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A jaunt into the Croatan

Pitcher Plant Janet Francoeur Fine Art Blog

I hadn’t been in the Croatan in years, like maybe 20 or more, but I saw photos from a friend and decided I had to go. I’ve now been twice, once with a friend and once by myself. I was a little leery to go by myself but I went anyway, it wasn’t the animals, snakes or bugs I was worried about, it was other people. Luckily I only saw some bicycle riders the first time and no people the second.

I thought it would be really hard to find the carnivorous plants thinking (I don’t know why) that they were like morel mushrooms and you never knew where they would show up. And I would have to wander aimlessly through the woods looking for them. That was not the case! They were just off the road. As I was driving in I could see that the forest had been burned this year, at least the part I was in. This helps the plants thrive and also makes it easier to see the plants and walk into the woods to them. More about that later. The easiest ones to spot were the green pitcher plants with their chartreuse green color, and the fact that they are tall.

The first spot had about 100 green pitcher plants, 1000 flytraps, and a half dozen orchids. Wow!

The second spot had 1000 green pitcher plants and purple pitcher plants, no orchids and no flytraps, interesting!

Another spot had a different type of tiny pitcher plants, sundews, bladderworts, and butterworts and there were lots of other types of wild flowers scattered about.

It was like a fairy land!

Of course as instructed I had on boots, long pants, and lots of bug spray. Because the wind was blowing both times the bugs were not a problem anyway but I guess the danger of ticks was still there.

This is a panoramic view of a field of green and purple pitcher plants.
Yellow Pitcher Plant Sarracenia flava
Yellow Pitcher Plant Sarracenia flava in Bloom
Sarracenia psittacina, Parrot Pitcher plant bloom
Sarracenia psittacina, Parrot Pitcher plant
Yellow Pitcher Plant Sarracenia flava
Yellow Pitcher Plant Sarracenia flava
Sweet Pitcher plant – Sarracenia rubra
Venus Flytrap
Venus Flytrap in bloom
Wild Colicroot Aletris farinosa
Spring draba. Draba verna
Snake mouth orchid Pogonia ophiglossoides
Sidebeak pencil flower Stylosanthes biflora
Sidebeak pencil flower Stylosanthes biflora
Robins Plantain Fleabane Erigeron Pulchellus

I’m amazed at how this photo above turned out, I was at least 10 feet away with my hand held camera wondering what the flower was because I was too far away to see.

SO many wildflowers, I was blown away.

Maryland Meadow Beauty
Inundated Clubmoss – Lycopodiella inundata
Another flytrap bloom
Butterwort – Pinguicula

There are over 80 different species of the Butterwort. Like other carnivorous plants the leaf is like sticky flypaper, the bug lands on it, can’t fly away, and the leaf slowly rolls up around it.

Spoon leaf Sundew –

Sundew – Insects land on its sticky leaves and are trapped there. It slowly rolls up the leaf and digests the insect.

lizards Tail – Saururus cernuus

I should have gotten out of the car, I just shot this out of the window, this flower is supposed to be very aromatic but can be toxic if you eat it.

Dense spike Blackroot – Pterocaulon pycnostachyum

About fires in the forest. We lived in Colorado when Yellowstone burned, in 1988. We were 9 hours away yet our valley filled up with smoke from it. People were in an uproar but historically, before people built homes in the forest, the forest burned naturally. This kept the undergrowth under control and weeded out the dead trees allowing the important tree species to grow with less competition for nutrients.

Before the late 1960 fires in forests were put out as soon as possible but as people began to realize the benefit of fire for the ecology the managers began allowing natural fires to burn under controlled conditions which reduced the areas lost to wildfires each year.

When fire clears the thick undergrowth sunlight can then reach the forest floor and encourage the growth of native species, like these carnivorous plants. They burn our forest regularly which is one reason we have so many of these plants. If they did not eventually the undergrowth would smother them.

I was able to identify these plants easily with an app I have on my phone called Picture This. You have to pay for it but I thought it was worth it and have used it a lot.

There is a great page on the internet featuring Tom Glasgow from our North Carolina Cooperative Extension Office with videos about the different types of carnivorous plants in the Croatan. You can watch it here!

It won’t be the last time I go into the forest and it won’t be long before you’ll see some of these plants showing up on my pottery.

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New Work in Cold Wax

While my work is representational I also love contemporary abstract art, I haven’t done any since college – 45 years ago – and have frankly been intimidated by it. So while in Ft Myers I took a workshop in Cold Wax. Cold wax painting blurs the line between oil painting and encaustic painting. The medium consists of unbleached beeswax, alkyd resin, and odorless mineral spirits and is used to make oil colors thicker and more matte.

