Category Archives: Crafts

‘Contemporary Handwoven Treasures’

by Categorized: Art, Color, Crafts, Design, Fabric, Rugs And Carpets Date:

StormThe Handweavers’ Guild of Connecticut opens its juried show today, April 4, at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, running through April 26.

Some of the pieces are incredibly innovative, such as Kate Barber’s “Storm,” pictured above, woven in a pleated technique known as “shibori.”

The 68 pieces on display in the biennial show could get creative ideas shuttling back and forth in your own imagination. Sunday, April 18, is a demonstration day, with free admission, and you can try your hand on some of the looms and spinning wheel there.

Here’s my story: Click here.

Photo by Kate Wick / Kate Wick Weavings

Spring Fever? Here’s An Intoxicating Cure

by Categorized: Composting, Crafts, Garden Design, Garden Ornaments, Gardening, Gardens, Horticulture, Landscape, Nature, Plants, Seasons, Vegetable Gardening, Wildlife Date:

CTFlower&GardenShowCascade“After that hard winter, one could not get enough of the nimble air.”  — Willa Cather, “My Antonia”

If you’re yearning for the intoxicating fragrances that are the very breath of spring, “the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere” that Willa Cather so aptly described, there’s no need to feel discouraged by the mounds of snow that still abound.

The 34th annual Connecticut Flower and Garden Show opens Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, and while the show is not the same as an actual spring day, it does offer a tantalizing preview of springtime to come, which is particularly welcome this time of this year.

Photo SwirlThe show covers nearly 3 acres and includes 18 professionally designed gardens that cover more than an acre. Yes, these gardens are indoors, but the sights and scents are so pleasing to one’s winter-weary senses.

Nancy DuBrule-Clemente of Natureworks in North Branford said her winter-battered spirits were completely turned around when she started setting up for the show earlier this week. “Huge witch hazel trees forced into perfect bloom, piles of mulch and sod, flowering plants absolutely everywhere — my soul was soothed and I came home singing a joyful song!”

CTFlower&GardenShowFlower&FireplaceThere are more than 300 booths with displays of flowers, plants, garden ornaments, bulbs and seeds, gardening books, patio furniture and more. If you can dig beneath the snow in your yard, bring along a half-cup of soil to the UConn Cooperative Extension’s booth for a free soil test.

I always love the eye-popping creativity of the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut’s Advanced Flower Show — more than 250 entries that could inspire you to new heights of artistry when arranging a few flowers of your own.

And through the show there will be more than 80 hours of seminars by horticultural, garden design and gardening experts, including:

Mar Jennings on “Creating Casual Luxury in Your Home and Garden”;

Garden photographer and author Ken Druse on “Making More Plants: Propagation” and on “Natural Companions”;

Garden author and photographer Amy Ziffer of Sherman, whose “Shady Lady’s Guide to Northeast Shade Gardening” is an invaluable guide, on “Shade Revealed”;

Roger Swain, former host of “The Victory Garden” on PBS and HGTV’s “People Places & Plants on “Vegetables That I Have Known and You Will Love”;

Bob Buettner, Connecticut Florist of the Year in 2010, on “Floral Arranging”;

Organic gardener, photographer and lecturer Karen Bussolini of South Kent on “40 Great Plants for Connecticut Gardens” and “Gardens in Winter.”

The list of seminar topics goes on and on — “Create and Enhance Wildlife Habitats in Your Surroundings,” “Rain Gardens,” “Daylilies,” “America’s Romance with the English CTFlower&GardenShowDaffodilsGarden,” “Composting and Soil Health,” “Water Gardening Basics,” “Working with Wetlands on Your Property,” “Disease Control in Home Vegetable Gardens,” and many more. For the complete seminar schedule and details about the presenters, Click Here.

The seminars are included in the price of admission, which is $16 for adults, $14 for seniors age 62 and over (Thursday and Friday only); $4 for children age 5 to 12, and free for children under age 5.

Hours are Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Convention Center is at 100 Columbus Blvd.

For more information and details on parking, including free parking, Click Here.

