Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Magical Makeover

I love to paint furniture. Taking ugly, discarded chairs and tables from the roadside and using them as canvasses to express my passions has become kind of a drug for me.

Recently, we had some furniture painted by the Advanced Art students. They painted some stools, a chair and even a book cart so that we can have even more color and personality in our library space. They did a great job:

Can you guess which books they used as their inspirations?

Years ago, I picked up one of those really ugly, 1970's, wood octagon end tables. I didn't remember to take a photo of it before I started working on it, but it looked similar to this one:

I meant to give it a makeover last summer, but it ended up just sitting in my yard as a catch-all for when we had cookouts and people needed a place to set a bottle or a plate down.

But these students' pieces moved me to put some thought into it, and think about a book that inspires me (and a book that I had not used yet as a theme for painted furniture). I decided to work some magic on that ugly little end table.

I used a few pages from a discarded copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and decoupaged the top. Then I used a paint marker to hand letter the wonderful Dumbledore quote:

I selected a few pages from a ruined illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and put those around the panels:

I found the wing furniture knobs on clearance at Hobby Lobby for a dollar each, and turned them into golden snitches by painting a marble and affixing it with industrial-strength adhesive:

I love how Harry seems to have his eye on the golden snitch.

I might still put some fun images on the inside of it, but at least it looks a lot nicer than it did before.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Dollhouse News

I was recently gifted this large, handmade dollhouse. 

The picture doesn't really convey its size very well, so here's a picture of my three year old son standing next to the house:

It's almost as tall as he is!

Luckily, I have plenty of  some a little space left in my house. There's no way I would ever turn down a dollhouse of this quality, with such fine craftsmanship. It definitely needs some repair work though:

It was wired for electricity, but some of the lights worked while others didn't, and some of the wires looked iffy, so I ended up removing the wiring. I like all my houses to be safe and durable so that kids (and I) are able to actually play with them, not just look at them.

I am considering making it over into Orchard House, in order to satisfy my long held desire for a Little Women dollhouse. I feel like that attic is just perfect for Jo's writing desk, and a cozy corner for the Pickwick Society to hold their meetings in.

I recently began the process of reconstructing my Secret Garden, too. I made this scene years ago, but with the different moves I've done, it was damaged beyond repair. I was saddened, because I take a special pride in the dollhouses/scenes that I create on my own from scratch. The previous one had a base of styrofoam, and walls made of floral foam with drywall compound and real stones on the outside:

It looked great, but it was really heavy, and it did not travel well.

Here's a sneak peek of the new and improved Secret Garden:

The base is styrofoam, a piece that was the perfect size and shape. There was a cut out already in it, so I decided to make a little pond for the garden. I need more practice with making realistic water.

I was able to salvage everything from the old one except the walls, and I had a few pieces in my stash that I am adding into this scene.

I have a variety of other dollhouses set up in my house, and one currently out on display at the Dover Public Library, but these two are the ones I am working on the most lately.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Library Lock-In!

I am old. I know I am old because it takes several days for me to recover after one later-than-usual night.

Last Friday, my co-worker and I hosted the first ever Library Lock-In sleepover. It was an idea that came up a few months ago. Sports teams get play-offs and banquets, chorus and band kids get concerts and showcases, library kids get a fun sleepover. It's a culminating event for them; they worked just as hard this year as kids who participate in athletics and other clubs, so we agreed that they deserved something. So, two of our active JALA (Junior Awesome Library Assistants) wrote up the official proposal and protocol.

The school principal approved the plan.

So, we set our plans into motion. The kids began arriving around 5:30. They hung out in the open gym, playing games until the pizzas arrived. We all went upstairs, and chowed down on pizza and other snacks that the kids brought with them. We made them clean up afterwards, and then we did some ice-breaker, team-building type activities since we have members from grade 5-8, and some of them don't really know each other.

