Friday, August 5, 2016

This is the Reason why Some of my Blog Posts have Disapppeared

I've been teaching needle felting as a volunteer at Hartford's Chrysalis Center for almost a year, and occasionally blogging about that experience and how gratifying it has been for all involved.

Today, however, a member of the public raised an issue pursuant to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a statute enacted in 1996 and codified at 42 U.S.C. Sec. 300gg, 29 U.S.C. 1181 et seq.,  and 42 U.S.C. 1320d et seq.

Familiarly known as HIPAA, this is an extremely complex, even arcane, piece of legislation, and the regulations promulgated pursuant to it are even more labyrinthine.  I must confess I'm not familiar enough with its minutiae to know how it applied to my blog posts.

Nevertheless, because the issue has been raised, I've deleted all posts describing my volunteer experience at Chrysalis.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Restoring an Iconic Link to Connecticut's Agrarian Past

Anyone who has ever picked berries, bought a Christmas tree, or taken a hay ride at the Auer Farm in Bloomfield, Connecticut has passed this building, sitting off by itself in a field on State Route 185 in Bloomfield.

Auerfarm is now an impressive education facility for the youth agricultural organization known as 4-H,, But its 120 acres started out as the property of Beatrice Fox Auerbach, the heir to the Hartford-based G. Fox department store chain, which held a prominent place in the state's retail landscape for most of the 20th century.

Most of the farm  occupies a scenic hilltop, but this structure sits by itself at the bottom of the hill, away from the farm buildings on the heights.  I could tell it was constructed for a specific purpose, with its masonry walls and interesting ventilation system. I'd assumed it was a smokehouse.

Turns out it was a mushroom barn, and in fact, a historically significant structure:  it's the only known barn in the state constructed of hollow clay tiles for the specific purpose of growing mushrooms. It's on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was used for cultivating mushrooms until 1946.  In the intervening years of disuse, its roof collapsed, compromising the entire structure.

Now the 4-H Education Center wants to save this unique barn, viewing it as a gateway to the property just beyond it at the top of the hill.  Its location could make it an ideal visitor center, farm museum, and store, former director Jack Hasegawa said in a report posted on the Auerfarm website,, The plan is to repair and repurpose it in three phases:  one, to replace the roof, stabilize the structure, and make it weather resistant; two, to clean the interior and restore the tiles; and three, to finish renovating the interior with the ultimate goal of creating the museum, visitor center, and store. 

I've been so intrigued by this building that when I heard about Meadow Life, a celebration of Connecticut's open spaces, sponsored by the Slater Museum of Norwich, Connecticut, I knew that I wanted to use that image to enter the show.

I created this image with wool roving, thread painting, hand embroidery, and an odd material called a cricula cocoon, something I got as a door prize at a meeting of the Connecticut chapter of the Studio Art Quilt Associates.

The landscape was accepted into Meadow Life, which is hanging at the Slater from June 12 through August 5.

When Meadow Life comes down, if no one has bought this piece, I'm donating it to Auer Farm as part of their fundraising project to restore the barn.  This fall, it will be offered--raffled? auctioned?  who knows--as part of its fall fundraising activities.

I'm really happy to be able to use my artwork to help restore this unique link to Connecticut's agrarian past.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Quinnipiac River Tidal Marsh Trail

I grew up right by the Quinnipiac River, but never spent much time on its banks, except for the place where it runs through Sleeping Giant State Park.  Once when I was there as a teenager, my friends and I saw a guy skinny dipping in the river, and as we watched, he emerged from the water and turned to face us, giving us a full frontal view of his hanging majesty.

Other people who swam in that river include my mother, Ruth Lorenson Cadrain, who grew up in the Fair Haven section of New Haven and used to swim at Dover Beach, a public beach along the river in New Haven.  She said there were whirlpools there. I can't find an image of Dover Beach.  It was so long ago.  My mother was born in 1910 so she must have swam or swum there in the '20s.

