The Implicit Challenge in Fine Plumage

à la Peacock

Materials: Glass, Copper, Silver, Lead, Zinc, Maple wood
Framing by Against the Grain Studio
Built in 2016 and now in a private residence in South Carolina.

 Who doesn’t love the peacock?

The first time I ever really considered these strange birds at any length was on a college trip to study in London.  I was awe-struck at the number of birds on royal property, and it was my very first time ever seeing white peacocks.  Not only was I struck by how oh-my-geese-over-the-top-ostentatious these birds were, I was shocked at their insolence.  “Not everything that glitters is gold…” indeed!

I’d been exposed to the haughty fowl before – they’re a complete nuisance in Miami having completely overrun quite a few Southern Florida communities!  An article that ran in the NYTimes in 2008 read: “Roaming freely in packs of nearly a dozen, they shake their rumps like teenagers, dropping guano on $60,000 sedans and squawking with a sound akin to the screams of someone being attacked.” I hadn’t remembered them being so strikingly beautiful in Miami, however.  And on my return, I visually confirmed that the Southern US Peninsula’s version of the showy bird was in fact much drabber!

I loved to watch birds with my Grandfather – Pops – and we often teased the mighty Peacock and all his plumage. But clearly, there’s an implicit challenge in that plumage more than a passing fancy: originally from India, they were always a symbol of royalty in their homeland and have been a favorite form in ornamentation for over a millennium. Peacocks were even being used on tombs of early Christians!  It’s amazing how long the history of the peacock truly stretches back into the history of art.

I guess at the end of the day, I just wanted my own go.

Each piece in the background was fired over a mold taken from an actual peacock feather.  It took many, many failures before I honed the right firing schedule and molds.  Only 6-9 pieces could be fired at a time, so it was many, many nights before I had enough pieces for construction.  The small ~2” roundels in the border were carved in clay, then a mold was taken of that carving, and pre-fired blanks were cast into the mold.  I was able to make two molds from my carving so that I could fire two pieces at a time.


In the meantime, I cast the central rondel one night in the kiln, using almost 3000 grams of glass to form the 15” round plate.  Next, I used a vitrigraph kiln to create the stringers for the feather.  This process is fairly simple, albeit time-consuming: a small kiln with a hole drilled in the bottom is mounted about 6’ high.  Then, a crucible (also with a hole drilled in the bottom) is loaded with glass chunks and heated to 1700ºF.  At this temperature, the glass begins to melt through the holes and out of the bottom of the kiln.  Using this method, one can achieve organic, seamless curves in amazing lengths.

At the top of each feather, I formed wafers from glass powders and silver mesh to be the accents within the feather.  Once all these individual elements of the feathers had been created, they were carefully assembled and fired onto the 15” rondel.

Finally, all the elements were ground to fit together and leaded together into one large piece.  What made leading this piece interesting is that because the background piece were slumped over the feather molds, they had to be fit to each other not just side to side, but also up to down!  The lead had to be carefully stretched and molded and formed to accommodate and huge amount of movement within each individual piece.

At this size, strength and reinforcement must be considered and the framing takes that into account while also continuing the decorative elements of the piece.

To finish the piece, small white peacock sculptures were cut, ground, foiled with copper, and soldering onto the piece after framing was complete.

All in all, over 30 kiln firings and 175+ hours went into this piece of work over the course of what could likely have been 4-6 months… but ended up being about 2 years.  Keeping that amount of energy going into the same piece for that period of time might have been the greatest technical test of all!

à la Peacock hanging in Hilbert College Library. Photo by Onion Studio.

à la Peacock accent and framing. Photo by Onion Studio.

the peacock 009

à la Peacock central rondel with feathers. Photo by Onion Studio.

peacock 002

à la Peacock accent and framing. Photo by Onion Studio.

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Special Report: A New Chapter in Art Glass Manufacturing

SGQ Spring 2017 Sneak Peak

SGQ Spring 2017 Sneak Peak

A year ago this week, Spectrum announced that they intended to close their doors. Now, there’s a new chapter in our sheet glass manufacturing story and I have LOVED writing it up. Seriously, I was almost sad to turn this puppy over. It was hard to put my pen down, power off the laptop, and just, finish this.

BUT… so it is. And the SGAA has the ENTIRE Special Report in Spring 2017 Stained Glass Quarterly!

If you’re ready to take an in-depth look at how things went from A to Z to WTF… Subscribe to the SGQ today!

