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So, You Want to Be a Pro Artifcter? Fresh Tips!
The Arti Community is full of inspiration. From the Artifcts shared to the discussions we have during Arti Events, here are some of the bright ideas circulating lately to help you Artifct.

Location is really flexible. Really.

Because you can write anything you want for "Location" in your Artifct and it’s always private, people use it creatively. A home organizer said her clients use this field to indicate future location of items, e.g. to donate, sell, dispose, or pass along to friends or family. A genealogist said he uses Location to indicate the file path/folder where he stores related materials to a specific Artifct, such as 100s—truly, 100s—of photos and documents.

Voicemails are trending.

You can include voicemails as a featured media file or as a document only you can access. One gentleman told us he’s Artifcted the voicemails he’s been saving for years on his phone, including a message from his daughter before she deployed in the US Navy. Life moments captured forever in the voice of loved ones.

You can of course create your own voice messages to include with Artifcts. Check out our tips if you need help!

Downsizers unite!

The spring moving season has seen a lot of people turn to Artifcts as they prepare to move, relocate, and/or downsize. People are Artifcting items that have sentimental value but either no functional value or not enough space in their new home to make the cut. They keep the memories safe in Artifcts while parting with the 'stuff,' saving them moving costs and precious square footage.

Access our downsizing, moving, and organizing tips here.

The pictured Artifcts below were shared with us by an Arti Community member who is in the midst of his downsizing journey. Click the propeller to view the Artifct.

Artifct of Propellers from Art Arfons' Garage Artifct of Budejovicky Shred Bucket Artifct of 1978 Battlestar Galactica Action Toy

So much better than a baby book.

For our final tip today, we turn to several of our youngest 20-something Arti Community members who have told us that they use Artifcts to capture what they may otherwise forget - a bouquet from a recital, original artwork, that college acceptance letter, and more. Forgetting is not about being a specific age. Life's busy and disorganized. We all forget!

One of our members told us that she wishes her mother had Artifcts when she was younger so she'd have a virtual baby book of all her firsts and special moments. In her words, "Artifct when you're still young so you have a lifetime of memories when you're older."

Below is a snapshot of an Artifct created by our co-founder Ellen related to her high school graduation. One Artifct can cover a lot of ground!

Artifct of Wrightstown High School Graduation materials
 

Happy Artifcting!

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Beauty + Resilience Through Ceramics

Meet Valentina Ferrada Aguilar, a ceramic artist, jewelry designer, and founder of Chercán Project. Valentina is originally from Santiago, Chile, but recently relocated to Washington, DC. She is deeply passionate about creating and teaching and finds daily inspiration in nature’s resiliency and beauty. 

Valentina’s path to becoming a ceramic artist and jewelry designer was anything but typical. She studied journalism for three years but felt something was lacking, so she quit journalism and took up the arts. 

Her first ceramics course under the industrial design program she enrolled in did not go so well. In her own words, “I failed it.”  So what did she do? She registered for a second course, and through this course met a professor and mentor in one who taught her everything she knows. But, maybe more importantly, according to Valentina, “He really inspired me to do what I love.”  

Ceramics flourished from hobby to business as she began experimenting with making smaller ceramic pieces using her father’s old (and very small) kiln. A classmate asked her if she could create some ceramic jewelry, and well, the rest is history. In Valentina’s mind, all these pieces came together at exactly the right time—access to the kiln, a great mentor, and an interested “client.” 

Valentina launched Chercán Project as part of her thesis in 2018. In Spanish, chercán means wren, and Valentina tells the story of a small wren she once observed, working day in and day out to make a nest for her eggs. One day, the nest was destroyed, but that did not stop this wren. She went right back to work, building a new nest.  

"That wren and his story resonated a lot with me because that's exactly how I felt when my mom died a few years ago. I felt like I lost everything, but I got back up for her. Everything that inspires me is also from my mother. For what I saw in me reflected in this resilient wren. It’s beautiful.”  

That wren and his story resonated a lot with me because that's exactly how I felt when my mom died a few years ago. I felt like I lost everything, but I got back up for her

Valentina sees herself in the story of the wren and tries to capture the same resilience in each piece that she designs for the collection. Take her tulip earrings, for example. The tulip comes up each spring after enduring a long, cold winter. It’s resilient. (Fun fact: Valentina’s favorite flowers are tulips, and she had a tulip bouquet at her wedding. You can read more about the earrings here.)  

The collection also includes  sun and moon earrings, representing the resiliency of our universe. According to Valentina, “I am very struck by the fact that everything in our universe is perfectly and calculatedly designed, and everything has a balance, and these earrings represent that, the balance, day and night, Yin and Yang, light and darkness, etc. 

