Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving Tale 2013

Yes, we still tell stories on Thanksgiving.
This year’s story dates back to my graduate school days in the University of Illinois Landscape Architecture program.
 In the Spring of my first year, a group of graduate and undergraduate students decided to attend the annual conference of Landscape Architecture students, LABASH, hosted that year by the University of Arizona in Tucson.
 My recollection was that our contingent of attendees added up to 4 carloads, and we headed out as a caravan as we began our long journey from the department studios in Urbana.
We made a group decision that if we were driving over 1,500 to Tucson, we should visit some of the landscape highlights in Arizona, so we detoured to the Petrified Forest National Park and then the Grand Canyon.
 I think if you have a heartbeat, it’s impossible not to be overwhelmed and humbled by the visual spectacle of the Grand Canyon.
 And…if you’re a group of young and impetuous college students, it’s almost as impossible to avoid making rash and ridiculous decisions.
Standing at the South Rim of the canyon, we decided to hike to the bottom and camp out overnight. We were, of course, completely unprepared to camp anywhere, even a suburban backyard. Undaunted by our profound lack of knowledge, we grabbed our sleeping bags, some food and beverages and began heading down a nearby trail.
 It didn’t take too long to realize that the whole going down to the bottom part was not especially easy.
 Parts of the trail had been wiped out by rock slides, making it challenging to negotiate in sneakers.
It took around an hour of strenuous hiking for our logic to catch up, and cries (literally) of mutiny began.
The majority of the group wanted to turn around and continue immediately to Tucson.
I was not prepared to give up on the adventure, and luckily (?), neither were John or Brett.
We continued our downward journey while the wiser members of our group returned to the cars.
I was exhausted when we finally entered a small camping area where groups of hikers were already set up for the evening…already set up with tents, cooking apparatus, and….you know, camping equipment. 
John, Brett and I, the 3 U of I dopes, laid out our sleeping bags and unpacked our food…a jar of peanut butter, some bread, a jar of jalapeno peppers and a couple of avocados.   
Some of the other campers came over to check out our curious setup. 
“Where’s your tent?” 
“You have a tarp, don’t you?” 
 “That’s your dinner?!” 
Clearly, we were candidates for the Darwin Awards.

Someone took pity on us and came over to lend us a tarp as a park ranger entered the site.
That's when we learned from our fellow camper that permits were required and the lack of a permit would likely result in a fine and immediate expulsion.
We had a panicked 5 minutes to come up with a believable story...members of our party had turned around and they had the permit.
Our friend's boyfriend had applied for the permit, and we only knew his first name.
It might work, but just in case, we thought it wise to use our secret weapon...Brett.
Brett was probably the kindest, most sincere person in the Landscape Architecture program.
He was also one of the best looking.
Lucky for us, the park ranger was female.  John and I voted that Brett should do all the talking.  As the ranger approached, Brett smiled and offered her a slice of avocado.
It took one walkie talkie conversation for our story to crumble, but surprisingly, we were allowed to stay. 
I like to think it was the combination of Brett’s smile and the avocado, but it could also have been my borderline weeping/pleading that I would not be able to turn around and make the hike back to the rim.
So, we spent a very cold night on the rocky ground with unidentified animals crawling over us while in our sleeping bags. 
One of those animals chewed though a backpack and ate our bread that was supposed to be breakfast.
It was an uncomfortable night of little rest in one of the most beautiful and magical places I have ever seen.
The trip back home to Urbana was a pretty frightening and eventful one...
but that's another story.

Monday, November 25, 2013


During a week of Thanks....
I'm so thankful for my twin sons who do their best and work their hardest in spite of significant challenges.
 My older twin, Ethan, in his last year at Overbrook School for the Blind.
My younger-by-two-minutes twin, Hayden, a junior at Swarthmore College.
Hayden has been having a news worthy season....
featured in The Swarthmore Bulletin, here...
and The Philadelphia Inquirer, here.
So much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Donating MY Artwork

The images of the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines are overwhelming and they leave me wanting to do something to help.
(image from AP)
I have always told my son, "No matter how little you might have, you will always have enough to give to someone in need."
So, here's what I'm doing...
my painting 'Walk to the Horizon' is being auctioned off, and all proceeds will go the Red Cross Philippines Typhoon Response.
'Walk to the Horizon' is oil on an 8" x 10" canvas...
and is already in a 14" x 16" frame, wired for hanging.
('Walk to the Horizon' was recently in a Community Arts Center show in Wallingford, PA, priced at $325.00)
Here's how it will work...
bidding starts today and will end at midnight, Tuesday, November 19, 2013.
I will ship the painting to the winning bidder once payment is received.
I will pay for shipping so that the entire bid can go to the relief effort.
The opening bid is $95.00 and the bidding increment must be at least $5.00.
Bids can be made here in the comments, on my personal Facebook page, on my Cynthia Murray Design Facebook page or through email at
I will post the top bid at the end of each day at my various sites just in case anyone might want to know where the bidding is. 
With permission, I will announce the winning bidder once payment is received.
In the big picture, I know this is a small effort, but all the small efforts can add up to something that makes a difference.
Want some original artwork?
Bid away and let's make a difference together!

