Sunday, December 28, 2014

Strong Centers, Boundaries and Contrast

Strong Centers, Boundaries and Contrast are three of the Fifteen Properties of Wholeness defined by Christopher Alexander in his book "The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe, Book 1 - The Phenomenon of Life."    These postcard sized embroidered collages are my attempt to grasp each principle.
Strong Centers - Good Example
Strong Centers - Bad Example
After reading about Strong Centers, I created the piece on the left.   It started out alright with some tidy circles and lines, but took a sharp turn down ugly lane.  The piece displeased me - the lines are messy, the embroidery doesn't seem to relate to the collage below and the dead center placement leaves that bullseye floating awkwardly alone.  If you've read some of my previous posts, you'll know that I've given myself permission to risk making ugly art in my explorations.   (I just don't plan to post most of it...)   I decided not to attempt to fix this piece.   Once you've pierced the card stock collage, you're stuck with a hole.  I cut extra collage paper blanks for this eventuality.  On the right is a piece I consider to be much more successful.   Besides  pleasing me aesthetically, it demonstrates the principle of Strong Centers more fully.

My design group of 6 fiber artists has decided to study one of Christopher Alexander's principles each month.   Happily, we discussed Strong Centers in November.  We brought examples of the principle we're studying to kick start the discussion.  Some examples were challenges.   Does the example have a center(s)?  What constitutes a center?   What makes a center strong or weak?   We had a lot of opinions.  We dug back into the source book.   My understanding of Strong Centers was too limited upon my first reading.   Group discussion broadened my thinking.   The piece of the left is just a bullseye sitting in the middle of open space.   Yikes!  This did not result in beauty or wholeness to my eyes.   The idea that multiple supporting centers can strengthen a design and build to a strong center made the piece on the right much more successful.   I used 4 small orange circles in the corners bisected by a partial frame and additional circles around the small black circle to achieve a Strong Center.   I purposefully did not center the design on the postcard sized paper to remind myself that's not necessarily the kind of "centering" we're seeking.   I can identify several more principles in this design - Roughness, Levels of Scale and Contrast.  I suspect this design also qualifies for Positive Space and Echoes.   I'm looking forward to revisiting these pieces as I learn about each principle to see how many of the properties I've used unwittingly.

Boundaries was a fairly concrete concept after dealing with Strong Centers.  I've always liked designs with strata and clear delineations.   We'll see if my understanding needs adjusting when the design group reaches boundaries!   This design is a thick frame around a center area.

Contrast was another concept that came to our design group easily.  We were used to thinking of color contrast, but were able to broaden our thinking to find many other kinds of contrast.  We brought more examples than we had time to review.   Contrast is everywhere!   We had good discussions on the necessary degree of contrast for effectiveness.   We pondered contrast in themes - summer/winter, apples/oranges, wet/dry, dogs/cats, rain/sunshine, male/female, etc...   It was fun to play with contrast in the piece above::

  • light and dark
  • odd and even
  • shiny and matt (hard to discern in the photo!)
  • open and closed shapes
  • thick and thin (1/3 to 2/3 proportions taken up by shapes)
  • overlapping versus non-overlapping shapes
  • filled versus unfilled shapes

If you've read this far, you'll know I'm way over my word count goal:-)  I'll just finish by saying how valuable it is to view design from a new viewpoint.   It's interesting to contrast the traditional elements and principles of design with Christopher Alexander's vision.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

New Color Mixing for Dyers - Tool Acquisition - Hello Turquoise!

One goal of my grant is to acquire the tools of a working artist.   Here's a glimpse of the color reference notebook I made last week in Color Mixing for Dyers Part 1 with Carol Soderlund at PRO Chemical & Dye    This close to Halloween (O.K., I admit to procrastinating on putting out this post...) I can definitely say it's a resource of monster proportions.   

This sample book of Procion MX Reaction dyes includes 3 different color families created from different combinations of yellow/red/blue pure dyes.  We dyed over a 1000 color swatches in the workshop!