Now, many moons later, it turns out that an intrepid group called the North Haven Trail Association has created a walking trail beside the river's tidal marshes where it runs through that North Haven.  Joe and I found out about it from this article in the Hartford Courant:  http://www.courancom/news/connecticut/hc-marteka-tidal-marsh-trail-0424-20160423-column.html

You reach the trail from a parking lot behind a Target store...where else?  We walked it today.

This is the only time of year when it's possible to see this lovely combination of light, bright green leaves against gray and black tree trunks.  Later on in the year this view will be different: more shady, less interesting.

The river runs right along to the right of the path in this photo, down an embankment.  The tide was coming in at the time we were there.  There was an osprey nest down there with a parent and a chick in it.  I don't have a good enough lens on my camera to show you that, but nest, parent, and chick were all down there, in the reeds.

I found this on Google Images and it purports to be the same nest I saw today, or another one along the same river:

Speaking of reeds, today was the first time I've ever seen the Sleeping Giant against a backdrop of them:

Those reeds, by the way, are phragmites, and they're invasive.  I'm not sure why that's a problem.  They look good to me.

Sleeping Giant is in Hamden, Connecticut, several miles to the north of where we were.  But from the banks of the river, we could also see East Rock, to the south, in New Haven:

This isn't a very good image of East Rock, but you can tell it's East Rock by the monument on top of it.

Here's a better image of East Rock, for the record:

I can tell you, from experiences in my teenage years, that the top of East Rock, at night, is a good makeout spot.  Ditto the top of West Rock.

East Rock, West Rock, and Sleeping Giant are all traprock ridges.  Sleeping Giant is anomalous because it runs in an east-west direction.  All the other traprock ridges in the state, which include not only East and West Rock but also the Metacomet Ridge, and others, run north and south.

In addition to the reeds, there were other lovely flora blooming at this time of year:

This is a cherry tree.  Maybe.

This little item is Garlic Mustard, also known as alliaria petiolata.  Like the phragmites, it's invasive.  It was introduced from Europe as a culinary herb (two of its other names are Sauce Alone and Poor Man's Mustard).  The problem is that its vigorous growth forces out a lot of other native plants and decreases biodiversity.

I'm not going to worry about that right now.  It was a lovely day and a lovely trail.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Garlanded Speech?

What's the name for an arrangement of words on a scroll, like this?

 Garlanded words?  Scrolled speech?

Whatever it's called, I needed to make one, but I didn't have any of the graphic arts tools, templates, or fonts that must exist to create something like this.

All I had was a pencil and some graph paper.  So, using the materials available, I wung it.

I think it was well-wung.

I learned something in the process.  When using a fine-tipped Sharpie marker to transfer this image to Pimatex cotton, I found that the letters bled.

This made me realize that the cotton needed to be treated with GAC 900, a polymer-type product that closes up the interstices of the weave and prevents bleeding.  I had to ditch this effort above, chalk it up to a learning experience, and try a second time with GAC 900.  With GAC 900, the Sharpie marker image stays crisp and doesn't bleed.

Here's the ultimate use for this garlanded speech, now that I have it transferred onto a piece of fabric.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Felted Labyrinths at the Windsor Art Center

It turned out that everyone had a satisfying time on Saturday, April 16, 2016, when I taught a class on the construction of a felted finger labyrinth at the Windsor Art Center, 40 Mechanic St., Windsor, CT.

What's not to like?  The materials are, quite literally, soft and fuzzy.  Finger-friendly.

People were happy with the process of making these as well as the end result:

Now it's been suggested that I lead a class in making felted beads.   They're really fun to make, and crazy easy.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Today in art: The felted finger labyrinth.

Today I'm getting ready to teach an upcoming workshop (Windsor Art Center, Saturday April 16, 2016, 10 am to 12 noon) for the construction of a felted finger labyrinth.  

The finger labyrinth is a tool for meditation, both in the act of its construction and in the practice of its use.

