Friday, September 15, 2017


by Martha Slavin

My mother loved the illustrations of Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane, artists who lived in the Victorian era. Their delicate and detailed drawings for children's books remind me of illuminated manuscripts. The two artists used common motifs and design elements, such as letterforms, stars, flowers, leaves, swirls, repetition, and awareness of positive and negative space. My mother painted similar designs on the delicate ceramics she made.

This last weekend I felt like I was channeling my mother while I took a workshop called The Enchanted Letter led by Heather Victoria Held, a calligrapher and illustrator, who paints illuminated letters. She kept us enthralled with her mastery and knowledge of illumination, which harks back to the Middle Ages, when monks sat at their desks hand lettering religious books. The books done by monks were used for liturgical purposes, but other artists began using the same skills to illustrate books for wealthy patrons. The artists filled in many of the spaces with filigree, leaves, flowers, animals, and insects. The hand-made book became obsolete with the advent of the printing press, but the beauty and appreciation of these books never died. In the Victorian era, artists such as Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane, created children's books using many of the design techniques of the illuminated manuscripts.

by Martha Slavin
In the workshop, we worked on drawing the acanthus leaf that can be found in many designs dated back to the Ancient Egyptians. We learned how to shape the leaf around "S" forms. We placed leaves around borders. We added gold-leaf or gold paint. We colored the shapes first with watercolor pencils, then we dampened the color to smooth out the shading. We added watercolor to bring out highlights and contrast. We drew filigree between the shapes, added shading with pastels, and, finally, we glued on tiny crystals to add a little bling.  As Heather said, "A little bling never hurts." Much of what we did during the weekend workshop, I used to do in college and for several years afterward. I had put aside this type of work for other things. I gave away some of the reference books I no longer used. But now I am back full circle, enjoying the pleasure of this detailed, delicate work.

by Martha Slavin

If you travel to Europe and want more inspiration, you might want to look at the Lindesfarne Gospels in the British Library, or visit the home of Carl Larsson in Sundborn, Sweden, or travel to Bayeux, France, to see the Bayeux Tapestry, an extraordinary piece of embroidery using similar design techniques to relate the history leading to the Battle of Hastings.

by Martha Slavin

One of my favorite artists, Sara Midda, uses many of the techniques of the Victorian era to illustrate her charming books. Look also in the children's section of the library or bookstore for artists, such Graeme Base, Elizabeth Doyle or Edward Gorey, who have all completed an abcderian book worth looking through.

Check out these websites for more information about

Illuminated Manuscripts

Bayeux Tapestry
Sara Midda

Dover Publications, a great reference resource

Friday, September 8, 2017


I made a 3-dimensional piece called Wings that features a flag-like structure with wings fixed to the main post. The wings have words, sayings, and poems written on them. To keep the column stable, I put the structure on a board with small, smooth rocks resting on it. Each rock has a word for a sound such as "Murmur, Whistle or Shout," printed on them. While cleaning our house, I put the column on top of a cabinet and put the board with rocks in a separate place. Somewhere. I've lost my rocks. I can't find them anywhere in the house. They seem to be part of that mysterious event called "Lost," such as lost socks, lost papers, lost fish.

The lost fish might make you sit up. Not everyone would put lost fish on their list of Lost Things. We have a fountain in our backyard that we decided last fall to fill with goldfish: 30 2-inch specimens, orange, orange and black, orange and white, and black. Beautiful fish that mesmerized us as we watched them swim to the surface of the fountain's lower bowl to snatch up the flakes of fish food. We set up camp chairs so we could watch them in the evening. We added water lilies to the bowl. We didn't pay attention to the filtering system so eventually, the water became murky. We added barley, which helped some. We continued to watch the fish through the winter until one day in April when winter seemed to have exhausted itself, the fish stopped coming to the surface for food. We tried to entice them each night with fish food flakes, we tried different food, we finally abandoned feeding them entirely after Bill learned that when goldfish die they sink to the bottom, and we couldn't see the bottom.

For a month, we ignored the fountain and mourned our fish. We put away the camp chairs. I tried contacting fountain cleaners, fish stores, anyone who might be able to help us. One day, just as we finally decided to drain the fountain and clean it out, I spotted a 6-inch long goldfish under the lily pads. Bill threw some food in and out came more large orange streaks. We counted at least ten (it's hard to count large numbers of fish. They don't stand still.) We waited a couple of days and added more flakes to the water. More and more fish appeared. We now have our orange, black, and multi-colored ones back--only larger. Where were they for a whole month? On vacation? Sitting under the lily pads? We don't know, but we are now back to standing beside the fountain, dropping in food occasionally, and waiting for the open mouths of the fish as they snatch a flake and then dive down below the lily pads.