Monday, November 11, 2013

New/Old Jewelry Display

When I first began to sell my jewelry years ago, I went to some of the jewelry supply companies to select my display pieces.
I did my craft show research, and it seemed like most of the jewelers went with black display pieces and black table/display covers.
I thought they all know what they're doing, plus the black display pieces do have an elegant look to them.
I got on board and ordered black velvet necklace displays, black velvet display boards and I bought yards of black fabric for table covers.
That worked for me for a number of years, but as my jewelry making evolved in new directions, so did my thoughts about what I wanted to communicate through my display.
I began to think that if I wanted my jewelry to be unique, my display should also be unique.
Focusing on the fact that I incorporate recycled materials in  some of my jewelry, I began seeing some curbside trash and thrift store finds as great display pieces.
I also decided that the black wasn't working for me any more.
I wanted everything to be brighter.
I started repurposing old frames, infilling them with creamy burlap.
I ordered some new necklace displays, this time choosing white.
I kept my black table covers, but now cover them with vintage tablecloths that I've found in thrift stores.
I'm feeling much better with this brighter approach.
I'm always looking for new possibilities for my display, and my newest find.... 
I'm not sure what this might have been used for, but I immediately thought that I could use it to display bracelets.
I like the fact that the dividers are a bit adds to the charm.
I didn't like the idea of having wood as a backdrop for each display compartment; it's too dark.
No problem.
I cut pieces of insulation board and polyester batting.
Pieces of creamy burlap were laid over the batting, wrapped around the sides and secured with a staple gun.
The burlap covered infills are now snug in the compartments and hardware was attached to the back of the piece for hanging on the wall.
Easy upgrade for a thrift store find, and I have a new display for this holiday season of shows.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Donating Your Artwork

I received a mailing inviting me to contribute to a Black Tie Silent Auction event for the benefit of a private university that’s somewhat near where I live.  I don’t know how my name made it to their mailing list since nobody in my family has any connection to this university, but I imagine that the organizers collected names of artists who exhibited during events at some of the local art centers. 
Part of the letter of invitation really annoyed me.
As a means to entice me to participate, there was particular focus on the suggestion that the audience of this event will be filled with those who are considered to be prominent members of the community and the university would basically be doing me, the artist, a favor by granting me access to these future, enthusiastic customers. 
Well….I’ve been around the block a few times and have a pretty good understanding of these events.
As someone who has been donating regularly to a variety of silent auctions for over 20 years, I have yet to see any of these auctions treated as anything other than an upscale yard sale…yes, even when it’s Black Tie. 
At one event that I attended, I watched as some of the attendees (mostly parents of the children who attended the private school that was the beneficiary) bid on their desired items in increments of twenty-five cents.  Honestly….twenty-five cents?!
A fellow jewelry designer, K., told me one of her silent auction stories.  Benefitting a local hospital, this was a formal event with many local celebrities in attendance.  K. donated one of her necklaces that usually retail for $600 and above.  She was in attendance and was approached by a very disappointed TV personality who had been bidding on the necklace but lost the bid.  She had really wanted the necklace and wanted to know if there was another one available.  K. had a similar necklace in her studio and gave it to TV lady. 
At this point in the story, I looked at K. and said, “Wait a minute…you gave it to her?  Why would you give it to her?!”  I mean…it’s public knowledge that TV lady makes more than half a million dollars a year, which is around half a million dollars more than K. makes.  K. thought that it would be a good business move; maybe she would cultivate a great, new customer.  
TV lady never bought anything from K. and never referred anyone to her.  I heard this story several years ago and still, every time I see TV lady in the local media, all I can hear is blah, blah, blah coming out of her mouth because I’m thinking, “Shame on you for not paying for that necklace.” 
I’m sure that they exist, but I do not know one artist/craftsperson who ended up getting work because of their involvement in a silent auction. 
Is that a problem?, not in my opinion.  We are all members of a community that thrives when we are active participants.   I think it’s important to step up and help those who are helping others.  Promises of introducing me to the elite who will advance my business fall on deaf ears.  
Once a piece is donated, it’s out of my hands and I choose to attach no expectation to it other than the hope that the money raised will do good deeds.