Friday, January 30, 2009

Our Lady of Guadalupe

I have a special love for Our Lady of Guadalupe and her story.  I love the synergy of Native American and Old World; and the fact that Mary appeared to someone the Europeans in Colonial Mexico thought of little importance. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to a poor Indian whom the padres had renamed Juan Diego; his birth name was Cuauhtlatohuac.  On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to attend a Mass in honor of The Virgin Mary.  As he passed a hill, a sacred place to the Aztecs, called Tepeyac, he heard beautiful music like the song of summer birds.  A radiant cloud appeared before Juan Diego, and within it, there was a little brown-skinned maiden so like Juan Diego's people, but dressed as an Aztec Princess.  She spoke to him in his own language, not Spanish, and asked him to approach the Bishop of Mexico on Her behalf.  He must ask the Bishop to build a chapel to Mary in the very place where she now appeared before him.

With much difficulty, Juan Diego finally gained the audience of Bishop Juan de Zumarraga, who received him with some skepticism, requiring that Juan Diego ask The Lady for a sign.  Juan Diego, returned home to find his uncle lay dying, and avoided the hill of Tepeyac, in order to care for the old man in peace.

Our Lady of Guadalupe found Juan Diego in his uncle's home, assuring him that the old man would recover, that he should go about getting her the chapel.  Juan Diego repeated to her the Bishop's request for a sign.  Our Lady asked for Juan Diego's cape or tilma, and filled it with roses for him to carry to the bishop.  Again, Juan Diego, an old man himself at 57, trod the long road to Mexico City and the palace of the Bishop.

When Juan Diego opened the tilma, the roses fell to the Bishop's feet.  Bishop Juan Zumarraga sunk to his knees, but it was not to gather the roses, but rather in reverence.  On the tilma, like a photograph, was the image of Mary as she had appeared at the hill of Tepeyac: a maiden of brown skin, dressed as an Aztec Princess.  This anniversary of this date: December 12, 1531, has been celebrated throughout the Americas ever since.  In the 477 years since this miracle, the image on Juan Diego's tilma had not faded.  The image of is on display in the chapel built on the hill as Our Lady requested.

In honor of Juan Diego's tilma full of roses, I have made the Virgin Guadalupe Rose Necklace. May you also know the beauty of roses in the dead of winter, the hope that springs eternal. To see more of this necklace, and my other work, please click on this link.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Saint Valentine's Day

St. Valentine certainly existed in Imperial Rome during the days of the Christian martyrs, but no one knows exactly why he's the namesake of the February holiday, other than his martyrdom on February 14.  

Long having lost its association with the saint, Valentines Day bears little trace of this Christian martyr, beyond the traditional depiction of of the Valentine heart with an arrow through it.  He may have been martyred by a piercing of the heart!  Before his death, matters of the heart were a major concern for Valentine.

The story is that St. Valentine married Christian couples at a time when the Romans forbid this.  This may have something to do with him being the partron saint of engaged couples, lovers, and happy marriages.  

While awaiting his execution in Rome, St. Valentine is storied to have befriended his jailer's blind daughter, and finally restoring her sight.  Legend has it, he penned her a note on the eve of his death, saying, "Farewell, from your Valentine."

I can find no connection with St. Valentine's story and the fact that he is the patron saint of beekeepers.  Maybe that's the source of the tradition of Valentine's Day sweets?

If you wish to celebrate St. Valentine's Day with a gift of a heart, please visit my Heartspace Etsy. I will be thrilled to assist your gift with wrapping, etc.  Go to Heartspace:
and check out the Valentines Section.  Most items are less than twenty dollars with postage!
Wishing you love and every happiness,

Friday, January 23, 2009

Welcome, Dear Readers!

I hope you'll read about  my late sister, Diane Vivell Delevett, below.  In honor of the recent triumph of Barack Obama, to continue to celebrate Martin Luther King Junior and usher in the coming of Black History Month in February, I've written about her work for Civil Rights during the Freedom Summers in Mississippi.  While you're here, I'd love you to click on gadget at left to become a follower of this blog. Please check out my amazing rose-eating cat on this blog:
Wishing you every happiness,

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Happy MLK Day: Remembering an Unknown Saint

We are all grateful for saintly men, like Martin Luther King Junior, because of their passion, courage and willingness to serve.  We can never repay these heroes enough for the sacrifices they make for us. Though unknown to most, my sister, Diane, who died in 1997 of cancer, was a saint  in my life and quite a few others.  Considering her devotion to Martin Luther King Jr.'s cause, I can't help but wonder if she's turning somersaults in heaven on the eve of this historic Inauguration Day.  She was always profoundly political and deeply aware of injustice.

