Katie Crackernuts

When Sabine suggested Katie Crackernuts, how could I resist? Never mind the story, I just love the name! The sound of it, the alliteration, the suggestiveness… I love it all.

The story itself is interesting, too. For once, the wickedness of the stepmother is pretty much taken for granted and skimmed over. She swaps her stepdaughter’s head for a sheep’s  head and then plays no further part in the tale. No prolonged scheming, no come-uppance, no desperate grief on the part of the father. Instead, the story moves quickly on to concentrate on the daughters and their fortunes – and again, for once the daughters (or at least, one of them) turn out to be quite capable of sorting themselves out.

It is often said that mothers tend to be harder on their daughters than their sons, perhaps so that they can look after themselves if times turn hard. Whatever the reason, Katie’s mother must have done a good job. This fairy tale heroine is resourceful, capable, caring and intelligent, all of which more than make up for her apparently being the less pretty of the two sisters.

As a result, my feelings of sympathy are for the fairy baby in the tale. Two toys taken away, with nothing in return but a few moments distraction. Children become very attached to their toys and I worry that the baby was left without a favourite. I would say that my focus this month would be to be to provide a replacement, but I’m also intrigued by the links between the story and TB/consumption. Who knows?

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“If you keep house for us…”

The misfortune of female fairy tale protagonists never ceases to amaze me. Women are either evil or innocent (and therefore protected by magic, fairy godmothers, spirits of dead mothers, etc.) – I remember that, as a girl, I was really grateful when, in the books of Tamora Pierce, I found a girl who, rather than going to a convent, dressed up as a boy and became a knight…but that’s a different story.

So…Snow White follows the huntsman into the woods, rather than clobber him over the head and make a run for it. Then, the seven dwarves take her in, telling her ‘If you keep house for us, cook for us, mend our clothes, clean for us, then you may stay, and you’ll never want for anything.’ Even the seven dwarves pull a ‘me Tarzan, you Jane’ stunt! It got me thinking of the pacts we make with those we love and live with. And since we’re re-doing our kitchen at the moment, I thought I’d try for a domesticated theme. The splash back is for our new cooker (and I’ll take a photo ‘in situ’ as soon as it is – well, ‘in situ’). The colours happen to match – nearly – Snow White: ‘white as snow, red as blood, and black as ebony’. The writing bears witness to my own little domestic story, it is taken from emails ‘my man’ and I exchanged. The design, too, has nothing to do with Snow White, and is instead loosely based on the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, where my husband proposed and where I found out that I was pregnant. The part of the house the kitchen is in dates from the late 1920s, hence the Art Deco ‘look’ – be kind, it’s my first foray into stained glass, made possible thanks to my friend Rachel’s patience!

And as for who will be ‘keeping house, cooking and cleaning’ around this splash back…thankfully, times have changed!

Museday

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I blame the mirror

There’s a lot to be said for growing old gracefully. Not wearing mini skirts, leopard-skin print leggings or midriff-revealers aged 55, not using surgery to stretch skin and remove wrinkles, not dying hair platinum blonde to disguise the grey. I get the feeling that had any of these options been available to Snow White’s poor stepmother, she’d have leaped at them all. Which makes her less evil, and more just uncomfortable with the idea of passing time and fading beauty. Of course, she took her aging to heart a little and she may have gone over the top in her desire to remain the ultimate in desirable women, but still… the fear of getting older is there for all of us. Who, over a certain age, hasn’t looked in the mirror, seen a grey hair and twinged just a tiny bit?

And there we are – I think the real evil in this story is that mirror. The mirror that never lies, that always tells the poor queen exactly how she looks, that provides a constant, nagging reminder of passing time and fading attraction. It must have driven her mad. Same for us – mirrors and the media, both telling us all the time that younger is better, providing us with ‘perfect’ examples to ‘follow’, homogenising and smoothing, wanting healthier, fitter, prettier, wittier, finer. And, to a very large extent these days, more standard. Don’t stand out. Don’t dare to be different. Wear this because it is right, eat this because it is right, say this because it won’t offend anyone (note that here, I’m not advocating complete anarchy, just desiring a bit of character!).

I would say, don’t look at that mirror. Get on with your life, enjoy it the way that it is, be happy with those moments of pleasure and ride over the less exciting ones. Age is part of living and will happen whether you like it or not. Better to accept that and move on. Don’t  look in the mirror!

And now, in the biggest and most unlikely sideways leap possible….. the advice to not look in the mirror is as sound as the advice not to look at Medusa. I suppose you could say that there’s an opposite there. Don’t look in the mirror, but do view Medusa through your shield, using it as a mirror. Then, she can’t turn you to stone. And for another opposite, how about taking Medusa and inverting her, so that she is a snake with heads rather than a head with snakes. Ta-da! One glass piece!

