Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Legend of the True Chain

The "True Chain" is the name for reputed physical remnants of the fabled chain which bound Prometheus to the rock
for the crime of texting while driving.  
 According to the Greco-Romanian historian Plodicus, the Empress Stigmata travelled to Mt. Olympus in the summer of 383.  While picknicking at a popular overlook, she discovered a length of seemingly ordinary rusty chain hidden under a rock.  (When asked later why she was turning over rocks, she admitted she was looking for lizards, "the fat, juicy kind.")

The Empress had forgotten to bring her purse on this vacation, and she desperately needed gas money for her camper, Stigmata asked the local garage owner if the chain was valuable.  "Valuable?" He was said to have screamed as he sunk to his knees.  "Your Most Exalted Superb Empress, this is the True Chain!"  He recognized it, he said later, because the tag on it said "This is the True Chain.  Honest.  Make of it what you will."

Empress Stigmata
At this time the Empress also claimed to have found the remains of the stone the chain had originally been bolted to, but this was quickly revealed to be nothing more than a fist-sized rock with some lizard skin stuck to it.  Stigmata took the chain back through customs, declaring it a "restraining device," and put it in the Royal Museum for all to see.  There it remained for over 22 years, until her kingdom was overrun by robots, and all its valuables were plundered.  Thus began the quest to reclaim the True Chain.

Over the centuries, the Chain was captured and lost, only to be recaptured, hidden in a closet, taken out with the trash and reclaimed, before finally being broken into a few links and many more crumply pieces that looked like rubbish.  Around 1009, Arnold Male Horn, the second Latin King of Remy-Les-Chapeaux, tortured farmers who were in possession of its remains to reveal its location.  Fifty seven farmers died, but only a small rusty flake was recovered.

The Chain was captured by Salad Head during the Battle of the Hats in 1186, and he used it to bind his enemies in a great big lump which he then had his men practice archery on.  After triumphantly parading the chain through the streets of Saladville upon his return home, he was so embarrassed by the realization that this was not the True Chain but rather a piece of barbed wire that he drowned himself in a local pond.

Battle of the Coddles
By 1200, most of the very small remaining pieces of the Chain were located in Lower Princes Coddling in Buckinghamshire, England, where they had been purchased by a local vicar in a plague sale.  This city was captured and sacked by the Fourth Crusade in 1208 in the Battle of the Coddles. The captured shards disappeared from public view for a long time thereafter.

By the end of the Middle Ages, so many people claimed to possess a crumbly little bit of the True Chain that the noted wit, Cuthbert Tame, said there was enough metal, if gathered together, to make a lid for a good-sized apothecary jar.  His witticism was repeated far and wide.  [Note:  "Apothecary jar" is a dirty, filthy euphemism for something which isn't all that wrong if you're married, and it's also Cockney rhyming slang.]

From 1400 to the present day, the remaining rusty bits and several links bounced around in some old shoe box or other, from attic to suitcase to tea jar.  This provenance, although not well-documented, is as sound as it's going to get, so never mind.

In modern times, four surviving full links of the True Chain are claimed:  The first, located in a roadside inn in Rome, was examined and was found to be made of cat hair and sticky rice.  Another in Notre Dame in Paris was analyzed and is reported to be constructed of aluminum foil mixed with cocoa powder and a dusting of pig blood.  The third, in Florence Cathedral, was found to be a small but intricately crafted paper airplane from 1912 with the words "die, you rat" written under the right wing.  The fourth link, whose owner prefers to remain anonymous, was declared by Nicola Von Schreder, a professional sniffer of antique doll clothing, to be "a good deal more likely than the others to be genuine, especially on a Tuesday."  It is currently for sale in a major online shopping venue, embedded in a very attractive necklace.

Click here to see the listing for this link.                   
Piece of the True Chain

Monday, March 23, 2015


When I'm out and about (a rare instance due to the terms of my parole) many of the best things I see in antique stores carry the tag "NFS."  Often they're intriguing mannequins and shelving systems, but sometimes they are items the shop owner wants people to see but not buy.  My reaction to these tags is threefold:
  1. I totally understand.  No problem with that;
  2. I bet if I offered you $10,000 it would be for sale; and
  3. Who the hell do you think you are to taunt me with things you won't sell?

Reminder to Self
In the spirit of NFS, I've been thinking about some of my pieces that I believe I'd never sell.  

