Prinz and Candela

March 10th, 2017

Our new used dogs arrived like refugees in the night, Candela, a 35 kilo Rottweiler and Prinz, what my wife says is the Doberman which I inadvertently shrunk in the wash.  They’re fun but slobbery, stinky and wiggly critters, they’re also very sweet when they sleep: the same could be said of some children.  Seeing the Rotty run is to watch raw power; it’s quite terrifying if you imagine Candela from a cat’s perspective, or a Jehovah’s Witness.  The little schnitzel Prinz is a born scout with his pointy nose and bat ears; he’s also a lapdog at just 5 kilos.

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The house is filled now with the sounds, smells (sometimes together) and hair piles of animals that usually live in dens, and it’s beginning to feel like it.  I’ve been their constant companion in their welcoming phase; we get daily exercise hiking the hills together and I spend time at work while they nap.

carvingprinz

I found this one easy to carve as the subject was curled up in my lap.  I like the form and since I have a model right here I might as well do a few more.  The features of this breed and Prinz in particular: the wiener tail, spindly legs and almond eyes, the pointy nose and bat ears are all fertile elements for caricature.  The ears are the most challenging but also have huge emotive potential.  I’m looking forward to the challenge, after a walk.

in Thuringia

February 11th, 2017

We found a place in the rolling hills of eastern Thuringia.  In early December we moved into an old “four-sided farm” with a barn nine times larger than our last house.  The property includes pasture for our sheep and horses and a sturdy chicken coop for our feathered friends.  Our creature comforts are the fruit and nut trees, multiple root cellars, cisterns and a spring.  We plan to build a new house inside part of the barn but until then we’re living in the old farmhouse, albeit with a newly renovated kitchen and bathroom.


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Unfortunately our little dog became sick around Christmas and died shortly into the new year.  He is dearly missed: he left us too soon.  Like many dog owners do we treated Seeley like a member of the family so his absence has left a hole in the heart of our pack.  He was a friendly, funny, adorable little companion and a unique critter.  He weaseled and wiggled his way into our hearts and now we can’t let go.  We purchased two more rescue dogs who will join us in the next month but there will always be a special place in our hearts for our first furry friend.

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Over the summer I took an Integration Course to renew my residency permit indefinitely.  I attended class daily, taking a seat among Syrian refugees.  I heard the stories from their historic journey and was able to help them with their german.   One day a classmate showed me this photo from their residence; someone had written “go home” in perfect Arabic.  We were impressed and not a little worried.  Later, when the wind slammed a door shut the teacher shrieked, thinking it a Nazi bomb.   The refugees were under no illusions as to their predicament, stuck between extremists on both sides.  

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As the only American in class I was often asked my take on the 2016 election.  I was not confident of the outcome: the church-going members of my family were supporting a morally vacuous bully: the candidate who brags about sexually assaulting women, the candidate endorsed by the KKK, the poster boy for jihadi recruitment.  Eight years ago I saw Sarah Palin’s rise as a harbinger for how toxic the Republican Party would become.  It made me want to leave the USA and never look back.

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On the lighter side, a milk “gas station” recently opened near where we live.  Now we can buy fresh milk anytime directly from the farmer.  The “gas station” is a small shed housing a vending machine that dispenses milk at 1 euro per liter.  As factory operations with thousands of cows squeeze smaller farms out of existence it’s great to see some innovation to allow us to support the little guys directly.

Moving

March 28th, 2016

The news is we’re moving sometime in the next year.  My wife found a job in another part of Germany so we’ve sold our little slice of paradise here and have started looking for a suitable replacement.  We’re choosing from a field of old farms in the hilly landscape surrounding Gera.

 

Some places we visited were charming but in others we felt a lingering creepiness as if something unspeakable had happened.  Some of the places were like museums while others were more like junk yards.  The saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” means that the guy with the squishiest definition of treasure ends up with the most trash: I think we met that guy.  Also squishy, a headless cat corpse my wife stepped on next to one of his relics, a rusty automobile from the DDR times.