The entirety of her art is in fact a tribute to resilience. As Valentina notes, it takes a lot of practice to make such small pieces. A lot of fails too. “Fail to fail to fail to succeed.” At the start, Valentina would make 100 earrings to achieve 20 perfect earrings. It was that powerful mix of frustrating and rewarding.  

"Ceramics itself is so unpredictable. You have the paint, and the glaze, but you can’t see how it is going to look until it comes out of the kiln. You have to cross your fingers and say, ‘See you in two days!’” 

“I never thought that I’d end up at this point in the project. I always had this feeling that I wanted to create my own business, never thought it would be so soon. I also thought it would be easier. I love it though. I can create my own stuff, and I love it when people see my artwork and they get excited about it, or they can relate to it. I think it’s the most beautiful thing when you give jewelry, and they feel pretty and happy.” 

So where does Valentine see herself in the future? She would love to have her work featured in a museum. She would also love to stay in DC a while and watch her business grow up. If (or when) she goes back to Chile, she would like to teach and one day establish a community arts workshop like the Capitol Hil Arts Workshop (CHAW) on Captial Hill. In her own words, “I’d love to create my own Chilean CHAW. Inspire people of all ages to be artists and help them incorporate the arts into their lives.”  

You can view Valentina’s collection of Artifcts here and more of her work at Chercán Project 

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Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me a Map

Not all maps are created equal, I think on this point we will all soon agree!

Stepping into my converstaion with mapmaker Ken Czarnomski, I thought he was an artist, specializing in maps. And not just any maps. Maps accurate according to GPS, but also humanized by way of incorporating natural landmarks, informal trails (human and animal), and remarkable vistas.

But Ken instead considers himself a “broad stroke naturalist”—meaning that he knows enough to get himself into trouble, so to speak, but is not a specialist in any particular species (insects, grasses, flowers, etc.)—who happens to make maps. Ken borrows from his background in architecture and his learnings in natural sciences to consider for each map he designs what would appeal and engage regular people like us.

The truth is that Ken's maps mean a healthy life for him, too. “If I can’t hike one day, I can still go in, even if at a shuffle rate.” The region of Western North Carolina where Ken resides outside Waynesville makes this statement all the more practical, because the Smoky Mountains are ranked as the most biodiverse in the United States. With over 1,900 species in just a quarter mile stretch, a person can encounter 30 and even upwards of 50 unique species of flowering plants.

That’s lucky since the “what” people are interested in is always a surprise to Ken. For some, it might be flowers. Others may only want to learn more about the trees. Still others are there to learn about mushrooms or salamanders. Western North Carolina accommodates!

And just where did his artistic talents spring from? Ken shared with us that before he developed his cartography skills, he painted. He preferred organic natural themes in watercolor and ink. His largest work was usually 24" x 36," but he has smaller works in sketch pad size. Sometimes he would produce and sell his watercolors while traveling. His passion for art and fieldwork, in fact, used to make him late routinely for his university classes. Tsk, Tsk!

Birth of a Mountain painting from 1969

Later, as Ken turned from his formal career as an architect, his global explorations brought him into the world of maps. Hiking in Ireland back country in 2012, local park rangers and ecologists kept pulling him off course to see areas beyond the usual tourist haunts, and he found himself thinking, “Wouldn't it be great if others had access to the data that could safely lead them to see the world beyond the usual?” So, Ken took a fresh look, with an open mind, at how he could make this happen in the area where he lived, and his first map was born.

 

Just pause a moment and think about the map shown belown. It’s functional and beautiful. Now think about the type of maps you might be more accustomed to when you stay at a resort or hotel or rely on generic maps on your GPS. It’s functional - surely you won’t get lost. But does it grab your attention, invoke curiosity, and invite exploration?

Illustrated map of the Swag, with vignettes of related scenery The Swag, Google Maps street view

Ken’s maps take weeks to layout and still more to illustrate, even with his use of software tools for data and design. Just take a close look at the vignettes embedded in the maps and you’ll understand - there is so much to enjoy!

Painting of the Great Smoky Mountain Elk     Painting of a Summer Garden

Click a vingette to view its Artifct

For each map, Ken goes out to first experience the site and engage with local environmentalists who might guide him to a location or sketch out important features to explore. How else can he produce an experience in 2D that’s not only beautiful, but also savvier than a simple machine or Google Map?

At the end of the day, you might guess correctly, this is a work of passion. Ken’s lucky in this work and plans to continue it for years to come. “I guarantee I’m never bored. I’m always seeing something new."

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Former CIA Officer Tackles Genealogical Puzzles and Dead-Ends

Since founding the company, Ellen and I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some extraordinary individuals—artists, creators, storytellers, fashion designers, and even map makers! That said, it’s not often we meet a fellow CIA analyst turned entrepreneur. 

Ellen and I met Lisa Maddox, Founder of Family History Intelligence (FHI) early on in our journey with Artifcts, and saw an immediate fit between Artifcts and FHI. We couldn’t help but think about all that family “stuff” as we listened to Lisa talk about the families she has worked with and the histories she has helped them uncover from decades—and sometimes even centuries—ago. 