While I don’t intend to give up the way I normally work I have been working on painting in oils and thought I could find a way to incorporate the cold wax into them. In the meantime here are some of the pieces I did in the workshop that I really like.

These are all quite small.

Sunrise – image 3 x 6″ – oil and cold wax on panel
Mountain Lights
Mountain Lights – Image 5 1/2 x 5 1/2″ – oil and cold wax on panel – SOLD
Movement of Teal – image 4 x 4″ – oil and cold wax on panel
It’s Hot! – oil and cold wax on panel – image 4 x 4″
Distant Shimmer – oil and cold wax on panel – image 4 x 4″ – SOLD
Down the Cravasse – oil and cold wax painting on panel – image 4 x 4″

I’m really pleased how they turned out. There are more! Next post, Road Trip Ft. Myers

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Road Trip – Key West

This was the 37th Anniversary of my first trip to Key West, Michael had accompanied friends on their honeymoon and I flew down, it was our 3rd or 4th date! While here we decided to get married, and that happened in August of that same year. I’ve been here about a dozen times since. Why do I keep coming back?

  1. Nostalgia – where we started.
  2. The architecture
  3. The light
  4. The shadows
  5. The colors
  6. The flora and fauna
  7. The art
  8. The only place in the continental US you can be assured of being warm in the winter
  9. The water
  10. The live and let live attitude

I should really start out by saying I write this blog for myself, like a diary, but hear from others that they like reading it, so I share it.

Back to Key West — I visited my favorite spots but found some new ones too!


This was a road trip with stops in Savannah, St Augustine, Vero Beach, and Palm Beach on the way.

I got into Savannah late so the light was nice.

A quick stop in St Augustine.



Then Palm Beach was next. Whether or not I buy anything I love walking down Worth Avenue. Great galleries and it’s beautiful!

I stop at the Laughing Dog Gallery in Vero Beach whenever I’m close. When I owned Carolina Creations we shared some of the same artists.

I’ve been fascinated by railroads, the architecture and the trains themselves, since I was very young. I ride a train whenever I get a chance. Of course Flagler was single handedly responsible for the development of the tourism industry in Florida. By the time I started coming to the keys in 1983 the new seven mile bridge had only been open a year. Before that you drove on the old railroad bridge that had been recycled. Michael had the privilege of driving on the old bridge that goes between Bahia Honda and Spanish Harbor Key. You drove over the top! Yikes! I could have never done that. The new bridge was completed over that stretch in 1980 I think. Michael was also at Sunshine Key when the old seven mile bridge blew up in 1981 extending his stay in the Keys for a while.

No way could I have driven over this bridge! Bahia Honda

I arrived in Key West just in time for the Polar Bear Plunge – which I did NOT participate in!

I love the raku murals at Salute at Higgs Beach.

My favorite thing to do in Key West is to just walk and look at the flowers, the buildings, and the art.

Ate some interesting looking fruit.

There is poetry on some of the side walks, “The Sidewalk Poetry” project was initiated by the Key West Art in Public Places Board in 2012. The goal of the project is to spread appreciation for the Arts through the installation of winning poems on sidewalks throughout the City of Key West. Click here for a map so you can find all 17.

I love people that can “turn a phrase”. Loosely owned is so much more poetic than feral!

Key West isn’t quite as funky as it used to be but there are still some vestiges of it.

Of course the chickens still roam.

And you can’t forget to close the door because you never know who will wander in like this guy.

If you’ve never been here in my opinion the only place to stay is in the historic district since everything you want to see is there. While it is compact you can still wear yourself out walking. There are no parking structures so parking is at a premium. A few years ago, maybe 2017, they started a free bus service called the Duval Loop, you can hop on and hop off, it’s a lifesaver. Michael and I stayed in the Shipyard condos probably 8 or 9 years ago which is part of the Truman Annex, that’s where I stayed again this year. It’s a great location 2 blocks off Duval near the Green Parrot. It’s quiet, there is parking, and it’s gated so the only weirdos that might wander in is someone like the guy pictured above. Of course the weirdos are part of what I like about Key West, both human and animal!