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Messy Window

 

 

 

 

 

 

The long wait of winter is over and new signs of spring are playing in the pasture: three in all.  They came in the night without trouble and have grown fat on mother’s milk for a month.  Watching them gambol, itch, or even yawn is delightful; they’re fountains of fresh joy.

lambs

 

One of our hens was getting picked on but when we tried to protect her with a saddle it got tangled in her legs and she fell in the ice cold water of our pond.  Fortunately I spotted her little head bobbling around and after several hours of warming and drying and a day of pampering we had a new friend and house guest.  Princess Leia has learned to poop outside in the morning and shares with the dog a love of cheese and distain for the vacuum cleaner.

Couching Chicken Hidden Dragon

Carvings Galore

December 26th, 2015

 

three little pigs carvings

The twelve days of Adventsmesse at Koppel 66 in Hamburg turned out to contain just the right amount of fa-lala.  Lucky for me, flying pigs flew off the shelf, drawn by fate: German’s believe pigs lucky.  The idea to mount them on a toothpick over a cube of wood came from a chat with a customer on the first weekend and from then on it was hard to keep the barnyard full.

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Between hog herds, I worked on Anglerfish, a critter that is 90% dentistry and 5% incredible, for it contains on it’s head a little fishing pole with a bright piece of bait on the end.  On this model the pole is wire but the grillwork was accomplished with a tiny drill, a knife and a few toothpicks.

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polish woodcarvings

Polish Woodcarvings

When I got some time I took a trip to the Christmas Market in front of the historic Town Hall where three separate booths were selling wood figurines: one from the German Erzgebirge, one from Italy and one from Poland, shown above.  Not all the gnomes looked like they might kidnap baby Jesus and the prices were super cheap for the amount of hand labor involved.  The Italian’s do one better with their wooden angels: they look like they were carved by Michelangelo himself but in fact their genius lies in computer code…robots do the work in the form of tiny spinning blades controlled by orderly jolts of electrons.

Super Cheap Carvings

Giftshop Window

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Several gift shops in the Koppel 66 neighborhood were also selling woodcarvings.  The price for the amount of work on these pieces makes me wonder how the person on the other end of this, the creator, got paid anything.  At these prices it would be worth it to buy the big penguin and chop it up into little penguins, or pigs.

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 german christmas twirly

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Walking around at night in Germany at Christmastime you’re likely to run into people gathered around drinking spiced wine and eating bratwursts under one of these twirly things.  Often mistaken for a doomsday-helicopter, in fact it’s a large model of a popular seasonal woodcarving, the Pyramid.  On the small ones, when candles are lit, the rising hot air turns the fan which rotates a plate full of wooden figurines in tableaux form.  It’s an ingenious little invention that has been done to death but I still find them fascinating.

Showing in Hamburg

December 1st, 2015
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market stand

After months of preparation this past weekend marked the start of my Christmas sales at the Adventsmesse at Koppel 66 in Hamburg.  In contrast to the hermetic work I’m used to, now I must be a gregarious salesman sputtering German as best I can.  It’s not a bad gig; constant accolades, money in the pocket, and I have yet to experience praise fatigue.  This year I also predicted correctly the image that would sell best so I had plenty on hand:

Flower Powered

It recalls for Germans an innocent time when VWs ran on peace, love and cannabis: I call it Flower Powered.  The current scandal could spin a darker, covert message into my image; that emissions are tantamount to a trail of beheaded flowers: but no one sees that; they see what they feel and that’s a narrative that’s been nurtured by billions of Deutschmarks worth of advertising.  I’ll make a buck and save my scorn.

refugee help hamburg

Koppel 66 is near the main train station and I spent some time there procuring my daily bread.  Outside, these tents staffed by helpful Germans assisted refugees with food, drink and directions.  I was moved by the heartbreaking stories written on their faces, of families ripped from their homes, and I was in awe at the beauty of humanity, of German history standing on its head.  On the one occasion when a heavy police presence was countering a chanting, disheveled mob it was drunk soccer fans, not refugees, that were the problem.

running dog carvings

I always find time to carve during a show and this time I came with a basic idea that I could riff on for awhile: a simple running animal with legs made from a toothpick.  It is more than the efficiency of production that animates me here, it is the pith of expression coming from carving’s equivalent to a doodle.  One may work on a piece for hours or even days and end up with a lump of lifelessness that resembles bad taxidermy so it is exceptional when you can find a way to breath life into the wood with a minimum of knife strokes.

fire salamander carving

This doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped slugging it out with a piece of wood until I’ve reached some manner of perfection.  Last week I made this fire salamander for a commission and I was lucky enough to nail it on my first attempt.  The tiny toes are especially challenging; basically you have one chance to get them right or spend the next hour trying to clean up your mess.  Taking some time to plan your knife stroke and imagine it’s effect is a must.  If you go about it willy-nilly you’ll end up with something silly and you can take that advice to the bank.