Sure enough, families, “stuff,” and histories go hand in hand. Whether it is a collection of old letters from the turn of the century or long forgotten Civil War artifacts. Those objects all represent lives lived, histories told, and the very essence of what it is to be us, to be alive. 

I sat down with Lisa for a casual conversation last month and wanted to share with you more about what makes FHI unique as it helps families preserve their legacy.  

Heather Nickerson: What led you to make the leap from CIA analyst to entrepreneur? 

Lisa Maddox: I worked at the CIA because of its mission and the powerful, impactful contributions of that work. After a successful career there, I wanted to be my own boss, determine my own career path, apply those hard-earned skills, and continue to work on issues of value. Starting my own family history business encompassed all those desires. One additional influential factor was my mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The prospect of watching my mother lose her memories impressed upon me the importance of family and our histories.  

Nickerson: How have your analyst skills come into play with family history? 

Maddox: As an intelligence officer, I often analyzed issues with information gaps and misleading data. I applied rigorous analytical techniques to overcome information gaps and understand the context and environment surrounding the subject matter. When I lacked sufficient data, I came up with innovative ways to study the issue and collect additional information. This analysis and collection approach has enabled me to tackle genealogical puzzles and dead-ends. I go beyond what a traditional genealogist would do. My work in terrorism targeting also had direct application to finding and mapping out client’s ancestors. Finally, my attention to good versus bad sources has provided a natural advantage in my genealogy research.  

I go beyond what a traditional genealogist would do.

Nickerson: Respecting your client's privacy of course, could you share with us some favorite stories of things you've discovered in your research? 

Maddox: One of my favorite projects involved discovering information about my client's father’s arrest and brief placement in a Japanese internment camp after the Pearl Harbor attack. The research spanned numerous National Archives’ holdings, prompted me to ask friends throughout the country for help, and thankfully ended up uncovering the FBI case file!

Another memorable project included the discovery of a client’s ancestors in Hungary. We thought that we had hit a brick wall, because Hungarian records are not easily accessible and language barriers presented significant challenges. This was an important moment for my business, because I didn’t accept those limitations and found a way to proceed. Employing my intelligence officer skills, I established Hungary-based contacts and facilitated on-the-ground research, which uncovered data about several more generations for this client. It was amazing!   

Nickerson: What is most challenging about your work? 

Maddox: I have found marketing to be the most challenging aspect of running my own business. After a 15-year career where I sought to draw attention away from my job and work, I have struggled to feel comfortable talking about my work and selling my services. 

Nickerson: What do you wish people knew or better understood about genealogical research? 

Maddox: I wish people understood the limitations in discovering information about more recent ancestors and family members. Clients often ask for details about their parents or even grandparents, not understanding that privacy restrictions hinder availability of information; for example, 1950 census data just became publicly available. 

Nickerson: In your experience, what is the primary motivation for someone to contact you for help with their family history research? 

Maddox: There are two driving reasons most clients contact me. One, the client seeks to discover and then preserve the family legacy for generations to come. They want the family to ask questions and discuss their heritage before it’s too late and the elder generation’s input can no longer be accessed. Two, the client wants to give the ultimate sentimental gift to their loved one (spouse, parent, or grandparent). It’s the gift of knowledge and understanding your history.  

It’s the gift of knowledge and understanding your history

Nickerson: You know all about Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help you in your work with your clients? 

Maddox: Artifcts' approach to understanding and preserving the stories associated with sentimental objects and possessions is an interrelated service that could naturally be woven into FHI ancestor narratives. I’ve written stories about ancestors who fought in battles and then discovered that the client’s family still possesses that old weapon, uniform, or keepsake from a battle. Embedding an Artifct would enhance the story and our understanding of our ancestors and their experiences.   

< End of interview >

We know that when it comes to our personal lives and histories “someday” often turns into never or maybe simply too late. We hope you will think about those pieces of you that should be Artifcted and archived to pass to friends and family and future generations before it’s too late. Take it one object at a time. If you get stuck, see if some of our partners and membership organizations can help you!

Interested in uncovering the origins of your family history? You can reach out to Lisa at Family History Intelligence to start the conversation. 

Photos are provided by Family History Intelligence and designed by The Scout Guide in Alexandria, VA.

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Bonus Epilogue: Lessons From Artifcting With My Mother

Whether your parents were cleaning out their basement, or you were reclaiming bins of childhood memories of your own volition, maybe you have also stumbled upon heirlooms that made you go, "Hmmm?" Enjoy this short epilogue to this week's ARTIcles story Five Lessons From Artifcting With My Mother. We hope it makes you smile.

