Category: Legacy

by Carolyn J. Tody

The author keeping cool at Pennsic

Step back in time as fifteen thousand participants from around the world shake off modern customs and begin to filter into a mile-long encampment in western Pennsylvania. Ahead of each traveler a portal opens. Inside this magical time capsule is a ticket entitling these explorers to roll back history into the Middle Ages.

Whether this camp is your overnight destination or the first step on a longer journey – to the chivalrous heraldry of friendly battle reenactments or opening a doorway to period arts, sciences, and royalty – you will have plenty of company.


One hot day in early July 2012, Lady Genoveva von Lübeck sighs with satisfaction looking back toward her encampment. It is an enchanted place. Her enormous, hand wrought rainfly provides her with a private outdoor living space that spans two round canvas pavilions and several pieces of portable wooden furniture she created over the past year. Despite her many accomplishments in a short time, she plans additional improvements for 2013. .

Genoveva turns and walks through the turreted castle arch that serves as an entry to the Barony of Cynnabar. As she walks through the rising historical village she stares in amazement. Although this is only her second year of heraldic camping, it is the forty-first anniversary of Pennsic War historical reenactment. More experienced reenactors have as many as forty years of attendance.

For thousands every year, this camp becomes a retreat, a secret world away from the pace of modern life to a far distant time and place. Each day brings new participants from around the globe, their clothing and campsites largely reflecting the period of medieval life occurring worldwide between 600 and 1600 A.D.

If you had visited this site yesterday, you would have seen sparsely tufted, bare earth as far as your eye could see. Over here you might have spotted a permanent camp store and an office; over there you noticed an open barn.

Today, however, a medieval community is rising from the ground to form a global village. You are witnessing the daily growth of a paradoxical new world, juxtaposing homespun wearing apparel and makeshift armor against the occasional hidden cell phone linking its owner to the twenty first century technological age.

Genoveva in her new gown

Genoveva is only in her second year and the environment still seems a bit surreal, so shes wanders through, looking at the campground section by section. Marketplaces and eateries spring into existence. Long-established kingdoms breathe life into their compounds. Castle gates and reviewing stands are constructed by hand from components transported from great distances.

Soon an even more complex marketplace arises. Vendors erect awnings to display historical arrays of pottery, clothing and other themed accessories from every corner of the globe.

Pennsic University and its related colleges stake their massive tents near the heart of the marketplace. An entire book is published to list the vast variety of  classes offered over each two week event.

Emergency services brings in ambulances and creates a sprinkler system to cool the overheated, installing a large sign at the site to list daily temperatures, heat indices, and health warnings. Gatekeepers set up booths to validate traffic in and out of the campground. Handicapper services issues ECV passes and limited vicinity parking as an alternative to the massive, yet distant hillside.

Administrators take their places. Volunteers at “Troll,” the registration pavilion, enter data on specially outfitted iPads and distribute two huge, printed directories to each newcomer. A medieval world continues to emerge.

For Genoveva, this modern ‘old world’ bears some similarity to the Disney resorts to which she is accustomed as she builds her business. The olde world becomes tangible, complex and otherworldly, yet vastly different than Disney, and historical in every sense. It is awesome.

Author watching Pennsic battle

And so it is into this magical environment that I enter as Genoveva’s invited guest. The evening is already dark even though it is still quite early, and I have driven far to find this campground outside of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. As I motor along the entry road, an unexpectedly new and surrealistic lifestyle emerges. I realize that I will learn more here than the eagerly anticipated Pennsic University classes on fiber arts, earthen kilns, silk painting, and the ancient art of Japanese calligraphy. My class list expands. So, I am about to discover, do my camping survival skills.

Although the vast Pennsic historical village seemed new to me at first, my vast background helped me relate, as it always does. A few years before, I had lived on property at another global village, known fondly as the Disney World complex. At the time, this entertainment giant offered widespread historical elements. With an educational leave from my professional career in my pocket and a ‘for sale’ sign in front of the house, I accepted an invitation from Disney University to intern in theme park management. Even though I was a decade or two older than some of the participants, I chose the immersion experience to live with roommates from Norway, United Kingdom, France, and Washington State rather than live offsite. In part, this meant sharing a room with a night owl and navigating my own daily commute to classes, on stage presences, and professional casting, sometimes riding a shuttle bus along with characters half in and out of costume. So, after being dropped by a shuttle at the airlock entrance to the tunnels under the Magic Kingdom, I navigated my way on foot, dodging pargo forklift trucks until I reached Costuming, where I donned my new street length outfit and wove in and out of pargos again until I located the particular stairway ascending into my ‘onstage’ role.

