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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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Monday, March 31, 2008

Easter at Our House

Easter seemed to spring at me with little time to prepare for it this year. Somehow falling so early in the season, and with no flowers in the garden, I found myself looking for bright colors among in the boxes of decorations.
I have accumulated a cache of holiday goodies, many gathered in my travels, all laden with memory and story. Each year the decorations come together a bit does the guest list and menu...

We laid three tables for Easter dinner and I cooked up a merry storm. We filled the day with family, friends and cheer.

Here's the sideboard in the dining room…lots of yellows and happy greens with a flash of red made it festive. The paper rabbits are vintage; I’ve had them so long I cannot recall where I bought them The wooden chicks are made in Germany…I love their polka dotted kerchiefs. The standing grey rabbit was made by my fave artist Pat Murphy, the other vintage toy was found at a yard sale...

I bought these eggs for 10 cents a piece when I was 20 and traveling in the Czech Republic as a student. I carried them around several countries in plastic tubes in my backpack. I can still hardly believe they made it home!

These fabric eggs with vintage millinery trims were made by Stacey Bear. I bought them from her the day we met...these hand made goodies added memories of friendship to the day.

The places were set with the monogrammed silver I found with the girls at last fall’s “Antique Faire” in Petaluma. A buck a piece was a real treat…
The wee baskets are cut down lunch bags stuffed with grass, candies and pom pom bunnies from Jennifer Murphy’s adorable decorations line.

I am sweet on vintage candy containers...and a few fun and funky yellow chicks have come my way. This happy chap is my very favorite. He has his original "12 cents" price tag...but we treat him new candy each year.

Kitschy chalkware chicks march among the jelly beans and 19th Century Devon art pottery. I restrict my chalkware indulgence to chicks and dogs...otherwise these funky critters could take over the cupboards!

Another view of the hutch...

Flowers found their way into silver tumblers we scattered down the tables, tucked in the loo and on counters and shelves. (They were leftovers from the "Royal Afternoon" Spring Soiree of 2006!) The candelabra were my "official Christmas Gift to myself" last year. I have enjoyed the splurge each time I set the table for guests or a special meal.

I have a small (wish it were larger!) collection of wooden toys from Erzgebirge in Germany. Some I bought when I was there on business, other pieces were found at doll and toy shows.

Candy cozied up to Jody Battaglia’s creations in several arrangements…

The festivities were two weeks ago, but I cannot bear to tuck the chicks, the bunnies, the eggs and all the festive goodies back into their storage boxes to wait for next year's celebration. Not just yet.
The decorations are echoes of the party. The memory of my house full of the people I love makes my heart sing.
xxoo Jen O'Connor

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Where is Jen?

...where am I???

...well, twas a mighty party...

St. Patty's, then Easter (including dinner here for 26) and then my Birthday...and within 10 days...I can usually handle two of the three events, but Easter so early in the season just about put me over the top!

I will be back in BLOGland this week and thanks to all for your patience during my unintended absence...

I have much to share on the festivities, new art and the season!

And Jo, do you like the name tags Jill Wiener created for our next event?

ciao for now
xxoo Jen

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring for All

...has arrived in a flutter, a bit late to the party this year. But, she is here and well dressed just the same.
Spring seems so very fair...yes, lovely, but "fair". Graciously, spring hosts the burden of chasing away winter, while begging off summer. Both are "Type A" in New York, and spring manages her task with gentle diplomacy. She sends flowers.

Today is the equinox...the center of the Sun will spend an almost equal share of time above and below the horizon at every location on Earth. Spring arrives in equity, demanding attention, with a night and day of nearly the same length. Spring's effort begs us to shake our wintry habits and draw us from our cozy lairs.

Enjoy the days, they get longer and sweeter. The sodden ground has a promised bounty, and the ever warming breeze lifts off the layers of wool and fleece til the skin meets the sun.

It's all like a sigh to me. Nest, build and renew the spirit.
xxoo Jen

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Babes in Blogland

...oh I am terrible...
I was "tagged" sometime back and in the haze of chores and catch up from our big event, I forgot to respond with the, "5 things you might never know about me"...and I am wondering, "Do you care?"...but, I must oblige.

...and then I must "tag" a few fabulous "Babes in BLOGland" who in turn, must share....and so on and so on...

Eee-gads what to tell...

...I have already confessed my obsession with one of many...
...admitted that I play dolls...
...and that I eat chocolate daily, but only if it's dark...
...and, clearly, I love my job as a mom and promoter of fab artists...
(see images above of the hats I wear!)
...and still, I am expected to lift the portcullis of my soul more?!

Ok, here goes.

