Saturday, September 19, 2015

When You Can't Can't - the story of Natasia's custom family sculpture

Let's get real about customs. Do you like straight talk? I hope so, because I'm committed to it. I am always honest about my abilities when approached with custom orders. I take on pieces within my style and skill sets, and I agree to them when I know I can confidently get to the end result within a predictable amount of time that won't bottleneck my capacity. That said, there are many instances where I have to graciously decline custom requests because they fall within my "Achilles heel" so to speak.  

My darling, lovely, wonderful friend Natasia wrote to me this summer with a custom request that, paraphrased, went something like this. "I know you said you aren't comfortable sculpting men in the new clothed style like your babywearing pieces, but a family sculpture would mean the world. I want all of us together with Josh sitting on something playing guitar and Gavin touching his knee with me holding Liam behind him and Faith and Skye twirling together". 

I read that and thought... Natasia is cray. That is not a paraphrase, in my mind I literally said cray. You know the shoulder-sitting devils and angels of conscience that whisper wooingly into each of your ears? Artists have them as well, but they have nothing to do with our consciences, just our consciousness. Our *self* consciousness, to be blunt. Let's call them Bravery and Fear. I'm going to pass the buck quickly and say it was Fear that called my precious Natasia "cray". I would never say that, that's friendship blasphemy! And Fear didn't stop there either, he just kept running that mouth. In my mind he whispered, "She's seen what I can do, heard me say so many times that I can't sculpt men in this style, I don't do clothing other than gowns really, and for real - a guitar??? !! I don't know where she ever got the idea that I could sculpt a guitar, props aren't my thang. Can we talk about the twirling? It's not a ballerina music box, these pieces are motionless. I don't know how I'm supposed to show them dancing like that.. Way, way, way outside of my comfort zone. She's craaaaaaaaayyyyyyy." But I love Natasia, she has been such an avid supporter of me and my artwork through the years, and I of hers, and more meaningful to me than that, she has been the sincerest of friends. Sometimes I can't tell if it's her face or her heart that makes me think we must be soul-sisters. See all these nice things I'm saying about her? None of this came from Bravery, I get to take full credit for my sweetness. These thoughts were all my very own. Bravery, that came from somewhere else entirely. Bravery was 100% Skye.  

When I met Natasia, at the same time I had the honor of meeting the memory of her baby girl, beautiful angel Skye. Josh and Natasia's firstborn daughter, who came into this world so special that the doctors, in all their knowledge and research, had never met anyone like her with her condition before. Skye who lived for 17 days. Skye whose name and legacy so many of us know, and we have come to love her fiercely. I encourage you all to read Skye's story where we learn the true meaning of bravery and see it portrayed so incredibly by this uniquely special baby girl. When Natasia had written to me, she asked me for something else she'd never asked me to do before. She wanted to see Skye age progressed in honor of her upcoming 7th birthday. She shared that she believed Skye had shoulder length auburn curls. I never sculpted Skye outside of infant form, and I needed to see this through for Natasia, for her family, and ultimately for Skye. I may not have been able to see Josh and his guitar, or twirling dancing sisters, but I could see the vision of her that Natasia gave to me, and Bravery encouraged me gently and told me not only that I should do this, but I that I could do this as well.