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When Sound Rattles My Soul

Last weekend I traveled with the Buffalo Silver Band to Syracuse where we performed an epic arrangement of “Feierlicher Einzug” (Gesundheit!)

It helped that we were epically displaced around the chapel so that we surrounded our audience and ourselves.

It’s a beast of a song. In rehearsal, the first time we read through, all I could think was “holy crap on a cracker, I’m blowing my brains out!” and “Are we going to get to breathe anywhere in this?!?!” But rehearse we did and magic we made.

The SU Brass Ensemble, Buffalo Silver Band, Bones East, and organist Bette Kahler joined forces in this epic performance of Strauss’ “Feierlicher Einzug.”

It’s after performances like this that there best be a path between me and something constructive… because the amount of energy is disgusting. Thank God there was a 2 hour bus ride back to Buffalo because I could have done damage after this one…

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McElf for the SGQ: Glass, Science, Definition: The Never Ending Struggle

“Glass, Science, Definition: The Never-Ending Struggle” Stained Glass Quarterly Vol. 111, No. 4 Winter 2016. 48-53.

Authors:         William LaCourse, Ph.D. & Megan McElfresh


Glass is one of nature’s oldest inventions, yet humans are only beginning to understand and exploit its full potential.  It may be visually transparent, colored or clear, but scientifically opaque with a host of internal secrets and anomalies.  Thus, while artists can capture and tame its beauty, scientists still struggle to fully understand the nature of the glassy state.  Physicists and glass scientists still ask the question, “What is glass?”, and have lively discussions with references to an esoteric Biblical verse Judges 5:5 where Deborah stated that “The mountains flowed down at the presence of the LORD, even yon Sinai at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel.”

In medieval alchemy, the symbol for glass was an infinity above a cross: never ending struggle.  Some could argu

alchemy - never ending struggle

Alchemy – Never Ending Struggle

e that even in this day and age, not much has changed.  Glass is a mysterious, romantic material.  The history of glass is full of myths and legends, secrets and hearsay handed down through the ages.  Scientifically, molecularly, what is this incredible material that has entranced so many?

As professionals, how many of us can actually define what glass is scientifically? In our organization’s own publication “The Story of Stained Glass” (I have the seventh edition, published 1984) on the second page we address the Substance and Nature of glass in the following way:

                “Webster solemnly informs us that glass is an amorphous substance consisting ordinarily of a mixture of silicates…

Webster gives us a key to the wonderful possibilities of glass in his use of the term amorphous.  In the hands of master craftsmen this apparently hard and brittle material is capable of taking on elusive qualities of brilliance and movement.  Stained glass comes alive…

The very nature of the materials and processes of glass-making are conducive of mystery.  Opaque substances are transformed into a completely different material; one isn’t quite sure how.  The dull sand, lime & soda that went into the furnace comes out glowing and vibrant, to be controlled only by the greatest skill.  It is still sparkling and elusive when it has been cajoled into its final shape.

In a modern world of plastics, it is discovered that glass is the ancient and original plastic.  It is not a crystal, but in its formation, is as near like water as anything else…”

Even at the Corning Museum of Glass, I cannot find a definition any better.  And in that history of a void where there is no simple definition to fill in that blank, there has been some wiggle room for theories such as “glass is a super-cooled liquid” to take hold.

I suspect that at some point in your own history with glass, very early on, in fact, you were quite simply seduced by the material.  At some point when you started working with the material, did your teacher or mentor attempt to explain what glass actually was?  What was its chemical makeup?  How did it work?  Somewhere along the way, somebody out there might have told you some variation of the story: “The reason some pieces of cut glass in the windows we’re restoring is thicker at the bottom than at the top is because at the molecular level glass is still liquid and its being pulled down by gravity.”

– Insert incredulous silence here –

Galadriel, LOTR Films

Galadriel, LOTR Films

I’m reminded of a line given to Galadriel in the prologue of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, “…And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth…”  Even today, in the world of Google and YouTube, I still hear this theory sneak into conversations which are perfectly professional in every other way.  Can you imagine the difficulties we would have restoring the world’s stained glass windows, let alone creating new work for architects today if this was true?  And yet this sticky theory continues to follow some of us around…

So how instead is glass defined?  What – molecularly, definitively – is this amazing material that we use every day, forging light itself into the most brilliant works of art?

As artists and professional glass users, we can serve our industry best if we precisely understand our material!  I turned to Dr. William C. LaCourse, Professor of Glass Science at Alfred University’s Inamori School of Engineering, to help me find the answer.  His short answer?  “Beer is a Super Cooled Liquid… Glass?… not so much.”