Disney University designed the classes, even though I reported directly to MSU. Besides studying business and joining Disney Management trainees in special DM development opportunities, I toured developing attractions in steel toe shoes and a hard hat, attended “evenings with” the directors of Imagineering, Animation, Audioanimatronics and others. At one point, my own interdisciplinary team designed a new restaurant for Space Mountain and presented it in costume to the theme park Vice Presidents. Other opportunities came through VoluntEars, Give Kids the World, ToastMousters and assisting in the development of the Spectromagic parade.

During each of my dinner breaks in the Magic Kingdom Tunnel’s own Cinderella Cafeteria, entrenched employees would seek my attention as a role model for change and ask how to live their own dreams. I hadn’t realized this would happen, but happily encouraged and coached them in the necessary action steps until they moved with great momentum into their dream careers.  I, on the other hand, barely rested during long months of enjoying my survival in this 24/7 world that never slept.

During that experience, Olde World Antiques in Liberty Square commanded a large part of my Disney presence. Sharing the Silversmith building and located directly across the moat from Cinderella Castle, the antique shop broadened my horizons with visitors from around the world. From here, I often joined in spectacular media events after regular park hours and watched presidents and media moguls venture next door to eat at the Liberty Tree Tavern. European antiques filled this shop. Silver items hallmarked during the Middle Ages featured maker marks that the buyer taught me to read. Vintage jewelry filled display cabinets. Capistrano porcelain chandeliers hung from the ceiling. Artists demonstrated their unique specialties. I mixed many different perfumes from essential oils using an ancient book of recipes, bottling them in replica containers bearing the stamp of antiquity.

Least of all, I liked the silence of the Annex. More than once, as I stood here in costume behind the Annex podium, guests jumped in shock after mistaking me for one of the antique dolls lining the shelves behind my stand. But I did not have to worry; decorated masks, dolls, and vintage bears kept me under their constant vigil as I began to write on 2″ x 3″ break slips ~ at first, poetry about moonbeams dancing along the bridge to Cinderella Castle; then, about my frustration at being confined behind lacy curtains and not outside playing in the sun with guests; and finally, a story about the adventures of antique dolls escaping into the tunnels at night which thus began my current series.

My favorite visitor in the otherwise boring Annex setting was a Brazilian doctor, who closed his clinic for the first time to attend his daughter’s wedding; our fascinating conversation lasted over an hour. Another visitor was a British woman who invited me to visit her estate in England, because “we women must stick together.” During my daily commute through this vast, complex property, my internship experience became a less and less surreal immersion into a new world.

Now, here I was at Pennsic, entering a new “Olde” world. As I soon discovered, the international Pennsic War event annually draws participants from across the globe. Hosted by SCA, the Society for Creative Anachronism is an international ‘living history’ group aiming to study and recreate medieval culture prior to the 17th century, primarily European. SCA provides participants with a way to learn beyond the textbook. The organization reenacts the richly detailed past from its current world headquarters at Coopers Lake in Butler County, Pennsylvania, a state richly steeped in history. “Pennsic” is a combination of ‘Pennsylvania’ and ‘Punic War.’

Since modern times spring from the past, knowing from whence we came can be of great help when attempting to understand the present and plan for the future. Pennsic kingdoms attempt to replicate the medieval period without a measure of the treachery, disease and otherwise harmful elements occurring during the Middle Ages. In this way, Pennsic reflects strong values in art and science, chivalry, heraldry, and valor found in various Period societies.

Chivalrous action unfolds in the heart of the Kingdom of Aethelmarc, which is one of nineteen SCA kingdoms throughout the world. My home state of Michigan is in the Middle Kingdom, and stretches from Kentucky to a portion of Ontario, Canada. Other Kingdoms include Atlantia, Meridies, Gleann Abhann, Ealdormere, Ansteorra, Calontir, Drachemwald, An Tir, West, Caid, Lochac, Artemisia, East, AEthelmearc, Trimaris, Northshield, Outlands, and Atenveldt.

During the Pennsic gathering, participants dressed in period apparel gather to socialize and shop, as well as craft, learn new arts, and indulge in the sport of honorable combat. No real conflict exists between the kingdoms. For the sake of calling it a “war,” though, the participants do pick competitive sides but only in a spirit of fun and friendship. In fact, friendly people provide the main attraction for participants whether they are returning for the first or for the twentieth time.

In most kingdoms, new kings and queens are chosen every six months after holding an arms tournament to select the winner. In turn, kings and queens recognize people for their service, arts, and marshal prowess.


