Sunday, September 30, 2012

What the Cats did Today

   This week's book of the week is a journal titled What the Cats did Today. It's a rather plain cord-bound book with pastepaper cover paper and leather spine.. Just big enough to fit in your hand, it's 4½ inches tall by 3 ½ inches wide.

   Inside the book are two drawings. One drawing is two months old.
Charlemagne at 8 weeks
The other drawing is Louie. Also made when he was about two and a half months old.

Now the kittens are six months old. Every day they make us laugh, give us love, and amaze us with their cunning and agility. I love writing all of this in the journal.. simple, happy, everyday things.
Charlie tonight... helping Scott in the wood shop.
Louis, regal king of the jungle.. and such a pussycat.
It's nice to have something just for fun in the house.. and the world seen from a cat's eyes.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Road Trip

The Book of the Week for week 38 is titled Road Trip. 

The book is made as a carousel book, with five concave shaped pages that open into a round book similar to an old fashioned merry-go-round. There are Vee fold pop-outs attached to each page that serve as a roof and floor.

The pages are connected in an accordion style so they resemble a zigzag. Carousel books may have many layers of smaller and smaller accordion folded strips of pages nested inside the outer ones. This book has two accordion strips which are sewn together with a pamphlet stitch at each mountain fold (where the blue paper strips are glued).
Accordion style pages pulled out in a straight line
Each page is an illustration of something that might be experienced on a road trip. Page One: long hours spent in a tiny space... the anxiety of unexpected car issues...or humming along to rocking music and a gorgeous blue sky!
Page One

Page Three: the magic of the unexpected... coming across a roadside attraction such as a county fair or a waterfall.. or anything! Have you ever experienced that on a road trip? If you didn't stop, don't you wish you had?
A Carousel in a carousel book
And there's the excitement of maneuvering in city traffic!!!! I avoid it if possible, but not always. I remember an afternoon driving the streets of downtown Pittsburg, PA.. Fifth Avenue, then Forbes, then back on Fifth... again and again!
Welcome to Pittsburgh!
A road trip these days has the ubiquitous voice of the GPS.. but in the old days folks used MAPS. The interior of cars were stuffed with them.. and they never could be folded back to the original position unless one had a graduate degree in something like physics. I've gathered up some of mine to cover the back of the book.

   The idea of a road trip takes the imagination to unknown vistas. A road trip with friends or family can be a welcomed bonding trek...a delight, a journey of transformation, an experience of a lifetime. Or it can become a dreaded incarceration of relentless annoyance and strife... On the positive side: wide open skies, the delicious aromas of homey diners (with PIE), and stopping to fill the tank at country gas stations and take a break for icy colas and tiny bags of salted peanuts.. was my experience as a child. ...Also there were hours looking at the dash board or back of the seat in front of me, fiddling with the radio trying to avoid the static and the church stations, and hoping I wouldn't get car sick.. the road trips of my childhood consisted of being crammed in the back seat between two older brothers whose favorite travel game was annoying me to fits of tears and temper.. as our parents smoked like chimneys in the front seat and ignored us. My sister-in-law used to toss empty drink cups at her six feuding children happily running amok in the back of her cargo-van... My mother-in-law used to pack the station wagon... get all five kids, the tents, and camp gear, and boat gear, and the coolers of beer and food in the car, then burst into tears and swear she wasn't going...every time!

   So every Road Trip has it's own story. If you have a road trip planned, may it be delightful and wondrous....  and if it isn't so perfect... may it be a great story!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Thinking of You...

   The Book of the Week for Week 37, Thinking of You, is a tunnel book. Inside it looks something like a human brain, but outside it looks like an ordinary book with hard covers and a button & ribbon closure. The coverboards are covered in cloth made from my mother's favorite apron from the 1950's... Every Sunday she donned that smock-style apron as she cooked our Sunday dinner. By the time I acquired the apron.. in her inheritance in 1979.. it was threadbare and torn.. but I loved it anyway. It stayed in the cedar chest until recently.. I've used it for several books... all precious in my opinion.

The opening page is a collagraph of red roses... a bouquet that mirrors the blue roses of the apron-cloth covers.

Inside Thinking of You are the 3 panels that form the tunnel into a human brain. The back wall is a photopolymer print of a young woman happily holding up her baby for the photographer. You can see from her clothing and hairstyle that the photograph was taken in the 1940's. This woman now would be in her late 80's or early 90's. As our parents, grandparents and great grandparents live longer and longer, it's not unusual to know someone of this generation. Their stories are fascinating to me.. even the mundane daily routines... Yet, many were heroes, heroines or groundbreakers in some way.

A fictional handwritten letter on handmade paper hinges onto the retro side of the tunnel. This is my response to the "Before I die" project by artist Candy Chang. (You can read about the original interactive art project at  or see Candy's Ted Talk about it at I've been thinking about that project for the past week.. what I would want to do "before I die..." Hummm...

The story part of this tunnel book is the letter...

Dear Mom, 
   I've been thinking about you lately. Your gentle manner and how you never raised your voice. I remember your platters of tomato sandwiches at the family reunions in Caswell county. Delicious! I remember in sixth grade when you spent your week's vacation teaching me to sew my dresses on the sewing machine. It was 1966 and I sewed the sides of my "shift" backwards and sewed up the armholes. As I fusssed and ranted, you patiently handed me the seam ripper- again and again. I remember the evenings we played cards and you listened to my teenage dramas without accusations or lecturing. I remember your pet name for me was "Sweetness." I wasn't really. 
   If you were here I'd tell you, It's OK. I'm OK.     


