Saturday, November 13, 2010

Revisiting an Old Friend

I moved this summer, as you may know. It was perhaps my most discombobulating move ever, probably due to the fact I had lived 12 years in my last house, longer than anyplace in my entire adulthood.
That is enough time to accumulate a lot of stuff and more than enough time to lose track of much of it!
So, as you might guess, one very cool part of the process was the opportunity to rediscover a few lost treasures.
There is one such find that I feel compelled to share here...

Berrien Thorn was a friend of mine. A wonderful man - artist, poet, activist and one of the best musicians I have ever known. He had a wonderful collection of folk instruments from throughout the world and could play them all! (My personal favorite was a banjo made of an old tobacco tin - as "folksy" as it gets, I think!)
Berrien had a rich personal history, including a fair stretch of time in his youth working with migrant farm workers. The people and lessons of that experience never left him.
From those years came this wonderful collection of musings, gifted to me some years ago with an admonition to share the words and support the cause. And so, in honor of a man and his vision, I share with you (in his own words, copyrighted in 1988**) ...

  1. I am a newspaper for the illiterate. I bring the whispered word. I sing them their own stories as they were told to me. Set to a tune the word goes round, and when they recognize a camp they nod and grin, elbow the others into the know: "Hey, that's the hole where I got beat up last year!"
  2. The men are worn and beat and want to kick back. They're slugging beers and playing poker for money. The atmosphere is a juke joint in Alabama. The music is a touch of home - easy as a handshake. The women gather at the other end of the cookhouse and sing "About My Jesus". The music is a church; voices rise in their simplicity against the darkness.
  3. The people here are always tired. Some old black man sits in the corner wiping the saliva from his white stubble with a stray hand. Three shirts on him, two ratty jackets and an overcoat, worn out boots sizes too big. Twenty years of cheap wine and potato dust can coat the eyes.
  4. Brutal work stooping to pull potatoes from the earth is the bottom of this odd context. Going upright into the trees for fruit is the top.
  5. The camp is a cluster of tiny shacks made of cinderblock and tin. One of them is the cook-house; this is where I sing. The cookhouse has a large room with picnic tables, an old juke box, bare bulbs burning, and a small wire-meshed window through which the overpriced food they purchase from the crew boss is passed.
  6. These little places are closed societies. When I was a kid the old man I picked with taught me everything, from the basics of negotiating pay, techniques of travel and work, to the songs he would play me on his banjo at night. Boredom was a preserver. Certainly the telling of stories was integral to surviving any evening's isolation without electricity. This is only the life of prisoners, migrants and family farmers. These are definitely on my list of endangered species, as am I.
  7. Some of these people come from Haiti. Crowded into tiny boats they floated toward the mysterious promise of America. They are possessed of pure primitive undertones. The non-Haitians are rural folk from Alabama and Georgia. A few of the men don't want their pictures taken; they are working these fields because this is one of the few jobs left where you don't need a social security number.
  8. When I improvise on my flute for the Haitians they look at each other and nod, saying the Creole words for 'bird spirit'. They know that the voice that was singing through the tube of the flute was not my person, but a spirit voice that sang through and empty self, my ego temporarily suspended, my shell possessed by a lesser god. They recognize that voice; in the form of improvisational music, such as jazz, which is a black idiom, this does not feel so far from the truth of a moment when the musician has reached a trancelike state and 'lets loose.'
  9. They are totally at the mercy of the environment, often miles from the nearest town, in hostile white redneck areas. You would think twice about quitting a job and walking away into this limbo.
  10. God is bread. Red patent leather shoes. A dental trailer that visits the camps is worth its weight in God.

Berrien left this world too soon, having passed just a half-century among us. He left a wonderful legacy of music, friendship and more: his will provided for a foundation that grants Art scholarships to migrant farmworkers. Information about these scholarships can be found at

Please share this scholarship info with anyone you know who may need this assistance - Berrien would want it this way!
**all art in this post and these field notes are the work and legacy of Berrien Fragos Thorn and are reprinted and shared here in his honor and to further his life's work.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Where's Waldo?

Okay, Waldo isn't actually missing but I have been. I am painfully aware that it's been too long between posts this year - will be in a position to do better soon, I am sure.
Currently I am in the middle of moving. I am leaving my beloved Northern Michigan for a place in the southeast portion of the State. Even so, it's a good move and I am more happy than sad about it. I will be closer to family and the new home is a marked improvement over the one I am leaving.
The area I am moving to is a village surrounded by a lot of rural area, so I will still have the trees, hills and water that are much of what I love about where I've been living.
Soon I will be settled in, boxes unpacked and cupboards filled, new workshop up & running, neighbors and friends met and chatted up. It's an adventure - though it's taken much of my time and attention, I have been thinking of good topics for these pages. Bear with me awhile longer - this blog is only on hiatus, not abandoned ;-)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More Splendid Stones

I have so much fun choosing stones for my Earth Medallions!
Here are some beauties I've recently finished...