Lady Genoveva and Alexander

Titles are taken seriously. You may be a Lady or a Lord, a Baron or a Baroness, a Duke or a Knight, a King or Queen, but there are no peasants; everyone is respected as nobility. Participation is growing. Currently 9,000 to 15,000 global participants attend annually, regularly averaging between 10,000 and 11,000. Foreign guests quite often attend from such countries as Sweden, France, Italy, Germany, and Greece in Europe, Japan, Australia, and occasionally the Middle East, among others.

During the second week of encampment, four major battles occur. Contenders compete early on in the Town Battle for “last man standing.” In addition, the Bridge Battle and Champions Battle yield their “best” from each battle. Melee provides an opportunity for team combat.

High safety standards are imposed throughout. Combat is a chivalrous sport. Good armor and excellent sportsmanship make the use of single and two-handed “weapons” less dangerous than the game of football. Moreover, this remains true even during the excitement of hand-to-hand combat involving hundreds. There are many different types of siege weapons, including broadswords, maces, and nine foot long spears. Some combatants also enjoy using archery equipment or other smaller specialty equipment. Well before the battle sports begin, all weapons and armor are rigorously inspected, weaknesses are corrected to specification, and passed for use.

At the beginning of the War, teams choose their allies with an attempt to keep each side as even as possible. A battle plan is formed. Combatants in this sport are fighting for their Kingdom or household. Combatants practice, often warming up in pairs or units. Teams and units are varied. The lesser skilled Baronial Levy Units perform in large blocks, consisting of newer members or those who attend once a year. Elite units perform more complex maneuvers.

Marshals are present to ensure safety, but not necessarily to referee. Pennsic uses an honor system to determine its winners. Players are on their honor to say, “I was inflicted with a “kill action,” a hard enough blow to a certain area of the body to kill a person if this were a real battle.” The action may knock them to their knees, where they fight from that stance. They are also “killed” if they are hit in an appendage hard enough to lose an arm or leg.


Genoveva in Tudor gown

There is a great deal at Pennsic to interest a newcomer. Clothing alone is enough to set in place a sense of the medieval world. Many outfits are highly elaborate; a great deal of talent attends this event, and many make their own apparel. If desired, there are also commercial outlets offering the components.

Numerous items are used to denote achievement. White belts, worn by Knights, are considered to be ‘black belts’ of the sport, an achievement usually accomplished only after seven to ten long years of training. Various crowns convey a bevy of different meanings. Kingdoms and Baronies award special medallions. Artistically illuminated certificates are completed by hand, then personalized in ancient calligraphy to acknowledge a new level of achievement.

Participants are motivated to attend in ways too numerous to comprehensively list. Some people enjoy the combat. Others like to be part of a group learning fascinating historical insights. Another prime draw is found in experiencing new techniques in arts, crafts, and science. Camping is also a sport many enjoy. But overall, people come to meet new friends or reunite with those they already know.

Newcomers can watch a tremendous amount of developing activity as it unfolds. On any given battle day, an elevated level of pageantry occurs when uniformed units form into lines and march onto the battlefield carrying banners. Spectators also hear the clash of weapons and shields. Most agree, however, that the most exciting time for an outsider is at the end of the event when the Friday Field battle ensues. At this time, large units collide, moving in mass to make or break the day.

In addition to happenings already mentioned, there are occasional stage performances. The Known World Players is one group that encompasses actors from all Kingdom chapters within the SCA and includes parts of the world that were known to exist during the Medieval period. Players are auditioned and cast a year before coming together to direct a play. During Pennsic XLI the performance was “Anne of a Thousand Days.”

There are also art and craft demos, primarily Blacksmith. Goods produced are not sold but smiths may entertain a barter or exchange of goods.

Lady Genoveva felt that her campsite bore improvement over her first year of attendance, when she crowded herself into a borrowed pavilion. Now she owns two. For the next few days of the event, I shared one of those pavilions with my seven-year old grandson and several dividing curtains. My space contained a closet rod, chair, and nice camping cot, which I made extra comfortable with an air mattress and a memory foam mattress folded in half. His portion of the pavilion contained a small canvas ‘Kidcot’ bed covered in a blue tent that enclosed the sleeping child. The remaining space in the pavilion was given over to an entryway with shelves and hanging organizers for storage.

Genoveva Pavillion

The morning after my arrival, I ventured out to view other campsites in our Barony. As I later came to understand, each Kingdom is a regional club within the greater SCA organization. Many of them had well-established territorial encampments around the vast campground.

