from crayon box to powering my soul… color defines me

A fine site


I was stunned the other day to realize that what’s called “vintage” is 25 years old, only 25 years! When we were 10, 25 years old seemed old. Not now, though. The reality today is that my son is almost “vintage.” When we were 10, we didn’t understand why our grandparents, often the only old people we knew, would talk about the “good old days.” We would shake our heads, roll our eyes and resolve never, ever to talk like that. So, four decades later, here I am ready to stroll down memory lane, or at least the yellow brick road… again.

My love of art started very, very young. Growing up in the Midwest, where they would provide updates on the wind chill factor on the weather portion of the nightly news (yes, long before a whole channel would be devoted to the weather) my mother occupied her four children on snow days with the family craft box. The what? The craft box. A treasure trove stocked with felt, rickrack, metal sewing bobbins, embroidery thread, colored burlap, pipe cleaners (the ones my father used to clean his pipe, not the multicolored fluffy ones found in craft stores now), glitter jars, clothespins, cotton balls, scissors and glue… the original recycling box!

And for inspiration? The McCall’s Giant Make-It Book and the more recent McCall’s Golden Do-It Book…. Even typing that makes me laugh, because these days making it and doing it has a bit of a different connotation.

The craft box and these two books kept us occupied for hours. Also, back in the Good Old Days, we had arts and crafts in school. Usually, a project the teacher had us create, but once every other month or so, the traveling art teacher would arrive and it was such a special occasion, because we got to try our hand at a variety of art techniques.Some were simple, like rolling beeswax candles around a wick or gluing string to a wood block and painting it. Others were lifetime learning experiences like linoleum block printing, tie dye, enamel jewelry making, and copper etching. These techniques transformed into my 8th grade summer spent creating batik in our garage, melting wax in a thrift store electric skillet, painting and stamping it onto old sheets, dipping them into Rit dye baths from lighter to darker colors, hanging to dry on the backyard clothesline and repeating the process over and over. When completed, I ironed, another thrift shop buy, the wax off using clean newsprint until all of the wax was removed, and voila my first batik, then my second, and third and dozens more followed.

But the most fun about grade school art projects, were the gifts we made for our parents. As a parent now, I understand the feelings such treasures elicit. I remember the one year we made mother’s day gift, being directed to bring to school a plastic lid from an aerosol spray can or our dad’s shaving cream lid. We filled this with plaster of paris, stood a fork tines up in the hardening plaster and topped it off with a plastic flower at the fork’s base. Tada, a recipe card holder! Actually, plaster of paris was popular for many uses back in the good old days, most importantly for the traditional preservation of a child’s handprint.

I started teaching classes last year at EverAfter Scrapbooks in Vista, CA. While our classes have been small and I would love to have more participants, I revel in the joy I get from watching them create their unique girl art canvases. Teaching others is empowering and the pride I see in each of my participants’ faces reminds me of that simpler time. I think, at least I hope, that they, too, get joy from creating their artwork in class. And when they gift others with their canvases, or display them for their own personal pleasure, I am tickled that they, too, get such joy from their creations.

The importance of handmade gifts are that they are heartfelt. As kids, we were so proud of our accomplishments. As the recipients, our parents were so proud to be given this small slice of joy. I know this firsthand now as a parent myself. Some of my son’s grade school artwork made it into frames and still graces our walls, side by side with my art; the perfect family gallery. He won a photography contest in second grade and a poetry contest in third grade (the writing was on the wall by then, even when the art that year was coloring with a red marker on the back of the sofa)!

My mother is now starting to streamline her life, getting ready to move back to Omaha and live with my sister and her family. So, when the Christmas tree was ready to come down this year, sometime in February I believe (eyeballs rolling!), she asked me to come and select which holiday decorations I wanted before she gave them away. Like many of us, mom had simplified holiday decorations year after year, not putting up as many things as she did the year before, so imagine my shock when we went through all of her Christmas boxes. It was like a parade of all the arts and crafts my siblings, myself and my son had made over the years for her!

Our afternoon spent combing through family Christmas decorations was a delightful surprise. First, why did she keep everything we ever made for her? The poinsettia needlepoint I created in an art class when I worked at Lee Ward’s (the predecessor to Michael’s craft store), with the picture frame falling apart at every corner. The pillar candle I covered with a holiday paper napkin using ModPodge and then sprinkled with chunky clear glitter. But most amazing to me, the angel cut out of felt, trimmed with burlap and a couple of iridescent snowflakes glued on yellow burlap, hung on a dowel. I loved the simplicity of the design; it was one of the projects from a Make-It or Do-it book; if I can figure out how best to clean it, it may well have survived the years and years rolled up in holiday decoration box.

Handmade… even decades later, is still heartfelt; a reminder of simpler times, days with less worries, less “stuff”, less on our “to-do” lists.