Thursday, February 26, 2009

Featured Team CAC Seller....

We've started a new feature in the team blog, to coincide with Self Portrait Thursday. Each week we'll feature another team member. We're continuing things with April of SilverSunbeam.

To start, please tell us a bit about yourself. What's your story?

I'm that girl who pursued college to go into "a Profession" and came out a housewife instead. A decade or so later I'm really happy my plans didn't work out. I've had the opportunity to travel, live abroad, and see whole worlds I never could have imagined with my upbringing. We lived in Scotland for several years while he worked on his Ph.D. and joked that we'd use his education (in Art History) to start a lavender farm. It was a good joke those many years... So, what do I do? I'm a cat-wrangling housewife-artist who just got married to the farm. The lavender plants start arriving at Stratheden Farm in late March.

I started making shrines a few years ago, before I fully admitted I was a Christian. I knew I loved what I'd studied in the Gospels (I minored in Theology at college) but had difficulty reconciling what I knew was there and what I saw in the various denominations I'd tried over the years. Ultimately I just gave up and told God he'd just have to send an angel to teach me directly because I was formally quitting the search. Through a strange set of choices that made no sense to anyone, I ended up in Eastern Europe learning to sing Georgian Orthodox Chant. If you don't think God listens then try asking for what you actually need. I was surrounded by all these amazing people who told me about their religion and, without them knowing it, reconciled all my questions and confusions. I came back to America and immediately set out toward becoming a full member of the Eastern Orthodox community. In concert with bringing me closer to Him, I've begun to understand the deeper levels of my own art. It isn't just pretty pictures for me, it's a doorway to the divine I've been blessed to offer to the world.

What is your favorite quote?

"Done is Beautiful." My old boss at the College of Santa Fe costume shop used to say it to me all the time.

What is your favorite movie?

I have to split myself on this one. Half of me says it's All Quiet on the Western Front (the original German print) for sheer power. The other half says it's Whiskey Galore for absolute humor. It was made by Ealing Studios just after WWII and, having no budget for actors, they simply went to a Scottish island and hired the locals for all but the lead roles. It completely captures the Scottish soul, even now.

What is your favorite TV show?

I really enjoy the various BBC detective mysteries on PBS. Old or new, I like them. I'll try to follow the series but I don't actually make plans around turning on the tube. There's too much life out there to be watching the box regularly.

What is your favorite song at the moment?

The song that always puts me in a good mood is Ode to Contentment, which is a little Shaker "gift song." Libana has it on one of their albums. It's sustained me since high school. I sing it to myself when I'm feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.

What kinds of music do you listen to?

Almost everything... organ music, folk, bluegrass, old time, old rock and roll, Shaker, Orthodox chant, big band, electronica... If it's done well I'll listen to it.

How long have you been creating?

I got into crafting proper when I was about ten. We'd lived with my grandmother for most of fourth grade so we could finish the school year in Maine before joining my father who'd taken a job in Tucson, Arizona. I watched in complete fascination while my grammie sewed doll dresses for me on her tiny, old, Singer sewing machine. What amazed me was the idea that a person could make something. When we arrived in the desert that summer one of the things my dad made sure Mom had was a sewing machine. Why, I don't know, as she's not at all crafty. I claimed the machine and, sitting on the floor (my feet still don't reach the ground from a standard chair...) I taught myself to sew. Skip ahead nearly fifteen years and I'd recently graduated from college, decided I never wanted to work in costuming or psychology again, and my husband decided that freed him up to pursue a Ph. D. at St. Andrews Uni in Scotland. So, off we went... and me with no work permit! I went back to school at Dundee College and took a year of entry level textile design classes... conquering linguistic hurdles and my fear of drawing along the way. The next year I moved on to Elmwood College where I attempted a Higher National Certificate in General Art but bombed the collage / mixed media unit so didn't get the qualification.

What inspires you?

Day to day it's watching my six joyful cats. I want to embody that kind of freedom to be happy because we humans are so intent on making ourselves unhappy. That's not how God intended us to live! When I'm working on a piece I'm thinking mostly about imparting that good feeling. Spanish Catholic artwork of the Southwest has always been a big inspiration because of the love that's put into even the coarsest piece. That's led me to all sorts of other art... from Pictish standing stones, Aztec temple sculpture, and Hopi Katsinas to Appalachian folk art, Pictorialist photography, and Rembrandt. My taste is rather all-over-the-place.

