Archives for category: Handbags

oprahbagI suppose most people would say I am too ambitious for my own good, but I think life goes by too quickly to waste time thinking about what I want to do.  I have a short list of regrets and I’d like to keep it that way. When I am faced with an opportunity, or something that looks like an opportunity, I ask myself “is this something you might even remotely regret not having done some day?”  I didn’t go to Japan as a foreign exchange student when I was in college and to this day I still wish I had,  and despite having been told a million times that some of the things I want are out of reach, I never persist in thinking, if Dale Chihuly can reinvent glass art or Erin Brockovich can have a movie made about her life, then I can, and should, go after what I want.  I honestly believe you never know unless you try, and you don’t know what the answer will be unless you ask.  After all, I only get this life to go after my dreams.  I might as well make the most of it, even if the word “no” becomes an essential part of the journey.

WASPA few months ago I applied for a screenwriting scholarship at the New York Film Academy.  I applied on a lark, since the screenplay I wrote about the Women’s Air Service Pilots never got any farther than placing in the top twenty percent with the Nicholls Fellowships (which are offered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).  That’s a significant accomplishment considering the fact that they had over 5000 entries, but when I got my “thanks but no thanks” email from The Write Room competition designed to promote the works of women writers, with female themed topics, I was beginning to wonder if the dream I have been chasing since I was 24 was even worth pursuing.  I love movies, but I struggled mightily with writing when I was younger.  Every word I wrote was painful, and even though I understood story structure, character development and theme intellectually, I could never seem to marry what I felt with what I knew into a screenplay that was worth a hill of beans.

The original draft of LUCKY 13 was completed in 1992, but it wasn’t until this past winter that I felt I actually knew how to write it.   The idea is as fantastic as the women who  trained at the only all female airbase in American history, and who went on to fly military aircraft in World War Two. After completing it  I was told repeatedly that it would never be made because of the predominantly female cast. Statistics on women in Hollywood both behind and in the front of the camera bear this sad fact out, but since I am never one to give up without a fight when I believe deeply in something, I decided to submit a story for a screenwriting scholarship through The Writers Store just a few days before the competition closed.  The scholarship offer was predicated on the idea that contestants would submit a story idea to be developed into a screenplay if they were chosen to participate.  The original offer was six scholarships (later increased to eight) and out of over three hundred submissions, I was selected along with seven other writers for an eight week screenwriting intensive.

Bessie StringfieldThe story I chose to submit was about Bessie Stringfield, the first African American woman to be inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.  Bessie was a Jamaican orphan adopted by a wealthy Irish woman in Boston in the 1920’s.  Bessie’s adoptive mother gave her everything she ever wanted, so when Bessie laid eyes on her first motorcycle, her mother bought the bike for her and the stage was set for a long and remarkable life as a motorcycle stunt rider, World War Two motorcycle dispatch courier, and long distance rider with eight cross country trips and three overseas trips to her credit.

20140210_162354I have also decided to turn LUCKY 13 into a TV series and hope to pitch it to some  old friends who still work in the film industry while I am in Los Angeles.  In the meantime, I am also hard at work on a collaboration with James Mellozzo, a highly respected guitar maker who sent me a telecaster, and a stratocaster, to turn into art pieces for the New York Guitar Show and Exposition in April.   The first guitar is close to completion, while the second will feature a pack of timber wolves on the front and  back of the guitar.

The Handbag A Day calendar helped bring my work to the attention of the Tassen Museum in Amsterdam, which boasts the largest collection of handbags and purses in the world.   Considering the fact that the Handbag A Day features over  a hundred of the Museum’s best bags, I am over the moon to be included in such a prestigious collection.  handbag calendar

I have no idea if any of the opportunities I have been blessed with in recent months will lead to the career or life I ever envisioned for myself, but I do know that once I’ve had the chance to take advantage of this screenwriting scholarship, my dreams of writing a really good screenplay will have come full circle, and whether THE MOTORCYCLE QUEEN OF MIAMI ever gets made, or LUCKY 13 winds up on a shelf, or I find myself on stage at the Kodak Theatre with an Oscar clutched to my breast, at least I will know that I gave it my all.

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bigI didn’t start life as a Gourd Goddess.   To be honest, I didn’t even start life as Denise Meyers.  I was born Denise Condit, a fact I did not discover until I was 39 years old, and which is another story entirely. The point is,  I have been reaching for the stars since I could remember, always dreaming of a life much bigger than the one I grew up with, always wanting to stuff  everything I possibly could into a day, always keenly aware that I would not live forever, and if I didn’t grab every opportunity that came my way – even ones I had to invent myself – I might never get the chance to do it again.

When I was fifteen, our psychology class in high school was reading ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST,  which was being filmed, at the time, at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem where I lived.  I called the production office one day and asked if anyone from the production would speak to our class. Joel Douglas, the production manager (and Michael Douglas’ younger brother), agreed, and showed up two days later to discuss the film at length.  When he left that day, he invited me to come to the set anytime I wanted.  I went as often as my mother would allow, and was there the day they filmed Will Sampson pulling the sink out of the floor and tossing it through the window just before he escapes from the hospital. Icuckoosnest photographed the basketball scene through the fence one afternoon, ate lunch in the commissary in the general vicinity of Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas, had Scatman Crothers ask me if I smoked and if I did, could I light his cigarette for him, and was the reason Joel Douglas remembered to order sea sickness pills for the cast when they headed to Newport for the fishing sequence.  I got my first kiss in that insane asylum as well when Joel Douglas pounced on me in the production office one afternoon, something I did not expect, but which makes for a great story.  My first kiss was in an insane asylum on the set of an Oscar winning movie!

