Friday, July 29, 2011

Memories of Murals Past

Faux Venetian plaster in the powder room.

Our sons' space-themed mural.

The farmyard and forest scene in the loft.

A cardinal escapes from the mural in the loft.
Nearly a decade ago my husband and I built and purchased our first new home. The first home we owned was a 60s ranch that taught us everything we know about remodeling. But this was the first house made entirely for us. Our family has outgrown it to the point that we will need to either move or add on. We don't think we will recoup the investment of an addition, so we are preparing to put it up for sale.

We had the home for sale for a year with no luck and barely any showings. This time we are using a Realtor who hires a homestager to advise each homeowner. I had "staged" our home already in my opinion, but the homestager came and managed to remove probably twice as much as I had done. Her rules: No valences (dated) no curtains if they aren't essential; no gold frames or lights (out of style); no rugs; no bold colors or murals. So I haven't been blogging this week because I've been painting!

The rules against murals is unfortunate, since I often work as a muralist and find it handy to have a life-size area to show clients rather than just a photo. The murals in this house are highly personal as well, since they were painted entirely for us. The pink Venetian powder room had to go, being decorated in a rich Italian pink with gold frames as trim. That not-quite-coral, not-quite-salmon pink and gold combo is so uniquely Italian that every time I saw it I was instantly transported. I used to leave the door open just to catch sight of that color. Now the powder room is the same sedate beige as almost the rest of the house, but I feel the loss of my color fix like a pain in my heart.

The children had the hardest time painting over the farm and woodland scene in the loft, which serves mostly as their playroom. They begged to keep just one or two parts. Could they keep the rabbit? Or how about the cardinal? The rabbit has been so popular it exists in Clayton as well as Garner, lifted straight into the bedroom of a baby girl named Julia at her mother's request. The loft painting was inspired by the giant barn, made for me by my grandfather when I was 4 years old. It certainly can't be hidden, so I worked it into the decor. The rest of the room was decorated with toy horses and bird houses to carry the theme. It's funny, I can still remember the episode of Monk playing on t.v. when I started painting it. I started with the sky. I made a special roller for my son to use so he could help. He painted the leaves in the forest. I can still see him, a toddler wearing one of my t-shirts that reached to the floor.

For him as well was the space room painted. His favorite character at the time was Buzz Lightyear. The little green ball hanging from the ceiling was a Christmas ornament. He saw it in the store and said, "Look, Mommy, it's The Green Planet, for my room!" Today the sight of The Green Planet lying on the floor (thankfully taken down by Jerry) brought tears to my eyes. The truth, though, is that that sweet toddler has turned in the blink of an eye to a teenager, and the toddler who now lives in that room really prefers Lightning McQueen to Buzz Lightyear.

So tonight as I sit in our primarily beige home I reflect that in a way it is good for us to do this. We have said goodbye to our home through this purpose. Where we now live is more like a really big hotel room, nicely appointed, light on furniture, artfully arranged. We will leave it on the market until it sells now, because to return it to our home would be too much work, and impossible anyway.

I don't agree with everything the stager says. She prefers towels tied with raffia and fake ivy on most surfaces, a look that says "1992" to me, far more dated than a gold-finish mirror frame, and she picked the worst painting I've ever done out of the garage to hang on the wall because she loves it. I was only keeping it so I could paint over it someday! But I do think this was necessary for us. We are guests now in our home, ready to move on, but we keep the memories of the life and the home we created here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fab Flapper Attitude: How to restore a composition doll

This is an early 1920s boudoir doll, still in original clothing.

She was a "fashion victim" in the 1970s when someone glued this horrible faux fur helmet to her head and neck!
One day on our Michigan vacation I wandered into a typical Northport resale shop, which has a sign on the door saying they are open "mostly by chance" looking for vintage juice glasses. Instead, I found this antique doll sitting, dirty and neglected, on a high shelf. I could see her well enough to tell she was a boudoir, probably from the 20s or 30s. I got her down and saw her tag said she was from the early 1920s. I could also see, on close inspection, that she was the victim of a very unskilled and unfortunate restoration. Judging from the materials used, this occurred sometime in the 1960s or 70s.

