Art and About
Engaging with the creative force in everyday life

November 25th, 2007

The Art of Giving Thanks

Posted by christina in Web Columns

As Thanksgiving weekend draws to a close and the December holiday season is on the horizon, thoughts turn to gift giving and, sorry to be crass, gift receiving. I get my holiday shopping done before Halloween as a rule, so I sail through the gift giving. What I tend to fixate on is the gift receiving. I’m not a goods hungry greed monster. In fact, I tell loved ones I don’t need any gifts (which doesn’t work, by the way). Instead, I obsess about finding the time and creativity to write thank-you notes.

I have written before about making the art for my own thank-you cards (“Art is in the Cards”). And I have written about how my kids design their own stationery for thank-you notes (“Teach Kids an Artistic Way to Say Thank You”) I’m a fanatic about thank-you notes year round, but especially at holiday time. My kids have participated in thanking folks themselves for gifts since they could speak only a few words to dictate a basic “thank you.” They always provide the artwork for unique cards, and every year they have been able to write more and more of the message themselves. It has become a tradition in our family, on December 26, to sit around the dining room table and do our thank-you notes. To make it festive, we each get to eat a Christmas cookie every time we finish a note. It’s the only day of the year I let the kids (or myself) gorge, and it makes the job fun.

You can imagine my delight when I learned of a local non-profit organization, Creek Kids Care, which uses children’s art to make stationery to sell and raise money for worthy causes. When I first saw the product, I bought three packs immediately, which we are rapidly depleting as the whole family uses them to write thank-you notes and letters to friends and family. It a tremendous feeling to support the arts, children’s creativity, charity and the importance of gratitude all with one note card.

Creek Kids Care began in Walnut Creek, CA as a way for kids to use their creativity and time to make a difference in the world. It started because two children were concerned about the wellbeing of one local homeless man. Since its inception in 2004, Creek Kids Care has grown to over 150 families, generating more than $12,000 in donations for Fresh Start Walnut Creek, JF Kapnek Trust and Tsunami Relief. All the stationery is assembled by kids using the artwork of other kids. Recently, Creek Kids Care has started to use the artwork to make and sell clear glass magnets called Touchstones. Their Web site gives more details about the organizations they support.

The Creek Kids Care mission statement says all you need to know about this organization:

“Creek Kids Care is a non-profit organization made up of concerned and hopeful Walnut Creek children and teens who believe their time, creativity and effort can make a difference in the world. Using the donated proceeds from their artistic creations, CKC raises funds that help improve the well being of children, adults and families in need, both locally and internationally. Every product is created by the kids.”

The Creek Kids Care Web site is worth exploring, especially because you can see their vibrant products and purchase them. The site explains how the stationery is born during periodic Art Parties. Children aged preschool and up participate in mixed media gathering where their creativity is encouraged to run wild to produce the original pieces used for the note cards. The intention is to make something beautiful in order to help make someone else’s life easier. Older children gather to assemble the note cards, pasting the original artwork onto blank cards, gathering them into groups of 10 with envelopes and simply tying raffia around the stack for a visually appealing display.

With the note cards comes a small insert explaining the purpose of Creek Kids Care. Among the ideas I have already mentioned, it says:

“Children show their vitality and their imagination through their artwork. Giving their artwork away to loved ones and seeing their creation appreciated and displayed is a meaningful way for children to share themselves and their love.”

I could not have written that statement any better. I am not at all involved with Creek Kids Care, although it seems like I should be. I wonder why I didn’t come up with the idea myself, actually. This holiday season, my family will be giving away the creativity of Creek Kids Care when we do our thank-you notes. Admittedly, we’re straying a little from our own homemade art approach, but I can’t think of a better way to impart the humanity of the season than by promoting the multifaceted ideals of some caring and clever local children.

November 18th, 2007

Discovering A Hidden Jewel (Part 2)

Posted by christina in Web Columns

Living life as a walking work of art was easy for the first couple of years. After my tutorial from Aunt Joanne in form, composition and the art and science of earring selection, people started noticing that I was wearing earrings again and I began receiving gifts. The people selecting for me had good eyes for composition, or they were members of my family and asked Joanne for help, so pretty much everything I got felt “right” when I put them in my ears. The collection became quite eclectic with so many different folks contributing.

As it turned out, only on one occasion did I choose any earrings for myself. It was an impulse buy on the Internet, and when they arrived, they were far too long for my face. I wore them often, though, because the colors went with my wardrobe. Once while wearing them, I got a comment from a friend on my “interesting” earrings. “Interesting” is not usually a compliment when it comes to art.

