Thursday, February 18, 2010

Flannery O'Connor: The Violent Bear It Away

I must admit, the books I enjoy the most are those that cause me to ponder their meaning long after the final page as been turned, leaving me with angst about the human condition: writings that make me dig deep and examine my own soul. For these reasons I have always been drawn to Flannery O’Connor and Joyce Carol Oates. 

 I consider O’Connor and Oates to be writers of Southern and Northern, if there is such a category, Gothic. Their plumbing of the human condition touches me to the very core and often leaves me with more questions than answers, the condition of human existence itself.

Having just read O’Connor’s second and final novel, The Violent Bear It Away, I find myself examining my own personal struggles with those who have touched my life, particularly those whom I did not choose to do so, but have left their mark all the same. The Violent Bear It Away is considered a landmark in American literature. 

Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925, Flannery O’Connor died in Milledgeville, Georgia in 1964.  In that short span she wrote two novels, thirty-one short stories, and a number of reviews and essays. As with her previous novel the main character struggles with an internal battle against the faith that was instilled in him, the life he was told by others he was born to lead.

The title is taken from a translation of Matthew 11:12, which provides the book’s epigraph: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.” These are Jesus’ words to the multitude, and the themes of baptism, violence and the Bread of Life permeate the novel.
The main action of The Violent Bear It Away occurs over seven days, but much of the novel consists of flashbacks that recall incidents in the lives of the main characters. Events are illustrated through the memories of different individuals providing insight into their psychological and spiritual natures, revealing the motivations behind their actions, and offering a family history clouded by personal feelings, religious and intellectual beliefs, and emotional confusion. The novel is divided into three sections, each covering a period in Francis Marion Tarwater's journey of self-discovery.
O’Connor’s last major work to be published in her lifetime, the novel offers no easy truths; Tarwater is an unlikable boy who learns that doing God's work entails violence, unreason, even madness. It is a psychological study of the mysterious and frightening nature of the religious calling. Stark religious symbolism and Biblical allusions unite to explore themes of spiritual hunger, faith versus reason, and the battle for the soul. O'Connor wrote the novel over eight years while suffering from lupus, publishing the first chapter as a story, You Can't Be Poorer Than Dead, in 1955. 
While living at Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor completed Wise Blood, which was published in 1952. Then her highly acclaimed collection of short stories, A Good Man Is Hard To Find, was published in 1955. By the end of the 1950s, largely on the strength of her short stories, O'Connor was viewed as a major American writer; a committed Catholic, O'Connor traveled to Rome for an audience with the Pope in 1958.  In 1960, The Violent Bear It Away was published, but like its predecessor, Wise Blood, was poorly received.

For the last few years of her life, as her lupus progressed, O'Connor concentrated on writing nonfiction. She died on August 3, 1964 at her mother's home in Milledgeville. In 1972, she was posthumously awarded the National Book Award for The Complete Short Stories.She also wrote The Violent Bear It Away, published in 1960, here. Her second collection of short stories, Everything That Rises Must Converge, was published posthumously in 1965. A collection of nonfiction prose titled Mystery and Manners edited by Robert and Sally Fitzgerald was published in 1969. The Complete Stories, edited by Robert Giroux, won the 1971 National Book Award for Fiction. Sally Fitzgerald edited a large collection of O’Connor’s letters, The Habit of Being, published in 1979, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award. O’Connor, a committed Catholic,  traveled to Rome for an audience with the Pope in 1958.  Collected Works was published in 1988 as part of the Library of America series, the definitive collection of America’s greatest writers.
Further Reference-
The Flannery O'Connor–Andalusia Foundation, Inc. maintains a Web site at with information about the activities taking place at the Andalusia property where O'Connor lived and worked. 
Comforts of Home, a Web site dedicated to Flannery O'Connor, can be found at This site has links to biographical information about the author and critical analyses of her work. 
A Library of America interview with author Brad Gooch, who has written the only biography on  Flannery O’Connor, can be found at: "'Connor.pdf

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Vintage Rhinestone Jewelry: How It Originated with Links For Further Research

Even if you're not a fashion maven, you're likely to recognize the name Coco Chanel. Coco Before Chanel was a well-received movie released in 2009, once again making Chanel a household word. Born Gabrielle Chanel in 1883, Coco Chanel became and remains an icon of fashion design. Particularly known for her famous Chanel suits, with boxy button up jackets and knee length skirts that are considered stylish to this day, Coco Chanel was also an integral figure in setting the stage for jewelry in the Roaring 20s; she not only made a more relaxed style for women and helped usher in the flapper era, she made rhinestone jewelry fashionable.  Coco promoted suites of jewels, what would become known as 'parure grand sets', consisting of 4 to 8 matching pieces.  With her influence rhinestone jewelry became an accepted fashion staple throughout the modern world.

