The Blog Has Moved to My New Site!

My new website is up after months of work, and my blog posts are now accessible from there. Please check it out and read the latest post there.

For Mothers Day today, my son gave me a gift certificate from my favorite garden store, my husband gave me AirPods, and a hacker group in Turkey hijacked my brand new website. (Rest assured! No evidence of hacking anyone's data on the site but mine.) Instead of enjoying my garden with my AirPods in my ears, I spent more than half the day trying to fix the website problem with no luck. After 25 hours of waiting on tech support, I finally figured out how to fix it myself in less than 20 minutes. [read more...]


Shoes and Self Consciousness

Rio Grande has recently released a video on my Eastern Repousse Tool Sets that we filmed when I was there teaching last January. It's exciting to see it out there on YouTube at long last since this is a topic we've wanted to feature for a long time. As with all things Rio, everyone I worked with was exceptionally professional, helpful, and just plain fun to be around. Good workshop hosts are like that; they make it easy for me to do my job, so I can make it easy for the students to learn a whole bunch of new and challenging stuff. I'm extremely fortunate to travel and teach lots of places that do just that.

People I meet, who've seen me on screen first, tend to be very complimentary of my video work. I, however, always see it differently, especially that very first viewing. I come from a wildly perfectionistic and hyper-critical family. I'm also a woman, and, whether by nature or social conditioning, I worry about the visible effect gravity has on my face or how gray my bangs are getting. Inevitably on seeing the final edited results, a series of more personal questions and comments fly through my head at the same time I'm obsessing about whether I adequately conveyed all the technical information. Usually the personal questions in my head begin with something like "Why does my lipstick look so orange?" Quickly followed by "Holy cow I sound so Southern!!! I was trying so hard to speak clearly, but daaayum!"

Invariably my husband will say something genuine and kind like "You look beautiful, and you don't sound Southern."

My response is usually, "No offense, but you sound way more Southern than me, so your saying I don't sound Sothern is a relative commentary. You really think I looked ok?"


"Ok, I'll believe that part because you do have good taste."

During set up for the video at Rio Grande, we all discovered our shoes squeaked slightly on the floor, so the crew and I shot the whole thing in our sock feet. Such things can add to feeling silly and self conscious in front of the camera, or behind it for that matter. It's far better than finding out months later than the footage looks great, but there's this odd high pitched noise that cannot be digitally removed. The added goofiness to the shoot also probably contributed to my "handler" Yvonne calling me a Muppet. (She's correct.)
Lilah & me in the studio - Lilah is sporting her non-skid
dog socks that help an aging pup cope with hardwood floors

Working in sock feet is actually normal for me since at home we don't wear shoes inside our house. It helps keep the pollen and horrendous Atlanta pollution from getting in our lungs and aggrevating our allergies and asthma. It's also a great way for new guests to wonder if we're Muslim and they didn't know, or perhaps secretly Japanese, or to confirm what they've suspected, that we're just "weird." Our friend, Bill recently spent all his time at our house on the front porch or just inside the front door in the shoe removal zone, simply to avoid having to deal with his shoelaces. I've known Bill since I was 10, so my weird factor was nothing new to him.

Wearing shoes in other people's houses is weird for me. Upon entering the first time, I look for signs like shoe racks by the front door and pay attention to my host's footwear. Sometimes I just plain ask. It's a relief when I find out the house rules include shoe removal. When the custom is to keep them on I feel like a bulldozer in stylish boots. I think of the places I've worn those boots, the airports and hospitals, and I realize I'm brining the scum and particulates of the ages into someone's sacred space. Eeeew.

Little known fun fact: all of the vidoes shot in my studio at home were done in fuzzy slippers or barefoot, depending on the season. Perhaps being barefoot is why I sound slightly Southern. Before anyone asks the question posed to newscasters, yes, we were all wearing pants.



Life has been exceptionally rough lately. The thing I have dreaded for decades is happening: my godmother Bobbie, my chief artist inspiration, is dying. I can best describe her as an expressionist painter and sculptor, a folksier, heavy set Georgia O'Keefe with a long white braid and always wearing a hat, and a woman who embodies the concept of undconditional love. For over 60 years she has lived in an integrated neighborhood in the South where everyone is welcome, and I mean everyone. For Bobbie there is only the concept of us and no concept of other.

For weeks I have been sandwiching in day and overnight trips whenever possible to be with her for whatever last moments we can have together. As I scrambled to pack editing and administrative work I could do at Bobbie's bedside while she slept, my son informed me of the protests by and in support of immigrants on Thursday. Only a few people seem to see my work deeply enough to understand the gender, and therefore political, issues it often encompasses, which leaves me feeling somewhat powerless to make a significant difference in the world's dysfunction.

