No Computer Until Next Week

September 1, 2011

Our computer crashed several days ago and we are waiting for replacement parts.  I am posting this from my husband’s laptop, which allows me to post text on my blog and to read e-mail.  I cannot reply to e-mail, access my photos or MS Word files, upload new photos, update my website, or log into my Flickr account until the computer is fixed, which will probably be late next week.  So if you’ve tried to contact me within the past week, it will be a few more days until I can reply.  Thanks for your patience.  I’ll post an update when everything is working again.



These hair pins are made of 14-gauge hammered black steel wire and are 2.5 inches to 3.25 inches long.  The tops were flattened and given a subtle hammer texture with a dapping punch.  The finished pins were heated in the forge to give them a uniform dark gray color, then rubbed very lightly with peanut oil and carefully dried with a paper towel.  The flower-shaped pins are intended to hold a knot of hair and are easier to hold and manipulate than plain hairpins of this type, especially if (like me) your hands don’t work as well as they once did.  The three-lobed pins can be used if needed for extra security.  The double spiral pin is primarily decorative, to adorn a finished knot.

Black Steel Wire Hairpins

Black Steel Wire Hairpins

Copper and Stone Flutes

March 30, 2011

Copper Flute with BAg

This is a copper flute made from 1/2-inch copper tubing, just under 11 inches long.  It is made in the style of a Japanese shakuhachi (rim-blown crescent-shaped mouthpiece; four soundholes in front, one in back; tuned to a pentatonic minor scale; decorative “root end” at bottom).  True shakuhachis are at least twice this size, and are bamboo flutes made according to strict traditional rules.  So this is just “shakuhachi-inspired” and the copper tubing has a smoother, more ringing or whistle-like voice than a bamboo flute.  Compared to a tin whistle, the sound is breathier, more expressive, and less shrill.  The holes are beveled so it’s easier for my nearly-numb neuropathic fingers to find them, and the ornamental endcap keeps the flute from rolling.  The lowest note is middle C.  The lined drawstring bag is made from my “Blue Tiger” fabric and various indigo cotton scraps.

As a severe asthmatic, I never thought I’d be able to play a rimblown flute, since even fipple flutes like the tin whistle or the recorder are a challenge for me, though I used to play them years ago.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it isn’t too hard, though it’s one of those “easy to learn, difficult to master” kind of things that I always seem to stumble into.  I haven’t heard of anyone making rimblown flutes out of copper plumbing pipe, although some flutemakers are using PVC pipe to make shakuhachis, Andean quenas, and Anasazi flutes.  Copper is cheaper, easier to work with, and prettier than PVC.  So I am experimenting with different sizes and designs, hoping to come up with something that sounds beautiful that I can carry with me on desert hikes.  The one above works nicely but I’d like something a bit larger as well.



“Tiger Breath” is my first stone flute, carved from a bubbly-looking, naturally hollow chalcedony tube.  These agate tubes were new at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Shows this year.  I bought two:  this one (which was one of the smallest available) and a larger one for which I’ll make a separate mouthpiece.  This material comes from Mount Merapi in Indonesia.  Although sold as “fossil bamboo” (and apparently called that in Indonesia), it is neither.  It is a unique and spectacular example of mineral replacement after a volcanic eruption.  More photos HERE (the link is not the company that I bought from, but is probably the ultimate source). 

So how did they form?  A volcanic eruption produced ash (a fall of silica glass sand) that buried plants of the genus Equisetum, called “horsetails” in the U.S. and Europe, and “Japanese Bambu” in Indonesia.  These primitive spore-bearing plants are related to ferns, and grow in clumps of narrow, cylindrical stems.   The stems are rich in silica and rather rigid, which is probably why they stayed erect while being buried in ash.  In the humid climate, the volcanic ash quickly weathered and broke down into silica, clay, and iron oxides.  The rotting stems were replaced with iron and manganese oxides, probably with the aid of bacteria.  The resulting  iron oxide “sticks” provided convenient surfaces for a thick layer of silica to crystallize around them, creating an “organ pipe” structure of multiple straight tubes.