I may not have been picking out my own earrings, but I was learning a lot about earring designers through my own research and referrals from friends. I had always intellectually understood that jewelry making was an artform but since I was not a big jewelry-wearing person, I hadn’t understood it at an emotional level. Now that I was searching for earrings that looked and felt like a perfect fit, I was ready to have a relationship with jewelry as art.

While my husband and I were on vacation to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, our home was burglarized. They took all my jewelry, including every earring with the exception of a pair of gold studs that I hadn’t worn since my earring epiphany. By luck, fate or coincidence, I had brought the original beaded earrings from Joanne with me on my trip because their chameleon-like nature meant I could have one pair of earrings to go with every outfit I packed.

As I itemized the loss for our homeowners insurance, I relived the connection I had to each pair, remembering not only the person who gave them to me, but who had made them and how I had felt when I wore them. My initial impulse, once I received the reimbursement check from the insurance, was to use the memories of my lost earrings as a template for the new collection. One shopping trip with that frame of mind proved to be frustrating and pointless. I had gone back to one of the Oakland stores Joanne had introduced me too, but I couldn’t re-create the magic of the earrings I had lost. The lazy part of me thought I should just wait for people to start giving me earrings again. That way, I wouldn’t have to do any work, which felt overwhelming at the time. However, I had become accustomed to being a walking work of art with little bits of emotional investment hanging from my ears everyday. The impatient part of me couldn’t wait to rebuild the collection.

I needed to take a creatively different approach to mentally separate my new earrings from the memory of the old. I turned to one of my favorite Internet sites for art,, to see what the international world of jewelry-makers had to offer. Novica, in association with National Geographic, is a fair trade dealer for artisans from around the globe selling all manner of art for the home. It has a huge array of jewelry-makers displaying limitless styles and I started culling from their pages by bookmarking only the earrings that immediately caught my eye — still the first and most important rule I followed when finding earrings for myself. Although I was initially nervous about picking something from a picture, I began to feel more confident the more I looked at those bookmarked selections, seeing a pattern in the length and visual weight of the chosen ones. I hesitated on only one pair, but the colors were so pretty, I pressed the “buy” button anyway. I even threw in a necklace that caught my fancy.

Then the long wait for my seven selections began. The jewelry was being shipped from Brazil, India, Thailand, Bali and Java. Once it was crafted, I would get an email from Novica saying that my order was “beginning its journey across international waters.” I loved the drama of it all.  As the earrings started arriving at my doorstep, I grew more and more relieved to find that my selections not only were beautiful, but they suited me as well, once placed in my ears. Each pair came with a postcard written in the artist’s handwriting, wishing me well. I felt like I had taken a final exam in an art theory class and passed with the extra credit bonus of a direct communication with artists across international waters.

The only failure was the pair I had hesitated on before purchasing. I had chosen with my brain, not with my gut, and failed big time on this pair. The earrings were huge, composed of three large silver squares, which almost touched my shoulders when they were in my ears. They were impractical besides being unsuitable and I felt like an idiot for purchasing them. For some reason, returning them didn’t strike me as an option. Instead, I wondered if I could turn them into three custom pairs of earrings made by me for me.

After buying some basic French hooks, I said a quiet apology to the artist who had made the earrings before using my wire clippers to dissect them. It turned out to be a simple and short procedure with all three new pairs turning out very well. In fact, I now wear these three pairs more than any of my others. Since then, I have altered another pair that I had originally intended to wear for dress-up, but by changing the configuration a little, they became more practical for everyday wear.

My next endeavor is to leave other people’s designs alone and try to make a pair from scratch for myself. I have some very clear visions of what I’d like my custom jewelry to look like. What I never envisioned was that I would be interested in trying my hand at this art. I’m constantly reminding people to keep their eyes and ears open to the arts surrounding them, but even I never dreamed my earlobes would point me toward a hidden jewel of artistic expression.

November 11th, 2007

Discovering A Hidden Jewel (Part 1)

Posted by christina in Web Columns

I admired Joanne’s earrings at my husband’s birthday party. Joanne is my aunt-in-law, if you want to be technically accurate about our relationship. The earrings were colorful and fun, yet stylish. They suited Joanne perfectly.

Joanne started to tell me about the designer, Mendy Marks, and Mendy’s wonderful sense of color and shape in her jewelry, but also her incredible memory about people and the earring styles that complement them. Interesting chit-chat, but I didn’t think much of it beyond that. At the time, I was not wearing any earrings since I was still in “baby mode,” meaning I had young children under the age of two in the house for the last several years and wearing earrings was not practical for ear-lobe preservation. The few times I had thought about putting earrings back on, I looked at my collection with a weary eye. All my earrings were either uninteresting or they made my lobes itch. Life was simpler without earrings.

