Category: Life

A precious gift

Photo of a hand-woven pine needle basket that Emmaline gifted to Patti.

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.

Photo of Patti Jones and our good friend, Emmaline.
Patti and our good friend, Emmaline, during a recent visit. Emmaline shares a deep appreciation of the creative arts and a good story.
Photo of a hand-woven pine needle basket that Emmaline gifted to Patti.
The delightful hand-woven pine needle basket that Emmaline gifted to Patti. Shown with the top in place.

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!

When it’s okay to be a basket case

Green hand-woven pine straw basket

If you could name some of the threads woven through your life, what would they be? Do you see the thread of gratitude? How about praise? Do you see the threads that you want to be there? Are there any that you feel are too sparse or missing that you’d like to see more of?

In Deuteronomy 26, God instructs His people to bring their offerings to Him in baskets and present them to the priest. Later, in all four gospels, Jesus multiplies a meager offering of fish and loaves to feed thousands, and from that supply 12 baskets of leftovers were collected. There was nothing special about any of those baskets, but they represent something about the relationship God wants with us—one where we worship Him with offerings and praise, and He pours out blessings on those who respond to His love.

Far from the misguided prosperity gospels preached today, this is a picture of an intimate, personal relationship with the threads of praise and worship and blessing woven together throughout the story of a created people and a Creator God. Patti’s beautiful woven pine straw baskets are a decorative reminder of that intimate, interwoven relationship we can have today with our Creator. It’s difficult to tell where one pine needle ends and another one begins. Likewise, when we’re truly walking in a close relationship with God, it’s hard to separate the praises and worship from the blessings, as they often run together and over and around each other. Baskets of praise return as baskets of blessing in an eternal weave of love, grace, and gratitude.

Arc of the Summer Moon

The Arc of the Summer Moon door topper is an original sculpture from salvaged 19th century oak barn wood. Acrylic paint, salvaged wood, cut wood.

In ancient times, the Israelite king, David, wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” Created from salvaged 19th century oak barn wood and hardwood cut from the woods near the artist’s studio, The Arc of the Summer Moon door topper is an original sculpture capturing the peaceful twilight of a summer evening. The moon’s low, lazy arc across the sky is a reminder of the arc of our lives. As it appears to rise up out of the earth, so we were created from the soil of earth, formed by the hand of God Himself, made in His own image, and filled with life from His own breath. And as the moon sets, it looks to us as if it returns to the earth, just as we will—dust to dust.
But in between its rising and setting, it does one thing superbly well—it reflects the light of the sun, and in doing that, it brightens our evenings and nights, spilling its light into the darker places, inspiring, and freely sharing its beauty with any who will glance its way. And isn’t that a picture of what God has designed each of us to do?

This piece by Stephen Rountree is created with acrylic paint, salvaged wood, cut wood and hand stamped with the opening words of David’s Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Wherever it’s displayed, it is a uniquely beautiful reminder of this timeless truth: We get one arc across the sky—one life. And it’s not how, or when, we rise or set, but how well we’ve reflected the light of Son along our way.

Dandelions for Mom

Image of Dandelions for Mom, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood.

Our moms have sacrificed for us, believed in us, and loved us unconditionally. When we were little, we tried to return that love as best we could with small hands offering small gifts from big hearts full from a mother’s love. That’s the inspiration for Patti’s sculpture, “Dandelions for Mom.”

Patti says, “I wish I had a dollar for every dandelion I gave my mom. I would be a very rich lady! What is it about a dandelion that a child cannot walk by it without picking it? I remember picking dandelions for my mom every spring. The best and biggest ones were in the back yard. Not sure why, but they were such beauties. Naturally, mom always acted like I had just given her a dozen roses when I would offer my pitiful little crumpled bouquet. She would then put them in a small jelly glass of water and set them in the window or in the center of the kitchen table. There they would stay until they totally withered away only to be replaced with another—a never-ending cycle of dandelion love.”

A single day is not nearly enough, but it’s your special day nonetheless. And so, to all mothers everywhere—and especially our moms, Inspiring Handmade wishes you a very happy Mother’s Day. We love you more than a fistful of dandelions! And that’s a lot.

First piece in a new series celebrates life

Image of Celebrate Life, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood by Patti Jones.

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.

