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Exclusive articles, interviews, and insights covering downsizing & decluttering, genealogy, photos and other media, aging well, travel, and more. We’re here to help you capture the big little moments and stories to bring meaning and even order to all of life’s collections for generations.
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THE ARTS
Upcycling Stuff After You Declutter: Create Personalized Art

Stepping into a football stadium you expect energy.

Setting down your bag of materials in quilting circle, calm and friendship.

Standing inside Magpie in Your Eye’s workshop – joy.

If you have yet to discover the joy of Magpie in Your Eye, by Maggie Stephens—one of Artifcts' Allies in 'Stuff'—you’re in for a treat.

Maggie could not help but wonder why we are all throwing away the small treasures we accumulate and collect in our lives. We’re talking about the small stuff – the less than 5-inch-tall knickknacks, tchotchkes, thingamabobs, and mementos on our shelves, in our bins, and maybe even our junk drawers.

UPCYCLED, JOYFUL ARTISTIC CREATIONS 

Maggie makes wreaths out of treasures people part with at estate sales, thrift shops, and charity stores. Rarely does she shop the likes of eBay; too expensive when you need more than 100 pieces for a single wreath. Leave those "pricey" thingamabobs for special treats or to meet a critical need.  

Maggie’s selectivity goes beyond just cost and size. “If you take a bunch of ugly things and put them together, you have something interesting.” Something with a character of its own. So there’s an essence of the object itself to consider, too. 

If you take a bunch of ugly things and put them together, you have something interesting.

That is what drew us at Artifcts to Maggie. Not only was she upcycling before it was cool, but can you imagine a better housewarming gift for someone who has moved away from home (think adult children) or recently downsized, and so many bits and bops simply get left behind? Make them into a wreath and you can continue to enjoy them for years to come! 

That’s exactly what one US expat living in Switzerland did! She saw Maggie’s holiday display at ByGeorge in Austin, Texas, and brought Maggie an interesting challenge.  

Could she transform a box of toys the women’s children had outgrown into a wreath? Why yes, yes, she could, and the result was heartwarming.

 
 
Read more about this toy wreath here.

Sometimes Maggie’s wreaths feature a color, other times a theme—bananas, jungle animals, Mexican crafts—and of course holidays.

Wreath with small red objects   Wreath with random orange objects   Yellow wreath objects Artifcts

It can take her over a year to collect enough pieces for a wreath since the pieces are all under $5, under 5”, and never purchased new. Maggie can get unexpected boosts when she buys a bag full of itty-bitty objects because there were two she really wanted, and then later several others in the bag round out a collection she didn’t even realize she had growing.

Case in point, a client last summer requested a fall wreath. Maggie wasn’t confident she had autumn themed items never mind enough of them. But once she started breaking down the essence of the season, out from the bins leapt mini pies, canned soup, dried vegetables, and more to create a distinctively autumnal wreath. 

THE WREATH CRAFT: STEP-BY-STEP

The wreaths start out with a 14” foam ring and are about 24” when completed. 

Wrap the foam ring in tinsel.  

Attach the hanger (before it’s too late)!

Then build layer by layer, starting by placing the largest of the items as the anchors around the wreath.  

Drying time between layers prolongs the building process a bit. Maggie never ever recommends accelerating it by using hot glue, because hot glue shrinks over time and then the pieces will fall off. “Sad!” Instead, she uses E600. The type of glue that will certainly outlast us all.

Want to try it for yourself? Here’s a helpful how-to video to create similar wreaths, but remember Maggie’s hot glue warning!

WHEN “DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME” APPLIES 

We should warn that some of Maggie’s pieces require more than wild creativity and crafting skills. Sometimes you need to phone a friend with metal working skills! Surely we all have one … or not, ha. Maggie’s friend Anne Woods creates the necessary metal support arms and frames for larger custom pieces, like the rainbow piece Maggie displayed at By George last winter. 

Rainbow wreath for ByGeorge

 
 
A small segment of the ByGeorge wreath in the workshop.

We wanted to know what in this process was most challenging. Surprisingly, it was about the pieces themselves. Maggie laughed and said it’s a bit like getting a tattoo. Once she commits a piece to a wreath, that’s it, it’s gone. She might never find another like it.  

The hope is the piece, the collection reprised from dustbins and forgotten corners, will bring joy. “People always connect with one object or another in a wreath. It must be like Artifcts in that way. Stuff unites us.”  

People always connect with one object or another in a wreath. It must be like Artifcts in that way. Stuff unites us.

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Have tiny stuff that might make a great wreath? Contact Maggie at maggie@maggiestephens.com. She’ll be delighted to work with you.

