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Bottled-Up

What brought me here today:

I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about the most recent group of dolls that I’ve been creating. Their collective name for the time being is ‘bottle dolls’. The three largest are Eugenie, Phyllis, and Sondra. I then created three additional dolls, Clarisse, Nadia, and Doreen. These three are slightly smaller dolls. Georgie, Liza, and Jane are close to completion. And I’ve decided that they too shall have a base, with a clear, plastic drink bottle as a cloche.

There have been some questions regarding my use of the clear, plastic drink bottles as cloches. One commenter felt as though the use of the plastic bottles detracted from all of the work I put into the dolls themselves. Another very kindly sent me links to businesses where I could purchase a wide variety of cloches, both plastic and glass. The suggestions offered to me regarding my choice to specifically use plastic bottles as cloches for my artwork were all taken in the spirit of kindness that they were offered.

That being said, I do want to make sure that not only I can explain my materials usage to viewers and patrons of my artwork. But also to help me make sense out of my choice other than a it-felt-right-so-I-did-it kind of way. After all, my artwork is not only my therapy, but a means for me to make money.

Expense:

My use of the recycled plasic drink bottles as cloches is cheap. Free, to be exact. I’ve saved the plastic bottles that I thought would make the most interesting cloches for my artwork. The lables were removed. And the plastic cleaned inside and out. A little measuring and cutting was required to remove a small portion of the bottom of each bottle so they would sit flat on a base. It took me around half an hour to get the cloches for the three large dolls measured and cut.

I could choose to purchase newly manufactured plastic cloches. But I feel as though I’d simply be helping to create more plastics that won’t/cannot be recycled by doing so. There are jobs for people that I would also be supporting if I bought newly manufactured plastic cloches. The people who make th cloches, pack and ship them, etc. Then there are the shop owners that I would help to support as well. But that kind of seems like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Someone will have to pay for all the plastic use at some point.

Recycling:

My husband and I recycle. I’ve been a recycler since my early 20’s living in Indianapolis. O’Malia’s grocery store downtown had glass and metal recycling bins that were super-convenient to use. It was my father who first told me that I needed to start recycling. He was an avid recycler who kept his recycling bins neat and organized. I still remember him hollering at me because he could tell by the sound of the metal clanking together that I’d put an aluminum soda can in the steel can bin!

His interest in recycling came after he read some articles and research about modern landfills and how they do not allow the refuse (that will break-down, like paper) within them to actually biodegrade. There’s not enough air for the organisms needed to do the breaking down of the trash. My father showed me photos of core samples taken from landfills in the 70’s showing completely readable newspapers, packaging, etc.

Recycled, plastic drink bottles are everywhere. I know that some plastics are recyclable. But let’s face it, not enough of them actually are recycled. You can take a look at this information from the EPA to see how much plastic ends up in landfills in the US alone. It will take a lot more action by the government to change this. But until the corporations decide to change what they sell, and how they package it, plastic recycling will be a problem.

Influence:

Explaining the meaning of using a clear, plastic drink bottle cloche is either going to make me sound like a pompous self-centered windbag. Or it may end up sounding like much ado about nothing (in particular). Either way, here we are. And I need to make some bit of sense out of it at least for myself.

I’ve talked previously about some of the dolls that have influenced my artwork as a doll maker. Liddle Kiddles were a series of dolls marketed in the US during the mid 60’s to beginning of the 70’s. I don’t know if I was given my first Liddle Kiddle dolls, or if I simply took them from my older sister. As a toddler, I had some pretty sticky fingers. But I also know that dolls were never a big deal to my sister. She may have just given them to me to get me out of her hair.

There were different series of Liddle Kiddle dolls. The one that I absolutely adored were the Kola Kiddles. Shirley Strawberry was my favourite. I’m not sure why I became so mentally and emotionally attached to these tiny dolls. The ability to adequately explain myself here 48 years later still eludes me. To me, these dolls were just the whole package. They were tiny, cute dolls that had their own little bottles (homes, displays) that kept them safe.

Art school:

When I was in art school, I remember creating a series of drawings and prints (etchings) that were bottles with corks in them. I drew bricks or a cinder blocks inside of the bottles. Granted, it wasn’t incredibly subtle, unique, or even mildly interesting imagery. But for some reason I created quite of few finished pieces utilizing some version of the bottle, brick, and cork.

