Christmas Nostalgia

Nostalgia is that emotion that stirs up memories from our past. It’s hard to describe the feeling of nostalgia, but you can’t miss it when you have it. The holidays, especially Christmas, stirs those nostalgic feelings more than any other time of the year.

Theorists define two different types of nostalgia, historical and personal. The historical kind refers to feeling good or feeling attracted to time periods of the past, whether you lived in that time or not. The old world charm of the Victorian era is a perfect example, especially at Christmas time.

Then there is personal nostalgia. These are emotions you feel about your life and what you have lived through. Decorating for Christmas is a time when many of our personal nostalgic emotions are stirred. Those special ornaments your children made or the one from your first year of marriage; the cherished heirloom tree topper; the vintage glass ornaments you inherited from your grandparents; they all evoke memories of happiness or even sadness. Just like I used to do as a child, I still love to cuddle up on the couch and gaze at our Christmas tree and all the lights and decorations and let the nostalgia wash over me.

Many of my Father Christmas sculptures have become nostalgic family heirlooms. The piece that  launched my career and appeared on the cover of Lee Valley Tools was purchased by a couple on the layaway plan in 1997. It was the beginning of my journey, but also the beginning of theirs. They see it as an impulsive buy, but one that marks a turning point in their lives.  Shortly after buying this Santa they purchased their first restaurant. The Workshop Santa represents that journey and the success of their business.

Another client has several of my early pieces in her collection including a commission piece acknowledging their Scottish heritage. These have become family heirlooms that are enjoyed by several generations.

I particularly love the commissions I’ve done where something personal has been incorporated into the sculpture. A grandmother’s fur stole, or the leather from well worn gloves. These are beautiful reminders of our loved ones and a legacy for those who are not with us anymore. In this particular piece on the left, I used the fur from the client’s coat, but also the embroidered name on the coat’s lining to create Santa’s bag.

A week ago I received an email from a couple in California, Maryland. They happened upon one of my early pieces at an Antique shop in Fredericksburg MD and snapped it up immediately. It still had my little signature booklet attached. They were able to track me down and I was able to tell them the sculpture’s story. The character is called “Workshop Kris Kringle” and was one of four similar pieces I made in the late 1990’s. The story of how they got it, and how we connected, is now part of the provenance. This connection was very nostalgic for me. It reminded me of the early trials and tribulations of my journey as an artist.

This Christmas when you feel those tugs of nostalgia, share the stories and memories. Remember that our lives are worthwhile, we have value, and life has some sense of purpose and meaning.






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St. Patricks Intermediate School – Polymer Clay Art Project

After spending a week at St. Patrick’s Intermediate School last week I have a renewed respect for teachers everywhere. I had a very unique opportunity to teach sculpting with polymer clay to over 225 Grade 7 and 8 students. Working with teacher, Joan Sweeney, we found a way to combine history, in particular Indigenous studies, and geography with art.

Inspired by the collaborative Thunderbird project at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, students created relief sculptures of fish and powerballs in polymer clay. Students also participated in creating the different sections of larger animals, in particular a bear and ducks. We used almost all 65 colours available in the Sculpey III collection. The pieces all came together to form a 4′ x 8′ Woodland Art themed panel. The students were respectful, interested and eager to learn more. One of the grade 7 classes worked exclusively on powerballs that were filled with symbols and the colours of their school.

The panel will hang proudly in the new St. Patrick’s High School Building next year.


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Father Christmas as Art

Weihnactsmann, Christmas Man 35″ x 10″ x 12″

When I first started working with polymer clay and creating figurative sculptures, my Father Christmas sculptures received a lot of attention and subsequently they became the main focus of my art. I paid my dues at Christmas gift shows and for a period of time I also designed and worked with manufacturers overseas to develop a seasonal gift line. I’ve moved in other directions over the years, but Father Christmas remains a recurring theme throughout my career.

Victorian Father Christmas 28″x 8″x 21″

My penchant for history and research, combined with my overall love of everything Christmas makes this one of my favourite subjects. I’m particularly drawn to the old world characters and the subtle differences influenced by culture and georgraphy. It amazes me how they all evolved from one human born in 270AD in a tiny village in Turkey. Since then, every country rooted in Christianity has adopted this character and what he stands for.

What he stands for is kindness, sharing, taking care of each other, tolerance, love and peace. The world needs this message more than ever right now.

For this reason I decided to make Father Christmas my theme at the National Capital Network of Sculptors Exhibit, DIMENSIONS 2017 – the largest, most comprehensive sculptural exhibit with over 150 original works on display and for sale.

As the director of the show, I worried about my decision to show these sculptures with the fear that they would be viewed as more crafty than fine art. Dealing with artist insecurity will have to be the topic of a whole other blog post. In the meantime, with some encouragement from my friends and colleagues, this year I will be showing 4 of my old world Father Christmas figures and I will also be giving a presentation on the History of Father Christmas. I assembled the research I’ve done into a book that tells the story of the evolution of St. Nicholas and explains some of the traditions we practice today. This 10″ x 10″ hard cover book accompanies each original Father Christmas but will also be available to purchase separately in November.

If you are in the Ottawa area, please drop in at DIMENSIONS 2017, October 19-22 in the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park. It’s free admission. If you would like more information on my Father Christmas collection or would like to pre-order The History of Father Christmas, please email me at

You can see more of my work at or on my facebook page at

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Goodbye, My Friend

Today a dear friend, Lizzie Ciezluk passed away. People come into your life for different reasons; for me Lizzie was a good friend, but I also considered her a mentor. She would dismiss me when I said this because she didn’t feel like she deserved the honour – but she did. She inspired me and she motivated me at a time when I was trying to find my way.