1. I really, really like factory tours. I will watch just about anything get made. Favorite tours to date include: bialys at Bell's in Brooklyn, Piper Cubs in Vero Beach, Florida, Alexander Dolls in Harlem (aforementioned visit) and of course, Guinness in Dublin.

2. I met my husband in the wee hours of the morning at bar in the East Village. He was so "nice", I fixed him up with a friend of mine. Yet another, "hand me down".

1. Food faves: sushi and steak, but I beg you...don't let the "junk" cereal in the house. I cannot help myself...I will eat it by the box without shame...likely making up for the deprivation of said in my youth, where I was regularly forced to ingest wheat germ and vitamins by my "free-thinking" mother...

4. I have an immensely large, raucous family. "How large?", you ask. We are 62 first cousins, with many more in the emerging generations. I am the firth of five -- could you guess I was the baby in the birth order cocktail -- to parents, each of nine children.

5. I want to be me when I grow up. I remind myself daily: I am a work in progress, I can change my mind, I can do better, I made a mistake....
And so it goes... over the tasks and under the wire, the warp and woof of my days.

That said, I am onto the "tagging" part of this BLOGland custom.
Ladies, you are IT!
Click the links below to meet some of my fave "babes in BLOGland".
I love them. I admire them. And, you'll see, their personal styles, savvy and sassy wit shine in their blogs.

Ciao for now! And Stacey, promise me we can go to the pretzel factory when I come to York this summer?

xxoo Jen

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Collected and Shared

Ironstone seems so elegant to me, yet so very practical in its origins. I think of it as pretty, sturdy, and full of years of good service. It suits painter Jennifer Lanne and she has collected it passionately for years.

It is about her 18th Century home adding a soothing luster and charm. Bowls play host to nests, pitchers stand sentry atop cupboards, and beloved platters and plates are fashioned into wall displays. Vignettes change with the seasons. My current favorites are a dolly crib filled with a stack of luncheon plates, at the ready for a tea party, and a series of dishes topped with nests to welcome spring.

Here she is with her favorite piece. Her beloved collection inspires her work and, it has inspired me to re-decorate! (see previous post on "Platter Serves Up Re-Do") .

Here "A Delicate Situation" showcases a cadre of ironstone milk jugs and pitchers.

Always hungry to feed my curious mind, Jennifer's recent paintings of her collection were just the encouragement I needed to do a bit of on-line research. I knew very little...only that ironstone was made in England and sold to the colonies as an alternative to more fragile china. In a few clicks, I found my way to the wonderful website of the White Ironstone China Association.

There I learned that English potters were working in the late 1700s and early 1800s to to develop this porcelain substitute, and wanted to find something that could be mass produced. The result of their experiments was a dense, durable stoneware that was harder than earthenware and stronger than porcelain. This early work was called by many names...semi-porcelain, opaque porcelain, English porcelain and our chosen moniker, ironstone china.

The initial patent was issued in 1813 and held for fourteen years by inventor Charles James Mason of Staffordshire. By 1827 a number of other potters had already experimented with his formulas. All of these wares were decorated with transfer patterns or fired on, brush-stroke painted designs.

This pitcher is my favorite piece of Jennifer's early transferware...."Worth a Thousand Words"...I do love her playful titles for her original paintings. Now back to that history lesson....

By the 1840's, England began to export undecorated wares to the American and Canadian markets (earlier examples of undecorated ware would have left the factories as "seconds"). The English potters soon discovered that the "Colonies" preferred unfussy, plain and most of all, durable china. My sister Roseanna also has an impressive collection of Ironstone, like those sensible settlers, she prefers the undecorated wares, from this period.

Patterned and decorated wares did arrive on the shores of America.
I learned that in the 1850's-1860's huge quantities of china were sold to the agricultural communities and called "thrashers' ware." These dinner, tea and chamber sets were embossed with wheat, prairie flowers and corn in order to appeal to the farming community. I have been told that these dishes were used to feed those that helped with the harvest.

"Just Desserts" shows a trowel and shovel example of this "Thrashers' Ware"...and a favorite motif of Jennifer's for her farm home.

I think I love ironstone even more now that I know a bit more about it...and this piece, "Linen and Lace" captures me.

"Blue Ribbon Eggs" cheers does thinking about Jennifer's collection she has gathered and shared in her new work!

To learn more, please visit the site of the White Ironstone China Association. This avid group of collectors who share their love and knowledge on their shared passion. They are a great resource and can be found at
To see Jenifer's latest collection of paintings honoring her collection, e-mail me.
And to think, the way I've just described ironstone....durable yet beautiful, functional and still shapely...and surely full of years of good service I just might want to be more like it as I approach 40!
xxoo Jen

Friday, March 7, 2008

In Our Garden

Today's note from Charlotte to the faries that live in our gaden...