Years later, when I was in college and decided I wanted to work in the film business as a career, I wrote a letter to Michael Douglas, asking for a job.  His business manager wrote back, largely because Mt Saint Helens had just erupted, and stories of the ash covering the Pacific Northwest were all over the news, so I sent her a jar of that ash and a friendship was born.  She agreed to get me work if I moved to Los Angeles, and a few weeks later, with my Volkswagon bug packed to the gills, I headed south by myself for a job at the Willliam Morris Agency.   One day while I was waiting to use a pay phone at the gas station across the street from Warner Brothers Studios, I struck up a conversation with a man from Oregon who not only had just moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of a career in film, turns out he was from Salem, was a popular disc jockey at a radio station where I had interviewed – with him – for a job.  We became roommates a few weeks later,  are still great friends to this day.

meandrayTaking no for an answer has never been my strong suit.  I wanted to live at the beach, and found an apartment right on the water in Malibu that was part of a small complex owned by a bachelor who had more money than he knew what to do with.  We paid $850 a month for four years, and hung out with people like Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street), Sherilyn Wolter (Celia Quartermaine, on General Hospital), David Simkins (who wrote Adventures in Babysitting) and Ray Abruzzo, who would later go on to star as Little Carmine in The Sopranos.  I wanted to write screenplays, so I did, and after awhile, I wanted to get as far away from the film business as I could, because quite frankly,  as much as I love movies, I didn’t love writing, or the process of pouring my heart and soul into something that I found so intensely frustrating, and so incredibly unrewarding. Besides, everyone in Los Angeles is a screenwriter and I wasn’t good enough, at the time, to make much of an impact.

I went to work at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore for some perspective, and that’s where I saw gourd art for the first time.  When the woman who was making, and selling them, offered a class one fall, I asked my boyfriend at the time to sign me up as my birthday present.  I fell in love with gourds that weekend,  back when no one knew what a gourd was.  I had no idea Robert Rivera even existed at the time, and which I still think has benefited me greatly in terms of developing my own artistic style, because I had to teach myself everything I know now about gourds.  I had to learn to work with a surface that was curved in two directions, had to learn about tools and equipment, about photography, about applying to art shows, and then art galleries, how to write a contract, and what to say in a cover letter to a magazine editor.

oldgourdI was so naive about the art world that it never occurred to me there were rules, so I barged in where other artists “feared to tread”.  I saw a news brief in the back of Art of the West Magazine about an art show in wine country that featured some of the top Western and wildlife artists I’d been reading about, and so I decided to apply.  The gallery owner called me back and said she didn’t accept gourds because “they are a craft”, so I shot back that she obviously hadn’t seen mine, and I would appreciate it if she would at least take a look at my work before passing judgement.  I got into the show, and into the gallery and did extremely well at both.  I had my first, and only, sell out, a year later, at the San Dimas Art Festival, which is a funny story in itself, because after challenging anyone and everyone who said gourds weren’t a legitimate art form, I started getting into some of the best art shows in the country.  The day I delivered my work to the San Dimas art committee, I spent the entire rest of the day crying, I felt so out of my league.  The artists in the show were famous, at least among the Western art crowd, and I was embarrassed to have my pieces shown alongside theirs.  And by the end of the show, the only thing I had left to take home was a nice, big, fat check, and a tremendous amount of respect from my fellow artists.

piggycanvas1aA few years ago, I decided to test myself artistically to see what I was capable of.  I could design, woodburn, carve and paint a gourd with my eyes tied behind my back, but I felt horribly uncomfortable around canvas.  I liked the “cheat” of woodburning, and how fast acrylics dry, I was used to the curved surfaces of a gourd, and how to make allowances for imperfections in the gourds.  Painting on a flat surface felt foreign to me, but I wanted to see if I could paint things other than cougars and coyotes.  I am embarrassed to say that the first few weeks of this new experiment were horrible.  I hated oils, and canvas, and not working on something I could rest in my lap.  I missed my woodburning tool, and my Dremel, and thought most of what I was working on was dreadful.  I decided to take gourds in all different shapes, cut them into pieces, and reassemble them into works that were five and six feet tall, with contemporary themes.  I covered some with hundreds of flat backed beads, and painted others with copper and brass from powdered metals I found online.  I painted nursery rhymes, and Japanese geisha’s, and even found some bare wood frames that would allow me to expand the artwork beyond the edge of the canvas onto the frame itself.  I bought a hollow core door and woodburned a tiger on it that is two thirds the size of an actual tiger.  I was commissioned to create a piece for the executive producer of The Lord of the Rings with Frodo, Sam, and Golum, and painted a leopard in oil, on a three foot by five foot canvas, and just for the fun of it, reproduced an Ed Hardy painting from a Sailor Jerry’s campaign just to see if I could.

