Monday, January 25, 2010

Mica Books and Coptic Bindings

Mica is odd and intriguing material. It is most frequently used for industrial applications because of unique physical properties. Mica has a high dielectric strength and excellent chemical stability, making it a favored material for manufacturing capacitors for radio frequency applications. It has also been used as an insulator in high voltage electrical equipment, and between the bars of commutators in generators and motors.

The word "mica" is thought to be derived from the Latin word micare, meaning "to glitter", in reference to the brilliant appearance of this mineral (especially when in small scales). Ground mica is used to add the sparkle to paint and other substances like makeup and toothpaste.

Here Daniel Essig, our instructor, is working with a sheet of resin bonded mica that has been built up from splittings of mica. These had either an amber or green cast to them and could be bonded to paper and other elements with PVA glue.

We also utilized pure sheet mica that cannot be easily glued with conventional adhesives. It does however lend itself to drilling and sewn applications.

Having seen Daniel's imaginative work at numerous galleries and places around Asheville, North Carolina was an impelling motive to take his class at the folk school. My mother had attended this folk school twice, traveling all the way from Wisconsin to this corner of far western North Carolina. With the school only a four hour drive from my home I hankered for an opportunity to check out this venue, so this was the match I had been waiting for.

Specific class content had not been my main draw. From the published class description I envisioned working with smaller pieces of mica, not constructing an entire book displaying various techniques using mica. These larger pieces of mica were outside my repertoire of art supplies.

A little mica collage action from one of my classmates is shown here.

This is a fold-out spread from the book I made in class.

And the same fold-out seen from the opposite side.

Here is my completed book lying closed with its handsome Coptic binding facing you. To people who do not book-bind this looks like a simple braided closure.

Coptic binding refers to methods of bookbinding developed by early Christians in Egypt and north Africa in around the second century A.D. The term is also used to describe modern bindings sewn in the same style. Modern Coptic bindings can be made with or without covering leather; if left uncovered as my book is, a Coptic binding is able to open 360°. a Coptic binding is non-adhesive, and does not require any glue in its construction.

Artisans and crafters often use Coptic binding when creating hand made art journals or other books. Constructing the binding itself is somewhat complex and in class it took a full two hours to sew my pages together. Even knowing the binding technique well, the process would probably require at least 30 minutes. We used 4 needles and waxed linen to sew together our mica pages.

Now, I just need to repeat the process sometime soon, so I don't forget the technique entirely. Diagrams explaining the procedure are decidedly mystifying.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

John C. Campbell Folk School

My first out of town trip planned for 2010 is a long weekend at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina.

I have never taken a class here, but my mother took two classes several years ago. In one, she learned to spin raw wool into yarn. In the other she made a small, hand carved stool. Classes generally are for either a weekend or are a week in length.

I will be attending a weekend course, a bookbinding class utilizing mica in the book construction.

Daniel Essig will teach the class. He is an artist I have admired for some time. Daniel is known for his creative books and bookbinding techniques.

He first became interested in bookbinding while studying photography at the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale. He learned Coptic bookbinding, an ancient technology from 4th Century North Africa. His interest was refined at the Penland School of Crafts.

A link to his website is here:
Check it out!

Here is a photo of some of his handmade books and bookbinding tools.
Expect a report and more awesome pictures next week.

See you then!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Last summer Babycakes Cupcakery opened in Abingdon, Virginia. Currently it is located in the building on 380 East Main street along with Zazzy'Z (see last week's post).

Babycakes' motto? "Life is uncertain, eat dessert first"

Taking photographs outside Zazzy'Z, I noticed the feathers adorning the windows of Babycakes. Some windows had white feathers and others displayed pink ones. It is not as evident in the image above, as it is in a larger format, but I take pleasure in the way the old, wavy window glass distorts the reflections of the tree limbs.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Zazzy'Z - A Near Fiasco

This past Sunday afternoon, five of my collage and spray paint works were hung at Zazzy'Z - consider it the grand culmination of half thought-out plans. Last fall, Jan Hurt asked for participants in this show at Zazzy'Z, a local coffee house, bookstore and gallery. I knew that this would push me to frame and get pieces to a finished state, so I agreed to participate.

