Monthly Archives: January 2013

Lichen Puppet

lichen puppet 1Our after-school program focuses on water and the environment. We all made our own paper mache ball puppets, decorated them with all kinds of recycled materials and now we are going to create, write, re-write and practice, practice, practice our plays. Yes I did learn something from the New England Puppet Intensive last summer.

My puppet is the lichen puppet. Lichens are usually made up of two organisms a fungus and green alga or cyanobacterium  growing together in a symbiotic relationship.

Scott Le GrecaThis puppet was inspired by two things, well one person and one thing. My colleague and friend Scott La Greca that works at the
L. H. Bailey Hortorium Herbarium at Cornell University is a lichen specialist and has introduced me to the wild and unusual world of lichens.

my cathedralThe second reason is that one cool, humid and foggy days the trunks of trees in the Berkshires are alive and glow green with photosynthesis of lichens. Let alone are they making energy, but they seem to create light to the undergrowth. Amazing organisms.

lichens microscopic

“Lichenes” from Ernst Haeckel’s Artforms of Nature, 1904

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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in Art, Berkshire BioBlitz, Children's Art & Science Classes, Nature Curios, Puppets


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Behind the Scenes

This is a guest post written by Mari Provencher with photos from Mari Provencher Photography:

whale skull
As I wander the special collections department of the New York State Museum, I wonder how I’ll explain myself if anyone asks what I’m doing here. The few souls that have wandered through seem unperturbed by the clicking of my camera’s shutter, loud as it is in this cavernous room. The metal cabinets that line every wall and create a labyrinth in its center do little to muffle the sound. No one seems to mind. I’m getting no complaints from the beaver skeletons or taxidermied water buffalo, so I keep going.

buffalooBy all rights, I think to myself, carefully sliding the skeleton of a a red fox towards me, so that its skull properly catches the light, I’m one of the more qualified people to be in here, outside of an actual scientist. My mom’s been working in natural history museums for as long as I can remember, so as a child I cultivated a special kind of awe for those animals that live on after their deaths by letting us study and catalogue them. And I never lost that awe. Today, here at the New York State Museum, I touched a blue whale skull. And all I could think was, “HOW COOL IS THIS?!??!” At some point, that skull was surrounded by flesh. It was thousands of leagues under the ocean, for years and years as the whale matured. It streamed krill. It fought other whales, and sharks, and who knows? Maybe even a giant squid. And somehow, through a myriad of twists and turns and happenstance, that skull and I crossed paths. I may never see it again, but for just one moment, I got to touch something majestic. I got to become a tiny part of its legacy. I also took a photo of it, and I can share that with the world. And in that way, I can help it live on just a little bit longer in the minds of everyone who sees that photo. Not bad for a Tuesday morning.

birds NY state museumAs I meander through another corridor, I find a label I don’t recognize. I twist the handle – quietly – and and open it up to find – to my delight – BIRDS! Taxidermied birds, some on perches, some with tags wrapped around their legs, all crammed carefully into place so as not to waste space. Beady glass eyes of every color stare back at me. They range in size from tiny hummingbirds to lyra birds with their huge tailfeathers. I open the next cabinet to find it stocked full of seagulls. After that, owls and falcons. I even come across a tiny case of baby birds in a nest, necks craned and beaks wide open, begging for food for all eternity. Little do they know that now, their biggest problem is becoming food – for all the tiny, nearly invisible bugs that infuriate every natural history museum.

ungulate skeleton NY state museumAh, dermestids! They may be every museum’s arch nemesis, but that tiny destructive force is indirectly responsible for one of my favorite childhood scents. I think of it as ‘The Smell of Science’, but really, it’s a combination of formaldehyde, moth balls, and all the other unidentifiable chemicals that are used to keep collections intact. You might not see anything appetizing about fifty-five year old taxidermied mountain lion, but to dermestid beetles that’s a feast. Even in my mother’s insect collection at home we have to put in tiny boxes of poison to keep the live bugs at bay. That’s just how nature is.

This cool, silent storage facility has my heart pounding. Exploring it is like a grand scavenger hunt, where every door you open leads to something fascinating in its own right. Not for the first time, I think to myself, why can’t everyone learn like this? High school biology was fun and all, but textbooks don’t give me this kind of rush. (Bill Bryson addresses this problem in his book ‘A Brief History of Nearly Everything’, which I highly recommend.) Why doesn’t everyone get to experience this feeling of togetherness with the world? Sitting among these dusty relics, everything makes so much sense. Humans fit right in here. We may be the ones scurrying away among the stacks, cataloging, organizing, and categorizing, but it’s not in a condescending way. These creatures are all lovingly researched by people who understand their importance and want to give them a legacy. Just as each of us strives for meaning in our own individual lives, so too do the taxidermists and skeletal reconstructionists wish for these animals. When we learn from them, we give them a place in our own history.

