FAIRE for Daydreamers in Reading Eagle

Today, my local paper ran the following feature about my Etsy shop, FAIRE for Daydreamers.  I’m enjoying my 15 minutes.

Muhlenberg artist has eye for beauty

Monday January 5, 2015 12:01 AM
By Jennifer Hetrick

Erica Vinskie of Muhlenberg Township enjoys beauty in all its diversity.

Now she is sharing her creations and discoveries with the world after joining Etsy as a seller in October, featuring her own fine art, handmade and repurposed items and vintage finds.Vinskie’s business name is FAIRE, and her Etsy storefront is called FAIRE-shoppe. –

See more at: http://readingeagle.com/life/article/artist-always-has-had-an-eye-for-beauty#sthash.gKWVWKN8.dpuf

A Peaceful Passing: Dusk

While this is a blog about living, yesterday I learned something about dying.

Dusk in Grass

I suspect the Elysian Fields are the ideal place for a cat to roam.

After too many experiences to the contrary, I saw that the passage from this life can be peaceful.  Nine months after being diagnosed with liver disease (most of the time spent blissfully unaware, as in the photos above and below), our cat Dusk weakened this weekend to the point where my husband and I knew that this time, there would be no recovery.  In apparent answer to my fervent prayers, she was spared the most distressing symptoms of end stage liver failure. She even enjoyed a good appetite until the end—lapping up a saucer of warm milk shortly before the vet arrived to our home, and eating a treat out of my hand while the vet administered the sedative.

Cat Dusk napping in grass

After a good meal of oven roasted chicken and liver, Dusk slumbers under her favorite shade tree this summer.

In death, Dusk’s face had the look of a kitten napping, her eyes squinting contentedly above her characteristic chubby cheeks. When I peeled back the blanket in which the vet had her swaddled, and nuzzled her one last time, all I could utter was, “wow.”  What an astonishing gift her life and death has been to us.

FAIRE: for daydreamers

I recently exhibited at the Arts on the Avenue fine arts and crafts festival in West Reading, PA.  Prepping for my first show was a lot of work for which I earned comparatively little money, but I can’t wait to do it again. Faire market stall The event was also the public debut of FAIRE: for daydreamers.  “Faire” is not only a quaint word for marketplace but also the French verb meaning, “to make.”  It seems the perfect title for an outlet where I share and sell my creations and collections—namely, my fine art paintings and prints, handcrafted and hand painted decorative pieces, and winsome found objects.

Right now, FAIRE is a market stall, but I’ve plans to launch an online shoppe this fall. If you’d like to receive an announcement when faireshoppe.com launches, or news of upcoming exhibits, donnez moi votre email addresse, s’il vous plait.

Faire market stall with Erica Vinskie Many thanks to my father, Larry Vinskie, for taking these photographs, and to my husband for building my display!

Cherry Blossoms and Peonies: A Cherished Celebration

This weekend my family gathered to celebrate the 61st wedding anniversary of my Uncle Jack and Aunt Mary (her chosen anglicized name; her given name is Kazuko).  The pair married in 1953 in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan, where my uncle was stationed with the U.S. Naval Fleet during the Korean War.  My aunt, I believe, worked at the naval base commissary.

It has long troubled me how much of my aunt’s cultural heritage she was forced to abjure in order to join American society in the years following WWII.  I suppose she did it for love.  Nevertheless, when my uncle asked how she wanted to celebrate their anniversary, she said she’d like to go for sushi.  Nothing if not generous (and witty, kind, caring, and a great Polka dancer), my uncle invited the whole family.  Into this mirthful celebration of their life and love, we infused symbols of Aunt Mary’s Japanese heritage and their beginnings as a couple. This floral arrangement of peonies from the garden and crafted paper cherry blossoms was my contribution.

Cherry Blossoms & Peonies


Paper cherry blossoms

To create these tissue paper cherry blossoms, I loosely followed the instructions here: DIY Cherry Blossoms – Creations by Kara

Cherry Blossoms & Peonies

Aunt Mary and Uncle Jack on their 61st wedding anniversary at the Pearl Sushi Bar, Mohegan Sun Poconos Casino & Resort.

The Carnival is in Town

I’m embarrassed by how long it’s been since I’ve posted something here.  I’d say I’m going to turn over a new leaf and rededicate myself to blogging, but I know better.

