tiny boutiques with beautiful merchandise, hundreds of shoe stores, amazing tapas, cava (the local champagne) and pastries to die for. The city was so clean, the people so friendly, the Metro so easy to use with lots of signs—I would love to go back again.

We were lucky to be there during a festival, with dancing and music right outside our hotel door on the placa or square. All day about a dozen giant figures paraded up and down the streets and were awe-inspiring to meet.

We visited Parc Guell with it's fairytale mosiac buildings by Antoni Gaudi, his Sagrada Familia Cathedral and his apartment building, Casa Mila. What a creative, artistic mind! We ate at an eaterie at the amazing La Boqueria Market and marveled at the beautiful vegetable and fruit displays and the glistening fresh seafood. We visited the Picasso Museum, where I was also impressed by the paintings of his colleague, Santiago Rusinol.

We hated to leave Barcelona but departed on our cruise on the Jade, headed for more adventure. The first port was Monte Carlo, where we took the little red "train" for a ride around the city. We toured the royal palace and the church where Grace Kelly and Prince Ranier were married and where they are buried. We wandered the shops and opted for dessert for lunch. We each had a huge plate of crepes with cherries, ice cream and whipped cream. We could not finish our plates... and we really tried, as it was fantastic!

I took some photos through the store windows of clothes on display in Monte Carlo. They featured interesting eyelet and woven ribbon motifs, cut work inserts, and fabric collage.

The next day we arrived in Livorno and took the train to Florence, where we had only five hours to see everything we wanted to see. We had advance reservations at the Uffitzi and the Academia and we did spend three glorous hours in the Uffitzi, where I was completely overwhelmed by the size of two of my favorite Botticelli's, The Birth of Venus and Primavera (Spring). However, we ran out of time and couldn't make it to the Academia to see the real David and had to settle for the copy in the plaza.

We did tour the Duomo, saw the beautiful doors of the Baptistery (replicas), shopped on the Ponte Vecchio for jewelry, wandered the Palazzo Vecchio, and ate chocolate gelato. This is another city I would like to return to and be able to visit all those places we did not have time to see.

Our cruise then took us to Civitavecchia, where we took the train to Rome and spent a day touring the Collessum, the Forum, the Spanish Steps, and the Trevi Fountain. We threw our coins into the fountain and wished for a return trip to Italy and the Eternal City.

We sailed to the Bay of Naples, where we took an excursion to Sorrento and Pompeii. In Sorrento we fell in love with the narrow lanes of shops, drank lemoncello, watched fresh mozarella and ricotta cheese being made, and dined on homemade bread, antipasto and pasta and cake. Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast is top on our list as a destination vacation! Of the places we visited in Italy on this trip, Sorrento was our favorite.

Our last port of call was Palma on the Spanish island of Majorca. We took a half-day excursion through the countryside scattered with quaint windmills. We shopped for Majorcan "pearls" along the way and dined on fresh seafood and the local speciality, almond ice cream, at Porto Cristo.

When we returned to Barcelona we immediately flew to Paris, where we stayed at the Hotel de Fleurie, a wonderful little hotel—very charming—and only two doors down from St. Germain Boulevard on the Left Bank.
The food in Paris was THE BEST! The best French Onion Soup (Mondrian), the best quiche (Le Buci), the best Filet Mignon (Vagenende), the best pastries and macaroons—and of course, the best wines. Our waiter at Vagenende was so delightful... the fastest, most hard-working, friendliest, and most endearing waiter we had on our entire trip. Thank you, Bogdan, for your Parisian hospitality. Your genuine charm, energy and enthusiam will take you far, I hope!

We spent five glorious days exploring Paris, as we were only a 10 to 15-minute walk to the Luxembourg Garden, St. Sulpice, the Musee Orsay, the Seine, Notre Dame, and the Louvre, which was directly across the river. The Impressionists in the Orsay wowed us the most (even though many were presently on loan to the De Young at home), especially the pastels. The intense colors of turquoise and orange juxtaposed literally seemed to vibrate. The Louvre was home to all that famous classical art—Venus de Milo (who is breath-takingly more beautiful and the marble more radiant than any photo could do justice), the Winged Victory, dear over-rated (?) Mona Lisa, and the Three Muses.

We took a tour to Monet's Garden in Giverny. Doesn't my photo look just like Monet's painting's composition? The garden was so beautiful... everything was in bloom.

We also visited Versailles, where we had enough time to tour the palace and walk all the way out to Marie Antoinette's Petit Triaon, her private abode where she liked to entertain her friends and spend her time living the "simple life" in the "country.'

This is a photo of the Queen's bedroom in the main palace. Her bedroom in the Petit Trianon was in the same palette, just not quite so gaudy and much smaller.

We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, cruised the Seine at sunset, and went fabric shopping in Montmartre, where I bought some pink dupioni silk and some gorgeous tiny trims for my doll-making.
The fashions in Paris were so flirty and feminine—it looks like ruffles, rosettes, ruching, and sparkling embellishments will remain in style for awhile. Tops made from a collage of voiles in coordinating patterns and colors were so cute. I was too intimidated to continue taking photos of store windows in Paris, so I have none to share.
The Parisian's were most friendly and helpful everywhere we went in the city, with the exception of one very curt and rude shopkeeper on Saint Germain who had a small shop selling silk parasols and elegent accessories. In fact, everywhere we went in Europe, we only met friendly people, eager to help us and make our stay more pleasant. As we struggled to speak their languages, they struggled to speak ours, and our conversations were well spiced with laughter and chuckles from both sides. As the younger generations emerge, we found more and more people were welcoming us as tourists in their countries, and expressing their desires to visit the United States.
The menus were available with English translations and tap water in a carafe was readily available everywhere we went. Every effort was made to accomodate us. Now, if only the service in this country was always so polite and prompt.
Even if I never have another opportunity to travel to Europe, I am so grateful for this one I had, and will savor my memories forever. The art, the beauty, the architecture, the elgance of Europe was so inspiring. I wanted to dash home and start painting again! A dream trip—a dream come true!