Travel to the Past

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When I need a holiday but haven’t the funds or enough time for a long trip, I like l to take a journey back to another time when life was slower and people enjoyed simple pleasures.  How to do this without a time machine?  Well I deploy our collection of vintage items and use them to create a fantasy of a long gone period.

As I have mentioned before in this blog, I love going on picnics.  But sitting on the uncomfortable ground fighting off ants is not always pleasant.  Why not go back to the mid 20th century, when you could sit in style anywhere with your folding picnic furniture to enjoy the great outdoors.  Back then a family or group of friends would load up the station wagon with all kinds of goodies and equipment and would go off to spend the day in the country.  It would have been a bit like a mini expedition without the dangers (if you exclude potential bushfires or snakes).

This type of picnic is something that I would like to recreate when the weather is not too hot.  Anyone can do this with a bit of imagination and not too much expense.  I set up our vintage picnic furniture and equipment on our back lawn to illustrate my idea for a mid 20th century picnic.  We have some old deck chairs, a folding stool; a folding wooden table and chair; a vintage linen table-cloth, old thermos and wine cooler; shuttlecock and quoits sets, all of which came from relatives.  The glass jug; aluminum beaker set; picnic basket and small wooden case were found at op shops (thrift or charity stores).  The umbrellas came from an Asian shop.

Just imagine a lovely country landscape with lots of trees (and nearby parking).  You set up your furniture and unpack your picnic basket in the shade.  It is a beautiful day with a slight breeze.  After a delicious lunch of gourmet sandwiches and salads served with cold wine or craft beer and delightful conversation with friends, you can indulge in a short walk or play a novel old-fashioned game of shuttlecock or quoits (or whatever game takes you fancy) or take a nap after reading a good book.  Then you have afternoon tea or coffee and cakes before you pack up for the journey home.

This is how I would like it to be, but it always pays to take the insect repellant, mobile phones and other mod cons just in case.  Resist the temptation to start Googling or checking your emails.  The whole point is to get away from 21st century stress and slow down a bit.

In Australia there are picnic race events in the country and you could attend one of these and have this type of picnic in style.  Appropriate clothing would complete the vintage feel.

There are even some people in Australia who live their whole lives in another era (Pia Anderson).  They dress in vintage clothes and live with objects and furniture from their favored period.  I think that this would take a lot of effort to do all the time and would not seem like a holiday after a while.  But whatever turns you on.

You could probably travel to other past times for a picnic theme.  Think medieval spit roast.  For this you would need a group of hungry people and no total fire bans.  A Roman banquet would be a bit more difficult.  Hard to find folding Roman couches but maybe a banana lounge would make a good substitute and there are always those portable shade cabanas or gazebos for a Roman tent if you have access to one.  These themes could be hilarious with a group of friends.

So next time you plan a picnic try something different.  Forget the modern minimalism of backpack convenience and go for a historical production for a fun way to visit the past.  There is nothing like a bit of escapist fantasy as a restorative.

Kat

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Creativity with Junk, Mallee Roots and Were-Rabbits

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Everyone has broken or discarded stuff.  Sometimes these things are too interesting to throw away.  I turn metal, wooden, concrete or ceramic pieces of junk into unique assemblages for the garden.

In the early spring, my sister Ellie and I decided to put some potted plants on the concrete area beside our rear driveway to dress up a bleak spot.  This made a difference, but the red brick wall under our family room windows looked too bare.  It needed something interesting to detract from the boring blank bricks, so I rummaged around our crowded shed and the hidden corners of the garden to find suitable objects.

First I discovered a pair of old forged iron chair frames that had lost the wooden seat slats years ago.  These were wonderfully rusty and when I placed them back to back against the wall, they formed the shape of a bizarre moth or strange old airplane.   From the top I hung an iron bell and in the gap at the bottom, an old brass fireplace shovel.  Instant wall decoration.

As the wall is quite long I thought it still needed some more visual interest, so from the back of the garden I moved a wooden power pole off-cut, left over from a community art project that Ellie had taken part in several years ago.  This still has its metal capping and makes a great stand for a sculpture.  We had kept a Mallee Root, too interesting to burn in the fireplace, that looks like the character of Bottom when he was transformed into an Ass in  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with eye hole.  I placed  it on the stand at one end of the wall next to a pot of textured rocks.  Mallee Roots are really hard and don’t rot easily if kept off the ground so it should weather nicely.