More recently, Broadway star, Kristin Chenowith appeared at the show, “Stars Heart the Red Dress.”  The opening night of fashion week found the star dressed in red and sporting heart shaped jewelry designed by Daniel Swarovski.

The word "Jewel" is actually a derivative of the French word "Jouel", referring to the royal table dressings favored in ancient France.  Kings, Queens, and people of great wealth and political prominence wore fine, lacy jewels throughout the 18th and 19th century that were encrusted with the finest gems when they were in attendance at High Court parties.
In general, members of the royal courts of various countries often traveled long distances by coach; lockboxes of jewels and their valuables would travel with them.  Robbery was commonplace, hence the term "highway robbery".  Eventually the wealthy wised up and began to commission artisans to create replicas of their original jewelry.  They would take these replicas to court. These imitations, specifically the stones, were referred to "paste".  Paste was the process of using glass with a very high lead content to reflect and refract light mimicking a precious gem.  This light "refraction" look was sought after and achieved when the backs of the stones were "foiled" with a copper or silver underlay. Paste work was as labor intensive and tedious as fine jewelry making, since the entire process was handcrafted.  As a result even paste jewels could only be afforded by the wealthy. These imitation pieces can be just as valuable as fine jewelry to collectors.

Even though collecting antique jewelry of this variety is not reasonable for most, collecting vintage rhinestone jewelry can bring a bit of old fashioned glamour into your life. Beautiful brooches and earrings created from 1920s through the 1940s are highly collectible, and popular designers include Chanel, Coro, Trifari, Weiss, and Schiaparelli, as well as the ever-popular Swarovski; but before you start collecting let’s revisit a bit more history of rhinestone jewelry.

Czechoslovakian or Bohemian Glass

Created as early as the 13th century in Bohemia and the Czech Republic, originally rhinestones where referred to as Czechoslovakian or Bohemian glass. Both countries have a history of outstanding hand blown glass, as well as molded and cut glass. Rhinestones are manmade from highly refined glass. Various metals were used to color the glass to a desired shade. The glass was then pressed into molds before being ground and polished into a brilliant “stone”. Eventually the stones were foiled on the back to increase their brilliance. 

In 1891 Daniel Swarovski created a new glass-cutting machine, literally revolutionizing jewelry making. The machine cut faceted glass, producing a finished product in a short time. Swarovski’s background in glass making, combined with his glass cutting machine, allowed him to produce rhinestones with a lead content of over 30%. The brilliance of these rhinestones was superior to anything previously created. Swarovski then created vacuum plating to foil the backs of the stones with silver and gold reducing the need for hand labor, once again transforming the jewelry industry. Over 80% of rhinestone jewelry currently manufactured in America uses Swarovski rhinestones.

The 1890s was a time for extravagant jewelry heavily adorned with rhinestones.  Eventually jewelry designs became simpler, and figural shapes, smaller and more elegant, made a fashion statement with their rhinestone accents. Around 1918 Czechoslovakian glass began to make its appearance as jewelry. This strain of Czech glass became known as rhinestones. Since that time rhinestones have played an important role in fashion. During the Victorian period common motifs for jewelry included snakes, flowers, and hands, often adorned with rhinestones. During the Edwardian period extravagance made a comeback with diamonds and pearls being the focal point, and although they never completely disappeared it was a while until rhinestones once again became popular.

During the 1920s fashions changed quickly. Dresses became looser and less restraining. Two distinct styles occurred during this era – the feminine style and the androgynous style. American jewelry from the 1920s obviously drew on the Art Deco period. Up until this time the majority of rhinestone jewelry had been made with clear rhinestones; as the 1920s progressed jewelry again became more dramatic in color and style.

During the 1930s the Depression changed everything.  Inexpensive rhinestone jewelry could be used to revitalize an old outfit and bring a little sparkle to hard times. The industry began to produce bright colored enamel pieces accented with rhinestones. Dogs, birds, and cats with a rhinestone eye were common. The jewelry of the 1940s once again became big and bold and large stones set on bold settings became the norm.

The 1950s could almost be considered the Golden Age of rhinestone jewelry.  During this era rhinestone jewelry makers were able to copy write their designs, solidifying the art of jewelry making as an "art form". There were two distinct styles – elegant and sophisticated for the more mature woman, casual and fun for the younger woman.  Rhinestone parures again became popular. In 1953 the aurora borealis rhinestone was introduced to the market and was an immediate sensation.

