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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Vin et Fromage

Just finished . . . this chef and his sous chef stands only 16″ tall. What’s better than a good wine, a sharp cheese and a crusty baquette? Add some fresh tomatoes and basil and it’s a perfect evening.

Bon Appétit!


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The Circus

The Girl on the German Wheel 17″H x 20″W

For as long as the Circus has been around, it’s been a source of inspiration and theme in both Art and Literature. Edgar Degas created a sensation in 1879 with his acrobat “Lady La La”. Renoir painted “The Jugglers” the same year. In the 1890s Toulouse-Lautrec was committed to a sanatorium and in an effort to convince his doctors he was sane, produced a brilliant series of circus drawings from memory.

The Contortionist

More than 300 paintings, drawings, engravings, sculptures or photographs of Picasso are related to the circus and were a recurring theme in his life . Chagall saw circus people as the perfect example of artists who desire to be loved and to achieve their dreams.

The RingMaster 20″H x 14″W x 8″D

Before television, the circus was the most popular form of mass entertainment. Everybody went to the Circus and the exotic subject matter made it appealing to both artists and patrons.

Even today, the incredible Cirque du Soleil is a combination of mystique and spectacle and the inspiration for many artists around the world. Myself included. What started as a suggestion several months ago by one of my students has evolved into an ongoing series. From jugglers and stilt walkers, to contortionists and acrobats to the most recent – a couple of old-world carnival style characters, “The Ring Master” and “The Strong Man”. Movement is the challenge with this series and I want the sculptures to appear to be caught in mid-action. There are still a few more ideas in progress so stay tuned, but in the meantime you can see some of these pieces at the Orange Art Gallery in Ottawa or during the Sculpture Studio Tour on the April 22-23 weekend. More information on the Studio Tour is available at the National Capital Network of Sculptors website at http://www.sculptureottawa.ca

The Juggler, Nadia Cirque, The StrongMan, The Bicycle Performers


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Teaching Art

If we look back on the history of humanity, everything revolves around art.           Absolutely everything. All our accomplishments, what we see, what we know, what we feel and what we learn – it’s all art. I’m not just talking about a painting on the wall, or a sculpture in the park, it’s architecture, music, writing, food, fashion . . .                             it’s everything and it’s everywhere! Art defines both our past and our future, making it undeniably one of the most important things to be nurtured in all humans, young and old.

When I decided to start teaching sculpture in polymer clay, I thought about my own experience and what I wanted to be able to pass on to my students. The challenge of an art instructor teaching adults is being able to overcome the preconceived notion students have about their abilities to create art. Creativity is something that comes from within and we all have it, but without the technical knowledge it can be impossible to unleash that creativity. That’s where I try to make it as easy to follow as possible, breaking the process down into steps and sculpting right alongside my students.

One of the most rewarding moments as a teacher is that light bulb moment when the technique or the concept becomes clear to them. It’s almost always followed by the observation that they will never be able to look at someone’s face the same way again. I love this moment because I know it’s true, and also because I know together we’ve unlocked that little door in their brains – their creativity has been unleashed and they are hooked!

The positive benefits of taking an art class have been well documented. From relieving stress and lowering your blood pressure. Creating art trains you to concentrate on details and pay more attention to your environment. In this way, it acts like meditation. Art enhances problem-solving skills. Unlike math, there is not one correct answer in art.
Art encourages creative thinking and lets you come up with your own unique solutions. Out-of-the-box thinking also stimulates your brain to grow new neurons.

Creating art increases the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine, also called the  called the “motivation molecule.” It boosts drive, focus, and concentration. It enables you to plan ahead and resist impulses so you can achieve your goals. Dopamine stimulates the creation of new neurons and prepares your brain for learning. You don’t have to produce fine art to get this benefit. Crafting hobbies of all kinds — knitting, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography, woodworking, gardening, and do-it-yourself home repair — increase dopamine, ward off depression, and protect the brain from aging. (Excerpts from https://bebrainfit.com/the-health-benefits-of-art-are-for-everyone/)

What are you waiting for?                                                                                         Unlock your creativity and sign up for an art class today!