Update from a different Germany

October 10th, 2015

I haven’t written in a while.  My time was whisked away like the summer.  I spent some of that time in Detmold at the Kunsthandwerkermarkt at the castle in the middle of town.  It was my third year showing there and I car camped within walking distance of the local Oktoberfest, already hopping two weeks into September.  The show was nice; Detmold has a famous music school which has created a robust cosmopolitan citizenry.  The ones that like my work keep coming back.

schloss detmold kunstmarkt

Unfortunately, Detmold is in the southeastern corner of North Rhine Westfalia, the most direction challenged place on earth in the most populous and least well remembered state in Germany.  Access via the aptly named number two Autobahn is of course a crappy experience: a long wait while navigational devices have their tiny brains blown.  At the rest stops the beautiful gigantic wings of wind turbines are waiting too.

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While I was discomforted by traffic, a great migration was taking place; a flight of people who had to leave everything behind to save their lives.  It seemed they all wanted to come to Germany.  And some Germans were greeting them, helping them.  There were plans made to house them and money spent to feed them.  But some Germans started burning down refugee centers; five hundred times so far this year.

I see this next picture on my way to the nearest hardware store, in Nauen.  It was a brand new 4 million euro gymnasium, now toast.  Hatred once again makes Germany poorer.  I would have blamed this on a schnapps idea one year ago but things have changed.

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And then there’s the auto scandal, Das Mess.  Having driven amongst Germans and their autos, I am not surprised.  Germans pride themselves on being law abiding but put them behind the wheel of a German auto and the rules do not apply to them.  The higher the rank of vehicle, the more likely the rules don’t apply.  The luster has come off Germany while Angela Merkel tries to pull it all together.  It wasn’t too long ago they were new soccer Weltmeisters.

walter the sheep

In farm news, we traded in our skittish, little sheep for a sheep that’s been crossed with a teddy bear.  His name is Walter, pictured here with one of the lambs from this year.  These two sheep are approximately the same age.  The one on the left is a near wild variety, the Soay, while the one on the right was bred about 200 years ago, the Southdown.  We’ve also purchased three new girls:  Agnes, Dolores and Marian.

walter and girls

Agnes, who’s being kissed here by Walter, is the tamest and will even try to sniff the dog.  The other two are older and larger.  Catching them to clip their hooves makes you appreciate the strength of a critter: these girls would make formidable opponents if they could carry a football.  The girls are also a daily inspiration for carving.  Seeing them up close allows me to adjust my work as I work.

christmas ornaments

Snowmen, Sheep and Schnappsdrossel ornaments

My first batch of Christmas ornaments are done as if like cookies fresh from the oven, they are ready to be consumed but you’ll have to wait: that’s always been the rule for cookies where ever I’ve been.  I still have many more to make.  Small improvements and experimenting with new ideas keeps me going as I prepare a stockpile for sales in November and December.

The Lives of Chickens

August 5th, 2015

I spent just one month in the US this year visiting family and friends, camping and fishing, and working three art fairs to boot.  It’s a preview of death to see how things go on without you.  The world doesn’t stop when we’re away and as much as we are connected, distance still matters.  After four years living overseas I’m beginning to feel like a guy with two fatherlands, married by tax law.

tractor combine harvest

Back in Brandenburg, breadbasket of Germany, the wheat is already being harvested.  These huge machines kicking up clouds of dust and spraying the chaff back onto the ground are amazing to watch; it’s as if they’re giving earth a haircut in the style of a flattop.  All this so that a humble chicken can have it’s rations: much of the grain is used for animal feed.  One of the biggest consumers: meat chickens.