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© 2023 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Introducing Artifcts' Allies in 'Stuff'

We want to help each person to transform stuff from a potential burden today and on future generations to the source of immediate connection, history, legacy, and financial security. We cannot do it alone. 

The world of ‘stuff’ is broad and sometimes overwhelming! Artifcts helps you to connect the stories and stuff, enjoy walks together down memory lane, support your wills and insurance coverage, and think through and document what to keep based on those hard tradeoffs between the emotional and financial value (and space!).  

Others can help you preserve, sell, move it all, and more!

Today We're Unveiling Artifcts' Allies in 'Stuff'

Our allies are resources to help expand your awareness of the possible for you and all your ‘stuff.’ The organizations represented cut across multiple categories:

      • Digitization & Preservation
      • Organizing, Decluttering, & Moving
      • Valuations & Sales
      • Family History & Documentation
      • Preparedness & End-of-Life
      • Artistic Renditions

We have met with every company directly, reviewed their products, and are confident they can help or, at the very minimum, inspire. We have focused on those with broad national, and many international, footprints and services. Yet we know sometimes going local is what's needed, required, or desired. Learn about the possible in the world of stuff here at Artifcts! Head over to Allies in 'Stuff,' click to read about each company, and download the Allies map to have on hand as a reference.

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© 2023 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Storied Lighthouses: At Night!

Today's story indulges Artifcts co-founder Ellen Goodwin’s fascination with the stars. She even has an Artifct or two about it. You can read one of them here. If nothing else, just like the act of creating an Artifct, let this story help remind you to take a pause to look up and enjoy the vastness of the universe and the potential within each of us every day to play an oversized role in it from our little slice of the universe. 

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Close your eyes.  

Picture a lighthouse.  

Is it hanging out alone on a rocky bluff or stony beach? Is it sun-shiny daytime or deep dark night?  

Would it surprise you to learn that most photographs of lighthouses only show these sentinels by day? Until recently, that is. 

Lighthouses today are largely on private land or public park spaces, both with controlled access. Even with access granted, you have weather, water, and other environmental conditions, including wildlife (Porcupines! No joke. Read the book USA Stars & Lighthouses.), to contend with if you want a close-up view. So logically most of us capture pictures of lighthouses only by day and often by boat or from some distance as in the photo shown in the Artifct Our Cape Cod Whale Tale

We had the good fortune to connect recently with David Zapatka, who has spent his professional life behind the lens of high-powered video cameras that bring the world everything from investigative news from the field to NCAA men's basketball tournaments and the Olympics. Privately, however, David was hooked on photography from the moment he realized his passion would be supported by submissions to his school yearbook, feeding him a constant supply of film and access to the people and places of the moment. 

Access and control - two of the most critical factors in photography. Control is about lighting. David preaches to his students: control - control - control. As for access, well, you know, can you get close to it? The third critical ingredient for David is passion. Conservancy, national history, community, all of these play into David's work to at last capture lighthouses at night, doing the work they were designed for, bringing ships safely to harbor, providing hope in a sea of dark, and reminding us we are infinitely small in this vast universe. 

David is creating a personal legacy in this work. For his kids and grandkids, for all of us, he'll know he left us something special. 

For each lighthouse in his book USA Stars & Lights: Portraits From the Dark David includes the story behind the shoot. Who owns and operates the lighthouse, how did he get access, what were the conditions when he went once (sometimes twice) to get the shot, and for budding photographers, even the technical details. Because there is no hocus pocus or photoshop here. You need to earn every bit of it. 

With no further ado, enjoy these special Artifcts from our friend David Zapatka. 

Jeffrey's Hook, The Little Red Lighthouse, at night with NYC in background

ABOVE: Jeffrey's Hook Lighthouse. Serendipity! Sometimes David comes across lighthouses that have been turned back on. The Little Red Lighthouse of storybook fame many NYC children of the 1960s are familiar with was relit several years ago. While on the Hudson River for another lighthouse shoot, David discovered its resurgence and returned in September 2022 to photograph it at night. Click the image to view the Artifct.

 

Red and white ringed lighthouse at nightABOVE: Assateague Lighthouse. Often shooting lighthouses at night involves critical timing. Sometimes you can't gain night access to lighthouses if the gates are locked. At the Assateague Lighthouse in northern Virginia, only at certain times of the year is the park open long enough into the night to photograph the lighthouse before you must leave or get caught locked in for the night! Click the image to view the Artifct.

Red and white lighthouse on rocky outcrop of land

ABOVE: Romer Shoal Lighthouse. Some lighthouses will never be captured at work. Super Storm Sandy destroyed Old Orchard Shoal. Luckily neighboring Romer Shoal remains. For now. Extreme weather threatens the future of many other lighthouses even as the fate of this one is uncertain. Click the image to view the Artifct.

