Thursday, December 27, 2018


 I am digging back into the studio after the holidays, 
as seen with the pile of garden cuttings 
impulsively spray-painted 
silver, for a decorative "arrangement" now languishing 
while I ponder being safely rid of the leavings...
T'won't compost & probably ought not to be burned. 
I did not think that one out very well...
Solstice has long been the heart-fully factual event for us. 
This year we attended a lively party with a large group of
 good friends... Enjoying much fine conversation! 

On our way home we walked the path around a large pond 
where one Islander gifted the night's magic... 
a millennia of flames... luminaria 
flickering harmony with misty light of full moon! 
Then home to our own lamps for a long recuperative sleep!
Thus Christmas was happily celebrated quietly. Just the two of us at home here at Soundcliff... a very rare thing! The first time in many years that we have not been traveling, either to spend time with family... or seeking to avoid any additional rush of festivities after the period when the Island's Studio Tour absorbs so much of the calendar with the hard work of cleaning & preparing for two intense weekends of "showtime"... ringing in, ringing out & ringing up the bells' business!

We've tried escaping to various parts of the Orient, only to discover the universality of Santa & various versions of decorated trees, even if oftentimes they are more entertaining than in this country. So it is probably easiest to just sit tight & ignore the fuss where we have the most control! 

Our weather, while quite wet, has been mild, so the garden has continued to produce & bloom. I picked greens & salads for the meals to which we treated ourselves. Stephen made a big batch of his specialty crab cakes. There was fresh salmon & ahi for the succession of nights... sweet times!
The reliable gift of produce in this season is Mashua, the starch crop I've grown since learning about it at the Mother Garden in Sonoma County, when I lived in northern California 25 years ago. The abundant foliage climbs high all summer, giving its spicy nasturtium zip as addition to salads, but in late autumn it develops happy blossoms, signaling that its roots are making the tubers for which it is generally raised by the Peruvian gardeners who more famously gave us potatoes.
These beautiful organic packages of intense flavor can be eaten raw... I like them thin sliced like winter "radishes" to make toothsome crispy zippity-do-da salad nibbles... 
but are more usually served as a cooked vegetable. Sauteed or better roasted, 
both the flavor & texture soften & sweeten rather ephemerally.

 The hexagonal raised bed produced Trout's Back lettuces & Baby Bok Choy...
The Wasabi Arugula blossoms went in the salad to accompany the Ahi well!
Pineapple Sage blossoms color holiday salads festive...
The small Camellia started blooming to add more red to our view.
One stalwart patch of pansies held-on!
 I brought the Abutalon into the studio to protect 
& display its bell-inspiration during the show...
But this fuchsia made a lovely small show 
spiting difficulties from lack of light & temperature.
I've been celebrating the small mountain of cedar sawdust which covers the new hugelkulture Tom helped build during a week of Indian summer... an experiment in re-sculpting the contour of one large section of the garden from "sagging swale" into a more visually sturdy "rib". A long term project!
Reminding the sweet welcome in/out my plane window as we came home from Thanksgiving in Florida. Tahoma is our beautiful mother mountain... we watch her from Soundcliff's windows every day she isn't hiding in the clouds with which she dresses for her constantly evolving fashion!
These Ibis & Pelicans joined us for lunch at a dockside restaurant one afternoon down there...
Reminding me of the sculpture hiding silhouetted behind the mylar sheet we use as a sun shade in our bedroom window... not needed often during this dark time, but useful when we are journaling & reading on rare enough mornings desiring celebration of any such intrusions of light returning!
Early Bird Blessings For this New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2018


Sunrise at Soundcliff on the morning after the longest night...
Greetings on the Winter Solstice of 2018…

Solstice is THE holiday for me. A day as “HOLY” as I can easily accept… being quite real. The physical manifestation of whatever genuine magic keeps the world from tilting totally out of control.

A moment in the rhythmic continuity of everything 
we can really know marks this seasonal symbolic loss of light & of its return. 
All the other festivities of culture begin with this. I could too easily whisper “amen” & be done with the rest. 
But, no, I realize that I can choose better... 

Working inside the wider study & understanding I’ve long practiced I appreciate again that I am not always the same curmudgeon I have sometimes seemed this year. 
I have my moments, teetering on this cusp, of both snarl & smile.

I have been remembering a story which reveals part of the origins of that curmudgeon, from the year of my graduating from college [being summer1967… 50 & more years ago], when I accepted a job to help set-up the first-ever year-round Christmas Shoppe in Denver’s newly developing Larimer Square. 

