In Which I Toast Summer!

I am very happy today. I woke up this morning from a dream in which I was auctioning off toast for charity.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what would be my dream job if this book-writing thing is over for me, and I think Charitable Toast Auctioneer just might be it. Thank You, Universe!

And Thank You, July/August issue of the magazine of The American Horticultural Society for your nice words for Gardens of Awe and Folly:

The American Gardener

Linda Larson, the Traveling Gardener, wrote that review — Thank you, Linda! — and she called some of the illustrations in the book collages. I think she means the multiple-exposure kinds of things I do  . . .


Or maybe she knows my secret about the rescues I perform:





But as for actual collages, I have a story for you today:

I’m the kind of person who has always had hobbies. The hobbies change — from making things, to sewing things, to collecting things, to collecting different things, to painting things, on and on — but whilst I’m in the throes of a passionate new interest I go all out. (That is one reason why it pains me to not have any hot hobby/obsessive avocation/calling at this moment in my life, not counting the exciting new career option of selling crisp warm breadstuffs on behalf of widows and orphans.)

Once upon a time, about 20 years ago, I suddenly became preoccupied with collage.

Is this too cute or what: I began my collage-making hobby by making Triscuit-sized collages! This one (below) I called, Inspiration:


I was going through my Dada phase when I called this one, The Angel of Death Says, That’s All, Folks:


I eventually embiggened my vision to post card-sized assemblages:


Yeah, that one (above) is called Gulf, Sea, Ocean.

And then I began to make 3-D collages, which I mounted inside of 8″ x 10 ” shadow boxes. This one is called Electron Ascending a Staircase:


Quoting William Butler Yeats, I named this one The Pilgrim Soul:


This is a crap photograph of how I made a sunken doorway there of the far right side of the Pilgrim Soul piece:


Heading back to the William Butler Yeats well again, I quote from his poem Towards Break of Day: Nothing That We Love Overmuch Is Ponderable To Our Touch:


I hope you can grok the 3-D-ness:


Hey! I just realized! William Butler Yeats has solved the age-old problem: is it “toward” or “towards”? It’s towards!

This next piece got its title from some bit of popular science I was reading at the time — it’s called If The Atom Were a Cathedral (note use of the subjunctive tense — very classy):


I was very meticulous in the papering of this “cathedral”:


As it happened during this year of collage-thinking, I came across an item in a local newspaper that in upstate New York State there was such a thing as the annual Schoharie County Small Works of Art juried show, held in August. It was open to works of art in any medium, but the catch was that it could not exceed 18 inches in height or width. Perfect!

I submitted some slides of my collages and one piece was accepted, a flat, postcard-sized piece that I called Let’s Distinguish Paradox From Contradiction:


Out of 589 entries from 22 states, only 50 pieces were accepted. Since this is the only “competitive” juried show I have ever entered, I really don’t know if these stats make acceptance to the Schoharie County Small Works of Art juried show  a Yale or a New Haven Community College kind of thing. But there you are.

I didn’t win anything. So I quit fine art.

But I’m still very fond of these little works on paper — through several epic purges of clutter and bad ideas and outgrown identities, I have held on to my little mementos of Self, c. 1996.

I have read that having a hobby is not popular these days (people are too busy, and on-line too much), but I don’t understand how people can get through life without one.  Hobbies are about being a doer, a thinker, a creator. A Hobby (in the most catholic sense of the term) is a framework of being, a scaffold that supports a particularly clarifying and comforting theory of how the world works. To collect  (watches, 1980s punk records, camembert labels, etc.), makes the universe a more linear and comprehensible place to be. To make (birdhouses, pies, ships in a bottle, books), life is about constructing useful or playful objects out of the void. Hobbies give you something to think about instead of death. Hobbies make people happy, or at least less lonely in the great void.

When I was making my collages, I felt very engaged with the Universe. As a Capricorn, I tend to prefer hobbies that require tangibility, so making collages was vastly more therapeutic than, say, praying; or meditating, which are pastimes that are far too abstract for me.

Because so few people have hobbies these days, I think that’s why coloring books for adults are so popular: they give people who only consume their entertainment on TV or the internet something to do.

Thoughts, my Dear Readers?

On a completely unrelated note: It’s August! My favorite month of the year! And I need a vacation! So I will be taking the next two weeks off from blogging. I’ll be saty-cationing and hunting for feather treasures etc. and reading and responding to your wonderful Comments, but I won’t be posting anything until Sept. 2.

Keep collecting Blue Jay feathers! Keep watching sun sets! Keep the champagne flowing! Keep toasting yourself!

And meet me here in 2 weeks when I tell you all about my latest wanderings, findings, and paintings.


16 Comments, RSS

  1. Kirra

    Dear Vivian Swift – previous collage maker and future toast auctioneer,

    Have a great 2 week break and thanks again for the blog post. I agree hobbies are good for you.

    From Kirra 🙂

  2. Jan Murray

    I discovered your gardens book yesterday in my local library and couldn’t put it down! I have described it as absolutely delicious. My birthday is in September so I have requested that my children buy me at least 1 of your books because I just have t own them. Real treasures. ?

