Gold Fever

gold fever

It sparkles and shimmers. Could it be gold? Well, you might strike gold and get rich…or you might be fooled by some glittery pyrite! We made some awesome geology connections at To Be Continued, our story time for 6-8 year-olds, including rocks that sing!

We read Missing on Superstition Mountain by Elise Broach (Henry Holt, 2011). Brothers Simon, Henry, and Jack have moved from Chicago to Superstition, Arizona. The sleepy little town is shadowed by the looming and unforgiving Superstition Mountain, which has a history that none of the adults seem to want to share. The boys have been forbidden to go into the mountains, but when Josie the cat runs away, they follow her and soon uncover a mystery that involves three human skulls, a lost gold mine, and the strange, seemingly supernatural, power of the mountain. Can the boys and their friend Delilah survive Superstition?

In addition to a secret gold mine (which is totally awesome), Missing on Superstition Mountain has quite a bit about rocks, landscapes, and geology. When we finished the book, I thought it would be cool to do some rock-based activities. And Princeton University have some fantastic resources when it comes to geology.

department of geosciencesFirst, we took a walk across campus to Guyot Hall, home of the Department of Geosciences. Their central office space is lined with display cases full of rocks, gems, fossils, and minerals.

case 1The kids oohed and aahed over some of the precious stones…

case 2But were equally impressed by the gigantic mineral specimens!

case 3We visited a Allosaurus skeleton and a T. Rex skull on our way out of the building. Yes!

dinosaur skeletonBack at the library, I had samples of pyrite for the kids to look at (courtesy of Laurel Goodell, manager of the undergraduate labs in geosciences). Pyrite is called “Fool’s Gold” because of its sparkly gold appearance, but it’s actually a mineral.

pyriteThe kids couldn’t take home the big samples of pyrite, but I did find some smaller pieces on Amazon. I bought three, 0.2 ounce boxes of pyrite nuggets for $5.79 a box. They arrived powdered with black grit, so be prepared to do some major rinsing, and maybe a little scrubbing, before you given them to kids. But as you can see below, they cleaned up nicely and there were some pretty good sized pieces in there.

pyrite nuggetsThe kids took their stash home in a cotton drawstring bag (left over from this event). I also tucked a little information sheet inside the bag too (here’s the template if you’re interested). But I saved the best geology connection for last. Did you know that some rocks can produce musical notes?

lithophoneThis is a lithophone. It’s a xylophone with tone bars that are made out of stone (as opposed to wood or metal). When you strike the stones with a mallet, they produce a musical tone. But not all rocks sing! It takes a lot of trial and error, as well as a lot of chipping and grinding to make rock tone bars. The stones you see above are limestone, sandstone, and granite.

The lithophone was made by Tom Kaufman, owner of Tinkertunes Music Studio in Michigan. I commissioned him to build it for a Journey to the Centre of the Earth event in 2013. After the event, the lithophone went to its new home in the geosciences lab.

Ready for a little rock concert?


If you think that’s cool, you should check out Tom’s lithophone fence. It plays “Row Row Row Your Boat” as you run around it with a mallet! The fence was installed at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan for ArtPrize, an annual art contest.


Many thanks to Laurel Goodell and the Department of Geosciences for the pyrite and lithophone loan! 

Writing, Re-imagined

writing reimaginedLook closely and you’ll see that these are not handwritten pages of notes. They’re hand-stitched pages of fabric. The intricacy of the stitching, the re-imagining of lined paper as cloth, and the time it takes to produce a single page make viewing these pieces truly amazing. Also amazing is the touching and mindfully deliberate recording of life – both the extraordinary and the ordinary – through slow and careful stitchery.

page 1These pages are the works of Diana Weymar, currently the Artist-in-Residence at the Arts Council of Princeton. Diana’s also the curator of Every Fiber of My Being, a group show that explores the use of textiles as a second skin. As part of her residency, Diana has initiated Interwoven Stories, a community stitching project that invites individuals to record their own thoughts, feelings, experiences, and beliefs on fabric pages. Later, the pages will be displayed on five installations around town.

Diana WeymarPlease tell us a little about yourself!

I am 46 years-old, have four children ages 12-22, and live in the U.S. and Canada. I graduated from Princeton in 1991 after writing a creative thesis with Joyce Carol Oates. I have worked in publishing and film in NYC and the past five years have been focused on my art practice – the basis of which is using familiar materials in unfamiliar ways – and on community-based art projects.

When did you first re-imagine lined notebook paper as fabric?

When both of my maternal grandparents passed away, boxes of their belongings were sent to me. For some reason, I found their crisp white sheets – they belonged to the generation that saturated their sheets with starch – heartbreaking. At the same time, I was reviewing notes from my writing course at Princeton with John McPhee and found that his rules for writing also applied to my art practice. The continuity between the craft of writing and crafting sculptural pieces was surprising and enriching.

My notes and writing pieces from class with John were, in a way, very much like traditional samplers. Instructive. Practice-based learning. I wanted to spend more time with my notes from class and thought of rewriting them in thread. The term “thread consciousness” is often thrown around when discussing contemporary embroidery but it’s a very basic idea: the process of creation is a process of awareness and the longer you spend on a piece – written or stitched – the more aware you become. Communication is so quick now. Quickly created and quickly consumed.

page 2Can you describe the process behind creating a single sheet?

