I usually write about gifts people commission me to make for them, but today I want to share a gift I received. It’s been more than 4 years since “The Thunderbird” installation was completed and hung on the wall at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa. It was without a doubt my most memorable, my proudest and the most enlightening moment in my career. It was a huge undertaking in that we called on, and gathered the community to participate in this collaboration. Over 100 people participated, and together we learned, we shared and we created something beautiful in support of the Wabano Centre.
Four friends who participated together, continue to be moved and excited by this project. They are proud to have been part of this installation and to be recognized as contributing artists. They visit and show the installation to family and friends often, and have documented their experience to share among themselves in a beautiful slideshow presentation. This week they shared it with me. I was so touched by this because it reaffirmed how the Thunderbird impacted others and continues to do so. With their permission I want to share it with you. It’s almost 9 minutes long but it’s worth it. Make yourself a tea and enjoy. Thank you Dana for putting this together. I love it!!
If you are interested in knowing more about the Wabano Centre please visit their site at http://www.wabano.com
Sometimes all it takes is an unexpected act of romance to show someone how much you care. A simple surprise that shows you were listening is not only an expression of love but a validation of how your partner feels and what’s important to them. Recently I had a chance to help someone fulfil a Hallmark style gesture of love. With their permission, here’s the story . . .
About a year ago I received an email from a young woman who, through some investigating, managed to track me down. More than 10 years ago her partner had purchased some of my original limited-edition elves at a show in New York State. Over the years, through a move and a breakup, she lost several of the elves and only had a couple left. Every Christmas she lamented the loss of her elves and how she regretted not buying more, she just loved decorating with them.
This young woman wanted to surprise her partner and was hoping I would still have some available. I felt bad, but I had discontinued this line many years ago, however I promised that I would put the word out if anyone was interested in selling their collection, but it might be unlikely since collectors don’t like to part with their pieces.
Well, as luck would have it, seven months later a collector got in touch that she was downsizing and selling off her collection. I asked her to send them to me because I had some interest. She sent me 10 elves who had seen better days. I managed to salvage and refresh 6 of them. When I emailed the young woman with photos, I expected she might take one or two, but she wanted all six. This was going to be the surprise of all surprises for her partner and sure enough it was.
Here she is with her new elves. This wasn’t just a beautiful romantic gesture in the moment – for this couple it will be one that will be relived and renewed every Christmas. Romantics everywhere – take note!
Typically, people believe that Santa lives in one of the Northern Scandinavian countries, as a matter of fact, you’ve probably heard he lives in Lapland. But despite his home being so close, Santa Claus is not a common Christmas icon in Norway. That honour goes to Julenisse.
In Scandinavian folklore, a Nisse or “Tomte” is a short creature with a long white beard. They look like gnomes. The most distinctive things about Nisse are their red pointed hats, their love of looking after animals, their love of practical jokes and that they help the families they live with if treated with love and respect. All they ask for is a bowl of porridge and a glass of glogg each night. But they will become mischievious with the family if they are not treated well.
“Julenisse” means the gift-bearing Nisse at Christmas time. In the 1840’s the farm’s Nisse became the bearer of Christmas presents in Scandinavia, and was then called “Julenisse” and has been associated with Christmas ever since.
The Norwegian “Julenisse”, the Swedish “Jultomte”, the Danish “Julemand” and the Finnish “Joulupukki” still has features and traditions that are rooted in the local culture but he doesn’t necessarily retreat to the North Pole. He lives in a forest, field or stream nearby. He or she, doesn’t come down the chimney on Christmas night, but arrives through the front door, delivering the presents directly to their household friends.
Here is my version of Julenisse and his Nisse sidekick. Julenisse is loaded with toys, books and some essentials of flour and sugar, fruit and berries. Nisse carries some coal as well, just in case some children didn’t fulfill all their chores around the farm.
Handsculpted from Sculpey’s Living Doll polymer clay, he stands 25″ tall on a 10 x 10″ base. Julenisse is dressed in faux sheepskin, sueded pants and wool sweater. His boots are made from suede leather and his beard is made from Tibetan lamb. He carries hand-crafted snow shoes on his back to help him make his way out of the forest. His piercing blue eyes sparkle with happiness and goodwill.
Nisse on the other hand wears a blue velvet tunic and leather belt and his signature red pointed hat. He wears suede boots and carries a suede bag of goodies with a few pieces of coal as a reminder to children to be good.
There aren’t too many parents who haven’t felt exasperated trying to capture a festive family photo. This includes that first Christmas photo with Santa at the Mall which has become a classic. For babies and toddlers it’s a moment of confusion and fear as their parents pass them off to the strange man with a white beard. While the older kids know the deal, for first timers the experience usually involves screaming and crying. There are memes, instagram posts, articles and psychoanalysis sessions that address this rite of passage. As parents we are just trying to ignite the magic of Christmas and perhaps instill a little warning about being good.