I contacted my office manager Celina, and we formed a plan to shut things down for the day in recognition of our team's own immigrant ancestors. Out went the email blast letting people know along with an auto-responder on the main email accounts. The million logistical things that have to happen to get my art, tools, and videos out into the world, the logistics of all the big projects, the bookkeeping, the inventory management, the website, the constant planning and communicating for teaching workshops and creating commissions would all wait one more day. Bobbie was not coherent enough for me to explain what I'd done, but I knew she would be proud.

A few things: (Please read thoroughly before commenting.)

To everyone who is Native American: this last thing I would mean to be is disrespectful or uninclusive! I hope my small protest was taken in the larger spirit it was intended.

To everyone who sent emails of solidarity and appreciation: Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!! I was not expecting that. At one point I forgot I wasn't working, and my stress compulsion to check email kicked in and was met with so much kindness in my inbox!

To those who felt compelled to email me the legal status of and assimilation by their families and ancestors: I do not work for INS or ICE. 

Behavior can be legal or illegal, but people, wherever they start out life, can only be people. 

Prior to the 1920's people could get on a boat in one country, eagerly, reluctantly, or kidnaped and in chains, get off over here, and most were able to stay. Claiming the "legality" of European and Middle Eastern ancestors who immigrated to the US before then carries no actual "legal immigrant" meaning.

In 1882, the US passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, making it illegal for most people from China to become US citizens. This law was not fully replealed until 1943.

Unemployment remains at the exceptionally low percentage, achieved during the previous Administration's efforts to get it there.

Making art full time requires being a small business owner, which means I have to buy my own health insurance. If you feel I should not have that right to buy it, don't expect my website and Pinterest board to be your source of inspiration. My family has to eat too.

If any of this sparks an argument in your brain, you might want to consider this link. 

At this point in the study of human migration, Human DNA tells us we ALL hail from East Africa. Whether by necessity, choice, or force, people have been moving around for a very long time. In my big picture view that really does make all of us immigrants.

Bobbie taught me that people are people and deserve to be treated with kindness, compassion, and dignity to the best of our ability. She taught me that we can think and be discerning without being judgemental. Anything less is unthinkable.


Women Versus the Gatekeepers

When I was a kid, the first thing I ever wanted to be was an astrounaut. Well, technically, the first thing I wanted to be was a cat, but when, at the age of 2, I ordered "French fries and Little Friskies" at a restaurant, my parents freaked out, and my feline dreams fell aside. When I stopped walking around on all fours, I started looking up and discovered the whole world was looking up at this point in history. I have a freak memory that goes all the way back to my first birthday, so remembering the first moon landing, isn't too much of a stretch. 

As soon as I was big enough to swing by myself without being pushed by an adult, I would spend all the daylight hours when the moon was visible, swinging and staring at it. I wanted to go. Not like every kid thinks it's cool to be a fireman kind of want to go. I seriously, desperately wanted to go. I didn't tell anyone. I'd learned what happened when I let on about the cat thing, so the astronaut thing was a total secret.

photo courtesy of NASA

By the second moon landing, I was paying close attention. If I was going to go there someday, I figured I needed to know how one sets about becoming an astronaut. I knew better than to ask. I asked my father what those big boxes on the astronauts' backs were, and he told me they were filled with medicine. I later supposed that explaining the concept of bottled oxygen to a child was up there with explaining why the sky was blue, and he didn't want to bother. At the time I wondered how going to the moon could make someone so sick he'd need to carry half a drug store on his back.

I had noticed something else about the moon walkers. They were all men. The news reports sang their glory as military men and fighter pilots. So this was how one got to be an astronaut. But I didn't want to be a fighter pilot. And I sure didn't want to be a man. The men in my family seemed to know a lot, but they never seemed to be as clever as the women, and they had to wear ties. I thought ties were stupid.

Mae Jemison - 
physician, professor, 
I went back to swinging and staring at the moon, wishing it were possible for me to go but not really seeing how that would play out if I was dead set against being a fighter pilot. By the age of seven I was thoroughly discouraged. Perhaps I should have told someone my dream, but I can't imagine anyone would have said what I needed to hear, that one day NASA would send up scientists not just fighter pilots, that one day women would be astronauts too.