DSC05134Photos courtesy of Connecticut Flower & Garden Show





‘The Sculptural Book’

by Categorized: Art, Books, Crafts, Design, Just Because Date:

Earlier this month, Nick Paumgarten described the staff of The New Yorker’s move from the office at Times Square to the new 1 World Trade Center megatower. His account reminded me in some ways of The Courant newsroom’s move a few months ago — the streamlining it involved and my own ensuing sense of an incredible lightness of being.

Pile of BooksStill, I have to admit, this passage from Paumgarten pained me:

The things we keep around! But mostly it was paper, whole forests’ worth. Thousands upon thousands of orphaned books, some hoarded for novelty appeal, or a nascent interest, or a bygone assignment, or out of allegiance to (or guilt about) writer friends — an “accretion of intention,” as one acquaintance put it — were trucked off to Housing Works and the like. Many more perfectly good books were sent to their doom, like so many unclaimed stray dogs.

He went on to describe how the process “felt a little like going through the belongings of a dead loved one, except that the dead loved one was you. What was worth saving? Not as much as you’d anticipated, once you got into the spirit of paperlessness.”

I was comforted by this observation from him — that “The thing that’s worth keeping is the thing you do next.”

But I found myself cringing about all those books.

Trouble is, at our house the books are taking over. We’ve run out of bookshelf space, and the reasonably tidy piles here and there — not yet completely out of control, but getting there — have started to seem like permanent installations. Many are books that I doubt I’ll ever find time to read or re-read, even if I were to devote myself to reading full-time for the rest of my life. (What a heavenly notion!)

I can jettison an old turtleneck without blinking an eye, but a book is a different matter. I find it difficult to say adieu.

I thought of all this when I heard that Hartford artist Anne Cubberly and LB Munoz are presenting a five-session workshop on “The Sculptural Book” at the downtown Hartford Public Library’s Hartford History Center. Participants will transform old or discarded books into new artworks — sculpting the pages, adding pop-ups, sewing and altering words to create new meanings.

Sessions are on Saturdays at 10 a.m.Sculptural_book, beginning Feb. 28, through March 28.

Register in person, or call 860-695-6300.


Meanwhile, California-based artist and writer Lisa Occhipinti has a new book out, called “Novel Living: Collecting, Decorating, and Crafting with Books” (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, $24.95,

Laura Pearson with the Chicago Tribune has more on Occhipinti’s book about books here:

Novel Living

Fire: A Ribbon Winding Around Pottery

by Categorized: Accessories, Art, Crafts, Travel Date:

Robbie PortraitGearing up for this weekend’s Hilltown 6 Pottery Tour in Western Massachusetts, Robbie Heidinger fired up her kiln at about 5 Monday afternoon and took a break this morning to talk about the tour and her art.

“I woke up at 3 this morning and will fire till 10 or 11 tonight,” said Robbie, a former ceramics instructor at UConn who moved from Chaplin, Conn., to Westhampton, Mass., about a decade ago.

“We all use very complex firing processes,” she said, explaining that firing is typically a four-day process and she has to constantly regulate the flame and the quality of the heat. She uses propane as a heat source, but also keeps shoving wood into the giant, walk-in kiln she hand-built with bricks she’d brought with her from Connecticut.

Robbie 4“What you get with wood — and I fire with baking soda — you get this sort of glow and a varied surface that is affected by the way the flame hits the pot. … The fire is like a ribbon that winds around the pot. It’s very mysterious, but there is a little bit of control that you have. It’s half science, half luck.”

In the final three or four hours of firing, when the temperature is at its hottest, she spays dissolved baking soda into the kiln at 20-minute intervals, using a garden sprayer.

“The soda creates a little explosion, and because of the heat it gets pushed around the kiln and lands on the pots and becomes glass on the clay surface. Some [pots] get more soda, some less.”

HT6_050214_10_Open Studios

Each July Robbie and now eight other nationally recognized potters based in the Hilltowns of Western Massachusetts open their studios for the coordinated Hilltown 6 Pottery Tour.

“Potters tend to thrive in secret hollows and on quirky hilltops,” she says.

“The tour is a great way to get out into some lovely back country… and experience the fascinating settings where the potters work.”

two pitchersThe southernmost studios on the tour are just west of Northampton: Robbie’s studio at 1 Stage Road in Westhampton is fairly close to Sam Taylor’s, at 35 Perry Hill Road Ext., where Michael McCarthy also will display his work. “We’ve created little clusters,” Robbie said.