The main lesson from this poor girl is, if you don't know what you're doing and aren't going to do any research, then STEP AWAY from the doll! The would-be doll restorer fashioned a sort of helmet from faux fur and glued it to the doll's head and the sides of her neck. The doll had a lot of crazing and cracking in the composition material in that area and they may have been trying to cover it. In any case, that only made it worse. The doll was also allowed to get extremely dirty. To start, I removed her fur "hair", which was disgusting and full of bugs and insect casings, and thoroughly cleaned her.
The boudoir doll with her fur hair and clothing removed.

The doll is carefully cleaned.
To clean the doll I first used Q-tips and a water and dish soap liquid mixture. She had some stubborn glue stains and ingrained dirt all over, so I went back over her with a Mr Clean Magic Eraser. Be VERY cautious with the Mr Clean erasers, as they will remove the paint. While the doll's clothes were off I hand-washed them and let them air-dry. Spot-check the fabric in an inconspicuous spot before cleaning to make sure it is safe to use water on the cloth. Let the doll dry thoroughly before beginning the composition repair.

The doll had a lot of composition degradation, probably from water damage and the glue used to attach the fur on her head and neck.

I used sculptured acrylic nail material to fill in the broken areas of the composition.

The doll had quite a bit of damage to her composition. Much of this was from the glue used in the first restoration, so it is a real shame the person didn't know what they were doing! It looks like she got wet or damp at some point and her shoulder swelled and cracked. Her body also has a lot of mildew staining. A good book for general doll repair is All About Doll Repair & Care by Carol Lindberg. It is available on eBay. Mrs. Lindberg advises using auto body putty to repair the composition, but you can also use acrylic nail material. This time I used the nail material. This repair will be apparent, so you want to confine it to areas you can cover with clothing or a wig if possible. The acrylic will stabilize the chipping composition, preventing further decay. Use the instructions in the package to make the acrylic. It really smells, so work in an open, ventilated area. Generally, you just dip a brush into a jar of acrylic liquid and dip it into the acrylic powder. Then use the resulting putty-type acrylic to fill in the holes. You can even sculpt new fingers if they are missing. When the acrylic is dry sand it lightly, being careful not to sand the original areas, and paint with a matching paint color. I use acrylic paint. The nail mixture is translucent, so you may need more than one coat of paint.

The composition repaired, I added a new wig.

Mohair and glue were used to make the wig.


Once the paint is dry you can rewig the doll if necessary. If there was anything good about this doll's original restoration it is that the fur hat protected the original hair underneath, so I could see the color and style. These dolls generally had big hats, so they didn't have much hair. It looks like this doll originally had golden blond mohair styled in waves very close to the back of her head and a bit longer in front. Because of the glue on her forehead and the damaged neck I could not use the original hair, but made a new wig. I chose wavy mohair in the closest shade to the original. To make this type of wig take a package of mohair and sew down the middle using the finest stitch setting on your machine. Use matching thread. This will be the part in the hair. Glue on to the head using Aleene's Tacky glue or other white water-soluble glue (so a future restorer can remove it without damage if necessary). I glued the wig over the original hair to enhance the fullness, as I did not have much mohair in this shade. Style the mohair in waves by pulling across with a t-pin or metal comb and spraying with hairspray to set the wave.

The cleaned and repaired doll with her new wig.

The doll is finished to this point. Now I have to work on her costume. Her original clothing was sewn to her body. That is very common with these dolls. However, her dress is disintegrating, so I am trying to figure out a way to resew it in a way that it can be taken on and off like a regular dress. Then I will sew a new costume for display so the original can be reserved. We are about to list our house for sale and I am getting ready to have a homestager come on Monday, so I'll have to get back to the doll later. For those of you who have never hired a homestager, you have to make your house look as though no one lives in it. A BIG challenge when you have 3 kids! So, as I can continue the doll restoration I'll write more entries.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rockin' Rock Art

I made this found-object nest with rock "eggs".