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Now that I had begun, I kept finding other bits of junk to make assemblages.  We had an old iron and stone-grinding wheel for sharpening tools that had lost its base and wooden handle.  I thought that it would look good on its side to create a table-like structure, so I stuck one metal end into the bottom hole of an upended terracotta pot.  Onto the joint of the handle I attached an old brass hose fitting and to the handles end fitted a rusty garden fork.  I think it looks like a one-armed World War I helmeted soldier giving a cheeky salute.  There is a rock that is shaped like an elbow and another like a foot on the grinding wheel and it is a tribute to the spirit of the Australian Diggers who survived that awful war.  Probably my most serious assemblage.

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After a violent spring storm one of our terracotta pots was broken and the shards looked too good to throw away.  I half buried them in the earth under our Bay Laurel shrub where the dogs are always destroying the grass.  The broken pot pieces now form a bit of archeology in the garden as if they have been uncovered in a dig.  Circa Middle Suburban Period.

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In the darkest corner of the shed, in a container filled with old junk, apart from the spiders, I discovered three cast iron metal shelf brackets.  Standing them together on their bases creates a decorative assemblage and I put these on the concrete ledge behind our rustic garden bench and table.  In the same junk container were a large rusty forged iron staple and an unusual square type of bolt fitting.  These  found objects were placed on the same ledge, next to a lucky horseshoe given to us by our grandfather.  I did not include my grandmother’s rusty secateurs in this or any grouping, because Ellie said it was a bad idea to put potential weapons near the back door.  I’m more worried about the thought of getting tetanus from a cut, than somebody going psycho with some rusty old garden tools, but better safe than sorry.

In front of this rustic collection was a pot that contained a shade loving Clivia given to us by our Aunt.  But our younger dog, who is only 15 months old, decided in a moment of naughtiness that this would be a great chew toy and dug it out of the pot.  Luckily Ellie caught her in the act and was able to replant the only slightly damaged Clivia.  But we decided not to put it back in the same place where it had attracted Destructor Dog’s attention.  I thought the now vacant spot needed a sculpture.  In our pile of Mallee roots was one that resembles a large rabbit’s head.  It fitted on top of a rounded rock and I sat these on a square section of broken concrete planter as a stand.  I call this piece The Were-Rabbit, because it looks slightly sinister and reminds me of the Wallace and Gromit animation that features a particularly nasty, but hilarious monster rabbit of the same name (Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit).  Yes I know I have a weird imagination.  Anyway, it’s too big to use as a chew toy, we hope.

While I like to play around and have fun creating these objects I always try to make the most of a materials aesthetics and to put them in an appropriate position in the garden.  It often takes a lot trial and error.

At the moment I have run out of items to make assemblages and my creative burst has probably produced enough for now.  As we accumulate new junk, which is inevitable given that many things are not built to last these days, I will most likely find inspiration to create more, as it is such a constructive way to reuse broken stuff.

Kat

The following is a link to one of my favorite gardens surrounding a building that began construction in Victoria in 1855.  The historic Old Curiosity Shop in Ballarat has become a testament to giving new life to broken pottery and discarded objects and is still being added to by the present owner.  It just goes to show once you start along this path it is difficult to stop.

The Old Curiosity Shop Garden

There’s a Dragon At the Bottom of the Garden

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We have a dragon in our garden.  Not a real dragon like a type of frilled lizard, but the mythical kind found in old legends and fantasy tales.

Before we had any garden features our back yard looked rather boring.  Several years ago Ellie and I decided we needed some kind of focal point at the rear of the property.  We visited garden centres and couldn’t find anything we liked to suit our style of house.  It is a cross between the early 20th century Australian Federation and California bungalow styles with a modern red brick addition on the back.

Looking in some books on how to renovate houses of these eras, we saw some terracotta roof dragons hand-made by the local architectural pottery.  Our roof has a couple of original terracotta finials but is not high enough to take a large dragon, so we decided to get one of these beautifully modeled terracotta sculptures to put in the garden.  We went to the pottery and looked at all the designs, chose a large French style dragon (actually a two-legged Wyvern) and placed our order.  After several weeks it was delivered in separate pieces to its new home.

The dragon needed some kind of plinth on which to sit so we cleaned a lot of old bricks left over when a front verandah was enclosed.  With the help of a friend, the brick plinth was constructed under a wooden pergola needed to protect the dragon from falling branches. The tree next door is an African Coral tree that sheds limbs in storms.  This structure has proved very effective, as we often find fallen branches that have been deflected by the framework.