What about the definition we get from the dictionary?  Unfortunately, Dr. LaCourse points out that just as our Webster definition at the beginning of our article, today’s on-line definition just leaves too much wiggle room to be a scientifically accurate definition: “a hard, brittle, noncrystalline, more or less transparent substance produced by fusion, usually consisting of mutually dissolved silica and silicates that also contain soda and lime, as in the ordinary variety used for windows and bottles.” describes rather than defines what glass can sometimes be and how it is sometimes made.  It somewhat sneakily does not specify whether glass is a liquid or a solid – it’s a ‘substance.’  Further it implies that the glass is only made by ‘fusion’ – this is too limiting since glass can be made in a number of ways in additional to fusion.  And in more and more cases, the glasses DO NOT contain silica or silicates; some commercial glasses today may have no silica or other silicates.

While most people could care less, it is important for a scientist to have a precise but inclusive definition that a material must fulfill to be a glass.  (And to do this, we might need that super cooled liquid mentioned above, perhaps conveniently in a chilled glass?)  While a definition may still be slightly out of reach, glass can be described in known terms to help us better understand its mystery.  Terms such as ‘supercooled liquid,’ ‘glass transition,’ ‘relaxation time,’ ‘fictive temperature,’ and ‘non-crystalline solid’ are parts to the whole of the glassy state.  These terms are why conversations about annealing, coefficients of expansion and viscosity are so important, even in the world of glass + art.

Because of the increasing popularity of glass kilnforming as a technique in many of our studios, you probably know more about the science of glass than you think you do.  And it probably doesn’t take much for you to take a jump with us into why the definitions above just don’t work.

For a scientist, it is better to define a material in terms of structure and properties without specifying composition similar to the way we describe “matter” as a SOLID, LIQUID, or GAS without specifying composition.  Some glass scientists would consider glass as a 4th state of matter. (or, if you are a physicist a 6th state of matter as they consider “plasmas” and the ever popular “Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC) as the 4th and 5th states.  Google that to find some delightfully nerdy talking points for future conversations with your super-cooled beer…)  Glass is a rigid material formed by heating a mixture of dry materials (batch) to a viscous state, then cooling the ingredients fast enough to prevent formation of the molecules into a regular crystalline structure, but slow enough to prevent shock from internal stress. As the glass cools at a specific rate, the atoms become locked in a disordered state like a liquid before they can form into the perfect crystal arrangement which usually defines a solid.  Glass shares the qualities of both states of matter.

Here is another way to think about it: the glass that we use only exists, as a material, under specific conditions, within specific temperature ranges.  And it doesn’t behave like any other material while it’s here with us.

Figure 1 - Structure of Glass from Bullseye, TechNotes 4

Figure 1 – Structure of Glass from Bullseye, TechNotes 4

Glass can be “crystal clear” but it can never exist with a “crystalline structure.”  Glass is a material that only exists with an amorphous structure. Its molecules are arranged at random — yes, like a liquid — versus a regular, repetitive, specific pattern.

What would a glass look like with a crystalline structure?  Well, perhaps once upon a time something overheated in your kiln and your piece devitrified?  This is how Corning’s line of Pyrex glass-ceramics came to exist: The story goes that in the early 50’s while developing glass cookware, S. Donald Stookey of the Corning Research and Development Division overheated a sample in the furnace, which turned the sample a milky white color.  As he attempted to move the glass from the furnace into the garbage, the sample slipped and hit the floor, but did not shatter.  Hence Pyroceram was born, but due to the heat, it was no longer a glass because its molecular structure was no longer amorphous.

You can imagine how confusing it would have been to the first viewers to discover that this hard, brittle material which shattered on impact had a molecular structure that resembled frozen water.  It is this molecular structure which earned glass the descriptive term of ‘supercooled liquid.’  It is perhaps less confusing to call glass a ‘non-crystalline solid.’

Now let us examine that whole idea of ‘liquid’ a little closer, because even when its being manufactured, we can all agree that glass never really sloshes around like a glass of water.  At its hottest, glass moves like a honey at best.  Because it has an amorphous molecular pattern, glass reacts to heat differently than other materials.  It does not suddenly go from hard and brittle to soft and honey-esque, it’s a slow change which occurs between specific temperature ranges and it’s the reason why annealing is such a crucial part of both glass manufacture ring and later glass artwork.