While a photo failure might be disappointing at first, remember this stuff is gold down the road.
The photo on the left of my granddaughter was the inspiration behind “Picture Day at the Mall” below.
19″ tall x 9 x 9″ – Santa is sitting on a purple velvet hand-crafted chair, trimmed in gold rope and crystal button detailing. Santa wears a red velvet suit trimmed in recycled white rabbit. All dressed up for picture day, Baby is in full tantrum mode. Santa looks like his feelings are hurt and he doesn’t know what to do.
Many years ago, and for a period of about 10 years, I created a gift line of wire-bodied resin elves. They were very popular during the Christmas season and my customers looked forward to adding new characters to their collection every year. There were 10 costume series and a total of 30 different elves. I disappointed a few people when I retired the line around 2006, but it was time to move on. But the appeal and fascination with the elves continues and people still contact me about them every year. Some are looking to fill missing characters in their collections; some want to tell me stories about how the elves have become part of their family’s traditions; some are ready to part with their collection and I try to connect them with other collectors; and now, with my help, some are learning how to make their own elves.
My clients send me photos of how they decorate with the elves. Here are a few photos that will start you thinking about decorating your home for the holidays.
If you want to try your hand at making your own original elf, check out AforArtistic.com for my online workshop called “My Little Elf”. No experience is necessary. Registration is open now. Once you register you’ll have access to the supply list so you can get ready. The class begins on November 13th. Once it is released you can download it and follow at your own pace. I warn you – you can’t just make one – you’ll want to make more to keep and to give away. Check it out at https://www.aforartistic.com/my-little-elf
Follow my blog at mariasaracino.com for more stories. Coming up in November:
November 13th – Picture Day at the Mall
November 19th – Julenisse the Norwegian Santa
November 26th – It’s the Little Things – How the Elves helped create a romantic moment.
The November issue of DOLL CASTLE Magazine is finally out and on the front cover you’ll find a vignette called “The Doll Maker”. I worked on this commission over several months. It’s more than a portrait commission, it’s the life story of Denis Bastien, the founder and “Dad” of the Leeann Doll.
Even though it was finished during the summer, both Denis and I couldn’t talk about it too much because it had been accepted as the feature image on the magazine cover. The November issue also includes a great story about Denis as well as a feature article about my journey as an artist.
Commissions can be somewhat stressful for an artist, but this one was so much fun to do because Denis was involved – not with the sculpting but with the story telling. During these Covid months, we had several visits on my front porch and loads of emails where he shared photos, his stories and experiences. I tried to capture these memories within the vignette, from his early childhood and what led to creating the Leeann Doll to his relationships with family and friends.
Denis and I were already friends and have collaborated on my limited edition Elves, but the experience of working with him on “The Doll Maker” has been inspiring. He is a complex and highly creative man and as I peeled away the layers of his life experiences I uncovered many things I didn’t know about him as well as the reasons for his success.
Watch the YouTube video for a look at how this vignette was made and all the steps that went into creating “The Doll Maker”.
Under normal circumstances, September would be the start of a new series of workshops offered in my studio. However, Covid19 has disrupted everything. But from hardship comes innovative new ideas and a different way to gather and learn from each other. The Art Connection Summit is the brainchild of Adele Sciortino and Leslie O’Leary and is basically a virtual 5 day conference revolving around figurative sculpture, doll art, textile art, felting, beading and embroidery to name a few things. Everything you want to learn and more, all without the travel expenses, hotels and time restrictions.
Whether you are an artist, a student, collector or art lover, during the Summit you can take and download as many classes and seminars as you like, and you have the time to work on them during or after the conference. You can meet and interact with other students and teachers from around the world and you can take advantage of excursions, speakers and educational seminars.
Ten instructors are offering 18 exclusive, never-before-seen workshops. For my part, I’m offering two new polymer clay sculpting classes – a whimsical 2-day project workshop called “Fantastic Beasts Taxidermy” and a 4-day technique based workshop called “Sculpting Studies”. The workshops are suitable for both novice and experienced sculptors. The nice thing about these new classes is the format is mostly video or a combo of PDF files and video files, so you can actually see my process and my techniques as I do them. Once you download the files, they are yours to go back and refer to as often as you like.
“Fantastic Beasts Taxidermy” is a fun project for any age or skill level. I show you how to make several different animal characters as well as creating portraits of your pet. Templates, PDF’s and videos take you through the steps from prepping the wooden base to accessorizing your sculpture. I can see these being great Christmas gifts for all the animal lovers on your list.
