Glass Boxes for Special Occasions

A  glass box is a great gift to mark a special occasion. I make them for sweet 16 birthdays, weddings, bat mitzvahs, anniversaries and also for other events such as graduation. Here’s one I made this summer for a graduation gift that doesn’t scream “graduation”. They can even swap out the charm with the date if they like for something else. I love the clear textured glass as it gives it a sophisticated look and will fit in with any decor.

Anna’s Little Stained Glass Boxes

These are some of my little stained glass boxes. I make them with different tops – some I call “jewel top”, some “shell top” and others have pressed flowers or cast or stamped charms .  They are 2″ x 3″ and are a great size for a hostess gift or birthday present. Most people tell me they use them as a ring box on their dresser or bathroom vanity.

Stained Glass boxes for Bat Mitzvah Invitations

Here’s a few of the stained glass boxes that I’ve made for Bat Mitzvah invitations. They are fun to make, each one comes out different, which keeps me interested as an artist.

They take me about 4-5 hours to do, and that’s not including going to the fabric store for the fabric to make the padded inserts! I also include seashells, crystals, semi-precious stones, beads – whatever looks good!

Anna Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix

We closed our pool yesterday, just in time for the drizzle to start. Feeling cold, I went inside for the first hot cocoa of the year. I used my new mugs that I just bought at the Big E from Bear Hills Pottery in Newtown, CT.  I like to make my own mix; usually I put in the extra dark cocoa but alas, none was found in the cupboard. I had to make do with regular cocoa powder. Here’s how I do it:

Anna’s Hot Chocolate Mix

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I prefer Hershey’s dark)

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup powdered milk (nonfat)

1 tsp. powdered vanilla (yes, there IS such a thing!)

pinch salt (heightens flavor)

Mix all together and store.

To use: I nuke 1 cup water and add 2 generous tablespoons of mix.

Stir and enjoy!

Stained Glass Bar Mitzvah Boxes

I usually make boxes for the boys with something other than the invitation on top. I figure most boys are going to grow out of looking at it pretty quickly. Surprisingly a lot of moms tell me that the boys do use their boxes, keeping their watches, nice pens, baseball cards, usb sticks or just plain junk in them. Sometimes I go with a stone agate for the top, other times people are able to tell me what he’s into like sports, music, etc.

What I love about doing these invitation boxes is that each and every one comes out different – I’ve even done three sets of twins in the past, and each of those were customized to the tastes of the individual. That’s what makes it fun as an artist, these are all unique.

Stained Glass Wedding Invitation Boxes

I’ve been asked to show some of the stained glass invitation boxes that I’m known for. When I first moved to Connecticut I worked at a picture framing gallery in West Hartford. They graciously let me sell my stained glass gift boxes (they got commission, of course!). One day a customer came in and wanted a stained glass box with a wedding invitation put into the top. It came out great, and I’ve been making them ever since! The store had a huge Jewish clientele so naturally I expanded into making bar mitzvah and bad mitzvah boxes as well. I’ll show some of these in another post. This pic above shows a wedding invitation that had a peacock on it. I colored it in lightly and then added real peacock feathers. The invitation is sandwiched between an iridized “glue chip” clear glass and a piece of clear glass on top. The sides of the box were iridized black “waterglass” and I used a black patina on the solder.

This one above was a real challenge: the bridesmaid brought me REAL dried flowers, not pressed flat but natural. I had to come up with a way to display them properly AND make sure that if they shed or had a piece that fell off, it wouldn’t remain in there forever. So I hinged the top to make a lid, it pressure fits in and good ol’ gravity will keep it in place.

Terrariums micro worlds

stained glass house

Stained glass terrariums can be a world unto themselves. Wardian cases become self sustaining worlds, providing their own environments for life. In 1827 amateur botanist Nathaniel Ward began an
experiment in a closed glass case. His plants survived for several years without additional care, such as being watered! This study led to the development of Wardian Cases which are the ancestors of today’s terrariums. Perfect for growing ferns or orchids, they are meant to be watered infrequently, and kept out of direct sunlight.

This piece was designed to open from the top, and I’ve designed a forked rod to keep one side of the roof open in case it needs ventilation. It’s also a good practice to seal with an aquarium grade silicon to prevent leaks. I typically go with a solid color where the soil is. A clear color may look good early on, but they can tend to get a little scummy over time!