I grew up in a world that was falling apart at the same time there seemed some hope of it coming together. Walter Kronkite's nightly body count in Viet Nam, war protestors, civil rights activists, and bra burners were all over my television, but I was afraid to ask about any of it. By the time I  became aware of the world around me, middle class, white people were mostly sick of talking about what was wrong and seemed to want it to work itself out without any more effort on their part. 
Katherine Johnson, the mathematician who 

did the calculations for the first actual 

moon landing in 1969

What I did hear talk of was Women's Lib. I heard it as a derogatory term, said in the exaggerated way people say things when they are suggesting other people are exaggerating the importance of something. I heard people droning on about the pros and cons of allowing women to do jobs they hadn't done before. 


Who's in charge of that?

My mother worked, and I knew her monther had worked until she had kids, and my great-grandmother worked most of her life. I knew the men my mother had to deal with were often jerks to her, but they also didn't seem nearly as intelligent as she was, so I couldn't understand why she cared.

I had one concrete clue that it was ok to be me and still be what I want.

Voice of the Mummy, my favorite board game in the 1970's
The board game that ultimately made me become a metalsmith had another profound effect. In Voice of the Mummy, one moved one's cardboard Egyptologist around the board, collecting gems, and listening to the whim's of the Pharaoh's voice from the plastic sarcophagus encased record player on top. Two of the cardboard Egyptologists were men, and two of them were women. Women could be Egyptologists!

I had a plan, albeit one that took a big detour.

What gatekeeper had let that gender freedom slip through the game design?!?

photo courtesy of NASA
The problem with gatekeepers is that they filter out vital information that people need to know. Traditional gatekeepers may have gone the way of record label executives; CNN may be forced to follow and substantiate the Twitterverse (it would seem that Fox News hasn't figured this out yet), but our media channels, be they TV or social, still filter for us. They do so partly because no one could possibly take in the vast amount of new information released at any given moment and partly, perhaps mostly, because they still deal in what sells. Unfortunately, what sells is still a rather narrow view in the world.

The reality was that women Egyptologists are real, and had been a reality since the early days of Egyptology being regarded as a legitimate field of study. The letters between Caroline Ransome Williams and Howard Carter bear out the regard in which Williams was held. Her book, Gold and Silver Jewelry and Related Objects, though sadly long out of print and never republished, is the foundation for much research into the techniques of Bronze Age metalsmithing and referenced today by experts like Jack Ogden.

Vera Rubin, American astronomer who established the
presence of dark matter in galaxies, measures spectra
in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of Vera Rubin via amnh.org
Decades after my dream of being an astronaut, the women who made it possible for anyone to go to the moon are coming to light. I first learned of Vera Rubin from watching Stephen Hawking's Universe in the late 1990's. Rubin established the existence of dark matter. I thought, however, that she was alone as a pioneering female astronomer. In the recent series of Cosmos hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson I Iearned of Annie Jump Cannon, who developed the stellar classification system and Celia Payne, who was able to determine the composition and temperatures of stars based on Cannon's work. Through Maria Popova's Brain Pickings I have found Maria Mitchell.

Saturn's rings, photo courtesy of NASA
For 100 years, school kids have learned about Marie Currie as some kind of freak exception to a man's world. A little digging in most any field, however, and you will find the women whose contributions have been glossed over or written out completely. Hildeguard Von Bingen, Camille Claudel, Elizibeth Vigee-LeBrun, Rosalind Franklin, and many many others. A recent edition of Metalsmith magazine has a whole article on women jewelers of the Art Nouveau period. We buy into this idea that throughout history men did all the worthwhile work, and women stayed home and raised families. (The stupidity of any statement containing the term worthwhile versus the term stayed at home is a whole other essay.) 

Actually, we've been here all along doing exceedingly worthwhile things.

May all the children starring at the sky from their swings know this.


Creating Your Own Reality with a Purple Crayon

My "recent acquisitions" stack next to my
bench; Orion welder to the lower right;
one of my godmother, Bobbie Crow's
 Tornado series paintings in the upper right
I remember in elementary school, the awe and anticipation tinged with uncertainty as the teachers would pass out the Scholastic Books printed forms from which to choose books. I remember wondering how books came to be on the forms. Who got to choose them? Are these books on the list all there are? The only ones for sale? The books were by grade reading level. I had to choose them based on the titles alone. I think maybe my mother had a say in my selection. I seem to remember her saying I couldn't order every single title. The choices were blind, tough. I'd wonder if I picked the right things or if I might be missing out on what I didn't select.

Eons later, maybe two to three weeks, the books would show up at school. They were bundled with rubber bands. No boxes. No bags. Most of them were paperbacks. Most of them were in color. My bundle would be handed to me by a teacher. They went alphabetically, and though, if by last name, I've always been midway through the alphabet, it took eons more for my bundle to be placed in my hands.

