Sunday, July 28, 2013

Week 30: The Alphabet of Obscure Words

   Every writer is in love with words. The English language is truly complex. With words from so many different countries and cultures over the ages, it is a sociology and a history lesson as much as an exercise in grammar and pronunciation. To that rich history add a lot conflicting rules and unexplainable confusion, and the English language becomes a sort of linguistic puzzle for the neophyte. This week's book-of-the-week, The Alphabet of Obscure Words, is a tribute to words.

   The pages of this book are recycled pages of a childrens' book titled How Things Work. Each page is gate-folded on the fore-edge corners to form a sort of arrow shape. The side opposite the point is bound to form the spine edge. Then, the whole thing is case bound in the recycled cover boards of the childrens' book. 

Red book cloth on the spine and a cute calico headband...
A pocket is formed on each page where the gate-folds meet. Inside each pocket is a removable card with the alphabet letter and it's obscure words..  The words were found in a 1946 edition of The Webster's Dictionary, then typed onto the alphabet card with an 1978 Olivetti Electric Typewriter.
E is for...
Remove the card to read the words... and use a dictionary if you want to find out what they mean!

L is for...
   Some words have long histories dating back to ancient customs and obscure meanings. Others are formed from the inventions and discoveries of modern times... For wordsmiths, the meanings of words have the same effect as traveling to distant countries and seeing new and unknown sights. .. and it's much cheaper!

Painted bookcloth spine
Only one page of obscure alphabet words has been included in this blog... but don't worry! If you want to know more obscure words, just read any dictionary... and write your own Alphabet of Obscure Words.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Week 29: Making Pottery in Pittsburgh

   Sometimes there is poetry in a space... as Gaston Bachelard said, “The poetic image […] is not an echo of the past. On the contrary: through the brilliance of any image, the distant past resounds with echoes.” And the book-of-the-week for this week, Making Pottery in Pittsburgh, reinforces that idea.. a connect of objects crafted and something as big as the poetics of a time and place.
Handprinted spine piece and pastepaper cover...
The book is an assembly of photographs of handmade pottery, paste paper, collograph prints, marbled paper, handmade paper, and a story of a period in time...

The title page and a map of the Shadyside neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA
Under the title strip A marks the spot....5815 Holden Street, Pittsburgh, PA
                                Making Pottery in Pittsburgh

   I was at Penland in the summer of 2001, working on the Annual Benefit Auction, when I heard Bea had been accepted into the high school program at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. It was one of the top ballet companies in the country and she had worked so hard for many years to get this opportunity. There was no doubt that we would embrace this adventure. I had one week to go online and scope out apartments and neighborhoods in Pittsburgh... because in four weeks she and I would both be moving to Pittsburgh for two years. So I packed my favorite things, my Grandmother’s bedroom suite, some favorite books, my potter’s wheel, my kiln,and my darling daughter to start our sabbatical in Pittsburgh.

Page 1: "I packed my favorite things..."
   That fall was golden. Our turn-of-the century neighborhood of rambling Victorians was so quaint and beautiful. The craftsmanship of the stained-glass windows, wrought-iron railings, carved stone and woodwork embellishments,and slate roof tiles with copper flashing began to fill my imagination. I was transported to the past and dreamed of Pittsburgh in it’s heyday when it was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, 150-year old gnarled oaks, maples, and ginko’s...with leaves of chartreuse, yellow, red, and orange lined the cobbled sidewalks where I tripped and stumbled - eyes on the stately homes rather than watching where I was going. I began to paint it all on my pots... railings and dragonflies,lattice-work and rivets.

Dragonflies, lattice-work and rivets...
   We settled into our little carriage house-behind-a-house on Holden Street in Shadyside. Bea started 11th grade at Schenley High School and I set up my pottery studio in the tiny one-window basement and begun throwing pots. We both worked hard,,, to get ahead in our art, to make friends, and to discover the city of Pittsburgh. Bea bonded with her ballet friends, a small band of boys and girls from all over the country who came to study ballet while attending high school. They had their own sort of clubhouse within the inner-city the book-lined homey office of Mr.“G”, the school's English and Drama teacher... and their own father figure. Lunches, breaks, and study-halls were spent sprawled across the leather couches or hunched around his broad antique oak table, as she settled in to the routine of dance, school, and Pittsburgh.
    Three weeks after we moved in I dropped Bea off at the ballet school for early practice, then ate my breakfast while watching VCR tapes of her old recitals. When the tape ended and the TV switched to the local station, instead of Good Morning America I saw half an airplane lodged in the side of a building. A tall building in New York City. Smoke was pouring out of the ripped skyscraper. Was this a mistake? Then I watched a second plane slam into another skyscraper. I didn’t know what to think... I hoped it was a mistake. I didn’t think it was a mistake. And for the first time in my life I understood what it feels like to be terrified of war at your doorstep.I felt sick to my stomach. I was numb. My ears were ringing and I didn’t see any good coming of this for a long, long time.