Materials like metal, wax or ice change from a solid to a liquid at a very specific temperature (a melting point), whereas materials like glass go through a very gradual transformation—slowly changing from a material that behaves like a solid to a material that behaves like a liquid.  Notice the word behaves: this behavior is unique to amorphous materials and is called glass transition from a hard and relatively brittle “glassy” state into a viscous or rubbery state as the temperature is increased.

It is this slow transformation, this behavior of glass transition, which allows glass to be worked cold (cut, ground, sandblasted), warm (kilnformed or fused), or hot (blown, cast, torchworked).

What is happening during this slow transition of heating and cooling is that the chemical bonds within the glass holding the atoms together are breaking apart.  The chemical bonds in a regular crystalline structure are identical and so all of the bonds holding the atoms together break at exactly the same temperature. Below this temperature, the material is solid, above this temperature, the material is a liquid, hence, melting point.  An amorphous molecular pattern, such as the one found in glass in its rigid state, has chemical bonds across a range of strengths because the molecules are held apart at a range of distances therefore it takes a range of temperatures to break the bonds apart.

Likewise, when cooling glass, it needs a range of time, carefully calculated based on the complexity of the piece, for these molecules to cooperate without undue stress. The process of slowly cooling glass sheets or a completed glass object prevents strain in these varied chemical bonds.

To properly anneal glass, the temperature of the piece is raised just so that the molecular bonds can be relaxed, but not broken.  Or the temperature is lowered such that bonds can slowly form, but are not yet stiff.  The temperature from the center of the glass mass out to all of its surfaces and extremities needs to be kept as close to the same as possible while it passes through the glass transition state.  Ideally, the entire object is at the same uniform temperature.  The temperature, which is held high for some time, is then slowly reduced to room temperature.

All these factors come into play when we apply paints and stains to the glass surface and apply heat.  It is this amazing material and the slow, ordered process that it demands that allows for silver stain to react so very differently across different glasses of different manufactures.  Even the slightest change in the mixtures of silica, metals or oxides can drastically change where these changes begin and the range in which they will occur which is why compatibility is not a simple issue which can be summarized by the “coefficient of expansion.”  But that’s a conversation for the next glass of super-cooled liquid.

So, in conclusion: in the day to day work of art glass craftsmen, is glass so solid that it will not flow, even on God’s time scale?


Is it a terrible thing that glass remains just outside the borders of clear, concise definition?

Of course not.  It is because of the elusive nature of the material itself that we as artists have so much room to play.  The future of glass, the full capacity of glass, is yet to be discovered by scientists and artists alike.

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THE I-95.

THE Highway

THE Highway

Having lived on the I-95 corridor, learning to drive inside the Corridor of Hell otherwise known as the Capital Beltway… when I first moved to Buffalo, all of the road names sounded really bizarre to me.  And it wasn’t because they were long and had too many consonants (you try pronouncing Scajaquada your first day in town!)  It was because they all came with THE in front of them.  And there were so many different TYPES of “highways” — THE thruway, THE expressway, THE highway, THE skyway, THE, THE, THE.

But there was also none of THE traffic that I had become so accustomed to.  And suddenly, I had all this time to get lost and figure it all out and even my directionally challenged self could wander her way from The Point A to The Point B because this place was designed by a genius and it all became so natural that I started to put THE in front of everything.

Like, THE Netflix.

THE Google.


As time marched ever onward, and the gaps between my visits back to Virginia grew further and further apart, and I grew less and less accustomed to even-seeing-red-taillights-let-alone-actually-ever-sitting-in-anything-even-REMOTELY-resembling-traffic!!!(GASP-OH-MY-GEESE-DEEP-BREATH-I’M-SORRY…)  The lingo followed me on my travels, and inevitably, the cultural use of the word ‘the’ which had first seemed so humorous to me, was now the cause of mirth amongst friends, relatives, and complete strangers when I left the calm, quiet roads of Western New York behind.

When my mother’s sudden collapse caused me to not just return to the Corridor of Hell mentioned above, but spend several weeks of the Holidays actually commuting in it again… there were definitely more than the average linguist slip-ups as I found myself FUMING about the absolutely ridiculous conditions the citizens of Virginia face EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

On THE I-95.

Because The Thruway back home?  Just isn’t like that.  EVER.

“Lol! That’s so funny that you call it The Thruway!”