To use one, a person traces her finger along a defined path, in much the same way as a user of a traditional labyrinth traces a path with her feet.

The construction of a felted finger labyrinth involves using soft merino wool like this, in a variety of colors, of which this is just a small sample. This type of wool is called wool roving.  That name makes me imagine a roving bible preacher in the American old west, or an itinerant lawyer in the same setting.  Something or someone who roves. Those associations provide a dash of daring to a material  which is, otherwise, literally soft and fuzzy.

Can your eyes tell you how soft this material feels on your fingers?

You use a special barbed needle to poke that wool into a background printed with a labyrinth pattern like this:


The labyrinth pattern is traced onto a paperlike material called gossamer, a product made for party table coverings.   The gossamer, with the pattern on it, is sewn to a piece of commercial felt.   The whole is mounted on a piece of thick foam and provided with a special barbed needle.

And look at the points on those needles! There are barbs, too, which  you can feel more than see.

I have to tell you there's something therapeutic, in a tactile sense, about using those needles to apply soft wool roving to a soft substrate.

This young woman is a good example of the therapeutic power of needle felting.  In this photo, she's actually felting for the first time.  

Until the day when she decided to try needle felting, however, this young person reacted so viscerally against those needles that she wouldn't even cross the room to take a closer look at the other needle felters.  This was  at the Chrysalis Center in Hartford, Connecticut.

A couple of visits later, though, she changed her mind.  I traced a Cape Cod sunset on a piece of commercial felt for her.  With much help and encouragement from me, she chose her colors of soft wool roving and began applying it to the felt to create this scene.  After spending about 15 minutes at it, she opened up enough to chat with energy and joy about her pets.  Such  is the transformative power of the experience of needle felting. 

In fact, I have to say that guys in particular like the process.  My theory is that they like to, you know, poke things. 

Which reminds me: the concept of the labyrinth is, according to one school of thought, a correlative of the female genitalia.  

In the case of the felted labryinth, the finished product looks like the one on the right below.  On the left is a labyrinth in process.  And how do you like the box where I keep my needle felting tools? It's a gift from my daughter Leah, and a visual pun:  a spam box.

 Today I'm getting all my materials together for the workshop.  The patterns have been traced onto gossamer and mounted onto felt.  Now I have to measure and cut the pieces of foam.  

Of course the following thought is antithetical to the spiritual nourishment implied by the concept of the labryinth, and the practice of tracing one, but here it is:  There's a certain satisfaction in the act of repeatedly and forcefully stabbing a piece of foam like this.

In fact, I think this is why God invented the serrated kitchen knife.

Would you like to--uh, take a stab at making a felted finger labryinth?  If so, contact the Windsor Art Center at 860-688-2528 or  There's a fee of $30 for the class and $10 for materials.

Here's a link; the information about the workshop is near the bottom.  Please scroll down.
Here's a link with more information; please scroll down:  

Monday, March 28, 2016

Black Dog in the Rain

In and out.  In and out.  In and out.

Not a porn film but the way my black poodle, Mocha, spends a rainy afternoon.  With a rawhide chewbone. Into the house and then out.  In and out.

You might think she should get a life, but this IS her life.

It's all about keeping this precious item

...away from this Annoying Other Dog, Duncan, who is two years old.

Mocha, who is 12, takes the bone outside and stalks around with it, placing her feet in slow, dramatic steps, a don't-f**k-with-me look on her face.  If Duncan is watching her,  she barks him away, even with the bone clenched in her jaws, the noise percussive like a bark but coming from the back of her throat like a growl.  More like a growl-bark.

Then she finds a place to bury her treasure.

Later, she asks to come inside with it, all the while flaunting the treasure at Duncan.

Inside, she takes it to a denning place and shakes it and gnaws on it forcefully.  It leaves dirt on the rug.    

Can you believe this disgusting piece of distorted hide started out looking like this?

Now she wants to take it outside again.