After we did a few, we gave them the freedom to play cards, or games, or make art journals from discarded library books, or just chat with other club members.

some art journals

Soon, it was time for cake! Two of our 6th grade members generously brought in a cake to share, and the cake had our official yearbook photo on it:

our cake with our yearbook photo on it

I put on an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? since it was starting to get dark, and most of the kids love the scary stories stuff (the ones that don't like scary stories found other things to occupy themselves).

watching a little Are You Afraid of the Dark?, in the dark

Afterwards, our male students had to depart, because we did not have a male chaperone for the sleepover. I think they had a good time anyways though.

After the boys left, the girls began the process of changing into pajamas, scouting out the best sleeping areas, blowing up air mattresses and unrolling sleeping bags.

When that stuff was all set, they had more free time to read, continue watching Are You Afraid of the Dark?, work on their art journals, and stuff their faces with junk food.

Lights out was at midnight.

We did not have any real behavior issues; we made it very clear to them all at the beginning of the evening that if anything went wrong, we would never be able to approve another lock-in, so the pressure was on them  to not ruin the chances of future fun times.

I told some friends about this plan, and they could not believe I was willing to stay at school on a Friday night, with 25 students, sleeping on a futon for no extra pay. The way I see it, is if these kids are eager to spend extra hours in the school library, talking and playing games,with me and my co-worker, then that just means we are doing an excellent job.

They love the library. They are making new friends and getting to know kids they didn't know before. They enjoy our company and trust the two adults in the program.

I can't help but be proud of them, and our library program.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Breakerspace Mindset

I had an unexpected, but valuable interaction yesterday at work.

I have written about Makerspaces and Maker mindset pretty frequently, but there is a related concept called Breakerspace. Breakerspace refers to a space/time in which students are encouraged to explore and investigate the inner workings of various technology/

There is a particular student who is struggling quite a bit this year- he often walks out of his classrooms when he is experiencing anger, distress or frustration. We believe strongly that libraries can be sanctuaries, especially for students who struggle emotionally and socially, so we try to work with those students (and their teachers and paraeducators); it's better to have the students come to the library than to roam around unattended.

The student who came in today wandered around for a few minutes before going back into the Makerspace area. I have an old film projector which was a prop for the Escape Room we held last month (more on that in a future post).

When I went back to check on him, he was fiddling around with it, and he said "I wish I could take this apart, so I could see how it works inside."

Since it's my own film projector, and I know it doesn't work, I went and got a couple screwdrivers from our tool drawer. He was pretty surprised that I was so willing to let him take the thing apart, but I really didn't mind.

We unscrewed panels, looked at the gears inside, I noticed that the film reel is maked Eastman Kodak Rochester, NY so I told him that my mom used to work for Kodak and Rochester is my home city.  .  .
We got to talking about old film and old movies, so I showed him the Georges Melies picture "Trip to the Moon", which he was familiar with already because he's seen the movie Hugo.  .  .

I was glad that this student was enjoying himself, and that he was engaging with me, and hopefully getting something out of it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

PBS Little Women: Text and Subtext

Now that I have watched all three installments of Little Women streaming on PBS, I feel more confident in assessing it. It is more faithful to the text than some of the other film adaptations; however, the creators have taken some artistic license when it comes to exposition. Like I wrote in my earlier post, I do not think of this as a negative quality. All of the films must set themselves apart from other retellings, because otherwise there is not much a point in retelling them again and again.

The lighting and the scenery certainly give this version a storybook feel. I have been to Orchard House several times now, and although it is always welcoming, I don't know if it's ever looked quite this beautiful and perfect before, in life or in film:

Aside from the Instagram-esque clarity and color, the PBS Masterpiece Theater mini-series offers viewers a version that reads between the lines of Alcott's words, and provides us glimpses of the characters' lives that she could not.

For example, Father March is away at war during the story's beginning.

The PBS film includes a scene of him, writing letters in his tent, nursing a wounded black soldier. Obviously, this would not have been seen by Marmee or the girls, and so Alcott did not include any details of his time away because the story is meant to be as though the reader is peering through a window of Orchard House.