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The foliage surrounding the dragon prevents it from being viewed from all parts of the garden, so it does not compete with other garden ornaments and retains its dramatic impact.  We named it after Ramoth, the dragon Queen in Anne McCaffrey’s wonderful books about the dragons of Pern.  Our dragon has gained a green patina of moss and lichens and has become a home for spiders, the kind that make interesting funnel like webs in the dragon’s mouth.  Every time I tried to remove the webs they kept returning because the spider lives inside the dragon.  Not a wise idea to put fingers into any crevices as I have since found Redback spiders in the garden so the webs can stay, no matter what made them.   For those unfamiliar with these spiders they are Australian native members of the deadly Black Widow family and like to live in damp and dark corners of the garden or shed.  Or maybe down a dragon’s throat.

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The dragon is a wonderful symbol of both the creative and destructive forces of nature because it represents the four elements: earth, air, fire and water.  It lives in the earth, flies in the air, breathes fire and has the scales of a fish.  In western Myths and stories, dragons have often been seen as an evil serpent, like St George’s dragon and Tolkien’s cunning talking dragon, Smaug.  In Chinese culture usually they are lucky and are one of the 12 zodiac animals.  Also on the positive side, a dragon is the symbol of Wales and the magical friend of little Jackie Paper.   I was always sorry when Puff “sadly slipped into his cave”.  Dragons continue to inspire new works for children and adults, like the movie How to Train Your Dragon and the books and TV series of Game of Thrones, where they are dangerous but heroic creatures.  Never a wise idea to mock a Queen’s dragons.  Barbecue anyone?

It is great to have one of the architectural dragons at ground level because only birds would appreciate the sculptural detail when they are placed upon a roof.  To me Ramoth has a smiling face, but she looks quite powerful and ready to defend her territory so is a perfect garden guardian.

Kat

The Christmas Lilies are in Bloom Again

It is a hot, blustery Christmas Eve in Melbourne.  As we are about to have several hot days in a row, I thought I would photograph the lilies in our garden before they wilt.

Our white Christmas Lilies, also known as Day Lilies, are looking lovely at the moment.  It is quite windy and I had wait for lulls in between the gusts to avoid blurry photos.

Also some of the pink Calla Lilies are out, although not as many as last year, but they give a bit of colour.

It is going to be hot on Christmas day tomorrow.  35 degrees celsius is expected.  I hope that the Lilies survive a bit longer because they bring lushness to the garden in summer.

Enjoy the season, whether it is summer or winter.

Kat

Creative Summer Garden Decor

Now that it is summer I want to spend as much time as I can in the outdoors.   It is always lovely to sit outside and read or chat with friends.  It is good to have comfortable and sheltered places in the garden where you can do this and enjoy the fine sunny weather, so you need some suitable garden furniture.  You can buy items that look exactly like furniture found indoors, but these are not very bohemian, which is the style that I prefer.   I think that it is more fun and creative to do something with old furniture and use props to dress up your garden when called for.

It would be nice to have a covered area where we could leave out cushions and less weather proof items and if you have such a structure make the most of it.  We have a very basic wooden garden table, an old railway bench that came from our grandparents and some old rusty metal kitchen chairs on our terrace.  I like the rustic look, but as a change I dress them up with interesting fabrics and other items for a more exotic feel.  Last summer I did this before entertaining some friends.

I covered the table with a painter’s canvas drop cloth.  You can buy these quite reasonably from hardware stores in various sizes.  Drop clothes are really useful as throws and tablecloths, especially outside, because they are heavy and will not blow around easily.  On top of this I put a gold Chinese style table runner and some colourful cloth tablemats, all found at an op shop.  Because it was breezy I anchored the ends of the runner with matching paperclips attached to the base cloth and placed straw mats along its edges.  These could be used as coasters.  On the tablemats I put some (op shop) candleholders and at the far end, an incense burner with lemongrass stick incense to repel flies and mosquitoes, but these weren’t a big problem because of the wind.

An old striped tablecloth was used to cover the railway bench, with some Indian cushions for comfort.  We have some black seat cushions that the fit seats of the metal chairs and a couple of striped Indian shawls were thrown over their backs, with cushions to rest against.  A large market umbrella shaded the table.  From it’s right side near the fernery I pegged up a colourful sarong to cut the glare of the sun.  This moved in the wind and was quite soothing.  From the wooden internal supports of the umbrella I hung a copper wind chime, found at an op shop and the musical notes also created a relaxing mood.   Everyone felt like they had been transported to a more tropical location rather than being in an urban setting and this was a great conversation starter.  Some good cocktails did not hurt either.   It is worth collecting interesting textiles and table accessories from places like op-shops and Oxfam, so that you can use them in imaginative ways outdoors.