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Every friday a “food truck” comes to the neighboring village with poultry and feed.  This, the modern broiler chicken, is a freak of unnatural selection; a hybrid bird designed in the 1950s and bred for efficiency of meat production.  In industry speak, for every 2 units of feed input this chicken grows one unit of meat, and quickly, but to the detriment of other body parts, like bones, feathers, brain and arteries.  The chicks are slaughtered young for maximum tenderness: still peeping like babies but stuffed with elderly health problems, they’re chopped and ground and dipped in sauce within two months of being born.  It’s like veal but partially feathered.

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Copper Maran Chickens

Our chickens will never look like the ones you buy in the store.  They grow slower and don’t put on muscle mass like a meat chicken: but it’s balanced growth, with full, beautiful plumage and strong bones.  They also like to hunt for bugs, make sand baths and take leisurely naps on perches: all behaviors that the modern broiler has lost.  A corollary of the Duck Test may be in order: if a thing doesn’t act like a chicken can it still be called a chicken?  It may be, but it’s as if a Great Dane were crossed with a Wiener Dog: it might be possible but that doesn’t mean it should ever be done.  Now that we’ve got it though, it seems the meat chicken can’t be undone.

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Aside from raising chickens from eggs for eggs, having them around has provided me with models for carving and hours of observational entertainment.  There are things you cannot learn in books.  There are things you cannot see in pictures.  There are smells you might not want to smell, but that’s part of it too.  When every sense is involved the effect is greater than it’s parts.  There is an experiential wholeness that gives meaning to something which, for much of the rest of world, both literally and figuratively comes wrapped in plastic.

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Hours old Maran Chick

Today a new brood of chicks is hatching in our living room.  The first was this Maran chipping it’s way out of it’s chocolate brown capsule.  It is with genuine awe that we watch these critters emerge from their implausibly tiny and seemingly lifeless shells.  Their loud voices fill our home as they hobble around on egg legs.  Suddenly it’s time to nap.  It’s a lot of work being born.  Exploring the world will have to wait until tomorrow.

May Day

May 4th, 2015

 

 

Maypole Kuhhorst

 

This weekend I participated as an artist in the Kuhhorst Maifest.  The village of Kuhhorst is an organic farm and home for people with special needs.  The fest attracts tourists from Berlin who need a day in the country to restore their mental health.  The day’s activities center around the erection of the Maypole, a symbol of fertility perhaps, no one knows for sure; while Christianity failed to eradicate the tradition, the original meaning of the custom has been lost.  The loss frees us to attach whatever meaning we wish it to have.

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erection Mayweather

 This Maypole sported a wreath from which hung symbols of the community; mostly agricultural in nature.  The ritual may have roots in the worship of trees; the Germans are generally a tree-hugging people.   Dancing around the Maypole is also a common practice and I was hoping to see jigs performed in pants made of asparagus but nothing came of it.

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Cow Bingo

Food choices were excellent including a delicious squash soup, salad bar and smoked fish.  Games of chance were also offered.  Apparently Cow Bingo is a big deal in the countryside: men, women and children gamble away small fortunes guessing where a cow will splat down a flopper.  Of all the animals, the  cow’s excremental expressions are most definitive.  Some livestock dribble here and there like they’re channeling Jackson Pollock but Bullshit is the real deal.

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baby goat

  I probably should have quit while I was ahead but I doubled down and set up for a Hoffest or farm festival the next day.  Except for this adorable goat and some friendly neighbors it was not worth doing.  I was still able to spend the day carving but only realized at the end that my display was on top of a septic tank.  I had blamed the lingering fumes on the local critters; it was actually seeping out from below.

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horse tilling

a glimpse of the past

We awake in the future, sometimes we’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the past: then one day we’re in a mayday situation and it’s over in the blink of an eye.  It is near incomprehensible, the thousands of lives ended by an earthquake, lives like mine and yours expired as if by routine: the very ordinary nature of disaster strikes me as most disturbing.  The rest of the world carries on as it’s been doing for millennia, perhaps we can take comfort in that.  The slow gait of a powerful horse is humanity’s march into the ever new day.

