Saturday, March 6, 2010


I have sold my drawings over the years but I have never wanted to make my living trying to please people with my work. Instead I have earned my way by doing framing. It has given me a chance to see on a very intimate basis many amazing works of art brought in by collectors and artists. I consider it a serious business, showing respect for the work in terms of the presentation which you see and in terms of preservation which you don't see - the work behind the mat and inside the frame.

In my own project I have chosen to go in the opposite aesthetic direction. I have been hunting for handmade frames that are a statement in themselves. My most satisfying finds have been longer in the area of being eccentric than classically constructed. Even the art is going backwards. I have been drawing to suit the frames.

The vine frame was a present from Wanda Miller. It was just a flat construction with no possible way to install anything in it. She said "I knew you would figure out what to do with it." 20 years later it occurred to me to have a normal frame constructed and attach the vine frame to it. The beetle, Scarabaeidea Propomacrus jansoni, from the "Insect Range" at the University of Michigan, with its twig- like appendages, suited the frame perfectly.

I have been very lucky in my relationship with the University of Michigan Exhibit Museum and with their entomology department which is housed in the same building. Mark O'Brien, who maintains their great collection, has allowed me space to draw in and has been more than generous in his help. Days spent in that building in Ann Arbor have been among the most fruitful and happiest that I have known in my professional life.

The folded leather frame was found on E-Bay. The seller dated it from the late 1800's. It was set up to hold a picture by sliding it in between the leather and a small flap of cloth. This was another case of impossible installation so I had a black frame built to act as a base. The beetle, Scarabaeidae Dynastes titus, has a background that emulates old wallpaper, true to finding a bug crawling up your wall.

The tramp art frame is German and was made by either a less talented tramp or one that had inadequate materials. It is the classic chip carved style but it is put together in bits and pieces, not long strips. The beetle it holds is a Cerambycidae Batocera.

I went over my budget to get this shaped wooden frame covered with tooled copper. It was irresistible. No one would ever confuse it with something mass produced. I bid. I won. I waited. Then I forgot it was even out there until it arrived in the mail and I found out that it was sent from Peru. It was a challenge to find something suitable for the shape and the feel of the frame. The winning insect is the beetle Cerambycidae Petrognatha gigas with its strange wavy legs and antennae. The flower it is sitting on is a delicate poppy that came in a bouquet from Mary Alice Benkert.

The butterfly enclosed in this little frame is a Nymphalidae Hamadrys feronia. It was part of a series of drawings of butterflies that are camouflaged but not in the way that they were designed to blend into their natural surroundings. Each background is specific to the insect and each one is quite different. This one is the pattern on a piece of textile that echos the weight and design of the wings. The frame is an Ebay purchase, handmade and irregular with a leaf in each corner. It is a common ornament but more charming than usual do to the hand of the person who made it.

I have a little supply of frames that are awaiting the perfect subject. One is another tramp art frame that was made out of a tin can! I have very high standards for my frames.


"Rocks are records of events that took place when they were formed. They are books. They have a different vocabulary, a different alphabet, but you learn to read them."

John McPhee

Every fall my husband would take our three children to the gem and mineralogical fair then held at the Light Guard Armory. I would stay home, placing value on a couple of hours of quiet when I could get something accomplished. They would return with small brown bags filled with piles of precious polished stones and boxed samples of identified minerals. Everything would be revealed with awe at the kitchen table. One year I went too and became addicted immediately. Since then I have rarely missed the event.

Two of my husband's great prizes are his pieces of crazy lace agate, Cryptocrystalline quartz,
from Mexico. In ancient times they were worn to placate the gods and sharpen sight. We find them amazing for their brilliant colors and intricate patterns.

In the drawing they are coupled with birds, an indigo bunting on the left and a bobolink on the right. Behind are pieces of coral.

That completes the review of the drawings that face the first cabinet.

Recently my second cabinet was completed by Oscar Hoff, a fine carpenter and photographer.
I was lucky to have him work with my project as he could take my basic design, refine it and construct it so that it worked. It is one of the only occasions in my life when someone else completed something for me and I did not have to acclimate to it for a couple of weeks before liking it. I was happy immediately.
The theme of this cabinet is the SKY and its interior will act as a bookshelf. I will be introducing this work to the blog soon but first I am going to take a break and cover a couple of small framed works that have been completed for the room.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


"I have the world's largest collection of seashells. I keep it on the beaches of the world...perhaps you have seen it."
Stephen Wright

I live in Michigan where we are famous for our mitten of land surrounded by the beautiful Great Lakes which can be seen from outer space. The state is filled with hundreds of bodies of water from tiny ponds to sizable inland lakes. Fresh water is a fabulous resource but it is not home to the creatures and plants that I gathered together for this drawing. For me they are wonderfully exotic and mysterious.

The preserved fish in the center of the drawing is a puffer fish from the family Tetradontidae. When alive it was one of the second most poisonous animals in the world. Despite that, when prepared properly, the meat of the fish is considered a great delicacy in Japan and Korea.

The fan coral belongs to the order Gorgonacea. It is a colony of many individual polyps that began with a single founder. They anchor themselves with a long root in sand or mud, at right angles to strong currents that bring them the plankton they consume during the night.
Both the coral and the puffer fish are from the collections at the University of Michigan Exhibit Museum.

The sea urchin, in the class Echinoidea, sits in front of the puffer fish. Its name comes from an old name for the spiny hedgehog. It is a spherical invertebrate with 5 part symmetry, covered with spines that act as protection and help with locomotion. The skin is a hard shell called a "test". The mouth, known as Aristotle's lantern, is on the underside and has 5 teeth.
Its main diet is algae and it is eaten by sea otters and wolf eels, among others, and the ovaries are considered a delicacy by humans.

The coral and the sea urchin might be confused with plants but they are animals. The only plant in the drawing is a piece of kelp I found on the beach in Massachusetts.

The many armed sunflower starfish, Pycnopodia helianthoides, on the far left, is a fast moving predator. The juveniles begin with 5 arms and keep adding more as they grow until as an adult they might have as many as 24 arms. The specimen I own was given to me as a present by Bill Close, another person in love with the world and its contents.

The objects that are less natural but still belong with the sea are 3 spoons and a cameo.

The largest spoon and the cameo came from my favorite antique store, Balcony Row in Holly, Michigan. Jim Hilty and Evelyn Raskin have created a combination store / museum that certainly speaks to cabinets of curiosities. Their interest in their inventory has the quality of genuine intellectual excitement. They have rescued so many architectural artifacts that even the structure of their building abounds in stories. Knowing people with such energy and integrity has been a pleasure.

The spoon has no markings but it feels to me like Florida with its carved wooden alligator handle and the bowl made from a shell carved simply and elegantly into the head of a native American. It might well have been made as a tourist item but it has for me enormous charm that lifts it above the trinket level.

The little shell spoon was made of 2 shells in 1907. I "repaired" it for the drawing. In real life there is a bit missing from the bowl of the spoon. Regardless of its condition it delights me to think of someone creating this souvenir. The tiny spoon is part of a pair of salt servers that were given to me by Henrietta Slote. Now that so many kinds of salt are available that you would not want to put into shakers, these little spoons are once again truly useful. My favorite is a salt made from pink Himalayan fossils. What could be more appropriate to serve with dinner in a room of curiosities?