Monday, February 25, 2013


The average weight of a hen's egg is 2 ounces.  The shell weighs on an average 12% of the total weight of the egg and is made of a calcareous, porous substance, pervious to air, water and smells.

The vitellus, or egg yolk of the egg (30% of the total weight), is an opaque, soft substance which congeals in the heat.

Larousse Gastronomique, first American edition (1961)

I have read and re-read The Birds by Aristophanes.  Things are lurking there that continue to intrigue me.  I have copied out all of the songs the birds sing and assembled them into something that looks like a poem.  I have noted the species of birds referred to on another list, with no particular purpose in mind.  I have extracted pages of quotes describing the creation of the world and the importance of birds.

The birds build a city in the air between the earth and heaven, thereby interrupting transmission of the sacrifices humans are making to the gods, which gains them great power.  The text does not describe temples in the city but I assume they are there - Greek temple bird houses.

For me actually building temples would mean learning a new skill set that includes machinery for which I have no room. When I saw my first vintage clock case without a clock I knew it was the answer. There was the perfect size dwelling with a round entryway.  Ebay is full of them!  Often they already have columns, like a proper temple.  Cases without clocks are basically sold for parts and if they are not in great shape they can be very inexpensive.

The decor of the first temple was inspired by the ancient Vietnamese technique of veneering surfaces with egg shells.  What could be more appropriate?  In the 1920's and 30's, when labor was cheaper, eggshell veneers, Coquilles d'Oeuf, were applied to all manner of objects. 
It is not difficult,  just tedious : collect eggshells, remove their interior membranes, let them dry, crush them and, in this case, paste the chards directly to the gessoed surface of a clock case.

When the surface was covered it was left to dry throughly, sanded, varnished and lightly sanded again.  The effect is like craquelure on an oil painting.

The inside of the case became an egg yolk with drawings of molecules of some of its components: oleic acid, phosolipid, vitamins A, D and E, cholesterol, Palmitic Acid, xanthophyll and  protein.

White feathers sewn to a piece of felted material act as a rug for the floor and a cushion for 3 tiny nests.  One nest was found on a street in Ann Arbor by Hetsy Slote and another was abandoned by a phoebe on the property of Megan Parry in New York State.  The third has been around so long its history has faded.

When the temple finds its home in the room it will probably be on top of one of the bird cabinets that are in progress.  It may demand additional work at that time.  For now it is awaiting a resident or three.

Monday, February 18, 2013


The proper order of things is often a mystery to me.  You, too?

The Cheshire Cat (as quoted by Lewis Carroll)

The contents of my cabinet fall into different categories.
Beyond my making drawings and books, the room has acted as a magnet for so many of the possessions I have acquired over my lifetime. I am regularly surprised to find something more, unrecognized,  lurking on a shelf or in a drawer, that belongs there.

Other elements being added are objects created by artists whose work I admire.

Another category is the representation of people who are important to me for personal reasons - for instance, the drawing of my father as the Green Man.

My mother's contribution turns out to be a pillow she did in needlepoint which I inherited and put in our living room on a chair.  The image of a cat is particularly appealing.  It was made from a kit so it is not original to her but the time she spent and the pleasure she got from making it were unique to her.  Whenever I look at it I remember when it sat on her couch and I can go back in time to the house she loved.  Recently that pillow migrated from my living room to sit on a chair in the cabinet where it now lives with the birds in a peaceable kingdom.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Mash potatoes in butter, and red wine instead of milk.

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, 1954

My fourth, and perhaps final, cook book for the Herbarium goes underground:  The dusty potato, native of the Andes, is paired with elegant examples of marbleized paper.  As an element in cooking there are few more universal foods.  Included are recipes from Peru, Brazil, India, Belgium, England and the United States.