To make the tube into a flute, I carved both ends and drilled five beveled holes, but left most of the tube completely natural except for a gentle polish with very fine diamond compound to bring out the colors and texture.  The mouthpiece is shaped to give a clean, piercing sound, and the opposite end is a polished cylinder that fits neatly into the endcap.   The endcap protects the edge of the tube from chipping, and keeps the flute from rolling off a table.  It is carved from a piece of Archaean banded iron that I found in the Shirley Basin, Wyoming, in 1999.  I chose this material because it matches the color of the three iridescent brown iron oxide bands within the agate tube, and because the stone that I used was a ventifact (wind-polished pebble) so it derives some of its shape from the High Plains wind.

Rimblown flutes are not easy to play, especially when they are very small, and the notes are somewhat dependent on the player’s breath.  The bore on this flute is quite irregular (imagine the “bubbles” in reverse, with the inside of the tube covered in dimples) so tuning is rather uncertain and the flute is harder to play than a similar sized flute made of copper or bone would be.  But it DOES play, and is especially pretty on the loud, shrieking high notes. 

The “tiger” theme has several layers of meaning.  Of course the three bands on the agate tube are reminiscent of a tiger’s tail (I didn’t see any other tubes that were banded like this – most were uniformly light yellowish, or had bright red or orange patches).   The banded iron endcap continues the tiger color theme, since it is striped brown and black.  It’s hard to imagine two more opposite environments, geological and biological, than these  two stones represent, but they are a good match.

Blog Hiatus

March 5, 2011

Obviously I haven’t updated this blog for awhile.  I’ve been busy with several projects (two large scratchboard drawings; making flutes out of copper, bone and stone; forging a couple of iron bracelets) but my shop/studio time is limited, and updating the blog diverts time and energy away from more important work.  It receives very few visitors, and half of those are spambots that “visit” the site so they can post links to the blog on fake websites.  I am tired of people assuming that my drawing projects are “clip art” which they are free to use as they wish.  I have also removed several things from my Mineralarts website:  art for projects in progress, and a few old sold items that are no longer relevant.

If this sounds bitter, it isn’t really.  My own priorities have changed (more cat care responsibilities, more health problems, more ambitious projects with less work time, and more time spent developing new skills with an eye toward future creative efforts).  Visitation to my blog and website have dropped, and sales have been nearly nonexistent for over a year (not unexpected in this economy, and I haven’t done anything to adapt to it, so I can’t complain).  Internet usage has changed, with a decline in personal/hobby/information websites and the proliferation of corporate sites that offer nothing more than superficial “social networking”.  Overall, internet users appear to be younger, less educated, and less connected to the “real world” than they were even five years ago.  Buyers are less interested in purchasing from an individual artist’s website, preferring inexpensive production items from instant-purchase swapmeets such as Etsy.  But technology and culture are changing so quickly that it’s a bit surprising that I had such a good run with the website – ten years of sales, artistic adventures, and meeting friends and long-term customers.  Now it is all evolving into something else, which is inevitable.  And I’m enjoying a welcome homecoming to the solitary focus on art and study that I developed years ago.

I’ll be back when I have something to say that is worth my time to post, and worth your time to read.  Thanks for visiting.

Turtle Shell Rattle

May 14, 2010

My New Moon project:  dismantling a couple of older rattles to create a more useful and better-sounding one for mazewalking.  I collected all the pieces in Kentucky about 15 years ago:  a complete young box turtle shell (found on an abandoned railroad track), deer hooves (from a buck found dead in a wooded hollow at Midwinter – I have his antlers too), and hind foot bones from a young female coyote roadkill – she was the model for my “Coyote Uroboros” drawing.  The turtle shell is filled with honey locust beans.  Strung on cotton/silk/linen string.  Makes a nice mix of organic, woodsy hissing/rattling/clicking sounds.

Turtle Shell Rattle

Two of Hearts Amulet

This Two of Hearts Amulet is made from 14-gauge copper and black steel wire, with a double-sided cabochon that I cut from the center of a slab of translucent white Brazilian agate.  The heart-shaped design in the stone is completely natural and literally represents the “heart” of a thunderegg (a solid round agate nodule).  It’s a layer of pale orange chalcedony, and the white chalcedony inside it is speckled with tiny red hematite dots.  A sturdy pendant with an earthy presence that is unusual for heart-shaped jewelry.  Total length is 3.5 inches.  The back isn’t spectacular, but the drilled double-sided cabochon/bead (instead of a traditional bezel setting backed with metal) shows off more of the soft, subtle bluish-white color of the agate.