In the early 1960s women were still wearing functional clothing, but the late 1960s gave rise to hippie fashions with their roots tied to Mother Nature. Tie-dyed shirts, long flowing skirts, and frayed jeans were everywhere. Bohemian comes to mind, but this generation had little interest in rhinestone jewelry. In the late '70s the punk look was born and the rhinestone was once again revitalized. Since then rhinestones have remained mainstream in the jewelry world.

Czech Machine Cut Rhinestones

As previously mentioned, a majority of rhinestone jewelry manufactured in America makes use of Swarovski rhinestones. There are a number of collectors who prefer Czech machine cut rhinestones. These lead crystal rhinestones generally have 8 facets. At distances, these stones flash brighter than do Swarovski, and because of great presence and lower cost, are favorites of many costumers.  Czech rhinestones are known to have a quality quite comparable to Swarovski and are often preferred because they are less expensive without a noticeable quality difference.

Collecting Vintage Jewelry

You don't have to be an antique dealer or a fashionista to collect vintage jewelry. Good advice for any type of collector is: if you like it, buy it. Vintage pieces can be found at tag sales, estate auctions, on E-bay, or from other collectors. Vintage jewelry has become quite popular and the Internet is an invaluable resource for finding pieces as well as educating yourself about styles and collectiblity.

Amazing Adornments ( is a good place to start. This website offers solid advice on collecting and identifying vintage pieces.  They also offer items for sale that run the gamut of designers, from older collectibles like Trifari or Weiss to modern designers such as Vera Wang or Oscar de la Renta.

Another wonderfully informative website focused on collecting vintage jewelry is Illusion Jewels ( Most artisans marked their jewelry in some fashion, and it was not uncommon for designers to have more than one "mark".  Illusion Jewels is a thoroughly researched, comprehensive website for jewelry history, jewelry marks, and signatures.

One of the largest current sellers of costume jewelry in the United Sates is arguably Avon. The company began as the California Perfume Company (CPC). Started by David H. McConnell in 1886, within a year there were twelve saleswomen selling perfume and toiletries door to door.  The company quickly grew and in January of 1929 the Avon Company was born with the introduction of the Avon line.

"Avon Calling" became the firms slogan and their products were sold directly to homes by Avon representatives. Visit Avon Collectable Jewelry for comprehensive introduction to Avon's vintage jewelry (

Finally, a quick guide to dating vintage and antique jewelry can be found at the popular blogspot, Collecting Vintage Jewelry (

As with any personal interest, the more we know about what we collect, the more we can enjoy it. Whether you find your vintage jewelry on E-Bay, at an estate sale, or in your grandmother's jewelry box, or perhaps decide to start with more modern pieces, making a personal statement with a unique piece of jewelry is always in style.


Glam For Less,
Amazing Adornments,
Illusion Jewels,

Photo Credits:
Amazing Adornments, Illusion Jewels

Friday, February 12, 2010

Milk Paint: Environmentally Safe

Milk Paint is regaining wide usage because it contains only ingredients that are all-natural and will not harm the environment; milk paint is truly a "green paint". Up until the discovery of petroleum and the introduction of toxic chemicals paints were created using natural ingredients such as: linseed oil, lime, casein from milk, turpentine, citrus oils, chalk, and hemp oil.

The formula for milk paint was simple to make and for thousands of years was used throughout the world. Over time different recipes and pigments were tried producing varying results; many of these coatings proved durable while others disintegrated, leaving only a permanent stain on the painted surface. Various recipes included substances such as: olive oil, linseed oil, eggs, animal glue, or waxes.

The oldest painted surfaces on earth were created with forms of milk paint. Cave drawings and paintings were made with a simple composition of milk, lime, and natural earth or vegetative pigments. When King Tutankhamen's tomb was opened in 1924 artifacts, including models of boats, people, and furniture inside the burial chamber, had been painted with milk paint. Until World War II, many Americans still painted houses and furniture with it.

Although major paint manufacturers are now producing more environmentally friendly paints, a good majority of them can still contain hazardous substances. VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) belong to a family of chemicals that evaporate quickly and leave an undesirable odor, such as toluene, xylene and formaldehyde, and are main components of modern day paint. They are toxic to humans, particularly children or the elderly, as well as toxic to the environment.

Old-Fashioned Furniture Paint

In the "old" days farmers often used milk as the base for their paint. Any milk that was not consumed could be mixed with some sort of color additive and used as paint. It was once common for household furniture to be painted in this way. Since they had to use regular milk, which was quite thin, for their paint, colored earth and lime would be used to make the paint thicker and to give it some texture. Using powdered milk can control the thickness and texture of today’s milk paint. The directions below explain how it's done.

