The Terrarium Stories

I have had a terrarium on my desk for about 10 years. It was made by my aunt, Nancy Sonnen, from one of her hand-thrown plates and contains a little chipmunk eraser, a miniature of the Dutch character, Nijntje (a.k.a Miffy), and a Fairburn agate given to me by my Uncle George. When I look at the terrarium, it makes me very happy.

I thought about making a little terrarium to capture the joy of the Anonymous Swimmers project and so I made a tiny replica of the pool with a swimmer in it out of polymer clay. Because it was such a tiny thing – and it was August – I didn’t want to heat up my whole oven so I set my toaster oven to 250 degrees and set the timer for 10 minutes. After about 5 minutes, I smelled the horrible stench of burning plastic and my swimmer was ruined… or was he?

I wondered if maybe I could salvage the piece by painting it or perhaps adding a mushroom cloud? I elected instead to create Shallow Grave: How White Women are Destroying Democracy in response to the fact that 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

It got me thinking: Is it really appropriate to create sweet scenes of little animals and fairies today? Or do we need these precious little environments to help us confront some of the most challenging issues of the day?

Please consider:

Southern Border. There are illegal immigrants of many races and ethnicities but why are the brown people from Mexico and Central America the target of incarcerations? Why are we allowing this? If they were from Ireland and Norway would we be marching in the streets for them? The trauma inflicted by so-called “family separation” is profound and can be life-long. What are YOU doing to stop this?

Thank you to Sara Lukkonen for making the cage used in this piece.

Backyard Dangers. What is more dangerous – the dinosaur looming over the Anonymous Swimmer or the white lady sitting in the chair? Imagine that this swimmer is someone like Al Franken or Louis C.K.?

2.2. We all know about the incarceration of the thousands of asylum seekers from the media reports, but the U.S. also incarcerates more than 2.2 million of its own people. With the advent of private prisons, many of those incarcerated are actually modern-day slaves.

Thank you to Sara Lukkonen for making the cell used in this piece.

The Big, Big Man. Oh he’s so powerful and scary with his big, throbbing gun made of steel. Too bad about the animal but boy was that fun! He’ll look great on the wall.

Syria. The image of the Syrian boy who washed up on the Turkish beach haunts me and is the first thing I think of when I hear the word “Syria.” His name was Alan Kurdi and he was 3 years old. Read more here. By the way, Syria was doing okay despite its complex history prior to a famine. How many more Syrias will there be as our climate continues to change?

Thoughts and Prayers. What is more sinister: a kid with lots of guns? Or religious men in the same vessel as a young boy?

Desnudas. When Mary and I were in New York in June, we walked through Times Square at mid-day and the Desnudas were out doing their thing. 12 Saudi men were lined up across the plaza from them really working their large prayer beads. As we passed between the two groups what Mary noticed was the negative energy they were putting out, not the Desnudas.

The Ring and The TSA. On September 15, 2019 I was given this ring by a wonderful artist named Barbara. We met and became friends in a just a couple of hours at the Edge Designers Tradeshow in New York City.

We had a wonderful conversation and when some buyers arrived at her room, I stuck around to place my own order and finish our conversation. As a thank you for my patience and our new friendship Barbara gave me a treasured piece she had made from her own enamel work, felt and beading as well as a very special doll eye.

She told me that the doll eye was a treasure that she had found in her grandfather’s estate. He had been a young boy during the Holocaust and after the death of his entire family, he wanted to go to America. He was 11 years old and was denied entry. He ended up in Brazil, but he had two desires: one was to make enough money to get to live in America and the other was to return to Dresden to buy these doll eyes. It had great significance to him.

I was so moved by the story, the gift and the significance to me personally having started my wholesale business, Portal Distribution, after purchasing a Winky in Paris so many years ago. The clear, perfect blue eye was such a weird and wonderful complement to the piece she had created. I was filled with love and friendship and was so excited, I posted a photo of the ring online.

The next morning, Phil and I were traveling back to Minnesota and I was wearing the ring. I had to take it off to go through security. I carefully tucked it into my bag.

The TSA agents at Newark airport were in rare form that morning. Phil had badly sprained his ankle and was walking with a cane. Despite my appeal, they made him remove his shoes and shuffle through the body scanner. As I was pleading with the TSA agent to let him through with his shoes, I heard a horrible sound and turned back to see my wonderful ring on the hard, terrazzo floor.

I got Phil settled at the gate before I had the courage to look at what had happened to the ring. To my horror, the eye had survived the bombing of Dresden, but not the TSA at Newark Airport. It has a crack in the bottom portion.

Now the ring will be protected in a terrarium.