Northwest of those three are Hiroshi Nakayama and Mark Shapiro, both in Worthington.

Eric 2Farther north are Constance Talbot in Windsor, Eric Smith and Christy Knox at their studios in Cummington, and Maya Machin up in Ashfield, not far from Elmer’s Store. Most studios are also hosting work of other guest potters and artists.

Everyone is going to be demonstrating their techniques and tools, Robbie said — though not firing; it’s too hot. The tour attracts a lot of art students, she added; “We get a lot of questions.”

M.GRAHAM R. HeidingerRobbie, who says she used to be a dancer, is also a “huge gardener,” and both of those pursuits come through in her “Martha Graham” series — vessels about a foot and a half high that evoke stylized plant forms and also dancers stretching inside their leotards. There’s tension in the skin of a pot, which she says reminds her of that moment of potential, when a plant comes “busting out of the earth.”

“Dancers have that musculature; you see it sort of flexing,” she said. “It inspires me, certainly the way I handle the clay.”

Robbie says pottery tours offer visitors context, personal connection and participation in a local way that re-frames consumerism and reverberates with such movements as “buy local,” “slow food” and “farm to table.”

“If you value putting locally produced food on your table, why not serve it on locally made plates, bowls and platters? We feel using handmade dishes brings art into the daily experience of food preparation and eating.”

For a map of the pottery studios, a schedule of demonstrations and more about each artist, go to

PHOTOS, FROM TOP: Robbie Heidinger works in her Westhampton kiln; pottery with monoprinting technique by Robbie Heidinger; vase by Michael McCarthy; pair of pitchers by Mark Shapiro; bowl by Eric Smith; “Martha Graham” vessels by Robbie Heidinger. BELOW: Maya Machin’s barn.













Brilliant Ideas At Shandell’s

by Categorized: Accessories, Antiques, Art, Crafts, Decorating, Design, Lighting Date:

Here’s a early look at a story I wrote for Hartford Magazine and New Haven Living about Shandell’s, which specializes in custom lamps and lampshades. I really got a kick out of artist Susan Schneider and her incredible spirit and creativity — her ideas do indeed make you smile. Shandell’s new location in Ivoryton is well worth a visit — you’ll be inspired…

IMG_3000 There isn’t much that Susan Schneider hasn’t turned into a lamp or a lamp shade.

“I am a junker!” she proclaims. But it all ends up looking so chic and appealing.

IMG_2980She has made lamp bases from such eclectic items as an old Yellow Cab car jack; vintage, hand-carved wallpaper rollers; a pair of antique cream separators; a 19th-century hay trolley with wheels for a pulley that once carried large bales of hay up into a hayloft; plow parts, which she has nickel-plated, to give them an edgy, industrial look; bases of 19th-century hall racks that held hats, coats and umbrellas and look almost like inverted tortoise shells (above); old decorative heating grates painted brilliant blue; plumbing pipes for an artesian well.

All have been transformed into lamps.

Schneider — who moved her shop called Shandell’s from Millerton, N.Y., and then Pine Plains, N.Y., to the Ivoryton section of Essex and opened there just after Thanksgiving — describes her range as “traditional to funky to very architectural and streamlined. And the rustier the better for me.”

IMG_3004To top it off, Schneider also custom-makes lamp shades, and again her creative impulses reach far and wide.

She has a collection of IMG_2985more than 10,000 scanned images of everything from maps and architectural prints to equestrian prints, racks holding hand-painted IMG_3002papers, and numerous drawers filled with beautiful marbled papers and paste papers, and rolls of period wallpapers.


She also makes decorative paper-covered wastebaskets, tissue boxes and matchboxes.IMG_2987

She has created lamp shades from handmade bark paper, papers embedded with leaves, and a variety of fabrics including remnants of 19th-century saris and paisleys. One petite shade for a sconce is edged with guinea hen feathers, creating a whimsical look of fluffy polka dots.

