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...jen o'connor's...Artful Adventures & Daily Inspirations

I Love Art, Adore the Handmade and Treasure the Vintage. I am the Fun Mom, the Silly Friend and the Writer who wants to make more room for beauty in the everyday.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Road to FUNTOWN

The road to Jody Battaglia's "Funtown" is peppered with politely cheery polka dotted signs that say things like..."keep going, you're almost there"... "you can do it"... "lead your you own parade!"...
These are the roadsigns Jody and her work have always urged me to read. Her art cheers me; her creations are the toys that entertain, mystify and cajole the kid at heart in all of us. They are happy stuff; my most favorite things.

Jody Battaglia has created Funtown -- the imaginary community where all of her creations reside in harmony with a bit of silly drama for added fun. She runs the place, bespectacled in cherry red glasses and dressed in a jacket that would make the "Music Man" green with envy. She has inhabited her realm with a band of personalities she has concocted from wool felt, velveteen and mohair...along with a massive dose of imagination and wit. Their names speak volumes to their character attributes... "Dandy Ducky Long Legs" a personal favorite.
I met Jody in 1997 through one of her customers. I was visiting my gal pal Maggie in Atlanta and she asked me to take a ride with her to pick up some fun goodies from Jody. When the door opened there she was, part Willy Wonka, part The Flying Nun...
Her house is a magical place, a diorama adorned with layers of treasures and old bits of toys that weave a mood that even good Saint Nick would covet. It's Christmas Eve, Easter and Halloween all at once. Her beloved sailors salute, yummy anthropomorphic fruit and veggie people tempt the eyes, and collections of vintage holiday treasures are everywhere in the most captivating of displays....then there are the candy containers, the hula dolls, more sailors, old bears, gollies, folk art beauties....oohh so wonderful. Shelves of old books show her love for the golden age of children's literature and illustration.
....her dining room table was encrusted with her toys. I was instantly smitten. I had to pick each one up, cradle it and absorb it....I bought a sweet girl monkey peeking out from beneath the brim of an upturned hat...the next time we met, her first Santa and a wee little elf. A love affair had begun.

In 1979 Jody launched her business, "Beary Best Friends". First she made teddy bears, then a long line of friends, companions, dolls and toys followed all paving the way to Funtown. Over the years she has designed for Boyds Bears, and now has a line of reproduction designs with Edinburgh. Her original creations are all made in her home in Marietta, I am fortunate to have many of them that I have collected over the years ... they are some of my greatest treasures.
Jody offers her work on an very exclusive basis at select Folk Art and Teddy Bear shows and her website...and I am thrilled that she is able to do some limited edition originals for us each year. Jody has been our featured artist at two of our events and, with any luck, we'll be able to lure her back for on Annual Spring Soiree in 2008. We're also hoping that she makes progress with a publisher for her book....
Jody has a fabulous sense of personal style and charm. Jody is modest, always quick with a self-effacing comment, but don't be fooled...she is whip smart and has a better vocabulary than the most seasoned copy editor at the Chicago Sun Times. Did I mention that she is Cracker Jack cute, and if any knows that cuteness counts, it's Jody.
She is an intoxicating, fantastically festive companion, a cross between a majorette, a cruise director and a stand up comedienne. She is my cheerleader, my confidant and my friend. Without Jody I would not be in business, I would not be writing this blog, I would not be where I am, or who I am. Jody has been a constant source of encouragement since we met.
She has helped me, inspired me and taught me to pay it forward.
To underestimate what she has done, not only for me but for so many in the realm of folk art, would be criminal...and some tottering but spiffy little Constable from Funtown just might detain us for questioning!
Three cheers for Jody! Please join me in saying....Hip Hip Hooray.
xxoo Jen O'Connor

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Divas Always Share

Leslie McCabe loves thread and color, buttons and beads, old cloth, her dogs at her feet and, above all, the fabric of her life. It shows in her work. Each creation is happy and bright, with a definitive lust for texture that seems to come from seeing the world for what it is, and liking it just the same.

Leslie seems to know that sharing might not only be the best thing in the world to do, but the most rewarding. For close to 20 years Leslie has created an impressive and varied body of work in the textile arts. It has been her emotional and creative outlet through life's changes and the tide of time. By sharing these creations, into her life have come a long and powerful stream of friendships that cris-cross the states and the Atlantic to Ireland where she lived for several years.

Though I had heard of her and had lusted for her work, I finally met Leslie at a 50th birthday bash in Connecticut. We were celebrating our mutual friend Moira's special day with rounds of crafts and a weekend of fun. Leslie was to teach all of us punch needle embroidery; my tasks were to cook and to read Flora McFlimsey's Christmas Eve while hands were busy. I couldn't possibly do that punching, why waste her time teaching me...