Right after Christmas, ready-to-assemble metal frames were purchased on a 40% discount at the A.C. Moore hobby store chain in Asheville. Eight days prior to the 'hang date,' I picked out mat colors and ordered them cut at Carl Jessee's Frame Shop. One or two of the mat colors were not in stock and would need to be ordered, putting the mats ready at just one day prior to the hang date. This would cut it close, but it seemed feasible.

Saturday morning the fresh mats were picked up. Next, I purchased a large sheet of Optiplex, a type of Plexiglas, at the local Lowe's. After I had calculated the layout to optimize materials, the young male employee cut the Optiplex for me. This was much more economical than having the frame shop cut and provide this material.

Saturday evening, I begin assembling components. The first frame goes together without a hitch and looks lovely. Then the process goes sour. For some inexplicable reason, I purchased the wrong size frame components in Asheville. Aack! Some sort of strange brain malfunction is playing itself out.

To obtain replacement components I will need to make a trip to Michael's. I have a choice of two store locations, each about 25 miles from my home. An internet search reveals that the stores open at 10 am on Sunday morning. I decide to go to Kingsport, figuring that if Michael's does not have everything I need, there is also a Hobby Lobby in Kingsport.

Par for the course, Michael's does not have what I need. The pictures will have to be in uniform black frames, as silver- and gold-tone frame components are not available there in the odd inch sizes that I require. But but but! There are only two 21-inch black frame components, and three are required to complete all of the frames. And it turns out that Hobby Lobby is not even open on Sundays.

A phone call to another far-away Michael's (25 miles to Johnson City) puts the remaining 21-inch frame component on hold for me. After picking that up, I arrive home a little after noon and about an hour and a half before pieces are due to be hung.

Hurry, hurry, scurry, scurry - I arrive just before the appointed hour of 2pm, still attaching picture hanging wire, but it all works out!

All total, I put about 140 miles on the car Sunday. I met my obligations and I learned a few lessons about the process and time-lines, to boot. As a bonus, there are 4 frames just waiting for art work. Some projects are definitely clamoring for my time and attention.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Rita Forrester Benefit at the Carter Fold

Fans of mountain music gathered Sunday at the Carter Family Fold up in Hiltons, Virginia to show support for Rita Forrester. Rita has been the keeper of the faith up at the Fold since her mother Janette passed away in 2006. Rita Forrester is the granddaughter of A.P. and Sara Carter. If you are not from this area, you may not know about the Carter Family Fold. Located in Poor Valley, at the foot of Clinch Mountain in southwest Virginia, it was established in 1974. The Fold is a small concert hall that celebrates old-time country and folk music and the legacy of A.P. and Sara Carter, country music pioneers. Music, clogging (country dancing) and food are served up there each and every Saturday night.

In the early hours of Sunday, December 6, 2009 Rita's home burnt to the ground claiming the life of her husband Bob. Rita and her son Tyler managed to escape with their lives, but little else.
This benefit offered love and spiritual support as well as financial resources.

So many musicians and groups volunteered their time for this benefit, that each group was limited to performing 2 songs or for about 10 minutes. Many drove several hours and from out- of- state to be able to take part and as many musicians said "give back" through this benefit. Their love and appreciation for both Rita and the Fold was manifest.

The audience was large and enjoyed this excellent opportunity to sample the multiplicity of talent on display.

During the benefit,I am fairly certain that the Fold had one of the largest aggregate collections of upright basses in the state of Virginia. I have never seen so many of these large instruments in one place.

The benefit started at 3pm Sunday afternoon, and I ducked out at a little after 5:30. There were 3 bands yet to play, with the last one promising an extended set for those that wanted some extra dance time.

Dancing is serious business up at the fold. Here the people clog. Clogging is a truly American dance that has it's origins in these Appalachian mountains. The word "clog" comes from Gaelic and means time. Clogging focuses on the downbeat, with the heel keeping the rhythm. Many of the dancers wear special shoes with taps.

Lessons might be in order.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Amusements for Cold Days

Seventeen degrees outside this morning when I walked the dog, cold but appropriate for early January in southwestern Virginia. It's a good day to cruise the internet for amusing video clips.

This one delighted me, I hope you like it too.
One suspects that the cold and sometimes cloudy days in Rochester played a part in the production of this video.