There is a similar scene that follows John Brooke's time in service:

Although these scenes are not in the book, they are consistent with the story and with those characters. In the 1994 film, one of Meg's friends brings up the story behind Bronson Alcott's school closing, which happened after he admitted a black girl as a student. That event occurred in life, not in Alcott's book, but it does enhance the viewer's understanding of the Alcott/March family and the philosophies they espoused, such as Transcendentalism.

The new adaptation offers more insight into the reality of the women's lives. Previous adaptations mentioned Meg's confinement, or perhaps showed a growing belly, appropriately hidden under a dress. Before the birth scene, Meg is shown fretting over her changing figure, while Marmee and Amy work furiously to let out the seams on her dress.

In the latest film, Meg is shown to be suffering from contractions and screaming, and asking Marmee how women survive it all.

The original text says:"So the year rolled round, and at midsummer there came to Meg a new experience,- the deepest and tenderest of a woman's life."

That's all that is said in the book of Meg giving birth.

Not that I would have expected Louisa May Alcott to provide any insight into a real life birth; we are talking about Victorian sensibilities here, and we know what those were like. Meg asks Marmee "Why didn't you tell me?" between her gasps, which seems to be a question directly aimed at the prudery of the era.

In the same vein, Alcott's Marmee, and the Marmee in most of the films, has a confidence and calmness that many young readers found comforting, and no doubt inspiring. Marmee as played by Emily Watson is still strong and true to the text, but displays a softer side. Usually, in the scene where Beth dies, Marmee is portrayed as being sad, but her emotion is only betrayed by a tear running down her cheek. Emily Watson's Marmee is shown relegating herself to her bedroom, to grieve privately, when she learns of Beth's impending fate. And it is not only her sad feelings that she keeps to herself. Earlier in the film, when she first sees Meg in her wedding gown, with her other three daughters looking so beautiful and grown-up, she also leaves the room, so that she may compose herself.

Even crying for a happy event such as a wedding goes against the Victorian ideal of keeping all things human (bodies, births, deaths and feelings) properly contained.

It's always nice when a movie adaptation is true to the text, but it's a bonus when it offers its own interpretation of the subtext.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Resting in Peace in Rochester, NY

I've written before about silent film star Louise Brooks. I found out years ago that she lived in Rochester, NY (my home city) for thirty years, after she began a relationship with James Card. He was the curator of the George Eastman House, and he encouraged her to relocate there. She researched films using the museum's archives and published a collection of essays about her career titled Lulu in Hollywood.

For an actress who was so influential in the 1920's,  an icon for flapper style, her final resting place is very plain. It was adorned with a single dried out rose:

I suppose it is not that surprising; by the end of her life, any money she had earned from her years in Hollywood was long gone. She was in bad health, and she lived alone in a one bedroom apartment, drinking and thinking of herself as a failure.

I'm glad I tracked down her headstone (Holy Sepulchre Cemetery is HUGE, so it took a while), but I prefer to think of her as she looked at the height of her success:

If you're not familiar with Louise Brooks yet, I implore you to check out some of her films.

Friday, May 25, 2018

I Make Stuff. . .

One of my favorite things to do is make stuff. Paint stuff. Assemble things. Experiment. A couple years ago, one of my friends said something that resonated with me: "I am rarely bored when I'm by myself. I am often bored around other people." I realized how true that statement is for me. Here are a few things I've made recently:

This little table was a roadside find. It was very blah, until I decided to express my Beetlejuice fandom:

I also made over another little table which I recently found for free. It's just one of those cheapo, assemble-it-yourself things you can buy at Big Lots, but I decided to decoupage it with pages from a (already damaged) old copy of Little Women, and then an appropriate quotation: 

The same friend who provided that sage wisdom to me recently gifted me some vintage (empty) liquor bottles, which I promptly transformed into potion bottles:

And my creative cycle would not be complete without a collage or piece of assemblage art:

This is one of those ugly wooden jewelry boxes, decoupaged and painted with a mermaid theme. I still have more work to do on it, but I like how it's coming along.