Twin Towers...
   I kept throwing pots... after the Twin Towers fell, and the Pentagon was hit, and the plane crashed near Pittsburgh. I kept throwing those red earthenware vessels. Useful things like mugs, pitchers, bowls, and jars.. I assigned meanings for their being...their symbolic manifest. Pitchers meant generosity; bowls meant harvest, bounty, and creation; mugs stood for comfort and intimacy; jars were for containment and secrets; and platters were about ritual and celebration. 
   After the Twin Towers fell, I couldn’t write on the bottom of the pots any more. No more “Blueberries are Heaven Sent” bowls. No more “Ladybugs for Luck” mugs. No more “Be Cherry-full!” plates. I was afraid of the negativity of my words... and afraid that if I wrote those negative words, and fired them on my pottery they might come true. But I could paint the blueberries. The blueberries were a comfort.. so I made 50 blueberry mugs, and 50 blueberry bowls, and 50 tiny blueberry tumblers. I just kept painting those sweet little blue berries and their innocent green leaves..
   One day I was reading a first edition of The Little Prince at the Carnegie Public Library and I was touched by the powerful and compassionate words of this children's story written by a French pilot shortly before WW 2. I decided I would write a story with simple lines like that... and use those lines on the bottom of my pots... Then I would never have to worry about running out of things to say, or my negative thoughts coming true. It would be called The Tale of the Blueberries...

Tiny blueberry tumblers...
   After the Twin Towers fell I kept walking everyday.. sometimes to the Carnegie Art Museum and the Carnegie Public Library that was connected to it.To get to the library you could walk around the side of the art museum to the library’s huge brass front doors, or you could take a shortcut through the Hall of Architecture of the art museum... Carnegie Art Museum's  Hall of Architecture contains the largest collection of plaster casts of architectural masterpieces in America. It is five stories high... and the back way into the library. At least once a week I walked to the Carnegie Public Library from our little Shadyside house... passing the stately Victorian mansions of exquisite craftsmanship, then passing.. awestruck and humbled... through the Hall of Architecture... like Alice after she sipped from the“Drink Me” bottle and was shrunk to a miniature version of herself. I walked through those life-sized casts of the Pantheon, Michelangelo's David, and doorways to a pyramid, then I’d slip through the backdoor and walk down the marble-floored hallway, past the little Post Office window and around the corner to the three-story rotunda entering the library.
    That’s when I realized that books were so powerful..beyond anything that exists.. I realized the written word is as lasting as any relic... as beautiful as any masterpiece... as powerful as any monument five stories high, and as magical as any miracle come from heaven. I realized that books hold the manna which feeds civilization... just as a bowl holds the food that sustains humanity. My world shifted. And the pots were no longer books, but the books had become my pots.

the pots were no longer books  ... the books had become my pots
Hall of Architecture, Carnegie Museum of Art
   I wasn’t a book artist yet. I was still a potter who was in love with books. Each time I visited the Carnegie Public Library I filled my backpack with as many books as it would hold. I’d  trudge the mile-and-a-half home with about 25 pounds of books on my back.. always forgetting about carrying them home as I happily checked out five books at a time...cookbooks, art books, biographies and novels...poetry and philosophy.. I went through the Carnegie Public Library like a glutton goes through a box of chocolates... My life was green and golden ... and with this awareness I kept painting pots that depicted the bright sky and golden days of that unseasonably warm Pittsburgh winter...our little carriage house...our friends...Bea's dancing...and this amazing adventure...

golden days...
   It was like Shangri-la... El Dorado... and Xanadu... In a cavern of mountains... split by three rivers... and entered through the Fort Pitt Tunnel... Getting into Pittsburgh from North Carolina via West Virginia was a straight shot... straight down the hill and into the Fort Pitt Tunnel... like a gaping maw the mountain ate you up.. and from the west side the other side was a mystery...Was there another side? Driving through the tunnel...lit by florescent lights along the tile walls.. the end was nowhere in sight.. a muffled silence enveloped everything. Then PoP! out of the tunnel and into the light. Like being born. Looking around, you saw you were driving over the river..really two rivers combining at this point. Really! And the bridge was a two-story bridge.. So everything was suddenly doubled. The lower tier of the bridge? who knows where it was too confusing.. The roads looked like a pile of spaghetti strewn all about.. or a Christmas tree, strung with too many lights, garlands, tinsel and ornaments. So I just followed the signs.. "Downtown",.." Monroeville",.."To 376 East"...I gripped the steering wheel, followed the signs, and hoped to God I didn’t end up halfway to Buffalo!