Our site was located at the front of the Barony near a castle entry arch. I was surprised to discover that after assembling our pavilions, my grandson and Genoveva’s friend Gregor had dug the Barony firepit in front of our site. Actually, our campsite was in front of the firepit. Either way, I appreciated conversations shared around social centers in the encampment.

Our camp master assembled several helpful features in advance. Most prominent among them was a vast community awning and nearby hot and cold running water for a sink in the kitchen tent, water that was filtered three times for drinking. But what surprised me the most was an enclosed, open air shower tent with adjoining dressing room. Later that evening, I realized I could take a shower under the stars. The only drawback to the entire camp arrangement was a shared bank of portable bathrooms that sat just outside the entry to our Barony. Entering those on a hot summer day was akin to roasting in a sauna at my gym.

Several of the Cynnabar tents rose to a twenty foot high peak similar to “Genoveva Pavilion,” although others were square or domed. One was artistically handmade. Another was the ‘EZ up’ variety of awning with customized canvas sides.

Genoveva and Gregor had created the massive canvas rainfly supported by striped poles that spanned the front of  their pavilions and created a fine outdoor living space. The intense sun was no match for our shelter. Although it only rained on one of the days I visited, we were well protected during this horrific, battering assault. Under the rainfly, she assembled a dishwashing station and furniture she had built to fit together without the benefit of glue or nails, which included a six-foot table and four benches. Two high back chairs completed the group, one painted with her crest and the other featuring my grandson’s crest. Between them on the ground lay a large, Persian-style rug.

Her cozy interior contained a modular queen bed. Hats hung on hooks slung from the supports, as did canvas slings to hold shelves. Other features included a makeshift vanity table and desk. I was impressed to see her open a freestanding canvas closet and take out five costumes to lend me from many new ones she had sewn over the past year. There was also room for period clothing she made for Alexander and for Gregor, who was about to join us with his SCA-approved armor, ‘weapons,’ and a measure of chivalrous heraldry.

Even under this rainfly, summer temperatures mounted. Ice replacement became a daily chore using a collapsible borrowed wagon. Alexander chose to help out in this category with very little assistance, and this year he will be surprised to see that I purchased one for permanent use in the camp.

Alexander’s birthday cake of marshmallows and toothpicks

I stayed long enough for Alexander to celebrate his eighth birthday. Baking a cake in camp was challenging, so without prodding he designed a S’more cake constructed from marshmallows. On top of this we drizzled melted chocolate over graham crackers. We lost our birthday candles and instead lit toothpicks. The Baroness made a surprise visit to present him with his first scout knife which he stored in his treasure chest. Overall this was a very special celebration.

Soon, knights began to shine their armor and seek inspections for their weaponry. Some purchased new protective gear or replaced weaker armor for a safer experience. A vast array of ethnic flair appeared, including many outfits featuring chainmail. Feathered hats and shining helmets looked distinctively diverse, yet somehow provided symmetry to the field of color that flooded battlefield viewing stations.

A reenactment was underway. At home in the mundane world, however, a workweek was ending. New participants arrived to erect their campsites. Soon the Barony was so full that I could barely wind my way between tents to reach the open air shower in the evening.

My days were full. At a minimum, I joined classes and ate dinner with my family in the marketplace, shopping a little along the way. Fresh produce and other healthy foods were available for purchase among the abundance of period merchandise and crafted objects. I had plenty of opportunity to linger and talk too long with new acquaintances, but very little truly quiet time to write or practice any of a various array of my usual arts. We should all be so lucky.

At night, I occasionally watched Alexander as respectful social parties began to blossom all around the encampment honoring their Kings and Queens. Our campfire attracted an amazing number of fascinating storytellers from across our entire Barony.

When I left several days later, I took home fond memories shared with others, and incredible insights into the world that existed before my time. Spending time with family was my main motive for attending before I time traveled into the past. I found much more, however, after my daughter introduced me to Pennsic and the SCA, where I met interesting friends, other published authors, and artists who were expert in their specialties.


Blackwork by Genoveva

My insider peek at Genoveva’s glorious creations was satisfying. Among those especially highlighted were her classes, Art and Sciences exhibition booth, and pavilion. There were also many other classes I journeyed through as well as my first battle reenactment intermingling thousands of combatants wearing finely crafted armor.

One of Genoveva’s blackwork students showing her work!