I wrote back to Natasia and reeled it in. I told her what I thought I could do (sculpt everyone standing together holding each other) and gave her an I-wish-I-could on the guitar. She understood, agreed we could leave it out, and gave me what every artist loves to hear, full artistic liberty over the design. We settled on a standing family all grouped together, so at this point the challenge was muted down to just sculpting a guy with clothes and hair. Again, though I wish it were, it's not my thing. I explained that to Natasia and she understood and said she trusted me and that my best was good enough for her. The pressure was off, kind of. I started to get excited. The time came to work on the project and I began with what was comfortable to me and made Natasia holding baby Liam and her two daughters standing on each side of her gown. Skye had auburn curls just like Natasia asked for, and it amazed me to now be able to see her as a 7 year old, the same age as my youngest daughter. I felt so close to her, what a precious thing to see her unfold before me no longer frozen in time as a perpetual baby, but as a bursting 7 year old. Just... my heart. I can't even explain and I know that I don't need to. Next I needed to add Josh and Gavin to the sculpture, and that was the challenge point for me. I could make Josh standing, but the thought came that it would be easier to bake him without issue if he were seated in some way, and then I could add Gavin in without his toddler self getting lost in the crowd of his family. Oh Gavin, you little big boy, where oh where do I put you? The thought - "Okay, I'll sit Josh down for now, once they're all sculpted I can come back to it and figure it out." Once I had him seated it just became so obvious to me that there had to be a reason for it, and clearly the reason was musical. I've been following Josh's musician heart and all the exciting things he's been working on, and I knew that despite whatever Fear may have assured me I couldn't do, Josh really needed to be playing that guitar. I started to play as well. I looked up a clay guitar tutorial on youtube and one of the steps was to print out the shape of a guitar and use it to trace its outline into clay. To find the right shape, I used one of Josh's guitars, found a master image of it, and printed it out on photo paper so it'd be easier to outline. Once I did that, I had the wonderful aha moment of realizing I could just skip all the other steps in the tutorial because I didn't need to paint on the details, the frets, the strings - I had an overlay right in my hands that I could use and it *was* Josh's guitar. Pulling it all together wasn't effortless, but it wasn't nearly as impossible as I thought and I decided on using the image I had on top of thickened clay to make his guitar. Ouila!

As for the hair, well, again - hard for me. But I threw myself into it with Bravery poised angelic on my shoulder and I did what I always do - my best. My best is not perfect, my best did not make a replica of Josh, but my best is what I always commit to with all of you, and here is what my best looks like for Josh.
At this point my confidence was reinstated, and I thought "Take that Fear, I punched your nose!". There was no more room for fear here, I pulled off the scariest part of what Natasia first described for me, and it was time to rethink her other requests. Here mini-Josh sat before me, guitar in hand, and why the heck should I think I couldn't make his daughters dancing in the midst of his song? How beautiful is the thought of that? I took them from holding their momma's leg and joined them together, waltzing their arms. They just looked so darling. To add some movement to it, because after all, this still is not a ballerina music box, I rolled some clay sheets very thin to make fabric gowns and played with the flow of them. So, so special!
I haven't taken the time to talk to you about Faith, but I have watched this little sparkplug blossom over the years and become a big sister twice-over. For the first time I was able to actually see a tangible portrait of her before me as a little sister. Though they've never met earthside, Faith has the very real knowledge and understanding that she has a big sister, and Faith misses her. She cries for her. The thing I am always aware of with my sculptures is that not only are they so poignant for parents to be able to see their whole family as a unit, but they allow siblings to recognize their family structure and see everyone together. Where they fit in. Foresight dawned on me and I realized that in the near future, Faith herself would be sitting with her family and given the opportunity to hold this in her tiny palm and see a portrait of her and Skye dancing. I cried at the preciousness of it all. What a beautiful gift for Faith to have this experience and this visual of seeing herself, proportionally, as a little sister. It is going to bless her little heart, and the privilege for me to be a part of this is inexpressible. I finished up Natasia's gown last - the colors were mine to choose and I went with an earthy ombre and added some deeply colored crystals to the bottom of her gown.

At this point I couldn't wait to see it complete, the rest of the project came without challenge and just needed Gavin and glazing. I was so eager to finalize it and be able to situate them all together in different contexts, I couldn't wait to photograph it and show it to Natasia for the grand crescendo! 

This is the portrait of a family who loved, lost, loved more and more. Whose legacy would not be what it is today without the absence yet enduring presence of their beautiful firstborn, Skye. The Champion family has 6 members, and this is all of them together finally, in tangible, touchable form.


Thank you Skye, for standing in as my Bravery, and thank you Natasia for letting me sculpt your blessings for you.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

It. Is. Unforgettably. Personal.

Last year I saw one of my kindergarten classmates in line at the grocery store.  Easily I recognized her face, filled out by womanhood, and I asked if her name was Krista.  We had light and awkward conversation. Though she didn't remember me, I remembered her and especially the button she swallowed in gym class.  I walked her down to the nurse's office that day because she was scared, but otherwise fine.  A mother now, Krista laughed and said she didn't recall the wayward button either, or what she had for breakfast that morning.

