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Archive for the ‘Arts and Crafts’ Category

“Your mind — your curiosity — will be your comfort.”*

I recently stumbled upon yet another “Lucky Day” pick from the La Grange Library – and lucky it was!

As often happens, I was drawn to a book by its cover. I slid it off of the “Lucky Day” shelf at the library, and wondered, for a brief moment or two, why the cover looked so familiar, then realized it was reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth’s painting,  Christina’s World. Was it written by Christina? Well, of course not, but the author’s first name compelled me to read the flap of the dust jacket and to peek inside. I walked out of the library with Christina Baker Kline’s fictional novel, “A Piece of the World” and was soon engrossed in Christina’s world on the coastal farm in Cushing, Maine. The farm was settled century’s earlier by ancestors who came to escape their name, Hathorne, and the taint of the Salem Witch Trials.

Christina’s life is confined primarily to the family home in Cushing. From the earliest childhood years of her illness, her debilitating condition molds her life. From her determination to keep moving and living and making the best of her circumstances, to her later years, she stoically strives to keep moving through life. As she eventually can no longer walk, she uses her arms, then her elbows to move above, do chores in a house that is old, rundown, without indoor plumbing or adequate heating.

Christina excels in her small, country school, is encouraged to continue her education and to eventually become the school’s teacher. It is the kindness and encouragement of her teacher that gives her hope of a future, and the stubbornness and viewpoint of her father that end those dreams, taking Christina out of the school and keeping her at home, taking over her mother’s chores and diminishing her contact the outside world.

The book follows Christina’s life, from her loving relationship with her grandmother, her mysterious illness, her staunch refusal for what seems like experimental treatment, and her relationship with her brothers, especially Alvaro, and her friendship with Betsy and Andy. Betsy’s family has a summer-house in Cushing, Andy meets and eventually marries Betsy, who brings him, as a young man, to the Hathorne, now called the Olson house. He is intrigued by the house and the light and the views and spends countless days in one of the upstairs rooms, painting the scenery as well as the two remaining inhabitants of the house; Christina and Al. When Al is introduced to Andy, he is told that he is the son of N.C. Wyeth. Al remembers N. C.’s illustrations and declares that “Treasure Island” is probably the only book he ever read to the end. The house is both a blessing and a curse; a monument to history that often hold Christina and her brothers back, yet, it is a house that fascinates Andy, and it is both the anchor and the chain that confines Christina.

I loved the lyrical prose, the attention to detail, the simplicity and sparseness of words at times along with the weight of those words. I loved Christina’s fondness and instinctive understanding of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. My heart ached at her naiveté and eventual heartbreak of a relationship she was led to believe would end in marriage. I was angered by her father, an immigrant and a sailor, who lacked compassion and understanding of his fragile, strong-willed daughter.

While the book is fictitious about the friendship of Christina and Andy (Andrew Wyeth) as well as Andy’s wife, Betsy, it is based on research and known facts. It imagines the restrictive edges of Christina’s life and how she endures the hardships that surround her. “A Piece of the World”  is a captivating novel that I not only enjoyed, but, a book that led me to further exploration of the life and the illness of Christina Olson, her relationship of the Wyeths, and her family’s ancestry.

As I closed the pages of “A Piece of the World”, I remembered a trip Tom and I took to Philadelphia where we saw a retrospective exhibit of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While Christina’s World was not part of the exhibit, there were other paintings of the Olson farmhouse, and its inhabitants. It was a remarkable trip to Philly, prompted by the exhibit. I then fired up the laptop and was greeted with a discovery that had me heading to the post office as I returned “A Piece of the World”. How opportune that the USPS released these Andrew Wyeth stamps just as I closed Christina Baker Kline’s compelling novel.

 

This quote is the parting words of Christina’s teacher when Christina leaves school for the last time. *

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rootstotheearth_final-275x363Wendell Berry’s words have shown up on several of my favorite blogs recently, and I have, on loan from our Katy, his novel, “Jayber Crow”. It is one of several books that I am currently halfway through.

Does this ever happen to you; this juggling act of two or more books at one time, born out of an insatiable appetite for the written word?

There I was, at the Indian Prairie Library, looking for “One Souffle at a Time” by Anne Willan, when this Wendell Berry gem, “Roots to the Earth”, appeared in the new books section. I was drawn first to Wesley Bates’ woodcarving on the cover, then pleased to see more wood engravings accompany several of Berry’s poems and a short story, The Branch Way of Doing.

From Wendell Berry’s poem, The Current – ‘

Having once put his hand into the ground,

seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,

a man has made a marriage with his place,

and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.

“Roots to the Earth” is such a lovely book. While it has the outward look and feel of a children’s book, it is a really a more mature book and an homage to the earth and soil.

I read “Roots to the Earth” this afternoon, in the company of a few tasty gingerbread men and a steamy cup of coffee.

