Art and Community

It all started with something a friend pinned to her Facebook Page:

Teacup Bird Feeder on Pinterest

I saw it, fell in love with it, and thought, “I could make one of those!”

Since that day, almost a year ago, I have been on a journey of metamorphosis. Rather surprisingly (and delightfully), I found I am not alone. And that is remarkable considering how alone I have felt for the past 7 years.

Throughout my life I’ve come to appreciate that “art” manifests itself in many different ways. For instance, my sister graduated college with an art degree: she can sketch, paint, arrange flowers/botanicals, among other things, but spent most of her career in the graphic arts department of GM creating art on a computer screen. Then there’s me, the music major, singer/guitarist/photographer/gardener/writer/sometimes poet who used to cross stitch and sew clothes for her children. This past year I’ve occasionally taken some time to reflect back on my life (looking hard at 50 will make you do that sometimes) and the different phases I’ve walked through. I worked 25+ years in Church music of one kind (choir) or another (worship bands), but it’s been about a year now since I’ve picked up the guitar and almost 4 years since I’ve led worship officially anywhere. My musical “phase” just seems to be over, at least for now (singing to CD’s to and from work notwithstanding). Homeschooling, public speaking, and blogging assumed that creative niche for awhile, but it looks like (until today), April, 2013 was the last time I blogged anything of consequence and the homeschooling ended in 2009 when I was forced to look outside the home for a full-time job.

Working with my hands – other than sewing or gardening – is really new territory for me. My husband is a carpenter in his own right, but woodworking was never my forte. Being captured by the teacup bird feeders pictured above began what I see as a new ‘chapter’ of sorts in my creative life. As a result, I started collecting vintage cups, saucers, and silverware from Good Will stores, antique shops, yard sales – basically anywhere I could find them. Next I began looking around for ways to hang my feeders. Shying away from drilling holes (drills lie WAY outside my comfort zone), which might crack the delicate porcelains I was collecting, I went back to Pinterest to see other teacup bird feeders and discovered brilliance:

Teacup Birdfeeder II

Can you see how the little rings are attached by gluing the other side of a metal ring to the bottom of the saucer? A short trip to Ace Hardware and some enjoyable conversation with the helpful staff (their ads are true, apparently ;)) soon put the solution in my hand.

Photo0196
Little rings to mount on Teacup Saucers for Hanging

Unfortunately, these little buggers are kinda steep. They don’t look it, I know… I don’t use them anymore. I have learned to make a sort of ‘basket’ out of wire for hanging, which I like much better anyway. At the same time that I was amassing teacup bird feeder supplies, I started thinking of putting a bird bath in my cool side garden:

Side Garden
Mini-Jungle on the side of my house

The flowers, trees, and shrubs attract all kinds of birds, including hummingbirds. Colorful berries and multiple feeders have turned my side porch into a relaxing haven – that is, until the mosquitoes decide to feast. Because of aforementioned blood-sucking menaces, I do not allow ANY standing water ANYWHERE in my yard. I can’t afford to lose anymore blood! (I’m so serious about this that in March, 2013 I made hubby put up a bat house. Apparently it isn’t interesting enough to attract any bats, but I patiently await their change of heart.) Still, the thought of the sound of dripping, dancing water, and the desire to attract as many birds as possible, pushed me to search for a fountain.

Dilemma #1: No power source. The majority of the solar-powered fountains out there are just what they say: solar-powered, When a cloud goes by or when the sun goes down there is no power.

Dilemma #2: No Power = standing water = increased mosquito population. We can’t have that! It turns out that a solar fountain is rather more expensive than an electric one, but not nearly as expensive as a solar-powered fountain with a battery back-up.

Dilemma #3: I just couldn’t see dumping $250+ into a water feature so began to despair of ever having a fountain in my garden.

Weeks dragged by as I tried to puzzle out my fountain question, while every day on my way to work, I walked past bags of teacups, saucers, copper wire, glue, beads, and some river rocks I purchased on impulse thinking I could find some use for – all sitting in the garage exactly where I left them – unopened and gathering greasy dust and cobwebs. I felt stuck between a river rock and a hard place.

I knew that something was driving me to create. I mean, I was amassing supplies to make something, but this something was a something unlike any of the somethings I had ever made before (that was a LOT of somethings!)

A few months back I came down with an extreme (for me) case of writer’s block. It felt like the well of words that used to pour out of me had run completely dry … had I said everything I could find to say? Some days, just thinking about writing left me exhausted, as if over the past few years I had written the well dry … or as if life had drained all of the words worth writing out of me. (One day maybe I’ll blog about the details of my journey just to give you a glimmer of understanding – suffice to say, my exhaustion is well-earned.) My lack of writing produced all sorts of guilt in me – irrational, I know – but what is the point of having a blog if you never write anything??

At some point the truth dawned on me: it was okay to take a break from writing. Beyond that, I came to realize my desire to work with my hands was a new creative outlet that, while different from writing, still came from the same source inside – the same place the music, sewing, gardening, all of it came from. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, I began to let go of guilt, (no blogging = guilt = creativity stymied) and that’s when things got interesting. I literally waved goodbye to my blog, certain that my writer’s block was seasonal (everything comes to pass, right?), picked up my vintage cups and saucers and started mining my brain for ideas like looking for miniature puzzle pieces to somehow make sense of where this journey was taking me.