Spring

April 25th, 2015

 

easter fire

 

Planting a seed in the ground is an act of supreme optimism; a bet that these tiniest of pellets thrust into mud and sand will become things that are essential, delicious: lovely.  In preparation we cast off the gray days of winter with a cathartic fire, gather with friends who are also neighbors and make plans for the year ahead.

pinzel chick

Our boy sheep Kebob made his last escape as a welcome guest for Easter dinner and our chicken-killing dog Santos found a happy home far away, but we also added some new members to our flock.  A blonde chick named Pinsel and four others, now fully feathered, lived with us for awhile before joining five other tenderfoots.  At first rather adorable, it becomes apparent that it’s time to let go when the loose fluff and stink threaten to overtake your living quarters.

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workshop

While I was away in Hamburg at a market the neighbors started to put together the garden house.  I work with my hands but I have to resign myself to the fact that construction is an altogether different skill set.  It helps to have experience: you end up with something that looks like the picture in the ad rather than a pile of lumber, a box of whatnots and a blackened thumb.  It’s nearly finished and I look forward to moving in and whittling on the porch.

day old lamb soay

The biggest news is our new lamb, born yesterday as the sun settled into it’s slumber.   The journey was a rough one and the little critter spends some time napping between chugging milk.  A wee thing no bigger than a chihuahua on stilts, it’s wobbly and it’s tail shivers with an excitement that comes from living your first day on earth.   It is the embodiment of optimism.

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Kunstgewerbemuseum

March 13th, 2015

The Museum for the Decorative Arts or Kunstgewerbemuseum is one art museum in a forum of museums and cultural hotspots near Potsdamerplatz in Berlin.  Through a stark modernist foyer one proceeds to lit vitrines hosting objects, some literally relics, constituting an abridged version of European endeavors in the Arts and Crafts for the past thousand years.

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ivory relief

 

One tends to think of the middle ages as a time when man was maniacal for monotheism but the record tells a different story; in this case it’s an ivory relief carving of stylized beasts found on the side of a box about the size of a loaf of bread.  The humor of the caricature and the suggestion of coloring shine a light into a vibrant past; the life of a box whose contents were most likely precious and brought joy to the owner.

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gold cross

For the Love of Gold is one of a number of titles you could give this Renaissance pendant.  More designed to demonstrate a Christian’s wealth than their humility, it is a sign of how much the Church was winning; it had come of age and was suffering it’s first major breakup.  If you were a craftsperson in this time there was a good chance you’d be addressing some of your customers as Reverend.

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prayer peas

This Renaissance piece, a pod of wooden prayer peas, would have been handy in times of war.  The human species was just figuring out how to blow one another to bits with a new invention, gunpowder, and no one was safe.  The exquisite detail and clever container points to a culture obsessed with seeking out help from super-ordinary sources.

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clay people

Baroque is often mentioned in the company of Ceramics.   In these figures of near felonious flirtation and frivolity one sees a golden age of costume for the porcelain skinned people of Europe.  Here was the new middle class.  They’d traded their peasant potato sacks for slim fit frills and they loved their lives so much they even bought action figures of themselves looking haute.

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kaiser desk

Nothing says bombastic like a clock tower built into a writing desk: it should come as no surprise that the owner of this gigantic piece of furniture, Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm II, was not only a great patron of the arts but a big spender in general.  He left Prussia in debt but also gave Germany it’s most famous object apart from the toothbrush mustache, the Brandenburg Gate.

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art deco hair pick

Some things in this world that are so beautiful that they must belong to everyone; they belong in museums.  At the same time, an object like this deserves a head of hair to hold, a dress to match and not just any old shoes.  It’s a conundrum beyond my pay grade.  It may be that the force of nature that created the earthly wonders also acts through the artist’s mind yielding such marvels from their hands.

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 deco glass

At this time, when human heritage is being pillaged by ISIS in the name of god, it is especially important to do something that exalts the creative and embraces that which is lovely.  These delicate Art Deco vases have survived more than one war but they are fragile as our lives, and as beautiful.  They stand as testament to the path of our history, an inheritance to all those who share in the spirit of humanity, and they are ourselves, at our finest.