LOTRtroutcontemporary1sailorjerrysIMG_0600bluejayevan_elvishighres#B1A6heytigerlargegeishapaintingpin up girl wine boxdodcoffinleopardhandbagflowerbox

And when I could see that the economy was turning on its ear, I decided to create “functional” artwork, that would allow a collector to justify the purchase, because the art had more than one function.  I turned to handbags like my life depended on it, then decorative boxes, then functional boxes,  day of the dead coffin boxes, boxes designed to look like vintage ads, or wine boxes with pin up girls on them, and recently began working my way back to gourd art again.  I am currently in the process of designing the largest and most elaborate gourd I have ever attempted, with every sort of creature I can think of to put on it, from hummingbirds to blue whales.  I expect this new piece to take at least four months to create, and when I am finished with it, I expect to sell it for more money than I have ever sold a single piece of artwork for, which is a pretty high bar considering that I’ve sold work for $22,500 in the past….

But that’s okay.

Because taking no for an answer just isn’t part of my internal make-up.  I may not have been born a Gourd Goddess.   But I will never stop reaching for the stars…..

wolf handbagI’ve made no secret of the fact that the last few years have been pretty rough.  I’ve had my ups and downs just like anyone else, but I’ve discovered they were minor setbacks at best compared to some of the challenges I’ve faced since 2009.  As a result,  I’ve learned how much more resilient I am than would have ever imagined.  I am braver, wiser, and more resourceful than I thought possible,  and after putting aside my art career to focus on saving my house and protecting my health, I’ve emerged from the past few years with an inspired and reinvigorated approach to art and writing that has resulted in a return to the gourd art I am best known for, a renewed passion for handbags and decorative box design, and the unwavering belief that my best years are ahead of me.

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I have four back to back art shows starting at the end of September and continuing through the end of October, a feat I have never attempted before.  I was accepted into the Armonk Outdoor Art Show in Armonk, New York (September 28 and 29) which I have been applying to for years without avail, plus I will also be exhibiting at An Occasion for the Arts in Williamsburg, Virginia (October 5 and 6), and the Lake Eden Arts Festival in Black Mountain, North Carolina (October 17, 18, 19 and 20).  I was told that several artists have applied to the Lake Eden Arts Festival since its inception and have never been accepted, while I got in on  my first try, which I have to admit, feels really nice.

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I was also invited to exhibit at the Smithsonian Craft2Wear Show in Washington, DC (October 25, 26 and 27), and was asked to bring my new wine boxes since the Gallo wine family will be in attendance, plus I am hard at work creating a line of decorative boxes and one of a kind humidors for men that will debut at this event as well.

trout

Five years ago, I was the top selling gourd artist in the country, with the sales of several $10,000 and $15,000 gourds to my credit. I am still  the only gourd artist to sell a single piece of gourd art for $22,500, but I gave up gourd art entirely the past few years when I went from my best year ever to my worst year ever, between 2008 and 2009.  I honestly thought that gourd art was over for me, since I had a basement full of gourds no one wanted, but not long ago I picked up a gourd and decided to start experimenting again, and the reaction to my first new piece in years was overwhelming,  11,000 people saw the dragonfly gourd I posted on facebook, and I sold that new piece, along with another, significantly more expensive work, at the Tryon Arts Center as part of their outstanding 2013 sculpture exhibit within just a few weeks of one another.  I am working on several new pieces for the Williamsburg show and hope to start getting into galleries and larger art shows with them again as well.

dragonflygourd

Just a few days ago, I received my copy of the Page a Day Handbag calendar for 2014.  The publisher contacted me via email last summer and asked me to send photos of recent work, four of which made it into the calendar.  In fact, my handbags are the only ones in the entire calendar on a color background, and I am one of three handbag designers with more than one image on exhibit.  Most of the bags are from private collections and museums, and a large majority are vintage.  I was asked to submit photos for the 2015 calendar as well.

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My screenplay, LUCKY 13, about the Women’s Air Service Pilots,  was turned down by all five screenplay competitions I entered, however. the best of those competitions, the Nicholls Fellowship (offered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), did say the script was among the top twenty percent of the over 7300 screenplay submissions they received.  So I did something that is generally frowned on in Hollywood; I sent copies of the script to Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, and included one of my best gourds in the submission to Steven Spielberg, who I understand is quite a fan of gourd art and artists.  It may never go anywhere, but you never know unless you try.

kokopelligourd

Finally, I got tickets to The Daily Show in September, and am currently waiting for my confirmation to be a balloon handler again at this years Macy’s Parade.  I missed last years parade because of my broken ankle, but I promised my sponsor that if he could get me in again, I would come to the parade, even if I was on a stretcher!  And last, but by no means least, the 1969 Dodge Travco I have been working on for over 18 months is finally done and is currently on the auction block.  I taught myself about upholstery, laying carpet, and refinishing woodwork among a great many other things.  Check out the link on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJNvYfHnBmU&feature=youtu.be/