Studio Wild Thing
This was the moment. This was when I would find out if the titles I picked on the form were really portals into hidden worlds or if they were duds. Somehow they were never duds. - In retrospect, I believe the forms were mostly lists of Caldecott award winners. - Where the Wild Things Are, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Frog and Toad, Bread and Jam for Frances...Scholastic Books were my tickets to other worlds of vividly colored imagination, where the main characters created their own realities out of sheer determination...and the occasional purple crayon.

It wasn't until I was reading Neil Gaiman's acceptance speech for the Newberry Medal, recently published in The View from the Cheap Seats that I realized how profoundly receiving those rubber band bundled paperbacks was an event that I still seek to relive. Gaiman was speaking in favor of libraries and their crucial role in helping kids develop. - Reading his book made me realize I ought to venture into the Fulton-Atlanta Public Library System to borrow Kindle books. I could read even more stuff!

Lilah's new interest in Egyptology during
last summer's overhaul of my studio
Truth be told though, as a kid, libraries completely intimidated me. It always seemed that in order to find the best books, you had to deal with adults, and I would do just about anything to avoid dealing with adults. They were endlessly patronizing and said stupid thoughtless things to me. I was always the smallest in my grade. My mother made me wear my hair in pigtails with nauseatingly cute outfits. - There were no baby Stevie Nicks clothes in the 1960s and 1970's, so I never quite felt that I got to be me when I left the house. - Everyone always thought I was at least 2 years younger than I was, so the patronizing baby talk was even more insulting to my precocious mind. Did they not realize I would be reading these books to myself, that they needed to be colorful, fanciful, and all encompassing for my escape from the world of these same clueless adults?

My cuff, Inspiraled, in Brandon Holschuh's
The Jeweler's Studio Handbook
on the shelf at my local Barnes & Nobel
No, they did not, so I didn't beg to go to the library much when I was a young child. Later I would beg because they had computers but not because of the books. The bundles of Scholastic books were critically important because they were sacred, seemingly nearly bereft of adult interference, and they were mine forever. 

These same books have moved hundreds of miles with me over the years and now sit proudly on my son's bookshelves. Reading them to him is among my fondest memories as a parent. Even though he is a teenager now, he stil understands the vital importance of Harold and of Frog and Toad, whose life lessons many American narcissists would do well to embrace. The Wild Things sit on my studio shelf. My son did not favor the monsters as I do, preferring instead Maurice Sendak's character Mickey, a little boy to whom he could better relate. After all these years, I can still sing most of A Aligators All Around set to Carole King's melody since I was requested to sing it every day for several years. 

Thrilled to be on the shelf at the Strand Book Store in NYC
As a child I escaped into books, music, and making things. I thought I was biding my time until I could be an adult and make a world for myself. Ironically, as an adult I am no different except that now my escape includes recreating those childhood portals to a world better imagined. The thrill of the rubber banded Scholastic book bundles has been replaced over and over by shipments from Amazon and Edward R. Hamilton. 

I can still find the books I love best by choosing titles and covers with little more info than the Scholastic forms held. When I rip the cardboard boxes open, I am again 7 years old, hoping for Wild Things and ways to shape my own destiny through other people's shared ideas. Rarely am I disappointed. The books are mostly about art 
and fine craft, occasionally about Egyptology. They are stil mostly full of color images.

Best of all are the rare trips to bookstores like Strand Book Store in NYC because then I am inside the list on the form. The gatekeepers are a bit more removed, and I can flip through every spine or cover that calls out to me. I can even find my own artwork on these shelves. I don't usually create beautifully drawn monsters, but maybe I've succeeded just a little in making my own world.

My one of a kind book, The Falcon, featured in
500 Handmade Books on the shelf at
the Strand Book Store in NYC


Starfish and Coffee

Catch a Falling Starfish
Granulation and Russian Filigree earrings
Sterling, fine silver, 14k gold accents
© V. Lansford $460.
I was deeply saddened when David Bowie died earlier this year and thought nostalgically of the many hours I spent listening and dancing to his album, Let's Dance, in the 80's. The day I learned of Prince's untimely death, I got the wind knocked out of me. In recent years I've been less likely to listen to Purple Rain than to Bowie's "Cat People" or "Suffragette City" with my son, an avid Bowie fan. Still, if there is one musician that shaped my transitional teen years, it's definitely Prince.  

Long brocade coats, asymmetrical hairstyles, one long earring, lots of black eye liner, Prince and the Revolution was the look to which I aspired in the 80's. It's a wonder my copies of 1999 and the 12" single of "I Would Die 4 You" / "Erotic City" aren't completely worn out. One of my prized possessions is a special edition, purple, vinyl 45 of "When Doves Cry." I had Prince's butt cleavage sporting poster from the 1999 album on my bedroom door, much to my mother's complete horror. Prince even inspired an ongoing theme in my current work for over a decade but for different reasons.