I'm not much of a collector, certainly not a hoarder. And yet guess what I found in my mish-mash dresser drawer - teeth. An uncontained, random assortment of Violet's baby teeth.

random baby tooth in a drawer

Before you rush to judgment, hear me (and surely other parents!) out.

Far too often I would lay down to sleep only to bolt up with the, "Agh! I'm the tooth fairy!" realization. I’d rush out to contrive something clever to swap for the tooth she'd lost, usually a dollar coin or a paper dollar folded origami style into a heart. Then I'd toss the tooth in said drawer to avoid her finding it in the trash or elsewhere and promptly forget about it after drifting to sleep.

Now, those Victorians knew a thing or two about saving hair and teeth. But we are not in Victorian times. I even understand the idea of going off on a trip or to even war and bringing a lock of hair with for luck or remembrance. But I am genuinely curious as to why so many people choose to keep these human relics in modern times, a trend I assume exists because companies exist to help us transform them into jewelry, framed wonders, and more.

Even my mother saved locks of hair I had cut off as a child.
Envelope marked in pencil with description of hair locks inside
Upon discovery, I Artifcted it (here - or click the image above), and promptly tossed it, or, if you prefer, "decluttered" and let it go. No judgement whatsoever on my mom, but for me it was a hard, "No."

I would beseech anyone who keeps hair or teeth as heirlooms to Artifct them. Why did you keep them? What memories do they evoke? Will you be heartbroken and haunt the living if they one day choose to let go of them because they see them as trash not heirlooms? My mom gave me free rein to do as I pleased with my locks of hair, but not everyone may feel the same.

If you have questions along the way, contact us here at Hello@Artifcts.com and we’ll be happy to help you jump into the Arti Life.
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Five Lessons From Artifcting With My Mother

I recently spent a few days back home in rural Wisconsin Artifcting with my mother. And guess what, we're still on speaking terms! I’m not a minimalist, but I do like to keep control of how much stuff is in my small home. Otherwise, I feel like it just zaps my mental energy. My mom is more sentimental and tends to hold onto things “just in case” so our styles can … clash. (Or at least seem to. Read a-ll the way to the end.)

Living in a 100+ year old farmhouse for the last 40+ years means that my parents have had a lot of time to accumulate and collect a delightful array of 'stuff.' As I'd hold up another object, open another drawer, or pull out still more boxes, the common refrain from my mother was, "I just set that aside to deal with another time." Sound familiar?

As a business owner and an adult child (and now parent myself), you can imagine I took a lot of mental notes along the way as we Artifcted together. I asked my mom for her notes, too, and am sharing our combined insights here to help you as you organize, declutter, downsize, or simply take a pause to reminisce and Artifct along the way. 

Two quick points before we dive in. For context, my mom did not have items pulled out ready to Artifct, because my visit was a surprise. I had a list I wanted to ask about – and we did work through it! – but we started working in my parents’ old bedroom, which they now use for storage. We had plenty of boxes, bags, closets, cedar chests and more to work with. Also, we Artifcted on mobile, iPad, and laptop to find the format that my mom liked best. Verdict: iPad.  

handwritten list of objects on notepad

Lesson #1. Know your goal.

My parents are not moving anytime soon. And the two of them occupy very little square footage in their home. There is no immediate need to get rid of anything. So, what then was our goal? Honestly, I wanted to start to become a bit more aware of which objects in my parents’ home had hidden meaning to them. My dad was more interested in a bit of clean out. My mom just wanted to spend time together, Artifcting. She said, “It’s fun to enjoy the process and remember along the way. You have to think, 'Hmm, why did I keep this thing?'” What this meant then was that as long as we created a few Artifcts together and had some recycling, trash, and donations to show for our time, we would please everyone. 

What and how much you want to Artifct is a key question, too, for us when the Artifcts team works in person with people through our concierge services. That way, everyone is pleased to have met mutually agreed goals. 

Lesson #2. Is anything off limits? 

I think by virtue of having moved so many times as an adult and living in a small house with an open floor plan with very little storage, there’s really nothing off limits in my home. My mom was more anxious about me digging into cedar chests, boxes, and paperwork without her first going through it. She wasn’t even sure what she had or what I would trip over, and she wanted to make the discovery first. Totally fine! We found a system so she could see or speak to an item first and then I’d help organize items for Artifcting, giving to another family member (usually one of my siblings), disposing, donating, or otherwise rehoming. 

Lesson #3. Take breaks to photograph. 

We wanted to get through large amounts of ‘stuff,’ but we also wanted to put things where they belonged to keep our working space clear. So, we’d take breaks to photograph items we wanted to Artifct later. These photo breaks were nice stress relievers, too, because sorting through so much can be a bit tiring and emotionally straining as you are washed by wave after wave of nostalgia. We’d also grab coffee and a snack during this break. 

Lesson #4. If you’re together, get the full story. 

