Friday, November 21, 2014

Notes Toward a Somewhat Crazy Quilt

If you have a lot of storage space and a "waste not, want not" mentality, you can start to run into trouble after a couple of decades of quilting.  Every project generates perfectly useable scraps, and you try to keep them organized, and eventually you have enough little postage-stamp sized pieces of fabric to completely cover the state of Idaho.

I've long imagined that I would sit down with the scrap someday and just start sewing some of it together.  And now I have.

When I first sat down, I didn't know if I was going to try to arrange patterns by value, or color, or what.

Eventually, I realized I was just going to start sewing stuff together at random.

 Some of these fabrics have been on my hands since the first few weeks I took up the craft, in 1994.

I didn't have a real plan for what I was doing, but fortunately we had a big staff meeting at work.  These are often good creative catalysts.  At this one, I realized that I was going to cut the rough blocks I was making into 10" squares, and put them into a frame of 2 1/2" white strips.  They suddenly look a lot tidier when squared up.

Some people have asked whether this is a "crazy quilt."  It's not, exactly.

A proper crazy quilt would have lots of fancy top stitching to hold the piecing together.  Although there's a small amount of applique in this one, and occasional places where I play some tricks with the piecing, there isn't and won't be anything you could call fancy top stitching.  That's not my thing.

I think a proper crazy quilt would be "crazy" all the way through, too, not framed in blocks.

I'll let you know when it's finished, which should be sometime between Christmas and the 2020s.

Incidentally: the depressing thing?  I've made more than fifty of these blocks, and the impact on my collection of fabric scraps has been undetectable.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, First Elimination Round #32/64

With this pair of matches, the so-called Infinite Art Tournament is halfway through the First Round Elimination brackets.

Faceoff #1: Cole v. Lam

Thomas Cole
1801 - 1848

Tied with John Constable in his initial Round 1 outing, in September 2012.
Lost to beachcomber Andres Amador in a second try at Round 1.


Wilfredo Lam
1902 - 1982
Cuban; worked in France

Lost to Frantisek Kupka in Round 1.

Faceoff #2: Lancret v. Lanyon

Nicolas Lancret
1690 - 1743

Lost to the beasts of Sir Edwin Landseer in Round 1.


Peter Lanyon
1918 - 1964

Pounded by Georges de La Tour in Round 1.

Vote for the two artists of your choice! Votes generally go in the comments, but have been known to arrive by email, by postcard, or in a sealed envelope.

Please note that you may vote only once in each face-off.  Opining that both of the artists in one of the two face-offs is superior to the other is fine, but casting your votes for two artists in the same face-off is not permissible.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Round Three TIEBREAKER: Arcimboldo v. Brown!

Here's the second half of the tiebreaker we started last Thursday.  Arcimboldo and Brown both won their first two matches, lost their third, and tied their fourth.  One of them is on the verge of a final loss; the other will return in a few months to face the winner of Jan Bruegel vs. Arthur Boyd.  It's gonna be great!

Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Ford Madox Brown
1821 - 1893
  • Defeated Marcel Broodthaers in a Round 1 contest that went down to the last vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Defeated Agnolo Bronzino in a Round 2 contest that also went down to the last vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Crushed by Pieter Bruegel in Round 3.
  • Tied with George Bellows in the Left Bracket Third Round. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!


Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Saint of the Month: Saint Hugh of Lincoln

St. Hugh and his swan buddy at St. Hugh of Lincoln Church in
Huntington Station, on Long Island.

St. Patrick

AKA: Hugh of Avalon; Hugh of Burgandy
Not to be confused with: Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln, the subject of a ghastly legend that you might have read in The Canterbury Tales.
Feast Day: November 17.

Really Existed? Yes.
Timeframe: 1135ish-1200.
Place: England.

Credentials: Canonized in 1220 by Pope Honorius III.
Martyrdom: None.

Patron Saint of: the sick, swans.
Symbolism: "St. Hugh's emblem is a white swan, in reference to the beautiful story of the swan of Stowe which contracted a deep and lasting friendship for the saint, even guarding him while he slept."

Like St. Theodore of Tarsus, whom we met a few months back, St. Hugh of Lincoln made his name as an able administrator and courageous leader of the English church. His miracles, at least in the mainstream historical record, are less of the raising-the-dead, healing-the-lame variety then the administrative it-will-be-a-freaking-miracle-if-he-can-make-this-plan-work kind. And as we know, for as much as there is to be said for the miracle cure, having a guy around who can actually make things happen is priceless.

So in 1170, if you recall your English history, King Henry II shot his mouth off about how annoying his old pal Thomas Becket had become, now that he was Archbishop of Canterbury.  Four of his cronies rightly or wrongly thought this was a demand for immediate action, and a few hours later death came for the Archbishop.  Both the powerful interests of the church and general public opinion was mortified by the assassination, and Henry would spend the rest of his life eating crow.