But, Leslie was doing something she does well...she was sharing. Patiently tutoring those new to the needle, the impatient and the clumsy, she worked with each of us. She held her hands over mine, showed me the push of the needle, the gently pull, the switching of the color, the rhythm of the design's swirls. I felt brazen, confident, enabled. I worked away on a small piece utterly captivated with what my hands were birthing. She had made it look easy as a chef who makes a a simple and elegant dance across the fabric. I struggled, but pleased with my effort, I became enchanted with the results. Leslie taught on, and as she did an image emerged from her own work...a cheery bloom with a bluebird and then, as if to beat all, there were polka dots (Just to make sure we weren't taking this all to seriously!) .

The medium varies, but Leslie's brand of artistry shines through. Her work is intensely detailed and varies from figural pieces in whimsy boxes, to beaded jewelry, hooked rugs, and my favorite, her punch needle pieces. These far surpass others I have seen...done in single stroke with more colors than fair to exist in one place.

Leslie is my friend. A true friend who knows me and loves me just the same. When I see her work that hangs on the walls of my home it reminds me of her wonderful laugh - issued from the throat with head thrown back - her eyes when they look over the top of her glasses in playful retort, and the tilt of her head when she listens to me, not to answer but to understand.

Leslie is a diva, a teacher and more. She shares herself, her style and her time. So let's take the month of June to celebrate the fantastic women artists, like Leslie, who have helped us to grow over the years. Those who teach, those who share, and those who encourage.

Thanks, with great affection, to Leslie for her faith in me and what art and craft can do for all of us who have never mastered the needle and thread, but love it just the same.

Jen O'Connor
ps email us if you'd like to see Leslie's latest creations...we're putting togeter a NEWSY Update....

Saturday, June 2, 2007

...the wrong door

Sometimes, the wrong door opens and fate invites you to step inside. My friend Dara would tell you to dare...let me tell you about the time I did...
I should have met her earlier that day...but the hours flew by at Artful Fest 2006...and each time I approached the table laden with Dara DiMagno's treasures I found myself facing a throng or being called away on some task...I ended the day feeling as if I had missed something great.

But just minutes before the day actually surrendered to it's successor, I found myself wandering the halls of the hotel trying to find Laurie Meseroll's room. Ahh.... there it was, I knocked, but Laurie didn't answer...instead, there was was almost midnight but no, I wasn't shopped out, and since I had roused this artist not from sleep, but just bad late night tv I thought I would be brazen...

..I told her who I was and that I had missed her at the show...had she sold out? ....was there a chance I might see what she still had for sale? She had three necklaces left, I bought two...and the third tempted me! Moments later I was already in love with the texture, the feel and the layers of humor, wisdom and character imbued in her work. I left to find Laurie's room which I did...a jumble of Dara's room number a few doors away...
As if that wasn't enough of a message, the next morning ...nursing baby on New York time in tow, I wandered into the hotel cafe just after 6am...of course I was wearing one of my new necklaces...and who alone was in the cafe...yes, Dara!

I considered this divine intervention I sat myself across from her and over breakfast we hatched a plan to work together. I wanted to garner some attention for her wearable art...I knew it needed to be seen, worn and celebrated beyond her West Virginia studio.

Dara dares to knock at the door of whimsy and mystery with a brave and seasoned hand....her view of things is sweetly tainted with living, with intellect and a love of the written word. She hears more than a different drummer, perhaps a whole different band playing for her...she captures what she sees and hears and catapults these sentiments into jewelry. Her hands know how to work metal, snip magic from old books and see stories in the faces form old photographs.

Using all vintage objects and original images, Dara creates one of a kind art collages with a balance and proportion that is divine. She is a master of structure and can maneuver metal to host her nuggets of songs, the wee words she adores and her daring sense of humor. The results are utterly fantastic, going far beyond the moniker of jewelry. She bravely asks us to celebrate the everyday by elevating castoff treasures and calling attention to tidbits of memories.
Each of her necklaces and bracelets are kaleidoscopes of vintage metal, found objects and forgotten faces. Dara finds beauty worth sharing in old silver utensils, odd findings, scraps from long-ago played games, tin types and old photos, steel cut Victorian buttons, Bakelite charms and baubles galore. She unties these disparate objects as the inanimate ingredients of her work. She melds them into new life under her drills. They emerge as charming stories, fancifully adorned with words and images.

She is sentimental, smart and very spunky…I admire her. Her work is a true reflection of her spirit and talent. So I wear one of her necklaces almost daily and remind myself to knock bravely at each never knows what treasures are in store...

Cheers to all who wear her work...Debbee, Carolyn, Linda, Janet and Dana (the California Girls)...and Dawn and Ro too, you are exceptional models! It is wonderful that we share an affection for Dara and her work!
xxoo Jen O'Connor
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