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Our local acting troupe, the  Moretonhampstead Variety Group, are presenting ‘Alice‘ this week, based on the well known tale by Lewis Carroll.  Their production will incorporate the Moorland Museum of Improbable Objects.  Opened in 1892 by Sir William Frederick Danvers Smith, later Lord Hambleden, the Moorland Museum of Improbable Objects was considered an essential stopping-off point on any visit to the moor and played host to many of the most famous names in Victorian society.

Shaken by an undisclosed scandal in 1898, the museum closes under mysterious circumstances and Sir William Frederick Danvers Smith was never seen again. All that remained was a note, left on the door to the sealed doors to the museum, read by all but understood by nobody.


Rediscovered by the town’s historical society, the doors to the museum will unsealed for ONE WEEK ONLY in February 2014, giving modern visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour its fantastical exhibits exactly as Lord Hambleden left them, a great artistic venture featuring artists from all corners of Moretonhampstead.

Naturally, I was honoured with an invitation to make a few items for the museum and have a great deal of fun letting my imagination run amok within the confines of the Victorian era to produce a few improbable objects for the exhibition.

One of these is a Bread and Butterfly, presented in a bell jar.


“Its wings are thin slices of bread-and-butter,
with a crust as its body and a lump of sugar as its head”

Lepidoptera panis butyrum

Lepidoptera panis butyrum

Eadweard James Muybridge ( 1830 –  1904) was an English photographer known for his pioneering work on animal locomotion in 1877 and 1878, which used multiple cameras to capture motion in stop-motion photographs.

This electro-photographic investigation shows a series of consecutive images of a baboon running.


Animal locomotion: Eadweard Muybridge.
Philadelphia : Photogravure Company of New York, 1887

I made two shadowboxes which can be lit from behind.  First, I lined up the images to correspond with the ‘windows’


Then, I trialled the type of paper to print the images onto.



Movement of the Unicorn, Eadweard Muybridge,
Animal Locomotion, Vol XIII, Unusual Animals, 1882


Disappearance and Reappearance of the Cheshire Cat, Eadweard Muybridge,
Animal Locomotion, Vol XIII, Unusual Animals, 1882


Disappearance and Reappearance of the Cheshire Cat – detail

We delivered these and two other pieces (which shall be divulged at a later date) to the Museum yesterday.


If you are not fortunate enough to have procured tickets to see the performance of ‘Alice’ and tour the Museum of Improbable Objects, you can still check out some of the exhibits therein on the ‘Exhibits’ tab on the Museum’s website.

I am so grateful for my current ‘topside’ world of intimacy with my beloved, Home, satisfactory work, some sound real-time friends, all of which are all so nurturing and healing to my Soul. Because I am in this place, I am able to go consciously into the dark places which need my attention and care and the light of my awareness. To witness that which I would rather not look at, if I’m honest. It’s hard work and I sometimes wonder, ‘Why do I do it?’ while knowing that I couldn’t possibly make the choice not to.

I feel close to my ancestors at this thin time of the year, especially the Muscogee. Drawing on their tremendous strength and also feeling the incredible weight of our history. Too much for any of them to deal with, so it has been passed down to me. It’s heavy, a huge burden, but one that I gratefully receive. Just as I gratefully receive the life they have passed to me. I said ‘No thank you’ to the legacy of domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse, mental health issues which was passed to me. I don’t know why I have this consciousness and drive towards wholeness and health, but am grateful for that as well.

I had a very heavy art-making session today. I started making ‘My Grandmother’s House’ which is part of my mixed-media re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood. My tale is ‘Little Red Stick’ about a Muscogee girl who belongs to the Wolf Clan and it is set during the Removals & Trail of Tears in the 1830′s.

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My Grandmother’s House, mixed media, work in progress.

There’s a lot in this about my personal coming of age story, my family of origin history and my Tribal history. It’s deep healing work for myself and for my ancestors and feels like a lot to carry sometimes.

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In the studio

I’m also simultaneously making an accordion book which tells the tale of Little Red Stick’s journey through the woods to her grandmother’s house.

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Little Red Stick, accordion book, paper, paint & pencil, work in progress.

I got to the part where she comes to the house, so I had to make it so I can find out what happens next.

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The journey continues . . . . . . . . .. .

Some more new work in my Illuminations collection are my rice paper lamps.  I’ve collaged a couple of them with posterized photographs printed onto rice paper and laminated onto the lamp.

Southbank Shawos Lamp - 22 x 116 cm

Suncast Shadows Lamp – 22 x 116 cm

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The Dark Heart of Summer Lamp – 22 x 116 cm

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The Dark Heart of Summer reflected in a mirror

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In the run up to Devon Open Studios, I took over our salon to work on my lamps.