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It’s Carnival Time!

January and February can feel long, cold and boring, especially for those of us who live in the colder climates.  That’s why Carnival season is such a welcome celebration to break up the winter doldrums in northern climates and such an exciting time of year in warmer climates. I’ve channelled this theme in several of my sculptures and it’s now one of the courses I offer in my in-studio and online workshops. You can find out more on my website at www.saracinocollection.com under “Open Classes”, or for the online version through http://www.aforartistic.com


Available at Le Balcon D’Art http://www.balcondart.com

Whenever we hear the word “Carnival” a few celebrations that come to mind include Rio de Janeiro, music and people dancing in colorful costumes and headpieces, or maybe Renaissance-themed dresses, powdered wigs and masks at the Venetian carnival. New Orleans famous Mardi-Gras is celebrated across North America. In Canada we have “Carnaval de Quebec” from January 27-February 12 and right here in the country’s capital we have “Winterlude” from February 3-20th.

But have you ever stopped to wonder, where does this celebration come from? Or, why do we celebrate it in the early months of the year? Here are a few fun facts  to help you understand this celebration better!

Carnival season occurs before Lent and is traditionally held in areas with a large Catholic population. Lent is the six weeks directly before Easter and is marked by fasting, pious or penitential practices. Traditionally during Lent, no parties or other celebrations were held, and people refrained from eating rich foods, such as meat, dairy, fats and sugar. In the days before Lent, all rich food and drink had to be disposed of, so people threw a big party with the whole community to finish all of it. The celebration combined elements of a circus, a public street party and of course, masks. Some of the best-known traditions, including carnival parades and masquerade balls were first recorded in medieval Italy. The Carnival of Venice was, for a long time, the most famous carnival and considered to be the origin of Carnival.


“Arlecchino” Available at Studio 87 http://www.galleryongore.com

From Italy, Carnival traditions spread to the Catholic nations of Spain, Portugal, and France. From France it spread to New France in North America. From Spain and Portugal it spread with Catholic colonization to the Caribbean and Latin America. (excerpts from latintimes.com)

The exact origin of the name “Carnival” is disputed, but some state that the word comes from the Late Latin expression carne vale, which means “farewell to meat,” signifying that those were the last days when one could eat meat before the fasting of Lent. The word carne may also be translated as flesh, so suggesting carne vale as “a farewell to the flesh,” a phrase actually embraced by certain Carnival celebrants who encourage letting go of your former self and embracing the carefree nature of the festival. The last day of Carnival is “Mardi Gras”

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-2-14-40-pmThe six weeks of Lent in 2017 starts on March 1st. So between now and then is the time to celebrate “CARNEVALE”! And if you are feeling creative, sign up for my open in-studio workshop or the online class at http://www.aforartistic.com

If you prefer being creative in the kitchen, you can try this crispy light treat – they are traditional Italian Carnival Sweet Fritters called Crostoli or Chiacchiere.

Recipe by Ilaria at http://www.ilariasperfectrecipes.com/

Prep time 30 mins  .  Cook time 15 mins  .  Total time 45 mins  .   Serves 4
  • 1 large or medium egg
  • 1 tbsp melted butter or extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch of finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp apple vinegar (plain vinegar or grappa also works well)
  • 1 – 2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for the working area
  • powdered sugar to garnish as needed
  • oil to fry (peanut, corn, sunflower…) as needed
  1. In a bowl mix the egg, melted butter or evo oil, sugar, salt, vanilla, lemon zest and vinegar. Add flour until a no sticky dough is formed.
  2. Knead the dough on a floured work surface for about 5-10 minutes until it’s smooth.
  3. Let it rest for about 15 minutes, covered with plastic wrap, in a cool place but not in the fridge.
  4. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and roll them out on a floured surface with a rolling pin to form a strip as thin as you can.
  5. If you use a pasta maker, set it on the widest setting (1), take one piece of the dough and with the palm of your hand flatten it a bit, turn the crunk (or if you have an electric pasta maker switch on the start button) and feed the dough through the rollers.
  6. Fold the edges of the strip towards the middle and feed it through the rollers several times, changing the setting of the pasta maker until you reach the smallest (5).
  7. Cut the thin strips into ≈ 3.5 x 3 inch (9 x 7,5 cm) pieces with a pastry wheel cutter (with wavy edge is better).
  8. Make 3 small cuts in the middle of each piece (see pictures in blog post).
  9. Make the classic Crostoli shape (but you can leave them flat).
  10. Place over a floured surface.
  11. In a wide and high frying pan, heat up the oil until a wooden spoon dipped in starts to make little bubbles.
  12. Deep-fry Crostoli, turning them twice until they lost their “white” color, do not overcook or they will have a burning taste.
  13. Scoop them out and drain off the oil by putting them over a kitchen paper.
  14. When they’re cool, sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.
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Celebrate St. Nicholas Day