Each team of dyers was assigned a pure yellow, red and blue dye to combine to create a unique color family along with some fun side assignments.  The process went a long way to increasing my understanding of Procion MX Reactions Dyes.   One of the families used Deep Navy as it's blue component.   I picked Deep Navy as my blue for the grant as I liked the deep shades it could dye.   However, it turns out to be a bully...a little Deep Navy goes a long way!   It's a bit limiting too...and my head was turned by the lighter, brighter blues used by the other 2 groups.   So pretty, so tempting, so much more available range in brighter colors... Carol suggested that I add a "cousin" to my dye family of Tangerine, Strongest Red and Deep Navy.   Hello Turquoise!   Welcome to the the extended family of color happiness...

Turquoise dyed at  different strengths

Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

All About Image Transfers with Jane Davila - My Favorites

The Potomac Fiber Arts Guild hosts speakers at our monthly guild meetings.  This month it was Jane Davila who gave a great talk on the elements of design.   I was only in town for one of her workshops, but happily "All about Image Transfers" was the most useful for my grant work.   Here's the class description:   

  "Learn direct and indirect transfer methods to add images to your projects. Transfer Artist Paper (TAP), acrylic paint, solvent and medium transfers, plus direct printing on a variety of fabrics, will be covered. Students transfer images from their own photos."

I used the B&W and color images below taken from the Sandy Spring Museum archives as my test samples.
Illustration from "Indians of Early Maryland" by Harold Manakee (not sweating copyright issues because the sketch was created in the 1600's and reprinted by Mr. Manakee)

Homeopathic medicine kit bottles

We used Transfer Artist Paper (TAP) in class.  The directions were simple.   I goofed on my first TAP transfer anyway...   Being impatient, I peeked after a bit of ironing, then continued to iron.   I pulled the TAP off half way, but got distracted talking to a friend.   The TAP cooled down and didn't transfer well.   I tried again *following the directions* with excellent results.   This process was more involved than directly printing an image on prepared fabric sheets, but the image can be transferred onto fabric, paper, wood, glass, canvas, metal and more according to packaging making it more versatile process.  I think that this will be the easiest transfer process to integrate into my work.   I'm looking forward to spending time with TAP!   I hope I remember to reverse the images before printing them as this indirect method produces a mirror image.
TAP test - Top left photo of fabric is first attempt with timing issues and top right is TAP paper after transfer showing how much ink wasn't transferred.    Bottom left shows second attempt on fabric with the TAP paper at it's right almost completely transferred.  Only a shadow of ink remains untransferred.  

Direct printing onto Jacquard Inkjet Fabric Sheets worked just as well as TAP.  We tried out silk and cotton.  I missed out on trying the ExtravOrganza Digital Textile sheets, but knew I had squirreled some away in my stash to test at home.   Jane Davila advised us to use an Epson printer with Durabrite ink for best results, so I've added one to my artist tool kit.   The trick will be figuring out how to integrate these fabrics as another layer of the surface design.
Jacquard Inkjet Fabric Sheets - cotton on top and silk on the bottom
The final method that I want to use is a laser toner copy and acrylic paint transfer method.  Once again, it was quick to do and the results were great.   Once again, the question is how to integrate the image as a layer in the composition.   This is an indirect transfer method, so the image printed in reverse.  I loved this method because I already have the necessary supplies at home.

Laser toner copy and acrylic paint transfer method
Image transfer techniques have come a long way since I experimented with Bubble Jet Set in early 2000.   It was great to have Jane Davila walk us through a variety of  methods showing us the various effects that we could expect.   A sample speaks a thousand words...   Some artists in the class preferred methods that gave less perfect results.  The partial transfers lend themselves to softened, mysterious and aged looking images.  I loved the processes that gave complete transfers.   I cut down on my own experimentation time dramatically thanks to Jane's tips and tricks.  I recommend the class and Jane Davila as an instructor if  you're interested in doing image transfers.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Neutral Color Study Courtesy of Carol Soderlund

I'm still using the invaluable information I gained in Carol Soderlund's "True Colors" Workshop for mixing dyes.   I used her method for creating neutral colors from the three dyes used for the grant (tangerine MX# 112, strongest red MX# 312N and deep navy MX# 414).   My first thought was that I wasn't using much dye, so I doubled the amount of dye concentrate.  The color swatches came out really dark, but lovely.   I should have stirred more, but even with the mottling I can see the colors...  The colors look lighter on my screen than they do in person even without using flash on my camera, but I photographed all the studies at the same time in the same location.   Hopefully, the viewer will get some idea of the comparison.