So please, I beg you, I implore you, the next time you find yourself at a museum, the next time you find a bone in the woods or a shell on the beach, stop and think of the journeys that brought you both together. Right now, in this moment, you are a part of the world and of history and of a great, big, wild universe.

And how unbelievably cool is that?!

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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in Art, Nature Curios, Uncategorized


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Hot Glass

While I was out in CA I had the opportunity to attend a glass making session at Leaderglass shop in Sonoma. The shop is owned and run by glass artist Alex Leader and run by his business partner Lillian. Here my sister and brother-in-law of Salatino Gandolfo Glass are work with the hot glass like its candy. Its not. Its hot, hot, hot. They make it look easy, but it gets intense as the process moves on. They finished some of the pieces in their cold shop where more sweat and hard work is poured into their art.


glass blowing 12 009glass blowing 12 038glass blowing 12 035glass blowing 12 019glass blowing 12 027

blue glass paper weight
three glass paper weights

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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Art, Nature Curios, Uncategorized


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Hand Puppets

ice balls 027The puppets are done! Next week the kids will be writing and practicing, practicing and practicing their skits for the mini puppet shows about water.

The players will be a dragon, frog, a vampire jelly bean and a bunch of characters that are too complex to explain.

Stay tuned for the show!



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Thinking about Giant Puppets

I couldn’t sleep last night so I set my mind to working on this year’s theme for the Pittsfield 4th of July Parade: America the Beautiful – The Land That I Love.

177826_3753755916056_1901040085_oMy tired brain didn’t come up with any ideas. Last year the theme was Classic Movies and the theme of the city was Moby Dick. The idea was easy. Making a giant Moby Dick puppet, not so easy. There was a lot of designing, experimenting, researching with local folks about appropriate materials. Must say I learned a lot about making big puppets but most of all I learned that people think giant puppets are cool. The folks from the Pittsfield Cultural Commission and Greylock Credit Union carried the leviathan.

While I was building the monster I took the opportunity to listen to Herman Melville‘s book Moby Dick on CD. What a treat, actively learning about local history while making some of my own. I highly recommend the book. Of course it needs to be followed up by at trip to Arrowhead, Melville’s house where he wrote the book, and the book Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund.

Now when I just mention the Moby Dick puppet, eyes go wide, faces light up with the memory , “I saw that in the parade!”

Here is a picture of the model and the final product. Just don’t ask how long it took to make it.

before after

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Posted by on January 24, 2013 in Puppets


Public Access TV Science Show

Public Access TV Science Showtv station 002

We are still looking for a few more students to participate in this pilot program. We have had some intense and exhilarating planning meetings so far.

The current participating students decided the show will focus on native and invasive species of plants and animals. We are working on a list for this season’s show.

If you want to join us you will learn all aspects of television production, including: Audio, lighting, hosting, cameras, producing, directing, graphic design, editing, script and copy writing, acting, interviewing special guest and much more.

We meet at PHS school from 3:15pm to 4:45pm, filming will take place at the school, the TV station or on location. Transportation will be provided.

If you have a taste for adventure like science and are willing to put in some hard work, this is the program for you. See Ms. Vintimilla to sign up.

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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in Berkshire BioBlitz, Children's Art & Science Classes


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Bell Jars and Nature Curiosities

rolling glassJust recently I spent some time as artist in residence at the Salatino Gandolfo Glass studio out on the west coast. What fun. It was great being around artists. Intense in a different way.

mushroom bell jar 001Here are some collaborative pieces we worked on. I convinced Steve Gandolfo and Mike Hanson to make these mini bell jars with stands for my creations. They came out amazing. I want 100 of them! You can buy them at my etsy shop or order to the specific size or style. Just shoot me an email.

The largest are 17 inches high and 16 inches in circumference (not shown). They are hand blown, thick and gorgeous. Not to be confused by the factory made ones that are thin and narrow.

This one has a mushroom diorama made of clay and hand painted nestled in some moss. $175.00

bell jar curios take 4 016

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Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Nature Curios


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