Bird altars and treasure boxes: Gallery #1

I’ve known Thurid slightly for years, and I knew she made beautiful things out of paper, but I hadn’t seen many of them; they aren’t for sale. Thurid herself is graceful, charming and slightly mysterious. We never talked much until the day we decided to go ice skating. I think she reassured me that she wouldn’t fall down. The second time I passed her – I skate faster than I should – she was skating backwards, marking these perfect feathered ovals on the ice, white on white. It was so beautiful to watch. And so typical of her – little bits of hidden treasure.

Thurid was an ethnographic objects conservator. During an internship in Fairbanks, Alaska, where she found opportunities for entertainment somewhat limited, she ended up out in the woods one day, learning to make paper. They used a blender powered by a generator. She had always loved texture – she used to weave – but making paper and fabricating objects from it gave her the medium and the technique to make things that she really loved.

She talks about the effects she wants to produce, rather than the significance her creations have for her, but I did notice the altars she showed me all have something to do with birds, and they all have a similar aesthetic. They look fragile and earthy at the same time, and have a lot of layered but fairly monochromatic texture. I have no idea what that might mean; they are, however, the pieces she has saved over many, many years of making them.

The boxes are almost entirely paper, except for surface decorations – a little cloth and bone and stone and paint, sometimes. I thought the boxes themselves were wood, but they’re heavy cardboard. There is one in her house that she uses to save seeds from her garden, and they do seem made to hold meaningful things. Like the altars, they are precise, elaborate, strange, deliberately worn and supremely decorative: artifacts from a world that exists only in Thurid’s head. I know that sounds very romantic, but that’s how I feel when I look at them.

I’m not much of an interviewer; I’m a little uncomfortable asking a lot of questions. If you would like to ask Thurid better questions about the things she makes, I will forward her your emails via I’m working on another post with pictures of the little books she makes, and her collection of beads, which should be up by this weekend.


Happy equinox!

Here’s a perfect end-of-summer picture: Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s “The Harvesters,” courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art ( I love that gold and silver haze. Click here to see a much larger version.

Onions by Caravaggio

I’m working on a post that’s similar to the one about Paige and her beautiful clothes. This time, it’s about Thurid, the woman who brought the handmade notebook to the bookmobile. She invited me to her house, where I took almost 200 pictures. (In other words, about 30 good pictures.) Most were of her art, but some were of her vegetables, because everything over there is beautiful. Everything. So here’s a picture of Thurid’s onions, apparently styled by Caravaggio. They don’t really fit in the galleries of her boxes and altars and books that I’m currently editing, but I had to post them anyway, because they are lovely to look at.

Craft-induced trauma

Oh, where to start…

Sizing hats is always stressful for me; the difficulty is that I can never believe people have heads as small as the hat I’m making. I ripped out and resized the blue hat (shown above) at the last possible pre-Christmas moment, using a mixing bowl. Luckily, the recipient (also above) is a good sport, and works on the ferry, so he wears it over another hat in the winter. He styled it quite effectively in the picture, but left to itself, it descends over his eyes. I’m making a new one, much smaller, modeled on one his wife made, and wrestling with my urge to cast on 20 extra stitches. It’s up there, the blue and green hat.

Another source of pain is the ruffle scarf (pictured). I’m on my third one now. A lot of yarn seems to tangle itself, but this stuff…if any foreign object comes close to it, you might as well shove an angry cat in the knitting bag, too. In addition, it’s just strange to work with, like knitting with a fishing net (see close up). I’m making one more, and then I’m done. I’m only getting through it by visualizing the happy little faces of the girls who wanted them approximately ten months ago.

I’ve also been making rag rugs for about two years; Shanan* and I wanted to come up with a no-sew method, and after combing Youtube and a number of books, we did. Well, we have it down to about six stitches. I’m teaching a class on it next Wednesday at the Grange, so you would think I knew what I was doing. And you would be wrong. I have a rug I only work on while drinking coffee with Rebecca, and she is apparently very distracting, because it, too, has developed a ruffle, perhaps from its proximity to the yarn from Satan’s knitting stash (see above). As Rebecca said, it would make a nice doily. I will be taking it to the class as part of my craft museum of shame, because I was brought up in the Lutheran church. Rebecca is contributing her first attempt at a rug, which turned into a rather attractive cloth bowl.

And, yes, I’m also bringing things that turned out well.

Back to knitting. I haven’t touched the log cabin blanket in the photo since last winter because I accidentally put in some short rows while watching a movie. In my defense, it was on the largest TV I’ve ever seen outside of a bar and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law were leaping about in a very alarming manner. I had to rip out at least three panels when I realized what I’d done, and am still sad. Movie season is on the way, though (it begins in November…did you know that?) and I may be able to resume work on the blanket if I limit myself to the CBC production of Anne of Green Gables.

I’ve made attempts at more complicated knitting, but it conflicts with my knitting personality. I like actually finishing things and giving them away or wearing them myself. And the whole process of knitting is a narcotic for me; I feel a little panicked if I realize that I left my knitting at home. I’ve begged Shanan to hand over her latest project for me to work on when I’m feeling particularly fragile. I have, in fact, most of the symptoms of addiction, although I’ve never blacked out while I was knitting and been unable to recall where I’d been or who I was knitting with. When you combine my need to hypnotize myself with repetitive tasks and my inability to sit still and have a conversation without manufacturing something…I’ve had to accept that I will never knit an Aran sweater. Which is fine – I like making things we use every day.

* WordPress keeps autocorrecting Shanan’s name to “Shaman.” This delights me every single time because I am extremely easy to entertain.

Dry dock

ferryEvery year at about this time our car ferry goes to dry dock for approximately three weeks for annual maintenance. A replacement passenger-only boat comes in its place. As a child growing up on the island, I always thought it was great fun to be cool and walk across on the ferry, but as an adult returning to the island with my own family it’s very different, and I’m always glad to see our ferry again all cleaned up with a new paint job.