I have always had a knack for remembering things that didn't matter. Things that weren't even mine to remember.  A second grader named Jill had the best, best handwriting in my class.  It looked like a fourth grader wrote it.  In high school, my best friend's license plate was CK9 13M, and the only thing memorable about that is perhaps the fact that it is long gone and I still remember it.  Also, there's Bill Clinton's birthday, which whether you like him or not, is August 19th and I know that forever because my class celebrated it the first year of his presidency.  Now every year on that day, I indifferently recall that he is, in fact, another year older.

While none of this is seemingly important, I share it with you now because I need you to understand something sacred to me.  Since 2008, I have had the extremely sobering and humbling honor of sculpting for families whose children have died.  I just typed two words that no one ever wants to see in the same sentence, and these families are living it.  I have to get the trigger warning out of the way because this post is going to turn very, very sad right now and if your heart is not in a state where you are able to read about children dying then I need to strongly urge you away from this blog entry.  I'm about to describe what my job is really about, and it's not about clay.  It's about wobbly first steps that will never be taken, unwipeable noses, laughter that will never chime but bells hung over gravestones do.  I work in real, palpable, contagious heartache every day and let me tell you... It. Is. Unforgettably. Personal.  

There are families I've sculpted for over and over again, so many times that they've filled entire curios and bought second cabinets to keep up with their expanding collections.  I've never met them in person but I've felt their hugs over and over again, and they've felt mine.  There are others who have come to me only once, maybe twice and shared the fragility of their hearts, the names of their children, and the quiet longing for ways to keep a legacy alive.  My inbox is a treasure chest unpryable to the faint of heart.  The messages I receive are heavier than gold,  private as pearls.  They are silver linings peeking from storm clouds.  And among my favorite, the brightly colored jewels of rainbow blessings.  What parents share with me about their babies that touch the stars too soon is the most beautiful and tragic pain that they will ever experience. Again I'll say it.   It. Is. Unforgettably. Personal.  

My shop is nearing 7,000 sales and a staggering 80% are legacy pieces for angel families.  Not everyone who orders from me returns, but many do, and sometimes it's years later.  I'll open my inbox and see a message that begins with something like "My name is ___________ and a couple years ago you made a sculpture for me of my angel, who was born still."  What you don't realize is that as soon as I see that name in my inbox, even before I click nervously to open it, my heart is pounding as I wait to read how I can help this mother again.  My thoughts whisper "Please let these years have treated her gently.  Please let her not have lost another child.  Please let Cullen have sent his mommy a rainbow."

That's right.  Cullen.  Gracie.  Aidan.  Tayler.  Twins Emma and Chase.  There's Wyatt, whose mommy can never see an elephant without thinking of him, and because I know that, neither can I.  There's Declan, who I sculpt for every year as his angelversary approaches but I think of him so much more than that.  How often?  Every time I pass a playground.  There's Rylan, his eyes were clearwater blue and he's the reason that at a swimming pool I don't take my sight off not only my own children but everyone else's, because I know his mother never wants another family to experience the depth of loss that her own family staggered through, and I owe that to her for giving the gift of Rylan to me. For sharing her precious child with me.

Spring arrives yearly, not lacking the usual cliches.  "March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb."  So did Joshua, who's mother pained through 36 hours of labor to finally hear him roar, but then later that month he slept like an angel, so deeply he became one in the silence of the night.  His mother wept uncontrollably when someone cut the butter lamb that Easter.  I know you're probably crying reading this.  I'm sorry about that.  I'm crying too, but honestly I cry all the time - even when people say simple things like "April showers bring May flowers" because inside my heart I know that for babies like Aurora, April showers are really mommy's tears as a birth date approaches and Casey continues to mourn the day she said hello and goodbye in the very same breath.  And I know that like Molly, some of May's flowers never fully bloom.

Daffodil's also come with Spring.  They are yellow.  They are Alexander.  Purple?  Nothing short of royalty.  Purple is Carleigh.  Purple is Michelle. Purple is baby after baby, same color, all different lives and legacies.  Just like every other hue in the entire rainbow.  Your babies have colors, and I remember their colors when I remember their names.