“Yes well, let me tell you why I think you’re funny.  There in Northern VA, or NoVA, you have: Just. One. Highway.  I-95.  And you crazy people sit on it all day.  It took me 6 hours on a WEEKEND DAY to get from Baltimore to Richmond.  Do you know what we do in WNY when we get on the Expressway?  or THE Scajaquada?!? or THE 198?!? We EXPRESS from one side of our city to the other!!  Sca-JACK THAT!!  Guess how THE Thruway works?  THE 90?!? It gets us THROUGH, around,  OVER, and across the city.  WITHOUT stopping or slowing down!

YOUR Highway is a corridor for meeting new friends! Because you can race each other at 2MPH down 75 miles of 12 lanes of traffic yelling “Hi!” at each other all the way home!!  It’s a ‘Beltway’ because you’ll be able to tighten your belt by the time you get to dinner because you’ll have been starving sitting out there breathing fumes!!”

Just wanted to point out that teensy difference.  I’m going to call it The I-95 for the rest of my life.  It deserves the extra attention.  Because it’s infamous.  For being THE lamest way to spend a Sunday ever.

True story.



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These are a few of my favorite things…

Everything and the Kitchen Sink

Everything and the Kitchen Sink

A few of my favorite things live on this shelf.

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  I have a toddler.  And toddlers…




(You could just as easily exchange “eating” for “snacking,” “wrecking,” “smearing,” … I know you know what I mean…)

Add a dash of Irish and a pinch of Polish to our kitchen culture, and sometimes it feels like we never LEAVE the kitchen!

So I took this blank wall, and put up a wee shelf o’er the sink where I could insert a little zen into the insanity.  Like the kitchen sink, there’s a little bit o’ everything.

My husband and I both own our own sacred copies of “Joy of Cooking.”  Both of us inherited these culinary Bibles from different late family members.  Both have very different notes in the margin, slips of paper in the binding, flour smudges and chocolate smears, and neither of us can imagine living without our own copy.  It’s funny and comforting to display them both where they can be easily accessed.

Maybe, knowing me as you do, you next notice the french press to the right of the cookbooks.  Ah, yes.  Self-explanatory, then.  Because you know that I require a substantial amount of at least decent black coffee to function.  Alas, enjoying a truly quality cup doesn’t happen often enough, but one can dream.  And dreams should be kept front and center.

Moving to the left of the cookbooks…

buffalo china and larkin grinder

Buffalove was destined for me…

Going through boxes of things I inherited from various family on both sides of my tangled tree, I discovered these two wonderful pieces: a Larkin company Meat Grinder, and a Buffalo China teapot.  The teapot belonged to my Grandfather’s Mother on my Mom’s side. My grandfather never used it, but he kept it all these long years and he gave it to me when he moved in with us shortly after we were married.  In and of itself, it was a brilliantly romantic gift because here we were back in Buffalo, where the teapot started, trying to take care of each other all these years later.  But then, going through boxes of things from my Dad’s side, I found this meat grinder that HIS Grandfather had used, made by Larkin Co., Buffalo, NY.  Too coincidental to be overlooked.  It helped me feel like I had brought my family with me across the country and that a little part of them lived with me still.  When I’m lonely, I still make tea in this teapot, and drink it with the memory of the woman I never met, but who was strong enough to bring her tiny family here across the Ocean all by herself.

Moving back to the RIGHT of those cookbooks…

arse varse

Arse Vase

Are fun, and funny, pieces of memory.  Herbs and beans from our summers at the farm.

And a Varse.


A Varse.  Arse + Vase =  Varse!

During college I traveled several times to Pilchuck Glass School.  I laugh now at how young and ridiculous I was.  But I was stoked to be in the presence of so many spectacular artists.  And at one auction, I couldn’t believe that I was the highest bid on this item from a Teaching Assistant that absolutely blew my mind.  She was so confident, but so NORMAL.  Funny, smart, talented… I wanted to exude the same awesome one day.  So I bid on this item she put in the auction.

When I got home, I had to explain to my Dad that I’d gone to this glass school in the woods, up a mountain on a tree farm, slept in a cabin, and paid money to bring a glass butt home.

It was worth every penny, because I’m still smiling about the whole thing.

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Captain’s Log: Colleen’s AVM Adventures Day 60

Wednesday 2/14/2016 8:45AM

Happy Valentine’s Day to any Hallmark Lovebirds out there. Progress continues. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the best Valentine’s Day gift a mother and daughter could ever ask for.

What did you get from your Valentine? Maybe a big ROCK? (Cliche?)

I love rocks.