Time is the devil. We all know this, but we like to ignore it. My brother was out of town, but I had my parents, my sister, and extended family (just an email or text message away) to help fill in the blanks about the history or backstory of photos and items we came across. We used these family resources then and there, sometimes even recording video or audio of the funnier or sappier stories on the fly (Check out tips for audio & video in our FAQs!), to capture what we could.

Sometimes we were unsuccessful in that the long history – “Who gave this to you, and when?” – was lost already but the current history – “I’ve just always loved this pin.” or “My sister gave it to me for a gift at some point.” – was a compelling reason in and of itself to Artifct an item. 

Vintage flower pin with gold trim  vintage red floral apron with wooden handled wire pastry blender

Click either image to view the related Artifct!

Lesson #5. Glad I asked! 

Some 'stuff' really is just stuff. No great story or history attached. At least you won’t have to wonder and stress about it one day if your friend or family member is no longer here and you are helping to disperse the estate. That chest of drawers you think is interesting? Those old matching sweatshirts? They look cool and served a purpose, but they have no remarkable stories. Totally fine. Keep and use or move along to someone else who will. No guilt! (Side note: My mom wasn't interested in the sweatshirts anymore, but I was and even had my own story to layer on top of them!)

Chicago paper company two-drawer cabinet     Vintage matching sweatshirts for Jimmy and Ding Dong

When I returned to Austin and took a look around my home, I had an ah-ha moment that would surely make my mother feel vindicated because as it turns out our styles do not clash as much as it may seem. When she insisted on keeping multiple bags of old blankets because, "They're wool and could someday make good quilt lining," I took a breath and moved on but was frustrated.

I was thinking that surely at 70+ years old my mom has a good idea whether quilting will actually be a part of her future, even if she lives to 100. And, yet, I admit, I have bins in my attic with undergrad and grad school papers and books. Why? I always think, "What if I decide to teach?" you know, become a "professor of practice." Thing is, even if I did, would I really go back to these papers? And if that were remotely useful, why not just scan them and file neatly with a backup in the cloud. Okay, okay, Mom, keep your ratty old wool blankets. 

Now, everyone, if you get nothing else from this tale, remember, these Artifcts are for you. So, enjoy. Find the pace and process that works for you!

Happy Artifcting (with Mom)! 

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Latest Features and Improvements | March 2022

We’ve got great updates for you!

As we continue to welcome new people to the Arti Community, we’ve received valuable feedback about how you’re using Artifcts in your day-to-day lives and what new features and refinements would help you as you Artifct. We’re excited to share with you a few of the latest updates to your Artifcts experience. 

Options to personalize Artifcts 

Bubbling to the top of recent requests from the Arti Community was the option to add a background image to your personal Artifcts galleries. Some members also wanted to easily share these galleries and some “About me” information. 

Done! Now when you visit My Artifcts you’ll see a pencil icon indicating you can personalize the space. You will be seamlessly redirected to your Account Settings to add a banner and “About me” text. 

In addition, you’ll notice a new icon to access your personal QR code that when scanned leads people to your Artifcts gallery. Add it to a business card, social media profile, certificate of authenticity on your creations, and more! 

To learn more about getting started, visit our FAQs.   

Artifcts gallery page personalized with banner and text

Search got an upgrade 

Our new search engine will return even better, more relevant results. You can even now search according to screen names, e.g. searching @heather or @egoody will show you what our founders have Artifcted lately. 

Bonus! When you’re signed in, you’ll see your recent searches and viewed Artifcts directly in the search bar at the top of the website. 

And remember, on any Artifct, click a tag or category to immediately view other Artifcts according to that theme. 

Test it out with this search for #LeaveNoTrace Artifcts that honor our natural national treasures. 

New drop down menu from search field featuring recent searches and viewed Artifcts

New sharing options 

You can now share and manage access to each of your Artifcts directly from the privacy icon displayed on each Artifct. No need to go in and edit your Artifct. 

Want to share an Artifct to social media? You can also now easily toggle the Artifct to Public from the sharing pop up and continue to share as you please! 

For simplicity, you can always grant ‘View’ access to your Artifcts automatically from your Account Settings > Security & Longevity tab. This feature now applies automatically to all of your Artifcts, but you can opt out as you add new people to only give them access to future Artifcts, if you prefer. 

Try sharing one of your Artifcts privately or publicly. Or visit your Account Settings to give someone ‘View’ access to your Artifcts collection automatically! (You can always change your mind!)

         

Reorder your files to flow with your story 

Make it easier on yourself and others to view the photos, videos, and audio files that go along with your Artifct description or story. Simply click and drag to reorder them as you please!  

Your cover photo does not need to be first. We usually choose a cover photo that’s most beautiful or compelling! 

Try now by editing an Artifct in your collection! Sign in on Artifcts. Or create a new Artifct. 

