Wednesday, September 11, 2013

So, It's All Diana Nyad's Fault...

So, it's all Diana Nyad's fault.  I'm sure you have heard of her spectacular achievement of big thing...just swam solo from Cuba to Key West without a shark cage.  Oh, and she's 64.  So...there's THAT!

 Anyway, her conquest of this particular stretch of ocean was many years in coming, and one of the many obstacles she had to overcome presented itself in a deceptively small package.  A small and potentially deadly package.  I'm talking about jellyfish.  Jellyfish that have caused her to abandon the swim on more than one occasion.  If you have never been stung by one, it's so hard to describe the pain.  I grew up in South Florida and have been swiped by a jellyfish or two...never anything major, just hit by a trailing tentacle and BELIEVED I WAS BEING CONSUMED BY LIQUID FIRE.  Now imagine swimming into a school of dozens of jellyfish...face first.  HOLY CRAP.  That is what Diana Nyad has done...more than once.  And she still gets back in the water.  Damn.

So, with all this in mind, and feeling so PROUD for her that this time she MADE IT, I was inspired to make a jellyfish pendant for her.  I call it "Nemesis of Nyad".  Hand constructed out of copper, brass and enamel copper, with pearls.  It should be in her publicist's hands about now, and I anxiously await Diana's reaction.  I hope she likes it!

 This design is now rooted in my brain, like, with tentacles or something.  I'm making a few more in silver and brass.  It's such an organic, flowing shape that lends itself to so many design possibilities.  I have a ton of ideas brewing.  One of which was to make a jellyfish bangle bracelet.  I imagined all those tentacles flowing around my wrist and figured this would be a relatively easy design to create.  WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.  What a nightmare.  It began so well...creating the jellyfish body, then laying out the tentacles, getting the flow, then trying in vain to wrap that mother around my bracelet mandrel.  My fatal flaw(s) was impatience (I didn't think ahead enough to plan for the placement of all the wonky tentacles), and not really knowing how long I needed the tentacles to be to create a standard 8-inch bangle because of all the bends and curves, which I created sort of as I went.  Well, after the initial failed wrap around the bracelet mandrel, I realized that I would need to solder the tentacles together in spots, as some were shorter than others.  I used 14 gauge nickel silver wire-- I wanted the bangle to be stiff to hold all the bends and curls.  Having forced it around the mandrel once, I had to hammer it flat again, and with all the flow, curls and bends that was basically impossible.  Sigh.  I went at it anyway, spot soldering where I thought I needed to in order to hold the tentacles together.  Here is where the swearing began.  The first spot solder was perfect.  Moved on to the next and as soon as the solder flowed the first join popped.  Fixed that and the second guessed it...POPPED.   At this point you're thinking, "binding wire, Karen".  Well, I have never used it and don't have any so SHUT UP!  This went on for about 75 years.  Okay, maybe not that long, but it sure felt like it.  Nickel silver is great to work with but the more you heat it the more brittle it becomes.  I won't bore you with all the grisly details, but by the end of it all I had created an amazing contraption using ceramic tiles, a third hand, and ceramic bead trees stacked together to cage this beast of a bangle so I could FINISH THE DAMNED THING!  And here it is.  I don't know if I love it or hate it.  I do know I will NOT be making another one like this.
 And, as I said in the beginning, it's all Diana Nyad's fault.

Seriously, I love you Diana, and I congratulate you and your team.  Hope you like your pendant, call me!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I Need Your Vote...PLEASE!

Hi All!  I made this video last night, explaining why I am so crazy to win the Martha Stewart American Made contest.  Please watch, then consider voting for me.  I would so love to share this with other artists in my community, and need your help to do that.  You can log on and vote six times a day between now and Sept 13th.  I know it's a long shot, but it would be so FANTASTIC if I won and could share this with my artist friends.  Thanks in advance...

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hello, World...Sorry We're Killing You

I've been in a bit of a dark head-space lately.  Don't ask why, just turn on the news.  If you are one of those folks who proudly declares, "I don't watch the news or read the newspaper--it's too depressing", forgive me if I want to punch you in the throat.   Refusing to acknowledge the times we live in doesn't make it all better, it just means you are actively choosing not only to do NOTHING ABOUT IT, but you are also insulting those in the world struggling to survive in horrific circumstances by pretending they don't exist.   Your pretend world doesn't interest me.