Twelve years my senior and, as they say, a hard act to follow: Diane was as beautiful an inward person as she was outwardly (at only 12 years she was offered a screen test to play Elizabeth Taylor as a child!)  But she was not just a hero to me, she was a mini hero in the early Civil Rights Movement, one of the many college students who went summer after summer to Mississippi in the early 60's to participate in non-violent struggle for justice inspired, largely, by Martin Luther King Junior and other African Americans in leadership.  

She and several of her friends were given the task of riding into small Mississippi towns, dressed in their Sunday best: hats and white gloves were not optional.  They would rent a highly visible car and park in front of African American churches, where they would attend for worship.  What's so courageous about that, you might ask?

My sister and her student friends associated closely with African Americans who were known to be Civil Right's workers, according to the Klan enough of an offense to compel them to kill three male student Civil Rights Workers just months before.  And three little girls were murdered in a church bombing, just prior to Diane's arrival in Mississippi.  

No one knew if young white women attending a black church would be a deterrent to more bombings, but my sister and her cohorts were willing to take the chance that they could help their African American brothers and sisters worship in relative security.  When I see photos or documentaries about the Freedom Summers my sister participated in, I see no college women dressed in hats and gloves on their way to church.  

The young white people I see are famous icons such as Joan Baez or Bob Dylan, who spent comparatively little time in the south, but must have garnered much needed publicity for the cause when they joined marches and protests.  Women walking into church arm in arm with their black cohorts are hardly as interesting as Bobbie and Joanie leading everyone in singing "We Shall Overcome" as police aim the fire hoses at protesters.  The behind-the-scenes heroes go forgotten and many have died or are reaching old age.

Now we celebrate new heroes, especially a new one, who is largely untested and yet is riding on the hopes and dreams of our troubled country. We are on the eve of the Inauguration of Barack Obama!  My sister, alas, is not alive to see this milestone, for which she is indirectly responsible by way of her small but not too small acts of heroism.  

There are so many unsung heroes in the struggle for human rights all over the world and Martin Luther King Day is a wonderful day to thank them by some act of service, however small, especially if it might even slip by the radar unnoticed.  But on any given day these small acts accumulate to tip the balance toward hope and reconciliation in this country and worldwide.  A small act will not only change your world; it might change your life.

My sister went on to become an attorney and worked for justice behind the scenes for The Equal Rights Amendment, and for rural poor and farm workers through California Rural Legal Assistance.  She once had the dubious honor of debating Conservative activist Phyllis Schafly over the Equal Rights Amendment in Saint Louis, Missouri. 

But above all, Diane was an angel to me: an encourager, a wise friend, an advocate for my best interests and a person of great joie de vivre. I believe she was as imperfect as the rest of us, just as Martin Luther King was, and Barack Obama  most probably is.  The difference between the average person and a hero or saint -- is not perfection, but the willingness to act in courageous love before perfection is achieved.  All this for the higher good. . .

I will celebrate this day by bringing food and warm clothing to my local Neighborhood House, a resource for people in need.  Have you an idea to celebrate MLK Day?

(All creative content copyright by Claire Nail 2009)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Who are Your Saints and Sages?

There is something mysterious about those who've gone before and blazed the trail for us. My Native American brothers and sisters call them the Grandfathers and Grandmothers, the Elders who now walk the Sky Road. The Native peoples of Tamasklit say that when one dies, his stories die also. This mystery is one that attracts and intrigues me. I want to know the old stories before they are lost.

We remember the stories of the saints and sages and retell them. The stories of those who came before have power for us. Sometimes, simply hearing the story of a saint's travail and triumph will empower us to overcome. For example, think of the icon Martin Luther King Junior has become for all who strive for a Dream against great odds.

In the form of an altar or a piece of jewelry worn close to the heart, the images of saints and sages remind us that we are following in the footsteps of the great ones who have experienced much the same hardships, joys and sorrows as we have. The reason these saints and sages are remembered and revered is because they bore the hardships, celebrated the joys and grieved the sorrows with remarkable grace and intention. Some promised to pray for us even after death.

Who are the saints and sages that inspire you? They don't have to be official canonized saints. I for one, am among the devout admirers of the late Fred Rogers, creator of the beloved misterogers show for young children. Each one of us know persons who inspired us as young people and still do. To commemorate such a person I made the altar of the old woman, in the photos above. It is very hard to photograph these, but I think you can imagine that they're better in person. (Like so many of us)

This little box is about the size of a book and my friend who owns it can carry it with her. She mostly keeps it in her art studio, where she paints beautiful pictures of flowers, remembering the lively friend of her grandmother who took her on nature walks in New England.