As I said I did several firsts this trip, I’d never been to Fort East Martello Museum. I’d been to the West Martello Fort many times at Higgs Beach, they have a small botanical garden. But the Fort East Martello is larger and very interesting. Robert resides there for one thing. I’d never heard of Robert the Doll. He’s kind of creepy but has an interesting story. Gene and Robert were ‘best friends’ growing up. Legend speculates voodoo played a part in Robert’s formative years, while interviews with those close to the Otto family indicate a great deal of emotional energy was placed upon the doll during Eugene’s lifetime. It is said that young Gene would shift blame when he misbehaved as a child, pointing to the doll and saying, “I didn’t do it. Robert did it”. The story goes that weird things happen when Robert is around. He even has his own website ROBERT THE DOLL.

I had never heard about Carl Tanzler either, a love story that took place in Key West. Reading THAT story is not for the faint of heart.

The museum has displays that talk about Key West’s early years, the cigar industry, the Indians that first inhabited the Keys, and so on. They also have an extensive collection of work by the folk artist Stanley Joseph Papio. He was a welder and created art from the junk he accumulated. Some say it was a way to justify his junk yard on Key Largo. Today he would be called an outsider artist.

Another first was a visit to the Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House. Highlights of this museum for me were the artworks by Mario Sanchez. He is considered one of the most significant Cuban American folk artists of the 20th Century. A Key West native, Sanchez worked with wood and paint, mostly creating bas relief carvings that reflect images of earlier times on the island that were never captured in photos.

Right now there is an exhibition that closes soon called Literary History of Key West which tells about 20+ writers who worked here. I learned that Tennessee Williams was a painter as well as a writer. He took up painting as his literary career began to wane. The display of 15 of his paintings are on permanent loan to the museum.


This was my favorite.

And there is an extensive permanent display about Henry Flagler and his building of the Overseas Highway.

I noticed that my favorite directional sign of all time has changed a little since last year. I have photos of directional signs like this from all over the world. One of these days I’ll get one erected at the corner of my house. Two pieces of the sign disappeared since last year, one said “my uncle once killed a squirrel with a gravy boat” and the other “the key west chicken ate my cat”, and his choice for president changed too!

LOVE LOVE LOVE roaming the streets.

My favorite art galleries are Gingerbread Square, Key West Pottery, Art at 830, Cocco and Salem, and Guild. Galleries with New Bern connections include Gallery on Greene, Guild and Inspirations.

Some of my favorite public art around town:

Murals above by Key West Artist Rick Worth
Sculpture by John Martini Key West Artist
Totems by Key West’s Adam Russell of Key West Pottery, my favorite gallery in Key West. Love his work.

Other shots from around town.

It is a small world as they say. I went to visit potter friends at mm17 who were there visiting with other crafts people. We were all telling travel stories, one of the other couples spoke about a recent trip to Mexico.  I said the last time I was in Mexico I stayed in the tiny remote town of La Manzanilla and rode the chicken bus to get around.   

The guy we rented from dropped us off at the house and said I can get you anything you want ________ (fill in the blank). They said Detroit Dave?   I said yes!   They had been there 9 years ago. None of us could get over the chances of that happening. We met the same guy, in this tiny remote town.

I’d never been here before…. yummy!
Louie's Backyard

Last day lunch at Louie’s Backyard.

I have a rule that I follow, never go and come back the same way if you can help it, this applies to anywhere, even the grocery store. So I left the Keys via the Card Sound Bridge and had to stop at Alabama Jacks, the last time I was there was with Michael. The place was packed. Here’s a little bit of history LINK.

Alabama Jacks Card Sound

The end of a beautiful day and a great two weeks! Where to next? Home to get some artwork done then off to Fort Myers.

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New Bern NC Bench by Janet Francoeur

In ceramics things can be more complicated than they first appear!

New Bern NC Bench by Janet Francoeur – A couple years ago when we were at UNC Hospital I saw benches in the garden. I knew immediately who did the metal work, one of our artists (we used to carry) at Carolina Creations, and sure enough when I called Cindy, she said yes, they had built the bench and a potter from Chapel Hill had made the tiles.

BLOG BENCH

I asked her to make two of them for me. Cindy said they wanted to make a few changes on the design and after a few months they arrived at our studio. That was a funny story in itself. These benches weigh A LOT! They are made of heavy gauge steel, zinc galvanized to prevent rusting,  painted with high quality marine grade epoxy paints, and like I said are heavy.

The trucker got them off the truck and onto the sidewalk. After some head scratching Michael and I got out two hand trucks and we managed to inch both of the benches closer to the studio door. It was a lot of work and we finally sat down on one of them to rest. Just then two young ladies came along and said “do you need some help?” They picked up each of the benches and carried them into the studio!

Then our lives got really complicated and they have been sitting in our entryway ever since. I’m finally at the point that I can tackle them. On one of the benches I decided to do a new bern scene like I’ve done for some back splashes and platters. The only problem is I use earthenware for the back splashes and platters – and it won’t hold up outside in freezing and thawing conditions.

