My trip to Alaska in 2008 was my first solo adventure. I went to see glaciers, totem poles and to get over my fear of flying so I could get to Europe the following year.
While I was there, one of the recurring images I saw on totem poles and jewelry was a bird with a disc in its mouth, a depiction of a First People’s tale called “Raven Steals The Sun.”
The story has several variants, but they all tell of a world of darkness, and of a chieftain who had three cedar treasure boxes containing the Sun, Moon and Stars. The trickster Raven, learning of the treasures and wanting to bring and end to the eternal darkness, shape-shifted into a child who begged to play with the boxes. Once they were in his hands, he turned himself back into a Raven, and taking the treasure boxes, flew up through the smoke hole of the chieftain’s longhouse and high up into the sky. The contents of the boxes spilled out, dividing the darkness into night and day, and bringing light into the human world.
My first full-bird hat – the Raven King – gave me enough confidence to try other dimensional pieces. The Firebird followed, and then the Crow King – my entry in The Met 500 Design Contest (in August 2019).
This new Raven came together pretty quickly, but the Sun proved problematic. Every time I tried to alter a Haida design (shown here) I ended up with a Sun that looked more like flower.
A friend handed me a rubber stamp that leaned towards Gothic, and after several hours of searching the internet for designs to meld with the rubber stamp, my hat took a turn in an entirely unexpected direction.
I liked the ‘tribal gothic’ sun so much that I decided to do all the applique in black leather (which I had stripped off a couch that was destined for the dump). Once I had the Sun in place, Raven decided it would emerge from the cuff, with its wings wrapping around the Sun, catching one of the Sun’s flares in its beak. I stylized the feather detail, to keep the focus on the Raven’s face. The cuff is a herringbone-patterned wool which mimics the chevrons of my embroidery on the wings.
And now I have a hat inspired by my first trip to Alaska, based on a First People’s legend, but with a distinctively Gothic twist. You can order one of your very own here!
Twitter has its uses. On June 5, I ran across a tweet from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, announcing a design contest: “The Met’s 150 Years of Creating”. Voting opened today to the public and runs through August 12. Winners of the popular vote will be judge by a jury, and the winning entrant will have their design developed into products for The Met Museum Gift Shop in April 2020.
I am one of 190 entries. It’s the biggest contest I’ve ever entered and although I don’t expect to make it to the top ten, it’s a real feather in my cap just to be on The Met website. I hope you will VOTE for the Crow King!
The deadline for submission was in 6 days, so I spent an hour combing the manuscript collections and found three pieces, which I narrowed down to this one after learning its back story.
The Kalila wa-Dimna is a series of allegorical tales written in Sanskrit during the 4th century as a teaching tool for three young princes. It was translated it into Arabic 300 years later, in a style so lucid it is still considered a model of Arabic prose. Called Kalila and Dimna, after the two jackals who are the main characters, the book was written mainly for the instruction of civil servants. But it was so entertaining that it became popular with all classes. Arabs carried it to Spain, where it was translated into Old Spanish in the 13th century. In Italy it was one of the first books to appear after the invention of printing.
I was a storyteller once, with a fondness for 13th century history, and a traveler to both Spain and Italy, so this piece made an emotional connection with me. It reminded me of another allegory – the Monkey King from Journey to the West (a Chinese work). I find allegory to be not only amusing, but a powerful teaching tool as well.
Anyway … I cropped the folio and made a color copy for reference, and several black and white copies for templates. And, with time rapidly ticking down, I began.
At first, I was going to apply the birds in one piece, but I decided to apply them individually to get better spacing and more dimensional detail. The foliage lent itself well to individual ‘stalks’ as well, which wrap around the rest of the cuff.
As usual, I changed the materials several times, trying several wools before settling on a rust suede leather to mirror the background of the folio. At that point, I also decided to mount the Crow King to the crown of the hat rather than the cuff. And of course, all the materials are rescued from previously used clothing, and remnants from other costumers’ cutting room floors.
The birds are appliqued in leather which is padded to make them more dimensional, held in place with whip stitch which I covered over with couching. The leaves are ultrasuede and will become dimensional, as they will naturally curl at the edges with wearing. I added brass beads to the tips of the foliage and a gold wire crown to the King Crow, as points of difference from the original – to leave my mark on the piece rather than making a carbon copy of someone else’s work.