Two of Hearts Amulet - Back

I cut half a dozen more cabochon blanks from this slab, with different shapes and interesting banded or “eye” patterns in white/red/yellow/black.  I’m working some of them into pieces of jewelry, but I really bought the stone for the the simple, unique heart design at the center.

Celtic music fans can celebrate the return of EclectiCelt to KBRP Radio Free Bisbee.

This two-hour music program is hosted by our friend Jim Mahoney.  The show currently runs from 8:00-10:00 (Arizona time) on Monday nights.  If you’re on the East coast and don’t want to stay up that late, you can listen to the rebroadcast on Sunday afternoon from 1:00-3:00.

The show’s blog features playlists along with photos and background information about many Celtic music groups, some of which may not be well known to American listeners.

Above Bisbee, hidden in canyons that cut through the pink granite pinnacles of the Mule Mountains, rare ferns and succulents grow among the gnarled groves of desert oaks.

Mule Mountains, Arizona

Guatemalan Blue Jade

December 3, 2009

A few months ago, a friend gave me two pieces of Guatemalan “Olmec Blue” jade for carving.  It is a a muted translucent bluish-green, like seawater.  Guatemala has produced green jade since ancient times.  The source for the dusky bluish stone of Olmec carvings remained a mystery until 1999, when flooding from Hurricane Mitch revealed outcrops of blue jade in a remote jungle river valley.  Prospectors brought small pieces of gem-quality jade to the Tucson gem shows a few years later.  It remains an expensive material and difficult to obtain.  Compared to other jades, it’s also a challenge to carve, especially in small sizes, since a lot of it contains innumerable pockets of crumbly crystals that can give even highly polished stones a slightly pitted “orange peel” surface texture.   I cut a thin slice off the end of one piece and carved this claw-shaped pendant while removing as little material as possible from the tiny slice of stone.  The back isn’t shown, but the two sides are identical.  The other pendant is fossil mammoth ivory with a very similar bluish-green color.  Both are about 1.5″ long, including the sterling silver settings.  The blue color in the jade is due to iron and small amounts of titanium; in the fossil ivory it is due to vivianite, an iron phosphate.  Both pendants will be part of a necklace with beads and mixed metals.

Guatemalan Blue Jade & Fossil Mammoth Ivory

We walked in the Tucson All Souls Procession last night.  We took pictures this year – here’s my set, and from any of these you can link to Flickr’s ALL SOULS PROCESSION group and see more photos from other people.

A big crowd this year, and more spectators than usual.  This event is 20 years old and began as a small procession (so obscure that I never heard of it during the two years I lived in Tucson in the early 90s).   I’ve only attended for the past four years, and during that time it has become a major, heavily-publicized event.  It’s actually TWO events – the procession and the finale.  The procession is open to anyone and is a fascinating showcase for creativity of all kinds – costumes and masks, sculpture, carettas (mobile altars, floats or art), ritual objects, music, and dance.  As was probably inevitable, it appears to be gradually losing its original focus (a memorial procession to honor dead friends, family, and ancestors) and becoming a more generalized public costume party, but there is still enough of the “community deathwalk” aspect to be very powerful.  It starts slowly and often rather solemn.  But when the mob makes the “Underworld passage” through the Fourth Avenue underpass, it conjures the spirit of the Oldest River with a cacophony of howls, ululations, thundering drums, and clanging bells…and all the invisible things riding the night air are drawn through in a gust of wind, scattering on the other side as the crowd becomes quieter and more relaxed, and people move a little faster and more freely. 

The Urn heads the procession, but the burning of the Urn no longer serves any ritual purpose, since the Finale has evolved into a theatrical spectacle of its own that includes firespinners, acrobats, and musicians.  The logistics of this event make for a very long wait in the crowd after the end of the procession.  I have seen it once, but I am not fond of theatrical performance for its own sake, so I prefer to just enjoy the procession and go home.

Jaguar Costume

Letting in the Light

April 23, 2009

I’ve been sidelined by illness for a couple of weeks, but am back at work now.  I looked for ways to restore balance around the house, and decided to cut a window in the door to my studio.  I keep the door closed because some of my more primitive cats will spray and wreak all kinds of destruction if they are allowed to enter unsupervised.  Now I can keep out the naughty cats and still allow air and light to flow freely.  Photo shows the skylight over my desk, viewed from the hall.

Skylight Window

Skylight Window