Wire People sculptures recall childhood, celebrate life’s singular moments

The first set of WirePeople is the Childhood Memories collection

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?

Image of Girl on a Tree Swing, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood.
In Girl on a Tree Swing, Patti Jones recalls the simpler days of childhood on her grandfather’s farm where he made a tree swing for her. Wire and cut paper on driftwood.

Welcome to Inspiring Handmade

In Christ sculpture in progress

We created Inspiring Handmade to celebrate original art and crafts—work on which we can feast our eyes and feed our souls.

We’re a group of artists and makers who believe that everyone is creative because we are all made in the image of The Creator of heaven and earth. We all have the spark of creation in us somewhere. And we all have a built-in, hard wired need to dwell on our Creator, to commune with Him.

Here, we explore the creative process of making original art—sculpture, painting, textile art and all sorts of craft work. And we celebrate unique and beautiful original creations which inspire us to be makers ourselves as we spend time with our Creator.

Inherent in the Inspiring Handmade vision is a secret from the book of Philippians. If you’re like us, you sometimes struggle to keep life from dragging you down. Seems there’s always too much to do, with no quiet time—no mental margin to just be still and rest.

Instead, explosions of images, text, and sound bombard our eyes and ears nearly every day, blasting their way into our minds. Emails, texts and instant messages merge with Facebook posts, 24/7 news blasts, and the latest cat video into a swelling spray of mental flak that shatters our peace.

Psychologists have coined various terms for this—information overload, infobesity, infoxication and others. Xerox even produced an amusing video on the subject a few years ago. You can see it here.

But jokes aside, mental flak can have negative consequences, deforming us into distracted, unproductive, ineffective, and inattentive people.

We don’t have to accept this as the norm, however. God offers peace and rest—a place of quiet shelter, like a cave hidden behind a deafening waterfall. He invites us inside, encouraging us to refuse to be conformed to the world’s patterns and behaviors. He offers a different way because our Maker, after all, has His own perfect pattern for our lives. We don’t have to remain pinned down under a hail of mental flak. God promises that we can be transformed. We can have our tired, frazzled minds renewed.

And that’s the big secret—one of the great treasures of Philippians found in chapter four verse eight. There we’re encouraged with these words: “… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul then follows up with the results of dwelling on these things, adding in verse nine, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Did you catch the promise there? “And the God of peace will be with you.”

In a world where we constantly receive information—often of the distressing variety—via an overwhelming number of channels, it’s more crucial than ever that we develop a habit of thinking on the true, the honorable, the pure, and anything that is praiseworthy.

When we surround ourselves with things that build up rather than tear down—art, writing, music, other people—we’re putting Philippians 4:8 into practice. We’re also putting ourselves in a place where God can recalibrate our sensitivities, and reinvigorate us. And that’s when we’ll experience genuine rest in the true peace that only comes from the ultimate Maker Himself.

Stop back in anytime to celebrate the creative and rest in the Creator!

Messengers & Messages

Wooden sculpture of Jonah in the whale

I don’t text a whole lot. But when I do, I only type with my right index finger. Teenagers I know use both their thumbs and type blazingly fast. My kids make fun of me for the way I text. That’s life. When I receive a text, it’s usually from my wife, or a close friend or family member. Those messages are important. Of course, my wife’s are the most important! But all this got me thinking about messages of the non-instant variety — messages that come from the most important one of all — the Creator of this world, God Himself.

If you’re old enough to remember the E.F. Hutton commercials of the 1980s, you might remember this line:
“… Well, my broker is E.F. Hutton, and he said…”
Immediately, everyone around the speaker leans in, eager to hear his next words as the commercial voiceover says, “ When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

Well, when the Creator of this amazing universe has something to say, I want to hear it. And that’s when I started thinking about Jonah.

You’ll see a few different versions of Jonah and the Whale in the Salvaged Messengers series.

Why am I drawn to the story of Jonah and the whale (or the fish, or whatever)? Because even though Jonah made mistakes (big ones), God still used him as His messenger.