That being said, I feel that in this moment in time,  we bear witness to some of the most tragic, depraved, desperate and mindless behaviors of our species.

As we watch, we are inundated with technicolor images and bold-faced text describing and displaying the worst of humanity.  A tidal wave of despair in pixels and paper.  How to make sense of it?  How to weed through the flood of noise that is the news these days to really understand what we are being shown?  I want to reach through the screen, try to touch a real flesh and blood human being, establish some sort of contact to say, "I'm here,  I see you.  I hear you and I weep for you."

It's overwhelming.
I have a series of pendants and necklaces I call "Sacred Salvage".  Within this are "Poetry Pieces" and "Storybook Necklaces".  These are designs created around a short story or poem I have written.  They incorporate found objects, mixed metals, all manner of this and that.  I felt the need to create a new assemblage, but without a printed story to go with it.  I wanted the piece itself to be the story. 
"Screaming Silence - Read Between the Lines"

 So, I sat at my bench and started gathering bits and pieces together.  A story was brewing in my mind, a sad story but one I wanted to tell.  I've been asked what my process is when I make a storybook or assemblage design, and I have absolutely no definitive answer.  I usually begin with an idea.  Sometimes just a word.  Today two words jumped out at me--"guise" and "forlorn".  I found them on a bit of transparency sheet.  I formulated a rough picture in my brain of a window, with the cover rolled back.  Newsprint crammed full of text with a face peering from behind, trying to be seen amidst the noise--the hidden agendas.  More newsprint is jammed into the window cover.  Mind you, as I imagined this, I am sifting and sifting through drawers and dozens of boxes on my table.  It's actually kind of mindless in a purposeful way--if that makes sense at all.  I also totally lose track of time at this point.  I wanted three dimensional items to reflect the story--a tiny broken doll arm for the loss of innocence, a dragonfly wing for the desperate, futile urge to flee, a watch arm for the passage of time.  Turquoise represents the Earth to me, cracked and nearly ruined, but still blue.  A broken circle holds it all with a drop of red enamel representing the horror of spilled blood.  Held together with rivets and screws.

No, it's not a happy creation.  I made it with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes.  I wanted it to be beautiful though, because ALL LIFE SHOULD BE BEAUTIFUL.  There is beauty all around us.  What I don't understand is why, at this moment in history, mankind seems to want to destroy all that is beautiful.

So, we bear witness.
I hope this pendant finds a home with someone who will appreciate and understand this story.  I've been asked if it is hard to part with some of these designs.  The answer is no.  Stories are meant to be shared, passed on.  That's how they stay alive.  I hope someone wants this pendant to add to their own story.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Tallmadge's Dragons - An Original Short Story

18th August 1869

My Dearest Winifred,

 I write to you now beneath a concert of raindrops beating against the roof of my bedchamber.  While my accommodations have been less than luxurious by any standard, I find the thatch and tin roof more than adequate for my purpose.  These past few months have been torture without you, Dearest, and I fear that the seasons may come and go before we are again together.  For me, there will be no visible signals as Mother Nature flows across time.  No brightening of Autumnal leaves, no nip of cold upon the morning breeze, just the endless tropic heat and ever green bounty of foliage growing to astronomical size and dimension. 

But my purpose to document these marvels of nature is clear, and I have been immersed in an endless array of unbelievable life forms never before seen by European man.  I could write an entire tome on the catastrophic flowers alone.  Would you believe that one such blossom, emerging only in the depths of night, opens petals the size of your favorite parasol?   And another, the size of a shilling, produces a sticky nektar for the sole purpose of capturing and devouring small insects and lizards misfortunate enough to stumble upon it!  I can hear you now, my Darling, aghast that such a thing occurs in nature.  Fear not, I am ever vigilant and take great care whenever I am in the field.  No harm has befallen me…yet.

