A Rusted Development

When I started working in steel, I knew I wanted to created a rusted surface on some of my pieces. Sounds easy, right? All you have to do is add moisture to mild steel and it rusts. True, but controlling the color and preserving the rust turned out to be a bit more tricky than I expected.

I talked to some friends and did some Internet research which gave me a lot of information; most of it a little scary. You see, rusting usually involves nasty chemicals that will etch and change the surface. I was having mixed results, most of them unappealing, and was thinking about giving up when I talked to Eric.

Eric is engaged to a friend of mine and works in metals, mostly steel. He does a lot of surface treatments and was more than willing to share his information. That’s one thing I love about most of the artists I encounter, they are willing to share! Eric gave me some samples of a mild, odorless chemical that would produce rusted results. I took them home and immediately began he experiment. It was  a bit shocking at first when I brushed on the stuff and it turned my steel a bright coppery-pink shade. Uh, this wasn’t what I wanted! My patience was rewarded when the chemical started working its magic and the pieces started to turn. Here are my samples:










The Copper Rust sample produced the color I considered most like natural rust. Eric also gave me a great hint on sealing my pieces with satin polyurethane for wearability. Once I had this mastered, my work started to take an exciting turn.

Working in steel is fun and the material is very inexpensive, but the finishing work is actually more time-consuming than silver or gold. Rusting takes several days and the polyurethane takes several coats and hours of drying time. It can be a week to 10 days in finishing time alone. I think the results are worth it. The color is lovely and the finish is exciting. My new work will make its debut in October. Until then, I’ll be in the studio rusting everything I can find.


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Ready For Fall

It’s no secret I don’t like summer, and this has been one of the worst in memory. I doubt I’m alone when I say enough is enough! Let’s get some cooler weather, and rain, going here.

For me, the best part of fall is not the cooler weather (although that doesn’t hurt), but it’s the wonderful fashions. I’ve always loved the September fashion magazine issues, planning my wardrobe additions for the season, and seeing what’s hot and what’s not. Not all of the September issues are out yet, but I’ve already seen and read about a lot of trends that I’ll be embracing. I’ve also seen several I won’t! So here’s what’s on my radar for fall:

1. Smoking slippers and brogues. If you’re even remotely interested in fashion, learn these terms. These two styles of shoes are on the horizon to replace the beloved ballet slipper of the past few years. Here’s a sample of the smoking slipper:


I recently scored a pair from Steve Madden that I’d been drooling over since late November. My patience paid off and I got them for 75% off. Brogues are similar to men’s wingtip or lace-up oxfords. Here’s a pair I bought:


Gotta love the perk of ordering shoes from work at cost! Anyway, several people have asked about how to wear these unique styles and I always tell them to wear them as they would any flat. Jeans, crops, skirts, dresses, pants are all good choices. I wear them the same as I would my Chuck Taylors.

2. Shoes again! What can I say? Shoes are an easy way to update a wardrobe. Now I’m on the hunt for the perfect pump. I want a pointed metallic cap toe, small platform and shorter heel. Not too much to ask, right? Yeah, well this one’s going to be a challenge. So far, all I’ve found are sky-high rounded toe platforms. We’ll see.

3. Plaid pants. Thanks to my mother, I inherited her thin legs which means I can wear patterned pants without looking like a whale. The key to any pattern is keeping the proportion right and the fit perfect. Last night I found a cute pair at JC Penney (their transformation is looking great) but am still looking. Ideally, I’d like something that looks like it’s from the 70s, but styled like it’s current. Again, not too much to ask.

4. A moto vest. Rather than a motorcycle jacket, I want a vest. I’ve seen several in magazines but all are in the 4-figure range. Not surprising since my taste rarely matches my budget. I figure the style will become more popular and inexpensive knock-offs will be available soon. At least I hope so!

5. Skinny slouch jeans. Yep, this style really exists. It’s like the skinny jean and the boyfriend jean had a kid and this was the outcome. Less tight in the leg, but not too baggy. I’m expecting to see this coming from Gap.

Other trends hitting the stores are leopard print EVERYTHING, burgundy and navy, lady-like blouses, ruffles, fringe (love!), metallic, purple, western details (another love), and tuxedo styling (a perpetual fave). All in all, fall’s looking great!

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In The News

Earlier this spring, our local paper, the News-Leader, made some changes. Letters went out to subscribers informing them of upcoming fee increases that were justified by new, expanded online access. While Steve and I understood the need for these changes, we weren’t interested in all the online offerings. Besides, we were spoiled by the $11/month rate we were spending for a daily paper. We called to ask if we could keep getting our paper without subscribing to the online services and were told “no.” They refused to offer any other packages other than the new ones, which tripled our monthly rate. We were paid thorough the end of June so we had a couple of months to decide what to do.