Last week was a biggie. I think we’re still adjusting to the new mindset a little. Physical therapy is now full speed ahead. The young whippersnapper helping mom to stand like grasshopper thinks she’ll have the feisty bird up on her feet without a walker by the end of March! How’s that for good news? Balance, coordination, stamina… she’ll be breaking glass in half with her knuckles again before you can say “Hai-YA!”

Sorry. But that’s totally what physical therapy makes me think of.

Meanwhile, the E’Clair is up on her knees, all but crawling as she scooches and wiggles and tumbles her way across the floor. I think Grandma & Baby are having a mobility race.

On Wednesday it was back at VCU for a check-in and check-up (Thank the Lord we’re all checked-OUT because that is a BRUTAL drive… I can’t believe a few short weeks ago that was N.O.R.M.A.L.) We met with the docs (Dr. Easy-On-The-Eyes and Dr. Handsome, to be exact. No really, it’s not her blurry double-vision, Bonnie confirms it!) ANYWAY LADIES!! Bonnie and I took Mom in for her evaluation.

Short story: The doctors are thrilled with her progress.

Longer story: Mom’s fistula was in the back of her head, at the top of the neck. The brain bleed was concentrated in that area, around the vessels and nerves that control vision, etc. The blurrier-than-normal vision is a result of swollen vessels and will continue to slowly improve as that decreases. Whatever she ends up with in the next six weeks will be her new normal and then we can go get new glasses. Double vision is the result of damaged nerves (vs. swollen vessels). An entirely different problem. Which may take longer to heal. It may never fully heal, it’s a possibility, there’s no way to know yet. But there are options if it doesn’t go away.

The bulk of the swelling will still take several more months to mostly heal. In mid-June, enough of the swelling should have healed which will allow the doctors to do another Angiography and fully


Onyx rocks. Probably not the rocks they’re going to use… I just saw these on Google, you know?

map out the AVM or Fistula which is the ultimate cause of Mom’s issues.

Then (oh, my geese, this is my favorite part…) they are going to PERMANENTLY GLUE MOM’S HEAD TOGETHER. Minimally invasive endovascular embolization. Put big words on it, I don’t care: During this procedure, we pass a catheter through the groin up into the arteries in the brain that lead to the AVM/Fistula and inject liquid embolic agents into these arteries. This injection shuts off that artery and reduces the flow of blood through the AVM.

GLUE, people! We’re fixing her with glue. There is a God, and he is 100% providing for me. I have always known my Mom just needed a little more glue. What is this glue made out of? ONYX! More onyx. New favorite rock. Screw diamonds. Onyx is for lovers.

Meanwhile, back in my other reality, Liam dug out a 75+ year old marginata tree and dumped the dirt on the dog. I wanted to be more angry, but then he told me my soup smelled delicious. It’s my fault, really. Who let’s their two-year-old have birthday cake donuts for breakfast? Maybe the doctors will have some glue left over to help me clean this up?

HUGE shout out to Bonnie. The Angel of the Year Award goes to Bonnie. Not only is she absolutely brilliant with Mom… She’s being a total rockstar putting up with my gruff, smartass self. And my kids. She gave me, like, 5 cups of coffee in one day. While playing with and occupying my toddler. Rockstar.

And if you haven’t seen what Artful Dimensions Gallery is up to for Mom, head over to their Faecbook page and check it out: Artful RX Call for Art!It’s just incredible, the community that has risen up and held us together through this. I will NEVER forget how lucky we are. My kids are healthy and happy and LOVED through all of this. My mom is CHERISHED, and has the prayers and hope of hundreds who BELIEVE in her. How can anyone doubt that she’s going to beat this?

So from my heart to yours on this special Valentine’s Day, my deepest gratitude to all. Enjoy your rocks.


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Captain’s Log: Colleen’s AVM Adventures Day 54 (The Rest Stop)

Wednesday 2/7/2017 11:14PM

My Mom collapsed 54 days ago. 54 days. 54 days ago she stood for hours upon hours at a work bench making beautiful things and teaching other how to make beautiful things. Sharing her passion with kids and adults. Eating full meals, planning holiday mayhem. Today she stood for almost a minute before she started shaking like a leaf. By the end of minute two she needed a break.

I wanted to cry for her. I want to rip off my legs and give them to her.

Then I think about how far she’s come and I’m so unbelievably proud. She doesn’t need my legs. She just needs us to hold her a little longer and help her dance.