I decided to use the original amount of dye for the next study, but I got distracted and left the swatches sit for four days.   This second test came out very matte looking compared to the intensity of the swatches above.   The beauty of using ProChemical & Dye's MX reaction dye deep navy #414 is that it allows you to get really dark values.  Apparently, I'm being less than subtle whacking everything with the navy stick...

This leads me to wonder what the swatches would look like with half the dye strength added.   Now that I'm all set up with Tyvek labels on pins, a dedicated set of cups and dye concentrate made up, it's easy to do more studies.   There were two surprises.   The colors were deeper in shade than I expected.   Also, each color didn't necessarily look like a paler version of the previous test.   The blue dye dominated in many cases.
This study prompted me to try another study.   In this case, I used the original strength for yellow and red, but cut the blue down to half strength to see what the colors would look like without blue dominating.  The red component showed thru in this study in a satisfying manner.  I got some richer brown, green and cranberry shades for variety.
One of Carol's messages is that her classes are just jumping off points for further exploration.   I'm  taking her up on that idea...   One of the purposes of these studies was to find a good outliner color for my Deconstructed Printing Screens (DSP).   I found a dark navy and rich chocolate brown (1st and 3rd samples on left below) that I loved.   I tried for a dark green (rightmost sample), but came up with a really rich medium green that I'll be using for sure.   I used a lot of dye for this color, but it was almost all tangerine, so not a dark shade after all.   I'll be relearning that lesson regularly I fear!   I came up with a lovely dove grey (color #2 from the left) by accident.  When you're cutting stacks of fabric strips for swatches, sometimes the fabric glues itself together on the edges.   I didn't realize that I'd dunked a pair of swatches into the dye until it was too late.   I immediately removed one, but liked the color so well that I tucked it into it's own cup to batch.   How to replicate that color?!   So, I've earmarked that color recipe for a value gradation study.  My "true colors" are happening!

I'm so grateful to have had the chance to study with her!   I've signed up for her Neutral Territory: 50 Shades of Grey and 50 Shades of Brown with Carol Soderlund class at Pro Chemical & Dye in April 2015 to continue focusing on color work.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Screen, Dye and Discharge

One of the things I initially loved about Deconstructed Screen Printing (DSP) is the orderliness of a row of prints.   Watching the prints change as the dye dissolved was fascinating all by itself.  However, one of my goals for the class was to learn to move beyond the grid composition.   Also, there was general interest in the class on how to unite print blocks in a piece.   Here's a demonstration by Kerr which shows the typical grid composition.

Kerr's garment fabrics show a much more sophisticated use of DSP.  She talked about how she's moved on from the basic techniques she taught in the 2007 "Deconstructed Screen Printing for Fabric and Paper" DVD.   So, she guided us to discover answers for ourselves!

One simple way that we moved away from block printing was to paint hot wax on our screens to break up the edges.

I've used a similar resist technique in other types of screen printing where you tear a strip of masking tape down the center and tape it to the sides of the screen to give an organic look to your print edges. Hand torn newspaper masks can do the same thing to frame a print.   Please comment if you have other ways to manipulate edges on your screen.

I shared this piece of fabric made in the workshop "Screen, Dye and Discharge - Enlarging Your Markmaking Vocabulary with Kerr Grabowski" in a previous blog.  It shows a single layer of screen printing using different colors and values of thickened dyes.  I laid down the prints at random changing the orientation of the screen.   One of the great tips from Kerr was to unify the individual screen prints by painting in thickened dyes around them.   Yeah!  This works really well.  I found it so appealing that I turned it into a fingerpainting exercise ...with gloves on of course...

I created a second DSP screen using pipe cleaners, string and part of the textured placemat for the next layer.   Wish I'd thought to get a photo of it before printing!   There were enough pipe cleaner petals to make a loose flower shape.  Once again, I printed the screen randomly in different orientations to unify the design.  You can see the whole piece down below.