So you would think I would just go and get other clay. It’s not that easy. There are lots of kinds of clay and they all are not appropriate for tile making. So you have to do a lot of testing, will they fire flat? Will my glazes hold their color at a higher temperature? If there is too much grog in it will I be able to draw a straight line?

Well the first clay I tried had way too much grog in it, I couldn’t get a smooth enough surface to draw on. I’ll use that clay to make some totems with. So I eventually bought 4 different kinds of clay and finally found one I liked.

The clay shrinks as it dries then more again when fired so I had to figure the shrinkage out. The people that blend the clay give you a shrinkage rate but like everything in ceramics you need to do your own testing.

BLOG RULER

I rolled out a strip of clay and marked it off by 1/2 inch increments. Then I could use that to measure the bench opening to see how big my clay slab needed to be (also considering room for grout lines between the tiles).

So you can see in this photo that from wet to being fired to cone 5 it had shrunk by a whole inch . 

I made a test of my underglazes to see how the color holds up at the hotter cone 5. Usually the reds burn out but these Spectrum underglazes seemed to hold up. I had to find a clear glaze to go over my underglazes, since the one I’m used to using will not fire to the cone 5 that I need. I glazed half of the tiles with the cone 5 clear gloss and half with cone 5 clear matt. The right side is gloss the left mat, I like the gloss better. In some glazes you can’t see any difference in others you can.

BLOG GLAZE TEST

I got the tiles made….

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dried them, fired them to cone 04 then I drew the image onto the tiles with pencil…then colored with underglazes…

bench tiles

then covered them with clear glaze and fired to cone 5, which is the vitrification temperature of this particular clay.

Vitrification is the hardening, tightening and finally the partial glassification of the clay. Vitrification results from fusions or melting of the various components of the clay. The strength of fired clay is increased by the formation of new crystalline growth within the clay body, particularly the growth of mullite crystals. Mullite is an aluminum silicate characterized by a long needlelike crystal. These lace the structure together, giving it cohesion and strength. (from The Big Ceramic Store Website)

Then there is the issue of attaching the tiles to the bench. I needed to build up the base and was not comfortable attaching them directly to the metal so I used Wedi Board, Wedi Board is lightweight, easy to cut, and a completely waterproof tile backer board.

I attached the Wedi Board to the bench with a urethane adhesive…I had to figure out what was the best for that – it had to be suitable for a wet application and outdoors.

…then I covered the board with adhesive and attached the tiles leaving even (well kind of even) grout lines.

Once the adhesive had dried I applied grout that I treated for outdoor use.

And DONE! It only took me a couple years to do.

Like I said, things sometimes are more complicated than they first appear.

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Road Trip Southern Italy Part 2 Lecce to Ostuni

Lecce is in the heel of Italy’s boot, with olive trees as far as the eye can see. It is called the Florence of the South because of its baroque architecture. As we found in Bari the shops close from 1-3 for siesta! I don’t remember them doing this in other parts of Italy I have visited. And it might just be in the old part of town that this happens.

While the history of Lecce goes way back the period Lecce is most famous for is the 17th century when the Palaces and churches were built in the Baroque style out of soft local limestone. The Basilica di Santa Croce is the focal point of the old city with its amazing facade. But there are many other fabulously decorated churches in this small space.


You can still see ruins of a Roman amphitheatre which is at the dividing line of the old and new city. The amphitheatre is surrounded by buildings put up by Batista – Fascist architecture – which we saw a lot of in Napoli. It is partly buried because other ancient building were built on top of it. In its day it would hold 20,000. It is still used today for concerts and celebrations. Only the lower tier of seats remain. Near the square theatre there is a pre-Roman necropolis where Messapian inscriptions have been found.

There are a lot of beautiful shops with local art. I don’t recall seeing the pumi before. Pumi are decorative elements in a form recalling a bud that is going to bloom. Symbolizing prosperity and fertility, in the folk culture of the Southern Italy they defend from evil. Deeply rooted in the traditional culture of the ‘heel of the boot’, Pumi are very popular in Puglia, decorating magnificent palaces as well as simple balconies. I could do without the fertility but had to have one to take home.

We had a great time shopping in Lecce, both Bobbi and I met artists and purchased there work. We saw a lot of earthenware sculpture with a white glaze – love it.

This region is also famous for its papier mâché.

Scenes from Lecce.

We went to Otranto for a quick visit, and had a wonderful farm to table meal and wine tasting close by.