Genoveva is now a blackwork enthusiast. She is a period seamstress and maker of fine millinery. As Pennsic University opened its doors, she taught a well-received blackwork class. For the rest of that week, students sought our camp to show us finished work and earn the ultimate prize: a set of tools to fill the class project in the wooden box she bestowed upon them. A week later, she joined the many fascinating presenters who represented each historical period at the arts and sciences show, with her booth featuring a blackwork head covering and period garments. It was here at her booth that the local channel 10 television crew covering Pennsic XVI filmed an interview with Genoveva. Naturally, I filmed the crew filming her. But overall, it was fascinating to learn about arts and methods practiced during various historical periods.

I received other gifts during my stay. My daughter customized for me a large “platter” hat as protection from the sun. She fashioned this avant-garde, flat-brimmed hat from black wool, trimming it with feathers and dragonfly cutwork as a practical aspect of German period fashion in the sixteenth century. Her own red platter hat received nodding approvals whenever she wore it to marketplace. Returning from an errand one day, three artists asked her to sit while they sketched her.  I too benefited from her artistry because, as we walked along together laughing, a gentleman smiled and tipped his hat to me in the style of a bygone era.

Our peak experience arrived when Gregor joined us in Pennsylvania. He carried his armor bravely into battle, looking wonderful in a feathered platter hat. Genoveva also made him a new shirt with complex upper sleeves that were both folded and pleated.

We spent a day or two preparing for the first battle reenactment. When the time came for the first of five battles, the Barony of Cynnabar’s company of thirty joined the Middle Kingdom procession to the battlefield. Music played, drums beat, and banners flew. Our colors were red, black, and white. Over my long red dress, I wore a crested, cross-body banner (baldric) from right shoulder to left hip. I held my long skirt up to avoid tripping, using the same hand that held a parasol aloft as a sun shield. In my other hand I held a pewter goblet but my huge feathered hat dropped down, obscuring my eyes so that I had to push it higher with the water glass sloshing over as we enjoyed the thrill of partaking in pageantry.

Gregor von Holstein in armor

With taller contenders marching ahead, I could only see Gregor’s armor and huge feathered hat moving through the camp. Eventually, we ended at the field for pre-battle pictures; that was when Gregor turned around to step into the picture. Genoveva caught sight of the reenactment spirit reflected in his and others’ eyes as we waited for the battle to begin. For as long as I live, and probably longer, I will never forget the surge of beautifully armored men and women recreating history before my eyes.

The first battle of Pennsic XLI occurred on Monday, my last day at the camp. I left the next day to bring Alexander home. This year, Genoveva was Chamberlain to her Highness. Next year, the keyword is ‘more.’ She created a blog to feature articles about reconstructing sixteenth century clothing, and suggested an adjoining table with my artwork at the Arts & Sciences Display. In the future, she plans to meet and help more people who enjoy the event.

She has also begun to make more things, the first of which is a castle privacy screen. She hopes her queen will find this very helpful.

By 2013, she will make a wagon and cool garb. Her pavilion will have new finials, banners, and a mirrored vanity. Gregor will enjoy a portable chair and an armor stand. Alexander looks forward to learning more about tools and the discipline of knightly period valor for children. He enjoys a good blacksmith demo and anything involving engineering.

As for me, I’m researching the period aspects of miniature replicas, figurative clay, painting, fiber, and writing. I haven’t decided which to pursue, but am happy for a few months without the nightly temptation of delicious dinner with family at Beast & Boar. For Pennsic XLII this year, I am thinner and will join Alexander in ordering stirfry.

(Carolyn is Genoveva’s mother.  This recounting of my first experiences at an SCA event was recently published by Honor Before

phoneOriginally published at

As DreamSculptr I am the creative director of Enroute Media Group, and a mixed media artist celebrating the irrepressible energy and sensitivity of the human spirit.  I also collaborate on whimsical escapades about creative reinvention, sharing dream propellers and a virtual gallery that reveals the noble beauty of creative change.
The Flickr photostream to the right of center showcases over 70 photos, comprising only a portion of the art pottery, watermedia paintings, drawings, fiber art, miniatures, and other things I make.  Just click on ‘more’ under the pictures to right.
After making a  successful reinvention of my own (an open-ended process, I’m afraid!) following an early out from 26 years in Human Resources and administration, I’m restoring my hands-on creativity much more productively than I could when all of my inner resources went into the workplace.  I hope you enjoy my evolving style!

This entry is “under development!”

It does, of course, include all of my intended books and artwork and family events. More to the point, though…

A studio!  For the many directions I seem to go in all at once.  A large creative space where a renaissance person (me) can pursue many interests in earshot of, if not in sight of, nature and water.  With room for display and my exercise equipment.  Near a quaint tree-lined recreational area, preferably high above Lake Michigan. It’s been designed for years.  In several formats.

A logo and graphic depictions of the magical “tools” to include in my books.