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elephantsWith the American Crafts Council show behind me and a world of opportunities ahead, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the process of creating, whether its handbags, art, writing, or promoting a worthy cause.   Art is a difficult business, which is not something I think anyone who attends an art show ever thinks about.  And why would they?  As you walk through the aisles of an art show, indoor or out, it can seem as if the artists have always been there, creating beautiful things for you to admire, and when you leave, and the convention center, or the street that just days before was filled with white tents and throngs of people is now home to parked cars and delivery trucks, it’s hard to imagine what went into making that event happen.

work1I start months in advance to prepare for an art show, primarily because I am the slowest painter on the planet, and if I don’t have a dozen or more handbags woodburned and in the “painting pipeline” I would show up at most events with works in progress and an interpretive dance entitled, “What I Would have Brought to this Show If Could Paint Faster”.  I am in the studio 12 hours a day, seven days a week, in the months before an art show, with piles of work I am in the process of finishing, in the process of starting, and would really love to do if time allows.  As the time draws near for the show, the categories become what I have actually finished, what needs to be finished, and there is no WAY I am EVER going to finish this.  The studio is filled with handbags that are drying, with storage bins full of fabric that need to be cut and assembled for the linings, jars of paint and brushes that somehow seem to migrate across the enormous table I use to work on, despite my best efforts to contain them, until I can’t find anything I need because now the table is also stacked with bubble wrap and Elmer’s glue, and empty glasses of wine.

work2Two weeks before the show, I fill a cardboard box with bags that are dry and need to be assembled, bags that are assembled but need to be lined, bags that are lined but need a handbeaded handle, and drag the whole thing upstairs. The kitchen table is filled with hardware parts and beads, and a card table is set up beside the ironing board for the linings and handmade clutches.  There are purses drying in the bathroom because its cold in North Carolina even with a wood furnace blasting 24 hours a day, and because I use a polyurethane varnish to protect the bags against water damage, they dry slowly.  Because the show is less than ten days away, I don’t have the time to spend letting them dry naturally, and anyway the polyurethane stinks up the house so the faster it dries the better.  It’s time to pack for the show too, which means all my panels have to have a coat of paint, I need to rent a trailer, and a hotel room, and take pictures of what is finished and update my website and send out an email blast to my collectors to encourage them to come to the show, and make arrangements for the dogs, plus I also need to pack my show clothes, and all my equipment, and then, its time to leave.

booth1aMove in is the day before the show, which means checking in, finding your assigned space, unloading the truck and trailer, hauling everything to your booth space, assembling everything and (in my case anyway)  repainting half the panels we brought with us because somehow, despite my best efforts, they are scuffed all to hell and look like I found them in landfill.   Faster than you can say, “its showtime” the hall begins to fill, and you keep your fingers crossed that you will at least make your expenses, which can run in the thousands of dollars once you factor in everything from booth fees to supplies. You get to know your neighbors better than members of your own family when a show is bad, or slow, and in the lull you  trade horror stories with one another about rude customers and greedy show promoters.  My favorite this time was the man who sailed into my booth with his camera out and pointed at a handbag.  I asked him, politely, not to photograph the work, and he looked straight at me and said “you can’t stop me from taking a picture of anything I want”.  I raised my hand in front of the camera as he started to take the picture anyway, and said, “actually, I can”.  He stepped back and told me if I touched him, he was going to deck me.

work3It’s a hell of a way to make a living, and while I realize the economy is still bad and there is so much uncertainty right now, its an incredibly poor business model even under the best of circumstances.  There is little or no job security either.  I used to do an art show I loved more than words can say, as much for the people who put the show on as for the fact that they have insisted on keeping the event small, so everyone can make money. A majority of the shows revenues are reinvested in the community as well, and the show promoters  encourage high school art students to pursue careers in art with scholarships to support their artistic endeavors.

bluebirdebTwo years ago a fellow artist accused me of “violently attacking” her at the show, which, as anyone who knows me well knows couldn’t be further from the truth. I was put on “probation” for a year, then never invited back to the show, which I am the first to admit still hurts to this day.   You can get accepted to a major show one year and start to develop an impressive and devoted client list, and not get in the next year for reasons that are never explained and watch those connections slip through your fingers, or watch your booth and everything in it blow away at an outdoor art show when the winds kick up and in spite of the fact that there are four hundred pounds of weights attached to it, or fight a chargeback that winds up costing you more than the art you sold in the first place,  because someone forgot they bought something from you, and when you provide proof of the sale you don’t get the chargeback fees returned to your account.

dodwedding1I love art.  I really do.  But its incredibly hard work, and its both heartbreaking and terrifying when you get into a show and you don’t sell anything, or you don’t get into a show and have no way of selling the inventory you slaved over for months and invested your heart and soul in.  I get that there are no guarantees in life, and that just because I am exceptional at what I do, doesn’t mean I am entitled to make a living at it.

scrabbleassAnd the worst of it is, I can’t stop.  I want to make beautiful things, and write screenplays about people and  stories that inspire me, like the Women’s Air Service Pilots script I just finished, or short stories about where I live and the cast of characters who inhabit this place, or blogs, like this one, about what motivates me, inspires me, frustrates me and makes me glad I possess both the talent and the drive to create even though I often wonder what the point is of having these skills if having them causes the kind of self doubt and fear  I wrestle with sometimes.