We left Lecce the next day and drove to Ostuni – the White City on the top of a hill. Ostuni is located in a region that has been inhabited since the stone age. It is believed to have to been founded by the Messapii, destroyed by the armies of Hannibal during the Punic Wars and then re-built by the Greeks – hence the Ostuni name meaning “new town.”

Its whitewashed defensive walls and houses in the old town with many winding streets, steps and beautifully decorated, colorful window frames can make you think you’re somewhere in Greece. Ostuni’s history is shown predominately within it’s architecture; with many buildings still standing dating back as far as 990 AD when the city was sacked by the Normans and added to it’s own county. The majority of buildings date from 1300 to 1463.

Our guides recipe for limoncello
Translation 1 litre grain alcohol 96 proof
8 organic lemons
1 1/2 pounds sugar
1 litre water
Peel the lemons (use none of the white)
soak the peels in the alcohol for 2 weeks in a dry dark place
strain through a fine linen cloth
make a syrup with the sugar and 1 litre water
———-
for Christmas he adds a cinnamon stick and 16 cloves
strains again
and salute!
It must be drunk very cold – put it in the freezer and drink it from there.
Our lunch spot in Ostuni

As I discovered the last time I was in Italy the further south I got the more I liked the food and the fewer people there were – well once you get away from Napoli.

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Road Trip Southern Italy part 1

My trip started by arriving in Naples, one of the most densely populated cities in Europe. Before I left home I saw a couple of videos and heard people talk about Naples, or Napoli as we were instructed to say (because Naples is in Florida) they said it’s chaotic, dirty, and crowded. It’s all of that but I’m glad I got to walk the streets. The architecture, the street food, the graffiti, the people, all were wonderful (well maybe not the graffiti). Driving from the airport to our hotel, just off Toledo, made me glad I was not driving, it reminded me of driving around the Arc De Triomph in Paris, or pretty much anywhere in Mexico City. You just go and hope others will not hit you, no street lights, hardly any lane markings through some of the city. You walk that way as well, we were told, cross at the crosswalk and be assertive, just step out and they will stop.

There are 60 museums in the city, we visited the Muse o Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli which has many artifacts found at Herculaneum and Pompeii. Some of our group went to Herculaneum, I had been to Pompeii on a previous trip so chose to stroll the streets.

We only got to see one of the Subway stations but Line 1 and Line 6 of the Napoli subway system have become an open-air museum with masterpieces between the staircases and docks. The stations are filled with colors, mosaics, installations, sculptures and photographs. Architects were chosen from across the globe to design each of the stations and international and Italian artists to provide the art. It has made a significant impact on the surrounding areas of the stations they say. Read more about it.

Not on WW but had to have a sfogliatella – The sfogliatella Santa Rosa was created in the monastery of Santa Rosa in Conca dei Marini in the province of SalernoItaly, in the 17th century. Pasquale Pintauro, a pastry chef from Naples, acquired the original recipe and began selling the pastries in his shop in 1818. Yum!

We left Napoli and drove to the city of Benevento –A UNESCO World Heritage Site . They know the Romans were here in 298 BC, there is a large Roman theatre here and the Arch of Trajann. The Arch of Trajan is one of the best-preserved Roman structures in the Campania (as this region of Italy is called).
The church we visited was built in 760 – The Church of Santa Sofia, it’s circular of Lombard design. It was severely damaged in an earthquake a while back but has been restored. It’s interesting that in the construction they used artifacts as building materials, some from the Roman times. They also have a lot of artifacts from that period on their grounds. The church has a  cloister from the 12th century. The church interior was once totally frescoed by Byzantine artists: fragments of these paintings, portraying the Histories of Christ, can be still seen in the two side aps.

The Appian Way is one of the earliest and strategically most important Roman roads of the ancient republic. And it ran right through this arch.

From Benevento we headed east and stopped at an interesting Castle Castel del Monte  or Castle of the Mountain – built in the 13th-century it sits alone on a hill, no need for a moat because being the highest point in the area you could see the enemy coming, even from the sea. It was built by the Emperor Frederick II, who had inherited the lands from his mother Constance of Sicily. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (one of 54 in Italy – of the 1092 sites worldwide, Italy has the most of any country.

The Between Benevento and Bari were miles and miles and miles of olive trees and vineyards. Bari is on the Adriatic Sea. Again – reading about Bari on the internet people kind of pan it. But we were entralled. The ancient part of Bari – Bari Vecchia – is a maze of narrow alleys. It is fascinating. The homes are tiny and much of their living is on the street.

