Inspired by Reading: “My Mother she killed me, my father….”

I am always “Inspired by Reading”. But this month the selection was so… diverse, enchanting, haunting, original, epic in scope… 

This month’s book was “My Mother she killed me, my father he ate me” forty new fairy tales, edited by Kate Bernheimer. Its an amazing selection of contemporary authors with a magical foreword by Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked”. I will confess – I have not read them all. The book, to me, was like a box of chocolates. If I read them all at one time, I will over due it, and not appreciate the flavors and nuances. I think I have read 9 or so. And so many ideas sprang from those 9… 

Book group!

(Pictured here with “Hopeless, Maine” a graphic novel by Tom and Nimue Brown. A delightful dark, beautiful read.) 


The story I chose was “The Swan Brothers” by Shelley Jackson. The original tale from the Brothers Grimm is a familar one. Evil stepmother curses brothers to spend eternity as swans by day, men at night. Their only sister has to spin nettles to yearn and weave capes/sew shirts for them within 6 years to break curse. And she must not speak. Falls in love and marries prince, bears children. Accused and vilified by truly evil MiL, condemned to burn for murdering her children.  She completes all but one sleeve and transforms her brothers and saves herself in the nick of time.  This is already a potent tale for someone who works with archetypal images and icons full of symbolic meaning. Its a tale of transformation on many levels; not only the brothers, but the raw materials, the traditional woman’s work of spinning and weaving, a domestic alchemy, if you will. Its what artists do – transform raw materials into works of meaning, symbolism, beauty and power. 

This tale combined the transformative powers of the magic with the actual work of an artist – as the sister is a performance artist toiling away on said shirts for years in a storefront gallery! I loved the dark irony of that… The story is woven together with different threads of memory, dream, imagined events, and current happenings. It shuttles back and forth, weaving a mysterious whole from the disparate parts. What is truth? What is imagined? 

The themes are sacrifice, pain, and transformation. The artist/sister weaves nettles into shirts to replace feathers, and dreams all the while of flight. She climbs a glass mountain to retrieve her children, opening the lock with a finger bone. My sketchbook contains these words: spin/weave, yarn, nettles, feathers, wings, arms, bones, keys, locks… This is the feather shed by a swan wing, it is the wing of the last brother, its the wings denied the self sacrificing sister. The story has such a contrast, an interplay between opposing materials that I wanted to include the bones to ground the piece, to temper the prettiness of the feather. I intended to incorporate the resin wings, and found they were not suited to the polymer focal. 

Feathers and bones

Feathers and Bones – polymer feather cabochon, brass, polymer, acrylic paint, glass vial, bones, chain, sterling wire, & gems ( blue tiger eye, amethyst, sapphire jade, calcedony, crystal)

from the story: “…you find, pressed between two pages, a feather. It is white, it is black with an iridescent sheen, it is pigeon-grey…” page 85

Feather and Bones

Then the second necklace sprang to mind almost fully envisioned…  

Silver hands necklace

The Armless Maiden – antique clock key, vial of silver leaf, silver charm, porcelain doll hand, copper, cap, vintage minature pocketknife, vintage chain, garnets, silk. 

from the book – “Occassionally a woman with silver hands brings pears.” page 88. This single line – introducing the “Armless Maiden” as a friend to the protaganist, spoke volumes. The folktales tell of her life, hands cut off by her own father. Differing versions blame the devil, lust… Silver hands feature in the folk tales, and also bring to mind the Irish god Nuada, King of the Tuatha de Danaan.  This necklace is for her, a talisman of loss and transformation, blood and bone. 


But I still wanted to reference the wings and the swans that are integral to the story in all its incarnations. This piece will utilize the resin wings, and showcase  the swans in a more traditional fairy tale context. 

Swan's wings WIP

The Swan’s wings (in progress) – antique postcard, antiqued bronze setting. resin, antique book text, wire...

 This was a very fertile challenge for me – as I am drawn to fairy tale imagery and symbolism in my work. I can see other pieces arising from otehr tales as I savor the delights included in this book. Stay tuned… 

I look forward to hearing your feedback – whether you are familiar with Shelley Jackson‘s tale or the Brothers Grimm original.  The other artist bloggers participating this month will be listed and linked from Andrew’s blog. Please take a peak at the tales they have unraveled… I dont think they will disappoint! 



Inspired by reading… Paris to the Moon

(If you are looking for the Art Jewelry Elements CoM reveal – it is located here.)

Pour a coffee, pull up a chair… and welcome to the first month of the “Inspired by Reading” book/creative club. This wonderful idea is being masterminded by the tireless  & creative Andrew Thornton. Simply put – we participants, far flung though we may be – are reading a book a month. Then we are creating something – jewelry, a doodle, poem, collage… inspired by the book. Its very loose and flexible – which makes in very do-able, in my opinion. 

Our first offering: “Paris to the Moon” a collection of essays by Adam Gopnik that detail aspects of his life as a writer and father living in Paris. They were originally published seperately in The New Yorker magazine, and collected as a book published in 2000. 

Paris to the Moon

 I enjoyed the book overall, but found some of the essays not engaging to my interests. The topics of French economics and politics were not my favorites. The descriptions of life in the city, the challenges of an expatriot living abroad, and the frequent culture clashes between a former New York City resident and his now-fellow Parisians were charming and humorous. 

I was most inspired by his field trips with his son to Deyrolle Taxidermy. This Paris icon, preserving natural wonders since 1831, was their destination when rain kept them from their habitual turn in the Luxembourg Gardens. I usually find taxidermy a bit morbid, but this had me fascinated. Animals from the farm to the safari, many abandoned by their owners, bills unpaid. And insects, and coral, and butterflies, and all other diverse objects from the natural world – a cabinet of curiousities… 


Deyrolle cases

Cabinet of curiousities. WunderKammer. Literally translated as “Room of Wonders”… from as early as the 16th century these collections housed “objects included as belonging to natural history (sometimes faked), geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art (including cabinet paintings) and antiquities.” The image below, “Ulisse Aldrovandi’s Cabinet” (engraving by G. Mitelli) shows the concept in all its chaotic glory. 



Pendants. Amulets. Housing treasures – both natural and relics… Hmm… 

Amulets WIP

From top left: boxes – showing folded corners and inserted wires. They are cut from metal sheet, one piece; with tabs that fold to overlap at corners. There are wires inserted as staples to hold tabs and provide loops for attachments/bails. Then the boxes are filled – with ivory polymer, 2 part epoxy putty, black polymer. 

Wunderkammer amulets

Stained. painted… The shell piece (top left) had a chance encounter with the floor, sadly… The bottom two are my favorites. I prefer the layers of transluscent color I can achieve on the ivory base. 

The set of four

These will be finished with dangles and mixed media necklaces. They are rather heavy – but had to be deep to accomodate the items. I think they are reminiscent of specimen trays, and would be worthy additions to a WunderKammer. They are artifacts, and natural items, and become amulets as well. I think a future series of these will be stamped on the back with a quote, a secret word of power or mantra to wear next to your skin. 

I hope to finish them this week for my first big Spring show – Spoutwood Farm’s May Day Fairy Festival. Its a wonderful, magical time… 

And I hope you follow me to “Hop” and see what others created – inspired by “Paris to the Moon”. The list and links are on Andrew’s blog. 

Thanks for stopping by – I would love to hear your thoughts on these new experimental amulets…