I cut 8 ½ x 11 pages out of bed sheets and then create the blue and pink lines by machine. For Interwoven Stories I created 200 fabric pages. They each take about 25 minutes from start to finish. I started to develop pain in my right hip from shifting my weight to the left to press on the pedal with my right foot. Sometimes I can still feel the vibrations of the machine coursing through my right side. Without music and podcasts to distract myself, I don’t think I would have been able to finish machine sewing the pages. Spending a concentrated amount of time with the sewing machine gave me a deep appreciation for labor-based practices. The final touch was to punch holes in the fabric sheets.

blank fabric pageIs it difficult to achieve flow when hand-stitching? I imagine it’s quite a bit slower than writing, painting, or sculpting…

It’s “slow flow” but has exactly the same language and process as painting, drawing, and sculpting. I love the mechanics of stitching, the metaphorical aspects of hand, thread, and fabric. This particular practice has the distinct advantage of being very portable. If I can sit and there is light, I can stitch. With four children and a bi-coastal lifestyle, I’ve worked on planes, while watching squash matches, and at lectures. It’s very hard to put down a piece once I’ve started it.

How do you utilize the different types of stitches in your work?

I’m asked this question frequently because the basic misconception about stitching is that it is exclusively a craft-based language and that to speak it, you must know a series of “trade stitches.” I use thread the same way I use ink or paint. Every stitch is either a line or a dot. There are some fabulous and inventive names for stitches and, at this point, I enjoy the names of technical stitches more than I enjoy them in my practice. The French Knot is essential to many of my pieces but, for now, I am focused on layering, color, and pattern while using a simple stitch.

close upIn your mind, what is the relationship between the written word and the stitched word? Are they the same? Vastly different?

When I think of the “written word” I think of the handwritten word. For me, the stitched word and the handwritten word are intimately related. The typed word is vastly different. It’s about looking and watching but not about creating a shape. Both the written and stitched word reveal so much about the author. All typed words look the same; all stitched and written words are different.

I realized recently that I have close friends whose handwriting I have never seen. My 12 year-old has not learned to write in cursive. I find all of this a little strange and disorienting. Would you rather hold a handwritten letter in your hand or read a letter on a screen? And if it’s been stitched, isn’t that almost like holding hands with someone? The next best thing? I find stitching to be very intimate. And caring. I have a friend who knit a blanket for me for Valentines Day. This still amazes me.

Though I am not making work for specific people, I am stitching as a way of sharing. What impresses me is that most people want to touch stitched words and images, to read them with their fingers. We touch screens but only to move content around. Not to read with our fingers.

page 3Please tell us about your community art project involving fabric paper.

Interwoven Stories is a version of a project that I did in Nicosia, Cyprus, Spring 2015, with Build Peace. I watched the lectures from the 2014 conference at the MIT Media Lab on video and I wanted to create a project using an “ancient technology” in a contemporary setting. Build Peace focuses on the use of cutting-edge technologies in peace building and the exploration of art as connection.

Interwoven Stories is also a community-based project in which 200 fabric pages have been handed out in Princeton to be stitched by residents of the community. I was recently at a dinner party in Princeton with someone who explained to me that UNESCO uses “cultural mapping” to promote intercultural dialogue and this resonated very strongly with me. Princeton is a very diverse community and I’m very much looking forward to collecting and curating the pages. I cannot wait to “read” them.

maria evans page

Interwoven Stories submission by Maria Evans


Images courtesy of the artist and the Arts Council of Princeton.

Hooray! It’s Haiku!

hooray haikuWe get a lot of weird things through our library recycling program, but these little babies take the cake. They’re stiff felt pieces – I assume from a vintage felt board set?

Yes, they’re funny because they’re so obviously retro. But what’s also funny is that only these pieces of the set remain. When you group them outside the context of the larger set, the effect is rather…weird. Honestly, I think it’s the basket of fish that puts it over the edge.

Never one to pass on an opportunity to share the weirdness, I decided to turn these pieces into a writing prompt for Cotsen Critix, our literary society for kids ages 9-12. I told the kids they had to take these objects and create a story or describe a situation. But to make the prompt extra challenging, I told them they could only do it…in haiku. Here are a few of the resulting poems:

Three naughty children
Trying to catch a big bird
Oh no, that is bad

The bird eats the fish.
Can the bird eat the weird fish?
Suddenly it dies.

Yellow, pink, red, green
Let the fish swim in the stream
In a crate they scream

The bird flurries by,
A calm wind trails behind her,
Whee! This is so fun.

Flowers so dandy
Too bad birds eat the flowers
Sad so really sad

The boy ate dyed fish
Have fun in the stomach fish
Good bye Good bye fish!

The bird sips nectar
It’s so sweet, so delicious
Yummy yummy, yum!

Why so surprised fish?
Knee socks are really hip now
Too bad you’re knee-less

It’s gonna die soon!
It’s going on a flower!
It doesn’t matter.

The exercise, of course, was primarily meant for a bit of fun. And as you can see, there were silly poems, crazy poems, and goofy poems (did you spot mine?). But then, this little piece of perfection floated off a pen…

My nose is tired
Of the many smells of spring
When will winter come?