Medusa, inverted

 

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Snow White

Oops! In past months, we always talked about who would post the month’s starting post…this month, we’re talking behind the scenes who is doing what, but I just realised we never posted. So. Yes. It’s Snow White. After getting somewhat international and intellectual in turn, we’re returning to good old Grimm yet again. An wicked stepmother – check. An evil master plan – check. A beautiful, if overly trusting and in-need-of-rescue female lead – check. A handsome prince – check. Silly sidekicks in form of dwarves – check. Reference to glass – check. Looks like we’re good to go. And since we both already know what we’re doing – ish – it can only be a matter of days….right? Well, with my track record, it might be February before I get round to posting, but I’ll do my best.

In the mean time, why not spend a thought on Roald Dahl’s alternative version?

http://monologues.co.uk/Childrens_Favourites/Snow_White.htm

Snow White

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Heirlooms are child’s play

I’m late again! That’s because I really wanted to make a snow globe, but I couldn’t blow one large enough at the torch, and couldn’t find one I liked online. And so, after much deliberation, I made a music box instead.

As I said in this month’s introductory post, I’d never heard of Tolkien’s letters from Father Christmas, and I was somewhat humbled by the work he went through to create something magical for his children. So, in short, that’s what I set out to do. Something that may (hopefully!) survive the road to adulthood with a bit of its magic intact, so that it is still proudly owned when Dora the Explorer and Ben 10 have been relegated to fading memories.

Music Box

Music Box

The Music Box in Action on YouTube

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The past and the future

I was given a copy of Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas by my uncle. Having been given The Hobbit, which I hated, the previous year, I wasn’t too thrilled with yet another Tolkien book. (In my defence, I was far too young to appreciate the Hobbit. I did come back to it years later and liked it a lot more). It therefore took me a while to read the letters, but when I did, I loved them. I loved the imaginary Father Christmas world, the little stories of mishaps and the humour. I dipped into the book several times at odd moments over the years and it is one that I have very fond memories of. To me, it feels like a part of my childhood.

Over the past few months, various events both good and less good have given me cause to think some fairly existential thoughts. The meaning of life, the meaning of my life, the reasons behind what I do and what it is all “for”, in the grander scheme of things. The Father Christmas letters were sent year after year, but as letters, could be read at any time – or, as happened, collected together and appreciated as a book. Books can be kept and dipped into, shared and enjoyed over many years. They are very personal things. Not only do they draw us into worlds partly formed by our own experiences and imaginings, they can evoke a particular time or person. Tolkien always reminds me of the uncle that first gave me his books. The Father Christmas letters remind me of childhood. Any book by A N Wilson reminds me of Oxford and, well, early boyfriends!

Books are written by hand. Artisans make items with their hands. Just as a book can evoke a time, place or emotion, so a specially-made, individual piece of work can do the same. The idea that one of my dragons, or a bud vase or a bottle stopper has been bought as a gift for someone else to enjoy gives me a huge amount of pleasure. It is lovely to think that these items might go on to remind them, however briefly, of a moment or a person. My existential thinkings led me to the conclusion that, if I can work glass and make items that bring others pleasure, then that is a wonderful thing. What better reason is there for life than to make others smile and give them happy memories?

And on that note, and with apologies for the dark photo, this backgammon set is destined this Christmas for someone who I hope will like it. May it, combined with a small tot of good whisky and some company, give him many a good moment to remember!

Backgammon set

 

 

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December – Letters from Father Christmas

Oh, I feel all virtuous, having managed November in time. Now, it’s December. I can tell, because my son’s wails have changed, from ‘I want to open a doooooor!’ to ‘I want to open aNOTHER dooooor!’ – on his advent calendar. When Emma and I sat down in July to decide on the rest of the year, she mentioned Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas. Me, pleb that I am, had never heard of them. But having looked into them, I’ve got to admire Tolkien’s stamina – it’s a beautiful collection, created for his children over a period of 20 years.

Cover

I have to admit, I don’t think I ever believed in Santa….but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want a letter looking like this coming through my letter box:

letter

As a Mum, I’m somewhat humbled by the trouble Tolkien went through to make Christmas magical – as an artist, I have to say I don’t exactly have tons of inspiration yet…but then, it’s only the first of December…

1934

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Please let me in

Oh, this was a toughie. Not only had I already, ages ago, made a bead called ‘the snow queen’

Snow Queen

…but I wanted to create something…I don’t know…something special for this one. I have always loved this fairy tale, but I also found it very, very scary as a child. Not the abduction, but, actually, the fact that a tiny little splinter, unseen and unnoticed by the outside world, could change Kai’s personality so irrevocably, turning the lovely, loving little boy into a hard and mean child. That’s what scared me. Always, I have found stories that messed with people’s minds much more frightening than those that had big bogeymen and monsters in it. Anything outside, you can fight and control, but how do you fight the enemy within? And if somebody you know as loving and caring changes beyond recognition, what do you do? How do you get through?