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The Joys of Swedish Death Cleaning

The old saying goes that there are two things in life that are certain, death and taxes. The funny thing is that we spend more time in our lives preparing our tax returns than we ever do thinking about much less planning for our inevitable passing. Enter Swedish death cleaning.  

What is that you might ask? Dostatning, or the art of death cleaning, is the Swedish practice by which the elderly and their families set their affairs in order. It involves organizing and decluttering your home to reduce the burden on loved ones of sifting through dozens (if not hundreds!) of objects to decide what is significant and what should be kept.  

The term was popularized in 2018 with the publication of Margarete Magnusson’s book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.” Magnusson states, “Whether it's sorting the family heirlooms from the junk, downsizing to a smaller place, or setting up a system to help you stop misplacing your keys, death cleaning gives us the chance to make the later years of our lives as comfortable and stress-free as possible.”  

Contrary to the name, you don’t have to be on death’s doorstep to participate. Whatever your age, the concept of Swedish death cleaning can be used to help you declutter your life and take stock of what's important.  

Whatever your age, the concept of Swedish death cleaning can be used to help you declutter your life and take stock of what's important

I’ve had the privilege to participate in the Swedish death cleaning process with multiple Artifcts community members over the past several months, all healthy, happy, and overwhelmed by ‘stuff.’ As we started going through all that stuff, a couple of themes emerged.  

First, often the most valuable items are not the ones that have any real monetary value. Rather, the items have what one Arti Community member called “heart value.” It is very hard to tell which items fall into this category just by looking at them. Heart value may be found in a favorite piece of costume jewelry, a child’s handprint, or an old photograph of distant relatives or nearly forgotten adventures. It may not seem to have any value to you, an outsider, but it has tremendous value to the owner. Sound familiar? 

Second, our community members were often under the impression that, “No one is going to want my stuff once I’m gone.” Not true. Or at least recent headlines may overstate this sentiment. In working with these families, I saw relatives come out of the woodwork to claim an item once they knew its story, history, sometimes even provenance.  

I saw relatives come out of the woodwork to claim an item once they knew its story, history, sometimes even provenance

I had one Arti Community member reach out to me after she shared an Artifct of a bowl she had bought in Brazil with her son. She had resigned herself to the fact that the bowl would end up in a donation box once she was gone. “Not anymore!” she was happy to report—her son now wants the bowl as a memory of his mother and a memento from his time growing up in Rio. That’s one less object for her to worry about, and one rediscovered piece of family history for her son.  

Artifcts simplifies the Swedish death cleaning process by creating a safe and secure way to pass down stories (aka “heart value”) and not just things. Artifcts gives a voice to the objects of our lives that otherwise would remain silent, collecting dust or buried in a drawer or box. It’s no coincidence that attaching a story to an object, and maybe even adding an audio or video file too, increases the chances that the item will stay in the family. (And if it doesn’t, at least the memory and story can live on in family lore, even if the object is eventually rehomed.) 

Ready to give it a go? Pick a favorite object that you may want to pass on to a loved one or friend either now or in the future. Create the Artifct, including any key details that make it special to you, and then share the Artifct with the intended recipient. (Here's one that I made for my daughter.) Connect or reconnect over the story, history, and memories, and recognize it is okay to let go, especially if the Artifct has found a new home.  

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Drawing People Together: Meet Katie Vaz!

Katie Vaz is an illustrator living in Endicott, NY, who had a quarter-life quandary: How can I put ideas out into the world that make people feel less guilty about their everyday choices and maybe even a little less alone? Eat cake. Don’t work yourself into an early grave. Nap! 

By steadily shifting her focus from freelance graphic design and branding work to illustration, she had the space she needed to begin creating and publishing what she calls “realistic inspiration.” Through her series of books and coloring books, she uses personal stories, humor, and of course delightful illustrations to reach a broader audience. 

 

While she started back in 2012 with time intensive hand drawn illustrations, her latest designs get a helping hand from design software (including Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and the iPad app Procreate!). These tools of the trade have accelerated her design process so much so that in 2021, as the COVID pandemic persisted, Katie hit aggressive deadlines for not one but two new coloring books. She’s observed her artistic style hitting a new growth curve, not only by her shifting artistic mediums, but with the support of a whole new community of illustrators she’s found through resources like Make Art That Sells. 

Katie Vaz shares the original hand-illustrated page for one of her designs    Katie Vaz using Procreate app to illustrate

Katie pointed to her upcoming cottagecore coloring book (release date April 2022), in which she wraps us in themes acutely resonant during the pandemic (sustainability, enjoying what you have, home making, gardening, baking ...) from a cute and fun aesthetic that showcases more line work and texture than her previous works. She’s embraced this new cottagecore design theme so much that she may even repeat some of her favorite patterns and print them onto fabrics. We can’t wait! Maybe we can even ask her about removable wallpapers?

