Gift #1071: Pets and Presidents

Today is President’s Day and it’s also National Pets Day!  I’m not sure how often those two coincide, as I’ve never heard of National Pet day before today.  I celebrated by observing both days simultaneously – watching a documentary on pets of the White House.  It’s a light-hearted look at the four-footed animals that have shared the most famous home in the country with their families.  The White House has hosted its fair share of unusual animals ranging from mules to alligators, elephants to guinea pigs, and a slew of dogs and cats.  Among my favorites are a flock of sheep that the Wilsons kept them as pets and as convenient lawn mowers.  They would also shear the sheep and send the wool to make the soldier’s uniforms during the war.   Another engaging pet was Rebecca the Racoon who was kept by Mrs. Coolidge.  They show a picture of her holding the raccoon in her arms.  You can tell the raccoon knows she’s got a sweet gig going.  Actually, she looks absolutely adorable and makes one want to try to hold the first raccoon one sees, which is not a good plan.

My favorite dogs are a tie – I’m very fond of Fallah, the Roosevelt’s little Scottie.  And Mrs. Beazley of the G.W. Bush (also a Scottie) is more cute than any dog has a right to be.  Apparently I have a soft spot for Scotties.  I love the way they trot along on little feet and the way their ears are so perky.

As I was thinking about pet day, it put me in mind of some cards I’d made a few months ago for Red Lead.  They had sent me some dog and cat stamps to make some cards for them.  I don’t usually make cards in this style, but it was fun to branch out and try something different.  I hope you enjoy these few in celebration of our furry companions that bring such joy to our lives.

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imageBlessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1070: Green shoots and white blooms

Behold, green shoot burst from the cold, hard earth!!

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Yes, our bulbs are starting to emerge which means that spring is not far away.  We haven’t had much of a winter – in fact today was near 70 – so I guess it’s not surprising that the plants are eager to leaf out.  I spent some time outside today tracking the signs of spring and the bulbs are getting taller, the hellebores are greening up and producing buds, some of the trees and bushes are budding, and the pussy willow is showing off white bits of fuzz.

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The dance of seasons never fails to enchant me.  It’s a carefully orchestrated display relying on complex chemical and environmental cues and a healthy dose of divine inspiration.  These days of anticipating spring are full of quiet joy.  As we wait for flowers to blossom, I’m looking back through the photos I took last week of the orchid exhibit.

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I was caught by the striking beauty of the white orchids this time and so here’s a selection of the beautiful flowers.  I think the absence of color makes you notice the delicate structure of the blossoms even more.

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Some of these were so fragrant that they perfumed the whole of the greenhouse.

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They’re quite different from their showy, bright-colored tropical cousins, but I love the simple elegance of these white beauties.

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

 

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Gift #1069: Happy Heart Day

I don’t typically do anything special for Valentine’s Day.  For example, today I came home from work, ate dinner, blocked a shawl, and dozed off on the couch listening to Pandora.  Sounds thrilling doesn’t it?   Once I finish writing this post I plan to knit for a while before going to bed.  I do really need a dog.  Anyway, the point is Valentines and all its associated heart imagery doesn’t do much for me.  So I was surprised to find myself liking a stamp set in the Stampin Up catalog called Sealed with Love.

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I think it was the envelope die cut and tiny notes that did it.  Maybe the arrows…but it was love at first sight.  My stamping demonstrator who organizes the stamping group I craft with was offering a class using this set and my mom and I attended.  We spent a few hours stamping and cooking up some Valentines cheer.  It’s been many, many years since I took a stamping class and it was a lot of fun.  By the end of the session we had made 4 cards and 4 treat holders.

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The aqua card and the treat bag in the back are my favorites I think.  We got a great sampling of the stamp set and it’s quite versatile.  I’m hoping this might kick start me into making some Valentine cards in the future.  But the set has many elements that can be used year-round for a variety of occasions.  I’m really pleased to have taken the class and hope to join another one soon.  In the meantime, some close-ups

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The envelope is adorable!  I loved adding the glitter heart to seal it.

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Hope that you have a happy heart today.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1068: Transitions

At the art museum we had the opportunity and the fine weather to walk outside and enjoy what will soon be gardens in riots of color.  They are still subdued now, but ferns are greening up and trees are fattening their buds.  While I was rummaging around in the hedges looking for seed pods or signs of green, I found this clipping of dried hydrangea blossoms.  I think the dried blooms are just as beautiful as the fresh ones.