Even so, creating gives me a platform to celebrate causes that matter very much to me, like the drive to raise money for a Rose Parade float commemorating the Women’s Air Service Pilots this New Years Day.  The Women’s Air Service Pilots were a remarkable group of women who flew military aircraft in World War Two, and who are the subject of a screenplay I finished this past January entitled LUCKY 13, about 13 women pilots who completed bomber training at the Lockbourne Army Airbase in 1943. By 1945, the entire WASP program was unceremoniously disbanded despite their enormous success, to make way for male civilian pilots hoping to avoid being drafted into combat duty overseas.  It’s an incredible story and the dream of my lifetime to see it made into a movie.  In the meantime, I am pleased to be part of a fundraising effort to make the float a reality, so please visit http://www.fifinella.com/rosedonate.htm for more information on how to contribute to this hugely worthy cause.

I haven’t been writing much lately because I’ve been working on new handbags, new decorative boxes, new websites, two new businesses, a children’s book, short stories and a screenplay. I am also recovering from a severely broken ankle, so I tend to go at half speed, and can tire easily from something as taxing as taking a shower.  But as my friend, Laura, put it so eloquently a few weeks ago, “who knew a broken ankle would give you wings?”  She’s right too.  It gave me wings, and more creative inspiration than I have had in years.

I just put a shipment of handbags in the mail to Spirits in the Wind Gallery in Golden, Colorado in time for Christmas, plus its time for my annual half off sale, so after wrestling all day with revising my website I am pleased to say that most of the sale bags have been posted along with images of the new pieces that are on their way to Colorado. I am including free copies of my new 2013 calendar while supplies last. The cover photograph of the calendar features a bag owned by none other than Aretha Franklin, and includes a cross section of some of my favorite handbags and decorative boxes.

Over the next few weeks I will be preparing for the American Crafts Council show in Baltimore, February 22, 23 and 24.  We will be in booth number 3203.  I am excited for the opportunity to exhibit at this event, since its still considered one of the top fine craft shows in the country.  Michael and I have also launched a new RV repair business since he is now a certified RV technician. He does all the work, I just do the website design but I think I am pretty good at it!  Check out the site and his services at rvtrailerandmotorhomerepair.com.

I also redesigned our babyboomeradventure.com website and plan to promote our Adventure Rafting experience pretty heavily next year.   Adventure travel is growing in popularity among baby boomers of all ages and we think it would be great to have a four day intensive to learn basic whitewater rafting skills.   The French Broad River in Asheville is the third oldest river in the world, plus Asheville was recently named one of the top five places to live in the US thanks to everything from our microbeer culture, and our harvest to table dining experiences.  PLUS we have the Biltmore, so really, how can we go wrong????

I’ve also started work on a screenplay I wrote many years ago, before the story had an ending.  It’s too soon to talk about what that entails, except to say that I am genuinely surprised to re-discover my passion for screenwriting.   I worked in the film business for 12 years before I finally threw in the towel, but the story I am working on is incredible and deserves to be told. I just hope more than anything that I get to be the one to finally see it made into a movie.

Its been a long year, difficult, and remarkable, in equal measure.  In injuring myself so severely, I’ve been forced to slow down and rediscover what matters most to me, and that’s why I think Laura is right.  My broken ankle DID give me wings, and I can’t wait to see where they take me in 2013!

I was about to give up.  Those aren’t words I say lightly.  I never given up on anything without a fight, even when giving up may have been the wisest course of action.

But two events happened recently to remind me that what I know about my next step, and what the universe has planned for me, are two entirely different things.

I got an email recently from one of the editors at Workman Publishing.  He wanted me to send images of my handbags for inclusion in the 2014 Handbags Page-a-Day  Calendar.   The 2013 Calendar features everyone from Judith Leiber to Muiccia Prada, and to say that I was overwhelmed by the honor is putting it lightly.

I sent five images, and was told there is a good likelihood they will all be included, including the tiger eye handbag I sent to Aretha Franklin a few months ago.  When I posted about the email on my facebook page, I had another surprise coming; a major handbag “player” (she was a judge on the now defunct Project Accessory) wrote back to say she had  a meeting with Workman  Publishing  about getting unknown handbag designers in the calendar, and that she was impressed that  they had approached me instead….

I also had a pair of experiences recently that are hard to describe, not because of the incredible generosity of the gestures involved, but because its the sort of thing I do for people; not the sort of thing that is done for me.  My friend, Randi Leader Oakes, sent me a handbook on the fashion business (a book that I had been coveting for quite a while.  She didn’t know I wanted it, but somehow this incredible woman always seems to get what I need and then, just as magically, makes it happen for me), while Whitney Peckman sent me one of the best books on writing I have ever read.

I have been told all my life I should be a writer, but since I don’t write like Vladimir Nabokov, and I don’t have a personal story to tell that involves divorce, a lucrative book deal, and travel to exotic lands to eat and pray my way through life, I never bothered to try.

But Whitney was right.  She usually always is.  So I am putting an application in the mail today for the Great Smokies Writing Program.

Thank you Randi, Whitney, and Aaron…for encouraging, supporting and celebrating the me that has yet to be revealed!  Because I can see it now…a wildly beautiful handbag designer who moonlights as a crime solving detective….