Two days later, Joanne and her daughter Emily appeared at my door with a gift of dangly beaded earrings. Joanne said they weren’t Mendy Marks, but they were a pair that called out my name when she and Emily saw them. I politely thanked the women, who were obviously pleased with themselves. I would never have picked these earrings out for myself.

The earrings were about an inch long, with French hooks. The dominant color of the beads was chocolate brown, with olive green thrown in — colors that look good on me but that I had never worn in earrings before. The next day was Christmas and I wanted to be festive, so I put on my new earrings with a red sweater and black pants. Strangely enough, the earrings looked really good with this color combination.

The next day, I wore a purple top with jeans, and the earring chameleons looked good with that, too. For two weeks, I wore the earrings with disparate colors and they seemed to change to accommodate the ensemble of the day. I wrote Joanne and Emily an effusive thank you note for such extraordinary earrings. Joanne followed with an invitation to take me to the store where the earrings had been found. Back in polite mode, I accepted the invitation, uncertain about the success of such a shopping trip. I don’t “team shop,” like many women do. I like going solo on my shopping trips. I park the car, target a certain type of purchase and then get on with my life. I’m not big on accessory shopping and earrings seemed to me to be the ultimate accessory item. I wasn’t entirely sure earring shopping was the way I wanted to spend a Saturday morning.

We stopped in the first shop and I was immediately overwhelmed by the selection of earrings. I half-heartedly turned a couple of displays, not sure what I was looking for. That’s when Joanne gave her first bit of advice: Don’t bother to stop and look at anything that doesn’t immediately catch your eye. Basically, go with your gut, and not your head. A pair that makes you stop and take notice is likely a shape and design that matches your composition.

Huh? Composition? Like in art? What was she talking about?

Joanne then embarked on a narrated tour of the store, pointing out earrings that would look good on her because of her facial shape and size, and her short haircut. I had never considered my face shape and size as a determinant of the earrings I should wear. She then moved on to talking about earrings that would work for her daughter, Emily. These earrings were quite different from the earrings Joanne would wear. I mentally noted that Emily and Joanne were built differently and had diametrically opposed hairstyles. Indeed, they wore very different kinds of earrings.

Then Joanne stopped and turned one display until she found a pair that would be right for me — a stack of semi-precious stones in a straight line, long but not too long. I could see the similarity in their configuration to the chameleon-beaded ones. I then tried to pick another pair out by myself. Joanne smiled and suggested we go try them on in front of a mirror so I could see what they looked like. (By the way, I never knew you could try earrings on in a store.)

I put on the pair Joanne had picked for me and then I put on the pair I had picked. Hers looked a lot better. But why? She pointed to how the length of her selection fell to a point on my face that was flattering. How the visual weight of the earrings was not too great. And how the colors of the stones went with my reddish hair and pink complexion. She did note that on this Saturday I was wearing my hair in a ponytail and that her advice was based on the fact she usually saw me with my hair down.

There were a lot of details but it was starting to make sense. I quickly picked another pair out and tried them on. Joanne agreed they worked much better but urged me not to buy them. She had something else to show me.

We hopped in the car and Joanne took me across town to another store. I was feeling more comfortable now with our excursion and starting to enjoy this artistic approach to jewelry selection. Even better, the next store had all sorts of art in it, not just jewelry. It was easy to get distracted by the array of mirrors, pots, wind chimes, dishes, sculpture, and myriad other creative endeavors. But at last, we made our way to the earring displays. Once again, Joanne made small talk about this or that designer whom she did or didn’t like.

After touring the whole jewelry counter she suggested that now I pick something out. It appeared that this time she wasn’t going to help me. I was pretty sure she was testing me. My heart rate went up. My mind started spinning as I tried to remember everything she had said that morning. Had I been listening closely enough? I’m never good on the fly when it comes to application of new information. My brain likes to have time to digest data. What if I got the answer wrong ?

Trying to appear calm and confident, I pointed to the only pair of earrings in the story that actually caught my eye – a trio of diamond-shaped pieces of colored gold linked together with small loops. Longish, but not too long and visually very light. Joanne’s satisfied smile told me right away I had passed the test.

I drove home feeling like Joanne had given me the Rosetta stone of fashion. I know artists, mathematicians, scientists, and no doubt many of you see the world as a series of shapes. I never did — let alone my own face and head. I have form, composition and texture, just like art does.

Next week I’ll reveal what life is like as a walking work of art…

November 4th, 2007

Make Art, Not War

Posted by christina in Web Columns

I live in the residential neighborhood directly behind the Crosses of Lafayette, as they have come to be known in the national media. If you are not familiar with the Crosses of Lafayette, it is an installment of almost 4000 white crosses, Stars of David and crescents of Islam on a hillside across from our local Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in Lafayette, California. The Crosses can be viewed well from one of our most popular commuter routes, Highway 24, as people make their way into work in San Francisco and Oakland. A sign at the top of the hill keeps count of the number of American soldiers who have died in the Iraq war. There is one cross, star or crescent for every dead soldier. The crosses for female soldiers are painted pink.