If you are interested in figurative sculpture or portrait work, “Sculpting Studies” will be of particular interest whether you’re a beginner or ready to take it to the next level of advanced studies. You’ll learn all about facial anatomy, mapping and the step by step process of building the face and head. I give you several alternatives like how to sculpt a closed mouth, an open mouth and how to insert teeth. I show you how to sculpt the eyes without using prosthetic glass eyes or beads, how to age the eye or create an ethnic eye. I cover common sculpting mistakes and how to correct them. After each segment I will show you how to apply it to a full face sculpt. This workshop took almost a year to put together and I feel it’s one of my best workshops for the student who is serious about improving their sculpting skills.
Pat Gorgas came to visit early in the Covid days. We sat on my porch, social distancing as she described the project she wanted me to do. A commission of the late Toller Cranston – Canadian national figure skating champion from 1971-1976, and the 1974 World bronze medal and the 1976 Olympic bronze medal winner. Although I knew of Toller Cranston, I learned so much more about him as I started working on this commission. The Globe and Mail referred to him as “He is his own work of art.” He was fearless in expression, courageous in creativity, and innovative in interpretation. Toller had a determination, dedication and a desire to go where no figure skater had gone before. Renowned for his artistry, Toller Cranston brought freedom of expression to the sport and was acclaimed as the most influential figure skater of the 20th century. Toller revolutionized figure skating. He took the sport to new heights. He inspired generations.
A Married Couple by Toller Cranston
He was not only an artist on the ice. His paintings—colourful, flamboyant and intricate—continue to be sought by collectors all over the world. He became a legend.
For my client, Toller Cranston represents more than just a legendary figure skater. His world was her world too. Originally from Toronto, Pat, a figure skater, met her husband Arnim at the Michael Kirby Ice Skating School. They both performed in the Minto Skating Club’s Minto Follies for several years, and eventually in some of the same shows as Toller Cranston. She recounted stories of Toller’s dramatic entrances and flamboyant style. This commission is an homage to both a great man and to the life she and her husband enjoyed for so many years and the people they met in the figure skating world.
Toller Cranston Polymer Clay, textiles, wood and resin. 18″ H x 11″ x 11″ The wooden base has images of him skating as well as his art around a resin ice surface.
This quote by Leonard Da Vinci is going to be put to the test as I settle into my new studio space – a compact 8′ x 6.5′ room. This is the space where I sculpt and create my figurative sculptures and commissions. It’s where I will be developing, photographing and filming new workshops and tutorials. And it will undoubtedly be my favourite place in the house.
To maximize my space, I installed peg boards around the room and IKEA picture shelves to hold paint, clay, jars of buttons, glues, etc. . . My old metal tool cabinet serves to hold all the little bits and pieces I’ve collected over the years and my workbench has added storage underneath. It’s compact and it’s efficient, and hopefully many beautiful things will come from this space.
Having a designated studio space means you don’t have to spend time packing and unpacking your supplies and tools. It’s not about the size of the space or what the view is from the window. It could be a corner in the kitchen, a closet, a spare room or the garage. Many successful and dedicated artists create beautiful art in small studios. What’s important is that you create.
“Setting up a dedicated space for your art sends a message to both you and the universe that says, this is important and meaningful to me, and I want to give it space in my life.” Tara Leaver
The de-cluttering process was not much fun. Everything went into storage during the renovation. It was hard to be separated from my studio stuff.
I haven’t posted much over the last few months with good reason. My husband and I made the decision of downsizing and moving closer to the city core last summer. This involved selling our home, purging, finding temporary accommodations all while gutting and renovating a 110 year old building in Centretown.
Anyone who has gone through any renovation knows too well both the highs and lows of the process. We experienced both good and bad surprises like the unexpected extra costs of foundation issues to discovering and exposing beautiful vintage brick walls. We were lucky to have a great contractor and the results are wonderful. After 5 months of living out of a suitcase, we are now in our new home and slowly finding a place for everything within our 850 sq. ft. Just as we hoped, life has become much simpler and easier to manage.
Before . . .
Even more difficult during this time was downsizing and restructuring my art studio. In my old place I spread myself out over a large finished basement area and was able to teach complex workshops within this space. That’s not the case anymore. My basement area is much smaller and every inch has to serve a purpose. The space is enough for me to create and this week I’m so happy to finally be getting back to working on commissions and some new ideas that have been percolating during this pause period.
Unfortunately the space is small so I won’t be holding any in-house workshops anymore. All workshops and classes will take place in outside locations like the Orange Art Gallery. My first workshop of 2020 will be taking place at the Orange Art School on Monday nights in April. I’ll be teaching “Sculpt a Bust” and there’s only 1 spot left, so if you are interested please get in touch with them soon at 613-761-1500. I will also be scheduling some workshops in other host locations and hope to have that schedule up shortly. Online workshops are also available through my website at saracinocollection.com or at AforArtistic.com
Thank you once again for all your kind words, support and for following my work over the years. Stay tuned for new and exciting projects coming up soon.