Detail shot of the pipe cleaner flower and texture from placemat and string
Now that I'd tried out the screening and dyeing portion of class, it was time to move on to discharging.  I wanted to create a focal point this time.   I cut a large freezer paper stencil and ironed it onto the fabric.  I used a screen to squeegee on the discharge paste.   Sadly, the screen wasn't big enough to cover the entire stencil.   I applied the discharge paste in 4 quadrants.   I was initially surprised to discover that the center of the stencil had discharged beautifully, but the outer edges had not.   It occurred to me that the area in the center of the motif was where the 4 quadrants overlapped...4 times the application of discharge paste.   So, the mystery was solved and I brought home an object lesson!   Who knows, someday this fade technique may be just what I'm looking for...

I still like the overall piece.  Notice how the discharge paste didn't work on the blue dye at the center of the freezer paper stencil.   I got a hidden color from a mixed dye showing through to add interest.  The transparency of MX Reaction dyes is so wonderful to layer.   The fact that the discharging wasn't completely successful was disappointing, but it's an opportunity to work back into the piece.   Kerr routinely works back into her pieces which is another chance to unify your design.
As I was glorying in all this color and busyness, I peeked over at the neighboring table to see Andi creating a gorgeous piece using white space and a simple DSP background of lines to unify her piece.   Wow!   This elegant design speaks to me of serenity.  Andi's piece doesn't read as a grid composition, so she broke out of the block syndrome too.

Janis's whimsical piece is alive with color and movement.   I can see blocks in the background, but they aren't the dominant feature of this design.   She's unified her prints using repetition of shape and rhythm.  I found it interesting to compare this piece to other pieces on her blog.

The blocks in Cindi's piece are integrated into the design giving it a feeling of fracture and layering. The analogous colors and nautilus motif also work to unify the piece.   After thinking about the successful ways that people integrated their prints, I think that it comes back to good uses of the principles and elements of design.    

Fiber Artist Studio Tips

I picked up several useful tips from Kerr Grabowski's class at Pro Chemical & Dye...

The first tip Kerr claims to have learned from a student in a previous class...   Cut the plastic lids for your containers so that you can leave the spoons in place.   I've reluctantly cleaned spoons in the past when closing up shop for the night, I've tried covering the tubs with plastic wrap to get around cleaning the spoons and I've found tubs left open overnight with that lovely scum layer dried on top to skim off...   I'm very fond of this tip!   Perhaps you've struggled with cleaning up versus being ready to roll the next day too?
Never clean your spoons before you're done with a color again!
The second tip came from my table mate, Lois.   She brought a pressure sprayer (typically a gardening tool) to spray our table and make dye paint clean up a breeze.  Thanks Lois!

The third tip came from Cindi and it was something completely unexpected!  Cindi uses car washing bucket inserts in her studio.   The "grit guard" allows grit to settle in the bottom of your bucket while sponges and rags sit on top of the guard.   Cindi turns the guard upside down and uses it to keep fabric submerged.  This would work well in your soda ash bucket or while immersion dyeing.   The "grit guard" would likely stamp or rub well too.   Love those dual use tools!

The final tip from Kerr was better T-pins.   I've been conserving a 50 pack of  blunted, bent 1.5" long chunky *one-size-fits-all*  T-pins sold by the local sewing store.   Who knew they came in different sizes?   My tablemate shared her dainty size 16 t-pins.  They were sharp, thin and vastly improved the experience of pinning down the fabric to the print board.   She didn't gasp and dive for each pin if one landed on the floor.   You can buy them by the half pound here!   This was the first thing I purchased when I got home from the workshop.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Kerr Grabowski Screen Printing Workshop

Kerr Grabowski's "Screen, Dye and Discharge - Enlarging Your Markmaking Vocabulary" workshop at ProChemical & Dye in Fall River, MA started off with making small inexpensive screens based on hardware store materials.   We drew on the screens with wax.   I can see this technique being especially useful for representing Christopher Alexander's principles of Alternating Repetition, Good Shape and Positive Space.  Can't wait to learn more tomorrow!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Work Smarter...Not Harder" - Allan F. Mogensen

I've been handing out my "pre-blog" business card, then explaining about my fabulous art grant blog.   Too bad you'll never find it because the old business card doesn't list it!   I attended the first Fall meeting of the Potomac Fiber Arts Guild today.   It was brought home to me that I really needed a card specifically for the grant. it is!   I've recycled the blog banner and color scheme, thrown in my contact information in matching font and pronounced it good.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fabric Arrival / Studio Peek

"So come up to the lab and see what's on the slab"  
     - Rocky Horror Picture Show

The fabric has arrived!  I went with a favorite mercerized cotton broadcloth - M419.   Test Fabrics Inc. didn't waste any time getting it to me.   They were speedy earlier this year when I asked for a price quote as part of the grant writing process too.   I've got my dyeing apron out along with the chosen color palette.   All that wonderful potential just waiting to happen...