Soon after I first read the Snow Queen, I realised that this change in people isn’t just the stuff of fairytales, that people can and do change beyond recognition. Drugs, alcohol and depression are just some of the things that can turn somebody you know into somebody you think you don’t. And when I had a brush with depression myself, after our son was born, I realised that sometimes, it seems like it doesn’t matter how much love you’re getting, it seems like that nasty little splinter will never dislodge.

So, in my sculpture, two people who love each other are ever so close, but separated by a jagged, fractured landscape. In fact, two hands could touch – there is nothing in-between…nothing visible, anyway. And yet…is the person on the inside trying to reach out, or pushing away, unwilling to involve a loved one. Is he saying ‘I want to let you in’, or ‘Please stay away, I don’t want to hurt you while I am in this darkness’?

I don’t want to simplify matters by saying ‘love conquers all’ – life isn’t a fairytale. But I wish, from the bottom of my heart, that every ‘Kai’ in this world has a ‘Gerda’, that everybody who feels trapped, alone, changed and helpless, has somebody who will come look for them, no matter what the peril, will ask to be let in, hold them tight, and melt any nastiness away.

Please, let me in

Please, let me in

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Puzzles and parallels

The history of lampworking is fascinating. Like many trades, glass working has been affected by social conditions and politics through time. In addition, and for a number of reasons, the skills, techniques and recipes have often been closely guarded secrets, passed down through families and protected from outside view. While glass techniques have become more widely known and discussed recently, we still feel the remnants of this today. I have seen glassworkers abroad who stopped their torches and went about other things till I went away, because I made the mistake of looking too closely at what they were doing. Talking to some of them, they have explained that their business would be passed on to their children. (Interestingly, in at least one case, the children themselves were less than keen on the career path hoped for by their parent – illustrating the generation gap in a changing world). American lampworking families did the same thing over the past century or so, passing knowledge down the generations, rarely letting outsiders in on any ‘glass secrets’.

Having decided to make a puzzle this month, I bought a couple of books on puzzle-making and was surprised to find the same feeling of secrecy and closed knowledge leaping from the pages. Puzzle-devising in the 20th Century appears to have been quite a closely-guarded affair, and solutions were almost equally elusive and hidden. Reproducing a puzzle or design is clearly seen as very bad form.

Having said that, I have gone for two designs that are based on original puzzles. Both are twists on the first version, but they aren’t completely new in concept. That would be asking a lot, for a first try!

My first puzzle is based on Sam Loyd’s Magic Holetite Pencil. The original was elegantly simple – a pencil with a hole in the end and a looped cord, shorter than the pencil, tied through the hole. The pencil was used as an advertising puzzle for the New York Life Insurance Co, and is the origin of the phrase, “to buttonhole someone”.

My version is a sort-of Snow Queen’s sceptre, to be passed through Kay’s buttonhole and through the loop. Can Kay remove the sceptre, without breaking the loop? Difficult, when the sceptre is longer than the loop itself… but not impossible…

Buttonhole

Buttonhole

My second is based on another puzzle, to do with topology and entanglement. Take a set of beads with letters on them, spelling ETERNITY. Arrange the beads with all letters right way up. They mustn’t initally spell ETERNITY, but must be in a completely different order. This order is up to you. Take a thread and pass it through the letters such that, when you pull the thread, the letters will rearrange themselves to spell the word correctly. Kay needed to spell Eternity to escape the Snow Queen, but without a degree in topology (or possibly Gerda’s love and tenacity), he’d have been there for a very long time indeed.

 

 

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Double Trouble

Right…..here it is. A late Baba Yaga, and a cop-out at the same time. I had great expectations to play with something fused this week, but my kiln won’t get here until the very end of November, so I feel I’ve held up the queue long enough!

There are two aspects in Baba Yaga that intrigue me. One (which was to be my original topic) are the horse riders, representing dawn, noon and night, I had a lighting structure all planned and everything. Ah well.

The second is the mother’s ability – across a number of fairy tales, really – to directly influence their children’s happiness from beyond the grave. In Vasilisa the brave, the mother gives her daughter a doll – which needs to be fed before it can help…slightly creepy, if you ask me – in Cinderella, for example, the tree on the mother’s grave provides dresses for Cinderella to go to the ball. This all seems very far-fetched and, of course, fairytale-like. Although…

The other day I was in the car with my son, who will be four at the end of this month. And here’s is our conversation:

Me: “Do you know I love you?” Munchkin: “Yes.” Me: “How do you know?” Munchkin: “Because you tell me lots every day.” Me: “And if I didn’t tell you, would you still know?” Munchkin: “Yes, because all the leaves whisper to me all the time that my Mummy loves me.”

It was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard out of his little mouth (apart from, maybe, that very first “I love you, mummy!”) Wind and leaves are almost anywhere (certainly where I live!), and the idea that, whenever you see them move or you hear them whisper, you know that you are loved, is incredibly heart-warming and … yes … soppy.

So, I thought to enhance the whisper of the leaves with a little glassy tinkle:

"All the leaves whisper to me all the time that my Mummy loves me!"

"All the leaves whisper to me all the time that my Mummy loves me!"

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