a clockwork of city streets in Shangri-la
   It was two years we were there. By the time those years were over we were two entirely different people. What we had accomplished, seen, and learned was innumerable and what was ahead of us was inconceivable. I headed back to North Carolina and within a few months Bea followed...and the pots I made in Pittsburgh are the pages of our story during that time.

                                     The End

The road to Shangri la...

(If you are in the Raleigh area, a listing of the upcoming Fall classes will be out this coming week.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Week 28: Horizon

  This week's book is titled Horizon. Like all of the Book-A-Week books, Horizon is made as a stiff leaf book.  It's pages are of Stonehenge paper and it has hard book board covers with a book cloth spine piece of gray silk that matches the hinge material inside the book. The illustrations are collograph prints. The text was printed on a Golding® Pearl letterpress with 24-point Brush type.

   This is the is a platen press.. meaning it has a flat plate to which the paper is attached which presses against the type to make the print. I call this press Pearl and I fell in love with her the first time I saw her a couple years ago. This press is probably about 100 years old and was manufactured by the Golding company of Boston, Massachusetts. You can read more about this press at:  My Pearl came to North Carolina from a letterpress shop near Ann Arbor, Michigan a couple years ago. I purchased her from a shop in the NC mountains and moved her to Raleigh last year. This week (Week 28!) was the first time I have printed on Pearl. Wow! What a sweetheart to work with.... everything worked just fine and I'm pretty excited!!!!
   Equally fun was making the illustrations. These prints were made on an etching press, not Pearl. (I haven't named my etching press.. wonder what would fit... rePete? Mark? Bruiser?) The illustrations are a series of collograph prints made from the same matrix (plate) of torn paper and a piece of pleated fabric glued onto a piece of bookboard to resemble a horizon. What a fun and exciting day that was experimenting with ink color! Using either a brayer or a squeegie (to get in the low spots) I applied several ink colors to the matrix... each time wiping the surface with a soft rag... thus leaving some colors in the nooks and crannies of the collograph plate and others on the higher spots and surface plane. This complex application produced lots of blending of the transparent oil-based inks, creating new and unexpected colors and hues.  Collograph printing creates a lovely layering effect which can be really surprising. For some of us printers, this process never produces two prints exactly alike.. just like life.

This is the poem, Horizon...

                                                             This horizon
                                                             It is an end
                                                            It is a beginning

                                                           It lies at the edge
                                                           of what is now
                                                           and what is yet to be

                                                           Silent as a broad sea
                                                           meeting the sky

                                                          A raucous mountain sunset
                                                          streaky with magenta,
                                                          orange, and red

                                                           This bridge
                                                           This curtain
                                                           This door
                                                           This line
                                                           This ridge

                                                           Two dimensions
                                                           Seen and not
                                                           This horizon
                                                           It is not an end
                                                           It is the point to transcend

   All books should include a colophon.. the biography of the book... which might include anything about the making of the book and sometimes includes the weather or the printer's frame of mind! In commercial books they are often found at the beginning of the book along with the copyright information. Sometimes they are printed at the end of the book. Horizon's colophon is on the last page of the book.. and is pretty circumspect for such an auspicious printing at Orange Lantern Press.

Finally, the back cover is another horizon... of a sunrise... or a sunset.. depending on how you look at it.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Week 27: House of Cards

   Sometimes a story plays out with certain themes that reoccur over and over. Using recurring themes can be a great way to organize the material within a book... so for this book, instead of chapters I used card games. The book-of-the-week for this week is titled House of Cards and is a description of a family based on the card games they play. It's written in the first person to give it a more realistic effect. The pages are real playing cards that have been attached with flexible mulberry paper in a very loose accordion style so they can be manipulated into a real house of cards. The text was printed on an inkjet printer and affixed to the playing cards.
Cover and title plate of House of Cards...
When opened, the book really is a house of cards! This is the story inside...and outside.. and...

A House of Cards...
Go Fish
 I am young...