Today's example is "Reminder to Self," an assemblage piece I made in 2012.  The visible area is roughly 3.5 x 5.5 inches, inside a thick black frame.  This was a fun piece to work on.  I wanted to use one of the antique telegrams I'd bought from Sara at Manto Fev.  I was amazed to find that most of them pertained to Columbus.  They were all urgent communiques about various difficulties in shipping by rail in the early years of the 20th century.  

I envisioned the piece as being three-dimensional, so I decided to use one of the lovely plastic fingers I'd found at Michaels.  They contained - of all things - bubble blowing liquid, and they had screw-on caps at the "hand" end.  I chucked the cap, rinsed out the finger many times, and proceeded to give it a thorough going over.  After a lot of sanding, staining and painting, it finally looked nothing like plastic.  (Clear gesso is a great help in this regard.  Use it on plastic or other slippery materials after sanding but before doing anything else.  It really bonds the subsequent surfaces to the object.  Clear gesso might be a little hard to find, but it's available online if you can't get it locally.  Be sure to shake it up first, as you do with all gesso, because its contents settle quickly.)  

Urgent official business.
I glued the telegram to the backing (I used the board that came with the frame - why not?  It fit and was sturdy) and gave it a coat of matte ModPodge to protect it in case of future spills.  I figured out where I wanted the base of the finger to be, and drove a nail with a large flat head through from back to front at that point, leaving a good half inch sticking through the front.  I filled most of the finger with packed-down paper towel, and finished filling the finger with about a half inch of Apoxie Sculpt.  I put the finger on the nail, taped it in place with blue tape, and propped it up overnight to dry.  When I came back in the morning the board was giving me a nice, sturdy finger.  

I was newly in love with crackle medium at that time.  I marked the area for the medium carefully to make sure it wouldn't interfere with the frame and taped it off.   In spreading the medium, I paid particular attention to the area at the base of the finger.  I needed to encircle it and make it look artless, as if the finger had really poked itself through.  That dried overnight.  It ended up looking rather like a map, perhaps even a map of Ohio.  

Crackle medium
From that point, I let the piece tell me what it wanted.  The crackle medium needed to be pink.  This isn't a color I use much, although I often intend to.  I have a lot of pink shirts, but I have to force it into my artwork.  Whenever I've managed it, I've been pleased.  The cracks in the medium needed to be dark, so I put on a nice dark wash and wiped it off immediately.  The pink itself was either Inktense, Neocolor II or a watered down acrylic - I don't remember at this remove.  Maybe I used a combination.  After standing back and considering, I realized the crackle area needed more visual weight, so I applied a couple of stamps, added some bright red lines using a cardboard edge as a stamp, and there was a "click" in my head that told me I was done.  (This click is pretty darned reliable.  It's more of a feeling than an actual sound.  I haven't started hearing things.  Yet.  What?) 

After working so much with the lower left, the upper right area looked bare.  I'd bought what I thought was a rather

trite birdcage stamp for 99 cents at JoAnn Fabrics a long time ago.  It also had the word "fly" on it, which I thought was appropriate given the urgency of the telegram.  I tested it on a piece of scrap paper, held it up against the piece, and decided to go for it.  It worked.  If it hadn't worked, I probably would have found another suitable telegram and layered it over what I'd done.  That kind of layering is often part of the process.  

A final coat of ModPodge, and I hung it on the wall, only to realize that it wasn't finished at all.  When I tied a piece of vintage "reminder" string around the finger that I knew it was truly complete.  That also gave me the title.  

What is the reminder?  Maybe the sender of the telegram needed to remember to get a less stressful job.  Or maybe it's something I've temporarily forgotten.  It might come back to me.  

I still love this piece.  It means something to me, something important.  For now, at least, it is NFS.  

Side bar:  When I was looking through my collection of telegrams, I realized a few of them made no sense.  They employed strange words that seemed like gibberish. Googling revealed a nether world of secret terms used in telegrams.  These served three purposes:  they made the telegrams private (often the codes were created by the companies involved); they saved the sender a lot of moolah (telegram fees were charged by the word); and they enabled people to say unpleasant thing without anyone knowing. (Perhaps "sanglost" meant "this guy is a drunk; don't work with him, or "butterspartz" meant "that train car is full of dead cows; get it onto a side rail quick.")  No one can know how many secret codes were used, but there are some intriguing examples out there.  Look for them when you're reading through your collection of antique telegrams.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Old Bagsy and the Rites of Spring

Here at SI headquarters, Mr. Sprockets and I have a fierce competition in the spring.  We each claim points for spotting the "first" of several seasonal categories.  These include - but are not limited to - woodchuck, robin, chipmunk, crocus, grackle.  