IMG_2998Schneider, who named her business after the Hebrew name meaning “beautiful” that her Polish grandparents called her, got her start as an antiques dealer IMG_2999in Newburyport, Mass., in 1991.

As the economy sagged and she gradually lost dealers but gained space, she found herself focusing heavily on antique textiles and decorative lighting.

She says she begged a friend and customer who made lamp shades to teach her how, and one day the friend suddenly offered to sell her the whole business for a nominal amount of money.

“I emptied out her barns,” Schneider recalls. “And then I just sat and read all her little notes. I never really had instruction on it. But I was lucky: I had two different decorators who embraced me for very difficult jobs, and that forced me to learn.”

Dictionary Pages

Schneider’s new workshop brims with projects and ideas. It’s papered in pages from old dictionaries she finds at dumps and crammed with rows of rolls of colorful trims, and lamp wires in a rainbow of colors.

IMG_2991She says moving all the fixtures and worktables and cabinets was like moving a hardware store.

Stacks of vases are “waiting for the right moment,” she says. A back storage area looks like a lamp graveyard, but it’s really a lamp hospital or perhaps more accurately should be called a lamp spa:

This isn’t where old lamps go to die, but to live again and be transformed.

If the base of a lamp is chipped, Schneider might copper-leaf it. “I live for copper leaf! I have a fascination with copper leaf and silver leaf and gold leaf,” she says. Sometimes she leafs the inside of pendant lamps or chandelier shades, giving the light an added measure of luminosity.

She might pull the dolphin feet off a lamp base that she doesn’t like and use them on a base that she does.

IMG_2983“Beautiful lighting makes a difference in a room, even if it’s a very basic lamp with a beautiful shade,” Schneider says, pointing to a ginger jar lamp topped with a shade that appears to be plain solid white but which, on closer inspection, turns out to be a subtly textured white-on-white. “I want to change interior design one lamp at a time.”

Lately, she says, she’s been making more colorful and floral shades.

“For a while the design industry really wasn’t calling for anything in color or floral. I did a lot of plain, with a little bit of texture, a little bit of stuff. Now I’m finding that people are desperate for a pop of color. I think it’s just happiness. People smile when they see these things. I do make a ton of plain lampshades — I still do, and I always will. But greige can only go for so long, I believe.”

‘Lamp Candy’

Schneider also stocks a dazzling array of finials — the small ornaments that top a lamp shade — including ammonite fossils sliced in half, miniature Foo dogs, crystallized minerals called pyrite suns that look like sunbursts, chunks of red jade, chunks of natural copper and gleaming cubes of octahedron fluorite. The 19th-century Tibetan finials, which she calls Feng Shui balls or energy balls that were given as gifts for good luck, include red balls topped with a rooster wrought in brass.

“I call them lamp candy,” Schneider says.

IMG_3013The selection of finials, priced at $5 to $195 a pair, also includes a variety of gleaming geodes, agates and malachites.

“Agates, malachites — they’re very hot right now in design,” Schneider says. So, if people can’t afford a malachite table, “they can spend $150 for highly polished malachite lamp finials.”

Schneider lives in a 1940s house in Moodus with her boyfriend and her two dogs — a Jack Russell terrier and a Newfoundland — and spends her time working on a number of projects at once.

“It’s mood-driven,” she explains. But for custom work, she knows she sometimes has to work fast.

“I don’t believe in lamp shade emergencies,” she says. “But people do have them. … If people say, ‘How long will it take?’ I say, ‘When’s the party?’ “

As she has settled into Shandell’s Ivoryton location, Schneider also has started to offer workshops to give people ideas on how to update their lamps, how to “take what you have — take your grandmother’s piece that is so ugly but you love it because it was your grandmother’s — how to update it and make it beautiful.”

The workshops are playfully called “Larry” workshops, a name suggested by her boyfriend (who is not named Larry). Huh? It stands for “Light all rare relics youthfully.”

That playful spirit infuses so much of what Schneider does. Her email address says it all: It’s

Shandell’s at 107 Main St. in Ivoryton is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment. Call 860-510-3167. For more visit

Photographs by Nancy Schoeffler

Learn More: ‘It’s All About Connecticut Furniture’

by Categorized: Antiques, Crafts, Design, Furniture, Heritage, Historic Houses Date:

HIGH CHESTIf my article today about Eliphalet Chapin and Connecticut’s golden age of furniture whets your appetite for more, there’s an all-day program  Saturday called “It’s All About Connecticut Furniture,” presented by the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking.