St Nicholas is the patron Saint of Bari. They were preparing for the twice yearly celebrated festival when we were there. If you go on a tour in Europe you invariably go to dozens of churches, the Basilica of San Nicola, is a treasure built in 1087 to house the relics of the patron saint of the city. Today it is a popular destination for pilgrims from all over the world, devoted to St. Nicholas, but especially Russian Orthodox citizens, with whom the city of Bari has important relationships. Putin had even visited there recently.


There is a pasta that they make here – the women sit in their doorways and cut and twist the pasta into shapes called orecchiette – little ears.  Click here to see a video of them cutting and twisting the pasta.

From Bari we headed to Monopoli – a town with heavy Greek influences. The Agean sea is less that 70 miles wide at this point with Albania and Greece being the closest countries to the east.



Our last stop of the day was to visit an olive farm – Masseria Brancati – This is the oldest masseria (fortified farmhouse) in the region. They gave us a tour of their ancient underground oil mill used throughout the Middle Ages and up until 1800. We saw olive trees that were 2000 years old. There are some in the region that are 4000 years old. The oldest trees are given a number and are protected – read about the Millenari Di Puglia. We tasted their oil and learned about the different qualities of them. The first press is the extra virgin and has the most antioxidants and is the strongest. Whether extra virgin or virgin has to do with the time the olive is harvested. Here in this region (maybe everywhere I don’t know) they are harvested first in October, then 2nd in November and 3rd in December. The December harvest is the mildest and the one you cook with. The October is the strongest flavor and most healthy. The November oil falls somewhere in-between.

The trunks of these ancient trees are amazing

We had some rain in the area of Italy “that it never rains” but it didn’t dampen our spirits or slow us down.

Next stop Lecce – called the Florence of the South – in Road Trip Southern Italy Part 2






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Ireland – Scotland Part 1

Exhausted from Hurricane Florence I guiltily decided to go on the trip I had signed up for last fall. I’m glad I did. We set off on a two day train trip from Dublin with Railtours Ireland. We traveled south west through the countryside of Co. Kildare.

We visited the Cliffs of Moher, among the highest sea cliffs in Europe. We were there for about an hour and by the time we left the fog had swept in and you couldn’t see any of the cliffs. This part of the country is breathtaking.

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We drove along “The Burren“. The word Burren means ‘rocky place’. It looks like a a lunar landscape of limestone. We were told that though it seems like there is no soil it’s noted for its diverse flora and fauna, more diverse than anywhere in Europe. Migrating birds from the North Pole and from theMediterranean and points further south bring the seeds that grow in the crevices in the rocks. This area also has many times more rainfall that Eastern Ireland.

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We stopped at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park in Co. Clare.   The castle was built in the 15th Century and is furnished with period furniture and artifacts. I found the grounds most interesting – a 19th century Irish village with buildings from around the region.

bunratty
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We eventually arrived in Galway, where we had time to explore on our own. One of the highlights was hearing a group of young Irish musicians performing on the street.

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Galway has a lot of young people and lots of tech jobs, It’s history began with a fort built in 1142. Through the Middle Ages it was a thriving port, it was involved in many wars through the ages, the potato famine of the mid 19th century and never regained strong economic growth until the late 20th century.

On day two we went to the Connemara region. When thinking about the area these are the things that come to my mind – few trees – thousands of miles of stone fences – narrow roads – windswept landscapes – mountains – fuschia hedges – sheep – lots of lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.

We stopped at the Kylemore Abbey & Walled Victorian Gardens – which was built in the late 1800s by Mitchell Henry, a successful businessman and liberal politician. It changed hands several times and in 1920 it was taken over by Benedictine Nuns whose Abbey in Belgium had been destroyed in World War II. They opened a world renowned boarding school for girls and restored the Abbey and Garden. The Walled Garden covers 6 acres and had fallen into ruin. In 1995 the Nuns began restoring it and it was opened to the public in 2000. The garden had 21 heated glass houses and a work force of 40 gardeners when it was first established and was compared in magnificence to Kew Gardens.

We continued on the Connemara Loop which was hauntingly beautiful.

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There are only a few towns in the area and my favorite is Clifden.

We heard that if the sheep are on top of the mountain (in this case cows) the weather is going to be good….

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There are a lot of sheep in the area, and they are free range, so you have to be very careful driving on the narrow winding roads because you never know what’s around the corner.
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I loved this area – it’s kind of other worldly.
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We went back to Galway and caught the train to Dublin.