I think that the reason I created these pieces was due to the fact that I was listening to Reggatta de Blanc a lot. If memory serves, it was glued in the tape deck of my car for most of a summer. This coincided with my (as yet to be diagnosed) clinical depression becoming a larger and harder to ignore component of my mental state. I was beginning to understand how my depressions cycled. And how it made my relationships with friends and family difficult. Any S.O.S. that I might manage to send, might as well be a brick in a bottle. Sending for help was a useless endeavor for me.

Hunting and gathering:

I’ve already talked about how the happiest I remember myself in the past was when I was around 6 years old or so. The world hadn’t gotten it’s hands on me yet and made me loathe myself completely. But even as I write this, the world and all the people and things in it were getting their icky little lingering finger prints all over my sense of self when I was that little girl.

But even while I was in the midst of the not-so-fun-stuff, I still had these little precious pieces of who I was before everything changed. You know, the parts of yourself that you don’t share with anyone. They’re yours and yours alone. And the insanely weird thing is that those precious pieces and their happiness exhisted within the same exact space as the not-so-great-stuff. Which doesn’t seem at all possible. How can a good and bad thing exist within the same space with in my memory? It doesn’t make one part better or worse either. They simply coexist.

My creation of the Bottle Dolls is my attempt to make sense of how the good and bad within my own life can have occurred at the same time. Perhaps I reached out to find something that would be a means to keep my head above the water? That’s a large job for a set of such tiny little dolls to accomplish.

So…uh…

It should be noted that these Bottle Dolls are a long way from being finished. I’ve been working on the text that will accompany each of the dolls. And how I plan to finish the cloches as well as the bases as well. In fact, when I’m finished with this blog post I need to place a wool felt order so I can keep working on them.

So, now what?

I know that my small efforts to be more knowledgible about the tools, materials, and supplies that I use in the creation of my artwork will not make the tiniest dent in this world-wide plastics problem. I’m also completely aware that my artwork, in the long run, isn’t of vast importance in any way that visual art can be important. I know how completely and utterly insignificant I am. However, my artwork allows me the ability to generate a modest income, while keeping me mentally healthy, all without making my carbon footprint larger. This makes me able to sleep a little better at night.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Friday.

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Day of the Dead

What brought me here today:

I’ve made mention in recent posts, of Day of the Dead. Part of the reason I’d be writing about it is due to my creating skull pins that reference this celebration. While I lived in New Mexico, seeing decorated skulls and skeletons was not an uncommon thing. Even when it was not October or November, these motifs could be found around town. As an art teacher, I had several different lesson plans that I delighted in teaching during the month leading up to the November 1st and 2nd celebration.

I was confident that placing some Day of the Dead adjacent artwork in my online shop would result in some solid sales for me. This is not what happened. I’ve sold two, and given away one. For the life of me, I could not understand why the pins aren’t selling better. I mean, come on! They’re super cute! Everyone wants a skull with their name on it! Right?

Okay. Back up a bit:

When I moved to New Mexico in my middle 20’s I felt as though I was either moving to the moon, or another country entirely. New Mexico’s a fascinating place that’s easy to fall in love with. As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that I tend to place myself into new living situations in which I’m the newbie, or in the minority in some manner. I was sucked-in by the vibrant cultures that were so new to me. It was an amazing experience to have as a young person.

New Mexico was the right place for me to be at that time in my life. There was so much to learn and explore just in the arts. Artistic traditions from Mexico were just too vibrant to ignore. The use of colour was something that was an arrow straight into my creative heart. For me, what Sesame Street and 1970’s Fisher-Price toys started as it related to my personal colour sense, the artisans of Mexico sewed up neatly into a complete package.

Traditional artwork:

The influence of colour that Mexican artists and artisans have had on my art creation is not the only thing I admired. There’s an element of creating something beautiful out of something that’s not so beautiful. The use of recycled and upcycled materials speaks to the ingenuity and creativity of the artisans. It’s the “What do I have?” and “What can I make out if it?” mindset that I utilise myself.

Carton board and newspaper is made into dolls and paper mache sculpture. Including amazing masks and intricate nativity scenes. Tin and aluminum cans are turned into laterns, frames, and intricate ornaments. One of my favourite types of metal work is the folding nativity scenes.

Oxacan animal carvings are also an artform that has influenced me greatly. Again, the use of colour! The imaginative designs of each of the creatures! And then to find out that it’s a fairly recent artform as well. Wow. There are so many artists and pieces of art to discover. Go here and have some fun looking through the different artists and their artwork.

