Sunday, December 31, 2017

Dollhouse and Toy Museum of Vermont

I'm always on the lookout for people or places that I can connect with about my dollhouse hobby. I don't know of any clubs or regular shows in my area, so I depend on the Greenleaf dollhouse company online forum to show off photos, look up ideas and instructions, and ask questions.

A couple months ago, I discovered that there was a dollhouse museum in Bennington, Vermont. We weren't able to get there last time we were in that area, but this time I made a point of it. The museum is only open officially for a couple hours a week, but we called ahead and it was opened up early just so we could visit!

Jackie, the owner and creator of the museum, was excited to find that I also build dollhouses and create miniature worlds, and she was eager to share some of her techniques and knowledge with me.

It's basically an entire house that houses a huge collectionThere are a wide variety of dollhouses available to view, in different scales and sizes and ages and themes. They range from fairy houses made of tree bark to grandiose Victorian houses with electric lights.

There is one particular little house I want to highlight now, because it connects my love of dollhouses to my other passions: history, children's literature and art created from found/upcycled materials.

This house was created by the artist Esphyr Slobodkina.

self portrait of Slobodkina

Maybe that name doesn't jump out at you, but most people are familiar with her picture book Caps for Sale.

Once I said that I work in a library, she brought me right over to this house and gave me a little tour of it.

The house is unique for a couple of reasons; it's probably one of the earliest dollhouses made in 1:6 (Barbie doll sized) scale. Also, she created the house from other materials, such as cabinetry and chair legs. It's pretty amazing to behold.

I love incorporating non-traditional items into my dollhouses because it makes the hobby much more affordable, and it also shows newcomers how accessible it is. Not everyone has the tools to create a house with all the trimmings, and not everyone has the skill to transform a unremarkable wood kit into an elaborate Painted Lady, but there are alot of other options which have just as much imagination and charm. This little house has a bed made from clothespins, a stove cut from a tin can and kitchen chairs made from plastic caps and hair pins. The occupants are a family of mice, and the house is adorable.

There was another mouse house too, housing vintage mice (usually made with real rabbit fur) that were made in Germany. 

I have two of these vintage mice, and they have their own Christmas themed mouse house.

There are so many more dollhouses. dolls, and other vintage toys to look at, but I was on a Restless Toddler Timer, so my photos really don't do it justice.

Next time we plan to be in that area, I'd like to go back (sans toddler) so I can take a closer look at everything.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Classic Christmas Movies (but not the good ones)

'Tis the season for classic Christmas movies! Of course, everyone who enjoys watching It's a Wonderful Life claims to love old movies, and that film IS one of my favorites too, but I thought I'd list a few Golden Age Christmas movies here that aren't as well known; they're also not nearly as GOOD:

I watched Christmas in Connecticut after one of my friends mentioned it; I had seen it listed on Amazon and decided to give it a try. I like Barbara Stanwyck, but this movie had a really predictable storyline that took waaaaaaaaaaay too long to wrap up.

Thinking about this bad Christmas movie reminded me of another film I watched years ago which was also underwhelming:

I appreciate Cary Grant, but he's never been one of my favorites. He always seems too smug and very entitled, like the woman he's pursuing should be ecstatic that he's noticed her, and she should choose him by default. The Bishop's Wife casts him as an angel, sent down to Earth to provide guidance to a man in distress about a financial problem (hmmmmm.  .  .does that seem a little familiar?) So this angel falls in love with the wife of the guy he's supposed to be helping and wants her to choose him over her husband.  .  .see what I mean?

I know most people like to watch White Christmas this time of year, but the song was first featured in this movie:

Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire are performers who often compete for the love of the same women. Bing says "eff this" and quits show business to live on a farm. The songs are good, even if the story isn't fantastic. However, the scene where everyone dresses up in blackface makeup and puts on a minstrel show, in honor of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, is truly cringe-worthy.

 And if you like seeing Gene Kelly as a murdering gangster, rather than the lovesick tap dancer we love him as, then you won't want to miss:

It's called Christmas Holiday because it begins at Christmas time, but the main portion of the story is told in a flashback sequence. The language used when describing Deanna Durbin's place of work is intentionally vague, thanks to the Hayes Code, because the book it's based on is about a prostitute in a brothel. Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a visit to the old whore house! 

I enjoy discovering films that are obscure, or at least under the radar, and sometimes I find one that's a real jem. But just because they're from the Golden Age doesn't mean they're all amazing. 

I think I'll stick to It's a Wonderful LifeThe Bells of St. Mary's and even The Trouble with Angels. The last one is from the 60's, not the Golden Age, but I think it's better than the ones I've described above.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

More About Dollhouses

I wrote in a recent post that I would like my dollhouses to have nicer craftsmanship, so I have been forcing myself to work on their exteriors more. I have always enjoyed working on the interiors more, but the outside appearance does count for alot, as does the landscaping, so I have been trying some new techniques and experimenting a bit to see how I can improve my skills in this hobby.