Peanuts are not a food to me.  Sure I eat them, but that's not what I think of when I hear the word.  I think of the parents I've sculpted for that suffered early losses, and how they've named their child after the tiny treasured shape in their sonogram picture.  The cute little nicknames parents give their babies in womb become their names forever.  I know babies named Poppy, Tadpole, Jellybean, Blumpy, Ricecake, Kix, Cubbers.  And speaking of cubs? A mother bear on average only has 2-3 per litter, but the Mother Bear I know has six cubs.  Six pink and blue Baby Bears that she never met outside her womb or knew the genders of, and I cannot see a mother bear on television without imagining six little bears trailing behind her.  Ever.

Independence Day is coming in just a week's time and people will be lighting up sparklers.  All I think of when I see them is the brightness in Addison's eyes, how vibrant it dazzled.  While everyone is enraptured with the fireworks each year, my thoughts are very, very far away, still stuck on the little sparklers and how quickly they go out, before anyone holding them is ready or expecting them to.  So instead my thoughts stay on Addison's family, and how her Nana loves her bigger than the world.  There is no month that approaches, no place that I go, where something doesn't remind me of an angel along the way.  I'll be in the costume aisle in the children's department and next to wands and glittering crowns I see fairy costumes and immediately think of the pictures Selina shared with me.  Mazzy wearing her butterfly wings.  Mazzy wearing her hula skirt.  Mazzy wearing her mommy's eyes.  Selina and I have not chatted in years, since I made her first and only sculpture for her.  I don't think she will ever see this blog but if she does I want to say... Selina, please don't be surprised that I remember Mazzy in her fairy wings.  Mazzy is not only memorable, she is never-forgettable.

I know a darling dog named Mickee.  The only time I met her is when I sculpted her, but because I sculpted her, I can say comfortably that I feel I know her.  Like Mickee, I've sculpted her owner as well, whose name is T'Keyah and she was only 7 when she ended her brave and beautiful stay on this side of earth.  Mourning alongside her family was this little copper dog who loved her so deeply and fretted her passing so severely that on T'Keyah's birthday 4 month's later, Mickee crossed over to join her in Heaven.  Because that is how heart stopping child loss is.  Mickee's picture is saved to my computer, and every time I see this face, these eyes, I am brought to tears with my heart so high up my throat that I cannot even swallow.

I have sculpted sisters Lily and VernaAnn time and time again.  Their mommy Allison once said to me "It is so special to me that you always remember their names and how to spell them." I read that and thought, if only she knew what an honor it's been to remember her daughters, to know their names.  If only she knew that I kissed their little clay baby feet every time I've ever sculpted them.  If only she knew how I quietly followed her on Facebook throughout her entire rainbow pregnancy, and while she was in labor I waited hardly able to breathe until I knew Micah did too.

Ohhhhh the rainbow babies.  How I hope and hope and hope they come for those who are dreaming for them.  How I follow these pregnancies with every update though their families hardly know it.  I have watched parents like Katlyn and Andrew's hearts break over and over again while Heaven earned star after star after star and then...           a positive pregnancy test.  A belly that keeps growing.  A miracle incarnate,  Jonah was born.  And now???  Oh. My. Heart.  Jonah is not only in a big boy bed, Jonah is a BIG BROTHER.  Double rainbows!  Rainbow babies thrill me to the core.  Just like when Vayden sent Varen, and Aiden sent Nygel, and JoJo sent Zyon, and Valentina sent Sammie, and Jasper sent Samuel, and Joshua sent Acacia and then Sophia tagging along right after.  The list goes on and on, I cannot name them all in a blog post but I carry them in my heart.

When I sit to work in the morning, I start my day with rainbow babies because I need that.  I need to see them before I can mentally prepare for what will come to me throughout the day.  My first stop is almost always baby Abby, nothing goes better with my hazelnut coffee than the look of awe and wonder that never leaves this child's face.  I am telling you, her expressions are the faces you'd make if you just saw an angel, and I know every day she sees two of them.  Two seraphim sisters are shining on her, of course her mouth is a cheerio and her eyes full of marvel.  Of course I need to look at her before I dare look inside my inbox, where I know what's coming.  Where I am personally on a permanent trigger warning every day and with the pain of that burden I am also brought the extreme privilege of learning your childrens' names.  Their stories.  That they once were.

This is what a regular shipment looks like for me before I start packaging. There are 30 different babies in this picture, and I send shipments just like this once, sometimes twice a week.  THIRTY DIFFERENT BABIES.  Each leaving behind family members that are watering flowers at grave sites with their very own tears.  If that is not sobering then nothing else is.