Tag on Fabric Bolt

I admit to being nosy.   I love to see people's studios/workshops in any discipline.  People adapt their surroundings in order to work efficiently.   So, I thought I'd share a glimpse of my evolving studio in turn where all the goodness of the grant will happen.   I've added three new things to my studio to put the most used tools and supplies within easy reach.   The pegboard was leftover from a tool organizing project in the garage.   It fitted next to the laundry sink like it was meant to be!   I added a storage cart below for all those yogurt cups, buckets and other plastic containers used for dyeing.

Studio Pegboard for Tool Storage 

My dye chemicals were previously stuffed in drawers.   I knew that I'd need to keep larger quantities of the chemicals on hand for the grant work.   I purchased a narrow laundry cart to fit a niche next to two back-to-back wooden dressers (also recently added) topped with an overly large blocking board.   The blocking board gives me the surface area that I need to work on larger pieces of fabric.   Happily, I found stackable Rubbermaid containers that fitted perfectly into the cart.

Chemical Storage Cart
All those graduated cylinders, beakers and a spiffy electronic measuring scale really bring out my inner "mad scientist."   I've moved away from seat of the pants dyeing and am headed for repeatable results.   A future goal is to get the rest of the studio photo ready!

"With realization of one's own potential and self-confidence in one's ability, one can build a better world."
- Dalai Lama

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Color Study - Tangerine, Strongest Red, Deep Navy

I learned new skills at Carol Soderlund’s "True Colors" workshop last year which apply to my grant.   A color palette developed from ProChemical& Dye’s tangerine, strongest red and deep navy MX reaction dyes will help to unify my series of surface design pieces.   Mixing only 3 dye stocks also means working more efficiently.   It sounds limiting, but look at all the colors I get to use!   Each of the colors can be further expanded by doing a value study.      

Primary Colors
Secondary Colors

Dyeing the palette took patience, but I liked the colors as much as I’d hoped.   Unfortunately, the mystery sample fabric from my stash was lousy.   The fabric biased wickedly, oily stains showed up and I kept getting pokey ends despite repeated trimming with the rotary cutter.   Now I know why there was a partial bolt of white fabric still hiding out in my stash.  The samples look pretty shabby compared to Carol Soderlund’s pristine color reference books.   Lesson learned!   I ordered 60 meters of M419 (mercerized cotton broadcloth) from TestFabrics, Inc. to use from here on out.

"True Colors" gave me better insight into my color preferences.   I created a notebook of my artwork and other items with favorite colors as part of the class preparation.   I realized that I truly do gravitate to particular areas on the color wheel.  I found myself staring at Carol at the personal consultation saying "but I don't like orange...”, but there it was…   Now I know that I don't use large gobs of it, but it's my go-to accent color.   There are about 14 “pure” MX reaction dye colors.   The rest of the dye colors you get are blends of those fourteen.   Now that I know which pure dyes contribute to the colors I enjoy, I can create successful color palettes more intentionally.

I can't wait for October to attend Carol’s "The New Color Mixing for Dyers Part 1” at ProChemical & Dye.   I will join other color obsessed artists who also crave their own color reference binders.  
Carol's classes are well organized, fun and informative.  ProChemical has wonderful facilities and an even more fabulous staff.   
I highly recommend them both.   

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Budget Deviation: An Improved Hanging Technique

My original plan for hanging the fabric pieces was to stretch them on canvas frames.   The grant budget reflects $338 for thirty eight 30" x 30" canvas frames.   I've stretched fabric before, own tacking spray and swing a mean electric staple gun.   It was a workable solution.

Happily, I've found an even better method for my purposes.   Recently, Jane Dunnewold produced an Interweave Press video titled  "Felt-Backed Textiles: A Contemporary Finishing and Hanging Technique with Jane Dunnewold Video Download".   The surface designed fabrics that I create will be hung as part of a museum exhibit, then be sewn into tote bags to donate to the museum store.   Jane's solution is especially useful in this case where the fabric needs to be unmounted.