Here is Debbee Thibualt's vision of our "Garden Fairy" many of you have asked about the inspiration for the special piece Debbee has done for us, so I wanted to share this little tale.

...Charlotte, my 5 year old daughter and fairy expert, will help...

A tiny house made of moss, bark and sticks sits on our porch. In the summer, we move it into the garden.
This is our fairy house.

With fervor, Charlotte corresponds with the inhabitants. She drafts tiny notes and tucks them into the little rooms. The next day a response arrives in a tilty script.

She has discovered that the fairies like shiny things, bits of cake, and most definitely, her attention. And she assures me that of course, they only write to good little children who believe in them.

I keep these wee notes for Charlotte in an old chocolate tin.
I am the keeper of this magic; her the memory.
Thanks go to Dawn for the gift of this fairy house, without your inspiration Dawn, I doubt the fairies would have ever "moved into" our garden...and to you Kimberly for the box that arrived…Charlotte has re-doubled her efforts and hopes that Zayla has had good luck with her notes too!

...and a special thanks from me and Charlotte to our friend and Earth Angels artist, Debbee Thibault. Debbee, you heard our little story and you made the garden fairy come to life in your work.

So now, not only have I told all of you in BLOGland that I play dolls, but that I believe in fairies. Well, I suppose that little girl in me has just never grown up.

xxoo Jen O'Connor

Monday, March 3, 2008

Play Dolls

Confession time…I play dolls. Really, I have always loved them. I was the little girl caught up in the fantasyland of my own creations. I changed my dolls’ dresses incessantly, creating small worlds of play and scene with little fingers set to the task. Hours of daydreaming...I was forever lost in the wee catalog of “International Dolls” strung to the wrist of my Madame Alexander dolls…. Do you remember these tiny booklets?

They were my sure inspiration for travel and the promise of a world larger than my own. I fantasized for hours about the “traditional dress” shown on those 8” Madame Alexander dolls in that little booklet and I was determined to see if the little figures were telling the truth.

"Gypsy Boots" as my Mom calls them, took me to Germany and Austria on a school trip at 16, I traveled Europe on my own at 19, and somehow got a scholarship trip to Egypt at 21...landing a babysitting job for the chaperone's’s two little ones when we were to return Stateside. (see the tangled web, Thea!).

I aspired to visit 25 countries by the time I was 25. This was not the first bar I set too high! At 38, I am almost there! I attribute this on-going fascination with foreign places to the dolls I collected as a child. And liekwise, I blame those same dolls for awakening my passion for collecting.

There are dolls across my home…art dolls, paper dolls tucked in drawers, yes, a few magic cabinets stuffed with my most treasured Tonner dolls in my bedroom, another trove of all Alice in Wonderland dolls and goodies, and several old suitcases chock full of my Madame Alexander collection, dusty, worn and dormant. Sweet touchstones.

And so in pilgrimage, I have attended the Madame Alexander Premier for 13 years. The gals that gather each year to “play dolls” are absolutely wonderful…Jane Andrea, Sandy, Karen, Julia, Alyssa, Hayley, Charlotte, Angela, Carolyn, and Harriet…you are all a hoot and so very dear to me. I am sure we would have shared endless hours of play together had we known each other in our childhoods.

Here's Harriet, a great gal pal. We met in 1995 drooling on the doll cases in FAO Schwarz…you are the greatest of adventurers Harriet…you must have read those little booklets too!

Here we are at the factory last week in Harlem (Charlotte and Hayley wait to cut the cake). They were celebrating the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Alexander Doll Company.

Not so long ago, the factory encompassed four floors of a former Studebaker car plant on 131st Street. Today, just a few sewing machines and odd bolts of fabric remain. Like many toymakers, production has moved overseas.

Here are more doll pals at this year's "Premier"...

Andrea & Sandy...

Charlotte & Julia...

Jane & Harriet...

Alyssa & Hayley...

And so the cat is out of the bag. We play dolls.

It's funny to trace the see how this interest has propelled me. Indeed wihtout that first visit of mine to that first Alexander Premier, I would never have met Maggie. Without Maggie, no Jody, and without Jody Battaglia, I hae said many time, "Earth Angels" would indeed, never have thrived.

And so, thanks to passion, dolls and meeting wonderful friends in the right place at the right time, here we are.

...and now, I am off to play dolls with Charlotte. She managed to leave the factory store with several cuties for her growing doll collection.

Jen O’Connor
Earth Angels

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