One act of penance that was imposed on King Henry was an obligation to found a Cistercian monastery.  The site of Witham was chosen, in Somerset, but the first two priors dropped dead before they could even get buildings set up.  So in 1180 (although some less reliable sites say 1175), a can-do 45 year old fellow from Burgundy was sent across to see if he could make any headway.  This, then, was the man who would become Hugh of Lincoln.  First, though, he became Hugh of Witham.

Since the monastery was built at the king's expense and adjacent to one of his favorite hunting spots, we're told, Hugh and Henry built up something of a rapport, and Hugh apparently felt no compunction about criticizing the secular figurehead about his ethical shortcomings in public and private life.  One shortcoming of Henry's that the Church especially disliked was his way of refusing to appoint new bishops after incumbents passed away.  The then-important city of Lincoln, for instance, had been without a bishop for 16 years by 1186.  This made it hard to keep the local clergy pulling on the same oar, of course, and it also meant that the revenue generated by church properties, since there was no bishop to collect it, went straight to the crown.  You might even think Henry was doing it on purpose, right? 

In 1186, though, Henry backed down and allowed a bishop to be elected at Lincoln.  He even nominated Hugh of Witham, who was chosen and ordained and finally became Hugh of Lincoln.  And, to cut a long story short, he was a terrific administrator, getting his bishopric humming like a top, repairing and adding onto Lincoln cathedral, and making himself both a gadfly and an effective diplomat for Henry.  His religious and political career continued through the reign of Richard I, and into the early days of King John.  In a strange wave of pogroms that broke out across England after the coronation of Richard I, Hugh was a rare voice against antisemitism, and is said to have personally confronted mobs in an attempt to protect Lincoln's large Jewish population. 

To recap: capable guy, good administrator, put the brake on some royal abuses, did some protecting of the oppressed, and assisted in the evolution of the English nation-state.  He had a pet swan.  Seems like he was a pretty nice dude.  Have a great St. Hugh of Lincoln Day!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Lotto v. Louis!

Lorenzo Lotto
1480 - 1556


Morris Louis
1912 - 1962


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Element of the Month: Nickel!

November's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 58.6934 amu
Melting Point: 1455°C
Boiling Point: 2730°C

You probably had no idea that Riddle, Oregon, a mere 92 miles by notoriously curvy roads from my home town, was once home to the only commercial Nickel mine in the United States. But it’s true! It was established in a fit of mild cold war-era corruption, as President Eisenhower’s Secretary of the Treasury leapt at the chance to manage and gradually assume ownership of a mining and smelting complex built on the government’s dime and the government’s Nickel both. The operation used some ingenious engineering to get the ore down off the heights of Nickel Mountain, but the ore quality was marginal and, once the subsidies ended and the mine was left to the tender mercies of the open market, it was doomed.

Why was the United States government so eager for domestic Nickel production as to cut corners in setting up such an iffy operation? As is so often the case with elemental metals, it’s all about the steel alloys. Nickel sees duty in a lot of steel and stainless steel alloys, where it adds strength and resistance to corrosion. In particular, it was needed for the alloys that were used to build parts of cold-war era military aircraft. Mr. Eisenhower knew what of he spoke when he warned us of the “military-industrial complex.”

The Centerfold!

And sure, some of that Nickel may have gone into nickels. Contrary to what you’ve probably been told, U.S. nickels are still cast from the same 75% Copper, 25% Nickel alloy as they have been since time immemorial, which is to say 1946. Because Nickel is an expensive commodity, the value of the metal in a Nickel is well over ten cents. Irony, on the other hand, is cheap. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a coin costing more than its face value to manufacture, because it’s not a single-use item. If a nickel gets spent 20 times on its path through the economy, it has represented a dollar’s worth of value. The only silly thing about nickels is just that we continue to bother with a coin to represent such a nominal amount of wealth. But I digress.

A silverish metal -- the color of a nickel, in fact -- Nickel has been used in metallurgy for millennia, often being mistaken for silver or copper, or just as part and parcel of the iron with which it is often found. It was “discovered,” or at least identified as an element, by a very brainy Swedish guy named Axel Fredrik Cronstedt, the “father of modern mineralogy,” way back in 1751. He was 29 at the time, and doing more for science than you are.

Earth, the human home planet, is thought to be somewhere around two to three percent Nickel. That makes it roughly the fifth most common element we’ve got, after Iron, Oxygen, Silicon, and Magnesium, and running about even with Sulfur. Most of it is way, way down towards the very middle of the planetary sphere. Want to make a killing on the rising price of Nickel? Just dig.