Friday, June 20, 2014

Pelican Promise... All's Well!

pelican sculpture in Pelican Rapids Minnesota

Driving from Bismark ND, to Morris, MN for the 50th reunion of my 4-year college class, driving in rain so fierce it feels like I’m in a carwash, only it lasts for 20 minutes at a time, with just the slightest let-up before the next roaring onslaught, rain so thick and dark that I cannot see the sides of the freeway, or the next lane, or the tail lights of the vehicle in front of me until I’m just a couple of car lengths behind, driving in that kind of weather takes so much of my attention that I fail to notice the warning light indicating I am soon to run out of gas, fail to notice until the modern electronic car computer says I only have 21 miles before I am dead in the water (pun intended).

Since I can’t take my eyes off the road to look at a map, and dare not pull to the minimalist shoulder for fear of being side-swiped, I drive past the next exit, where there is no sign at all of conveniences, noting that now I only have 15 miles in the tank, deciding to take the next exit no matter what. I take the “Hwy 108, Pelican Rapids” exit, with enough gas remaining for 6 miles, no service at the exit, and a sign indicating 12 miles to the pelican town. Should I get back on the freeway not knowing what is ahead or take a chance on computer error with a prayer that 12 miles ahead there is a gas station? I decide it’s safer to run out of gas on a minor highway than on the freeway, at least in this situation where there is virtually no shoulder and extremely poor visibility in the pouring rain.

Sure enough, at mile 6 of the 12, the car starts to sputter, losing power. I coast down a gradual slope, luckily finding a reasonably wide place to pull off the road at the bottom. Hmmmm. Now what? “This isn’t serious,” I tell myself. I just need to put on the 4-way flashers, get out the cell phone, find the AAA card, and call for help. As I’m looking for the card, the only other vehicle I’ve seen since leaving the freeway passes me. Instinctively I raise my hand, presumably in an “asking for help” sort of gesture. The car whizzes past without slowing.

Just as I find the card and the cell, I hear a car pulling in behind me. A young woman gets out, comes to the window I’ve just lowered, and asks if I need help. She tells me her husband doesn’t like her to stop to help people when she’s alone. “He always stops to help,” she says, “but most people don’t these days. I saw your hand. I just thought you looked OK, so I turned around and came back to see if you need help.”

I explain I’m out of gas. As she asks where I’m going, and I tell her how I came to be headed toward Pelican Rapids, in the opposite direction of my destination town, I can see she is relaxing and trusting me. She takes me to town, chatting along the way, asking me where I’m from and why I’m in Minnesota, telling me a little about her kids and the birthday party they’ll be going to after we get the gas, explaining that the town is on the Pelican River and yes, there is a falls right in town. She stops at the station, learns their gas can is already being used somewhere else, and finally takes me to her house where she has a 2 gal. container she recently filled for the lawn mower. When I tell her I’ll pay for the gas, she says, “Na, you don’t have to pay.” But I take $10 from my wallet and put it in her cup holder. In hindsight, I wish I’d given her $20. She even pours the gas for me. Thanking her, I give her a hug, because after all this, we’re practically friends.

It’s 3 pm, and suddenly I’m very hungry. So now, with 46 miles worth of gas, I drive into Pelican Rapids, the highway forming the main street of town, the way it does in most small towns in Minnesota. An artful sign reading, The Muddy Moose Bistro, attracts me. On entering, I see and smell at once my instincts are right on target! I order the special, home-made tomato bisque soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, and a decaf Americano. Oh heaven, it is delicious!

The only other customers that late in the afternoon are three bicyclists, who later tell me they still have 40 miles to ride before reaching their campground destination. Like me, they are having a late lunch, sandwiches and beer, while drying a bit from riding in nightmare conditions. One of them notices an old piano against the wall behind where I’m sitting. He asks the waitress if he can play it. I and probably she are wondering if we’ll be hearing “heart and soul” or maybe a little boogie-woogie rift. But no, the young man sits down, and plays such beautiful classical piano music that it brings tears to my eyes. I sip my coffee, my tummy satisfied, my shoulders at last dropping into their normal position, the music soothing nerves frazzled by tense hours driving in extreme rain, my mood shifting from nervous fear to relaxed happiness.

pelican sculpture and falls in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota
Before filling up at the gas station and heading toward Morris again, I ask a passing stranger about the rapids. Learning there is a small water fall right in the middle of town, only 2 blocks away, I walk there to take a look.

rain over the Minnesota farm lands near Pelican Rapids
On the road leaving town, even though heavy, dark clouds are dumping rain again, my mind replaying conversations with the young woman who helped me, the friendly waitress, the piano musician, and the stranger who directed me to the falls, I smile with the knowledge that all is well in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Message to Elders - April BJP

My Bead Journal Project for April concerns a topic not everyone wants to discuss. Please stick with me on this one, and feel free to post your comments, even if you disagree with my thoughts on the subject.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Message to Elders, April 2014, detail

If you've been following my BJP pieces this year, you know I've been greatly concerned for the future of the world and the children who are yet to be born. Countdown, a book by Alan Weisman (a well-researched, yet readable, book about the recent history of the growing human population in all areas of the world, and the effects this growth is having on us and on our habitat) greatly influenced my piece for April. Although I began working on it before getting the book, you can see the like-mindedness between my divided piece (in progress) and the art on the cover of the book (which I think is fabulous).

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Message to Elders, April 2014, detail
Message to Elders of the World (in progress)
cover art by Sam Chung for Countdown, a book by Alan Weisman
Cover Art by San Chung for the Book, Countdown, by Alan Weisman

Watching environmental documentary films on many topics over the past few years, a foreboding sense of the damage our ever increasing growth and demands place on the earth has brought me to a voluntary, world-wide, one child point of view, as the only thing the citizens of the world can do to save it. I call it 1+1=1, and it is the theme of my BJP pieces this year.

For April's BJP, I direct my hopes toward the elders, the grey and white haired folks, like myself.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Message to Elders, April 2014
Message to Elders of the World

Above is the finished piece. And here is a poem I wrote while beading on it and the message I hope it conveys to others who are grey now, like me:

I Am Grey Now

I am grey now –
no longer so self-absorbed
as in the greener phase of my life,
looking beyond my pile of beads,
considering the colors of the whole world,
wondering how long before
there are no more red or green apples,
how long before the abundant waters
under the earth's crust are gone,
how long before order turns to chaos,
and most of all wondering what I can do,
in my grey years, to help.

        Robin Atkins

Message to Elders of the World

For the sake of your grandchildren and great grandchildren,
wake up to the possibility of massive hunger and thirst,
the depletion of resources and environmental destruction
caused by the demands of an ever increasing human population.

We, the elders, must help our granddaughters and grandnieces
to understand it is on their shoulders to save the world,
with only one way to do it: world-wide, voluntary, one child.
No government can make this happen. Only they can do it.

        Robin Atkins
If you are like me, worried about the world, concerned for the future of all the babies being born every second, and especially for our own children, it follows that we must take on the responsibility of coaching them in stewardship, which includes green living as well as voluntary one-child. My other three bead embroideries on this theme are:

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Message to Young Brides, March 2014
Message to Young Brides of the World
bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Message to Women, Feb 2014
Message to Women of the World
bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Message to All People, Jan 2014
Message to Citizens of the World
My available tools of change are art and words. Thus, I am making these bead embroidery pieces (2.5 x 3.5 inches each), which can be displayed on small easels, and writing poems for whoever will see or read them, in the hopes of helping others to envision and question the future, to ask what they can do for the world.

Thank you for staying with me to the end of this post, and for considering the questions it raises.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

8-Year Giveaway!

On this very day, eight years ago in 2006, I took a big plunge and started blogging. Here is my very first post :) ...

our Siamese cat, Hollie
My cat, Hollie (age 11 now), is still our trusted companion, although mostly inclined to sleep, and with much darker fur. In fact her body is so dark, it's only her face that makes her recognizable as a Siamese. As you can see, she likes to sleep on Robert's shoes, under the coffee table.

I've posted 297 times in the past eight years, which only amounts to an average of slightly over 3 per month. There's always a wait-list of posts I want to write, pictures that need editing, subjects worthy of research and sharing... but time? Well, that's a fleeting sort of thing... so I never get around to posting as often as I'd like.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Valentine
Thank you to all of my followers! You and your comments keep me posting. It's true. I probably would have stopped years ago if it weren't for you.

One Bead at a Time by Robin Atkins, cover
By way of thanking you, I found two pristine copies of  One Bead at a Time, my first book, which has been out of print for several years now (although available as a free download PDF on my website).

To celebrate 8 years of blogging, I will give away these two books, one each to two randomly selected readers who comment on this post. Even if you already have this book, please comment to enter... you can give the book to a beady friend, or request another of my books when I contact you. This giveaway ends on June 1, 2014.
bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Friends
Again, thank you and bless you for your support during the past 8 years. Now that I'm semi-retired, I hope to be better about posting more often: step-by-step photo tutorials, and posts on informational/inspirational topics. Keep beading and stitching... it's therapy!

Oh, and please, don't miss my post from yesterday, showing exceptionally fine bead embroidery by Becki Applegate!

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Best Reward.... Ever!

bead embroidery by Becki Applegate, detail
I've been teaching a two-day workshop called Improvisational Bead Embroidery for more than 25 years now, teaching both techniques and process to more than 2,000 women + a few men. In every workshop, there are one or two students who really stand out, who learn the stitches quickly and easily, and who embrace the idea of working intuitively. Often, they are the quiet ones, the ones who focus on their work and get a lot done in class, who don't ask many questions, but who pay rapt attention to all that I say and demonstrate.

bead embroidery by Becki Applegate, detail
Sometimes a promising student sends me an email with a photo of the project they started in class, which I always love to see. But the most gratifying reward of all, the thing that makes all the prep time and all the travel time worth while, is when I meet a student again and they bring the finished piece, the one they started in class, to show me in person. That is the best reward for teaching... ever!

bead embroidery by Becki Applegate, detail
Last week, I taught a group of 19 ladies from the Camano Island Quilt Guild, a very lively and talented group, many of whom will make me proud in the future! See how focused and hard-working they are?

my students - Camano Island Quilters and 3 visitors
One of the students, Becki Applegate, of Whidbey Island, took this same workshop one year ago when I taught it here on San Juan Island. At the time, she was definitely one of those stand out students, and she later joined the Bead Journal Project, continuing to make compelling bead embroideries.

bead embroidery by Becki Applegate, detail
When I asked her why she was taking the workshop for a second time, she said she was tired at the end of the second day (a year ago), and had not been able to absorb some of the things I taught, especially the finishing techniques. This time, since she already knew all the basics, she figured she could conserve her energy for that last segment about how to finish various types of bead embroidery, how to frame, line, back, sculpt, etc.

bead embroidery by Becki Applegate, detail
That is gratifying to a teacher, for sure! But even more gratifying, in this case, was seeing the finished project, Becki started in my class a year ago. She gave me permission to photograph it and show it here. Below is the front of her beaded pouch. It snaps closed at the bottom center.

beaded pouch by Becki Applegate, front
Below is the back of the pouch. I especially love the patchwork design with the gradation from orange to yellow beads. As always, you can click on any of the pictures to open a "slide show" of enlarged versions, which better reveal the details.

beaded pouch by Becki Applegate, back
Below is the front and back, how it looks when the pouch is open and laid pocket-side down, showing all of the bead embroidery. Becki uses many size 15 seed beads, which is how she gets so much detail into a small pouch (about  3.5 inches wide).

beaded pouch by Becki Applegate, front and back
If you flip it over, you can see the pocket inside, suitable for a special treasure or photo. The pouch is lined with Ultrasuede Soft Premium, a synthetic leather. The color is "Carrot."

beaded pouch by Becki Applegate, showing pocket inside.
I couldn't be happier or more proud of Becki and the beautiful bead embroidery she is doing!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

African Beadwork, Part 1

detail of surface edge stitching on Zulu man's apron
Recently I had the pleasure and good fortune to meet a woman who lived in South Africa for most of her adult life, with an interest and means to collect vast quantities of quality beadwork. She has cataloged the work and keeps it stored in museum-quality, climate-controlled, acid-free drawers and shelves, made just for this purpose. As she is a private person, I'm not giving her name or location here. But she gave me her permission to share some of the photos I took while viewing the work. In two viewings so far, I have already taken over 200 photos!

detail of bead-woven panel on Zulu man's apron
When I see this beadwork, I am in awe. We have so much to learn from it, both in design and technique, not to mention the sheer magnitude of some of the pieces. I tend to make something that may take 2 or 3 days of work, and be very proud of my achievement. But it dwarfs compared to the time it must take to make some of these pieces!