The workshop, aimed not only at serious woodworking hobbyists but at anyone interested in historic furniture, will focus on 18th-century Connecticut’s distinct furniture styles, each with its own influences, and how social history, trade patterns and the economy played a role in forming this vibrant, multifacted tradition.

The speakers include Alyce England, associate curator of American Decorative Arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum, and Christina Vida, curator of the Windsor Historical Society.

Also Will Neptune, who has closely studied the construction techniques, proportioning and workmanship of Eliphalet Chapin; and Steve Brown, an instructor at the North Bennet Street School, the  Boston institution that offers intensive hands-on training in traditional trades and craftsmanship, who also will discuss construction techniques and do some joinery demonstrations.

Bob Van Dyke, the founder and director of the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, said Will Neptune’s presentation will focus on Chapin’s geometric methods in design and pattern layout.

“Nothing was just by chance; it’s all based on geometry,” Van Dyke said. “It’s just amazing.”

Strong Howard HouseThe Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking has been working with the Windsor Historical Society to furnish the ongoing renovation of the historic Strong Howard House (pictured at left) for an innovative hands-on approach to historical interpretation.

Christina Vida has been researching probate inventories and other documents to determine the furnishings and objects that would have been in the house. Reproductions are being made, so that visitors will be able to have a fuller experience. They’ll sit in chairs and at desks, handle textiles and household objects.

woodwork1The Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking is a primary partner in the project, Christina said, and students are now working on a reproduction of a high chest (pictured at top) attributed to Eliphalet Chapin, which is now in the Wadsworth Atheneum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABob says some students at the woodworking school are in the middle of a year-long class on Chapin high chests, and have been making measured, exact copies of Chapin pieces. Students who are interested can submit their finished work to a jury for possible inclusion in the exhibit at the Strong Howard House.

Saturday’s program, at the school at 249 Spencer St. in Manchester (take the first left past the Woodcraft building; the school is in the back of that building), runs from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The $45 fee includes lunch. You can register and pay at the door, or online at

And for more information, call Bob Van Dyke at 860-729-3186860-729-3186.

Photos via the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking and the Windsor Historical Society.




An Upcycling, Repurposing Wonderland

by Categorized: Accessories, Antiques, Art, Books, Collecting, Crafts, Decorating, Design, Fabric, Furniture, Garden Ornaments, Heritage, Holidays, Home Products, Just Because, Mid-Century Modern, Recycling, Seasons, Shopping Date:

Blaze and Bloom 012Blaze & Bloom is a riot. So many imaginative, funky, zany, witty ideas packed into one airy, historic space in Hartford.

Four West Hartford friends — Katie Wickham, Jennifer O’Connell, Julie Jones and Tracey George — who are neighbors and all have kids, started the business in 2011. Back then, they held two backyard sales a year — in the fall (Blaze) and spring (Bloom). They specialize in giving new life to discards and otherwise reusing, repurposing and sometimes completely reconceiving old stuff — old maps, blueprints, books, fabrics and furniture.

Blaze and Bloom 016Take, for example the Zenith bar. Yes, it’s a mid-century TV console that swivels. They pulled out all the wires and tubes and other weird stuff (apparently quite a job), painted the interior red and added lights, transforming it into a one-of-a-kind cocktail bar for a family room or man cave. Cheers!

Jennifer spotted a 9-foot porch trellis, rusting and old, by the side of the road. (“I love rusty and old!” she says). She upended it, wove in a wide strip of burlap to look like a Christmas tree and added lights.

Katie has a big collection of old road maps (Esso vintage) and blueprints — and decoupages them onto tables, desks and chests.

Blaze and Bloom 002A vintage road map of Manhattan is framed with an old window: throwaways refashioned into a very cool artwork for $75.

“We believe in recycling, reusing, refurbishing, upcycling,” Katie says. “We don’t like to throw anything away. There’s so much inherent value.”