When I started my art career twenty years ago, gourds were my choice of medium.  I took a class in Santa Monica from a woman who created gourd art on the side, when she wasn’t working as a prop artist in Hollywood.  I came away from that one day class filled with such an intense passion for gourd art that I decided, right then and there, that I wanted to become the best gourd artist on the planet.  I had no idea how I was going to get there, I just knew that for once in my life, this drive I have to be the best at something might actually have a shot at coming true.  I encountered plenty of obstacles along the way of course, not the least of which was my own naiveté about art.  I had no idea how to get into galleries, how to do an art show, how to even find out to apply for an art show.  I was blissfully unaware of the politics of art, declaring to my boyfriend at the time that I loved art BECAUSE it was so “non political”.

Through a series of events that lead me from a holiday art show in a friend’s garage to my first real art show at the Pasadena Civic Center, I tackled art with the passion of  a religious convert.  I followed up on every art show lead I could find, challenged gallery owners who deemed gourd art a “craft”, and went after the goal of becoming the number one gourd artist in the country as if my life depended on it.  Robert Rivera, who I credit with singlehandedly opening the door to gourds as an art form, was my guidepost for what to do and how to go about achieving it.  Everyone who told me that gourds would never be taken seriously as an art form along the way, unwittingly added fuel to the fire of my unwavering determination, until the day I sold my first piece of gourd art for $20,000.

I still remember standing in line at the bank with the check clutched in my hands so tightly that if an earthquake had hit about then, I would have been found in the rubble, still holding onto it, and probably wouldn’t have let go to grab onto a rescuer.  When I stepped up to the counter to cash it, I had to fight from bursting into tears, and the sense of relief and accomplishment as I walked away from the teller window was overwhelming.  I couldn’t WAIT to tell all those naysayers that they were wrong about gourds as an art form.

I gave up gourd art a few years ago to tackle a new medium and a new way of expressing my artistic talents.  I wanted to create art that wasn’t something you left at home.  I reasoned that since people don’t buy jewelry, or a new outfit, or even a set of golf clubs just to leave them at home, why should art be something that gets left behind every time you leave the house?

Since I consider wood burning my true forte, I settled on wood handbags as the new direction my career would take.  By combining wood burning,  hand painting, and an attention to detail with respect to the linings, the hardware and the fixtures, I could create functional art that would make the women who owned them, stand out in a crowd.  My success at selling these new handbags was instantaneous; I got into every show I applied for, and even some I thought I would never be able to exhibit at, like the Smithsonian Craft Show and the Sausalito Art Festival.

But then the economy tanked and the prevailing wisdom among handbag buyers and art show producers was that my work was too “niche”, that women, especially wealthy women, would always buy expensive handbags, but they wanted them to be handbags other women would recognize as expensive.  And presumably, exclusive.  I still can’t quite get over standing in front of a panel of judges at my audition for Project Accessory and being told that my one of a kind, handmade, exclusive and very expensive handbags were NOT on the same level as a Birkin Bag, which is also one of a kind, handmade, exclusive and very expensive, but that hardly stopped me from continuing to believe that one day, my bags will be as sought after as those bags are.

A few weeks ago, Pam Eggemeyer, who owns Spirits in the Wind Gallery in Golden, Colorado,  challenged me to create  a handbag based on the design legacy of Yves Saint Laurent, after the Denver Art Museum decided to mount a 40 year retrospective of his work.  I began researching his design ethic and settled on an idea I felt I could really make my own. The handbag itself was easy, but since I ordinarily line each handbag with a matching fabric, I decided I had to pull a rabbit out of a hat to make sure this new bag was a show stopper. I found a way to print original designs on fabric, and had a yard of fabric made from the images on the handbag to line it with.  It has a matching clutch and a matching handmade storage bag, along with a  handbeaded  handle.

I am far from where I want to be with this new venture thanks to preconceived notions about wood handbags, but I know myself well enough to know that telling me it can’t be done is a surefire way to make sure I accomplish my objectives.

I have an extremely close friend I’ve never actually met.  As a matter of fact, I’ve never even talked to her on the phone. I have seen pictures of her, and she’s absolutely gorgeous.  She used to work for my husband, and had even dated him for a few weeks close to thirty years ago, which, amazingly enough, is NOT what’s so odd about our relationship.  Her best friend met my husband and I at an art show four years ago.  We were in discussions with Toni about artwork for the new home she was building in Scottsdale, when she died suddenly of brain cancer. Suzie knew how close Toni and I had become, so she wrote to offer her condolences, and we’ve been best friends ever since.

Over the years, we’ve helped each other through all sorts of things, not the least of which were the two years her husband was serving as a doctor in Afghanistan.  When he got back, they decided they needed to change their lives completely, in part because they’d both lost their jobs, and in part, because they both realized it was time to ask themselves what really mattered in life.  A few weeks ago they decided they wanted to buy an RV and travel the U.S. in search of the place they wanted to spend the rest of their lives, and within days, they found an amazing deal on an RV, sold all their things, and headed to Flagstaff to begin their journey.