Old Bagsy
The competition can get pretty emotional.  So far no blood has been shed, although day-long sulky silences are not unusual.  When Mr. Sprockets calls a first - which he does by yelling "BAGSY," (this term is apparently common in his native Yorkshire but sounds completely insane when screamed in Ohio) I counter by telling him he's obviously spending far too much time looking out the window and I threaten to call his boss. One year, in desperation, I pulled the shade down in front of his desk, and he didn't notice for several days.  I got "DIBS" (the proper terminology) on everything that year, and he didn't know why until five minutes from now when he reads this blog.  

Naturally, I am the more observant partner in our relationship.  This is true in fact, and it's also true because the
Robin, aka Rupert
person writing the blog naturally claims all virtues.  Bagsy.  And yet it's true that my husband does seem to notice firsts more often.  Perhaps, like a rodent, he is extremely sensitive to small movements in his field of vision.  I have almost no peripheral vision, so I am operating at a handicap.  Still, given my extreme artistic temperament, you'd think I'd notice almost everything first.  I will take a moment now to work furiously on an excuse explanation for this phenomenon.  Ah, yes.

In my advanced zen-like state, I am much more in tune with the continuity of life at all levels.  I perceive the manifestations of that continuity as facets of the continuum and not as events in and of themselves.  Therefore, the normal and natural ebb and flow of various species is not something I find particularly noteworthy.  How's that?

Woodchuck, aka Groundhog
At any rate, so far this season HE has spotted the First Grackle, First Woodchuck, First Chipmunk and First Crocus.  I have First Robin and First To Stomp Foot In A Snit.  There is no truth to his assertion that if I become more verklempt about this he will soon be calling Bagseys on a motel overlooking the highway.  It would be sad for him to be there, nose pressed against the window, calling "BAGSY on Chevy, BAGSY on Ford" into the night.  

Disclaimer:  No animals or plants were harmed in the making of this blog, except for the ones we ate, and they were more assimilated than actually harmed. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Bring on the Cruellest Month

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.  
T.S. Eliot 

This passage by Eliot is often quoted when people talk about their longing for spring.  Eliot's metaphor for the pain of emotional intimacy is poignant, but it has nothing much to do with the actual rigors of winter, and even he would look out my front windows today and say "enough, already."  

This has been our most difficult winter on this property.  Due to the heavy snows coupled with slight thaws and refreezing, we have been literally snowed in for several days at a time.  In the past we 
"Dull Roots"  12x12 inches on cradled board.  2014.
could always get out the drive somehow with our all-wheel-drive CRV.  This winter, we couldn't.  The roads were clear, and we could hear people driving along them merrily in the distance.  But between those roads and our house lay 500 feet of narrow, twisty, hilly gravel drive that was impassable.  Knowing winter was coming (unlike some) we had laid in a lot of supplies, but we lived in fear of one of the inexplicable long power failures that has happened too often here.  Because of the outrageous cold we had to order a third refill of our propane tank, and then we feared he wouldn't be able to get up the drive.  He managed, and seemed unbothered.  Men who drive propane trucks are undoubtedly experts at not worrying about things.  

The snow seems to be slowly melting now, and subzero temperatures and ice dams on the roof might be a thing of the past.  Having lived for so many years, I know that a substantial snow accumulation in March or even April could still be in the cards.  But sooner or later, this winter will end.  All the winters in history have ended, eventually.  

There are some hopeful signs.  The antique sewing machine carcasses in the front garden are visible above the snow once again, and the birds are singing, which - although their tunes are all about sex and aggression - sounds optimistic and cheerful to human ears.  I've been very productive art-wise, and I'm proud of myself for getting through the bulk of the winter, more or less in one piece.  

I will consider winter to be over when I can see the gravel on the drive again, and when even one of my bulbs sends up a stalk.  When those two things happen, I will believe in the imminence of spring.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Etsy goes public

Almost all companies go public when they can, which means when they're successful enough that the public will want to invest.  So it's a mystery to me that Etsy going public seems to be a shock to many people.  There's a lot of concern about how this is going to change "the Etsy experience."  I think it's obvious.

