Great-Grandma's Painting

Monday, October 3, 2011


I'm still exploring the neck, I guess.  Most of the stuff that I've been making have been centered around that particular body part.  I know that I'm a tad ticklish around my neck, and it's the first place to feel uncomfortable when I get warm.  Do I have a fixation with necks?  I'm not sure.  But whether I do or not, the items that I'm posting in my Artfire and Etsy shops these next couple of days are all about it...

The first piece I'll talk about this week is something that is near and dear to my heart--a choker I created using sage green organdy ribbon and some vintage gimp trim.  I just got excited about using my ruffler, I guess, and decided to play!  The transparent quality of the ribbon reminded me of my great-grandmother's hand painted porcelain cabochons.  So I decided to use one.  It was given to me by my aunt, who is a talented "china painter" herself, and inherited my great-grandmother's tools and equipment and supplies when she passed on.  My aunt gave a few to me to use in my own work.

I've mentioned great-grandmother before...  Her name was Ferne Marie Carver.  She lived in southwest Iowa, in a small town named Coin--population 250 at the most, if I recall correctly.  My entire family grew up there--both sides--and my younger sisters and I lived there for a while until we moved south to mid-Missouri.  I barely knew Ferne (she died when I was very young), but I remember her Depression-era aprons that she wore all the time, and the smell of turpentine, and the huge walk-in closet of porcelain dish ware and jewelry pieces...

I swear, she that closet held everything a person could possibly make with porcelain clay! 900 billion  different types of plates (each for very specific purposes, mind you), every size and shape of cabochon ever invented, and enough small glass vials of powdered pigment to make me wonder (as a small child looking up onto the shelves) if she wasn't some sort of mad scientist!

She taught classes, of course, so she needed a lot of supplies.  But wow--it was literally like walking into a Crate & Barrel.  Surreal.

So using a piece of her work in my own work is really special to me.  She had tried to teach us china painting--but I think I was 7 years old, so hey, I was a bit distracted...  My mom and her two sisters have inherited the body of work that Ferne created over time and didn't sell.  Multiple sets of floral-themed place settings, relish trays, candy dishes, cookie plates, tea pots, pitchers, coffee pots...  Even toothpaste dispensers that wind up your tube as you use it up, tiny porcelain baby shoes to commemorate births, toy tea sets, switch plates, and lamp shades...

She painted it all.

And this rose cabochon is just a piece of her wonderful artistic genius.  And I'm hoping that someday, someone can put this piece around their neck and show it off and be happy.  Because it deserves to make someone happy as she made a lot of people happy with her wonderful talent.

There's a quality about Ferne's painting that is soft and gentle...  It's almost misty or foggy.  There aren't really any hard lines in the floral arrangement like there are in contemporary decorative painting (or "toll painting" as it used to be called).  The white of the smooth porcelain surface almost acts like watercolor paper would, allowing soft gentle gradations and disappearing color.  It's impressionistic, in a sense.

I've since learned that this style of painting on porcelain is called the "American Style", and is still quite popular today.  Painting on porcelain is an expensive hobby nowadays.  But I do love the softness that it creates with simply placed swipes of color.

I think that combination of softness, nostalgia, wonder, and beauty that I felt growing up is how I'm approaching my work making wearable art today.  It's not a literal "recreation" of the small things that made childhood great, it's a "re-stoking" of the exact same feelings in a different context.  When I finish one of my pieces, I feel like I felt when I was standing in that supply closet looking up at the collection of possibilities...  I add it to the body of work that will someday stretch out into the world.  There is a sense of magic.  Of artistic grace.  Of celebrating the simple and authentic.

Yeah.  I think that's a good thing to aspire to, you know?  : )

Until next time, Live Life with Relish.

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