 

Katie said, “I don’t feel like I have arrived. My style will continue to evolve.” And perhaps that will be put to the test in 2022 as she returns to a memoir project format, like her book My Life in Plants, but within the pages of a graphic novel. Her hope is to share a very personal story that will resonate with someone who has also gone on a personal journey to find themselves after experiencing the loss of a parent.  

Explore the Artifcts from Katie’s design journey, and stay tuned for her next book! 

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Capturing Family Stories, One Video Biography at a Time

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Lori Roux, founder of Whole Story Productions (WSP), for many years. In fact, Lori was one of our earliest sounding boards as we contemplated building a community around all things “stuff” and “stories.”

Aside from being a die-hard skier and former New Englander, Lori was an Emmy-award winning team member of ESPN’s X Games and the creative genius behind WSP. Lori and the WSP team help families bring to light the stories, memories, and histories that make them who they are today through beautifully directed family videographies. 

Ellen and I saw an immediate fit between Artifcts and WSP—we couldn’t help but think about all that family “stuff” as we listened to Lori talk about the families she has worked with and the stories she has helped them tell over the years.

Sure enough, families, “stuff,” and stories go hand in hand. Whether it is a collection of old photos from the turn of the century or Grandma’s china or an assortment of antique silver. Those objects all represent lives lived, adventures had, and the very essence of what it is to be us, to be alive.

I sat down with Lori for a virtual conversation last month and wanted to share with you some of our key takeaways.

Heather Nickerson: Tell us a bit about your typical client. 

Lori Roux: Usually I’m working with a family, but once in a while there may be more of a corporate lean, where the story is more business oriented. Many clients have had successful family businesses and are telling the story of how it started, where, and when. Then we progress through family evolution, historical aspects, philanthropy, and legacy.

I also had a project for a museum exhibition – that creates challenges around length, how long can you keep people’s attention while standing at a kiosk of some sort.

Nickerson: How do clients typically find you?

Roux: Clients usually find me by word of mouth, so somebody knows somebody who knows somebody who I’ve worked with. I’ve also met clients through their other service providers – attorneys, accountants, financial advisors. I am listed as a service provider with large and small financial institutions.

Nickerson: You’ve said that people often tell you that they are not interesting enough to do a video. How do you convince people that they are?

Roux: Almost to a tee people will say, “Oh, there’s not much to tell.” Or, “We’re not really that interesting.” But I try to explain that to their audience, their family and friends, it’s incredibly interesting. It’s a story for the rising generations. A story of who they are, their successes and failures, and what their message is for those that they may never meet.

As one client said to their hesitant father/patriarch, “It’s not about you Dad. It’s about us. It’s FOR us.”

It’s not about you Dad. It’s about us. It’s FOR us

Nickerson: Can you share a story or two that stands out from the families you’ve worked with?

Roux: There are a number of stories, so I’ll pick one of my favorites.

I had a family that I worked with in Australia with eight adult children. The family tells a story debating whether they were “free settlers or convicts” when their ancestors came from the Isle of Skye. There were multiple versions of the story depending on who in the family you asked. I don’t usually do the research, but I was searching for an image of a ship from the 1800s to include to help the visuals of the story. I happened to come upon the original manifest of the ship’s passengers. It listed a number of the family names with a $ fee next to it, which means they paid for passage! Not sure it put to rest the argument, however, as they genuinely like the mystery and family lore!

Nickerson: Getting people to talk about their most intimate family details has to be challenging. How do you get people to trust you? 

Roux: You know, that’s something that I work really hard at. It all starts at that first meeting – trying to talk about the project while also expressing your own humanity and sharing a story of your own that might apply. Even offering a comparison – like, my own family immigrated from Eastern Europe and though they thought they really didn’t know much about their history, it turned out, the more questions they asked each other, the more they discovered they knew collectively!

I also talk about their privacy, and how they will end up including other family members, and how we keep their final product secure. 

It’s all about them… and I try and express that it’s not a “gotcha moment” when we do an interview. It’s all preplanned and preapproved so the final film is what they envisioned.

Nickerson: Explain how you incorporate other keepsakes in a video (e.g., photos, letters, music). 

Roux: Some of the most important parts of a project are the photos, videos, letters, and other family records. You know the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, that’s so true! We can tell so much of someone’s story with a few photographs and some music, without even a word being said. We try and include whatever is meaningful and significant to each family – whether it’s a business contract or a love letter.

Nickerson: You know the story of Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help you in your work with your clients?

Roux: With all the photos and keepsakes that people share, that we include, Artifcts is a great place for them to find a home. When the project is complete, all the photos can be archived on Artifcts so family members can then go and peruse them at their leisure. When it’s in the film, you might only see something for five seconds. All the people in the photo might be recognizable, but in the film, the images fly by so quickly. Having organized, archived access for everyone who the family wants to share with will be invaluable. It’s like a secure online photo album shared with the entire family, accessible any time, only the family can then add documents, stories, and all the details that you typically don’t get with a photo album.