I never want to make another angel sculpture in my life.  I never want you to need me in that way, no one should have to need me in that way and yet thousands have and thousands more will as time crawls slowly among us bringing tragedy in its course.  When you need me, I am so extremely sorry for that.  So deeply honored.  So indelibly touched.  And if you needed me before, and need me again, and nothing feels comforting, please at least come with the reassurance that you won't need to remind me who you are, that your child has died, and that I've sculpted for you before.  I know many of you live every day in a silence of disenfranchised grief and some of your losses are minimized or unacknowledged but that does not happen here.  Not with me.

If I can remember the useless things that never were mine or even  important to me, like Krista swallowing her button or the birthday of a president I was too young to vote for, then with extreme reverence I assure you that far greater is my memory of you and your child, and the experience of watching your baby form in my hands.  Because sculpting for you isn't my job, it's my life calling, and when you share your child with me I remember, because... It. Is. Unforgettably. Personal.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

About Spiders

In the pool I
don't discriminate.
Big ones, little ones,
any spider I find
I scoop and throw it

at my sister.
There is satisfaction
in the scatter.
It's not her I'm after,
but that moment of laughter.
It doesn't survive

its own echo though.

Later we ride bikes

under the illusion of peace.
The Spanish moss plays me
like a song I'll always remember,
whose rhythm I never cared for
and I know I am
all out of tune.
We pedal slowly, a
dance to old memories,
shake our heads at how
we lived them like lyrics,

from mediocre to tragic.
I ask out loud how we
survived this world
and Lauren says
"It was either that or succumb."

Day drones on

and finds us again
nearly naked by the pool,
where Lauren asks what
I'm thinking and says "Me too."
when I say "Mom..."
I say "...where she is now
and why she couldn't

love us enough."
and Lauren says "That she's a dick."
Her words, not mine.
My words are all used up
like forgiveness.

Mother, my Mother
you seep into everything
bitter like that cinnamon stick
which I wanted to believe

would last its refinement
and become something

good for me.
I would have even settled
for something

not bad for me
but you just can't help yourself.

I cannot help you.

There are any unguessable
number of miles between us
and I cannot even 
get away from you.
I am supposed to be
on vacation from
all of your you
and this poem
was supposed to be
about spiders.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

I Say

Glory green this grass
and I am angry 
or in love with you.
As mad as the lesser flowers

are wild, simple
extraordinary things. 

I crush a buttercup,
say "It proves I am strong..."
and pretend I don't care
whether it will glow a golden sun
on the chisel of your chin.
I throw it on the ground and
defy your cholesterol to matter any less
just so long as you are
taking your vitamins at least.
"Confound you, I do not care." I say.

Just like this feeble daisy,
I plucked you out of nowhere and
I swear I'll put you back there. 
"It is only a weed," I say
"white and plain,
and it does not matter."
But it droops its head and
reminds me of you sulking so I
stick it in my hair
"Just to get it out of my face." I say
but as well as I know anything
I know why it's there.

There, scentless,
feather heavy it woos me,
whispers the dangling maybe
I ask every day. 
Finally I say
"It doesn't matter anyway,

these childhood things
need innocence and I do not
believe anymore.
But then. . .
. . .if it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter
and I'll only pull the petals
out of spite," I say
"to make it vulnerable and
naked like me." I say. 

So I pick and I pluck,
I say "No one's keeping track."
but I get to that last and long
and milky leg,
that smooth exclamation point
which trembles in my hand
and I exhale
and butter
and wishes,
and chicory 
and cherish the lesser things,
the tender ones,
the forget-me-nots filled
with all our tiny forevers
which I say "Once we meant to keep..."
which only ever bloom
in Spring,
in clusters,
in blue and humble promises. 

Later the petal glows warm

and white, as innocent as anything
floating in my tea
and I say
"On this day only,
if I drink it I'll believe."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Marking the Quiet Passing of a Day - In Memory of Christopher

Those who are familiar with my work are familiar with a very bright and brilliant little boy who left our earth much, much too soon at the dawning age of 8 years old.  Christopher died unexpectedly on the first day of summer in 1990 and both his life and death left an immeasurable impact on my own life and how I would later deal with learning to grieve my childhood friend and creating artwork which could honor his legacy.  To learn more about our story, go here.