I also like to sit and read or write songs in another sheltered and quiet part of the garden, where it is warmer when there is a cool breeze.  A couple of the metal kitchen chairs and an old white cast aluminum table sit in front of a pittosporum hedge and are flanked by a potted wisteria and a pot of thyme.  I can put a beach umbrella in the table for shade.  With a cool drink, some cushions and a good book, you can be perfectly comfortable in this spot.  What more do you need?  Well a nice view would help.  So opposite the table and chairs, against an old rusty gate, is a collection of bottles, ceramic pots, a statue of The Three Graces,  a mask of Pan and some found objects, together with pot plants, to form an interesting scene (referred to in 22 Oct post).   Behind this is the cool greenery of the fernery and hanging from the walnut tree above are some wind chimes.  This gives me something to look at and listen to when I need a break from reading or writing and I feel that I am in my own little oasis.

Don’t think that you need the latest décor to have an attractive garden for summer  entertaining and in which to enjoy the fine weather.  It is much more fun to do your own thing and your garden will not be the same as anyone else’s.

Kat

Embrace the Fun Side of Your Creativity

It would be a very boring world if we had to be serious all the time and to be creative you don’t have to always work with deep and meaningful concepts.  You can express yourself in any way you like and sometimes do things just for fun.  I like to play around and create amusing visual displays.  From retro toys, souvenirs and figures from other cultures to kitsch items and colourful ephemera, these are placed in the studio, as well as other rooms in the house and in the garden.  They are a source of inspiration and make me smile.

Some of these displays have grown into collections and others contain only a few items.  In the kitchen there is a large pine cabinet that mainly houses crockery and glass objects, but the top shelf is devoted to old and new toys, including a number bought on holiday in Japan.  Every time I look at this shelf, as well as being visually pleasing, each item has a story to tell that brings back many memories.

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The most playful objects are in the studio as this is where I need a lot of visual stimulation. One of the seven dwarfs and a vintage Popeye toy sit on the computer desk and I can see them every time I sit down to work.  Across the room on a shelf, a child’s toy wardrobe holds a diorama with seaside souvenirs and related objects, while a trio of incongruous toy horses stand along side.  On the top of the wardrobe sits a miniature closet and dressing table in the same pale blue. Greeting cards with interesting and associated designs are often used in my groupings and I have a large number to choose from. I move items around in different combinations when the mood takes me.  For example, some resin figures that have at one time been in the old dollhouse (see 2nd post) or the wardrobe display, now sit on a pelmet in the studio.  Others may view these articles as clutter and dust collectors, but to me they are part of a whimsical realm where my imagination can wander.

Out in the garden a gnome peeps out from under a shrub and an owl, a failed possum scarer, sits on a metal post to become a quirky feature. A cast iron gecko crawls along a rock.  These things are purely for amusement and don’t pretend to be anything else.  For me, keeping a sense of fun is a necessary part of the creative process.

Many creative people have collecting and hoarding tendencies and sometimes it can be difficult to control.  I find that I have to be selective with what I keep and have given away countless objects because it was impossible to store them with the space available.  But there are no rules to this and you can be sparing or lavish with your chosen material.  If it is a house full of Star Wars figures that gives you a buzz or if you want a garden full of gnomes, go for it and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.

The following links are to examples of homes and gardens where the residents have embraced the fun side of their creativity in a flamboyant and unconventional manner.

Sandra Eterovic – The Design Files

Bronwyn Barnett – ABC News

Sydney Garden Gnome House – Cool Hunting

Pensioner Robert Rae’s garden – Daily Mail UK

Kat

The Artist’s Child’s Symbol of Creativity

The Barbados Lilies in our garden are in flower again and are the symbol of creativity for this blog.  They always bloom at the end of October with the spring renewal and represent the full force of the creative spirit.  These dramatic red flowers burst into life to signal the coming of summer, the time of abundance.

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Like all living things, the lilies are fragile and need to be fed and nurtured to reach their full potential.  We can enjoy them for a short time before they disappear for another twelve months.  These beautiful flowers remind us that to be creative we must seize each moment and enjoy our time in the sun.

Kat