I had just started messing around with polymer clay but was feeling frustrated and isolated. I was intrigued by the medium, but didn’t know where or how to take the next step. It’s November 1995 and I’m walking around at the Original’s show at Lansdowne Park. Suddenly I turned the corner and there is Lizzie! It was one of those moments when the sky opens up and the sun shines through. Her whimsical, theatrical boudoir dolls, wild Santas and those hilarious “Bum Bags” decorated her booth. She was flamboyant;  she had neon orange hair and there was a cloud of creativity that swirled around her like clouds of glitter.

She was busy with a crowd of customers, but I managed to speak to her briefly. She gave me her card and told me to call her when the show was over and we would talk art over coffee.

We met the following week in her little cottage home in Gatineau. Her house was like a brick and mortar version of her. I loved being around her. That was the start of our friendship. We shared information and we celebrated each other. She told me about a few groups I should join, encouraged me, and showed me the ropes of setting up a display and dealing with customers. We went on scavenger hunts together looking for some of the unique and peculiar things that stirred our imaginations. Our artist styles were different – maybe that’s why we felt comfortable with each other, there was never any sense of competition. We own some of each other’s work and we’ve even taken classes from each other.

Over the years life gets in the way and we didn’t always see a lot of each other. But when our paths crossed we picked-up where we left off as if no time had passed. Everyone who knew Lizzie has a similar story to tell. Her sweet personality, her passion, her love of life , of everything beautiful, has touched and made an impression on so many people. This is a rare and extraordinary gift.

I’m going to miss you Lizzie. But every time I see someone with orange or pink hair; every Christmas when I pull out my blue star ornament; every time I see a beautiful garden and funky garden art; every time I wear one of your jewelry creations; and especially every time I eat cake . . . I’ll think of you.






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Top 50 Polymer Clay Blogs

It’s a great honour to be selected as one of the top 50 polymer clay blogs on the world wide web. Thank you FeedSpot. You can see the whole list at

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Riding the Rails

A year ago the Orange Art Gallery challenged it’s artists to create works of art based on the theme “The Railway Crossing”. The Orange Art Gallery is in a 120 year old historic building that used to house the bank for the CN Rails and is now where the new light rail connects. The exhibit runs from July 6th to August 13th. I created two sculptures for this exhibit. One of them was inspired by a Canadian song from the Littlest Hobo television series, “Maybe Tomorrow”. This is my sculpture, “Riding the Rails”.

Many people think of a Hobo as a homeless vagrant, but originally they were actually a man or woman who worked as they traveled. Hobos came from all walks of life and decided to ride the rails and live outside as an alternative. As a matter of fact, Hobos organized themselves and formed a union during the mid 1800’s as a way to catch rides with friendly conductors by showing them the union card.

The number of Hobos increased after the Second World War and then the Great Depression hit. Hobos were then considered penniless wanderers. Without money men hopped onto trains and “rode the rails”, criss-crossing the country in a frustrating search for work and food.  Illegal and very dangerous, thousands of hobos were killed or seriously injured jumping on or off freight cars. Some hobos laid boards across the brake rods under the railway cars. They could ride on these boards hidden from view – a very dangerous, noisy and uncomfortable ride. Most rode inside or on top of boxcars on freight trains.

Hobos carried a bindle, a stick with a cloth or blanket tied around one end for holding items. Supported over the shoulder it offered a comfortable grip and doubled as a weapon if needed. A stereotypical symbol for anyone running away from home, Norman Rockwell used it in his 1958 illustration “The Runaway”.

The figure in “Riding the Rails” measures 16″ high x 14″ x 10″ deep. It’s sculpted from polymer clay and textiles. The whole composition including the Railroad Crossing sign is 25″tall. The sign is embedded into a cement base which is the resting spot for this weary traveller. His old weathered banjo case is plastered with stickers from some of the stops on his journey across Canada where he played for a meal or a place to sleep. In his left hand he holds a flask of heat to help him get through the cold nights.

                                         “Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,                                           Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.”

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The Hoop Dancer

Over the last few years I have been working with the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health as a guest art instructor during their summer camp program. I’m also very proud of my role last year as the art director of a community collaboration art installation called “The Thunderbird” that hangs majestically from the main level overlooking the earth floor. What I’ve learned and experienced through the Wabano Centre has been an inspiration and a realization of the spiritual connection to nature and to ourselves. I am very excited to be able to participate again this year with a contribution to the silent auction at the Gala in support of the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health on June 21st at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre. Respecting the issues of cultural appropriation, my sculptures are approved by the director of Wabano and I allow changes or additions to be made by the Culture Lead at the centre.

My contribution to this year’s Wabano Gala is “The Hoop Dancer”. She stands approximately 28″ tall. Her face, hands and feet are sculpted from polymer clay and her costume is made from textiles, leather and suede. Her costume is enhanced by a hand-beaded collar and accessories. Her hoops are painted with the 4 sacred colours and she stands on a polished maple base.

The Hoop Dance is a Native American dance that is performed as a show dance in many tribes. It usually features a solo dancer dancing with a few, or a dozen or more hoops. The dance focuses on very rapid moves choreographed to mimic animals or birds. In elaborate sequences the hoops interlock to extend from the dancer’s body like wings or tails. Although originally a male-only dance form, in recent years women have become active participants. Lisa Odjig from Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada, become the first female adult Hoop Dance World Champion and subsequently two-time champion as well as six additional hoop dance championships. I had the pleasure of seeing her perform live at last year’s Wabano Gala and you may remember her as one of the finalists on America’s Got Talent. Hoop Dancing was also performed in the 2010-11 season of “Totem” by Cirque Soleil.

In honour of National Aboriginal Day – Wela’lin


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