Sometimes things happen in this lifetime that make absolutely no sense to me at the time.  I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the idea that “things happen for a reason” most of my life.  When things happen that I don’t understand,  I am convinced there is no possible reason there will ever be a good outcome, until the day the lightening bolt hits me and I discover that everything about the events leading up to that revelation happened exactly as they should.  I wanted to tell the story about Suzie, because I think Michael met Suzie, who met Toni, who met me, because Suzie needed a confidente and  a best friend at a particular point in her life, and so did I.  And now Suzie has become my hero, because she made a decision, focused on that decision, and made it happen.  I told her I marvel that she found what she wanted out of life so quickly, and that it took so damned long to get there.

I made the hard decision to quit art a year ago to try to save my house.  I was five months behind on my mortgage with no idea how I would manage to avoid foreclosure, when I got not one, but three jobs in a town were jobs are almost impossible to come by.  I am also convinced that I had a guardian angel on my side.  There is no evidence whatsoever to support this conclusion, but again, the “coincidence” is hard to ignore. I went to New York last summer to audition for Project Accessory.  The trains to Pearl River  where I was staying at the time were under construction so I had to take the bus back.  I was in a tiny waiting room at the Port Authority, when I began a conversation with a woman who was also waiting for the bus.  When she told me she worked for JP Morgan Chase, I told her how unhappy I was with the way they had handled my home loan modification.  Meaning, they kept turning me down but never bothered to explain why.  She asked for my card and told me she would have an in-house mortgage counsellor handle my loan.   I figured she would toss the card the minute I was out of sight….instead, I qualified for a permanent home loan modification in three months time.  I can’t prove this woman had anything to do with it, but considering the abandon with which JP Morgan Chase forecloses on homeowners,  it’s the only thing that makes any sense to me.

“All of the sudden”,  I am in three new galleries and completely revised my website  to focus on these new galleries, as well as the new corporate gifts line I’m excited to launch.  My work was accepted to the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology for their spring fashion show.  I am in discussions with  a Los Angeles based company about providing Academy Award nominees with evening bags as part of their “swag bag” offerings.  I am also scheduled for a radio interview on January 28 at 9:15 PST with Bobbi Jean Bell, owner of  OutWest Boutique and Cultural Center in Santa Clarita, California.  I was also invited to create a new line of handbags inspired by the designs of Yves Saint Laurent by the Spirits In the Wind Gallery in Golden, Colorado in a show to run concurrently with the Denver Museum of Art’s YSL retrospective.  The show runs from April 6 to June 30th.  And last, but not least, I have brand new work at a gorgeous new gallery in Florida called Gallery One, which carries an amazing collection of art and artists that I am extremely proud to be a part of.

It seems a new phase of the journey has begun and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

I haven’t written anything in the last few months, because quite frankly, I have been embarrassed beyond belief to admit just how hard this economy has hit me.

Then a few months ago, I met a pair of business partners who book celebrity guest speakers, clergy and artists for luxury cruise liners, and within seconds the entrepreneur in me was reborn.   I headed straight into the studio that afternoon to design a handbag that not only highlights their company spirit, I also found a way to print fabric from that image that allowed me to line the bag with their company logo and create a handmade clutch to match!

I am working hard to launch a new corporate gifts link on my website, with humidors, jewelry boxes, decorative boxes – just about anything and everything  made from wood – because corporations will always exist and so will holidays and special occasions.

 

Three weeks ago, I received an email from a website that profiles handbag designers, regarding a casting call for a new reality show about accessories designers called Project Accessory, a spin off of the hugely popular Project Runway.  The show had four casting sessions; a weekend long casting session in New York, then one day sessions in Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami.  Unlike a lot of casting calls for reality shows, attendance at one of the casting sessions was mandatory, so after considerable debate, I decided to head to New York, figuring that it was best to be there when the process was fresh and I had the best possible chance of making an impact.  I loaded up a box full of handbags and took them all over town to see which bags got the best response,  filled out the 24 page application, selected my wardrobe, and flew to Newark for my debut.

My friend Kim, who lives an hour from Manhattan, graciously agreed to get up at 4:30 in the morning to drive me into the city with my suitcase full of handbags and portfolios, but when we pulled up in front of the hotel where the casting session was going to be held, no one was there.  I thought, well hell, I have the wrong hotel and then I thought “Oh My God…I have the wrong weekend!!!!”  I was immediately disavowed of this notion by a porter who asked if I was there for the casting session, then sent me upstairs to the lobby, which was on the fourth floor of a hotel that looked like a cross between a gynecologists office and left over sets from some recent Star Wars convention.

Clinical didn’t even begin to describe the Japanese inspired futuristic white molded plastic interior with “space age furniture” that would have made the Jetson’s proud.   Three other people were waiting on the gigantic purple ottomans that doubled as couches, looking for all the world like a bunch of overgrown kids on a Romper Room set.  One man came with his mother and brother and another man was frantically filing out all 24 pages of paperwork – paperwork which, by the way, took a practice copy and four hours for me to fill out, but he was whipping through it like it was a Sudoku puzzle he had to finish before his train pulled into the station.