We can take our fish off of our Lost List. I still haven't found my rocks.

Friday, September 1, 2017


Hurricane Harvey made me think of home: what home means, what home means to people when they lose theirs. Under entirely different circumstances, I asked myself that question when we prepared to move to Tokyo. It's a question all of us can ask: what does home mean to me?


I stand in the backyard and stare back at our house. Like a Peeping Tom, I look through the windows at the golden glow that the lights cast on the fawn-colored walls, on the well-read books, and the blue paisley sofas of our family room. It is early evening and I am saying goodbye to our house.

We are about to leave on a journey that will take us out of the country for the next five and a half years. I know as I stand on the ground in the backyard that our life as we know it was over.

I ask myself, "How will I ever bring this sense of 'home,' this feeling of warmth and stability, to a high-rise apartment in the middle of Tokyo? How can I uproot our eight-year old son and expect him to fit in easily in a new and very different place that is thousands of miles away?"

View from our apartment overlooking Hiroo shopping street

My husband Bill is confident that moving is a good thing. By the time he started high school, he had moved across the United States from Newport News, Virginia, to Philadelphia, to Cincinnati to Decatur, Illinois, to finally, Los Altos, California. He learned to make friends quickly by joining extra-curricular activities. He felt he benefited from the challenge of being the 'new kid' in each place.

I had moved away from home only when I left for college. By then, I was ready to extend my roots and explore new places. But that was my decision, not my parents.

Bill and I moved to Danville when we were 30, changing houses there three times before we found our present house,  before we moved to Tokyo. We had long time friends, our son Theo was in a small public school that was well-suited to his temperament, we had a dog and cat, and I volunteered at Theo's school and with various groups in Danville. We were established in our community. I knew, by moving, that I was giving up my dreams of going back to work now that our son was older. (I wasn't allowed to work while we were overseas.)

I was looking forward to our move to Tokyo, to the adventure of living overseas in a culture that I had been fascinated by since college. I was excited by the possibility of living in a place so different from our own. But as a mother, I was concerned about the transition for Theo with this move.

Little did I know as looked at the scene in the window how much of a life-changing time this move would be.

Theo and his friends in our Tokyo apartment. His friends came from Japan, India, Sweden, Australia and the U.S.

International Food Fair at Nishimachi International School, the school Theo attended.

MOVING TO TOKYO is the first in a series of essays about our life overseas called LETTERS HOME.

Watching the events unfold in Texas shows how much we have learned from our experiences in dealing with major disasters since Katrina. People have stepped in to help when help was needed. This week those helpers showed the best of ourselves.

Home is not only a building but the community that comes forward to help others wherever you may be.

Friday, August 25, 2017


This time of year, when September comes and summer is almost over, I think of Paris and the walks we took on weekends while we lived there. Paris is only twelve miles across so it was easy to walk half way, stop for a meal and then walk back home, having enjoyed the brisk Autumn air and steak and frites. We used to laugh that our walks would start from our apartment and, no matter which street we took, would end at a restaurant near Notre Dame on the Isle de Cite because Notre Dame is in the center of Paris (look for the plaque in the pavement of the square in front of the cathedral). Many streets radiate from the two central islands where the cathedral is located.

I kept a list of the places we visited on our walks, which I've given to many friends as they plan trips to Paris. Mary Mix and her husband Greg recently returned from an extended stay and have many more items to add to a Paris Sites list. They agreed that though the French have a reputation for being grumpy, particularly towards tourists, their experience was just the opposite. The French, though reserved, are friendly and very proud of their language. While in Paris, try to speak French, even a little. When you enter a store, be sure to say, "Bon jour, Madame or Monsieur," and "Merci et au revoir, Madame or Monsieur," when you exit. The French will appreciate your gesture.

There are many short-term rentals available in Paris. Mary and Greg used VRBO to locate an apartment once they decided on the Marais neighborhood, one of many village-like areas. They found an apartment with a garden gate that led into Place de Vosges, one of the prettiest squares in Paris. Having a washer/dryer in the apartment was a big plus. They found that living in a neighborhood gave them the chance to become familiar with the local cheese store, chocolate store, wine store, the local bakery, as well as with the history of the neighborhood. Victor Hugo, a hero of Parisians, lived in an apartment on their square. Mary and Greg considered Le Moulin de Rosa, 62 Rue de Turenne, to be the best bakery in Paris, which just happened to be situated around the corner from their apartment. Other areas with interesting neighborhoods include St. Germain des Pres, Passy, and the Rue Mouffetard.