I am currently installing siding to the Beetlejuice house, and for my first try at it, it doesn't look too bad:

This house was painted white when I got it for $1 from Goodwill. I then painted it gray and crackled it because I was going to turn it into an old abandoned house, but then when that wasn't really progressing, I decided to make it a Beetlejuice house. So now it's going back to white, and it has to have alot of New England charm. I love the way it looks on the inside, but I have alot more work to do on its outside.

I felt bad for my little geisha because I thought she might be getting lonely. I had been looking for a little companion for her for quite a while, but I couldn't find a little doll like her that was the right size and the right price.  .  .until a couple weeks ago, when I scored one for $3 on Ebay:

The doll on the left is the new arrival

And speaking of new friends, I went to a party a couple weeks ago that had a Yankee Swap. I walked away with this little guy (I thought it was a llama originally, but someone told me it looks more like an alpaca). I thought he'd be a perfect new animal friend for my little gypsy, who already has a kitten and a black sheep to keep her company:

Lastly, I was looking at my Christmas Mouse House the other day and decided it looked kind of blah, so I put some wallpaper in there to make it look cozier.

I think it still needs a fire going in the fireplace, and of course a Christmas tree.

I always wish I had more time to work on this hobby, but lately I've done some decent work.

Monday, December 18, 2017

One of Us is Lying

Five kids in detention. One is a jock, one is a brain, one is a homecoming princess, one is a criminal, and the other is a social outcast. You're probably picturing this right now:

Except The Breakfast Club was way before social media, and apps like About That. In this story, the social outcast is also the creator of an app that posts the juiciest pieces of school gossip. He has dirt on everyone. So it's no surprise that no one likes him. But, it is a surprise when he dies during detention, and now the other four students that were in the room with him are all suspects.

The story is told through first person POV of the four students who were in detention that day with Simon, and we begin to glimpses of what types of secrets they are guarding. 

It's kind of like The Breakfast Club combined with Pretty Little Liars.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Jane graphic novel

My latest graphic novel recommendation is a re-telling of a classic Gothic story.

As you can see,  it's modernized, so at first I didn't even realize that it was a re-telling. The main character is named Jane, she's an orphan who left the home of her aunt, and she gets a job caring for a young girl named Adele.  .  .I'm ashamed to say that none of those things tipped me off, and it wasn't until the name of her employer, Edward Rochester, is revealed, that I understood.

And then I was hooked, because Jane Eyre is one of all-time favorite books. In this adaptation, Jane leaves the home of her aunt and cousins; they're not really characterized as abusive like they are in the original text, but they don't care for her, or even notice her. She's pretty much invisible.

So she hops a bus to New York City to begin a new life. She rents a room (actually, it's a kitchen pantry) in the apartment of a cross-dressing fashion designer named Hector (her friend in the original story is named Helen). She enrolls in art school, and gets a hjob as a nanny.

The references to NYC fashion designers and nannies are a stand-by for the author Aline McKenna:

McKenna is perhaps most well known for writing the screenplay for the  2006 movie The Devil Wears Prada. 

The use of color in this story reminds me alot of another graphic novel I recently wrote about, The Wendy Project.  In the beginning, the illustrations are black and white and shaded:

But when Jane begins her new life in NYC, her world becomes colorful. At first, it's like a sunrise:

Then it begins to seep into more frames, highlighting parts of her life. The boots she wears as she walks through the city, the clear sky above her new apartment building, and her first real friend are all in color:

As the story continues, the color becomes richer:

And beautiful double page spreads are filled with to the frames with symbols of independence and romantic encounters:

Readers who have not read Charlotte Bronte's tale can still enjoy the story and the art, but fans of the original text will enjoy seeing this artist's interpretation and updating.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Just workin' on the dollhouses

I realize that I haven't posted much about any of my projects lately, so here's a little update:

I love this little roadside junk shop that I made, but it needed some landscaping, so I used one of those mats with dried reindeer moss, and I glued some coffee grounds to the spots that were bare, and added a couple random leaves and a little bush. The idea was to make it look like one of those little 'antique' stores that you might find on a rural road in the fall.

I also have been trying to fix up the Wizard of Oz house. I made it years ago, and moving around, and also displaying it at libraries and Maker Faire's has put some wear and tear on it. I've wanted some representation of Glinda for a long time now, and I finally got lucky one day during a thrift store visit, and found a Glinda ornament:

I suspended the ornament from the apple tree that I made out of driftwood and faux floral.

I also did a little landscaping on the geisha house, using the trusty old egg crate method to make stones for the pathway, and filling in the gaps with glue and coffee grounds.