More:

There’s so much more artists and types of artwork to discover in New Mexico. After writing that, I feel as though I need to make a distinction between Mexican and New Mexican art. You can’t just lump them together. They’re definitely related to one another. But there are distinct differences as well.

For instance,

Day of the Dead:

I need to acknowedge that I’m a white woman here. I cannot hope to adequtely explain the deeply held beliefs of the the peoples who have celebrated Day of the Dead in some form or another for centuries. At best, I see myself as a person who has a genuine interest and reverence for the celebration, culture, and the peoples to whom this celebration belongs.

You can understand why I don’t want to “white-splain” this celebration. When I feel as though I’m not knowledgable enough to adequately explain something to the readers of my blog, I add links. Wikipedia is something I use as a ‘jumping off point’ for subjects I may not know a lot about. Lateral reading is always needed before any real understand can be done concerning any subject. Then, trips to the libary and seeking out people who are part of the culture/are people who celebrate the Day of the Dead.

So, if you would like to start here at Wikipedia, it’s got some interesting information on how different Central and South American cultures celebrate Day of the Dead. If you’re interested in something that is more child-centered, with an activity, try here. There are also some cool websites like this one. This short video is also very good. It was created for a PBS affiliate.

Sausage and bones:

Now that you maybe know a thing or two more about Day of the Dead than before, let me tell you about my semester of student teaching at the high school level. Okay, maybe not the whole story. Perhaps just one thing. There was a student. He was a sophomore or junior (15 to 17-ish years old). This kid was ridiculously talented. I was in awe of some of the cartoons he’d just scribble off nonchalantly. His general attidude was in the crapper most of the time. He was a typical teenage boy in that regard.

One day, he drew this incredibly detailed pen drawing of skeletons on bicycles. The amount of depth that he acheived was insane. All along the winding hills the skeletons cycled on bikes. The path was lined with sharp, pointy sicks onto which large cartoonish sausages were skewered. The depth and detail drew me in. I remember asking him about the piece, and he blew me off. Oh, yeah. The kid detested me too.

Not long after seeing his drawing, I created my first skeleton doll. It was pretty simple. I used felt. The body was black. I appliqued the white bones onto the arms, legs, and head. The dress was bright red felt edged in burgundy, with appliqued sausages all the way around the bottom edge of the dress. I put a red bow on the top of her head. She also had little matching red panteloons, edged with burgundy felt. This doll wasn’t named.

Additional work:

This first skeleton doll was inspired by the cranky teenaged student who hated my breathing guts. Additional skeleton dolls took on more reference to the Day of the Dead types of skeletons I came into contact with. I honestly don’t know how many of these larger dolls (at least 40 cm; 18-20 in.) I created over the years. Some were gifted. There were times in which I was paid for them as well.

These larger dolls took so much time to create. I’m not sure that I would be up to doing this kind of work again today. Right now, the remaining 30 cm (12 inch) Day of the Dead inspired skeleton doll  have in my online shop is as large as I want to create dolls anymore. I like how intimate this size of doll is.

Back to the skull pins:

What I didn’t realize when I created the Day of the Dead inspired customisable skull pins is that not everyone is familiar with the Day of the Dead. Not everyone lookng at the items for sale in my shop are going to want a skull pin with their name embroidered on it. Hindsight would also make me think that not everyone wants to wear a giant name badge when out in crowds of strangers either.

For me, a Day of the Dead skull with my name on it is a beautiful reminder of how I’m part of earth. I have a life to live, and someday that life will come to an end. Just like everything and everyone who has come before me. And for everyone who will come after me. This is the only life that I have. So I’d better not waste it either. Soon enough, there won’t be any proof I ever lived besides maybe a few bones.

I don’t view this as scary, or macabre either. Death is just part of life. The very end part of life. It doesn’t always seem just or fair. Especially for those whom we love who have died too soon, or in pain. It’s an equalizer among humans though. No matter how rich, or beautiful, or smart you are. You’re going to die just like everyone else will some day. So yeah. A skull made of sugar and icing, with my name on it seems appropriate. At least to me.

So now what?

I hope that you enjoy some of the links that I provided above. And that they can prove useful in understanding the Day of the Dead a little better. As for me, I have a lot of work to do yet today. My fingers are itchy to start sewing.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.