Waving Starfish
 Ancient style wax seal ring
Sterling, 18k gold & sterling bi-metal

size 6-1/2
© 2006, V. Lansford sold

Starfish XII
18k gold, 22k gold, sterling, blue zircon

size 7-1/2; 7/8” x 3/4" x 3/4"
© 2015, V. Lansford $620.
It's no secret that I'm also a die hard fan of Jim Henson's work. I was skeptical in the late 90's when his son, Brian relaunched the old show as Muppets Tonight, as skeptical as I was when Disney recently launched Muppet Studios. Leave it to Kermit and crew to always come through.

The episode of Muppets Tonight with the then known The Artist Formerly Known as Prince is one of the very best. Muppets in Purple Rain gear, it doesn't get any funnier than that...until Prince gets off the elevator to meet them, and he looks like an average Joe in a letter sweater. It's his skit about how he can create songs about anything that is the consummate answer to that stupid question most artists hate, "Where do you get your ideas?"

The idea that you could create song lyrics out of menu items speaks to the point that creative people see ideas anywhere. Put the setting in a Muppet commissary and things get a little zany. - Were they purposely referencing Monty Python's Spam sketch? Who knows. - I picture Muppets Tonight writers brainstorming a skit about how you can write music about anything. Life imitating art imitating life. Colorful, texturally fascinating, and always goofy puppets surrounding a rock star, known for his relentless pursuit of excellence, talking about eating starfish with coffee.

That's the real genius of any artist, to imagine something no one else has or would and then birth it into being, really, really well. This is the kind of absurdly out-of-the-box creativity I spend my life pursuing in all types of media.


Screwing up in Style: Why Perfect Doesn’t Always Win

Ok, yes, I admit it: I have a little problem with perfectionism. In fact, sometimes it gets so overwhelming that I realize I’m berating myself for not having a better handle on my perfectionism problem. 

Ring shank chasing in progress
(before the melt down)
The good news is that my determination for things to always work pushes my creative problem solving skills to their max. Truth be told, it’s the creative problem solving that keeps me working in metal. I can bring a drawing or a collage back from the edge of the trash can, but the feeling of doing so is not nearly as satisfying as the mechanical workings of turning a half melted mess into something that looks, if not perfect, very professional.

Yesterday I pulled a chased ring shank out of the pickle and grabbed my optivisor to see what the gunk was all over 1/4 of the band. It wasn’t gunk; it was tiny reticulation where my delicate chased scrollwork pattern had been hours before.

This is what happens when I spend more hours answering email that I spend at the bench and what happens when all my bench time has centered around etching and forging. It’s also what happens when I go from soldering with the last whisper of acetylene to a new tank that did not need the pressure regulator up quite so high. I threw the shank on a jeweler’s anvil and grabbed my tiny line tool and Fretz 417 hammer and began putting the scrollwork back. I didn’t berate my mistake, but I may have sighed at how long some things take me. Stay tuned for the finished ring later.

Today I was painting my newly upgraded master bathroom. - It was add on 80’s with a prefab fiberglass shower and is now gorgeous art deco tile and plaster. - Ella Fiztgerald was blaring out my bluetooth speaker, reminding me that some of the best ever screw ups go on to win big awards.

When Ella covered Mac the Knife at a live concert in Berlin in 1960 she forgot the words. I don’t mean she switched a line or flubbed a word. I mean she forgot several whole verses. At full voice. Accompanied by her big band. 

But when you’re Ella, you don’t panic, you don’t freeze, you don’t whine on your therapist’s sofa about how you screwed up your career. No, you improvise. For 3 full minutes!!!

Oh Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong
They made a record, oh but they did
And now Ella, Ella, and her fellas
We're making a wreck, what a wreck of Mack the Knife…

The recording won her not one but two grammies: one for Best Vocal Performance, Female and one for Best Vocal Performance Album, Female. Now that’s screwing up in style...

Listen to the fabulous recording in full here. Note what she says when she introduces the song. 😉


Art in the Big Blue House

After over 17 years of living in my house, I saw it from the other side. Literally. My husband and I sat around a fire pit at our neighbors' house across the street. It was the first time I'd ever been to a purely social event at a neighbor's. When the topic of what I do came up, another neighbor from further down the street asked wide eyed, "Do you really make a living from your art? I've known lots of people who've tried, but hardly anyone who does."