I hesitate to put to paper these next words, but I feel I must share with you the most recent of my adventures here in this steaming jungle.  Less than a fortnight ago, while in the bush alone, I came upon an amazing sight.  I discovered a clearing, in the centre of which lay a pool of glowing azure blue water.  The pool was surrounded by the tiny carnivorous plants I described above, along with countless other plants and blooms I have never before seen in my 20 years as a botanist.  As you can well imagine, I was atremble with excitement, and set about gathering samples to sketch and diagramme back at camp.  I had just gathered a handful of flowers and leaves when a soft buzzing began amongst the foliage.  The sound was almost musical, like the draw of a bow across the strings of a violin.  Arising from the brush came a cloud of what appeared to be a form of dragonfly, but like none I had ever seen before.  The insects bodies were of brightest blue, just like the waters of the pond!  Each was in length as long as your favorite quill (the one Mother gave you of ostrich feather).  To my eye  they resembled forged metal with four long wings of blazing silver, as if spun by a silversmith!  These amazing creatures formed a cloud about me, seeming to examine me with bright eyes and a manner reflecting the same curiosity with which I examined them!  I know what you are thinking, Dearest, but the heat had not clouded my mind, intense tho it was.  I found myself sitting at the edge of the pool, enveloped in a living cloud of hundreds of flashing blue and silver bodies.  I swear to you, my Darling Dear, that these insects were attempting to communicate with me!  They beat their wings in a distinct rhythm, a rudimentary language if you will!  The sounds they created were so soothing, so enchanting, I began to drowse, right in their midst.  I felt them alight on my body, tiny feet nearly weightless, shining wings caressing my face and hands.  I tell you, I have never felt such peace but for the moments we have spent together in quite reflection amongst your treasured gardens in Cambridge.  I confess, I was nearly hypnotized!  I do not know how long I spent in the company of these otherworldly creatures, but time seemed of no consequence.  The next thing I knew, I awoke to the sound of Reginald and Walter calling my name over and over again.  I looked about me, but the dragonflies were gone and the pool was no longer brilliant blue, but had turned a dark black.  I roused myself, and left the clearing to join the others, who I found had been frantically searching for me for over 12 hours!  Dearest, I had no sense of time passing at all! 

Needless to say, I did not share my discovery with Walt or Reg,  instead I told them I had lost my compass and muddled my directions in the forest.  I think they believe me, but both regard me with some suspicion now and I doubt I will be left to explore alone from this point on.

 But explore I must, for in the days since, the dragonflies have been calling to me.  Yes, I know how mad that sounds, but it is true none the less.  I see them from the corner of my eye, flashing blue and silver amongst the forest greenery.  I turn, and they are gone!  Walt and Reg don’t know what to make of my behaviour, and I simply cannot share this with them.  The dragonflies chose to communicate with only me, and I must keep their confidence until we meet again. 

 Last night, they came to me in my dreams, once again enveloping me in their soft, shining wings and serenading me with their aerial music.  I must find them, I simply must.  So, tonight I set out alone to reunite with these fantastical beings.  I hope I can find the clearing again, for I scratched a crude map upon a forest tree when I first discovered the oasis.  Oh Winnie, if only you could have seen them!  Bluer than even your lovely eyes! 

I shall write again, as soon as I can, and one day I hope to bring you here to witness for yourself the magik in this primordial forest.  Until then, I reach to you across the seas, soul to soul, heart to heart.

Yours Forever, 


This letter was the last communication that Winifred Tallmadge ever received from her husband, the famed explorer and botanist, Professor Matthias Tallmadge.  Enclosed with the letter were a few scraps of paper, believed to be from Prof. Tallmadge’s field notebook.  The notes are unintelligible, and include drawings of unidentified plants and insects.   Also included with the letter was a 3-inch long insect wing resembling a dragonfly wing, but made of fine silver.

Prof. Tallmadge’s research partners, Professors Reginald Moorehaven and Walter LeMoyne, discovered his bunk empty.  After 24 hours with no sign of Tallmadge returning to camp, a search party was dispatched.  The search continued for three weeks before the determination was made that Tallmadge had somehow become lost and perished in the jungle.  The clearing mentioned in Tallmadge’s letter was never found, but his spectacles and part of his field notebook were discovered at the base of a tree carved with Tallmadge’s name alongside his wife’s name.  His body was never recovered.  It was noted that in the days after Tallmadge’s disappearance, the field station was inundated with thousands of insects noted to be a new un-described species of blue dragonfly.   No specimens were ever captured or preserved, and it was recorded by the team and several other witnesses that the insects vanished the same day the search for Tallmadge was suspended. 