It was my first card game. I was four when I first learned.. I had just learned to count to ten, and I’d peer at my fist.. all seven cards askew in my tiny hand, and ask Donnie or Wyatt for some card I had... I’d ponder that card... which one? My brow would wrinkle, my ponytail would feel tighter... then I’d hold my breath and choose one, “Do you have any fours?” I always suspected they cheated. If he didn’t have the card, my brother would trumpet, “Go Fish!” and I’d reach for the pile of cards in the center and take a card...adding it to my already overflowing hand. If he had it, he’d grimace and hand it over. Then I’d remove my card from my fist of akimbo cards and carefully stack them on the table to make a book. 

Rook: Grandmama Sadie
Grandmama Sadie

   Rook was the card game we played at my grandmother’s house. I remember her little clapboard house on the edge of Roxboro, North Carolina... slightly leaning... and smelling of Ivory soap, furniture polish, and petunias. Donnie and I would lay on our stomachs on her living room rug... its big maroon cabbage roses inches from our noses.. and play the sleepy afternoon away with game after game of Rook. I remember the black Rook card... the best card to have, but a bit ominous our grandmother. Grandmama Sadie was a force of nature and a bit of a maverick in her sleepy little southern mill town. In 1928 she and my grandfather adopted my dad.. and in the 50’s she went to work selling encyclopedias when she was widowed at 54. She learned to drive a car... and drove all over Person County selling Britanica Encyclopedias door-to-door. In the 60’s she took a job as a substitute teacher and worked until her mid 80’s. Her little house was simple and clean and she always had a batch of wild kittens she fed off her back porch. She had a box of our toys she kept at her house for our visits and a bookcase full of books for us children.
   She was a church-going Baptist.. a blue-haired, Sunday-hatted matron who eventually moved from her little clapboard house beside the railroad tracks to share the rambling farmhouse of her sister. My dad called her “Mama” and my mother never called her anything but “Mrs. Walker.” Mom and Dad both had a strained relationship with her...but she loved her four grandchildren and we adored our Grandmama Sadie. 
Looking inside the house of Casino

   Casino. That was OUR game. Mom’s and mine. Mom and I played it for hours. I was a teenager and she was newly retired after twenty years working as the chief cashier of a stock brokerage. She had her stock brokers license.. the first in North Carolina to be awarded to a woman... but said she gave it up years before “for the family.” Now, we had just moved to Greensboro and neither of us had made many friends yet. So we turned to each other to pass the time. She was my best friend. As we faced each other night-after-night against the space of cards laid out on the kitchen table between us, I wonder what she thought of me. I still remember the point cards... Little Casino was the two of spades worth one point, Big Casino was the ten of diamonds worth two points, all the aces were a point each, having most spades was a point... and so it went for a total of 21 points earned each game. We’d deal out our hands and lay four cards face-up across the space that separated us...the cards we’d match and build on. When we could pick them up, they were called books. If you couldn’t pick up a card, you had to draw from the deck and discard one card face-up to the table. The strategy was to not discard a card the other player might use to make a book or win a point. When we won a book, we’d place it on the table in a column of fan-shaped triplets of cards. I’d chatter and rant about all the stuff that bothered me... things I’d learned, things I wondered about, things I wished for. A seventeen-year-old’s world.  Mom would play her cards and listen. I wish I’d asked her more about her life. Six years later she died of cancer.

Looking at the House of Cards from above...
Gin Rummy: 
What Does 
Your Daddy Do?

   When I was in elementary school I always knew I was to call Dad when I needed something during the day. Mom was at work  and couldn’t be disturbed...if I called her she would just say Dad was the one I was supposed to call. So I knew to call The Elks Club. Anytime I needed something during the day, I called Dad at The Elks Club and he’d be there ...playing gin rummy. 
   Back then, every school year started with the question, “What does your father do?” I dreaded that question. This meant what profession was he in.  My friends would answer, “He works at so and so company” or “He’s a such and such...” When I asked my mom, “What does Daddy do?,” she said he didn’t work at the Elks Club, she said to say he worked at Aetna Insurance Company. So that what I always said... But when I needed something or there was an emergency, I knew to call The Elks Club... and he was always there, playing Gin Rummy.

Serious Business...