Chad Dickerson, CEO of Etsy
When a company is public, it is answerable to the stockholders.  That means it has to make more money, quarter after quarter, until the universe explodes or some other calamity happens.  The need to always make more money drives companies to do things they otherwise wouldn't in terms of how they treat their clients and customers.  (As sellers, are we clients or customers?  Maybe we are custients.)
Initially, we'll hear a lot of promises about how "nothing is going to change right now."  This is always the message when a company is sold or bought.  Whenever you hear this, take it as a reliable warning to duck and cover, because almost everything is going to change, and soon.

In this case, the handmade niche marketplace that was Etsy will probably be phased out.  This is a good bet because it's already happening.  Niche is great for a startup.  It's a hook, the thing that makes the company different from its competitors - in this case Ebay.  Niche is not great when a company needs constant profits.  As those of us who manage a store offering handmade items know, niche is slow and unreliable as generator of money.

We already have an Etsy that doesn't care much about the definition of "handmade."  In fact, the handmade section is beginning to look like an aisle at a Dollar General store. Under this category we find entire shops dedicated to putting a key or a medal onto a piece of string or wire.  We also have glass dildos galore, which almost certainly are not handmade by the seller.  (Is there a group of domestic experts hard at work in their basements producing glass dildos?  Possible, but unlikely.  Also not a pretty picture.)  This last item is also not vintage or a supply, and yet Etsy has shown by its history of inaction that it simply doesn't care.  Etsy has been protecting and ignoring resellers for a long time, and they won't give these things a second thought after they go public.

Recently, all the shop categories were shuffled around, in what at first seemed like a senseless exercise in change for its own sake at the expense of shop holders, but which is rumored to actually be "Ebayification," because apparently the new categories are more in line with those on Ebay.  I don't know about that, because I don't go to Ebay.  It seems like a bad neighborhood.

Of course shop fees will be raised.  This will probably be called a "recalibration" or a "readjustment," and we'll be told that our costs overall will not be affected much.  That will be untrue, and it will only be the first rise in costs.  If I were Etsy, I'd change the entire fee setup, so that a seller could not possibly figure out if they were going to pay more.  Something like "The fee for each of your first fifty listings will be 18 cents, but you will be charged 25 cents each for your next 50 listings and 30 cents for any listing over 100.  However, if you upgrade to a platinum membership for $19.95, which we strongly recommend because of the free gym membership that comes with it, you will be charged only 16 cents for each listing."  It would take a seller months to figure out if he's being charged more overall, and the answer would be yes. A dollar or two extra from each seller would mean a huge profit for Etsy.

No doubt soon there will also be a charge for each additional photo we upload, or even for descriptions of over a certain number of words.  This will benefit those sellers who only put up one dim photo and already act like they're being charged by the word in their descriptions.  What will rise to the top will not be cream.

There are probably a lot of other changes which we won't like, assuming we do like the current setup.  My feeling is that Etsy will end up disappointing a significant number of its current sellers and buyers, but that they will attract new sellers and buyers who will make them a lot of money, in a more crass reseller marketplace.  In short, it might resemble a new Ebay.

The reason I think these things will happen is that the profit has to come from somewhere, and it has to continue to increase each and every quarter.  Either sales will rise dramatically across the board (and why would they?) or seller fees will rise dramatically.  The only other thing I can think of as a revenue generator is a different kind of seller.  Baby socks by the gross.  Nearly-expired fun-sized bags of candy.  That kind of thing.

Certain things happen when a company goes public.  With an initial cash infusion there is a feeling of buoyancy on all levels.  Promises are made with a high degree of insincerity.  Moderate investments, hailed as huge improvements, are designed to make the company flashier and more commercially viable.  Then begins the gradual, inexorable squeezing of the original storefront until what's left does not resemble the parent company in any way but name.

In the near future, many current sellers will probably establish another web platform from which to sell their work.  Since diversification is a good idea anyway, selling-wise, Etsy's transition might end up helping a lot of us to do what we need to do for ourselves.

Because everything - even a business -  is part of the circle of life (hakuna matata and all that), in a short time another company will come along to be a mothership for our quality handmade products.  How I look forward to that day.  It really can't come too soon.

Bye bye, plastic fetus rings.  Bye bye, crocheted penis covers.  Hello, art.