The Blaze & Bloom philosophy is, essentially, “We can do something with this. It still has a life. We can keep it out of the trash.”

Strips of vintage fabrics are turned into holiday garlands. Christmas balls now dangle from an old round needlepoint stretcher.

Blaze and Bloom 019The pages of an old book are intricately folded for displaying photos. An old piano stool is now covered with an old potato sack, “to give it a more hip life,” as Katie says. And the “item of the week” is a nifty metal catchall — made from segments of an old factory conveyor belt. If you need to get organized, there were two when I stopped by this week,  priced at $55 and $65.

Jennifer says they love the hunt, and buy a lot at estate sales and garage sales. “We just all see things and when we fall in love with them, we say, this will be a great piece to sell. There’s no formula.”

Sometimes the new life of an old item isn’t immediately clear. Jennifer stenciled the word TABLE on a table.

“People loved it, everyone laughed, but nobody bought it,” she recalls. Then Katie decoupaged a map on it, and, Jennifer says, “Voila — it was transformed. It sold in an hour.”

Blaze and Bloom 013 Blaze and Bloom 023 Blaze & Bloom also has an enticing array of vintage neckties, glassware, jewelry and more.

While the four friends started out just for fun, in July they got serious (though they’re clearly still having fun). They moved into a terrific space at 50 Bartholomew Ave. in Hartford — just down the street from the Design Center on the corner of Park Street — that used to be the RLF showroom and long before that was a metal file factory in the 1800s.

The building also houses landscape designer Cynthia Dodd’s Dirt Salon, the new Birch Papery, puppeteer/kinetic artist Anne Cubberly’s workshop and a variety of other artists’ studios. The whole place has a really wonderful, creative, collaborative vibe.

Blaze & Bloom has been open just a few days a month since the summer, but starting on Jan. 4, it will be open from 10-5 every Saturday, and by appointment. And it’s open today, if you’re on the hunt for a one-of-a-kind gift.

For more, go to, email or call 860-888-2087, 860-816-0880 or 860-305-0172.

Blaze and Bloom 005Blaze and Bloom 015Blaze and Bloom 004Blaze and Bloom 011Blaze and Bloom 009Photographs by Nancy Schoeffler













Smashing Pumpkins

by Categorized: Crafts, Holidays Date:

Pumpkin-FireBreathingYears ago, when I lived in California, my friends held an annual Halloween party that featured a pumpkin contest. They asked me to be the “chief judge,” an honor I was thrilled to embrace, primarily because my own pumpkin-carving abilities are virtually nil.

I know a great pumpkin when I see it, but forget about my actually creating one that goes beyond the primitive visages I struggled to hack out in early elementary school, only to discover that some trick-or-treating art critic had smashed my paltry efforts in the street.

The competition at my friends’ parties started out innocently enough, but grew fiercer by the year (many of the participants were lawyers). Before long there were pumpkins carved like Faberge eggs. Uncanny portraits of political figures of the day. Huge pumpkins that opened up to reveal intricate, miniature worlds, like dollhouses or dioramas. One year there was even a witty pumpkin installation built with cans of pumpkin pie filling

Judging was no picnic, I must say, and some of the pumpkin artists spurned the justice I meted out as blind. To make matters worse, one of the categories was dubbed “the lawyers’ division,” in which the creator of any pumpkin that had not won in another category could argue why it should have. I’d hate to face any of them in court.

I imagine many of these pumpkin creators have gone on to enter contests with more prestige — and better judges. This all came to mind when I discovered some of the winners of the annual pumpkin carving contest at Amazing what spectacular feats some people can achieve with a simple orange gourd.


Pumpkin-Optical Illusion


Pumpkin-ToothyPhotographs all via



Gilded Pumpkins

by Categorized: Crafts, Decorating, Do It Yourself, Holidays, Seasons Date:

Gilded Pumpkins

Put that carving knife away. Here’s a dazzling idea for decorating pumpkins, spotted at National Home Gardening Club’s website: Gild them.

Sure, the harvest season is supposed to be all about natural colors and rustic textures, but why shouldn’t Halloween have a chance to sparkle?

I like the idea of giving away the glamorous pumpkins to your guests at the end of a party, too.

Photo via National Home Gardening Club