Incentive and encouragement.

Several paintings and sculptural, figurative pieces that illustrate ideas in my books, and are well in process but need finishing.

Legacy.  NatSplat.  Velveteen Picture. Watchers in the Wild. First Anthology. BuildAMate.  Burnin Daylight.

Doing better now…keep ’em comin’ …you can do it!  Cheers!  Of course, I’d give it all up for certain other circumstances I want…which is exactly why I have to keep going until they can practically finish themselves.  No matter that I might just age someday and miss the other boat.  A calling is a calling.  I just wish my callings were a little less intense late at night and a little more cuddly.  So in the meantime, it’s me and my stuffie Patches.  An intrepid combination.

Add your dreams and projects here:__________________________________________.  Cheers!!!

Is there a certain kind of visual art you enjoy?  Do you have a hobby making your own collectibles or clothing from raw materials?  Or do you prefer to collect?  Many artists and artisans do both.  Regardless of your choice, there are a few guidelines that blend together in different disciplines.  Here are ten keys to creating a splendid piece of hand-wrought art:

1.  Good Design Principles    This is often the first, most noticeable quality of any given visual work of art.  The way the lines, structure, and colors flow together provides a first impression that gives your artwork a much closer look or sends the eye off to another location for much needed relief.  Just kidding, but when an artist takes the time to listen carefully to an intuitive flash, or pays attention to other works s/he admires, or peruses the internet in a search for instances of good design to integrate into a new work, the end result can be amazing.

2.  Quality Materials and Supplies    Gather and use the best materials at your disposal.  Some paints, for instance, have durability factors that render them faded after exposure to light or time. Some have transparency, opaqueness, or staining qualities and it won’t do to use one where another is better.  Pay attention to ratings and reviews and procure the best possible for your masterpiece.

3.  Excellent Workmanship stemming from specialized knowledge, training, and experience.  Regardless of how highly placed the level of your achievement, beauty and utility are in the eyes of the beholder.  A crack here or mishewn color there may give a piece character, depending on the process. For instance, in the case of art pottery, an alternative firing such as Raku, pit, and wood firing will produce special effects and unexpected results.  Some effects are better than others.  On a specialty art tray meant primarily for display, a few surface  cracks  produced around the edges by intensely high flames and ash can enhance the piece.  But in most cases, flaws are not well appreciated. Use those pieces in another way, and share only your best.

4.  Attention to Detail   (yes, like Disney) While it is alright in most cases to have a simplistic outline or a background that fades into the distance, somewhere in the design there must be detail to lead the eye and focus the message.  For many people, the more finely wrought the detail, the better.  And if you sell it, the price is higher.

5.  Proper Equipment    Brushes, paints, tools, computer, slide rule, microphone, scalpel, whatever produces the effect you want to achieve must be in good working order.  Expensive brushes that are now frayed will not produce a fine line unless they are restored with brush preservative and fixative.  Neither will a dull knife or a piano that is out of tune.  Hone the edges and tune the instruments for a finer effect.

6.  Authenticity    Be original, this is where the uniqueness that is you really shines.  Gather up all of the ideas you ever had about building something, whether that is a process, service, or goods.  Then combine and recombine the ideas until you have found a new slant on your product.  Storyboard or mindmap, if you like. It takes less time and material and provides better perspective.

7.  Love for creating things   This also includes a love for personal and professional ethics, and suspending any desire for destructiveness unless it is necessary to the creative process, like in obtaining bottle glass pieces for mosaics or ripping boards to construct a cabinet.

8.  Willingness to “rip it out and start over” if necessary.    If you were a knitter, this would be too familiar to bring into mention, because a stitch is often dropped every few rows.  It is a commonly accepted part of the knitting process.  If your process or expertise involves less reconstruction, count this as fortunate. But rip as needed!

9.  Find new inspiration and motivation from prompts, dreams, ‘artist dates’, visual journaling, mistakes, packs of cards, treasure hunt clues, friends, and other creative folks. Visit Inspiration Point today, wherever that is for you.  It may be as close as a child, your best buddy, the bookcase, a search engine, or the creative channel on television.

10.  Exploration and Experimentation!    Never get too busy to find time to explore the medium. Otherwise you may never know your full capability.  Working toward a vision on the horizon may keep you on the youthful cutting edge of your niche.

That’s the end of my top ten for now.  What would you say are the most important keys to unlocking a sigh of awe-struck admiration and an exclamation of “Precious!” whenever someone views a new artwork?