Please describe your creative process (the how, the when, materials, etc.).

In a lot of ways I'm "just the hands" when I'm making a shrine. I learned after struggling through designing the first few that if I just checked out and asked the box what it wanted they went together with a whole lot less frustration.I now know that it is the saints themselves who direct the making of my devotionals. All the pieces in my Etsy shop were made either on my dining room table or in my old "studio" which was really just a camp table in the spare bedroom. I'm in the process of moving into a new home where I'll actually have a dedicated studio.

I begin by asking what the subject wants me to do to ornament their icon. I'll hold up two or three ribbons, different papers, ten different beads until I feel like I've heard their wishes. If anyone actually heard my internal conversations they'd lock me up in the nut house! Some boxes take a couple hours to complete while others will be put on hold for months until I've found the exact piece to finish it.

The shrines are built onto small boxes, mostly old Altoids tins, or into old bottle caps and filled with resin. I want them to be both beautiful and highly functional. The idea with the boxes is that you can store a memento or write your needs down and put them in the box for the saint to work on for you. I pray over each one as I make it. Nothing formal, though I think that's about to change, but just asking that the item bring healing and "good medicine" to it's final owner.

Is there any kind of music you listen to when you create?

Internet radio is my newest passion. I'll tap into WAMU, a bluegrass station, or into Ancient Faith Radio ( ) which is all Eastern Orthodox chant. Both put me straight into the proper head space. If I'm working on a secular piece then it's folk music, old big band jazz, and NPR.

What's your biggest artistic disaster to date? How did it help you progress?

Did I tell you about failing my collage / mixed media unit for the Scottish Higher? That's not quite descriptive enough... I completely bombed it. Not "didn't do well" but completely, utterly, and spectacularly failed. We're talking panic attacks and everything. I have no idea why it was so bad for me, it just was. Ultimately we agreed that the teacher wouldn't ask me to turn things in but I'd show up every day and work as best I could so as not to be a poor example to the younger students. Less than a year later I'd made my first shrine, a mixed media confection to help an ailing friend. It was Saints Lucia and Roch. The making of it was nearly effortless. Do you see the humor here? I do hope you do! I think it taught me not to worry so much about "making the grade" ...very humbling!

What's your favorite piece that you've done?

That is definitively my St. Nino Equal-to-the-Apostles shrine. It was a real breakthrough into both dimensionality and a more obviously devotional function. It has a little dish for offering flowers or lighting a tiny candle. She's the patron saint of Georgia (the country) and she went to a woman in England who really wanted to visit. No doubt the good saint is arranging things for her as I'm pretty sure she did for me.

What's the best advice you were given when starting out?

"Don't be afraid to be eccentric." My role model, much to the horror of our mutual friends, is a crazy Danish friend in Scotland named Aase Goldsmith. She's jolly, irreverent, and isn't afraid of anyone or anything. She's a piece of artwork in and of herself and I can only hope to be as inappropriately appropriate an old lady as she is... she also isn't afraid to freely admit to believing in fairies. Aase's motto is to do whatever you want because when you do people will just think you're an "odd bod," and let you get on with it.

Do you have any advice to give others?

Have some trust. Learn to love without condition. Be nice. If you're religious then allow yourself to trust God in all things. When you you are quiet enough to start listening, and then DO what God suggests life goes so much more smoothly. I love telling people that we're all going to the Big Rock Candy Mountain because God loves all his children with perfect equality, forgiveness, and mercy.

What's coming up for you; any big plans artistically?

Getting into that new studio! Right now I can just squeeze in there enough to work on some floral hair pins (in the shop soon, I promise!) The next big thing is to prepare myself to paint my first icon. Normally this would be Christ but I think it's going to be St. Fillan, my Name Saint, as there are no icons of him to be found. (My Christian name is Fillina.) There are a number of art venues in my new little town of Floyd, VA so I'm also gearing up to gearing myself up to get into one or two.

Where can we find you? Both online and in stores.

I'm only selling on Etsy right now. The shop name is SilverSunbeam ( ) You can also read about me on my blogs. "Crafting, with Cats" ( ) is me blethering on about faith, craft, and domestic life. My husband and I also write a blog about our farm adventure ( ) here on Stratheden Farm. My Flickr stream is here:


KelliRene said...

Very cool Silver! I would have love to have been able to study in Scotland (my heritage as well). Keep up the good work. :)

UniqueNurseGranny said...

Interesting.your presentation really allows the reader to "know".