If I use the canvas hanging method, then I'll need to mount the fabric onto the canvas, take the fabric off of the canvas and figure out what to do with thirty eight large empty canvases when the grant is completed.   Think of all that staple picking...  Yes, I'm actually thinking ahead!  
If I use Jane Dunnewold's method, then life is simpler.  The fabric will be backed with felt before hanging which will get me one step closer to creating the tote bags.   It will be far easier to mount the fabric on the supporting bars than to stretch fabric on canvas.   Removing the support bars takes less than 30 seconds and no staple picker required.   The bars that support the fabric are thin and will store much more compactly than canvases once the project is done.   Also, the bars can be cut smaller, so have more potential for reuse.   I'll be saving time, effort and storage space.   The trade-off is money.  I estimate an additional $100 for the aluminum bar, felt and other supplies.   I've decided that it's worth it for the convenience.  

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Collaged and Stitched Practice Pieces a la Christopher Alexander

Artists create sketches and practice pieces to internalize subject matter and audition ideas.   I am enjoying the exploration of Christopher Alexander's 15 properties of wholeness one small stitched collage at a time.  After reading up on each property I get to create something.   Two sources inspired me...

One source is a guild member who shared her embroidery class samples in hot pink and golden shades.  Yum!   The colors were cheerful and energizing.   They stuck with me.

The second inspiration is an ongoing project by my design group.  We're working thru Gwen Hedley's book "Drawn to Stitch:  Line, Drawing and Mark- Making in Textile Art."   Hedley's use of common papers as collage fodder has led to trying many different materials.   Printed tissue papers are a favorite.  Look for the Totes umbrella logo below.   I love the design group because the viewpoints from different artists using different media add up to broader a very safe space.   I'm looking forward to sharing my takes on these properties of wholeness by Christopher Alexander soon:

Levels of Scale

The Void
I've been thinking about each of the properties separately, but once I started stitching the lines between them blurred.   The Levels of Scale piece was first.  It was straight forward.  However, once I read about Roughness I realized that the first piece represented Roughness too..   I eyeballed the scale of each flower which shows the "hand of the maker" clearly.   There is Roughness in everything I make by hand.   The Void piece was created third and incorporated Roughness and Levels of Scale.  I'm sensing a pattern.

Shortly after my revelation, I received an e-mail from an inquisitive guild member asking how my one-property-at-a-time approach was working out...   Her understanding was that things of beauty incorporated multiple properties or perhaps all of them.   Having fellow guild members guide you on the path to wholeness is beautiful too!   A guild is a powerful tool for learning and sharing.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Klout = Being Home Schooled on Blogging

I am fortunate to have a daughter majoring in communications and economics.   She gave my blog a critical review...and now I'm being home schooled.   She asked about my bounce rate and Klout score.   Color me clueless!   I don't have enough data for a bounce rate yet.   My Klout score started at a 10 out of 100, but went all the way up to 22 today.   The average Klout score is 40 according to several on-line sources.   Once you join Klout, they start sending you helpful, *short* bites of advice on improving your social media skills.   Before you race off to check your Klout score, consider these two helpful articles "Klout Uses This Trick to Make You Feel Bad About Yourself Don't Let it Ruin Your Life" from Forbes Magazine and "What Your Klout Score Really Means"  from Wired Magazine.  They give very different takes on Klout!

Additional feedback from my daughter is that my posts are too long - I'm allowed no more than 300 words per post.   Also, I should move the grant application (of 10 pages...) from a post to it's own page to improve the blog structure.

I need more photos for visual appeal too.  What?  No selfies?  Is that me in the photo pondering the age gap and my Klout score?  

I have failed to comport myself as an expert on the subject of grant writing, museum research and being an artist.   Well, yeah...!   The premise of this blog is sharing the learning experience on all those topics...including blogging.