Your first stop should be the Office of Tourism. There are various locations throughout the city. You can purchase a Carte Musees which will help you avoid the huge lines outside museums such as the Louvre. You can learn what is happening in Paris while you are there as well as obtain maps of the city, the Metro, and bus lines.

Be a tourist and take the Bateau Mouche on the Seine for a river view of the City or take the red tour buses, which give you a good sense of the general layout of the City. The bus ticket is good for two days. You can get on and off as you please. Once you realize that Paris is laid out, mostly, from the center outwards (not on a grid like New York City), you can leave public transportation behind and walk.

Paris is a great walking city. While you are walking, look for Wallace fountains. They were donated by Sir Richard Wallace to provide safe drinking water to the City. They are all over Paris, they look alike, and they are green. Try the water from an artesian well such as in Square Lamartine in Passy, where you can drink very mineral-laden, fresh spring water. It is supposed to be good for complexions too.

As you walk search for wall plaques on buildings. They are everywhere and give you a good sampling of the history of the city. They may indicate where someone famous--a writer, an artist, a philosopher, a politician--once lived or they may indicate where WWII resistance fighters were executed, a reminder that makes that time in history more real.

Walk rue Mouffetard, which is still a great slice of Parisian life with many food vendors. Or cross over to l'Isle de St. Louis with its good restaurants, including l'Orangerie and Maison Berthillion for tasty ice cream.

Walk rue du Bac and rue Sevres on the Left Bank near the Musee d'Orsay to find meandering streets with many small shops including Deyrolle, a famous taxidermy shop. Both streets will also lead you to the great shopping streets of St. Germain des Pres.

Walk rue Montorgueil near St. Eustache Cathedral, where the funeral of Marat occurred. St. Eustache, unlike most churches and cathedrals in Paris, has no stained-glass windows. They were shot out at Marat's funeral when attendees gave Marat a gun salute inside the church. Stop in at E. Dehillerin, a cooking store that was a favorite of Julia Child's. They have a great selection of copper pots that can be shipped home.

Walk down Avenue Victor Hugo and Avenue Raymond Poincare from the Arc de Triomphe to the Trocadero to the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. If you walk by rue de Lasteyrie, turn on to the street, stop at #5, and look up to the fourth floor. This was our apartment while we lived in Paris. (We need a plaque on the building too!)

Walk from l'Hotel de Ville, the City Hall of Paris, stop and look through BHV, and continue to the Place de la Bastille. Follow rue de Rivoli to the Jardin de Palais Royal. Walk through the enclosed shopping arcade from the 19th century. Another arcade is Gallerie Vivienne on the rue Vivienne. Visit Drouot Auction Houses, 9 due Drouot, in an area that is a wonderful non-tourist segment of Paris. People from all over the country bring pieces to sell here--everything from bric-a-brac to grand pianos. Auction doors open at 11:00 a.m. Come and watch the professionals bid.

When you want more information about what you see on your walks, contact Paris Walks, the best tour guides in the City. Peter and Oriele Caine are an English couple who have lived in Paris for years. Their tours are a valuable source of history and information that you will not find in guide books.

Or purchase a box of City Walks Deck: 50 Adventures on Foot by Henry de Tessen before you leave home. Mary and Greg used these when they explored neighborhoods. One walk on each of fifty cards. The cards took them to areas they never would have found and filled in information about the areas they visited.

Spend a day seeing the heights of Paris by going to the Eiffel Tower, going to the top of Galleries Lafayette on Blvd. Haussman, visiting le Sacre Coeur, riding the Ferris Wheel that is outside of the Tuilleries, taking the elevator to the top  of Montparnasse Tower, and walking up the steps of the Arc de Triomphe, and hopefully, in 2018, you can marvel at the view from La Samaritaine just across the Seine from the Musee d'Orsay.

Planned renovation of La Samaritaine by Sanaa of Japan

And then when you are tired, you can walk beneath an Art Nouveau entrance to the Metro and you will find the fastest and easiest way to get around Paris. Like the Louvre, Paris is a city with so much to see that every visit will give you new items to add to your list of Paris Sites. Best way to find them: take a walk!

Thank you, Bill Slavin and Christy Myers for the photos, and to Mary and Greg Mix for sharing their adventures in Paris with me.

Good reading about Paris:

Elaine Sciolino, The Only Street in Paris
Adam Gopnik, Paris to the Moon
David Lebovitz, The Sweet Life in Paris
Julia Child, My Life in Paris
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

If you would like my complete list of Paris Sites, email me at

Friday, August 18, 2017


What does being a friend mean to you?

This is a week I need to be with friends, 
a week when I want to remind myself of the value of friendship.