I realize that I know little about the history of Ireland, as part of my blogging after a trip I go back and research the places I’ve been. It was interesting that  looking around Dublin looks like a pretty new city, I made a stupid comment about maybe because it was bombed during WWII. I was corrected – Ireland was neutral during the war so was never bombed. I wondered what else I didn’t know! So have been reading up on their history.

Here is a great timeline.

My mom was a genealogist and I read in some of her papers that our ancestors came from Ireland way back during the time of tribes and clans around 200 A.D. in present-day Ireland. At that time the area a tribe or clan occupied was called a Lyne or Lynne. When the leader of the clan wanted to gather the people they blew a horn, our clan was near the sea and made use of conch shells for their horns, thus “Conchlynne.”  This tribe – Conchlynne – was located where the city of Belfast now stands. for some reason members of the tribe migrated across to Scotland and then south to Nottinghamshire, England where the name is found in the 1600’s. The name turned into Conklin somewhere along the line in the US. When first coming to the US they were glassmakers.

We aren’t going to make it to Belfast on this trip – that will have to wait until next time.

I wasn’t in love with Dublin but did find a few areas I liked. Here are few photos from around town.

Two things that have made a huge impact on this city – Heineken and the musical group U2.
Signs and decorations on buildings…

Learning about the book of Kells at Trinity College (founded in 1592) was really more interesting than seeing it to me, since you can only see two pages, but the lengths the monks went through to make it were extraordinary.  They made it on the isle of Iona, where we are headed when we meet up with others from New Bern.

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The best part about the visit to Trinity College was seeing the long room, the library in the same building (which houses 200,000 of the Universities oldest books). You would recognize it from the Harry Potter movies, They weren’t allowed to use the library in their filming but they based the one they created on it.

Next post….. traveling north to the Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland, and then Scotland. We really didn’t see a lot of either country but what we did see we really like.

 

 

 

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Road Trip Amsterdam

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Close to our hotel was the Opera House, The Hermitage Museum, the Skinny Bridge, Rembrandt Square and lots of great photo ops!

I loved all the 26 years at Carolina Creations but am also loving having more time to travel and do my artwork. The two – travel and artwork – go together – although I seldom do artwork when I’m on the road because I want to spend the time seeing everything I can possibly see. Traveling is inspiring to me, I see scenes that I want to paint, I see art I’ve never seen before and it gives me ideas to use in my own work from how to present something or a new technique. Creating art for me is a solitary endeavor so when traveling I also get to meet new people.

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This sculptures in Rembrandt Square depict the Dutch artist Rembrandt’s painting The Night Watch which is in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam Museum. The sculpture was done by Russian artist Alexander Taratynov.

I decided this is my year to travel. Havana, Florida Panhandle, Key West, this trip, and more to come! Amsterdam has been on my list for a long time and it did not disappoint.
hook   Although the weather was cool and partially cloudy it was still beautiful! What was my favorite thing? I suspected the architecture and canals would be and I was right.
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I was going to do this whole trip as one blog post but after seeing just my photos from Amsterdam I’m not sure that the City by itself will fit into one!

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There was a lot I did not know about the city –
….     There used to be 300 canals and now there are only 100.
….     Most buildings have a hook coming out of their gable, especially if they are the tall skinny ones. In the old days it was used to raise and lower merchandise, a person had their shop on the 1st floor and warehouse above. Now people often live on the upper stories so when a person moves in or out they take out a window and use the pulley to raise and lower furniture.

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See the family playing chess in the background?

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….     Few Dutch go to church, so while there are quite a few church buildings, few are used for worship and many have been sold off for other purposes.
….     The semicircle of four 17th century canals is called the Grachtengordel, and while you can still get turned around, if you can identify the main canals you can usually figure out your way. Our sweet hotel, the Eden/Rembrandt Square, was on the Singel (The Singel was previously a moat around the old city.), which was a great location, across from the Opera, and from where I walked everywhere I wanted to go. The rooms were not large but were contemporary, very nice, and they have a great bar and restaurant.

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Lots of cheese shops.