I was one of a cadre of creatives [read: mostly gay boys] who naturally collected around this project of wrangling Denver’s version of retail rehabilitation by bringing gifts of talent which were essential & appreciated while being un-affordable & thus ultimately under-rewarded in the longer term… An economic fable commonly called “gentrification”…

We began in August, as I recall, to unpack hundreds of cartons containing dozens of artificial trees, upon which we carefully strung hundreds of strings of lights & then hung with thousands of ornaments. 

For some trees there were obvious “themes” or color scenes to follow with some logic, but others invited the invention at which we could excel when given opportunity to play creatively as a fair-or-not part of the pay package. It was, after all, the summer of love... 

The initial Ho-Ho-Ho enthusiasm we brought to work at this new adventure, wearing cut-offs to cope with summer heat in an old historic brick building with no AC, began to drag. Soon enough, the plastic icicles were being hung with matching drips of sweat. The fake snow couldn’t cool anything except one’s sagging ardor. The scent of the holidays became the rank smell of hot glittery paint on cheap wood, hide glue & ageing papier-mâché. What would later seem festive to eager customers had become too early rather icky. 

I thus lost most any love of Christmas as it was becoming, even then, to be celebrated & it took some years until I could think of the holidays without noticing that stink… which, at least symbolically, still returns to my nostrils some years.

So, I have done several versions of these holidays backstage, so to speak, in retail since the small-town department store I worked during high school, through the Ma-and-Pa jewelry store so important to me during college… into the folly of Christmas-in-July.

I deserve my status as part time curmudgeon! 

The anodyne to what I’ve come to see mostly as a madness is this simply magical re-occurrence of a long night of adjustment into proof of sanity. Balance. All has righted itself. Life continues anew. 

I can now rather more easily let all the ancillary feasts carry-on as they might & need. I play with them as I will… or not. I know what is real to me.

Solstice Blessings, 
With Bells... or without even those such trappings…

Saturday, June 09, 2018


GRB Bells recently participated in our VIVA [Vashon Island Visual Arts] Spring Tour the first two weekends of May. [Our Holiday Tour is the first two full weekends of December.]

As part of the studio's presentation I demonstrate wax injection, one part of the process of the bells' manufacture which I am capable, within the constraints of time, to demonstrate simply. I am thus encouraged to explain here the process of making the mold into which the wax is injected.
Here are the castings made from my original wax carvings for several designs plus their clappers. I call these the "masters" & I securely archive them in order to be able to remake any of the rubber molds which might break or wear out. They are also the best form of copyright, since the molding process will shrink the design slightly & all bells made from them will be smaller. 

You see them sitting upside down on their "sprues", which are the rods which were the channels through which the molten metal entered the temporary plaster mold to make the casting. A bell has at least two pieces -- and the clappers must be made separately, of course.

This group includes The SEAHORSE Bell with its unusually complex, three-piece clapper on the left. [The two bells on the right are the SUFI SURF & the CLOUD PALACE Bells]
This is the raw silicone rubber, which is soft & resembles a dense putty. It comes in strips protected with peel-able plastic on both sides. I cut it to size with scissors & pack it around the master in an aluminum mold frame, with the sprue touching its interior side. At this stage I must begin to think "inside-out" as I work to fill the negative space around the bell with the positive rubber.
When the mold is filled I label it with a thin aluminum or brass tag into which I emboss its name with a stylus. The mold press has two electrically heated platens between which the mold is sandwiched. A heavy screw with a large handle tightens to press it all tight. 
Under that pressure its heat of 350 degrees 
vulcanizes the rubber in about an hour.
The result is a solid block of harder rubber completely enclosing the master, squeezing a slight excess, which insures that all the details of the master have been captured. It shrinks a bit as it cools, freeing itself from the sides of the mold's interior. 
I trim the excess with scissors & peel out the tag, 
leaving the name permanently as part of the mold. 
Next comes the difficult part! I use a scalpel to very carefully cut the block apart to free the master, while also making "keys" to secure the fit when the mold is put back together.
It is fascinatingly puzzling to dance between thinking positively about the negative! It requires bringing the cuts from the bottom of the sprue ever closer to the still invisible master, prying the dense rubber apart with the help of a hook mounted to my desk. It is important to land the cut at the best place on the design to make the mold function well, both to promote the escape of air pushed ahead of the molten wax & for ease of removing the cooled wax.
The mold stretches & wants to snap closed. I must use brute strength of one hand while keeping the other facile enough to aim the blade cutting delicately into narrow-sighted space dancing between positive & negative space...
These photos show the process arrested by being held open with toothpicks... Each piercing in the design must be cut cleanly so as to efficiently re-close, recreating that detail in wax. 
I cut down from around the skirt of the bell to create a core which is pulled from the interior of the master, with another tricky part involving the clapper loop which clings, being filled with rubber in the top of the bell's interior, difficult to reach with the blade. Even with a collection of tricks over years of experience, I often still struggle with this part of the process!