The pink is Rhodochrosite. Gorgeous! This is the first piece of this that I've set, but it won't be the last!
Also called Inca Rose, most of the banded pink specimens of this stone come from Argentina.

The blue stone is Amazonite. I'm rather fond of blue stones, possibly because there are so few of them!
The name is derived from the Amazon River, though it's not thought that this particular mineral is found there. Odd. Most of the jewelry-quality Amazonite is actually found in the United States, most notably Colorado.

This sweet brown stone is Picture Jasper. Formed from petrified mud that dripped into voids in molten lava, every piece presents its own vista.
This one has a wonderful windswept motion obscuring sand dunes and valleys.

All of these and more can be viewed, as always, in my Etsy shop, linked on the upper left. Or you can watch all the items in my shop scroll past in my new scrolling Sidebar Shop, a bit lower down on the left! ;-)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Please, Take it Off!

A brief discussion of leather care is probably overdue.
This has been brought to my attention lately by several people expressing fondness for their leather wristbands or necklaces with words to the effect that they, "Never take it off!"
They sleep, eat, bathe and live with their favorite accessory 24/7.
Lovely sentiment, bad idea.
Wear it a lot. Wear it most of the time. But please, when you bathe, shower, swim or sauna, take it off!
Most soaps are drying to leather, as is chlorine or salt.
Heat bakes.
Repeated soaking, especially with warm or hot water, will remove many of the tanning chemicals that keep your leather from becoming brittle. This leads to a breakdown of the grain (which can destroy the appearance of a fine leather accessory) and hastens the weakening and death of that favorite item.
With a small amount of proper care, leather goods can and should last for many years.
Methods of care and cleaning are determined by the type of leather.
Smooth-grained vegetable-tanned cowhide is what most people think of when they think of belt leather. This is the type of leather that's used for tooled items; we'll cover that today and save suede and deerhide for another post.
Cleaning: This is not something you'll normally need to do with belts or wristbands - the patina that comes with age is generally considered desirable.
However, should you encounter a mud-bog or other serious dirt issue, or for smooth-grain footwear, a conditioning cleaner such as saddle soap or Lexol PH is strongly recommended. Apply as directed with a soft cloth and tepid water, rinsing thoroughly. A soft brush, such as a toothbrush, can be used for stubborn dirt. You should wash the entire surface - spot cleaning can lead to just that; spots!
Allow the item to dry completely in an airy location away from heat sources or direct sun.
Of course, there are some types of stains that will permanently mar your leather; no amount of cleaning will remove grease or ink, for example. Try to avoid staining your leather with those things!
Conditioning/Protecting: This should be done occasionally, particularly after cleaning or for items that get a lot of wear, such as an everyday belt or favorite wristband. My first rule for this is shoe polish is for shoes!! Do not use it on belts, wristbands, purses or wallets - you will not be pleased with the results! My second rule is leave the back alone! No conditioners or sealants should be applied to the backside of full-grain cowhide - leather needs to breathe!
There are many great leather conditioners on the market.
Some, such as Neatsfoot oil, are for oiled leathers only. If you use it on waxed leather you'll get blotching and clouding. Some, such as paste-type or beeswax finishes, are for waxed leather only. If used on oiled leather, the same nastiness will ensue.
Unsure if your item is oiled or waxed?
Happily, there are products out there that will work with either. Lexol conditioner is an oil-based product that will penetrate wax; Leather Balm is a wax-based product that will emulsify with oil. It should be noted that some conditioners may permanently darken light-colored leather, so it's a good idea to test a small hidden area when using any product for the first time.
Once the product has been selected, apply with a soft cloth according to the instructions. After allowing ample penetration time, wipe off any excess and buff with a soft shoe brush or lint-free cloth.
Do not buy into the myth that you need to place the item near a heat source to open the pores so the conditioner can soak in: I've heard this many times, and it is bunk! Remember, heat is bad for leather!
A good conditioner will offer a fair amount of protection against the elements. If you feel the need for a more waterproof finish, there are many excellent silicone spray treatments available anywhere that sells camping supplies. Check the label carefully to see if it is for full-grain or suede (some work for both) and use accordingly, with lots of ventilation!
If you clean your leather when necessary and condition it occasionally, I promise you can love wearing it most of the time for years to come!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Help Haiti

There was a very different post here up to this morning.
However; I have been informed that though my intentions were honorable, I cannot publicly state that proceeds from sales will go to a specific organization for a particular cause unless I have expressed permission from said organization.
Who knew?
With apologies to all, I have removed the post. No impropriety was intended.
I will still be donating as outlined in the removed post. Any who purchased from my shop with this post in mind, rest assured that 100% of the pledged proceeds will be sent as previously stated. If you would like additional info, please contact me for specifics at
Thanks again to all!