This is the most gratifying thing I've ever done, to help others commemorate the wonderful people and archetypes that have shaped their lives. And in making the altar pieces I get to be present with the stories my clients tell me, which is a very beautiful experience of which I never tire.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

In Need of a Small Miracle. . .and Some Patience

Today my husband Jim lost his job.  It would be easier if I had work, because they suddenly fired him today, and he hadn't a chance to go looking to bridge the gap more gracefully.  Yes, it's the same old story that is being told all over the country.  I don't suppose it's even interesting enough to get people to follow my blog to find out what's next for us.

I'm confident that we can get through this, because we are graced with wonderful family, friends and as I mentioned in my other blog, a dear little cat who is presently chewing on the knobs of Jim's stereo.  (See her picture above: her name is Xochi.)

It's precisely her mischief that relieves my stress somewhat.  She is so unconcerned, so innocent of the big change in our material situation.  As far as she knows, everything is as it was, and so it may be, in the bigger picture.  We are alive and still under a warm roof.  Today we had omelets and toast for dinner: delicious.  There is one more paycheck and a little money in the bank

Like our country and our world, we're in need of miracles and patience to ride out this storm.  I will continue to post in my Etsy store and make more and more economies, as we try to make the savings stretch over the time till new work comes our way.  I may end up making these postings from the public library if we need to cancel keep reading.  It means so much to me to write.

I do pray that some of you, the ones who like pretty little things might take a look at my Etsy store and if you see something you need, give me your business.  It will feel like a sign that all shall be well in time.  In the meantime, I am learning to be patient.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why I Make the Altars

As a teenager I lived in Spain and visited the cathedrals and churches. It was there that my love of religious iconography was born. I especially loved the niches that held beautiful images of Mary, as a maiden and as a grieving mother.  

At Easter time in Seville I stood transfixed as a beautiful Madonna was carried down the street as the culmination of a Good Friday parade.  To signify tears, someone had applied pearls to her cheeks, the bodice of her blue gown and her skirts.  To add to the splendor, through the rod iron bars of a monastery window, a young woman about to become a nun sang Mary's ancient song of mourning.  What a spectacle!

All too Baroque, maybe -- Gothic, certainly, but all the same the scene of the figures in purple robes and hoods carrying their Madonna and the unearthly soprano of the young nun are etched in my memory.  I can remember that I felt as if I had risen from the ground, it was all so stunning.  From then on, I began to study religious imagery in earnest.  But I never dreamed I would every become an iconographer of sorts.

It wasn't till a recent trip to New Mexico that I began to wonder if I might make such images of my own. I am not an artist with a capital "A"but I love to make art.  I would never presume to think I could capture anything living up to the spectacles in Seville. But the rough innocence of the Spanish Colonial religious icons there helped me see that one did not need to be a Murillo, Velasquez or Dali to create heartfelt pieces celebrating the HOLY.  I came home with an itch to make some santos of my own.

My first piece was a flash of inspiration after breaking a lovely Ukrainian Easter Egg that a dear friend had brought me after a journey to Eastern Europe.  I had only had it a few hours and as I made my way to put it away, dropped it and smashed it.  There seemed to be nothing to do but to throw it away.  I couldn't bring myself to do this, though.  I was very angry at myself and thought about how so many things (tangible and intangible) I had lost in life through foolish, clumsy mistakes.  

No longer able to live with the self scolding, I said a prayer of asking: how can I redeem this poor little egg? I thought, "If only there were an Angel of Broken Things." Then I decided to create this angel with the pieces of broken egg.  I will post a photo of this first altar, not because it's particularly good, but because it was such fun to have transformed a broken bit of disappointment into art.  

That is why I make the altars, to create sacred space and transform objects into stories that mean far more than the images look at first glance.  Not great art, not masterpieces, but heartfelt and healing.  What is broken in your life?  Ask the Angel of Broken Things to inspire you to transform and heal.

Monday, January 5, 2009


It's not easy being green.  This little heart pendant sat in my bead box ignored, until I thought about how important being green has finally become to the populace.  At last, we finally realize that the way we treat the earth has an affect on everything else.  This little heart could be a reminder to do one thing each hour that TAKES CARE OF THE GREEN PLANET. Ideas:
  1. Use a real mug instead of a disposable cup at work?
  2. Reuse that envelope to write a grocery list or phone message?
  3. Walk or take the bus somewhere instead of the car? Then you don't need the gym membership...
Send a Valentine to the Earth: reuse magazines, etc to collage a personal valentine to your friend or lover, and recycle the paper you don't use.

And when you're thinking of buying a Valentine gift, maybe bypass the mall and check out all the starving artists' work on etsy. I'd be honored if you checked out mine. There's a link on this page. THANKYOU.
(Please, scroll down to read about custom made altars.)