Below you can see that core sitting-up in the center, atop the left & right half of the mold, which shows the positive wax which was injected into it. 
Outside are the halves of the second mold containing the 3 clapper parts.
The wax injector is a heated pot filled with wax under about 5 pounds of air pressure. 
Near-liquid molten wax is injected into the sprue of the mold when pressed against its nozzle, thus engaging the pressure sensitive valve behind it.
 Here is a video of an actual injection:

The result is a wax replication ready to be cast into metal to make the bell I will sell.

Monday, February 05, 2018


While Amsterdam is another city built on an ancient system of canals, it could hardly be more different than Venice.

The spatial aspects of both cities are unique in spite that each is flat to the sea. The Dutch, coming from the land, built yet more land. Venice... perching precariously on pilings anchoring only a few small unstable prehistoric islands, squatting in the shallows of a lagoon...

Protected by all those walls we walked in Croatia... Venice arched inwardly upward, hoarding the spoils of world trade well before any Dutch expansion.

The periods during which each reached maturity have much to do with their differences. Older by many centuries, Venice plyed the classic shipping trade routes inside the warmer enclosure of the Mediterranean, connecting Europe to the mid-east, the Indian sub-continent, & ultimately China. Its smaller size amassed some sense of the mysterious enclosure characterizing an “Oriental” quality. 

The Dutch, building later, in the chill of the North Sea, discovered the distances of the larger world by circumnavigation
 outside the antique model of the world...
miniature inside the cincture of Gibraltar. 
That Mediterranean hothouse-classique
launched quintessential herbal seeds... 
plus rich cultural spores into the global garden.
... the city's slogan is...
i   A M S T E R D A M
The canals here are wider than Venice & were originally even wider yet... facilitating the floating movement of people & goods around a bustling trading city by float. Now the waterways are more for recreation, having been mostly filled-in to create space for the comfortable streets of wheels... more bicycles than cars.... more than the population!

Wide sidewalks on either side allow pedestrians to stroll abreast 
while dancing with cyclists walking their rides home. 

I find both cities imminently walkable. 
We’ve been two nights walking the older central part... 
a visual delight!

We are staying with our friend Joost 
in his 1930’s row house just inside the “ring” of canals... 
 Steep stairs are ubiquitous. 
This space has been keenly attended 
in the remodel he's making mostly himself!
His location is served by the city's efficient system of rail trams. 
There is plenty of auto traffic, but all is rather subservient to the obvious first choice to ride bicycles… evidenced by the fact that there are more bikes than citizens!

Specific, well separated lanes are dedicated to bicycles & one must honor that or be threatened & cursed for being in their way! The cross-walks become sometimes complicated to get to the center islands where one waits to board the trams. Electronic tickets, touched at sensors upon both entering & leaving the car, calculate the fare for the distance being deducted from the balance. Oh! that we could learn such easy good sense in more of our cities in the States! 
We spent time in the Rijksmuseum on Sunday… busy with the throngs wanting to see the revered paintings of the Dutch Masters, which I too was happy to experience, of course. I enjoyed seeing the icons of my art history courses in the real. While there were crowds, if I lingered, there were also rare moments...
This is a stately old building, bridging over the main street which runs through & under its facade into a vaulted foyer echoing with Vivaldi.
Musical ensembles play outside modern entrances up into the museum... or down into the new depths enlarging antique spaces to accommodate essential modern facilities... I like this improvement's mixing of clean functional lines with the original Gothic Victorian.
 Juxtaposition abounds...
At sister Alice's insistence we headed toward the Van Gogh museum, a short stroll through a lively urban park... This contemporary building surprised me by becoming an almost religious experience… I realized how little I actually knew about him. He is no longer simply impressionistic curiosity as I resonate better with his quest toward color. My long-lost painter groked his gooey pigments in a wistful way.

To be able to see almost the entire oeuvre of an artist who accomplished so much in only a decade chides my career, which began [& still dreams] in paint while getting side-tracked by the fantasy of jewelry before the whimsey of bells.

I could yet again drown us in photographic memories
proving only inadequacy
 I Am-sterdam!