I’ll admit my main reasons for taking the paper are the comics and Dear Abby. Shallow, but true. I can get most of the local news on television or other sources so the paper didn’t really appeal to me. Besides, if someone I know dies it’s likely my mom will inform me of the passing before it’s published in the paper. I hated giving up my routine of coffee and paper after my morning workouts, but I refused to pay any more than I had been paying for the past 15 years. So we cancelled. And they didn’t seem to care.

Steve, being ever so resourceful when faced with a problem, found a solution: cash in frequent flier miles (we never use them) for a subscription to The Wall Street Journal. I have now officially become my mother (love you, mom!). Shortly after securing that six-day subscription, he found a way to get us the New York Times on Sunday. Paper problem solved! I got online and found sources for my beloved comics so my daily dose of humor is secured.

I know the decline of local papers is on the rise and I hate to be another person adding to that, but I will not be held hostage by increased rates and an unwillingness to work with a long-term subscriber. That’s all the news that’s fit to print here!

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I blame the heat for my lack of posts. Ok, maybe I just haven’t felt like writing or I’ve been busy doing other things, but the normal excuses are getting old so I’m blaming the heat.

Actually, we have been busy. We visited my dad and Karen in Jefferson City, my friend Suzanne came for a visit and Steve’s been doing some traveling for work. I’ve even spent some time in the studio creating new things.

I’ll write more later, but I just wanted to check in with everyone to let you know I hadn’t been abducted by aliens or was trapped under something heavy. I’m just unable to move or think due to the heat.

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Happy Father’s Day

Today I honor my dad, Bill Johnson, for being a great dad. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, but I’ve learned so much from him over the years.

My earliest memories of my dad was a house full of music. He’d put on the latest album – Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Beach Boys, Kingston Trio – and blast the volume. I’m sure I danced around the house to the beat. As I grew older, dad would teach me about the music. I learned who wrote the songs, what they were about, who the studio musicians were, why the person/group was talented, etc. I didn’t always agree with his taste, but I always respected his opinion. It took me many years to begin to appreciate the vast talent of Bob Dylan, one of his favorites, but I now understand why he is such a great artist even if I don’t like all of the music.

Dad loved to fish and we spent many summers at Kimberling Oaks Resort where dad could fish and I could play in the pool. We’d rent a cabin and spend the weekend there with my grandparents. The adults would put my sister and I to bed and stay up until the wee hours playing cards. I loved the smell of chlorine, suntan lotion, charcoal smoke and cigarette smoke all combined. Yes, it sounds really gross, but I have so many great memories associated with those summers. Later, we had a pop-up trailer we’d take to Bennett Springs or Roaring River. By that time I was getting older and the novelty was wearing off. Plus, I had to sleep with my sister and I didn’t want anything to do with her then!

Dad was always a snappy dresser, like my grandfather. I remember a closet full of sport coats, ties, dress shoes and slacks. When he later founded a janitorial business, his attire became much more casual, but dad always knew how to put himself together for an occasion. I loved all the wide polyester knit ties he had in the 70s. The bright colors were so cool!

I learned a lot about nutrition and health from him too. As a teen, I remember he had a subscription to Muscle and Fitness magazine and I’d look at all the photos of the bodybuilders. Dad would go downstairs to his basement gym, put on a pair of headphones and crank up the music while he worked out. Later, he’d come upstairs for a protein shake, which I thought was so gross. Funny, because I drink at least one day now! His dedication to his health has continued and he’s in the best shape of his life today. Good thing too because his good health allowed him to quickly battle throat cancer last winter. He’s in good health now and I’m really proud of his hard work.

Dad, we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye but I’ve always respected your opinion and honestly. Happy Father’s Day. I love you very much.

Dad and I on June 26, 1970, my 4th birthday.

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Happy Birthday, Nana!

Today would have been my Nana’s 97th birthday. Unfortunately, she passed away in April 1990 but I still think of her often and remember all the fun I had with her.

Lucille Johnson was a dynamo and everyone who met her would probably agree. She used to say that dynamite comes in small packages and at 4’11” she was the epitome of that phrase. She’d give you a piece of her mind one minute then take your breath away with a big hug. I loved her dearly.

As a child, I remember summers “working” in the yard, sun tea with lunch, watching her “stories” in the hot afternoon then finishing the day picking vegetables for dinner from the garden before showering and going to bed. She was a terrific seamstress who made many of my clothes and dance dresses. I loved spending time in her sewing room, with my own needle and thread, making clothes for my Barbies. I still have several of the outfits she made for my Barbies.

Nana was famous for her phrases, many of which cannot be repeated in polite company. Her memory is kept alive by my constant use of them. My favorite is when I tell people where they can find sympathy in the dictionary. It’s between sh*it and syphilis. Yep, that’s a gem from my nana. Her friends used to joke that they thought my Papa’s real name was “Dammit Fred.”

She was one-of-a-kind and I loved her for that. I loved the fact that we shared June birthdays, along with my dad. It made me feel more connected to them.

Happy Birthday, Nana. I know where ever you are, you’re having a great time. I can still hear your laugh and it makes me smile. I love you very much.

This is how I remember her: lounging on the patio soaking up the sun.


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Des Moines

After writing my last post I realized that I do have a lot to talk about regarding last weekend. We love Des Moines, not just because it’s home to the World’s Cutest Children, but because there is so much to do. Luckily, Ralph and Blair keep up with the goings on in the area and are always up for an outing.

Friday the girls were at school so Ralph and I did some retail therapy while the guys hung out together. We didn’t green up the Des Moines economy too much, but did find some cute summer pieces at Gap and J. Crew. Later, we took the girls birthday cupcake shopping while the guys installed the new needle and cartridge Blair bought for the stereo. After leaving the bakery, and the Lydia “It’s Raining Men” incident, we went downtown to try and locate a sculpture studio Steve and I planned to visit on Sunday. While turning the corner to go home we spotted a new place called Funky Finds. The entire window was full of fabulous mid-century items so we stopped to check it out. Good thing too as it was full of terrific furniture, accent pieces, clothing and what-nots from the 50s, 60s and 70s. I found a great lamp for $10 and vowed to return next time I’m in town. They had just opened and were thrilled we’d stopped by. I think they’ll do quite well. Friday night was the big Uncle Steve Birthday Celebration complete with decorations and cupcakes. The girls went to bed and the adults enjoyed the newly improved stereo along with Blair’s early birthday gift, the Devo live album we scored at Record Days in April. I have to admit even I thought it was a great LP and Steve and I both lamented we hadn’t picked up a copy for ourselves.

Saturday, we walked down to the Des Moines Art Center where I have my jewelry in the gift shop. The girls love to point it out whenever we visit and I’m impressed by the care the museum takes to display my wares. This was the first time, however, we took the time to actually go through the museum and it was impressive. The current draw is the huge Jackson Pollock piece “Mural” on loan from Iowa City. While not a huge Pollock fan, I did love it and found the accompanying video to be fascinating. Despite the messy look of his work, each piece was deliberately created. I loved watching him paint with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth. Other fabulous works included several Isamu Noguchi pieces and an Andy Warhol I hadn’t seen. I was unimpressed by the current exhibition by artist Tony Feher, but I’m sure I’m just not sophisticated enough to “get” a pile of marbles and pennies on the floor. Or plastic bottles filled with colored water hanging from a rope. And don’t get me started on crumpled mylar stapled to the wall. I’m just not his audience. But it was fun and the girls loved walking around.

Later that afternoon, Ralph took the girls to opening day at the pool while Steve, Blair and I did some record shopping. I have to laugh at the differences in taste between Blair and I. He’s a sophisticated collector of 80s rock and Devo while I’m always looking for great jazz and anything that’s a little off or cheesy. My weird tastes were rewarded as I found an album to complete my collection of Halloween-related album art, two Cal Tjader LPs I didn’t have, an Esquivel in playable condition and a terrific Walt Wanderly doing Bossa Nova. I also scored my very favorite Marshall Crenshaw, “Mary Jean and 9 Others,” on vinyl. All in all, I got 17 albums for $21. A good haul. Blair ended up empty handed but we had a good time.

Saturday night, the girls stayed home with a babysitter while the adults went out on the town to celebrate Steve’s birthday. We started at one of our favorite places, The Royal Mile, for beers and appetizers. For a pub, they serve great food and have an excellent beer selection. After that, we went to Django, another favorite, for dinner. The special was lamb ravioli and Ralph and I wasted no time deciding that would be dinner. Thankfully, it was an appetizer-size portion so we didn’t have to worry about overeating. Because we were being careful with our food intake and were taking our time, we decided to indulge in dessert and coffee at Alba, an upscale place known for its great food. The kitchen was closed by the time we arrived, but we they were still serving dessert. The four of us split two desserts which was just enough to enjoy. Around 11p.m. it was time to go home and declare the evening a success.

Sunday came too soon and it was time to go home. We stopped by B Modern to see our friend, sculptor James Bearden. We oh’d and ah’d over his new work and I started mentally saving money for a new piece. After a long drive home I was happy to see my fuzzy children and sleep in my own bed. Fortunately, 3/4 of the Des Moines crew will be joining us in a few weeks so I won’t have to wait long to see their smiling faces.

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