So the book comes together as a letter to someone loved, saying things that needed to be said... about memories, and patience, and sacrifice, and forgiveness. Things that should never be left unsaid "before I die..."


Sunday, September 9, 2012


  This week's Book of the Week is titled Oracle. It is made in the form of a carousel book and looks like a star from the top. Actually, it's often referred to as a star book.

The covers are pastepaper paintings on which I've glued a divination slip from a Taiwanese Buddhist temple I visited in 2001. I've saved the "fortune" all of these years... 
Pastepaper pagodas, flowers and a souvenir oracle
The prophecy is written on the two script pages within the book... it is the story that is Oracle.
A mirror is hanging on the wall.
It is dark. It is a magic mirror;
Like a treasure chest with jewels inside.
The sun rises from the East and hits the mirror.
A big light shines on you. This will make you lucky.
Your future will be good.
Also within the book are three cut-outs that illustrate the text. The mirror cut-outs are the first illustration page and begin the book. Behind the front (mirror) panel is a pen and ink drawing over a collagraph print of a landscape. ...Truly, our Mother Earth is a great jewel to be treasured!

The second illustration is a bridge which signifies transformation...hummm.

And then, there is peace and shown in the cut-outs depicting the inside of a temple; a holy place.

I spent some time making drawings, excising the cut-outs, printing the collograph prints, and making the pen and ink drawings before I assembled the whole book as a carousel...
Drawing of  Inside the Temple
Cut-out of Inside the Temple
....And the finished Oracle book.

   Oracles are intriguing, mysterious, and magical. The oracle bones of the early chinese cultures are divinations, stories and excerpts of many different aspects of life, and thus can be thought of as some of our earliest forms of books. Dating back to the 16th through 11th centuries BC, these bones were most often tortoise shells and oxen shoulder blades but also included bones of sheep, horse, deer, and even human skulls. David Keightley, Professor Emeritus of the University of California, Berkley is a leading authority on ancient chinese oracle bones. He has deciphered thousands of the oracle bones and written two books on the subject; Sources of Shang History and The Ancestral Landscape: Time, Space, and Community in Late Shang China. The oracle bones are described as communications with dead ancestors to help make choices to control future outcomes. One bone had the following oracle scratched onto it's surface:

This month there will be great rain.
Today the King will hunt; it will not rain.
That we are not rained on means that for this settlement Shang
Some Power is making disasters.

Another small oracle bone in Keightly's ownership said:

Crack making on guihui divined; the King, in the ten days, will have no disasters. 

The ancient chinese used the oracle bones to divine the future with regards to politics and power, to leave a tracing of the past for future leaders, to tell the story of their daily lives, and as part of their spiritual journey... just as all good books should do!

   Centuries later, Greek cultures embraced the idea of the oracle. Miriam Webster Dictionary defines oracle as 1. a person (as a priestess of ancient Greece) through whom a deity is believed to speak,  
2. a shrine in which a deity reveals hidden knowledge or the divine purpose through such a person, 
3. an answer or decision given by an oracle. 

Edith Hamilton, authority of Greek and Roman mythology, describes two oracles: Dodona and Delphi. The Dodona oracle was the special oracle of Zeus and it was located in the land of the oak trees. Hamilton states that a prophesy was revealed to the priestesses by the rustling of the oak leaves. ...Wouldn't it be comforting to believe all our own leaders had some font of wisdom they can go to for advice?

We've all heard of the oracle of Delphi. Delphi was the oracle of Appllo; who in Roman and Greek mythology was the god of light, truth and healing. I like to think that all oracles lead to light, truth and healing. 


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Snake Skin

    Transformation is a popular topic these days.. in our country, in the world, and within my own little psyche.  This week's Book of the Week, Snake Skin, is based on the phenomenon of transformation. The book is a cord-bound book with a silk bookcloth spine and parchment-like paper cover.

A real snake skin and a dried moth are affixed to the front cover. A crumbling castle wall on the first page illustrates the process of decay.

A crumbling castle wall and a collagraph print

Snake skin and moth cadaver

   I sewed the textblock on a sewing frame using three split leather strips for attachment to the cover boards. The leather strips can be seen here. The pages are blank... to fill with ideas and imagery about transformation.
The textblock on the sewing frame

Slits were cut into the bookboard covers and the leather strips were threaded through the slits then glued in place before covering.
Strips being threaded into the front cover
   I made Snakeskin to be a contrast of purity and creepiness so that all aspects of transformation are included. The ghostlike qualities of the empty snake skin and the abandoned castle allude to the creepy factor of death and decay.. while the beautiful little moth exhibits the positive effects of change. The pure white covering of the book, the blank hand torn pages, the collagraph flowers, and the simple green silk book cloth give reassurance that the transformations in Snake Skin are natural phenomena.. and if fearful, at least are (hopefully) surmountable.

As the ancient Chinese philosophers knew, the one thing that is constant is change.

Men transform to dragons on Tomb Sweeping Day in Taiwan