It’s only been 7 weeks. The first two weeks, she couldn’t even get out of bed. Now she’s STANDING! Her sense of humor, her determination is all still there. As long as I can help her keep the long view in focus, I know she’ll do this. So I get my badassery smartassness on and we smile and laugh and it’s awesome.

While she’s begun recuperating away from the hospital, there is still a lot of intensive care needed at this time and we’ve been quiet on the western front to give her some time to adjust to her new surroundings.

Tomorrow, it’s back to CAT scans and diagnostics so that we can plan the next few months assault on recovery.

In the meantime, mom gets a little stronger every day which means she’s awake for a few more minutes every day.

Which means she has more time for her grandkids and their antics.

For instance.

On my latest round trip South from Buffalo with the kids… we stopped at a rest area… obviously, to use, you know, the loo. For, you know, the reasons you need the gosh darn loo after your ump-teenth coffee!! So I haul the kids out of the car and into the bathroom and we get through the diapers and my little guy (holy cow, he’s almost THREE?!?! When did THAT happen?!?!) Anyway, my little guy makes for the exit and I’m like “Hold up, tater tot… Mommy’s turn.”

“Oh… why?”

“Because Mommy needs to use the potty, too.”

“Oh… why?”

“Because Mommy needs coffee to function, dude.”

“Oh, I want coffee.”

“No way, kiddo. Get in here.” And I get him into the big handicapped stall with me. The preferred stall of travelling moms everywhere…

Now look. Back, home, the only room in the whole darn house with a door on it is the bathroom. And Liam’s been getting interested in the whole potty thing. But mostly, at home, he’s excited about the door, not the *hem, hem* contents. So, you know… we’re getting to it.

For some reason, on this particular morning. We got there.

I’m just, you know… going through standard operating procedures… and Liam is just absolutely GIDDY with the excitement of it all.

“Oh, WOW, mommy! WoOoW! … Mommy’s PEEING!” He yells.

“Thank you, sweetie, how about we — ”

“WOW! Mommy, watcha DOIN’, Mommy?”

“Lia –” as he runs around to try to flush the potty I grab him “No, no, thank you, hon, give me space, would you?”

He then proceeds to rip off some toilet paper and hand it to me.

I happened to need another minute. Which he quickly figured out and running back around to the other side and to the back of the potty he now proceeds to shout out:

“Oh, MOMMY! Mommy POOP!! Mommy POOP!!”

I wanted to sigh with utter despair. But there was no time for that; to my complete and utter horror, it was absolutely about to get worse.

“Mommy, here it comes! Here it comes Mo — YOU GOT IT MOMMY! YOU GOT IT! YOU MADE POOP!”

I’m sure, hiding in that stall, I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.

But wait.

Running around the potty as I slowly tried to regulate my breathing and gather my things, Liam grabbed the handle: “I want to flush it. … OH! Mommy! Mommy! You made TWO!”

Toddlers. Just spectacular.

Reliving the whole story over and over again for your mom’s benefit? While she sits up bouncing a baby on her lap? After eating a PB&J sandwich with you and said toddler? Who can pee by herself if the laughter gets too outrageous?


Effects like these… things that would never be happening unless all of this was happening… years it’s going to take us all to recover.

Gives a whole new meaning to pee-your-pants-funny right there.

I will NEVER stop at that rest station again. God forbid even the maintenance staff recognizes me…

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Energy and Airplanes

Life’s a funny ‘ol thing…

This fall I started working on an awesome project.  It’s the best kind of project you can ever hope for because it comes with the best kind of customer.  No matter the project size, the right customer makes me as an artist want to hold onto a job for as long as humanly possible, because I don’t want to let them go.  (Due to insane, multiple family circumstances beyond my control, some of that has been going on anyway…)

Let’s call this customer PBMC

I did a simple drawing for PBMC over the summer.  The approval went quickly, we were both excited; he had given me a budget and some simple parameters and I had come up with a very nice solution that we were both looking forward to working on.

PBMC Sketch

Often, during the design process, I pack up lots of samples of technical things and sheet glass to help get a sense of what the customer prefers or dislikes.  I also brush up on my mental game… I prepare for the cost battle.  It’s come up often enough, people trying to bargain for a “better price” (and a lesser result)… isn’t there a way to do this cheaper?!? So a little part of analytical/mathematical/business me is always packing heat… always ready to swoop in and save artist/creative/I-want-to-build-this-no-matter-what-me.

Not with PBMC.  When your customer knows what their limits are, it makes it easy to not have to fight over silly stuff like that and just get down to the fun stuff.