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I kept it and brought it home.  Here it graces my new shawl I’m working on.  The pattern is called “Winter is Coming” and seemed an appropriate backdrop for the delicate paper blooms.  It would be a lovely piece to convert into a shawl pin.  I wonder how that might be accomplished…   And while winter is fading into the landscape, spring is emerging.

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These crocuses were in full bloom as we walked to the orchid exhibit.  In spite of how much I have grown to appreciate orchids over the past year and how beautiful the exhibit was, I can still say without hesitation that these crocuses were far more lovely.  Welcome signs of spring.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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GIft #1067: Orchids

What a difference a year makes.  Last February when our art museum hosted an orchid exhibition, I went only because I was starved for flowers, not because I liked orchids.  This year it’s different.  I’ve been anticipating their return and counting down the days.  It opened this weekend and my mom and I went to see them today.

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In the span of a year I’ve gone from somewhat despising the orchid family to really liking them.  It’s required a lot of exposure and cultivation (pun intended) to learn to appreciate these flowers, but it’s finally happening.  This exhibit does such a wonderful job of displaying the orchids in a beautiful way, pairing colors and textures and filling in around the orchids with complementary plants and lots of moss and ferns.  And this centerpiece is breathtaking.

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It’s three whole rooms packed with orchids and I took lots of photos!  One of the things I’ve grown to appreciate about orchids is their incredible variety.  The shape, color, texture of the blossoms can be considerably different within subfamilies and these differences are primarily due to intense specification of the orchids for their environment.  One of the most unusual orchids on display was Darwin’s orchid.

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This specimen is dramatically different from the “typical” orchid.  It has elongated petals and sepals that give it more of the appearance of a star than an orchid.  Darwin hypothesized that this variety from Madagascar was uniquely specialized for its pollinator.  Because of its size, white color, night-scent, and long petals, he postulated that its pollinator was a night creature, most probably a moth.  Sure enough, decades later the pollinator was identified as being a moth with a foot-long proboscis!  These observations were foundational to the field of science as they focused on the relationships of species and established disciplines of ecology.  The more we understand that organisms are dependent on each other in complex interactions, the richer and more diverse our view of the earth becomes.

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Orchids reveal their variety in color as well as shape and its easy to appreciate their vibrant hues.  The displays were a riot of color ranging from white to bright orange, pale pink to deepest purple, solid or spotted.  Above are some lovely coral-colored orchids and they glisten like they are holding rubies inside.

imageThese ruffled beauties were breathtaking as well.  Again, the tones of color ranging across these flowers is amazing.  Pink centers lighten into white petals.  Dark purple flecks across the petals before pooling on the edges.  These below were a new variety I don’t recall seeing last year.  They’re heavily spotted with various shades of purple with lime green edging about the sepals.

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It was inspiring to spend time with the orchids today.   I came away with tons of color combinations darting through my thoughts and eager to try to mimic these lovely works of art in my own creations.  In the depths of winter, there’s nothing like a display of beautiful flowers to lift the soul and remind one of God’s creativity and love.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1066: Emerging

My beloved hellebores are have been busy putting out new growth during the past weeks.  I went to visit them a few days ago and was delighted to see many tiny buds peeking out from the leaves and brand new delicate leaves are gently starting to unfurl.

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For so many reasons I adore hellebores, but chief among them is their apparent contradiction.  They have such a delicate appearance but yet they emerge in the bitter depths of winter.   They bravely set out fragile leaves and buds when the rest of the world is still slumbering in frostiness.   It seems a rather foolhardy thing to do, but in this the hellebores show their strength.  They are made to bloom in the harsh conditions of winter.

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Their presence is a promise.  Their buds are the first in a series of intricate dance steps that waltz spring onto the stage.  Quiet, unassuming, these plants are easily overlooked.  But blest is the one who stops to see them and whose heart understands the story they tell.  They whisper of the paradoxes that fuel all of creation – that fragility is true strength, vulnerability leads to assurance, and that new life always emerges from a barren landscape.  Take encouragement and joy from the hellebores today.

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1065: Indiana in 200 objects – machines

Today I have some more pictures from the Indiana history exhibit to show you.  I’ve been developing an interest in machines lately.  It’s a strange thing for me to like, I’ll admit, but I think I’m unduly influenced by steampunk, Victorian-looking machines.  Something about the polished burnish of aged metal formed into aesthetic shapes is incredibly mesmerizing to be recently.  Many of these exhibits were a melding of technology and art that was inspiring to see.