Creating a Wood Firing Kiln

Recently I edited the following press release to publicize our new wood kiln and found it informative and interesting to share…

“On Saturday April 30, the firebox of ‘Wabisabigama’ will spark to life.  Artisans and friends of Clayworks Pottery recently completed the Anagama-style, 120-cubic foot, wood-fired kiln at their Wacousta Road site near Grand Ledge, Michigan.

Several hundred pieces of ceramic pottery and artwork will begin a three-day exposure to flames reaching temperatures in excess of 2300° (F).  Deposited wood ash will form the principal glaze on most pots. Thirty potters or more, working in teams over six-hour shifts, will add wood with increasing frequency in order to maintain the alternating process of oxidation and reduction. To complete the process, teams will slowly increase the temperature to a given maximum in the firing range. With skillful attention ~ and the blessing of kiln gods, ceramic ware will acquire the stunningly beautiful blushes, subtle shades, and shape variations produced by direct flame.  These special effects have been characteristic of wood firing for the past several thousand years.

This first firing will culminate a Clayworks dream to expand its member-focused activities.  By bringing together numerous mid-Michigan area potters with different artistic backgrounds and all experience levels, a broader talent pool will concentrate their creativity on this oldest and subtlest of firing methods.

Expansion efforts began three years ago, with the construction of a structural shed-and-pad housing for the planned kiln.  The professional hand of a famous Laingsburg potter guided the entire process.  Scores of community potters participated, as well as the Clayworks member and student body.

Coincidentally, the first firing will occur on Arbor Day. Despite that coincidence, firing teams gathered the wood from trees that are no longer living, then split the three or four cords of wood into the sizes needed for a successful firing.

Development of the Anagama Kiln and its above-described results was essentially a Japanese phenomenon. Ceramics played a central role in Japanese food presentation, flower arrangement and the tea ceremony.  All three were at the heart of the culture’s 16th century artistic renaissance. The Anagama Kiln and Raku process played a central role in element creation.

“Why, in the face of modern convenience,” ask potters Masakazu Kusakabe and Marc Lancet in their book Japanese Wood-Fired Ceramics,  “are ceramic artists internationally electing to wood fire ceramics?”  Then, in response to their question, replied, “Beauty offers the answer. It is not an ‘Oh, that’s lovely’ sort of beauty, but an extraordinary beauty – a heart-achingly, arresting beauty, a beauty of epic proportion, a beauty worth working for, a beauty only achievable by wood firing.”

The Wabisabigama Kiln is a 12-foot long cylinder, with a cross-section in roughly the shape of a 4- by 4-foot Catenary arch. “We chose a simple Catenary arch,” says the Laingsburg potter, “since it is a known kiln shape that fires very effectively. It is also relatively easy to build and is very stable.” He noted that the classic Anagama shape has structural problems when built with the ceramic materials available in this country.

The “wabi” and “sabi” portions of the kiln name refer to principals articulated in Japanese art, ideology by which Clayworks is hoping to inspire the formation and subsequent firing of pottery. Any attempt at precise definition of these terms is doomed to failure. Entire books have been written to describe the concepts. Kusakabe and Lancet referred to them as “tip-of-the-iceberg” words, with meanings that only hint at the expanse underneath.” They expressed an appreciation of natural occurrence, the understated and unplanned, and the art inherent in results that are too often assumed to be defects. Horst Hammitzsch, in his book Zen in the Art of the Tea Ceremony, refers to the “wabi’sabi” idea as “the beauty of a declining wise old age as against the beauty of an energetic yet immature youthfulness.”

 A second firing will probably occur in the late fall with a fee schedule to cover the costs of building and firing the kiln. Interested potters in the mid-Michigan area may contact Clayworks at (517) 626-1160 or

Copyright © 2011 ~ All Rights Reserved.

Birth of Wabisabigama

Those of you who know me may realize how much I love special effects.  This is the story about the birth of Wabisabigama, a newly built wood kiln that produces spectacular, unpredictable results that can rival even  happy accidents that occur in the parallel world of the watercolor palette.

This was our first firing. We felt our way as well as possible. For several reasons, I fired only a few DreamSculptr items created for the firing. Editing the press release took hours.  Quantity allocations up to sevcnteen items issued proportionally to those who worked longest on preparation and firing. On the other hand, recovering from surgical stitches and swelling ate much of my time. Firing projections changed frequently, making it hard to pin down a date on the schedule ahead of time. In the midst of all this, my children planned and prepaid a Florida trip to celebrate a milestone birthday the weekend of the firing.  No one wants to be a bad mommy. I love my children and want to ‘be there’ for them.  So I proposed tending the kiln on the day before our departure, but shifts were full. Yipes! Parents must honor their children first and those of us who are also grandparents are doubly parents, except with limited energy from a lifetime of parenting.