Mrs. Tallmadge pledged to fund a continued search for her husband, and did so for the rest of her life until she passed away at the age of 86.  The disappearance of Professor Matthias Tallmadge remains a mystery to this day.

Post Script:

The following transcript was added to this file by Peirce Moorehaven, son of Professor Reginald Moorehaven, the last surviving member of the Tallmadge research team at the time of Winifred Tallmadge’s death.

“My Father was 97 when Mrs. Tallmadge died.  He insisted we attend her funeral, both the church service and the grave side ceremony following.  By this time Father was very crippled with arthritis and other maladies affecting a man  of his great age, but with my help we managed to walk from our carriage to the grave site, along with the rest of the funeral party.  As the minister was speaking beside Mrs. Tallmadge’s coffin, my father became extremely agitated, pointing to the Tallmadge grave marker.  Two large blue dragonflies with silver wings were hovering over the stone, eventually landing on the carved marble.  They remained there until the ceremony was over, then vanished in the blink of an eye.  My father referred to them as “Tallmadge’s Dragons” and insisted they were an omen of some sort.  We left at this point, as Father was near to fainting from exhaustion.  No matter how I pressed him, he refused to speak of the incident ever again and passed away some weeks later.  Whatever secrets he discovered in the jungle with Tallmadge died with him, but I shall never forget those spectacular dragonflies.” 

Library at Oxford, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013


February was a blur...hence the title. For the past seven years, my good friend and wonderful artist Gisela Pferdekamper and I have joined forces to hold a wildlife art show benefiting the good works of the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation. This show, aptly called "Wild Things" began as a small, word of mouth event featuring a few of our local arts friends, showing works inspired by nature, held in Gisela's converted barn/studio. Our first year attracted about 100 folks and raised a few hundred dollars for RSCF. Fast-forward to 2013 and the show featured 18 artists from around the country and attracted over 350 guests, raising several THOUSAND dollars for RSCF! We done good! Each year the show gets bigger and better, yet still retains a "down home" appeal we are so proud of. Gisela's barn/studio is an ecclectic, wonderful space, tucked off a dirt road in the wilds of Loxahatchee, surrounded by a lush garden landscape, wandering albino peacocks, and a molluccan cockatoo named Pepitta greeting you as you come in. Gisela and I are so proud of this show and the fact that we hold it each year with a budget of around $500.00 (thank Heaven for our volunteers, friends and sponsors!). 
 This year's show was a BLAST. Great art, music, food (thank you International Polo Club and Wanderers Club Wellington), and more. Please visit our Flickr page for pics of the event. Planning and preparing for the show pretty much obsesses me for the bulk of January, and recovering (my word for "accounting") takes me through to the middle of February. When it's all over I heave a sigh of relief and immediately begin imagining next year's show. I'm a glutton for punishment!
In the meantime, I am so thrilled to be showing at the Copper Frog Gallery in New Jersey. Just sent them a box full of goodies, soon to hit their shelves. I hope they like the selection, and look forward to joining the CFG family. One of my favorite jewelry designers, Staci Klinger Smith also shows there, so neat to have my work alongside hers....I anxiously await reviews....
I also just sent a box to Plum Gallery in St. Augustine, one of my favorite spots on the planet. Karen Sheridan has created such a wonderful space on Avilla Street, right in historic downtown. The gallery is gorgeous, full of light and filled with wonderful works, including Karen's beautiful Key West inspired paintings. I am always looking for any excuse to visit St. Augustine...I may just have to head North to see what she thinks of the new work I just sent her...
Working on new designs as well--exploring steel wire bundles and color. I'm experimenting with Gisela using steel wire, glaze, and clay. Her kiln is loaded and I can't wait to see if my ideas worked or not. Will keep you posted, the firing is today. I've posted a couple pictures here of the first rings I've made featuring the wire bundles. The rusted steel wire ring is my favorite. I love rust, and steel rusts beautifully. Add MaryAnn Carroll's enamel copper discs and you get a gorgeous ring. The other ring is aluminum, with blue enamel steel bundle and a copper enamel accent. More to come.....
Finally, a ring I made right after this month's rather explosive celestial events. This "Asteroid" ring is created from a lump of black quartz druzy I set in sterling silver and brass, wth 14k gold nugget accents. I love this...very fun to wear and full of sparkle and mystery.
My head is overflowing with ideas these days, just have to find the time to execute them! My life is about to get even more hectic--as many of you know, I am a conservation biologist in real life, and soon will be hostage to hatching red-browed Amazon parrots, one of the most endangered Brazillian parrots. Eggs in the incubator, will be hatching next month. We feed the babies every 90 minutes around the clock, so sleep will be a distant memory...wish us luck!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New Year, New Designs, New Show...