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Attendees to the Naperville Garden Club’s annual Christmas house walk, tea, and market, A Cup of Cheer, receive a cup and saucer to take home. Each year, for over 50 years, the cups and saucers have a new design. I think this year’s are particularly beautiful.
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Just after the reverberations of musket fire and the resounding boom and hazy smoke of a cannon’s call,  shouts came, proclaiming

 “the voyageurs are coming“.

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This was once the clarion call heard up and down rivers, lakes, and waterways from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains and down to the Gulf of Mexico. It signaled the approach of canoes bearing goods from the French-Canadians. Goods to be traded with native Americans and with the settlers along the water routes. This water bound trade route opened the way for exploration that followed.

These voyageurs, as they were called, paddled up to 70 miles a day; powerful men singing songs that kept them rowing and set a cadence to match the pull of oars in the water.

Alouette, gentille alouette,
Alouette, je te plumerai.

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This weekend, we witnessed a reenactment of voyageurs disembarking on the banks of the Des Plaines River and we saw settlers and traders welcoming them as they came ashore. They were greeted and asked for their “papers”, which seemed to have fallen overboard. No problem, for there was liquor to proffer instead.

 A River Thru History – The Des Plaines Valley Rendezvous is an interesting and historical reenactment of the early trading and lifestyles in the Des Plaines Valley during the 1830’s. The rivers and rowers were the rapid transit systems of their time and predated the City of Chicago.

We have been meaning to go to the Rendezvous for several years and decided that it was time to make it happen. Busses shuttled visitors from an expansive free parking area to Columbia Woods, a Forest Preserve in Cook County, not far from our life here on the Cutoff. The Woods follow the river and are a scenic spot for fishing, canoeing, and birding – except on the second weekend in September, when it becomes an encampment for blacksmiths and tanners, weavers and potters, local historians and history buffs – and modern-day voyageurs of time.

As we disembarked from our 21st century means of transportation, we saw an expanse of 17th century tents, tools, wares and costumes. Campfires held that welcoming allure of being outdoors (or pretending to be in the wilderness) and we strolled around seeing what was to be seen.

img_0385img_0386img_0419img_0446img_0421img_0426It was fun to watch children attempting to make toothpicks and a potter turning her wheel, the milking of goats and the blessing of landing on soil by a priest. It was especially fun to hear our names called out in greeting as a relative who we haven’t seen in a decade recognized us. I love when these chance meetings occur, don’t you?

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Voyageurs.

We are all voyageurs, are we not?  So goes life here on the Cutoff.

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Sprite:statue:Bacon gardenAround the second Tuesday in July, the weather channel becomes our viewing choice. The weather feature on our very smart phones are clicked more often than our text messages, often while on our knees praying to the garden gods for decent weather. There is always a storm with thunder and lightning and downpours during the second week of July. This is actually appreciated on Wednesday or Thursday, for the storm (as long as there aren’t strong winds) affords free and much-needed moisture and the lightning does whatever the magic of lightning is. It charges leaves to grow bigger and greener and stronger.

By the second Friday, we are on a first name basis with our favorite weather person (mine is Tom Skilling)  and we really start to fret and fuss. An unspoken cone of silence hovers around the members of the Elmhurst Garden Club as bubble balloons of barometric thoughts hover over our heads.

The gardens are checked by committee members, and the chair of the Faire in the park grows anxious as spaces are marked, and remarked, and the hope of a good day increases with the summer heat.

The homeowners are on high-anxiety; visiting garden centers for one more (or ten) plants to put here or there – and what about the weather?  The rain, if it comes, is good early in the week and it does provide free watering, the soil is wet and soft so weeds are easier to banish from the landscape (at least until they turn their backs, for every gardener knows how weeds like to hide and then poke their impudent heads when IMG_8773someone comes over) – just no rain, please, late in the second week of July.

By the second Saturday in July, the die is cast – hopefully not overcast – and we do, in whatever our manner, pray for good weather for the second Sunday in July.

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This Sunday, July 10, the garden gods truly did shine upon us! It dawned a most perfect day for the Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire.

The vendors, club members, vendor chair Georgia and Elmhurst Park District employees were already busy as the clock showed 6 am. Have you ever seen an outdoor fair arise at the crack of dawn? It is really a sight to behold.

By the time the bells tolled nine from the churches along Cottage Hill and surrounding streets, much of the Faire was readied, while at the seven featured gardens, the homeowners were putting the last finishing touches in their gardens, as well as setting tables, tuning in music and working the most amazing garden magic, while members of the club set up ticket tables, and cars began to arrive, ticket holders eager to see what there was behind the garden gates.

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Oh, yes, dear readers, this year dawned with the best weather imaginable for the 21st Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire. It was an amazing event, with gardens large and small, whimsical and romantic, from resort amenities to urban farm. Most of these photos are from the day of the Garden Walk, though a few are from the preview walk (for homeowners to see each other’s gardens and members of the club to see the gardens if they are working on the day of the event).