The pioneer recipes for milk paint had two things in common: milk and lime. Together they form a natural binding agent. Color can be added with any natural substance (rust, berries etc.), water soluble dye, food coloring, or pigments found at arts or crafts stores. Classic red barns are most likely the result of an abundance of milk and the availability of red pigments in the form of rust (iron oxide). Livestock blood was also added to milk to produce blood paint. You can use the recipe below to make your own batch of Milk Paint.

Basic Milk Paint
This recipe makes approximately 1.5 Gallons Milk Paint: good for a bureau or larger project. Cut recipe in half for chair or smaller project.

1 Gallon Skim Milk
2 Cups Builders Lime also called Hydrated Lime (Do NOT use Quick Lime)
One Quart Boiled Linseed Oil
1/2 Cup of Salt
Add color in as needed.

1. First of all, choose a container with a tight-fitting lid. A wide mouth jar works best, but just about any jar will do. Determine how much paint will be blended and choose container accordingly.

2. Begin by measuring Skim Milk into the container. Add salt and lime in small amounts, mixing steadily until all the powder disappears. Don't worry about lumps at this point; continue stirring until the mixture begins to thicken. What makes milk paint so different from more common products is the fact that milk paint is water based. Oil and latex based paints are much thicker than milk paint; keep this in mind as you blend your batch.

3. Add color additives to achieve the desired shade. If other types of natural colorings are desired, check the Internet for lists of various plants suitable for this use. Mix well. Strain if necessary (this is preferred), or you can let sit until lumps rest at bottom of container and use only the paint at the top of the container.

4. The paint will be ready for use immediately. When painting on wood surfaces or furniture, treat it like any other paint. The coloring can often permanently stain clothing that comes in contact with it before it has had time to dry thoroughly, so be careful. Milk paint has a short shelf life, so it makes sense to mix small batches, ideally just enough for your current project. Any leftover paint can be sealed and refrigerated for 3 or 4 days only. Allow the paint to return to room temperature before using again.

If you prefer to use a pre-packaged milk paint products Gallagher’s Milk Paint ( offers 1 oz. Sample sizes.  They offer a brochure and other literature in each “sample kit”. Their samples are packaged as powder and pre-colored.  All you have to do is add water.


Choose a good quality, polyester or natural bristle brush. Dip the dry brush into water before starting, and then shake out the excess. Wetting the brush helps prevent paint drying in the upper part of the bristles. The first coat won't flow on as easily as you might expect. Let this first coat dry, it will probably be somewhat transparent and full of overlaps.

Before the second coat lightly rub down the surface with steel wool, a kitchen scouring pad, or even very lightly with fine sandpaper. After applying the desired number of coats, give the whole thing a good rubbing with steel wool (#000) then vacuum off the dust. You are now ready for oil.

An easy standard oil blend is boiled linseed oil cut with a little turpentine, a mixture of about 6 to 1 respectively. The turpentine is used as a drying agent. Spread the oil mixture on liberally with a foam brush. When everything is coated, go over those areas that have dried. Let it sit for a few minutes then touch up the dry areas once more. Give it another half-hour or so then wipe away all the excess oil. Cheesecloth is good for this, or a similar soft, absorbent cloth, usually available at the grocery store; any lint left behind can be vacuumed away once the piece is completely dried.

Your project will probably smell slightly of turpentine for a few days, but this will dissipate and should be completely dry in about 24 hours. The result will be a traditional matte finish. This type of milk paint/linseed finish is susceptible to water spots. If a spill is wiped up right away there likely will be no problem. But if left to dry, whitish spots will result. These are easily removed with a little oil/turpentine, rubbed in and wiped away.

There are a number of tricks to think about when using milk paint. One favorite among chair makers is to paint a chair with several coats of different colors - the most common sequence being dark green, barn red and black. Eventually wear caused by repeated use will cut through the various colors, creating the look of old paint that is prized by antique collectors.

Milk paint is very environmentally friendly; you can throw old paint on the ground. Of course, caution should be used to prevent paint from getting in the eyes. Burning may occur because of the lime content. Also, wear gloves if you have sensitive skin. Always wash hands thoroughly with water after painting.

A great article was published in Fine Woodworking that offers photos of all the steps required along with some great tips for the beginner.  Visit

Painting with milk is quickly becoming a rediscovered craft, and it still has something to offer people of all ages. It's safe for the environment, affordable, and can be made with common kitchen ingredients. Pull out that old chair or chest of drawers and mix up a batch of milk paint. Save yourself some money and save the environment while reclaiming or creating beautiful, timeless furniture.

The Real Milk Paint Company,