While I've shared with Chris's family what has unfolded in my artistry and how through Chris I've been able to connect with thousands of grieving families and offer a message of comfort and healing, I have not yet made them a sculpture as it seemed it would be somewhat of a magnum opus for me.  I came up against artist's block when trying to conceptualize a design, and for that reason up until this last week I had not committed to sitting and creating this important legacy piece for them.  I felt in my heart that when the time was right I would be led to create.

With Christopher's angelversary up and coming, I knew the timing had come upon me to present his family with this gift but I still could not climb over my own artists block to create the "right" sculpture.  Finally it came to me that I needed a closeness to him where I could sit in his quiet and feel his inspiration, so on Friday I journeyed to his graveside with my journal, blanket, clay, and camera.

Christopher's grave site is under the canopy of  a large conifer.  While sitting with him it brought a very profound and favorite memory to the forefront of my mind, and it is truly my most cherished memory of us.  Chris and I had the most chemistry when we bickered usually, but reflecting on this memory I know that it is one that God set aside for me to later relive and reflect on.  Our class went on a field trip to go apple picking at the orchards.  That day Christopher sat with me on the bus and he did something unexpected and tender.  He put his head on my shoulder, right on my shoulder cap and so it was bony and very uncomfortable for both of us to sit like that but he left it there and I sat as still as possible so not to discourage him.  It was a moment that solidified to me how close we were and I hoped we'd never reach the farm so we could stay like that all afternoon. On that bus ride I felt that we loved each other in the purest way that two children could, gender disregarded.

Later Chris stayed near me in the orchards.  Christopher was so very small, and I pulled the branches downward and he reached up for his apples to pick them.  When I close my eyes, I can still see the memory of his hands splayed with the sun behind them.  The moment I learned of his death, that was the exact image that I thought of.  Christopher, in his smallness, reaching for his apples with sunlight glowing in his fingers.  Despite the bittersweetness of the memory, when I think of that day I refer to it in my mind as the Harvest because I think it redirected and redefined what had grown between us.

When I went to Chris's gravesite for inspiration, I genuinely had thought I would be sculpting a family sculpture for him.  Being there with him, underneath his tree, and thinking of our defining memory together, a much different piece came to unfold in front of me.  Above are some photographs of my quiet time with Chris.  Below is the actual sculpture that I created and shipped to his family today, along with an album containing 30 letters from friends that Christopher has made all across the world.  His family will be floored to read them and see how far reaching Chris' legacy is.


Today we remember Christopher.  

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Surprise! I am back!

Most of you are completely unawares to the fact that I have been away on vacation these past few days!  We don't advertise an empty house over the internet until we are back home and safely occupying it.  Anyhow, we went away, spread our family magic in the Adirondack Mountains, and literally walked back into our palace (whoops, did I say palace?  I meant place.  tee hee) just a little bit ago.

Vacation for me is likely much different than it would be for someone holding a non-portable job.  I LOOOOVE long road trips, not only for getting to sing off key with my family most of the way, but because I am confined in one place and I get a TON of sculpting done.  We are talking a total of 12 hours drive time. !  I bring a conventional oven with me as well as all my brushes, powders, and wings, and each night I finish off the drive's pieces and then bake them in our hotel room.  Laptop gets a lot of action at night too as well as in the morning before we leave for the day's activities.  During those time frames I catch up on communication and play with you guys a little on my fan page.
Here is a shot of all the pieces that are pending shipment (in various stages of creation, some awaiting powdering and some awaiting glaze still).  If you have an order pending, you just might see it in here!

I know you folks are shaking your heads at me for working consistently throughout vacation.  I just can see you all doing it in my mind's eye!  But the nice thing about my job as a professional sculpture artist is that this is my heart's work.  I am passionate about sculpting and could not imagine going a day without doing it.  My 3 year old twirls her hair for comfort.  I play with clay.  It soothes my mind and my art soul!

Worky stuff aside, we had so much fun lost in the greenery of the Adirondacks.  For those who've never been there, I hope one day you get this true pleasure.  I have some highlights to share with you and then I need to get started on Wee Creature Week which is upon us.