"Yes, really," I replied, which is 100% true and has been true for well over 25 years. My neighbor was clearly impressed. My answer seemed to give him a little hope in this Walmart society of ours, and yet, whenever people ask me some variation of this question, I always feel a little weird. No one ever asks an IT pro or a lawyer this question. I gazed up at my own screened in porch, unable to see, but knowing within it is the studio window though which I'd been gazing out this direction while working less than 2 hours before. 

I thought about the projects that have been consuming much of the last 4 months of my life, the projects that I can't yet talk in detail about because I signed a non disclosure agreement, the projects that promise to make my expressive account's eyebrows raise one more time when he goes over next year's corporate tax returns for Victoria Lansford, LLC. How could any successful artist still get hit with doubt, fear, or imposter syndrome?
Granulation ring; sterling silver, 22k gold, blue zircon
size 7-1/2; 7/8” x 3/4" x 3/4"
© 2015, Victoria Lansford $620.

Here's why: artists exist caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of society's legitimizing us through buying our work, and accusations of not making real "Art" by our peers if we sell enough art to make a living. This means there is no right answer and no legitimacy to be had.

One of the weirder questions I sometimes get is whether I really make my living selling my art, or if I just sell some and make up the rest of my income by teaching, as if my legitimacy as an artist now depends on a pie graph. "Some of the rest of what?" I always wonder. The ability to live in a regentrified historic district that was still sketchy until a few years ago? The ability to pay the mortgage and eat? The ability to take my family on vacation? The ability to turn down work my heart is not in? 

No one ever asks the reverse question: "Can you really make a living teaching specialized metalsmithing workshops, or do you make up the lack of income by selling your art?" The funny thing is the answer to that question would be "Hell, no." Even though I'm toward the top end of the food chain in terms of workshop fees, I could not passionately teach at the level of giving that I do enough times in one year to pay all the bills. It's not physically possible. Sadly, the way the question is usually asked of me, my willingness to share illegitimizes my status as an artist to the outside world. Huh?!?

I figure creative people have enough to worry about without society and our peers telling us both directions are wrong. It is more than enough for us to worry about making good art and spending twice the number of hours to put it out in the world and find it a good home as it took to make it in the first place.

In today's Brain Pickings newsletter, Maria Popova interviewed poet Sarah Kay. During the interview, Popova paraphrased Seth Godin's take on making a living making art:

Seth’s point was that for the vast majority of history, one made a living and then one had a creative life — the two didn’t have to be the same. Only recently did we come to believe that what legitimizes one as an “artist” is making art full-time and having that art also make one a living. The insidious implication of that belief is that the art made by people with day-jobs is somehow less valid, less legitimate. Which, of course, isn’t the case. It is indeed a rare thing for a creative life and a living to be one and the same.

My neighbor, who is originally from Europe, was probably not likely to have been raised to value mass produced, made in China, plastic stuff from Walmart more than hand made art by locals. Much of the rest of American society tends to need more convincing. The reason society legitimizes artists through the full-time sale of their work is because people are more comfortable liking or wanting something they know other people want or already have. Most people aren't comfortable being the trendsetters, the impressarios, or wearing, using, or hanging something without its creator's back story of struggle-turned-success.

Original pattern Vertebrate chain bracelet with a clasp of Eastern repousse from 
dimensionally patterned mokume ganefine silver, sterling, copper, shibuichi
8" long x 7/8" wide x 3/8" deep. Links can be added or subtracted for sizing.
The inspiration for the shape of this series comes from the genie bottle shaped, 
blown glass perfume containers I've collected from Egypt and the gilded glass Christmas 
tree ornaments that belonged to my grandmother. The title, Allahoudine, is the Arabic 
word for Aladdin. ©2011, Victoria Lansford; $1120.
I had a wonderful philosphy professor in college, David McCarty, who smilingly described himself as a "professional philosopher." He had found that, if he merely answered "philosopher" when people at parties asked what he did for a living, his answer was not taken seriously because people tend to dismiss philosophy as a way to make a living. Adding the word professional in front, didn't make people think he was less strange, but it stopped the jokes before they happened. Though I didn't feel the need in last evening's receptive crowd, I've used his strategy more than once at parties.

When I go back into the studio today, Alice will once again be on her usual side of the looking glass, in front of the window, hammering away on the projects that cannot yet be revealed. The view of my house from my neighbor's backyard is now indelibly imprinted on my brain. When I stand on the deck outside my studio, I can see all their houses, and I'd assumed all these years, that they had an equally reciprocal view of our comings and goings, but my lot is lined by small trees that shroud it even while still bare. Several of our neighbors told us that they'd long wondered who lived in the mysterious blue house. My view from within reveals much of the world, but the view from the outside reveals so much less, no matter how hard a cobalt blue house is to miss.