You can read his short story for yourself in the Old Testament book of the Bible that bears his name. When you check it out, you’ll see how God assigned Jonah the unenviable task of traveling to Ninevah (near modern-day Mosul in Iraq), to deliver some bad news to the Assyrians. They were about to be judged and obliterated by God unless they repented and turned from their wicked ways. Not a very popular message. Many historians count Assyria to be among the first superpowers of the ancient world. Jonah likely saw his assignment as a suicide mission. So he ran. But his running from The Lord and his appointed task wound him up in the belly of the “great fish” and then Jonah himself had to repent and realign himself with God.

Wooden sculpture of Jonah in the whale

This sculpture of Jonah in the whale is created from salvaged barn wood (circa 1905) from my cousin’s farm in southwest Virginia’s Giles County. The deep grain creates a challenge for hand stamping the Scripture, but the striking look that results is worth the extra work. Aside from the wood, the piece also uses wire, acrylic paint, and varnish.

By the end of the story (spoiler alert), Jonah had delivered his message, and much to his surprise, the citizens of Ninevah not only listened to him, but believed him and repented, just as God commanded them.

God’s message got through, thanks to, and in spite of, Jonah. And, like all of God’s messages, it was ultimately life-giving, life-affirming, and life-preserving. The entire city was saved and its citizens enjoyed a renewed relationship with God.

That’s the power of messages from the Creator of the universe and that’s the power that messengers carry, no matter how flawed we are! Listening to God and doing what He says brings blessing, renewal and incredible purpose into our lives. Beware! This little book in the Bible is packed with truth no matter which way you’re running in life.

A salvaged salvage trip: part 2

Eric on Price's Farm

My cousin Eric on his family’s farm. The 1905-era barn is behind him, along with the pile of wood to be salvaged. In the distance are the gorgeous green rolling hills of Giles County, Virginia.

Deep in the mountains

The ride started off well enough, but a small omen of trouble ahead came when the passenger-side windshield wiper came loose during a heavy cloudburst as we made our way west in I-64 out of Richmond. Hannah remained calm and collected as I pulled over under a bridge and she got out on the safer side and quickly retrieved the wiper unit before it fell off the hood. Thankfully, the driver’s-side wiper remained attached.

We drove on. I especially enjoyed seeing Hannah’s reaction to the sights as we made our way deeper into the Southwest Virginia mountains, crossing the Blue Ridge mountains and entering the Appalachian ridge and valley region. Her every “Wow, Look at that!” took me back to my own wonder at what the local population lovingly refers to as “God’s Country,” as well they should. The Creator’s loving fingerprints are on grand display wherever you look. 

We arrived Friday around twilight and enjoyed the chance to visit with my aunt Ann, uncle Harold, Eric, and Kyle, who is often there working on the farm on the weekends.

Saturday morning we loaded the old barn boards onto the truck. Whatever I didn’t take from the pile would become kindling for my aunt and uncle this winter. I was sorry to not have room for every single board but the truck was full and I didn’t want to overload the older tires with such a long trip back home.

Old Price Home

The house my mother was raised in. This was “Grandma Ruby’s house” of my childhood. My PawPaw built the house himself. The old toilet just off the bedroom in the lower right of the house was loud and used to scare the daylights out of me.

Hannah and I said our goodbyes and left around 2:00 p.m. Saturday. On the way back I showed her the house where my mother grew up, one of three simple homes my grandfather, or PawPaw, as we called him, built on a steep hill. Hannah took some pictures through the truck window as we drove along. 

In downtown Pearisburg we walked around. It’s always smart to carry cash in small towns. I didn’t have any and could only scrounge $1.65 from the cupholder in the truck. But the snow cone stand attendant gave me a price break on a cone for Hannah. “Oh, that’ll do,” she said of the coins I offered. She piled up the shaved ice and poured on the strawberry syrup. Small towns.

The truck handled well as we made our way northeast with the load of salvaged wood securely strapped in the bed. At Blacksburg, we spent 30 minutes or so driving around the campus of Virginia Tech. We have more than a few Hokies in our family and I wanted Hannah to see the school that was often the topic of discussion, especially when football season was in full gear.

We headed north on I-81. The sky was blue, hills were green, and traffic wasn’t too bad. A couple of miles before the Glasgow/Natural Bridge exit, however, something went wrong. Suddenly the truck began to shake violently. I thought we had a flat. Those tires were too old to trust after all. But pulling off to the side, I didn’t see any sign of a flat tire. I tried to go on, but the same bumping and shaking started again.

Part 3