The casting director showed up fresh from her workout in the hotel gym and told us we had to wait in line downstairs, so I headed to the elevators and out the front door, when the same porter who initially directed me upstairs accosted me in a thick Slavic accent to ask why I was back downstairs again. When I  told him the casting director sent me there, he loaded me back into the elevator and off we went again to the lobby, where the casting director loaded us back onto the elevator again and down we went.  By this time it was about 7:00 in the morning and we still had another two hours to wait, so the woman in  line in front of me and I traded life stories until a card table was produced with copies of the application on it, and the judging staff began to arrive.

There were three people in line ahead of me; a woman who looked like Rachel Zoe, and who’s participation in the series appeared to be a foregone conclusion.  She knew everyone in the place and had ten times as many samples as any of the rest of us, plus she was assigned a rather attractive young man to help her carry all her crap into the casting room.  She was supposed to be in the casting room for three to five minutes. Fifteen minutes later she came out with an envelope, which was the sign that you had been invited to the next round of casting.  Natasha, the jeweler I had been waiting in line with all morning, was next, and she came out with a very odd look on her face. She asked me if I wanted her to stick around so we could talk after my audition, and I said sure, if for no other reason than to find out what that look meant.  Well the design student who went in next, the one with recently dyed red air that was not a color  found in nature, dressed in yellow and black with a flap on her skirt that had a tendency to stick straight out and who showed up with her mother and fiancee, came out crying, and then I was up.

The door opened and I was ushered into a dimly lit room where eight or so people were lined up on folding chairs against one wall who never said a word.  There was a small folding table under a single beam of light in the middle of the room, and four women at the other end of the room in front of a draped wall with their names on a placard on front of each woman.  I recognized one name from the website that had originally sent out the casting call, but I went ahead and addressed the entire room, as if I were a hostess who was late to her own party.

Now before I go any further, I feel it incumbent upon me to describe the women on the judging panel, at least half of whom appeared to have divorced VERY well, once, if not twice, and they were certain by their appearance and their demeanor to let you know they were someone we were all privileged to be in the presence of.  Between the pilates instructors, manicurists, pedicurists, massage therapists, facialists, stylists, hairdressers, therapists, personal assistants, housekeepers, personal shoppers, drivers, clothing and jewelry budget, and expense report, I would guess that the collective budget for that day’s appearance was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, a fact that was later confirmed by the $150,000 Birkin bag that was burnished in my direction, but more on that little tidbit in a moment.

I set my bags down on the table and was immediately asked if they were cigar boxes.  I thought to myself, this is the perfect lead in, so I launched into my well rehearsed explanation about how they were made, when the sound man said he wasn’t ready….awkward pause, followed by a brief salutation to the one woman on the panel I actually sort of “knew”.  The sound man said he was ready, and the entire interview took a nose dive followed by a right turn.  All four women started asking me questions at the same time, and not one of them let me answer until the scrawny little one the second from the left said, “do you compare yourself to Timmy Woods”, a handbag designer who also works with wood because her last name is, well, Woods.  That is kind of like asking an F16 mechanic if he compares himself to a Volkswagon mechanic.  Just because both work with engines doesn’t mean the two are even remotely related, so I said, no, I actually think of myself as the next Birkin bag.

Well I might  have well as been a maitre’d at Manhattan’s hot new restaurant who turned them away at the door, because the scrawny one absolutely imploded.  For the uninitiated, a Birkin bag is handmade in France by Hermes, and because they are handmade one at a time, and delivered on a somewhat unreliable schedule, it can take years to procure one, which makes them the most expensive – and most exclusive – handbag  on the planet.  They cost between $75,000 and $280,000. Victoria Beckham has two.

The woman in the middle, who looked just like Patty, the Millionaire Matchmaker, reached behind her chair, and waved HER Birkin bag over her head while the scrawny woman on her right launched into a lecture about the Birkin bag and why there was absolutely no comparison between MY exclusive, handmade bags and THOSE  exclusive handmade bags and finally Miss Matchmaker said that my line was too “niche”, but she would keep my information on file in case they thought they could ever use me.

There was a moment when I thought, I didn’t crash this casting call to SELL my handbag line to you, I answered a call for one of a kind accessories,  and anyway, you didn’t ask me to produce a pair of shoes I’d made or a piece of jewelry I had fabricated either, so if by niche you mean “one of a kind” as long as it looks like everything else on the planet, this clearly isn’t the reality show for me anyway.

As I hit the door to pack up my stuff in the lobby, a woman who showed up about an hour after the line started, and who looked liked she’d woken up that morning face down in stale beer after a particularly hard night as a cocktail waitress in the Tenderloin District, tottered up to me on her eight inch heels and said, “Your bags are beautiful….how did it go in there”.  I looked at her, smiled sweetly, and said…”it was tough” then had breakfast with Natasha, scored a rush ticket to see a matinee performance of Spiderman,  took in the Alexander McQueen show at the Met, and walked back to Port Authority through Central Park on an absolutely gorgeous afternoon.

With any luck this new show will be at least as dreadful as EXPEDITION IMPOSSIBLE, which is another reality series I tried out for this year.  We got as far as the third round before being cut.  That casting call called for “ordinary people” but if you’ve ever watched it, these “ordinary people” look like they were genetically produced in a laboratory to exacting specifications based on a rigid set of blueprints regarding what specific types SHOULD look like if those types were going to be featured in a magazine spread in Vanity Fair  shot by Annie Leibowitz.