The Ties that Bind and Gag

Letter to my great grandmother, Minnie Kelley
I come from a family that saves things. Not significant things perhaps, china, silver plate, (very) small amounts of money, an anvil, a forge…my maternal grandfather died a few days short of his 97th birthday with an inventory of nails, screws, nuts, and bolts in every size, all sorted in mason jars, the lids of which lids were mounted into the floor joists above his basement workbench. Their retrieval was an easy one handed job in the midst of any project. 

Tucked away in an old metal box in the attic of my grandparents house was a large stash of letters. They were mostly the correspondence between my maternal grandfather and his mother while he was in the Marine Corps and between him and my grandmother during their early courtship. - It is wonderful yet disconcerting to reconcile the quoted poems and sheet music my grandfather sent my grandmother with the stoic man who horded all that hardware and every license plate and radiator belt from every car he ever owned. - These letters, together with the letters between my great grandparents and the letters between my great great grandparents, tell a story of loneliness and hard, boring, tedious work, interwoven with a secret desperation for love and its promise to rescue these people from their various situations.

Wedding photo of
Orman Edens and
Minnie Irene Kelley Edens,
my maternal grandmother's parents
December 25, 1912
My mother has spent the last two years photographing and transcribing all these letters, one Sunday afternoon at a time. On Christmas Day she handed me the latest notebook, the photos and transcribed letters between her maternal grand parents and the letters between her mother’s paternal grandparents. These love letters reek of secrecy. disappointment, and yearning. Their semi-middle, semi-working class literacy elicits constant promises of “Please write me back with a long letter soon,” begged for mostly by the men, whose letters are usually short and full of excuses. They are Jane Austin with bad grammar and odd spelling.

Letter form Orman to Minnie when they were dating, April 22, 1911
I grew up deeply socially connected to this side of the family, but I never quite felt that I was really part of them. My mother and I have the same smile and the same raising and alternately furrowing of the of the eyebrows when we take in information. When I look at look at her hands or her legs I see my own exact appendages a little forward in time. 

My mother strongly resembles both her parents, who look so much like each of theirs, yet these American descendants of Brits and Scotch Irish, these Grahams, Kelleys, Lansfords, and Edens with their serious expressions and enormous picture hats, look nothing like me. These letters explain a little of how I was hard wired as a child, but their writers offer nothing to explain what I see in the mirror. It’s a bit like having local maps for small towns from a lost continent.

At some point in getting to know people, I get asked the question of my ethnicity. Part Italian? Dagastani? Persian grandparent? Half Syrian? It’s not uncommon for native Spanish speakers to address me first in that language or for acquaintances to be certain I would know on which date Yom Kippur will fall. In my globe trekking days I was never once pegged as an "American  tourist" until I flashed my passport or opened my mouth.

Last year I decided to find out. I participated in National Geographic's Genographic Project 

42% Mediterranean
38% Northern European
19% Southwest Asian
1.1% Neanderthal
1.2% Denisovan
(Yes, according to NatGeo, I am 101.3% whatever I am. Perhaps that is why I always feel driven to do and be more.)

My MtDNA, the mitchondrial DNA handed down unbroken from mother to daughter, belongs to H7, a somewhat rare, little understood, and oddly scattered haplogroup. H7 originates in Western Asia, and later some of it spread west into Asia Minor, Northern Europe, and the Meditterean. 

In the current climate of racist hate speech, I find myself identifying more with these remote ancestors from what are now Afganistan and Turkey. Even if it’s been a few thousand years since anyone in my family called these places home, I share something with many Western Asians in every cell of my body, and it's evident every time I look in the mirror. Though my percentages do not match the surnames in my family tree, they are not off by so very much. Genetic research regards English reference populations as being, on average, 49% Northern European, 33% Mediterranean, and 17% Southwest Asian.

I look far more like my father’s side of the family. Until I participated in the Genographic project, I had come to believe I was just a throwback from my paternal grandmother’s Jewish Lithuanian heritage, not that I look particularly Eastern European either. To my young romantic mind, however, this Baltic branch of the family was the exotic side, the non Celts, the non WASPS. The rest of my father’s family came from Germany, England, and probably Scotland. Again, the same questions repeat...

The field of genetic research tells us there is no such thing as 100% Northern European, no such thing as 100% white. There are only centuries of migration and the hopeful seeking of connection along the way. That is what humans do. It is the one answer on which my genes, my reflection, and my family’s letters all agree.