  3. Marg-o

    Oh that’s funny, “toast auctioneer”. All of us who watch The big Bang Theory know that the thing we do with our glasses of wine before drinking is called a “toast” because the Romans used to drop in a piece of grilled bread into their wine before making with the “bottoms up”. Roman wine must have been very bad because it was always enhanced with additives which, re: my brief internet search, included seawater, pig’s blood, and marble dust.

    Toast and champagne sounds like a delightful August breakfast.

    I would have awarded you a gold ribbon for Nothing That We Love Overmuch. I love that one and as usual, you’ve made me see something out of the blue. 3D collage! Love it!

    Have a great vacation. I hope you find lots of blue jay feathers in your backyard, with kitty help from your excellent assistants Taffy and Steve…and I hope you make lots of TOASTS!

  4. I love your small collages – so precise, so artsy ! (Although I don’t get why the reviewer called your watercolors “collages).

    I love the Van Gogh quote, “The way to know life is to love many things”. I don’t understand people who have no passions and admire those who do. Even if I don’t understand their particular obsession, I admire them for having it.

    And as usual the post made me laugh – “embiggened” is a wonderful word !

  5. First of all, the collages are fabulous. And you have very smart, out-there titles. For a person who wrote for a living for 32 years, I am total crap at titles or headlines. Oh, and the black angel wings. Loved that. I’m glad that not all your work made the purge, for these are little gems! (I love the fact that you worked small — even back then!)

    And congratulations on the great review! Now that’s something to cheer about!

    I had this “interest” conversation with my cousin who retired recently after years of owning a business. Now, when I retired, I had a list that went halfway down the block of all the things I wanted to do in my retirement. The thought of being bored never occurred to me. Poor old David is struggling so he has become my project — to help him find a life after work. This may be easier said than done, since he lacks hobbies but I am on the case! As for me, I fear I’ll die before I do it all!

  6. Bunny

    Fantastic look into your past, adds credence to the old saying, everyone has a past. Very nice review in the American Horticultural Society, congrats.

    We will all miss you dearly, it wont be a TGIF without you.
    Note to Jan, if you love the Gardens, you’ll love Le Road Trip. You get the feeling like you’ve just had YOUR honeymoon in France, and you’re right there travelling with the happy couple.

  7. Love your 3 d collages..I was so into them also..but it was in the late 70’s early 80’s and my decoupage was on wood and Mod Podge..a glue gun made the layers..they were of Holly Hobby surprise there;)
    Yours are real art:)
    Yes Jan..her books are treasures..I have 3….love them..I have given some as gifts and received one I had as a gift so my daughter has it.

    I will keep them forever..

    way too many hobbies here..
    the days fly by.
    Have a nice rest..enjoy the next two weeks..and happy for the review.

    • SusanA

      Yes, Monique! I used to do those Holly Hobbie 3-D collages on wood too. I think I even still have a couple stashed away somewhere. They were fun.

  8. Those collages are fabulous! Had I been the judge of that show, I would have given you the grand prize.

    I’m with Jeanie — I retired last December and have been busier than ever — birdwatching, painting, urban sketching, gardening, dachshund-wrangling, baking, reading, collecting knickknacks (pelicans, lighthouses, miniature tea sets). And like her, I know people who retire and are bored out of their minds within a few months because they sit around with nothing to do — and that’s because their only previous “hobby” was watching TV. Thus the adult coloring books. Gah!

    Have a wonderful staycation — I look forward to your report on all the amazing things you find and do!

  9. Carol S

    Enjoy your stay-cation!
    We’ll miss you Vivian, even if it’s only two weeks. Give Steve hugs for me. My tuxedo Rocky gave me the cold shoulder for a few days when I returned from California this week.

  10. Love the collages! I’m so impressed with your artwork whatever form it takes: stitching, quilting, painting, collages. Makes me wonder what other tricks you might have up your sleeve? Please do share!

    Besides not giving ourselves permission to play with passion, that’s how I define hobby, we often don’t give ourselves permission for down time. Even the earth takes a rest before it produces the next crop. Wishing you a wonderful, idle, break. See you in two weeks!

  11. ann

    You are very good at collecting original stuff for you collages. That is quite a talent. I am amazed at your patience to put all ideas together. I love to vary the type of art I’m working on. The past few weeks I’ve been doing mixed media with Mod Podge! It’s the greatest stuff. Have a great break!

  12. SusanA

    Your collages are so imaginative and expressive—love them!

    Thank you for affirming the wonders of Having A Hobby. I grew up around a lot of people whose mantra was something like, “If it doesn’t make money, it’s not worth doing.” I’ve always had hobbies; although for most of my adult life, I’ve felt guilty devoting time to them because of those damaging messages from my youth. I love coming across reminders about how important hobbies really are. Thank you!

    Enjoy your stay-cation!

  13. Laura

    I find it fascinating that the numbers of people who claim a hobby are so low, given the proliferation of Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, Hancock and Jo-Ann Fabrics, etc. You can’t go a mile without running into a superstore devoted to hobbies. Curious.

  14. Christine

    “Hobbies give you something to think about instead of death,” may be my new favorite quote!

    Savor your hiatus: go forth in awe and folly!

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