Recently I was given a very precious gift. My dear friend, Mrs. Emmaline Davis, gifted me with a handmade pine needle basket given to her many, many years ago. Knowing that I make pine needle baskets, she knew I would appreciate the workmanship and love that went into making that little treasure. It is so delicately constructed with just single needles and thread! I was so touched. I love Mrs. Emmaline and cherish her friendship, and I know this is a special basket that she has given to me. My “thank you” seems so insufficient.
Maybe creativity and the arts are put to the noblest use when they serve to encourage others and deepen the relationships that bless our lives. In our world of plastic and prefabricated assembly line creations, a gift of creativity, time, and vision is increasingly rare and that much more to be appreciated.
For our readers in a sharing mood this week, drop us a note about a gift that has meant something special to you. It can be something you made and gave, or something someone else gave to you. Just use the box below. And let us know if we can share it with the rest of the Inspiring Handmade family!
The music in my life started at a very young age. My mom sang “Jesus Loves Me;” my great aunts taught me “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and I loved to bang on the old upright piano in what we called the “front” room. I guess my mom got tired of the banging and my begging to learn piano, so lessons started when I was about nine. Once a week, I was allowed to leave class and go to a special room at my school where Mrs. Turpin turned the banging into music. That continued until middle school, when I decided I wanted to join the band and play the flute. Being in the band was wonderful! Trips, competitions, and friendships have weathered the test of time. Little did I know then that there was a special trumpet player who I would marry 16 years later! But that is another story for another time. Sadly, like many things, what you don’t use you lose, and I am back to picking out notes that might resemble a familiar tune. I regret that I did not continue to play. But I still love music and will always have the foundation that my mother and Mrs. Turpin built into my life many years ago.
Now I want to play songs for my grandchildren to sing along with, so for Valentine’s Day, I asked my husband, Gene, for a Kalimba, which is an African hand harp (Learn a little more about the Kalimba from this video). It’s a beautiful instrument—a handmade work of art all by itself. I play it most every day. The “Wheels on the Bus” never sounded so good!
Some of my earliest memories of fishing were with my dad. He loved to fish! On the opening day of spring trout season, we’d head down to the river with a picnic basket packed with baloney sandwiches, a thermos of warm coffee, and a bucket of big fat juicy worms. My mom, dad, and I would leave early to get to the best spot and stand and wait on the river bank with all the other anglers until noon. No one dared dip their line in before then because the Game Warden could give you a ticket. It was like waiting for Christmas. The minutes crept by. Then, it happened! Someone would shout, “It’s noon!” and what fun we had. I would get so excited when dad would let me reel in a fish. Just the sight of a fishing pole still reminds me of my dad. As little girls do, I grew up and took on more girlish hobbies. But what I wouldn’t give to go fishing with my dad again.
Take Time to Stop & Smell the Roses: Appreciating the little things
I am a breast cancer survivor. As I work on this Wire People collection, “Childhood Memories,” I am reminded that as terrible as breast cancer is, it can never take away your precious memories. This collection is dedicated to my mom and grandmother. My grandmother was diagnosed before I was born and passed away when I was a young girl. My mom received her diagnosis last summer at the age of 88 and is a strong fighter and woman of great faith. I want this series to be a tribute to all the women who have struggled through the nightmare of breast cancer— from those who bravely fought, and lost their battle, to those who are still pressing on for themselves and the ones they love. So, hidden in each sculpture is a tiny breast cancer ribbon symbol. The first piece is called Celebrate Life. Cancer made me appreciate the little things. I make sure I take life a little slower now—to stop and smell the roses, if you will. The air smells a little fresher, the sky seems a deeper blue, and the roses have a sweeter smell. Whether we’re eight or eighty, fighting cancer or cancer free, life is short. And beautiful. Appreciate it for all it’s worth.
Do you fight the tendency to overdo it? Many of us do! We over-eat, over-work, over-drink, over-stare-at-our-phones. Whatever it is, if one is good, two must be better! And we live in a consumer culture that has grown to glorify getting more and more stuff. So much so that now one of the most popular shows on television is all about getting rid of your things.
Sometimes, as the cliché goes, less really is more.
That has proven to be true for me as I’ve been exploring wire sculpture these past several months.
The “Wire People,” as I call these pieces, have become a major creative focus. I love how movement and emotion can be conveyed using only a few simple materials — scrap paper, wire, glue, and wood. The real power of the medium lies in the ability to “sketch” in 3D, so to speak. The wire is the line and the sculptures are essentially quick gesture drawings that capture a singular moment in time with an energy and joy that draws you in.
This first series has taken me back to my 1960s childhood on a farm in Southwest Virginia. Growing in the rich soil along with the corn and beans were faith, patriotism, sportsmanship, appreciation of nature and animals, and love. Those themes sprout and grow throughout these works just as they have grown in me.
So the Wire People in this series are autobiographical in many ways. The little girl on the tree swing is me. My grandfather built that swing for me in my back yard. It hung from a big old black cherry tree that faced the garden. I spent hours there every summer swinging and watching my grandfather work in the garden. Looking back, I’ll bet he chose that tree so he’d have a little company while he worked.
A tree, some rope, and a wooden seat. Simple, simple. Even most kids today could probably find thrills and contentment with those simple materials. We haven’t changed all that much, I suspect; it just takes more work now to keep it simple. It takes effort to stay focused on the important things in life and not allow ourselves to become distracted by one more thing. My Wire People remind me to keep it simple and focus on what’s true. What helps you keep your eyes on the things of real value?
My grandfather, Homer Blanton Umberger, was born and raised on the family farm in Wytheville, Virginia in 1897. The land had been given to his family as part of a land grant from the King of England many years before. My grandfather lived on that farm, the Reed Creek Poultry Farm, all his life. He married Margaret Dean and had one child, my mom, Marjorie Dean. She married my dad, Maitland Wassum. More than 120 years later, my mom and my brother’s family still live on that same farm today.
Growing up on the Reed Creek Poultry Farm, I guess I inherited my grandfather’s creative spirit and his love for animals. My family moved in when my grandmother got sick so that my mom could help take care of her. On the farm, we collected sap and made molasses. We made apple cider from the apples in the orchard. There were always baby animals of one kind or another. I got into a lot of trouble one day when I decided to let a whole bunch of baby ducks take a swim in my bathtub. Needless to say, mom was not happy.
My grandfather always gave me a space for my very own flower garden. Family and tradition ran deep and my love for all things creative grew along with everything else on the farm. There was a story to be told in every corner of that farm and my grandfather, well known in the area as a poet and artist, passed down many family stories through his poetry. He also developed a series of carvings from walnuts. These wonderful sculptures bring a smile to my face every time I see them and they remind me of the most important thing I learned from my grandfather: He loved to bring joy to people through his poetry and art and that’s my passion for my own work today.