And that’s where my creative life got even better.  The BEST!  The more PBMC and I got to know each other and talk about interests, the more I wanted to build little facets of that into the windows.


Yep.  Should have seen that coming.  PBMC and I are very easily excited by this project, by mutual interests, by life in general.  And that energy feeds into itself and grows and what we’re working on is going to have… very little resemblance to that initial drawing.

It’s going to be so. much. cooler.  Sculptural, dimensional, layered.

The balloons are being kilnformed and really pop out of the window both because they’re physically thicker and because they’re so bright and cheerful.  Satellites hover in the background of the sky over a very textured moon.  And the TREE!  Leadwork and glass… oh BE STILL my mutinous heart!!

When PBMC first called me, he just needed a little something to block the light beaming through his office window like a laser, blinding his customers.  But we’ve created, together, something so much more than that.

I can’t wait to finish and install this window.  I’ve been in the hospital for the last month with my mom.  She’s going to make it but I can’t even begin to describe how the experience has drained me and left my heart terrified.

Through it all I’ve kept in touch with PBMC and he has patiently given me the time I needed.  Because he’s the BEST kind of customer.  I love wanting to go to work for him.  I love that he’s my boss right now.

Especially this morning.  Leave it to Buffalo… I haven’t seen PBMC since Thanksgiving.  This morning I sat down on a plane… right next to him!  I’m transported back to early December.  It feels like I never left home.  We talked about forensics and telescopes; cardiac surgeons and train stations; economics and trees.  We watched the moon set through the clouds as we flew South toward Baltimore, and then we saw the sun come up.

I’m putting that in the window.

One more weekend and then I’m headed back into my studio.  I’m going to ask that window to feed me all the energy we’ve instilled in those sweeping, graceful sky lines and majestic mountains.  And I’m hoping that we can work together to breathe joy to every who will ever enjoy it.  Especially me!



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Captain’s Log: Colleen’s AVM Adventures Day 25

1/9/2017 9:30 PM

Oh screw it.

Burning a candle at both ends?


I am a pro. And pros use sticks of dynamite when they detonate energy/fuel sources at multiple points.

It took me about 16 hours to get home with one very miserable E’Clair. Teething. Exhaustion. A cold. She’s just had it with me.

She was up at 4a.m. — Then Liam was up at 7a.m. And the day got rockin’ n’ rollin’ — Gotta get the car unpacked, check the oil, have it ready to turn around; I wonder if I’ve paid any bills due in the last 25 days; call the hospital, how’s Mom doin’… she’s not moving to rehabilitation program yet…; call the insurance company OH NO YOU DID NOT HOLD THE PHONE WHA?!?!

And so I spent all day on the phone with the insurance company advocating for Mom to be moved into the program. Apparently they need 48+ hours to review the “claim” THEN 48+ hours to make a decision… um… No?!!?? *sigh* Hopefully we achieved an expedited claim this afternoon and she’ll be moved (FINALLY) in the morning. I guess I’ll let you know in the morning.

Meanwhile… I was trying to fix a cable on the TV… I had ordered the replacement part (Liam pulled on a cord on the back of the stereo and the connector thingy broke so…) I’m trying to run the new cable and I turn my back for one second to write a claim number down and BAM! Liam pulls on the new cable because it’s just THERE all over the floor BEGGING to be pulled so BAM!

Ordered another one…

Laundry. Baby. Poop. Phone calls. Feed Toddler. Ringing Phone. Poop. Call Hospital again. Poop. Laundry. Fix stuff. Need to catch up with work. More phone calls. Get more crap out of the car. Poop. Toddler snacks. Laundry. Sippy cup. Take out the trash from all the poop. More poop. Pay Bills. Still on the phone. Holy crap on a cracker, where did my day go??

And then suddenly… it’s bath time. And then story time. And I’m throwing the clothes in the laundry and my backs only turned for a moment (haven’t I learned my lesson yet?!?) and I come back in to the bed to find…

… my 2.5-year-old eagerly reading to his 3-month-old sister. Who seems genuinely interested in everything he has to say. I don’t understand a word he’s saying other than “Thomas,” “Island of Sodor,” “Percy,” “Oh, no!” … But the inflection of sentences is there and he’s very intense about the whole thing. Three minutes of solid awesome.

Like every other 21st century parent, OBVIOUSLY… I pulled out my phone to video the moment…

And I’m totally fine now. Cute kids make everything better…

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