We fired a few of my smaller pieces placed on the firing shelf early.  Others languished. Except for ‘Ancient Mariner,’ a large fish platter. It lay under a shallow shelf where flames and ash did not circulate, making it paler than if it had been glazed!  Extreme heat caused small edge cracks; this evidently gave it personality, because it sold almost instantly.  Wood blush is primarily on the bottom.  A solidified glaze weakened the green-blue glaze I used to define his eye and fins, making the Mariner pale. My childhood was aglow with Michigan fisheries and I like to represent the great sport fisheries of the Great Lakes with glorious color.

After the firing, I brought my new ‘babies’ home and shortly after that relinquished two of the items to a family member for further embellishment since I had no others at the time.  If this makes this ceramic artist a bad pot person, at least I am a true friend, mommy, and g’ma.  Yay! The birthday girl is happy. too.  Love is really all there is, because in the end…things are only things.

I still enjoy making quirky pottery that incorporates a love of the natural world and mixed media techniques from other disciplines. Much of it is displayed on Facebook, under DreamSculptr Gallery Mixed Media Art of Carolyn Tody or on my personal page.

Beautiful Results

Here is the newspaper article, with names removed, and a video about the ceramic artwork and pottery revealed when we opened the new wood kiln.  Amazing success has taken place with this carefully engineered project, a journey filled with heartwarming discovery!


Article and more videos:


Recapping the event ~ The first firing of the Wabisabigama Wood Kiln produced beautiful results. Participants applauded amid a chorus of admiring ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ as they peered into newly opened wood kiln.   Clayworks Pottery representatives passed unique pieces of pottery, one by one, into the hands of those waiting in lines to transport them to a grassy knoll. Approximately 300 pieces of artwork successfully faced the flames. 

Eventually, the sun-drenched lawn filled with five rows of blushing vases, plates, bowls, pitchers, teapots, and figurines, each representing a reenactment of its respective position in the middle, sides, front, and back of the kiln chamber to give a comprehensive picture of firing action.

‘Wabisabigama’ left a glaze on the surface of pottery, giving each fully vitrified piece sheen and unpredictable effects.  Wood resin frequently created a drippy glaze appearance, and a natural wood color not available by other firing means.

The wood kiln is the only one in the Lansing area.  Next closest wood kilns are in Kalamazoo and Dearborn in Greenfield Village.  Electricity and gas most commonly fuel kilns.

Over two years ago, two potters, one from Lansing and one from Laingsburg, approached the pottery co-op with the idea to build a wood-burning kiln that could also be used by the community.  The $10,000 estimated cost was raised by the co-op, primarily by member loans. 

Firing the kiln was their first concern. For three continuous days the kiln burned.  Shift partners took turns supplying it with wood. 

Refinements are the next project. Late summer is the next anticipated firing and such details as strength of the fire, firing time, and interior placement of the pieces for desired results are under scrutiny.    The community is welcome to use the kiln, for a small fee which will help defray the building cost. 

Update on October 16, 2011: 

Dreaming of a little Tranquility?

Ancient Japanese monks discovered that “wabi” – the way of tea – enriched their own faith by providing a concrete example of selfless attention to others.

Through wabi, learning to serve the way of tea so well that you no longer need to think about it, you are free to focus on your guests, the rustic pottery, natural elements used in making tea, the pleasures of drinking tea in a tranquil space, and appreciation of natural beauty.

Sabi is more of an autumn feeling, a somber longing for summer to last, a hopeful sadness, a melancholy ache because nothing lasts, nothing is completed, yet life is full of meaning.

Taken together, the words wabi and sabi describe a technique for living in the moment ~ by noticing and appreciating the significant moments in gentle, meaningful connection with nature and those in their environment, living each day and each season fully as changes occur.

“Wabi sabi” is an intuitive way of living that involves noticing moments that enrich life and paying attention to simple pleasures that can otherwise be overwhelmed by excesses in our consumer society.

Both Wabi Sabi and Feng Shui are Eastern ideas gaining popularity in the West.

Feng Shui, on the other hand, is a technique for increasing wealth or prosperity by tapping into unseen mystical power and arranging environmental elements to clear a channel and please the eye.

In October we held another wood kiln firing.  This time, I fired eight wonderful pieces including a treehouse and a figurative mask,  featured at:  and soon to be posted to the Flickr stream.  Our next wood firing will be during New Years Eve, 2011 into 2012!

Copyright © 2011 ~ All Rights Reserved.

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