I purchased this rock owl in Sutton's Bay.

These rocks don't need any artistic enhancement; one has a natural face and the other looks as though it is inscribed with a Chinese character.
Although I haven't written much this week (or month) I have actually been quite busy artistically. I took a lot of photos in Michigan while on vacation and found some time to do some sketching. I purchased a 1920s doll in a resale shop in Northport and have been restoring her to her former flapper glory. I also brought home two large bags of rocks from the Lake Michigan shore and am letting them inspire me.

For those of you who have never visited Lake Michigan, finding rocks, throwing rocks, and making things from rocks is a huge activity. Lake Michigan is the only place in the world where you can find a certain stone with a fossilized pattern called "Petosky" stones. These are tricky to find, as the fossil pattern shows only when the stone is wet or if you polish the stone. So you have to scan the beach for a plain gray stone that might show a pattern if you wet it. We always spend a large part of our trip looking for Petosky stones. This is such a rite of passage that when I was a girl there was a whole shop in the lower level of the Willowbrook in Northport that had nothing but rows of rock polishers. You paid to take your stones there and polish them!

The thing about the shore at Lake Michigan is that certain beaches are lined with such a huge assortment of beautiful smooth stones in various colors you just can't resist taking them home. We always go to Peterson Park, where the beach is entirely stone, armed with our grocery bags from Tom's of Northport. When I was a child we only had paper bags, so they would get wet and start to split as you climbed the long, long staircase back up from the beach!

Northport, along with most towns around the lake, is full of what I call "Michigan" houses: cottages with a round lake stone foundation and chimney or even built entirely from lake stones. Most also have gardens terraced with lake stone walls, lake stone birdbaths and sculptures, lake stone fountains, etc. Obviously, I am not the only person whose creativity is inflamed by a beach full of free, smooth, multi-colored rocks! My long-suffering husband points out these are not free rocks, as we have to cart bags of them back to North Carolina, hurting our gas mileage! I take them with me from house to house as I move, too!

This year, I noticed how much many of the stones resemble eggs. I instructed the children to find "egg" stones and brought back a whole bag. I was planning to put them in a bowl but couldn't find one that looked right. So I made a "nest" for them out of lamp wire and aluminum fence wire. It turned out to be quite pretty, and since neither wire will rust, it can be used as an outdoor sculpture!

I also picked up some larger rocks whose shapes resemble birds or other animals, inspired by the owl sculpture I purchased in Sutton's Bay a few years ago. I thought I might try some rock carving! We also found a few rocks that are already "sculpted" by Nature. One has a funny face and the other has a marbled pattern that makes it look like someone wrote on it a Chinese character. Here's to inspiration! Two whole grocery bags full!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Beautiful Michigan

A boat docked in Northport Bay.

Sweet peas tumble over the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Rock-picking on the beach at Grand Traverse Lighthouse park.

Here we are back at home after a glorious week in Northern Michigan. If there is a more beautiful place on earth than Leelanau County in summer then I haven't seen it. Nearly my entire family on my mother's side came from Norway to Northport, Michigan around 100 years ago. They built the village of Northport in the image of Surnadal and Trondheim, Norway and lived as fishermen, farmers, and sailors. But after World War II the jobs disappeared from Northport. Most everyone had to leave. Today we are still estranged from Northport. It breaks my heart. Northport seems like home, our past and our inheritance.

I am always so happy to find myself in Leelanau. Clouds of chicory bloom like bits of heaven in the fields and ditches. The water and sky are bluer than a dream. We swim and canoe and climb sand dunes like mountains. We engage in the great Michigan pastime of rock picking and plan all the things we'll craft with our haul. We dine on smoked fish from Leland and fresh cherries from Northport each day. We hope and wish for a chance to come again. My great dream is to become independently wealthy so I can just live all summer in Northport!

I had lots of opportunity to practice my photography. Everywhere you look there is a beautiful scene. These are just a few examples: I took nearly 400 photos!