2013 has begun in creative frenzy.  I have managed to shake off the low feelings and dark thoughts that accompanied a very emotionally exhausting Holiday Season.  Cleared my bench, my mind, and my calendar!  Looking ahead now to one of my most favorite events, a wildlife-themed art show I co-host every February with my dear friend and artist Gisela Pferdekamper.  This will be the seventh year for this show, dedicated to raising funds for the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation.  Held in Gisela's converted barn (she is a wonderful sculptor and turned her barn into a working studio), this show has evolved from a word-of-mouth event with a few of our local artist friends getting together for a fun evening, to a three-day show featuring works from award-winning artists from around the country.  Last year we attracted over 300 guests for our opening night reception alone!  The outpouring of support from the arts community for this event has been so overwhelming--all participating artists donate 25% of show sales to RSCF.  This year's show will be held February 10 - 12, we have 18 artists participating, and several live art events opening night including a raku firing and live body painting.  All the work is inspired by nature--really gorgeous stuff --photography, sculpture, fine jewelry, paintings, pottery, mixed media and more.  I've included the invitation here, featuring a lovely art photograph courtesy of Melinda Moore of our female golden lion tamarin.  Zeppo has never looked better!

I'm feverishly creating new works for this show, and have hit on a couple of pendant designs I really love.  I call them Ladder Works and Glyphs.  The Ladder Works feature hand constructed and soldered wire ladder-style bases from which I build layers of elements cold connected with rivets or screws.  Brass and bronze wire have caught my fancy at the moment, I love the deep golden color and ease of use (solders and hammers beautifully).  The Glyphs are textured open-wire designs, accented with a cold connected element.  I call them Glyphs because my brother commented that he likes the style because each pendant reminds him of symbols of a lost language from an ancient tribe.  I love that!  These two design styles are perfect for another of my current obsessions, enamel copper discs by MaryAnn Carroll of Artisan Beads Plus.  I absolutely love them and use them constantly--the rich rustic colors are so intense and gorgeous!  Perfect for layering and cold connecting.  I plan to have a nice collection of these for the show and am offering some in my Etsy Shop as well.

I'll keep you posted with photos from the show--it will be such a fun night.  AND, if you are in my neck of the woods, do come by for this event.  Great art, great cause, great artists.  See you there! 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Looking Ahead...

Welcome 2013!  Clean slate, metaphorically speaking, right?  Clean work bench at any designs brewing in my brain, anxious to become reality.  Got a fabulous package of goodies from Becky Nunn of Nunn Design, to stock me with the very latest jewelry components from their soon-to-be-released 2013 catalog.  Yes, I am so happy to be a part of the 2013 Nunn Innovation Team!  Becky also sent me a PDF preview of the catalog and I drooled all over my keyboard.  So many lovely design elements!!  Many included with the 2013 stash she sent me.  Already been busy, effectively destroying my clean work surface in a creative frenzy.  I can't share photos of the new stuff yet, (I send the finished designs to Becky first and she promotes for us--SWEET) but I can tell you about my favorites so far...first off, the brass elements coming out for Nunn are FABULOUS and I've been cold connecting like mad (made a gorgeous cuff).  Deep bezels in many sizes (great for us mixed media, assemblage folks--I made two really cool pendants filled with this and that), tons of unique, detailed stampings, new clasps, closures, chains, findings, chatons, settings, bangles, and SO MUCH MORE.  I have included here some photos from the catalog of finished designs from the Innovation Team, including some of mine.  Becky has a great team and the photography for the catalog is to die for.  

So, get to the Nunn website and go crazy!  She offers wholesale accounts for designers and links to retail outlets that carry the products.  You won't be disappointed!