I also finally finished the little waterfall koi pond.I know it would have looked better if I had used resin water, but since i've never done one before I didn't want to spend the money and have it turn out badly. I wanted a little practice first, so I used hot glue for the water.

Maybe some day I'll make a better one, but this will do for now.

Professor Applebaum is an interesting fellow. I have always thought that he looked musically inclined, and I recently found him a cello at thrift store, so now he can give little concerts at his wine and cheese parties.

I've always been much more interested in the interiors of dollhouses than the exteriors. I love when I find dollhouses that are already assembled, and it's even better if they're somewhat finished, so that I can get right into the good part. But, I have been saying for some time now that I'd like my houses to have nicer craftsmanship, and so I am forcing myself to work on the exterior parts of the buildings more. I decided to try my hand at making siding, and since this house only cost me a buck at Goodwill, it's a good house to practice on. It's also a good house to finish, because I'd really love to display this one, or possible enter it in a show someday.  .  .I've never seen anyone else do a dollhouse with a Beetlejuice theme before.

The photo shows the siding right now, as the glue is drying. When it's secure, I will paint it.

Lastly, my dollhouse based on A Christmas Story is currently on display at Dover Public Library:

So, that's what new with some of my many, many dollhouses.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Look, a Hook Book!

It would appear that a  grievous mistake has been made. A particular man, whom we all know (and love( or hate, or love to hate) has been terribly mistyped in our popular culture. Instead of allowing this man to right the record, we have continued to libel him in our continuation of slipstream literature and media.

The time for Captain Hook to defend himself has come.

I have always loved Captain Hook. I think my love affair with the one handed villain began when I saw the movie Hook in the theater in 1991, but of course the story actually begins in 1904. A few years ago, I did a couple of blog posts about different portrayals of Captain Hook in media, and I started by examining the character as he was first written by JM Barrie.

Hook, his Christian name being Cook, has his own story, but it would appear that of all the lies that have been told and misunderstandings that we have about him, he is most upset at the way we choose to believe he looks:

"And for some inexplicable reason, possibly having to do with the undeniably pompous actor who first portrayed me professionally*, I will always be depicted as bearing an unfortunate likeness to King Charles II. Frilly shirts, long curly hair, high-heeled pumps (ye gods!_ are my affected wardrobe in all depictions of the Pirate Moi, though I have never dressed as such in my entire life.)"

Gerald du Maurier, the first Captain Hook

 "True my hair is black and has grown to some length, but I do not curl it."

Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook in 1991's Hook

"Nor do I sport a beauty mark on my cheek or anywhere else for that matter"

Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook in the Mary Martin musical

".  .  . although my eyes are indeed a lovely periwinkle blue."

Jason Isaacs as Captain Hook in 2003's Peter Pan

I guess Captain Hook has a point; our popular culture depictions of him do construe him as vain, effeminate, and perhaps a little queer.

*Gerald du Maurier, the first actor to portray Captain Hook on the stage, is the one he seems to blame for beginning the traditional costume. Du Maurier was the brother of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies; her five sons were befriended by Barrie during an outing in Kensington Gardens, and they served as the inspiration for Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.

Michael Davies dressed as Peter Pan

Saturday, December 2, 2017


I wrote recently that in one of the Peter Pan graphic novels I read, the mermaids have a treasure which they hide from Hook. This is not from the original tale, but anything that gives the female characters more agency in the story is fine with me. This remains one of my all-time favorite stories, but the messages it contains about gender are a little problematic for me. The female characters are all very underdeveloped. Mrs. Barrie is the mother, so she is automatically Other in a story about eternal childhood. Tinkerbell spends her life serving a self-centered boy (and then he doesn't even remember her after she eventually dies), and Wendy is a damsel in distress. The female characters that have captured our imaginations, but receive very little critical examination, are the mermaids

Chapter 8 of Peter and Wendy is titled The Mermaid Lagoon, but the mermaids are only featured in the beginning of it. Barrie soon moves onto describing Wendy as a young mother, and how she insists the children rest between eating their mid-day meal and swimming, and then of course comes the familiar part where Captain Hook intends to leave Tiger Lily on Marooner's Rock to perish.

"If you shut your eyes and are a lucky one, you may see at times a shapeless pool of lovely pale colours suspended in the darkness; then if you squeeze your eyes tighter, the pool begins to take shape, and the colours become so vivid that with another squeeze they must go on fire. But just before they go on fire you see the lagoon. This is the nearest you ever get to it on the mainland, just one heavenly moment; if there could be two moments you might see the surf and hear the mermaids singing."

It's worth noting that the mermaids did not appear in the early stage productions of Peter Pan; they were introduced in the 1911 novelization of the play titled Peter and Wendy. They usually do not appear in stage productions of the story (probably because of the logistics of depicting underwater creatures with the limitations of live stage) but they often appear in the film versions.