OK, so for today, here are some beaded items made by Zulu women in South Africa. I will begin this series with two back aprons (buttocks covers), stitched on leather and worn by men. These were probably made in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The weight of these aprons is considerable... maybe 30 pounds each.

South African Zulu beadwork - man's apron
Please click on the picture so you can see the incredible detail! Imagine how long it would take to make this! The three woven panels look like peyote stitch to me, although I didn't pry the beads apart to examine it closely. After making the panels, they were stitched to the leather. All of the other beading on this piece is surface edge stitching, stitched directly onto the leather.

South African Zulu beadwork - man's apron - detail showing beaded surface edge stitching

South African Zulu beadwork - man's apron - detail showing woven panel

South African Zulu beadwork - man's apron - detail showing  beaded surface edge stitching
I like to imagine the story about this piece. It would have been made by a young woman for her husband. But, what was the man like, and how did he feel wearing this? Compared to aprons worn by other men, was this one a "stand-out?" How did it end up in the collection of a foreigner?

Here's another one... also very impressive.

South African Zulu beadwork - man's apron
And here are some details of this one. Notice that some of the surface edge stitching on this one runs vertical. Some aprons and women's skirts were embellished entirely with this vertical edge stitching. One of the woven panels has become detached, as you can see, but otherwise this apron is in perfect condition. In my opinion the beads were all traded/imported from the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia); many of them are size 14s.

South African Zulu beadwork - man's apron - detail showing beaded surface edge stitching

South African Zulu beadwork - man's apron - detail showing beaded surface edge stitching

South African Zulu beadwork - man's apron - detail showing woven panel

South African Zulu beadwork - man's apron - detail showing beaded surface edge stitching
Here's one more picture, showing extreme detail of the edge stitch... I think we can figure out the thread path from this photos (again, it's easier to see when you click on the picture for an enlarged version)... I'm going to try.

South African Zulu beadwork - man's apron - detail of edge stitch
This post shows only 2 of the MANY fabulous pieces I photographed. My next post will be all about a Zulu woman's skirt. Talk about heavy with beads! Talk about heavy with design details and techniques! You will be wowed! Here's a little sneak peek at it...

South African Zulu beadwork - woman's skirt - detail
Please let me know if you like seeing this work... I'm in awe of it, and could write several posts, showing some very beautiful and unusual designs and techniques.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Donkey Tale - Update

You may recall my friend, Donkeyoti,

and my story here about how she went from a not so good home
to a good one near to where I live now,
where I could walk to visit her and give her carrots.

Three weeks ago, I learned her owner was moving to Montana, 
and looking for someone to take Donkeyoti.
Not again.
I wonder how many new owners she's had,
how many times she's had to adjust to a new home?

Then she was gone, moved to Orcas Island.
Fortunately, I was able to get her new owner's name.

So today, Robert and I got on the interisland ferry,
and went to see her new digs.

As soon as she recognized my voice, she ran to the fence,
smiling (as only a donkey can smile),

nuzzling me,

accepting sweet words of praise and skritches all over her head.
We are pals, both of us so happy to be together again.

Then her new keeper came out to talk with us,
about how clever and full of personality Donkeyoti is,
and how quickly she's learning verbal commands. 

It was hard to leave, knowing I won't visit her nearly as often.
But I could see her new keeper already has a great relationship with her
and is providing a good home. She is in good hands.

* * * * * * * 

detail wool applique quilt by Sue Spargo

Did you miss this post?
Mighty fun wool applique, embroidery, folk-art designs by Sue Spargo!

Maybe I could do a portrait quilt of Donkeyoti
using Sue's stitches and techniques!?!