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One of my favorite pieces was this 1700s compass which was used when surveying the territory for distribution to the settlers.

imageThis internal combustion engine was produced in the 1890s by the Lambert Gas and Gasoline Engine Company in Anderson, IN.  Lambert actually built the first American gas-powered automobile in 1891 but didn’t get many buyers.  Subsequently he moved into gas engine production for industrial equipment.  It looks so gloriously steampunk!

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I actually was drawn to this object because of the production illustrations that were hanging on the wall.  I thought it might be a complicated telescope, but alas, the Jules Verne-esque invention was not to be.  It is instead a prototype machine gun.  Sigh…

imageI thought this was a neat shot.  The theme of this section was called “On the Move” and showcased many objects created in Indiana that were used in transportation of some sort.  I liked the way this industrial engine was juxtaposed with a horse saddle.  It’s a silent witness to the days when traditional methods of work and transportation were being eclipsed by the motor.

imageThis was also an interesting display for how they used  yellow as an accent color in this collection of Indiana-made objects.  I don’t know about the electric guitar, but the jet engine is made by my dad’s company. He told me that after the exhibit is over this unit is going on display at a visitor’s center in a new building that he’s worked to construct.

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Oh and this made my heart flutter.  The museum has a whole display of these awesome transistor radios upstairs.  This one was built in 1954.  It was the world’s first transistor radio and it was built right here in the state!   It’s such a cool retro design – love it!

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The last piece I have for you today might be my favorite from the exhibit.  It is a breathtaking example of a utility and beauty.  The Wooton Desk company built these paper storage cabinets during 1870s-1880s as the need for better record-keeping challenged businesses.  These secure cabinets allowed businesses to organize their paperwork and function more effectively.  Just look at all those cubby holes and little drawers!  And the wood-work and decoration are exquisite.  Eventually the popularity of filing cabinets made these desks obsolete and the company went out of business.  I’d have one of these any day over a filing cabinet though.

I hope you enjoyed a look through Indiana’s manufacturing and craftsmanship.  Have a wonderful weekend.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1064: Dreaming of summer flowers

We had a UFO sighting in our part of the world yesterday.  It was quite exciting, since that’s obviously not something that happens every day.  It was this weird blob at the horizon when I was driving to work, and the thing gradually started to get bright.  It was emitting this foreign, golden glow that bathed the ground in a warm light.  The misshapen blob coalesced into a circular shape as it rose higher in the sky.  It was obviously a foreign extraterrestrial presence that disrupted the calm routine of a grey sky, heavy cloud cover, and oppressive darkness.  We were under the full spell of its hypnotic glare, half-blinded, and obeying the call of its pulsing light – “come to me”.  Such was the insistency of its demands that people were struggling to run outside without even their coats on.  Concerned coworkers were holding the most susceptible of us back, encouraging us to stand our ground with exhortations like “It’s 20 degrees out there!  You’ll freeze to death!! Don’t you at least want your gloves?”  Doors were barricaded to keep the masses inside.  Denied exits to the buildings, people piled in the windows to stare in awe at the mind-melding UFO and delight in its sweet beams.

Yes, my reader, you have probably guessed I’m referring to the sun.  Mr. Sun is a near stranger in these parts during winter.  To be truthful I don’t remember the last time I saw him before yesterday.  And this is bad news because I’m co-dependent on the sun.  I must rise with his rays and retire indoors with his sunsets.  I do not function well when he’s not around.  And alas, his absence makes winter very difficult.  Do you want to know where he is in winter?? Hmm??  He’s in Colorado.  I know because I used to live there and the sun vacations there nearly exclusively in the winter.  I think Mr. Sun likes to ski.  During my time in Colorado I became very attached to Mr. Sun and his company as he spent over 325 days a year with us there.  He doesn’t spend so much time in Indiana.  It’s often a toss-up whether I miss the sun or the Rocky Mountains most in Colorado.  I’ve been living in the Midwest for quite a while and at least Mr. Sun remembers to come visit me once in a while.  The Rocky Mountains have never once come to visit.  Not even for a weekend.  Anyway, I was thrilled with Mr. Sun’s unexpected visit.  He condescended to spend most of the day with us too!  I hope he comes back soon.  I already miss him.

During the winter it’s frequently a challenge to maintain sanity when there’s not much sunshine.  That’s why I was especially grateful for January’s art of the month.  It is saturated in bright sunny hues which are the perfect antidote to gray cloudy weather. 

Doesn’t that just scream “hot summer day”?!  The artist of this glorious painting is Egon Schiele.  “Field of Flowers” is a mixed media black chalk, gouache, and gold paints.  Schiele studied under Gustav Klimt, and I think his influence is quite telling.  He painted this work of art in 1910 and then shortly after was serving in WWI.  He continued to paint during the war years and was exhibiting and selling paintings by 1918.  Unfortunately he died in the Spanish flu pandemic not long after.

I’m not usually fond of bright, warm colors but this time of year I’ll make exceptions.  The pieces that I made for this challenge keep the color scheme of reds, oranges, and yellows.  And I tried to incorporate a few flowers.   However, I have a confession because I was originally making the jewelry for last year’s September calendar art (I got a bit behind).  The subject was mushrooms and I think I was having issues because I love mushrooms and wanted to make something really special.  Anyway, it finally came together, representing both September’s mushroom and January’s flower challenge.

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The mushroom is enameled by Anne Gardanne, and there’s some beads by my favorite  Humblebeads and some Czech glass and beads, and jasper rounds.  I put the clasp on the side for this necklace and strung cording along the back.

I used the other Humblebead from the pair in a bracelet along with leftovers from the necklace.  Check out that little feather incorporated in the rust bead – gorgeous!

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And I’m in love with the earrings.  Absolutely love how they turned out!

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I used another set of Humblebeads disc beads in a rich purple with orange flowers and dangled some tiny Czech flowers from the beads.  And I wrapped the wire edges to look like vine tendrils.  I love that combo of rust, yellow, and deep purple!

It’s the perfect set to wear in the winter as a promise that spring and color will be coming soon.

Blessings to you,

Sarah

 

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Gift #1063: Indiana in 200 Objects – Natural History

Last year Indiana celebrated its bicentennial and the state museum put together a special exhibit called “Indiana in 200 objects”  This was the last weekend of the exhibit, so I headed off today to spend the day at the museum.  I had expected something of a linear history of Indiana presented by objects, but they put together a much more creative exhibit by grouping the artifacts according to theme.  There was everything from fossils to fuel engines, jars to jackets, stained glass to specimens of taxidermy, and everything in between – all unique objects to persons, places, or events in Indiana history.  Today I’ll share some of my favorites of Indiana’s natural history.

I was delighted to see a display of Gene Stratton Porter.  She is one of my heroines; being a tireless environmental advocate, an authoress, an accomplished artist, photographer, and naturalist.  I hope one day to visit her home and the museum there.  One of the most endearing aspects of her personality is that she loved moths. The exhibit displayed this lovely photo of her with some moths and one of her hand colored book-plates from her book Moths of the Limberlost.

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Indiana was home to abundant flocks of passenger pigeons, largely thought to be the most numerous bird in America.  The flocks were decimated and hunted into oblivion in a matter of a few decades.  Indiana’s last bird was shot in 1896 (according to some sources – there’s some discrepancy).  This bird was a silent testimony to the destruction that was left behind in the wake of pioneer settlement.

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The Whooping Crane has a happier story.  They once migrated through the state, but were rare by the late 1800s.  In 1941, the worldwide population numbered only 15 individuals.  After intensive captive-breeding programs, the cranes once again returned to Indiana in 2001 following an ultra-light aircraft along their historic migratory route.  I learned that the aircraft program was discontinued last year, but the birds are still coming through and their populations are more stable.

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Long before settlers and passenger pigeons, Indiana was home to much larger creatures.  Several gigantic mastodon specimens have been preserved from the Ice Age.  This skeleton is over 13,000 years old and was excavated in 1998 on a farm near Fort Wayne.   At 6,000 pounds and 9-feet tall, I don’t think he’d make a good house pet.

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Indiana has a wealth of fossils.  The museum has a magnificent display on permanent exhibit and they recount an exciting and vibrant natural history recorded in stone.    In several areas of the state, you can find incredible hoards of fossils, including crinoids, like the one depicted here.  Deposited when Indiana was under water, crinoids were aquatic animals that looked more like plants.  Their graceful shapes and intricate patterns make them a favorite among collectors.

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Rich in caves, minerals, and other geologic treasures, Indiana is heaven for rock hounders.  During the Master Naturalist classes I took this past fall, one of my favorite lectures was on Indiana’s rocks and minerals.  The instructor brought in beautiful specimens and I had a wonderful time admiring them all.  This geode is a beautiful representative of the varied and rich geologic history Indiana has experienced.