Am I out of words yet?  Blogging is not for the chatty after all.   Thank goodness I didn't ask her to assign a letter grade!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What to Pack for Museum Research

The first day of researching at the museum I brought the following equipment:

  • laptop
  • SLR camera
  • color scanner
  • lighting setup + tripod
  • notebook for sketching
I realized after the first day that I needed a few more things...
  • serge protector/extension cord for scanner + laptop so the cords weren't straining to reach the outlet.
  • window cleaner and a rag to clean the scanner as some artifacts are crumbly
  • white poster board to photograph artifacts on for better contrast
  • loose copy paper to cover objects on the scanner bed that shouldn't be squished by the scanner lid
  • dark paper for contrast against white objects on the scanner since I'm looking to grab shapes/silhouettes of artifacts.
  • bring lunch, so that you can share a quick meal with the friendly resident artists
  • water bottle with tight closing lid (I can't drink it in the library, but have it tucked into my carry bag to take out into the hall when the dust chokes me up.)

It's not a perfect setup yet.  I'm still struggling with the lighting in the library for photography.  The big lighting kit and tripod are not compatible with the shared library space, so they've been staying in the minivan.   I have built a small  foam core light box, but it's performance was less than stellar.   I need to take another stab at balancing lighting within the light box to eliminate shadows.  This is one of the tasks I established in the grant.   You'll hear a big "Woo Hoo" when I finally get it right!   For now, I am working on themes for my fabric pieces.  I will work on doing my best quality photography work when I get a list of artifacts that requires the effort. 

One more adjustment gets made to the equipment in my working space...  I sat on the black wooden Windsor chair the first day and was so excited to be researching that I hardly noticed how darned hard the seat was...until I got up.   Now the wooden Windsor chair is placed to block folks from tripping on the power cords and I borrow a cushy leather chair to sit in instead!   Be good to yourself!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Crack Researcher Discovers Gold

Here is my first box of artifacts - a collection of projectile points.  It's just what you'd expect to find in a museum.


You can see the white tag with a mysterious number penciled on it.   This object id is a primary search field in the collections database file and has 4 parts:
  • first number:  the year the artifact was acquired by the museum
  • second number:  donations are given sequential numbers in a given year
  • third number:  items in a donation are given sequential numbers
  • fourth number:  if there are multiple parts to an artifact, then a designation of letters or numbers may be made to differentiate the parts...and sometimes not.   Data entry has been done by many hands since the collection began in 1984 and practices varied amongst the staffers and dedicated volunteers.
So, this box of projectile points, 87.23.5-14, was given to the museum in 1978, it was the 23rd donation made that year and the individual arrowheads were designated as numbers 5 thru 14.  

Someone has tucked in a note specifying the arrowheads as being for small game hunting - birds, fish, etc...

Many of the local projectile points from the sources I viewed were made out of the same type of rock.  I guessed that it was white quartz.  I based this guess on a children's educational plastic placemat of rocks and minerals from our kitchen.   Never pass up a chance to impart knowledge.   I tried researching white quartz deposits to find a local source and came up with a jackpot.   It turns out that Sandy Spring sits on the Piedmont Plateau containing gold bearing quartz veins running all the way from New York to South Carolina. Visit the Maryland Geologic Survey webpage for more details.  The webpage write up on gold was attributed to Karen R. Kuff who wrote a book on the subject, "Gold in Maryland" in 1987.  

Some interesting facts from Ms Kuff were that gold was first found in Maryland in 1849 on Sam Ellicott's farm near Brookville, MD, but no production was recorded.  Also, a Civil War soldier discovered gold in the Potomac River while stationed in Washington, D.C..  He was detailed to wash skillets at the time of the discovery.  If times get tougher, we can all go panning in the Potomac!   I was quite satisfied to have discovered gold.  I mentioned it excitedly to the museum's operations director, Diane.  She laughed and asked if I'd ever passed by GOLD MINE ROAD! that you mention it...many times...  I wonder how many other not so subtle clues to the past I've been dismissing.   So, that's me.  Diana Guenther, Crack Researcher!

On a Personal Note...Quaker Roots

I remember being told as a kid that there were strong Quaker roots in my family history.   It was interesting to discover 3 of my grandparent's surnames, Fisher, Cook and Moore in this 1926 Quaker directory tucked into a Grange treasurer's strongbox..  This discovery makes the project feel even more personal.   You'll notice below that it was a heavily used volume!   Many of the surnames in the book show up around the museum.