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A Harp, an Accordion, and 60 Years of Merriment

Editor at Artifcts
November 06, 2021

He said it started with a train ride to buy a harp at the turn of the 20th century.  

Jerry May’s father made young Jerry wait until he was 10 years old to learn to play the accordion. Begging since the age of seven, his dad wanted to be sure his eldest son “knew the value of his music” and would not give up on it. But Jerry would never give up. 

Music was in his blood. From Jerry's grandfather taking the Burlington railroad into Chicago to purchase a Chicago Harp to his mother and eventually his siblings each playing piano, music was an ever-present part of Jerry’s life.  

The accordion by design is a lonely instrument. With the keyboard on the right and bass on the left, you are your own accompaniment. But you don’t have to be. By the time Jerry was 13, he was taking his 12 bass accordion to accompany his twin sisters who would sing at events in town. Jerry recalled the amazing payment they received after playing for the local fire department where their dad volunteered - a pizza dinner! This was the early 1950s and pizza was just getting its start. He delighted in the novel treat. 

12 bass accordion          

Fast forward to Jerry’s senior year at the Marmion Military Academy, a local Catholic high school, when he joined the school’s professional band as the only accordion among largely classic brass musicians. He was inspired and upon graduation he and a friend started a band named the Mello Tones.  

For the next 40 years, the band—which also included tenor sax, alto, clarinet, drums, and a bass—played classic dance tunes, including polkas, waltzes, and period classics from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, at weddings, clubs, private events and parties, riffing off each other, and loving life. Jerry led the band with a singular mission after all — making people happy.  

Jerry Performing with His 120 Bass Accordion

About 20 years ago Jerry shifted his music back to his family’s German roots. He formed a new band, Jerry’s Happy Wanderers, and with lederhosen, a pinned fedora, and a collection of over 30 German songs the now seasoned musician found his dance card fully booked with requests to play Oktoberfests, pubs, and special events throughout the US and Europe. He was now only one of a few remaining accordion players in the 80,000 strong American Federation of Musicians and the only one playing German music.  

Jerry is now in his 80s and intends to retire from professional music at the end of this year. We suspect you may still find him in one-man shows at the request of his family, like the snippet above from his recent gig at Two Brothers. His 60 years have brought him as much joy as the merriment he has inspired. From state fairs and festivals, river cruises and clubs, and even those sparkly Chicago high rises, Jerry has brought what is becoming a lost art to many and become one of its keepers along the way. 

We close with a tantalizing surprise. Artifcts from Jerry’s extended private collection, which includes accordions that came into Jerry’s life from those who play no more.  

Accordion gifted to Jerry by woman dying of cancer     Accordion gifted to Jerry by couple during 65th birthday celebration

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What's New at Artifcts
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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