< End of interview >

We know that when it comes to our personal lives and histories “someday” often turns into never or maybe simply too late. We hope you will think about those pieces of you that should be Artifcted and archived to pass to friends and family and future generations before it’s too late. Take it one object at a time. If you get stuck, see if some of our partners and membership organizations can help you!

Interested in creating a family video biography? You can reach out to Lori at Whole Story Productions  to start the conversation. 

 

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Say Hello to Karla | A Hybrid Computational Biologist, Cookie Maker, and Competitive Cyclist

From the moment her pudgy two-year-old hands could swipe her older brother’s Sesame Street books and she discovered Cookie Monster’s Famous Cookie Dough recipe, Karla was “helping” in the kitchen. Afterall, as Cookie Monster told us, “Home is where heart is. Heart where cookie is. Math clear: Home is cookie.” And her family embraced that logic with delicious Sunday tradition of cake and ice cream dinners. Today Karla’s stunning confections skew to cookies (Cookie Monster dough included – check out her Artifct below!) less because she’s a cookie monster and more for the joy of the process and because “Home is cookie.” Karla loves sharing her creations with friends, including contactless cookie deliveries during COVID to unsuspecting friends’ homes. 

 

Despite her wow’ing cookie skills, Karla is not some TikTok how-to baking guru or Instagram influencer. Instead, you could ask her, “Why is this petunia white instead of purple?” Karla started her professional career as a computational biologist, using computer modeling to understand things like gene mutations that change a flower’s color and yield new delightful varieties in flower shops. But that same discovery in that plant can reach well-beyond the plant world to aid, for example, our understanding of RNA-interface and cancer.  

Karla never dreamed at age 10 or even 20 of becoming a lab scientist. She was always going to be a doctor. But then one night during her junior year of undergrad a math theorem nearly stumped her. Karla knew what the theorem was telling her - math was her truest passion. She took her biology and math smarts and steered them into a master’s degree in applied biosciences where she was a bit of a unicorn. She was a human bridge between hardcore biologists in the wet labs who spoke in As, Gs, Cs, and Ts and the computer scientists locked in the languages of 1s and 0s. 

 

Karla is a bridge in another world as well – cycling. During her years-long metamorphosis from hobbyist tandem-bike rider to national-level competitive road cyclist she identified twin truths she’s intent on harmonizing: Cycling is about community, but certain stigmas keep people from cycling. Community on a bike means, “Riders show up, conversations are had or not. You are free to work out your stress and frustration on your bike, with company.” You challenge and push each other in races but meet up irrespective of team affiliation for a sociable drink or dinner later. And maybe the allure of cycling cuts another way to create a barrier. Cycling is after all one of few sports in the world in which you find world-class riders, at the pinnacle of the sport, coming out to race with the average Joe, as they say. Your hard work and dedication put you on the same starting line in cycling.  

Framed Texas state champion cycling jerseys    Karla Gendler's Trophy from the Cochise County Classic cycling race

Click on each image to view the related Artifcts!

Today, Karla works with existing community cycling organizations, like Austin’s beloved Driveway and its Thursday night races and mentoring program. In 2021, she also spearheaded The LeadOut Foundation, which is committed to breaking down barriers to help expand the community of cyclists and supporting new and emerging racers. The Foundation Team knows that it starts small, with a friendly, knowledgeable face in the group, and grows from there, with resources, human and financial, at the community level. With efforts of The LeadOut Foundation and similar organizations worldwide, maybe we will all have the chance to learn that, sure, road cyclists may be a bit type A when it comes to their sport—specialized kits, fancy water bottles, components crafted to spec—but they sure do also have a lot of fun! Why not give it a try? 

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To learn more about The LeadOut Foundation and its work in the Austin community and beyond, visit: www.theleadoutfoundation.org/mission.  

 

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Artifcts: The New Love Language

We have a confession. Artifcts is our new love language.

We hope it will be yours, too. We know from experience what a delightful surprise it is to be greeted with a new Artifct in your inbox!

Yes, an Artifct usually takes 60 seconds or less to create, but it's made with love, from the photos and videos you choose to the details you include. For Artifcts' co-founders most of the Artifcts they have created are for their children, sharing bits of themselves as well as remembering for their children things that will slip from their memories or already have faded away a la Inside Out's lovable character Bing Bong.

An Artifct is an interactive gift you can share from any distance. It becomes a topic of conversation, a happy memory shared, a new story discovered. For some, it's even passing a piece of history from one person to another and will grow over time with new details added.

This Valentine's Day as you pause for a moment to absorb all the positive in life, surprise someone—friend, sister, neighbor, professor, parent, son—with an Artifct!

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