Monday, May 30, 2016

Honoring Those Who Serve

by Cindy Lindgren
Cindy Lindgren

Memorial Day is more than a three day holiday from work filled with grilling, camping and picnics. It's meant as a time to honor those who served our country, particularly in military service. Does your family take time to find meaning in the holiday?

HandmadeMN member, Mike, from Big Lake, Minnesota told me the story behind this keychain button available in his shop, Button's Away. Mike's Dad, Vern, served in the Army in the mid 1960's at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. He then spent a year and a half in Dachau, Germany. Although it happened before Mike was born, it instilled in him a respect for the military. He and his family support the troops and empathize how hard it must be for families who have a member deployed or who have lost a loved one.

Mike and his wife Meredith wanted to instill the true meaning of Memorial Day in their children, which included a visit to a military cemetery. After they got home, their eight year old daughter, Maya, asked if she could design a flag button. So the button keychain came about by a young girl who was touched by the symbolic freedom the flag offers.

Buttons Away have a selection of military buttons available.  Please check out these and the other selections here. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Thank you, again, to Mike for sharing the story behind the flag drawing by his daughter, Maya. Thank you to those who serve our country. We honor your service.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Handmade History: Herbals and Botanicals

by Kate McCreight, guest blogger

People have been using herbs and botanicals for cosmetics and medicinals for millennia - even before the written word. Honey, henna, cucumber, frankincense, verbena, sage, melaluca (or, tea tree oil), garlic, ginger, chamomile, and lavender have been in use for thousands of years all over the world. Evidence exists in ancient graves holding bodies buried with medicinal plants and cosmetics, and the Lascaux Caves give us the first images of herbal medicine, dating back to 13,000-25,000 BCE.

Faith, Soaps & Love, Tea tree essential oil soap with seaweed

In 65 AD, a Greek scholar, Dioscorides, wrote Matera Medica, a complete text detailing the medicinal use of more than 600 plants, complete with full color illustrations. Matera Medica remained in heavy use through the 17th century. 

Wayfaring Art, Green leather gardener's journal with Russian sage photo
Herbs and botanicals were used for cosmetics, as well, often in combination with binding agents like Ancient Egyptians famously lined their eyes with kohl. The purpose was both cosmetic and medicinal - not only did the heavy black kohl highlight the eyes and deflect light, it was also antibacterial. Ancient Romans were also heavy cosmetic users. Like the Egyptians, Romans used many of the same ingredients they used medicinally, such as olive oil, saffron, and rosewater. Romans also used lead in cosmetics to achieve a pale, smooth countenance. Pale skin - not natural to native Romans - was a mark of wealth and beauty. Despite it's danger, lead continued to be used in cosmetics through the Renaissance.

All Things Herbal, First Aid Bar
The first apothecary dates to 754 A.D., dispensing herbal remedies and medical advice. Beginning in the Eastern world, the apothecary spread westward. Mentioned in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, we know that apothecaries were widespread by the 14th century.

Monasteries of the Middle Ages were also places of healing and kept extensive medicinal gardens. Many nuns and monks possessed extensive herbal knowledge.

Gemstone Talisman, Garden gemstones talisman

As early as the 16th century, the new medical professionals, physicians, discredited herbal knowledge as unreliable and dangerous folklore and superstition. More than one herbalist was prosecuted for witchcraft, including Agnes Keith of Kent, who was burned at the stake in 1590 for using herbs to ease childbirth pains.

The gradual push to move away from herbalism has several causes. One is financial - physicians could not gain clients if said clients had access to all their medical remedies in their back garden. Another is urbanization - an increasing number of people were living in increasingly populous cities, without access to gardens.

Mirasol Farm, Organic herbal tattoo salve
Despite the rise in chemically based medicines and cosmetics, herbal remedies were still sought, as many people feared the concoctions of druggists. Rightly so, in many cases, with drugs containing such frightening ingredients as mercury and arsenic commonplace in tonics. In the Victorian era, widespread usage of medicines like Laudenum caused opiate addictions even in very young children. One "snake oil" tonic was analyzed by chemists in 1917 and proven to contain mineral oil, fatty oil (probably a beef fat), red pepper, turpentine, and camphor.

In America, oral traditions relay histories of Native American herbal use, which they learned from observing animals in the wild. The Native Americans then passed their herbal knowledge on to the European settlers.

Bath-n-Beads, Lavender bath bomb
Today, herbs and botanicals are widely used in cosmetics, bath products, teas, essential oils, and medicines. Active herbal societies around the world promote the usage of the same plants our ancestors used for healing and beauty. Thanks to global commerce and the Internet, we have easy access to far more than can be grown in our own back yards.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Crop Art - Minnesota's quirky art made with seeds

By Kelly Newcomer, HandmadeMN team member. 