img_3089December 6th is the feast of Saint Nicholas and honours his life and the good deeds he is known for. This is the day Saint Nicholas arrives in many European countries. His day, not Christmas, is the primary gift giving day. He often leaves special Santa shaped chocolates and cookies, and  his gifts are meant to be shared, not kept for oneself.

Here’s a photo of one of my Saint Nicholas sculptures. He stands approximately 30″ tall and is part of a private collection As you can see he is dressed in rich Bishop robes and the ceremonial Mitre head-dress. St. Nicholas always carries a staff and pouches of coins.

In the Netherlands he is known as SinterKlaas. He travels from Spain on a steamer together with his side kick Swarte Piet. He leaves candy and nuts for good girls and boys and in return, children fill their shoes with hay and sugar for his horse.

In Germany, December 6th is Nikoloustag St. Claus Day. On the eve of that day children leave a shoe or boot outside their door. The next morning they will find them filled with candies or small toys, but if they were bad they will find small golden birch branches, a symbol of spanking.

I like to acknowledge this day and its traditions because it’s an opportunity to learn about St. Nicholas and that he was, in fact, a real person. Saint Nicholas became a priest, and later, a Bishop of the early Catholic Church, circa 270 AD in the city of Patara, which is now part of Turkey. True to the christian concept of giving up belongings and following Christ, St. Nicholas gave up all of his belongings. He was well known for giving to needy people, especially children. There are may stories and tales of him helping out children in need.

The practice of hanging up stockings originated with Saint Nicholas. As the ancient legend goes, Saint Nicholas was known to throw small bags of gold coins into the open windows of poor homes. After one bag of gold fell into the stocking of a child, news got around. Children soon began hanging their stocking by their chimneys “in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there”.

It wasn’t until the 1800’s that the spirit of St. Nicholas’ life evolved into the creation of Santa Claus. And, this happened  in North America. Santa Claus emerged (or evolved) from the stories and legends of St. Nicholas. Santa Claus was kind and generous to children. Unlike “St. Nick”, Santa Claus is largely a non-religious character.

Celebrate St. Nicholas Day with a batch of Dutch Pepernoten Cookies

Pepernoten – Dutch Holiday Cookies

Prep Time – 2 hours
Cook Time – 15 mins
Total Time – 2 hours 15 mins
Delicious, bite-sized spicy cookies that are eaten for Sinterklaas in the Netherlands.
Serves: 50 small cookies
  • 100 g soft butter
  • 125 g brown sugar
  • 2 tsp speculaas spices (see recipe below)
  • pinch of salt
  • 250 gram self-raising flour
  • 2-4 tbsp milk
  1. Cream butter, sugar, spices and salt together.
  2. Add the self-raising flour, mix well.
  3. Add milk a tsp at a time, mixing after each bit. When a smooth dough has formed, enough milk is added.
  4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in cling film and leave to rest for at least one hour in the fridge.
  5. Roll small balls of the dough (diameter 1 cm), place on a lined baking tray (you need 2 for this amount of dough) about 2-3 cm apart (they will spread quite a bit).
  6. Bake for 15 minutes at 160C or until brown and crisp.
Speculaas Spice Mix Ingredients 
6 tablespoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons nutmeg
1 tablespoon anise seed
2 tablespoons ground cloves
1 tablespoon white pepper
1 tablespoon coriander seed
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