Since I knew I did not want to pay the high cost for a solar (with battery backup) fountain, I started to imagine building one. Maybe I could even figure out how to use the supplies I already had. But, how?? The first order of business would be finding a water pump.

It so happens that I work for a pump and power company (irony abounds). I started hounding my coworkers, asking every question I could think of about water pumps (I sell pumps, mind you, but not ones this small – the massive ones we rent/sell move ponds from place to place or bypass sewer lines for maintenance and repair). But thanks to my job, I kind of knew what questions needed asking: How much pressure was I looking for from a pump? How high was I going to push the water? How many gallons per minute was I looking for – a gully-wash or a trickle? And those were just the pump questions. From whether to spray the water up or suspend an outlet to let it drip down to what kind of stand to mount it all on – the questions left my head spinning. I am not an engineer, people! But as fate would have it, turns out I am. 🙂 (Would it be ridiculous to tell you that in the middle of teacups and fountains, I also decided to convert 2 – not one, but TWO – bookshelves into closed cabinets? Now you know I’m truly insane, or maybe just compulsive stupid.)

Open Bookshelf
Unattractive Shelf Twin, Pre-Conversion

Over the years I have come to accept that I work through my problems out loud. For me, writing is one way of doing that … when I write I hear my voice narrating in my head as the words take shape on the page. I understand, of course, that not everyone does this. My husband, for example, works through almost every problem in his head before he talks about it. I’m just the opposite. I’ve often wondered if my brain needs to hear the words come out of my mouth (appear on the page) for my ears to make sense of them, whereas if my husband heard his thoughts aloud he might get that confused look my blabbering so often seems to evoke. So, to work out my fountain problem, I talked about it to anyone who would listen, and even some who wouldn’t.

My bird-loving neighbor topped the list since she shares wine with me on the side porch while we invent disparaging names for squirrels and new curse words for mosquitoes and outdoor cats (bird stalkers). She’s the creative type as well, so please check out her ETSY store here.

As I talked to people, asked questions, and most importantly, began processing ideas, a funny thing happened. In my mind I started “seeing” a fountain begin to take form. Almost every conversation I had became an idea mill and I started wandering through antique stores with a whispered mantra on my breath: try to think outside the box. It doesn’t come naturally for me to look at an object and imagine it being used in a different way. Still, whether it was something someone suggested, or just another person’s willingness to let me process the problems out loud didn’t matter … my ideas continued to take shape. The internet helped too. Researching other fountains, I ran across a tutorial on making one using a teapot and basin:

DIY Teapot Fountain Instructions

The way the teapot was mounted over the pump inspired me. I have a glass bowl with a metal stand which used to hold shells. The shells are packed away so I turned the stand over and created a way to mount a frog plate in a basin like this:

Photo0148
Froggy Fountain (with impulse buy river rocks)

You probably can’t see the metal stand supporting my frog’s lily pad, but trust me, it’s there. The solar pump I finally decided on fits perfectly underneath.

In the meantime, I found a way to use the teacups and saucers I had been gathering as well:

Photo0204
Sampling of my Staked Bird Feeders

This past weekend I attended my first ever craft fair as a vendor and managed to make a few bucks:

FHS Fall Fest 2013
Fall Festival 2013
Sporting Hanging Feeders
Above the Staked Ones

Over time, my journey became more about the conversation – the connection I made with other people – than the yard art. Lucky for ME I was open enough to talk it through with so many patient people (my husband’s response when I tried to explain my fountain idea: “You’re gonna have to draw me a picture…” 😉 ). Now every time I walk into my local Ace Hardware or the little antique shops in my area, the folks who work there ask for a progress report with pictures and inquire what new project I’ve taken on now. One of them came to the festival and recognized a sugar bowl I converted into a bird feeder which came from her shop. I have this whole network of people I never knew before – who I never would have known had I shied away from this new (and kinda scary) creative process. Reminds me of blogging a whole, whole lot. 😀

I am in serious doubt as to whether I would have found a way to create any of these pieces without the input of so many others. I think when all of the projects are done it’s going to be time for a garden party (there will be WINE)! Meanwhile, please feel free to contribute any ideas you might have on how I can beautify my (or someone else’s) garden. I have found the actual doing of the work to be therapeutic, and would love to branch out into new areas, incorporating your ideas into my thought processes. So, please, share away!

As always, thanks for reading. And, in case you’re interested, here are close-ups of some finished pieces:

Hanging Feeder
Hanging Feeder
Staked Feeder
Staked Feeder
Garden Candle to Hang from a Tree or Shepherd's Hook
Garden Candle to Hang from a Tree or Shepherd’s Hook
Bathroom Chest with Open Door
Did I tell you I found the shutters at a junk store for $15? They cleaned up nicely, don’t-cha think?
Master Bathroom with Chest
My phone just will not capture the colors: beige outside and in, antique white doors, bronze hinges/knobs. We used magnets to keep the doors closed.

The one in my dining room is definitely my favorite. When we had to extend the middle shelf’s overhang to accommodate the doors (which were too short), I thought a little tile accent might do the trick. I was not wrong. My husband cut out the top shelf’s backing (peg board) and put in a 1/4 piece of plywood for the finishing touch. Voila!

I'm so happy with the way this one accents my dining room - bright and cheery!
I’m so happy with the way this one accents my dining room – bright and cheery!

Both cabinets are now complete … the fountain will not be ready for display until Spring, 2014, so you’ll just have to patiently await the final unveiling.

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One thought on “Art and Community

  1. Pingback: Dream Realized | Judah First

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