At the end of summer each year I visit the crop art exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair, and I always think, "I want to do that!" So this year, I'm taking the plunge. Gluing hundreds of Minnesota crop seeds into intricate mosaics takes lots of time. I suppose it would be a nice project to work on over the winter, but I'm starting now. The 2016 Minnesota State Fair accepts entries beginning May 1st and the deadline is Friday August 12th.

What is crop art?

You take seeds (corn, wheat, millet, etc) of crops that can be grown or cultivated in Minnesota, and you glue them in such a way to create a kind of seed mosaic art form. Then you enter this art in the Minnesota State Fair. For how to do it, see links at bottom of this blog post)

Examples of great crop art

Here's a picture I took of Bloomington resident, Darlene Thorud's fabulous crop art from the 2013 MN State Fair - She used about 20 varieties of seeds including canola, wheat, safflower and three varieties of clover. Wow, where did she get all those? Advanced crop artists visit farm seed shops where seeds are usually sold by 50 pound bags. Artists need to make a special request to get one pound increments. Thorud has been exhibiting crop art since the first competition in 1965. She has been exhibiting and winning awards for her work for over 50 years.

Minnesota State Fair Crop Art by Darlene Thorud of Bloomington, MN 2013

Closeup of crop art by Darlene Thorud

I can't write a blog about crop art without mentioning Lilian Colton, known as the Queen of Crop Art, she passed away in 2007, but her work is immortalized in a book. Read more at

Another great crop artist who I happen to have a picture of her work is Cathy Camper, resident of Portland OR. Here is her 2013 portrait of Grace Jones. Cathy has an etsy shop SeedyArt with some postcard prints of her crop art.

Cathy Camper's Grace Jones portrait from the 2013 MN State Fair

It's uniquely Minnesotan

“As we understand it, we are the only state fair in the United States that has a competition in seed art,” said Ron Kelsey, (see source at end of blog) Director of the Minnesota State Fair's Seed-Art or Crop Art.

Crop Art and HandmadeMN - arts and crafts on etsy

As far as I could find, none of us on the Etsy team HandmadeMN are doing crop art (yet). There are a couple Minnesota crop seed related cute finds on HandmadeMN, and I want to showcase them here since this is a HandmadeMN blog.

Seed Packet Coin Purses

SewTini makes cute coin purses out of seed packets. What does she do with the seeds???

Art Prints of Minnesota Vegetables

Cindy Lindgren contemplates the beautiful radish. Radish seeds are allowed as a Minnesota crop seed. This would look awesome done in the medium of radish seeds.

My journey into crop art

Apparently the two-dimensional category is the one with the most entries every year. I want to try something a little different, so I will do my crop art on a hand-built bisque-fired ceramic robot figure left over from another project. I will cover the entire surface with seeds. I got out all of my bulk beans and seeds that I buy at the Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis. I have black beans, split peas, red lentils, navy beans, poppy seeds, mustard seeds, amaranth and hand-parched Minnesota wild rice.

After spending 20 minutes reading the rules on the pdf I determine that this will be a Class 5 entry, "Artistic Crop Art, irregular forms.
Other than square or rectangular etc., in shape, such as bird cut-outs, etc., and not necessarily a flat surface. Using seeds, stems, etc., on supporting background, not framed, either natural colors or dyed or painted or combinations, to achieve color needed."

I applied a small amount of paint under the flower and leaf areas.

Using toothpicks to attach amaranth inside the circles.

I used black mustard seed inside the eyes, and poppyseeds on the three grey squares.

I still need to cover this white ceramic robot form with more crop seeds.
I think I will use wild rice because it's grayish-black and evocative of Minnesota.

My work is not yet finished --it took me all weekend to get this far. Look for my finished work this summer at the MN State Fair August 25th to Labor Day, September 5th, 2016. Let me know if you have tried crop art, or if you think you will give it a try in the future.

1. Amazing website how to do crop art - visit and Basic rules (Not endorsed or approved by the Minnesota State Fair.)

2. Ron Kelsey quote

3. Minnesota State Fair 2016 Ag-Hort-Bee webpage

4. Minnesota State Fair Ag-Hort-Bee rule book pdf  - see page 30 for Crop Art details

5. Article: Is Bloomington's Darlene Thorud the New Queen of Crop Art? Star Tribune, July 7, 2010 by Mary Jane Smetanka

6. Liz Schreiber Making Crop Art Video Fox9 from 2015

Liz Schreiber glues down a grain of wild rice on her crop art piece for the Minnesota State Fair. See her technique in this video with our M.A. Rosko

7. Native Harvest - selling hand-harvested wild rice, birch bark winnowing trays, and more. Native Anishinaabe Indian owned. White Earth Nation.