The Crosses of Lafayette is on a piece of private property and every weekend, volunteers from all over the Bay Area come to erect and paint more crosses to represent the newly dead. Individual crosses have been decorated to suit individual purposes. Some have names on them. A couple have been covered in mosaic. Some have flower wreaths around them. Many have red ribbons attached. A rainbow-painted cross repeatedly attracts my daughter’s attention.

The Crosses have attracted a ton of media coverage, and almost as much controversy. Many see them as an anti-war protest although those who created the Crosses call it a memorial. Political demonstrations both for and against the war are regularly held on the hillside. There have also been several incidents of vandalism destroying portions of the Crosses. The memorial is always rebuilt.

The Crosses first went up a year ago this November. I immediately saw it as an art installation to raise awareness about the cost of American lives in this war. For the first time since leaving my newspaper job, I wished to be back on the beat to cover this extraordinary bit of artistic expression.

The Crosses quickly taught me to be in the moment, with respect to the war. I admit, with two young kids and a busy life, I wasn’t following the saga beyond the headlines. I disagreed with the war when it started, and I can easily become angered when I think about it, but keeping track of the day-to-day minutia of war was not on my agenda. The Crosses changed all that. Every day now, I consider the dead and say a little prayer for it all to end before they have to increase the number on that sign again.

As we come up on the one-year anniversary of the Crosses, I have seen it look beautiful and I have seen it look unsettlingly ugly. When it was installed, we had already had plenty of rain so the grass of the hillside was green. The contrast with the white crosses made it beautiful in the way Arlington National Cemetery or the American Cemetery in Normandy are beautiful. But six months later, the rainy season was ending and the long grass was turning brown. I wondered about weed abatement for the property owners, something the fire marshal requires us all to do to protect ourselves from grass fire in the summer. The Crosses were starting to look overgrown and shabby.

I went on vacation for a week and when I returned, patient souls has weed-whacked around each cross and everything was trim and neat again. During the summer, the twigs of remaining brown grass disintegrated revealing the crumbling dirt below. Suddenly the Crosses looked ominous and desolate. The scene made the most sobering, starkest statement about the war to date. They probably won’t ever look beautiful again to me, even as we head back into rainy season and anticipate green grass surrounding them once more.

I’m not the only one who considers this memorial to be an art statement. The people who live directly across the street launched a protest of their own for several months. The put large signs in their front yard saying things like (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Crosses Don’t Make Art, Children Do” and “Children Shouldn’t Have to Live in a Cemetery.” The Crosses never angered me, but these signs did. First off, ANYONE can make art, not just children. I find this narrow-minded view of creativity most frightening because I know the residents of this one home are not the only Americans to think such nonsense.

I was bemused by the reference to the Crosses as a cemetery. There are no bodies buried on the hillside. It is not a cemetery, but merely a representation of one. My young children are able to understand this concept. I wonder if anyone has explained it to the children who live in this neighboring home? These neighbors took their signs down when they put out their Halloween decorations. I guess some things are more important than art protests.

Another time I was angered by a reaction to the Crosses was when, during a discussion, my companion commented on the amount of money the landowners were losing because as long as the Crosses are on their property, they wouldn’t be able to develop it. Do you think, perhaps, the landowners feel the Crosses are more important than money? Art trumping greed — what a concept!

The Crosses of Lafayette are succeeding on so many levels. Despite my personal feelings about the war, the Crosses make me feel proud and patriotic. Some of that has to do with free speech in action, especially when the speech is done with powerful, simple symbolism. A lot of that has to do with a contentment I feel when art sparks dialogue, even heated dialogue, within the community, the nation, and in my own home. A few blocks away from the Crosses, someone was moved to put up a giant peace sign adorned with the stars and stripes. This too can be seen from Highway 24. The Crosses show that even in our affluent suburb, passions run deep. Believe me, sometimes it’s hard to tell around here.

It will be a strange day for me when the Crosses come down. Since it seems at this point they are here to stay as long as the war rages, the day they come down could be the day our remaining troops all arrive home safely. That should be a great day. But honestly, I’d like to see the hillside remain an available venue for people to make effective art statements. I’d love to see what else this hillside could inspire.

If you would like to learn more about the Crosses of Lafayette, google the phrase and numerous Web sites come up. There is also a specific blog that keeps track of the many ways people have been creatively moved to respond to the Crosses.