A friend, who spent some time in Paris recently, managed to stuff one more item into her suitcase on her way home. She brought me a tin of Lipton's Russian Earl Grey tea, a version of a familiar tea that is only available in Paris. Her thanks, she said, because, "We referred to your list of Paris Sites every day." Her small gesture joins a list of kindnesses that I have received from other people. I hope I am known for kind gestures too.

I have taken a lifetime to learn to be a better friend. Along the way, I have met many good role models who have shown me how to be more open to other people and to be a good friend.

I've been in many groups where friendships have developed over projects, over children, over common perspectives, work assignments, or because we all lived far from our homes. Our friendships made us better than we are by ourselves.

This week, when we all need to reconsider what we value most, 
I put at the top of my list the value of friendship.

"Some people come into our lives and quickly go....Some stay in our lives for awhile, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same."  Flavia Weedn

Friday, August 11, 2017


I've been trying to find Robin's Egg Blue. In the natural world, of course, it is the color of a robin's egg, which protects the egg from heat better than a darker color and from light penetration better than a lighter color. In the printer/computer world, the color is called cyan, a blue-green shade that is one of three primary pigments, the others are yellow and magenta, that create all the other colors for printing full color photographs and prints. Cyan is also called turquoise (darker) and aqua (more green). They are all different from Sky Blue.

I looked at photos of robin's eggs. They vary in shade from lighter to darker, some more blue, some more green. By itself on a swatch, robin's egg blue looks green to me. Does it to you?

courtesy of Wikipedia

Is this Robin's Egg Blue?

Or this building?

Do you see Robin's Egg Blue here?

courtesy of Google play

I decided to answer a challenge to use robin's egg blue in a piece of artwork. I'm painting a nest on a circular sheet of handmade paper. I plan to add drawings of robin's footprints, eggs, and some of the feathers. Feathers are so beautiful that I find it hard not to pick them off the ground when I find them and carry them home. But the American Robin is on the list of birds from the Migratory Bird Act of 1918 that makes it illegal for you to collect any of their particulars. The Act, which is updated periodically, was approved because at the time hunters were killing masses of birds to feed women's desire to decorate their hats with feathers, nests, and other bird parts. An exhibit about Degas at the San Francisco Legion of Honor showcases hats from the Impressionist era, which use a plethora of bird feathers and even an owl's head as adornments.

When I find a feather on the ground, I take a photo where I find them, check more feathers on the Internet, and try to draw their exquisite formation as closely as I can.

I've assembled most of the pieces of the painting. I'm not finished. After I submit the painting to the challenge, I am going to send it to the Treewhispers site so that Pamela Paulsrud can add it to her collection of tree stories.

Why robin eggs are blue...

Science Daily, May 27, 2016,

Migratory Bird Act list

SF Museums of Fine Arts:

Pamela Paulsrud, Treewhispers blog:

Peace be with you, James.

Friday, August 4, 2017


The middle of summer, 95 degrees for the last week. Hot enough that the artificial grass outside a local business is wilting. I'm hiding in my workroom, the coolest room in our house, thinking of past summers back in my childhood slurping popsicles, swimming in a lake, soaking in a tub of cold water in the backyard, trying to find a cool place in a house without air conditioning, waiting to hear the crickets at night.

Occasionally, I receive on my Facebook page a nostalgic essay reminding me that when we were kids we didn't use seat belts or wear bike helmets, we sat in smoke-filled rooms, didn't wear sunscreen and we survived. Every time I get one of these messages, I cringe. I understand that whoever sent the message is trying to recapture a gentler, more carefree time, one that made us supposedly tougher than today's children.Yes, looking back on my childhood, I remember having lots of free time, lots of friends who lived several blocks away. Yes, I crowded into cars without protection and sailed around the streets on my bike with no helmet. I also lived a privileged life.

I lived in a safe suburban neighborhood (though Communists supposedly lurked around every corner). I wasn't restricted where we could live or even walk because of the color of my skin. I rarely saw people walking down our street (there were no sidewalks), strangers just didn't come through. But I also remember the accidents: teenagers joyriding and playing 'chicken' with trains, boozed-up college students driving down two-lane roads and crashing into other cars, and adults thrown out of car windows because they weren't wearing seat belts. Some of those people didn't survive the crashes, some have gone through life with terrible scars.

That's why I cringe. I think back on my childhood with fondness, but I am glad we have enacted government protections so that kids ride more safely in cars and wear helmets when they ride scooters, bikes or skateboards. I'm glad I can 'buckle up.' I'm glad I don't have to sit in rooms filled with someone else's smoke. I look at the slight scars left from skin cancer treatments last summer, slather on sunscreen, and don my hat. I'm glad I made it through those years alive.