These are two friends I admire and have learned so much from, on the day of the preview walk. They look like they know a secret, just inside that lush arbor.

 

This entire garden (right) is vegetables, anaerobic and aerobic composting, and more.  Much more. The family is involved in the entire operation – a truly remarkable farm to table cottage industry – all in their city-sized back yard. This photo was taken two weeks prior to IMG_8439the walk. The corn was several feet taller on the day of the walk. The bed to the left is potatoes of several varieties, now underplanted with arugula. Turnips, carrots, garlic, leaf vegetables, tomatoes . . .  and they sell their produce curbside once a week.

This garden, below, was a delight – and the gardener delightful.  I am always in awe of those who learned Latin – and remember it. In June, he had more than 250 Allium bulbs in bloom – and yes, he could properly name them all.

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It was a good day for gardeners, nature enthusiasts, artists and art buyers alike. The garden gods shined down upon us on the second Sunday in July and it will keep on shining as the actual proceeds are counted and we allocate the funds from this year’s walk with scholarships and local endeavors.

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You know I am a tree hugger, right? Well, not really a tree hugger (unless the tree really needs to be hugged), more of a tree lover. We both are; the Antler Man and Penelope Pitstop.

We plant trees whenever and wherever we can. We have moved trees, visit the Morton Arboretum and wander the trails of the many forest preserves around us. We are sad when a tree dies, but we truly mourn those trees that are clear-cut for no good reason other than expediency and convenience in getting construction equipment in and out. Some trees may need to be removed to make room for a house, but, not two acres worth on large lots, or those on parkways.  Ah, well . .  these are stories and conversations for other times.

This post is of a milling operation, just outside the City of Chicago. Horigan Urban Forest Products, and a small but impressive exhibit of artists who resurrect wood and bring them back to a purposeful life.

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The Hidden Art of Trees is currently on exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Gardens and it seemed to be a fitting venue for the artistic man of the house on Father’s Day.

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We had the pleasure of seeing and speaking to the millers from Horigan at the Morton Arboretum a few years ago. Tom was especially impressed with this company, their milling operation and portable mill and the product they extrude from trees.

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The Chicago Botanic Garden, in conjunction with Horigan, has on display a remarkable exhibit of the art of wood; slabs of woods, bowls from burl, tables, chairs, cabinets all made from wood. Much, if not all, of the wood came from trees that were either diseased or otherwise needed to be felled.

I am amazed at the wooden implements, functional furniture and implements that have arisen from the death of trees, such as ash, that have been obliterated in the past several years by the emerald ash borer, as well other hardwood trees, such as walnut and chestnut.  I am in awe of the talented artists who recognize the beauty hidden in wood and who use their phenomenal craftsmanship and artistic gifts to make furniture, bowls, frames and many other items.

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Take some time to check out The Hidden Art of Trees here and see what Horigan Urban Forest Products does here.

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Better yet, visit the Chicago Botanic Garden, or a similar art display somewhere near you and encourage respect of trees and thoughtful use of those trees that are felled.

Oh, before I hit “publish”, Tom managed to salvage part of one of the felled trees in a neighboring lot that was clear-cut. Though the tree was felled, he did ask for permission to take it. Sealed now against the elements, it is a sturdy, useful, table in our arbor – and a fun place to put a pickle jar full of fireflies that our nephews caught.

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IMG_6484A mid-afternoon errand took me into La Grange, first to the post office, then Trader Joe’s, where they were holding some flowers for me to use in an arrangement for our garden club’s luncheon. Once those stops were made, I crossed over the tracks and my car just did what it often does, it veered left (when I should have been heading due south). I heard that a new florist had opened, and, well . . .

. . . this is what I found.

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Bloom3 is a unique florist with unusual flowers as well as garden inspired objects,

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and through this door, which looks like the original door to what must have been a safe, was another long table and chairs. Such an atmospheric space can be used for small gathering, planting workshops, and, I suppose, wherever one’s imagination might wander. I can imagine a garden club making arrangements, or a group of youngsters learning how to transplant violets, or even a small bridal shower.  What a fabulous place to bloom.

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IMG_1462The forecast for Sunday looked bleak. Very bleak.

Sunday morning dawned with a damp and musty air, hanging like limp laundry on a clothesline after being left out all night. Alas, the garden gods smiled down upon us and we were gifted – for it was truly a gift –  with a glorious day for the Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire.

The Faire in Wilder Park began its slow and steady transformation at 6:30 am, with vendors driving up and garden club members who recruited children, grandchildren, and spouses to lend their muscles, stamina, and goodwill. They helped the vendors unload their vans and stake their tents.

A fair was born.

Once the vendors were all up and running, Tom and Jennifer and I went to see the private gardens that were featured in this year’s event.

Would you like to see a few of the gardens’ highlights?

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