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

ABOUT DAVID ZAPATKA

Rhode Island native David Zapatka's work regularly appears on national news and sports programs for ABC, CBS, CNN, HBO, NBC, and PBS. He’s covered six Superbowls, 20 years of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, four winter Olympic Games for which he won two National Sports Emmy awards for his contributions to the NBC coverage of the Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010. David's lighthouses work began in 2013 as a project that became so much more. 

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The Story of the Rhino (of) Wimberley

Today we’re taking you to Kenya via the eclectic and artsy hill country town of Wimberley, Texas, to share the story of a photographer’s journey through music venues and the depths of oceans to the great continent of Africa, and the rise of a small Texas town as a champion (and namesake) of a southern white rhino. 

But before we talk rhinos, we must talk elephants. It’s too good of a story to pass up. 

In November 2019, award-winning photographer and long-time Wimberley resident Rodney Bursiel made his way to Kenya to capture the majestic elephants of the land. With only about two dozen of the “Big Tuskers” remaining, each are named, tracked, and closely studied. Inspired by photographers like Nick Brandt, Rodney arrived in Amboseli National Park with high hopes of photographing two of the famed large-tusk elephants: Craig and Big Tim.  

As luck would have it, Rodney came face to face with Craig, “I was enamored and downright giddy by the opportunity to get so close to this magnificent being!” A few hours later, Rodney would get word that Tim was about an hour away from his current location, but his day had already been long and was quickly losing light, so he decided to head out before daybreak the next morning to pursue him.  

Despite a 4 am departure, Rodney was too late. Tim had ventured off into an off-limits area of the park. Rodney never found Tim on this journey, and sadly a few months later in February 2020, Tim died of natural causes. This was a crushing loss to conservationists who expected Tim to live another 10 years, and a lost opportunity for a photographer hoping for a second chance with Tim. 

Fast forward to August 2021, a ‘next’ trip to Africa in the works, and more elephants on the agenda, Rodney learned about Najin and Fatu, the very last northern white rhinos on the planet. The LA-ST two! “You want to do something to help. Be a part of it!” said Rodney. Trip plans were scratched, new ones created. “Remember Tim!” Time seemed to be of the essence. 

Through a fortunate series of introductions, Rodney connected with James Mwenda, Grand Ambassador and former Ranger for Ol Pejeta Conservancy who knows these nearly extinct rhinos intimately, having protected and cared for them 24/7 for seven years. And this time, success! Meet Najin and Fatu, through the lens of Rodney Bursiel.  

Black and white photo of two northern white rhinos, Najin and Fatu

 
 
 
 

Last September, freshly returned to Wimberley from this once in a lifetime experience, Rodney wanted to share his experiences through an immersive and philanthropic experience in his hometown. He and his partner brought together the people of Wimberley for an enchanting evening with entertainment by a Masai tribal dance group, an authentic menu prepared by Kenyan Chef Njathi Kabui and, of course, a conversation with Rodney and James Mwenda. Rodney unveiled his latest photographs of beloved Africa and together he and James wove the tale of Najin and Fatu to help raise awareness about the plights of these animals for a new budding community of wildlife conservationists.  

 

Surely it’s not surprising to learn that protecting large game in Africa is a never-ending endeavor, poachers are relentless and of course nature takes unexpected tolls, too, as in the case of Tim. A vast community exists to protect and conserve these animals. Photographers play an important role in making the animals real, instead of the stuff of childhood imaginations and stories, as well as bringing them to the forefront of media and philanthropy.  

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy chose to thank Wimberley for its financial support by naming its 15-month-old southern white rhino—the closest relative to Najin and Fatu—Wimberley. The Conservancy’s choice was very intentional. White rhinos are more docile and less skittish than the black rhino, making it easier for photographers like Rodney to return and continue to support the very survival of a species through photos, stories, and, most importantly, the sharing of knowledge globally. 

What’s next for Rodney? “The rhinos will always be near to my heart. The more I experience, the more I learn, the more I want to help raise awareness. I will continue my work with Ol Pejeta Conservancy and expand my efforts with other existing conservation outlets.” 

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Interested in learning more and supporting rhino conservation and efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade? Visit the Ol Pejeta Conservancy at www.olpejetaconservancy.org. 

To view more of Rodney’s work, visit rodneybursielphotography.com. If you’re local to or visiting Wimberley, his photography will be featured in a few upcoming gallery events, including Art on 12 (Wimberley), opened May 14; A. Smith Gallery (Johnston City, TX), throughout August; and The Wimberley Inn, a one-night only installation in November. 

© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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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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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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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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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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