This photo is from our prior trip to Lake George.  I have to mention this quickly because I can't not be immature about this so let me just have at it and then move along.  We could not go to beach along any part of the lake because of the current... Invasive Asian Clam Elimination Project.  (insert maniacal giggle at the phrase Invasive Asian Clam.  Those who have heard my laugh know just what this specific giggle sounds like, and I reserve it for just such an occasion!).  I did do my homework on this once I leveled my immaturity, and learned that despite being nominally funny, this is serious stuff.  These are very tiny clams that can each reproduce up to 70,000 offspring per year.  They literally pave the lake bed and the native species can't compete with them because of their staggering population.  It's crazytown.  I wish the project much success and that they can bring balance back to the many area lakes, canals, streams, and rivers that are affected by this.  Eradicate the Invasive Asian Clam once and for all!

And now, for the grand finale, the highlight of our trip every year is the visit to The Magic Forest.  I cannot accurately describe this amusement park that is self proclaimed as being a place for young children and families.  Sneak peeeeek...  Click on any of these images to enlarge them.

This theme park is set wholly within a forest and dates back 47 years, although some of the rides and attractions date back almost a century.  It is literally like stepping back in time and is genuinely and wonderfully creepy.  The rides are rickety as well as the marvelous elders who conduct them.  Acorn shells crack under your feet as you walk the pathways and inchworms hang suspended invisibly in little glowing patches of sunlight.  The statues bewilder at their own decay and chipmunks linger unstartled by them.

I cannot accurately describe this place except to say I do believe there is a magic in it which lights in the heart as you walk through it.  For me, as a sculptor, I am absolutely mesmerized by the artistry that abounds in this place, albeit overwhelming and perhaps terrifying when the sun begins to set.  The statues have plaster pulling away from the armatures and many are covered in dust and cobwebs.  I love that they do not try to defy time.  Here are some more photos to help you understand what I cannot do justice with words.

To begin, the ferris wheel is actually in the trees.

My little Natasha seemed to want to like this pup but couldn't decide whether to trust her better judgment.  This was as close as she would go for the picture.  <3

A small army of fairies flocking the roof top of one of the novelty shacks.  

Inchworms hung unevenly in every area imaginable, like green and glowing forest ornaments.  My daughters could not commit to whether they appreciated this.  Still a worm after all, and they didn't like the sneak approach.

This just looks like a big old Uh Oh to me....

Throughout the forest there are these giant cages which I am pretty sure were for large birds of prey at one point.  I have seen these cages at zoos, but here they only house set ups that I believe are supposed to be charming but could likely make a jumpy child cry.

Watching my children wandering down this path had a very Hansel and Gretel feel to it.  I like this photo because it shows the sheer size of some of these statues.  Some are well over a hundred feet tall.  

A row of sentinels that had a Robyn Hood feel to them.  Each looked suspicious yet unsinister.  You cannot tell from this photo because we were passing on a train track, but these are very, very tall.  

When you pass these giant hens, a very old audio track blares through equally old sound equipment.  The chickens sound as haunting as they look and I whispered to my husband that it sounded like a slaughterhouse.  I am sure this was not the case except my mind runs away on me when we visit this attraction each year. 

I cannot help but see these sculptures and wonder their purpose.  What inspiration led the artist to create the piece and is there a story behind it?  This may very well be an accompaniment to a children's story that I don't recognize because I was distracted by the peeling eyelids and the thought of whether, even when newly created, this was meant to be inviting or intimidating.  

I find it all alluring because it is slightly intimidating, although I know many of you will think this forest holds the stuff nightmares are made of.  

Okay, so wolves aren't your nightmare.  How about giant clowns?  For size perspective, take a look at his shin and you will see my 5 year old standing down by the boot.  M-A-S-S-I-V-E!!

I cannot wait to go back again next year and I fear my children turning the age where they ask instead to go to Six Flags which is just up the road.  I hope their childhood imaginations become as timeless as this magnificent forest.  

Friday, April 22, 2011

Results from the Just As I Am charity auction!!