I finished the hat 4 days after starting it. Oddly, the very next day, as I was walking to work, I was buzzed by a crow in a part of town where I’d never seen crows. He buzzed me so close that his feathers brushed my hair, and then circled around and did it again! He landed on the closest lamp post and cawed at me until I was a block away. I’ll leave it up to those who read this, to offer their own interpretation of that event …
Those who follow me here, know that philanthropic efforts play a significant part in my company’s mission, especially when I can pay it forward (or pay it back) to organizations in my own community.
Starting in August, my efforts have been in support of KNKX Radio, the best source of Jazz, Blues and NPR News in Seattle. The station keeps me entertained and informed, and many a hat has been made with jazz and news floating around in the background.
You may have heard my radio spots on your drive home mid-week in August. For the next three months, you’ll also see one of my most recent works – “Raven Steals the Sun” as an ad rotating through the KNKX website.
I’d like to thank Katie Cordrey for designing my ads, and Katie Morgan at KNKX for working with me to make this sponsorship happen!
I resolve one technical issue, only to have another replace it. Today’s snag is an inability to distribute a newsletter. So, If I Was A Newsletter, this is What I Would Say…
August is Customer Appreciation Month! If you have purchased a hat from me over the last two years, I’m sending you a free tote bag as a thank you! If you don’t receive yours by the end of August, or would simply like to request one, please send your mailing address. These tote bags replace the plastic bags I’ve been shipping my hats in , in my continued efforts to be a more eco-friendly artisan.
After a long and laborious summer, this website and the online store are now fully functional. You will find my reconstructed research papers, tutorials and travel journals, as well as my Custom Hat Catalog in an easier to navigate format that is also mobile phone friendly. I have added some new hat styles to my Custom Catalog, including a Gothic version of “Raven Steals the Sun” which you can scroll down to read about. I’m also currently a proud supporter of KNKX Radio (my local NPR affiliate). Listen for my radio spots from 3 – 8 PM over the next few weeks, and look for my ad on their website starting in September.
I appreciate your patronage and continued support of my work. Let me know what you think! I welcome constructive feedback on this website, your ideas for new hats you’d like to see in my catalog, and galleries you’d like to find them in. Drop me a line at email@example.com.
This article was written by a friend who passed away in July 2017. It was originally self-published in “A Boke of Dayes: A Journal of the Festival of St. Hildegard” (1994) I have augmented this article with photos from a catalog of his works that was part of his estate.
Gordon not only carved blocks, but taught carving and printing as well, and volunteered much of his time to the furtherance of this art form. I hope this article will inspire others to continue on that path.
Block printing can be traced back to Egypt. From there come the best examples of printing and tools because items were buried intentionally for use in the next life. The environment was dry, free from bugs and rodents. Many pieces are available for study, because grave robbers were only interested in gold, and left the more common items behind.
Block printing appears to have come to Europe from India and Rome. In early Europe, dyes were used rather than ink, on surfaces that weren’t as well prepared as they were in their country of origin.
Block printing was part of textile production, rather than a separate industry. By the 10th century, gold and silver were mixed with linseed oil and printed onto dyed fabrics. Multi-colored prints were done by block printing a dark outline and painting in the details by hand. This process led eventually to the manufacture of printed needlework patterns
The process of block printing textiles led to a number of other forms of reproduction. In China, paper was printed using clay blocks. By the 10th century, clay letters were set into an iron frame for the purpose of printing pages. This technique was developed by the country people, but later abandoned when the government started using the process for their own purposes. With the advent of printing in Europe, manuscripts could be mass produced, although illumination [illustration] was still done by hand. These hand illuminated printed books were the forerunners of the modern day coloring book.
Notes on technique
Linoleum is made by grinding linseed and flax into a paste, and spreading it out into a sheet. Its’ properties and lack of grain make it an ideal substance for the novice block carver to use. Linoleum can also be purchased and adhered onto wood blocks. Wood is more difficult to carve because of its grain, which makes mistakes harder to remedy. [One of Gordon’s preferred woods was Pear, I assume because of its tight grain.]
The design is drawn directly onto the wood, either freehand or as a tracing from another source. The design is then carved in such a way as to slope away from the design, rather than carve straight down into the surface. This gives better structural support to the edges of the design. Wood carving chisels are used rather than razor blades, which can break and become imbedded in your work.
A selection of Gordon’s original blocks and prints are available in an album entitled “Gordon’s Arts” on Flickr
“Dietmar von Aist – a minnesanger – Uf der linden obenedâ sanc ein kleinez vogellîn.vor dem walde wart ez lût:dô huop sich aber daz herze mînan eine stat dâ ez ê dâ was.ich sach dâ rôsebluomen stân:die manent mich der gedanke vildie ich hin zeiner vrouwen hân.”
See his Flickr page for the English translation …