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As I’ve gotten to know my state better, I’ve been amazed at the variety of ecosystems in this relatively small state.  Caves, forests, meadow, wetlands, bogs, rolling hills, and flat plains all can be found here.  And so too, can sand dunes.  At the northern tip of the state, Lake Michigan boasts of beautiful beaches of sand dunes.  It’s a fragile ecosystem, with extensive groves of beech and maple trees that stabilize the older dunes and protect them from erosion.  During the early 1900s, the dunes were in danger of destruction and concerned citizens actively worked to protect them.  Among the group were several artists that painted the dunes, raising awareness of their beauty and documenting the precious landscape.  Frank Dudley spent over 40 years painting his beloved dunes.  Due to him and the efforts of many others, the Dunes were designated a State Park in 1925.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed a brief look at the natural history of Indiana.  The exhibit did a wonderful job of highlighting the rich heritage of biologic and geologic diversity in our state and the importance of preserving and protecting it.  I’ll be sharing more of the exhibit in the next few days.  Happy weekend everyone!

Blessings to you,

Sarah

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Gift #1062: Art Deco Musings

Last week I had my first class in exploring a new art medium – that of precious metal clay.  It’s a brief 4-week introduction and after covering some basics we played with various textures on the clay.  We dried our pieces and left them with the instructor to fire in the kiln.  Today we received those pieces back for  finishing and polishing and I was pretty impressed.   In my inexhaustible curiosity to try as many techniques as possible, metal clay had been very high on the list.  But I wanted to spend some time developing my metalsmithing skills first instead of jumping all over the place.  After taking several metalsmithing classes, I decided that now was the time.  I’ve worked a bit with polymer clay as well, and to my mind metal clay represents the best of both worlds.  It’s essentially metal dust embedded in a clay binder.  It’s malleable and takes up texture as any clay would, but once fired the clay burns away and you’re left with a solid metal piece.  It’s especially attractive to me because it’s a way to blend my love of rubber stamping and nature themes together with quality metal to get some unique pieces without resorting to expensive, ultra-complicated techniques.

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In this class we work with bronze clay first because it’s much cheaper than silver.  I wasn’t quite for sure what I’d think of it, but I’m so pleased with the fired pieces.  They retained the images very well, and after polishing, the bronze has a lovely, earthy glow to it.  Although you can’t see it in the photos very well, there’s a subtle shading between the high and low relief portions that’s quite appealing.  I’ll be honest, a bit of a craze went off in my head when I saw them as I envisioned all the possibilities that one could do.  I had picked these stamps because they were leafy (I can never pass up a leaf) and the design on the pendant looked like a spider web among the branches.  A fellow student complimented them and said they looked “very art deco”.  I hadn’t thought about it, but actually they did.  And then I loved them even more because I’ve been cultivating an obsession with Art Deco for a while.

In fact a couple of my Christmas presents this year were about one of my favorite Art Deco artists – Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  I first became acquainted with him when I read a book from the library called Mr. Mac and Me.  I loved it and was thrilled when I discovered in the notes at the end of the book that Mr. Mac was indeed a real person!  I read all about him online and looked at what art of his I could find.  He and his wife were prominent artists of the Glasgow Style and in addition to being an accomplished painter, he also was gifted in architecture, interior design, stained glass, and many other art mediums.

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I received my own copy of Mr. Mac and Me as a Christmas gift, along with a book I had seen on the last trip to Cincinnati. When my mom and I were in the gift store of the Taft Museum, my eye fell to the bottom of a display where I saw a book featuring a familiar name.  It is a history of Mackintosh and his most influential patroness, Miss Cranston, and their collaboration on a series of popular tea rooms.  Wow!  The pictures of his chairs and his stained glass are particularly stunning.  And in the back of the book are recipes that would have been served in the tea rooms as well as a catalog of the existing buildings still housing Mackintosh’s wonderful creations.  It’s just a handful now, compared to all he had done.  Many were destroyed in fires and in the name of progress as old buildings were mowed down.  It’s sad to consider what legacy has been lost with time, but that makes what we still have even more precious.  I’m glad that there is still an interest in this remarkable artist.  The third book was one that my mom found for me and it is all his architectural and floral drawings.  It is a printing from the 1970s that was a catalog to accompany a museum exhibit.  Oh to have seen that!  It’s well annotated and I’m very glad to have all his floral sketches in one place to admire.  One of them, Fritillaria, graces the cover of Mr. Mac and Me.  I’m looking forward to many quiet evenings curled up with my new books in the company of Mr. Mac.

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Blessings to you,

Sarah

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