I am continuously amazed and encouraged at the outpour of kindness and sweet spiritedness of both friends and strangers.  I was looking through my studio shelving this week and realized that throughout the past 3 years, I have accumulated a large quantity of sculptures that I considered unsaleable due to minor imperfections.  The thought came to me that others may like the opportunity to own these pieces at a very reduced cost, and so I posted it on my facebook fanpage and asked what others thought of this.  The response was immediate and I could see there was a demand for these pieces.  One woman, Natalie, recommended an auction and I thought it was a wonderful idea!  However, truly I was not looking to profit off of these pieces and so it was decided that if we were going to do an auction, the money raised would all be donated to charity of the winning bidders choices.    The results are, in this artist's mind... shocking and wholly uplifting!!

62 pieces were listed and a total of ... BIG DRUMROLL .... $1300.51 was raised for charity!  It is unbelievable to me that together we have done this and I am just so stunned, touched, and humbled to have been able to be a part of this and watch it unfold in a matter of 3 days.  I also loved reading the metaphors so many of you found in these imperfect pieces and how they all spoke to you in different ways.  As humans, we are all flawed and I can see now how easily you all related to these sculptures and found a personal connection to them.  In reading your posts, I have found a connection to each of you as well and I look forward to friendship continuing to bloom with those I do not already have the pleasure of knowing.  If you had hoped to win a piece but were not able to, please take comfort in knowing that most of these pieces are available without flaw in my online shop and I would be happy to make them for you in your own custom colors. If you can't find something, just let me know.  If you had your heart set on making a donation, I would still encourage you to do so!

And now, for the specifics!  If you are listed below, you are an auction winner.  Congrats!  See details under this list for the next steps...  

Lisa Crownover Mickle - $87 - Memorial Fund for Chris Todaro, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Sheri Copeland Darge - $18, $23, $7, $16 Sealed Strength 
EmilieVergon Miller - $23, $2 St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Audrey Rogers - $20 -  Pandora's Project
James Sessions - $30, $46, $30, $20 - Sealed Strength
Dani Franklin - $15, $25
Jennifer Gordon Baker - $30
Sarah Grandfield Connors - $22, $6 String of Pearls
Emily Rose Hughes - $36, $22  Metro-Detroit SHARE
Katlyn Hudgins - $25
Allison Miller Johnson - $65 Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep
Melissa Rebello Pachecho - $20 American Heart Association
Angel Bre - $26 Susan G. Komen
Annette Hopkins - $25
Sheila Simpson - $35
Jennifer Murray - $37, $17 Promise for Ethan
Angela Chrzanowski - $17, $30 Salvation Army
Rikki Donkin - $30 - Donation made to the Teddy Love Club
Kirsty Broderick - $12, $10 Mental Health Foundation New Zealand
Kim Giger Hart - $12 - The Gentle Barn
Jeanie Nelson - $7
Lauren Wolff - $15 Compassionate Friends
Lisa Hunter - $30, $15, $27 - Australian Cancer Research Foundation
Sara Mizzi - $26 - Memorial Fund for Chris Todaro
Holly Haas - $92 -
Jennifer Thiel - $23 SPCA - Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Joy Carter - $5
Jenna Lynne Allen - $15
Ashley Wood - $11 MollyBears
Karen Morales - $14
Hope Wood - $15, $15, $12.50, $21.01 Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep
Ginny Slamka Prince - $41 Sufficient Grace Ministries
Lisa Lapierre - $20 - Girl Scouts
Margarita Garcia - $6
Alyssa Burrows - $7
Erin Foster - $32

The next steps will be me collecting payment and determining what charity I will be donating to on your behalf. I will be invoicing each of you via paypal so please email me your email address (you do not need to have a paypal account in order to pay the invoice, but if you do have a paypal account please send me the email you use with your paypal account).  You will need to email this info to me at and please ***attach a link to the donation page of your charity's website, as well as including your shipping address in the email so I can send you your winnings.  Once I receive your email address I will invoice you via paypal, and once I receive your payment I will make the donation (minus the shipping charge) and forward the receipt to your email so you have record that the donation has been made.  Your sculpture will be packaged and shipped to the address you provide.  All payments will be collected in US Dollars (it is okay if you are international, paypal will convert) and donations will be made in US Dollars.

Thank you again for taking part in something wonderful which evolved quickly and unexpectedly!  Once I have the details on all the charities supported I will post an update.  Very excited to be able to share that info.  Thank you all for blessing my heart through your actions, you do not know the warmth you've given me and I can only hope to be able to give it back to you in some way.
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