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For my Swallows Lamp, I went back to my art quilt roots.  I machine appliqued and machine embroidered swallows, summer flowers and the sun onto a background of cotton organdie that I had painted light sky blue.

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After I had fused my textile designs onto the fabric, I got up very early one morning to stitch them into place, after a breakfast of tea and toast.  From my rooftop window, I could see the martens, swifts and swallows diving and skimming across the late summer sky as I worked.

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I used free motion machine embroidery to outline and embellish the shapes.  I also painted some background foliage behind the flowers.

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After I finished stitching, I fashioned the fabric into a sheath which fits neatly onto the lamp.

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Swallows Lamp, 22 x 116 cm

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swallow lamp2

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I love how the light from within highlights the stitching.

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With all of my Illuminations, the light coming through the translucent fabric gives the piece a different quality.  They can be enjoyed as a three dimensional sculpture during the daytime.

swallow lamp1

At night time, they inhabit the space in another way.

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swallow lamp11

I often feel a bit sheepish and slightly embarrassed when I write a post on my blog after a lengthy silence.  Chastened by certain other bloggers who apologize profusely for allowing a few days to go by between posts.  It’s kind of like being too quiet for too long at a dinner party.  Do I blurt out some witty bon mot, start an amusing anecdote or act as if I hadn’t paused at all?

Anyhow I have paused.  We’ve been having a fantastic summer.

I celebrated my 50th birthday in August.


We spent a very long weekend in London and Kent to celebrate both of our birthdays.




The white cliffs of Dover

Then we took a trip to the Cotswolds, one of the most beautiful places in the United Kingdom and where I go when I need my faith in England restored.


At Hidcote Manor

I went on my first taxidermy course (an ambition I’ve had since I was 13).  This is my muse and protégé, Mortimer Souris, the Tailor of Moretonhampstead.


We bought an ice cream maker.

Strawberry ice cream

Strawberry ice cream

I made a blueberry pie.


We booked our Autumn voyage to Isola di Procida in the Bay of Naples.


The endless sun beamed benevolently upon us throughout the months of June, July, August and into September.


And I’ve been making artwork for Devon Open Studios which runs from 7th to 22nd September.


The Dark Heart of Summer, light (detail)

In fact this brings me to the crux of this post.  As an artist, I become inspired and have a creative vision.  Sometimes I carry this inside of me for weeks or months.  I’ve been focusing on a new area of work for about the past year in which I sculpt and meld images and light.  I call these works Illuminations.

I started working on a floor lamp based on a contra jour fern I’d seen and photographed a couple of months ago.  The first piece of rice paper that I collaged onto the surface of the lamp ripped.  Just on the corner, but it really bothered me.  It was in a prominent place and looked like, well, a rip in the material.  I couldn’t repair it.  I tried to ignore it, but there it stayed.  I showed the piece to a couple of people and they didn’t even notice it.  But it still bugged me.

I decided to wrap the whole thing in sheer fabric, which would have looked beautiful.  I got up early one morning to do this work and when I saw the piece in my studio, I was so blown away by it that I forgot all about the flaw.  I quickly realised that if I wrapped the piece in fabric, that I would cover up the flaw, but I would lose the subtlety of the piece.

I decided to sit down and be with the piece and write about just what I was facing.

‘Loving the flaw.
It feels huge, this flaw and fills me with shame.  It distracts me from the beauty.  I hate this flaw and want it gone.
Who cares if I destroy the piece in the process?  At least the flaw will no longer be there.
[But if I let it remain] at best, the piece will remain in all it’s glory, with the flaw.  If I can love the flaw and let it be there,
I reach a state of grace.  Humbled.’

Grace (n.) late 12c., “God’s favor or help,” from Old French grace “pardon, divine grace, mercy; favor, thanks; elegance, virtue”

I think of grace as elegance and poise, but the old meaning is Divine favour.  In a state of grace, I am forgiven my mistakes and can forgive myself for my imperfection.  I can live with the flaw and see the beauty in the flaw.  In my artwork and in myself.

I find that when I make art, the process reflects my whole life, and how I feel about and respond to my creations can give me insight into my entire life.  There’s really no big separation between being inside and outside of my studio and my creative process.

Creativity can be such a fertile, fecund place, just like summertime, but there is still that dark heart at the centre of it.  It is good to be aware of and to live within it.


I wrote this haiku which I put onto the piece.