Hat tip to Erma Bombeck for the blog title, based on her book, Familiy: The Ties that Bind and Gag.


Fugue States

suspended from a Roman chain 
fine silver, sterling, copper, shibuichi, 22k gold, Koroit opal
2-1/2” x 3” x 3/8”,, chain 18"
© 2011, V. Lansford 

I've never believed the stupid paradox that "less is more" or that simple is anything other than something that is well marketed but cheaper to produce. Sometimes when I'm talking with friends whose design sense is more streamlined, I become aware of just how layered and complex my design agenda really is. I  love Japanese design in which everything serves a visual or functional purpose. I crave less clutter in my kitchen when I see really well done minimalist interiors, but I well know I'd never be content in such a space for long. 

I joke my work in recent years is like fusion cuisine, a blending of things no one expects to combine but that somehow coalesce into a pleasingly complex result. Technically, my pieces lean toward a kitchen sink approach with 5 different processes thrown in. Why? Well, it's a bit like asking Sir Hillary why he climbed Everest, because it's there; because I can. 

Eastern repousse front cover of a one of a kind, 
long stitch book with calligraphic hand lettering 
over a giclee printed montage of original collages, 
and an acid etched copper back cover
Copper sheet, handmade and photo papers, 
Japanese stick inks, gouache
6" x 6" x 2", height of repousse on portrait is 1"
text: William Shakespeare, Midsummer Night's Dream, 
Act V, Scene i, lines 2-22
©2013, V. Lansford; $12,500.

A few weeks ago something dire happened. For no apparent reason, some distant memory was triggered by some unknown stimulus, and I realized if I let myself, I could hear Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in my head. - If that name doesn't ring a bell, think back to Captian Nemo's organ playing in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and you'll know what I'm talking about. - While for some this might sound like a worthy skill, for me it's a like a bad flashback. My brain quite literally came into existence to that music. Live. On the Organ. At home. All the time. By the time I was 8, it had become a threat, a quick jump by my father to the organ bench, hands poised, "Clean your room now, or else..." - My husband was forced to clean to Disco. It produces similar childhood trauma, the result of which leaves us in constant need of a housekeeper.

Imagination Bodies Forth
I get asked a lot of questions about my background, how I got into metalsmithing, was my family artistic, and so on. I've let slip more than once that I grew up in a musical household, where the "3 B's" were Bach, Beethoven, and Brubeck. 

I've talked often about the Brubeck part, but I've never disclosed much of the Bach side. Beethoven...there was a music box in my room that played a chimy version of Patetique. I can remember screaming from my baby bed for the baby sitter to reach an arm around the door and pull the string for the fifth time. I must have been about 2. Moonlight Sonata is humanity at it's most sublime. For me, Beethoven just is.

Bach on the other hand is tough. I love Bach...for strings...and strings alone. Yo Yo Ma or Joshua Bell playing Bach, and I could just about forget that humans are usually a fear based war loving sort that frequently lack logic or compassion. Bach for organ...that's another story. Not a pretty one. I like crazy circus or movie theater Whirlitzers or a funky solo on a Moog from the 1960's or 70's. Pipe organs, however, are a no go. I listened to too many of them live as a kid. Like people who've had one too many drinks and will go raving mad if they take another, or Inspector Clueseau's boss who devolves into nervous ticks at the mere mention of Peter Seller's famous clumsy character, the sound of a church organ, and I start seeing the benefit of a solitary padded room and meals slid under the door.

Imagination Bodies Forth
(pages 1-2)

But a few days after I realized I still knew Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by heart (in my head, not to play, you understand), I suddenly understood that my work is forever shaped by Bach's compositions. The layers, the parts that move independently or in tandem, the somewhat strange need to put mokume gane, Eastern repousse, and Russian filigree into the same piece, this increasingly complex design agenda of mine is not simply because I have the chops to pull it off. It's because, as lovely as a simple melody can be, it's never enough to consume and fulfill my brain that is so hard wired for counterpoint.

Portrait of Skyler
colored pencil on deerskin vellum
(Creating this portrait gave me the idea for
the repousse bound book.)
Most people have to choose whether to go deeper or wider in their life's work. I always end up doing both. Some days the stress of doing so feels like I will follow in paternal DNA patterns and blow out at a young age (that side of the family is super smart but unfortunately also charter members of the Heart Attack or Stroke by 50 Club). Realizing that what is engaging, mesmerizing actually, about fugues, that they epitomize simultaneously going both deeper and wider with an idea, might just have provided me with the sanity of acceptance. One idea, one motif, turned on its head, played at the same time, over and over, layer upon layer, all together, at once. Bach was onto something. Maybe, so am I.