I also like to build ones that hang on the wall or ones that resemble a geodesic dome. Thanks, Bucky!

Next ones will be Wardian designed, Bucky Balls, fully enclosed!

Restoration is not for beginners

Restoration of valuable artwork is not for beginners, unless you’re under the tutelage of an experienced professional. This piece is by Sir Thomas Lawrence, a well-known British court portrait painter from the late 1700s – early 1800s. It was improperly “cleaned” by someone and then brought to me to fix. It was quite the task, as so much of it was removed that I had to guess and invent the details.

So many people think that restoration is an easy process, but there is much to learn, and I find that I learn something new from each piece, even after 16 years of cleaning paintings! Today one can just go to the store and simply pick up a jar of damar varnish, but not so in the 1800s. Many artists invented their own formulas, or improved upon those of their master’s. By this point, the artists of that time would already seen that varnishes yellow, crack and shrink. In attempts to make a better varnish, artists sometimes resorted to chemicals that would bond over time to the paint, and become virtually permanent. In using strong chemicals to remove such finishes, it is possible to strip off the paint as well. Soft colors such as reds and browns are the first affected. If you wish to try restoration yourself, please try it out on artwork that you are sure isn’t valuable! This piece above was probably worth about $175,000 if it had been in good condition. Try out your chemicals in a small, inconspicuous area first, not in the center of the piece.

To restore this piece, I researched not only other work by Sir Thomas, but the sitter as well. The portrait is of Lady Elizabeth Hope Vere, daughter of George Hay, the 7th Marquis of Tweedle (Edinborough) who was imprisoned by Napoleon. The Marquis and his wife both perished in jail at Verdun. Elizabeth was about 14 at the time. I found a society page that spoke of the lovely facinator/feathers in her hair that then became the height of fashion, and as there was evidence that there was something red in her hair, so I added a splash of that, to her right side (viewer’s left). I haven’t seen other images of this particular portrait online (which of course would have made my work on it so much easier!) so I think it may have always been in private collections.

I also made castings of the missing chunks of frame. These were then glued into place and underpainted. Some areas received black base coat, some red and some yellow. It takes some detective work to see what is needed so that when the gold is applied the proper color shows through. The patination of the leaf is applied in layers and samples are made prior to working on the frame itself. Each frame is unique in its coloring due to the type of gold used (which can range from 18 karat up to 24, white, lemon, rose, etc), the base or bole underneath, what was used as the original antiquing and atmospheric conditions it’s been exposed to over the years.

Two tiered cake

I made this cake recently for a friend’s friend’s retirement party.

The top layer was lemon with lemon curd filling and fresh squeezed lemon icing.
The bottom layer was French vanilla, torted with almond/raspberry filling and topped with almond icing. I used an almond pie filling and added raspberry jam and fresh raspberries.

My mom had done cake decorating for years and make the most spectacular cakes. I’d sit at the kitchen table as a child watching her as she made all the flowers, put cakes up on pillars and delicately draped the piping in perfect arches. Her cakes were sought by all her friends for weddings, anniversaries and kids’ birthdays. The girls in my school always wanted to come to my birthday parties for two reasons: to ride the horses and see what my mom would cook up. I usually asked for a princess cake, the kind with the doll in the middle. Naturally I always felt inadequate compared to Mom; sure I could always bake (rule 1: Never follow the recipe exactly!), Mom taught all the kids in the neighborhood how to bake.

I was motivated to take classes because how ugly a cake turned out that I had brought to work one day. I just swirled the canned frosting around and that was that. It tasted great, though, thanks to my mom’s famous chocolate cake recipe. Mom said she had forgotten how to teach cake decorating and she had given away her tips and other accessories to my niece, so I marched off to JoAnn Fabrics, and bought myself the book, bags of stuff and 12 weeks of lessons. The instructors were the best and their work had been featured in the Wilton books and they had made shows for PBS. When I decorated my first cake, the other students said, “Oh, you’ve done this before!” Truth was, I hadn’t. But it turns out that it’s exactly the same hand motions as doing stained glass, who knew?

Don’t you just love a transferable skill?