   A few nights a week Mom and Dad would play Bridge. Dad was a whiz at cards... could remember numbers like some savant.. and hated sloppy playing on the part of his partner.. or anyone at the table!. If someone made a stupid play, he’d rant and rave, enraged at the slip-up of some insignificant, thoughtless choice of cards. To Dad, playing Bridge was SERIOUS. 
  They had several couples they alternated playing Bridge with... a fact I thought was a small miracle. It showed that Dad was excellent at picking friends. Though, only the kindest people would put up with him. The LeBeaus, the  Connors, the Batagelis.. they all were OK Bridge players. No stupid bids After dinner our folks would leave us kids at home and head over to their friends’ house for a night of Bridge.
   Around the time I was twelve, I asked my dad to teach me how to play Bridge, it seemed like a good way to have friends... He explained all the nuances of the cards, how to lead, about The Dummy, and Slams and Grand Slams and the point system. The first time we played he got pretty mad when I forgot and just played a card without the special clues he had so carefully explained... We never played again..

 Second Parents...

   Every couple of weeks Mom and Dad would go over to the Gunnersons to play Pinocle. I don’t know how to play Pinocle, but heard it’s pretty fun. After learning how to play Bridge, I never had the nerve to ask my dad how to play Pinocle. But Pinocle was the game my folks played with the Gunnarsons. Charlie and Helen had moved to Raleigh from Iowa and lived in the duplex across the street. Their midwestern graciousness and wholesome  goodness was a warm and comforting part of our lives.  They were Lutherans. One summer they even took me and my brother Donnie to a week of bible school with their three boys! Charlie was scoutmaster for many years to my two older brothers and countless other boys. Helen... tall, fair, and slender, was a domestic goddess.  A wholesome Swedish replica of her Greek namesake. A former elementary school teacher, she loved being a housewife in the 50’s and 60’s. She kept their little house immaculate, kept tabs on the boys, and made her own yeast rolls! She was one of several second moms to us kids... keeping me on days when Martilla was home sick and Mom was working. I always think of Pinocle as fun and wholesome and somewhat unattainable.
Poker: Girls Night In
Girls Night In

   Tuesday nights were Dad’s Poker nights. For about seven years... from 5th grade until we moved to Greensboro in 11th grade... Tuesday nights were Dad’s Poker night. I loved Tuesday nights! Dad wouldn’t come home until late, so we could do whatever we wanted. We didn’t have to tiptoe around or watch westerns on TV... or have to get stuff for him like his ashtray or whatever. And we could eat pizza!  Mom, my little brother, Paul,  and I would be the only one’s home. I’d make a Chef Boy-R-Dee pepperoni pizza...from the box. It was so good! Later that night Mom had her girlfriends (Betty, Sug, and Undine) over for Scrabble. They’d play Scrabble and for the whole night would talk about their lives... giggle and laugh a lot and cry a little.. and I would sit rapt at the table... just listening. 
   One year Betty learned to make velvet-covered egg ornaments. Betty was the artistic one.. Mom asked her to share the process of egg decorating with the others. So Tuesday Night Scrabble Night became Tuesday Night Egg-decorating Night.. and the dining room table was covered in cartons of hollowed-out egg shells, cards of gold braid, strips of velveteen in a rainbow of colors, and gold spray-painted plastic miniatures of angels, drummer boys, Mary, and The Baby Jesus. Then Dad’s Poker Night became Tuesday Night Therapy Night... or just Therapy. Which is exactly what it was.. And, my Christmas tree still is hung with those long-ago handcrafted velvet and braid ornaments...a reminder of my coming-of-age time spent with the women of my youth.... Betty, Sug, Undine and Midge, my Mom.
The Inheritance

     I’ve known how to play Solitaire since I was little. Dad taught me to play a couple versions.. First, when I was very little, he taught me the kind where all the cards are laid out on the table in four columns and then are moved around. Next he taught me the more concise style, where seven piles of cards are laid across the table and one-by-one cards from the deck are turned over to be played on the seven piles. One summer vacation we played Double Solitaire. Nice. And he taught me the version where a card from the deck is turned up every three cards and played on the upturned cards on the table. He said they play that in Las Vegas for money!
   As adults we’d come home for a visit and find Dad sitting cross-legged on the den floor playing this version... by himself... for hours... while the TV played Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune... and we tried to make conversation. Solitaire had become his drug-of-choice. The rages and braggadocio were replaced by the dealing and slapping down of cards... the careful concentration and quick recognition of a move. Putting the cards in their proper order was his refuge... his meditation. Now that I am older.. kids grown and moved out, goals met and life slowing.. Solitaire is sometimes my own drug-of-choice.

The End

A House of Cards
All folded up, the House of Cards is a bit messy... but still beautiful... like all families.
all folded up...