In the dark heart of summer,
illumined beauty shines,
a state of grace.
– Melinda Schwakhofer, 2013

And I left the flaw right where it was.

This morning, I had an enigmatic message in my Outlook mailbox.

“Please do contact me, we need to discuss about Al-Mughni”

I figured it came via my website.  As I sent it to junk mail and blocked the sender, I wondered who is Al-Mughni?  Perhaps it is an alias for the poor Nigerian who is stranded at an airport and desperately needs funds deposited into their account?

As it turns out, Al-Mughni is one of the 99 names of Allah. This is how it is pronounced in a very beautiful and lyrical chant.

When I googled Al-Mughni, I came across this interesting website – Wahiduddin’s Web.  The chap who writes it is Richard Shelquist, a Renaissance man who in the course of his spiritual explorations came across Sufiism, the inner, mystical dimension of Islam.  It’s a pretty interesting site, worth a delve into.

Al-Mughni is The Enricher, The Bestower of Wealth, The Fulfiller of Needs.

On the website, I came across ‘Sufi Wazîfa practice’.   The Arabic word wazîfa literally means assignment, duty or daily ration and is commonly used to describe a Sufi practice of focusing the attention, by means of recitation or meditation, on a particular Divine Quality in order to allow that quality to be expressed more openly and more powerfully in one’s day-to-day life.

…if a peaceful person comes into the room, someone might say, “It’s wonderful to see a peaceful person.” The dervish, however, would say instead, “Isn’t it wonderful to see Divine Peace coming through this person?” What they mean by this is that the human personality has the potential to become the vehicle of the Universe’s archetypes. This is the intention behind the practice of wazâ’if… to connect a specific quality in oneself to its source…

Awakening, by Pir Vilayat Khan

The goal of wazîfa practice is to develop an intimate connection to these Divine Qualities and allow the Qualities to be reflected openly and freely in our lives.  A common wazîfa practice is, for example, to use the Beautiful Names as part of a daily spiritual practice by choosing a couple of the Divine Qualities which seem to be lacking or out of balance in one’s life, and reciting each of the chosen qualities while deeply and powerfully imagining and feeling the successful expression of those Divine Qualities in one’s own life experience.

Reciting and meditating upon the Beautiful Names (Asmâ’ ul-Husnâ) of Allâh can be a very powerful and productive practice.  Apparently,  one who recites this name, Al-Mughni (The Enricher), 10 times for 10 Fridays will become self-sufficient.



I found this beautiful painting of Al-Mughni by  Hafeez Shaikh on his website.

It was also interesting for me to encounter Islam in this fashion, beginning with a spam email, then via the Sufis and beautiful artwork.  I don’t know much about Islam, but I do really love the mystic, inner depths expressed in the writings of Rumi.  His spirituality enters the realm which transcends religion and much of his work is dedicated to waking people up, and encouraging them to experience life themselves, rather blindly following the scholars of the day.

“A wealth you cannot imagine
flows through you.
Do not consider what strangers say.
Be secluded in your secret heart-house,
that bowl of silence.”

- Rumi

For of course, true wealth is found within.

I worked some more on Clan House.  This is the first drawing that I didn’t finish in class.  I want to have more control over the parts I erase so I bought a couple of fine edged rubbers to add to my batterie de atelier.

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A tricky new thing that I am finding out about drawing, in addition to How to Draw, is ‘how do I know when I’m finished’? I can figure that out pretty easily with an art quilt, a poem or haiku, a photograph, a video or clay sculpture.  With drawing, I am still finding my way to the end.

With Clan House, the finish came when the night woods couldn’t look any more like night woods and a chink of light shone through the doorway

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Clan House, charcoal & conte chalk pastel, 42 x 59cm, 2013

and when I had refined the shapes of the totem animal ghosts, handprints & the spirit guide.

clan house21a

When the Muscogee meet a stranger, they ask, “Naginseemaleghee dadee?”  [This means "Who do you cling to?"]  While families include people who are directly related to each other, clans are composed of all people who are descendants of the same ancestral clan grouping. Like many Native American nations, the Muscogee Creek are matrilineal; each person belongs to the clan of his or her mother, who belongs to the clan of her mother.  Clan members do not claim “blood relation” but consider each other as family due to their membership in the same clan.

In my journey through the woods, along the river and back into the past, to my Muscogee roots, I ask myself and those I meet, “Who do I cling to?”

Perhaps this member of the Bird clan knows the answer.

clan house18

Welcome to my world. Please note that all art, photography, and text are protected by copyright law. If you would like to use or publish any of my words or images, I would appreciate it if you ask my permission and give me credit. Thank you.

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