 I wanted to compare a couple of the different renderings of mermaids as we've seen in movies, so I'll begin with the Disney movie, since that's the first Peter Pan movie most people see, and think of.

According to Barrie's original description of a lagoon made up of lovely pale colors, the animators did a superb job. We see that they adore Peter, while they are instantly jealous of Wendy, and resent her presence. They taunt her, and try to drag her into the water.

The are not given any description in Hook, except for the couple of minutes they are on screen. Peter Banning has fallen into the water, and cannot swim since his hands are bound behind his back. The mermaids appear almost instantly, smiling and each gives him a long kiss, exhaling into his mouth so that he can breathe. It's as if they have missed him, and are welcoming him back.

The mermaids from the 2003 adaptation were a stark contrast to all the other ethereal, feminine creatures. In this film, Wendy comments that they look "sweet", and Peter warns her "They'll sweetly drown you if you get too close."

It seems like a departure from Barrie, but it actually is in keeping with his text. Barrie writes:

 "The most haunting time at which to see them is at the turn 
of the moon, when they utter strange wailing cries; but the 
lagoon is dangerous for mortals then"

The 2003 film is pretty light-hearted, so it's interesting that the filmmakers chose to portray the mermaids this way, rather than the typical, super-feminine troupe of Pan groupies.

The 2015 prequel Pan depicted the mermaids as all identical to one another, which also detracts from any kind of agency they might have, because it's like saying that all women might as well be the same. These mermaids have electric eel like tails, which they use to fight off the crocodile as he threatens to drag Peter down to the depths. They don't really say much, and it seems their purpose is mainly just to save Peter.  .  .

The last film I wanted to include in the 1924 silent film:

The mermaids are shown sitting on the shore, sunning themselves and playing with bubbles (balls) when we first see Neverland. Later, after the Wendy and the Lost Boys are kidnapped by the pirates, Peter pleads with the Mermaid Queen. She seems to be friendly with the Crocodile, and allows the croc to accompany Peter to the pirate ship to fight Captain Hook, because of course Hook is terrified of the beast who swallowed his hand.

So it seems that mermaids represent a pretty simplistic view of women: they are either meant to save men, or they are a threat to them. I guess when I want to think of a mermaid as a strong character, I'll have to just stick to Ariel.

Friday, December 1, 2017

NHSLA Conference 2017

Yesterday I attended the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference in Manchester, NH. The New Hampshire School Library Media Association is one of the collaborators in offering this conference to school library employees. I thought the conference sounded interesting, but I couldn't afford the $165 price tag, so when the call went out to have people present projects in the Collaborative Makerspace, I proposed my project. It was accepted, so I got an awesome day of professional development.

I arrived to the expo center in time to grab a little cup of granola (with chocolate chips), and then I immediately went to get a seat for the keynote address. That day's speaker was Adam Bellow, the co-founder of Breakout EDU. For those not familiar with it, Breakout EDU is an immersive learning in which students are put into a room together, and given some clues which they must decipher in a certain order, so that they can "break out" of the room. The adult escape rooms based on this concept are also gaining popularity.

The keynote speech was fantastic, and I took quite a few notes. I was a little unsure about how my little project was going to fit into the scene, amidst all the robots and drones and coding programs. The project I proposed is one of my favorites; using discarded books to create unique art journals. It's very easy, and the possibilities are endless. Plus, libraries are always trying to figure out what to do with the mountains of withdrawn books we create when we 'weed' our collections. So I thought it might be appealing to librarians, but I kind of pictured myself tucked away in a corner with all my musty old books, while all the 'shiny new toys' were centerstage.

When I arrived at my station to set up for my two hour shift of volunteering in the makerspace, I had just sat down when the woman at the next table turned to me and asked "Are those your journals?" I replied "Yeah" and she said "Oh, they're beautiful! I was just looking at them!" And then it took off. From that point on, anyone who visited the makerspace wanted to look at them, and ask how to do them, and if I've used them with students before.  .  .I've never had so many people look through my journals before, but I was showing them different techniques, and telling them about some fun prompts to use in order to get started.  .  .They were taking pictures of the pages, and asking me for my email address in case they have questions, and asking me for the address of my blog.  . .It was incredible!

When there was some downtime, I just worked on some pages in the art journals. 

I've written here before about my reluctance to identify myself as an artist. I have always thought of artists as people with MFA's, or people who are paid to teach art to students, or as people who rent studio space in renovated industrial buildings.  .  . like, "Me? No,  I don't make art. I just glue things onto paper, or spread paint on surfaces or attach broken jewelry bits to things to make windchimes." 

I guess I just need to remember that just like librarians do not simply "read books all day" that artists have much more to their identity, and "makers" make all varieties of things. 

I think I need one of these flags, like the one I saw at the conference: