Sprout trumps travel

Last week we were supposed to be on our 10th anniversary trip through Wyoming, Montana and — if we were lucky — Eastern Idaho. We had plans to stop at the Nebraska Fiber Festival, a couple of fiber-slash-yarn outfits in Wyoming, the Archie Bray Foundation (ceramics) in Helena and then what looked like a very nice art museum in in Missoula. It would have also been our first time seeing Yellowstone.

Plans changed.


Thoughts 1 & 2 on American culture

The past few years I’ve been thinking about family legacies and family culture here in the US.

ONE – Legacy might not really be the proper term as it will likely conjure up thoughts of Kennedies and nepotism. My thoughts have been more along the lines of passing along a family business or craft. Your grandfather was a carpenter, your father was a carpenter now you’re a carpenter.

TWO — On family culture, why is it frowned upon here in the US for children to live with their parents beyond college age? This is not the case in so many other cultures, even other cultures within America’s geographical bounds. Is this sentiment related to our nation’s individualistic streak? Is it related to industrialism or economic wealth?

These have been on my mind for two obvious reasons. One, my dad finally fulfilled his entrepreneurial spirit by opening a store of his own roughly four years ago. Two, I moved back in with my parents two years ago — out of necessity — after I had already owned my own home and after I was 30 years old.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I like the idea of a family business, something that is still a part of our culture, though perhaps not as much as it should be. Further, the less I like the stigma attached to families living under the same roof, children with their parents.

More thought is needed on these subjects. Feel free to add your own two cents

Thriving arts and crafts in [very] rural places

Yesterday my wife and I drove two hours north to the very small town of Clearwater, Nebraska. One of the seven or so yarn stores in the state happens to be in this community of 300+. We had a great discussion with MareLee, the proprietor of the business, about creativity, community and the unHurried prairie life.

Prairie Threads (website down at the time of this writing) opened about two years ago. When she told the town council she planned to open a fiber arts store they thought she was crazy but supported her anyway. Clearwater, like so many other tiny towns, is on the verge of dying.

Hannah & Maisie & threads

Her good friends back in Washington State, where she had recently moved from, thought she was nuts as well, certifiable. Why would someone move from a lush, populated, coastal state to the landlocked Great Plains, to the edge of a grass covered desert, to a sleepy little town?

All of those Washington friends have since visited her in the Nebraska Sandhills, and none of them are questioning her sanity any longer. Upon visiting, her friends realized how productive she was artistically after getting away from the frenetic city-dweller mentality. They realized you can sit and have a real conversation without the pressure of somewhere to go, someone to see, something to do. They saw how she is now a real part of the community she lives in — crazy or not — in a way she never experienced living in the big city.

We talked about Kathleen Norris’ book Dakota and how living on the prairie encourages a slower pace of life, a contemplative life that encourages creativity. We all agreed that, as artists, we become crabby if we don’t have the time to work out an idea that is simmering in our head, and that focused time — something that can look an awful lot like doing nothing to a casual observer — is a necessity in creative work.

I drew a lot of parallels to the Scissortail art center idea during the conversation. MareLee pointed out that the yarn store venture was a lot of work and required years of persistence preceding success. Teaching is a key aspect of her business (she has 40 years of experience to draw from across all fiber arts: knitting, spinning, dyeing, weaving, etc). She was able to purchase a home and place of business for a song (her son, living and working in Washington D.C., pointed out that what she paid was barely a down payment on a place in the city).

If you’re ever in north-central Nebraska, make it a point to stop into this prairie gem. While you’re up there, have a meal at Green Gables in Orchard, Nebraska, a barn converted into a restaurant.

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10 years ago today . . .

Hipstamatified wedding reception snapshot

Remember when
in our third year of marriage,
driving east on Highway 412,
I told you something


I told you that
I realized that
every year we’re married

I love you more.

It’s still true.

unHurry: Time to process

Do you have popcorn brain? If so, perhaps you need to take control of your online activities.

A CNN article looks at how we’re constantly drawn to the interwebs but need time to process. The constant stimulation of the internet, the ease with which we reach for our laptop or iPad or Blackberry, actually reduces the amount of gray matter (the thinking part) in our brains according to one study. Yet we’re drawn to the constant stimulation, the instant gratification of the Twitter Stream, Facebook News Feed, our email and instant messaging.

The CNN article offers some obvious responses to this addiction — yes, it does call it an addiction. It also suggests staring out the window, which I imagine is a bit less obvious to most Americans.

I’ve always enjoyed staring out the window. I loved having a 9th floor dorm room in college the looked over the entire campus. I would watch the sun set, people stream into the stadium for a football game or simply stare out into the dark before going to bed. I do the same thing, though to an unfortunately lesser degree, out of my home. Recently my wife, who has been increasingly cultivating her creativity over the past few years, admitted she didn’t used to understand why I did this, but from a creative point of view it’s making more and more sense to her.

It’s tough for us Americans to let our minds rest, or let ourselves think freely, uninterrupted. Even without the allure of the internet we’re a go-go culture that has a hard time being still — physically or mentally — for any length of time. I’ve never forgotten eating lunch with a PHD student in philosophy as a college student. We were talking about art and theology, and multiple times during the conversation he said simply “I have to think about that some more.” The phrase and idea with it stood out to me. That just wasn’t something I’d heard an American say before (Generally we have our opinions and don’t hesitate to blurt them out, no matter how well-formed or informed they may be.).

We need time to process. “The greatest thinkers in history certainly knew the value of shifting the mind into low gear.” unHurry yourself.

Carry a box; it’s good for your depression

I’ve never known someone to do a full 10-hour day of moving and be depressed. You have a very clear, tangible sense of what you’ve accomplished. You took one apartment full of stuff and emptied it. And then you filled a new one and helped people start a new chapter in their life.

Matt Wixon in the Washington Post

One of the frustrations I’ve discovered working office jobs the past eight years is that I often don’t have a real sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. I may have had my hands in 10 different projects in one day at the office, but when the clock strikes 5pm I often can’t tell you exactly what kind of progress was made — which might actually be in part because I was working on so many different things according to recent research (multi-tasking is actually bad for your brain). I wasn’t expecting this coming out of college, planning to work as a graphic designer.

Of course, this isn’t to say that the work done in an office isn’t necessary, or that there is never a sense of accomplishment working behind a desk opposed to in a wood shop or on a farm. There are times in an office where you’re working on one project for an extended period of time (within the same day) and can better articulate what you got done on this particular Monday. And I actually love planning meetings where we expand on an organization’s vision. However, paperwork and phone calls just aren’t measurable in the obvious way that, say, painting a house is. When I work with my hands, progress is obvious. “We primed that house today, all six rooms.”

Hat Tip to WordLily for the Washington Post story.

Blogging, death and art

I find myself with a little extra time this morning after the dog, for the second day in a row, thought 6am was an OK time to go outside on a weekend morning. Who can blame her; it is light out again at that hour.

On account of that I have a little time again to write here at The Aesthetic Elevator. I’ve been much too busy of late with the new full-time job, continuing as I’m able with M-DAT and freelance work, which I was hoping for last Autumn when it didn’t come. I’m taking the freelance work, even though it goes against my personal philosophy, largely to catch up after these past two financially lean years. That said, this post will function a bit like a digest of the past month or two.


Is the world of self-publishing on the interwebs changing, relaxing perhaps, further? Less and less comes into my feed reader. I don’t mind that people are posting less (using a feed reader means I’ll still see new articles when they are posted anyway) in light of my scant time to keep up with any kind of art-related news, however I don’t want to lose the connections I’ve made with artists and arts catalysts via blogging over the past five years.


Mortality has been on my mind lately. I don’t know exactly why, although my wife pointed out that the brevity and frailty of human life has been something I’ve kept in front of myself for many years. At the height of this contemplation, I was reading T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday and this beautiful, albeit macabre, section resonated with me.

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to satiety
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live?
— T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

Website and sculpture

Somehow I have managed to finish a couple of sculptures during this busy year and even remodeled my website in attempt to make it simpler and more likely to be used (Have a look at pcNielsen.com). Storm season is upon us once more and I’m hoping to finally do some en plein air sketching or sculpting this year if the right conditions present.

Scissortail Art Center

Been thinking about Scissortail again recently. I’ve been thinking, again, about how a person could start in on this idea with minimal resources (i.e., out of their own home) and how an arts center like this could have a significant and positive impact on a small prairie community. I don’t really have any new insights on these ideas from a year or two ago, but I did find a somewhat encouraging website.

LandsOfAmerica.com lists rural real estate for sale in a more organized and comprehensive way than I’ve found up to now. Through it I saw some more affordable properties than previous searches yielded (though still not affordable enough for us to move on any time soon, barring a donation). I’d still like to see the same kind of website for churches and school buildings. If such a thing exists, I haven’t found it yet.

Saturday Observes: Danish specs and the Lone Ranger

Suggest you read this post: By blogging buddy Tim Jones over at Old World Swine, where he begins to take his own advice for a change.

Get some new glasses: Both me and my wife are on our backup pairs, so-to-speak. We had a place we liked to go down in Arkansas, where we were treated very well. Finding new places for such service after moving is always a pain. Regardless, I have my eye on ProDesign Denmark’s model 9902.

Jimmy Horn ledgerboard titled Lone Ranger

Read this book: Featured recently on NPR, A Time to Keep Silence (New York Review Books Classics) by Patrick Leigh Fermor is a book I need to read soon, and it’s short enough that I could actually finish it in a reasonable amount of time

Listen to this music: Sufjan Steven’s recent album All Delighted People has been getting stuck in my head, in a good way. I also want to acquire Over the Rhine’s new album and some of Helen Sung’s jazz.

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News with stir sticks

Last Fall, after work painting homes dried up, the wife and I decided we’d try to make a go of it freelancing — in addition to our continuing service with M-DAT — unless a job opportunity came up that seemed just right.

Stir sticks for dyes

Since then a few things happened (or didn’t happen). The freelance work we were hoping for limped along and never got to a sustainable level. A job opportunity that seemed just right showed up in the local paper. And my wife was given a drum carder for Christmas.

I applied for the job that seemed just right and, thankfully, was hired even in this highly competitive market. I’ve sat at the new desk for two weeks now. We will continue our work with M-DAT as well, though I won’t have as much time for it as I did last year. I won’t have as much time to write for The Aesthetic Elevator either. I don’t feel all that bad about this since most of the blogs I follow have seemed to, for whatever reason, slow down commensurately.

And my wife will hopefully put this drum carder to good use. She’s been told recently she has a good eye for color when dying fiber, and we’re going to try and kickstart her colorful business by participating in a one day event early in March. Yesterday we mixed up some dyes for her to start creating with. This afternoon I’ll be finishing up a banner and business cards so they get here before the little expo.

Shopping for a Car: At least there’s the internet now

Yesterday we bought a car.

When I learned the old gray Toyota, which we’ve driven for the past four years, had a couple more confirmed issues I knew it was time. At 258,000 miles the car wasn’t worth putting another $2,000 into, even though it still runs well.

I loathe the process of shopping for and buying a car, although admittedly the internet has made the process much less painful. Yesterday’s adventure, ahem, still became a four-and-a-half hour ordeal. The car we wanted to test drive was at one of the dealer’s Lincoln locations so it had to be transferred. Just before they drove it to Grand Island, however, someone in Lincoln wanted to buy it. The local salesman and his manager fought for us (and their own commission) and in the end the car made it to our town, albeit two hours late.

Here's hoping the new car lasts us 10 years.

Regular readers will know, moreover, I loathe the fact that I have to own a car at all. I would rather walk or bike to work, and to the grocer and post office and church. I would rather spend the money that goes towards a car on a table saw, donation to charity, new kiln or trip to China than petrol, insurance, tires and then after it all, another car. I won’t go into more depth here since I’ve talked at length in the past about New Urbanism, community planning.

What was most interesting throughout this two week auto purchase process was that three people in the car business told me they also disliked the fact that they had to own a car, had to pay for an automobile. Two people at the dealership said this, as did the manager at the shop that changed the oil in the old car. I don’t know how sincere they were; the salesmen may have simply been commiserating with a potential customer. The oil change manager was easy to believe though.

James Kunstler’s book The Geography of Nowhere pointed out (if I recall correctly, it’s been 10 years since I read the book) how visitors to places like Disney World often can’t articulate one of the reasons they are so happy to be there: There aren’t any cars around. You walk around the park, take the ferry or monorail to your hotel. What will it take for us to realize how ingrained the automobile is in our culture? In our community design, our architecture, our economy, etc.?

The car we bought yesterday is a 2003 Toyota Corolla. It’s in fabulous condition and was a great buy. It should get twice the gas mileage of our old car — and it has a radio, and a working door handle.

I plan on it lasting 10 years. Or more.

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