After a brief introductory Tour with the tour group I tromped all over the canal part of Amsterdam by myself, not wanting to miss a thing. There wasn’t an area I felt uncomfortable in by myself.
I met two artists shortly after arriving at an outdoor show I stumbled across, it’s held only on Sundays and it was just around the corner from our hotel. Called the Outdoor Sunday ArtMarket .
Connie Van Rumpt works in paper mache.
connie     I got a sweet, tiny lady that sits on a shelf from her.
And I had a nice conversation about working in black and white with Wim van der Meij about his etchings and got this piece of one of the canals.
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I did find some neat boutiques in the Jordan district but I guess I wasn’t looking in the right place to find a lot of artist run shops.
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You (I) just can’t go incognito anywhere….. I walked into a store and immediately the owner said “You own a shop.” (of course I don’t anymore.)  I said “How do you know?” “The bag you are carrying. I have one just like it .” So we compared notes. Years ago, probably 10 anyway, maybe 14, when people were first buying reusable bag,s one of the first companies to make them was called Envirosax and we started carrying them at Carolina Creations. The particular bag I had in my hand was an ad for the company, which was a promotion for shops that ordered from them that first year, which gave me away. Go figure.
I also went into one of the coffee shops that sells marijuana – I just had to do it – and ONLY had a cup of coffee, but found it interesting that you could smoke dope there but you could not smoke a cigarette!

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The floating flower market Bloemenmarkt was ok, selling mostly bulbs but this one stall did have nice fresh flowers.
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The city has a museum for just about everything, 100+… the ones you might expect The Tulip Museum, The Cheese Museum, The Houseboat MuseumHeineken Experience, and some you might not expect like the Sex Museum, Torture Museum, Prostitution Museum, Erotica Museum, Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum,  Nederlands Uitvaart Museum Tot Zover the museum about funerals, Tassenmuseum Hendrikje the museum of bags and purses, just to name a few.
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I’ll have to admit I’m not a huge museum goer, it’s walking the streets I want to do when I travel, but the Van Gogh was one I didn’t want to miss, it was great and very well done. One thing I noticed in the extensive gift shop i saw no images of “Starry Night”, or  his “Cafe Terrace at Night” , they can’t use the images because they are not in their collection I was told. They are my two favorites.
If I would have had more time I might have visited the Rijksmuseum, the National Museum of the Netherlands with nearly one million Dutch works of art, The Amsterdam Museum, or the Museum Van Loon, (which is a canal house owned by the Van Loon family of the Dutch East India Company), the Ann Frank House, The Jewish Museum, Verzetsmuseum or the Dutch Resistance Museum.
amm10            We strolled through The Begijnhof, passing through this gate, which was built in the 14th century and donated to the Beguine for a place to live. It is at the medieval street level which is a little over 3 feet below todays street level. “The Beguine women lived as nuns but not within a monastic community. The Catholic Faith was banned in the 16th century, but the Beguinage was the only Catholic institution that survived, as the houses were privately owned by the Beguines. However, they had to give up the chapel. Later, a new church was built behind the facades of some of the houses, a so-called ‘schuilkerk’ (hide-and-seek church). ” (thank you Wikipedia).              Today women rent the houses and the outside gates are locked at night, but during the daytime anyone can wander through.

The brown wooden building is one of the two oldest wooden buildings in the city, built around 1465.
It was interesting to identify the types of gables on the buildings, Triangular Gable, Bell Gable, Neck Gable, Spout Gable and the Step Gable. Often depicting the period in which the building was constructed.
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You see wall plaques on many houses , before numbering was introduced, houses were identified by illustrated plaques.

As usual I had to take photos of signs.
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I knew there were a lot of bikes in Amsterdam, but I didn’t really know just how many, over 800,000. Almost every street has a bike lane and you take your life into you hands if you don’t stay off them and look both ways when crossing them.

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You might not be able to tell what this is but it is a parking deck for bikes, holding not nearly enough. Throughout the city there are tens of thousands parked on the street and we were told they pull about 12,000 a year out of the canals.

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Surprisingly I saw no bike accidents. But guess there are some!

There were lots of interesting things to see.

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assort3     There are eight windmills within the city limits, only one is open to the public. But in May they have a National Windmill Day. During this weekend you can visit hundreds of them all over the country, for most, it’s the only time they are open.
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The canal ride and dinner at night was enchanting.
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I’ve got more photos from Amsterdam I’ll share in the next post.

Next up – Luxembourg, Trier, Brussels, Bruges, and Antwerp.

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More custom Celebration Pottery pieces

One day (years ago) a customer asked me to put names on a platter for a wedding, that was just the start!

Since them I’ve done hundreds of churches with names and dates on tiles and platters…

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houses…

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baby sets…
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new bern scenes on things…pot2

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special pieces given to visiting dignitaries….

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back splash….
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and lots more!

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How a piece comes together

I’m often asked to do commemorative pieces to be given as gifts for retirements, birthdays, weddings, etc. The piece I’m showing here was for someone whose career lasted over 30 years and she was involved in many of the projects that have shaped the way our downtown looks today.

First we started with a list of the projects…

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…I took reference photos…