Never mind for now…the carnival is in town!  Our sleepy little hamlet here in Berks County, Pennsylvania, has been transformed by the whimsical presence of a community carnival.  This afternoon I went across the street with my little point-and-shoot and took some photos.  (Yes, I applied Photoshop vintage actions to these and probably overdid it.)

Now, VintageFerrisWheel_SM VintageOldRed_CottonCandyStand_SM CoolSooperTrooper_SM LtOrangeTiltaWhirl_SM I can’t wait to get some night shots!

Anthracite Mining Heritage Sites as Sacred Places?

Recently, a film crew interviewed me for a documentary about the historic Huber Breaker in Ashley, PA.  While Ashley is in the Northern Coalfields of the Anthracite Mining Region, and I hail from the Southern Coalfields, the filmmaker, John Welsh, a friend of a friend, thought I might lend an interesting perspective.  Why?  Well, I grew up with an abandoned breaker a stone’s throw from my bedroom window.  Before my siblings and I were old enough to make the trek through the woods to the breaker, we looked out on it and imagined it to be where souls went when people died.  Even while we were then being inculcated with our Catholic Christian faith’s resplendent images of heaven, we viewed the Mary-D Colliery “abode of souls” rather like the Old Testament Sheol.  That is, it was a foreboding place where spirits existed as shadows flitting about in the dust and the dark.  And yet, there was also a Valhalla (“hall of slain heroes”) aspect to our fantasy of the breaker as a final resting place.

Flying-The-Breaker from John Welsh on Vimeo.

John asked me to tell this tale on camera because he encountered an unexpected twist in his telling of the Ashley Breaker story: some of his interviewees were describing the place as “sacred.”  During his first visit to the breaker, he himself felt as though he were “entering a cathedral.”  (Easier to imagine when you see the Ashley Breaker: it is eleven stories high, with walls composed of windows, many of which are now missing.  When you stand on the top floor, wind whipping past your body, you feel as though you are soaring over the surrounding hills.)  John thought my perspective as a native, combined with my background in religious studies, might help illuminate this part of the story.

And so it was that I met John, and his colleagues Alana Mauger and Alex Fox Rudinski, one recent Saturday for a trip to Ashley.

During my interview I was careful not to position myself as an expert on sacred spaces because I am not.  And while my Master’s thesis dealt somewhat with the “sacramental imagination”—that is, an optic on the world that sees the divine manifest in both natural and human creation, an optic I believe is most pronounced in Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, both prominent in the Coal Region—I didn’t want to put forth any half-baked hypotheses on camera.

But I realize I may have been too careful, and there is more I wish to say on this.  No answers emerge in what follows, just more questions.

When religion scholars speak of sacred v. profane space, they often do so with recourse to the thinking of the late religious historian, Mircea Eliade.  Eliade’s universalist theories of religious experience have come under postmodernist scrutiny, but they are useful for shedding light on why people might experience “secular” spaces as “sacred.”  Eliade believed that a sacred place can be anywhere a person has an encounter with the divine (such a manifestation of the sacred he called a “hierophany”).  Humans do not choose the place; it is chosen by the divine.  In theory, an abandoned colliery could qualify.  And if a space is regarded as sacred, shouldn’t that add another dimension to the debate over its preservation?

Interview in front of Huber Breaker, Ashley, Pennsylvania, Anthracite Mining Region

Photo taken by Alana Mauger.

At the end of our exploration of the crumbling Huber Breaker, the filmmakers asked me to reflect on its future.  I found myself saying that while I’m generally sentimental, my thinking about the preservation of these spaces is more pragmatic.  I said something about how I feel they are best preserved in art and historiography, rather than in actuality…that it would be too costly to restore…they are public safety hazards…yadda yadda yadda.

Thinking now upon my response, I realize it as a complete reversal of how I felt when I was younger.  Maybe I was not being pragmatic as much as slavishly fatalistic.  If so, I reason recent, significant events in my life brought me to this point of resignation.

In 2008, the Allentown Diocese, which oversees the Roman Catholic parishes of most of the Coal Region, shuttered 47 of its 151 churches.  Thirty-two were in my home county of Schuylkill; among these was my childhood parish of St. Bertha’s in Tuscarora.  St. Bertha’s was a beautiful, serene, holy place where I had many “hierophanies,” both as a child and as an adult.  In 2010, the building and grounds were sold for $30,000 and converted to a private residence.  When I drive past now, I weep to see vinyl windows in place of stained glass, and a Mercedes Benz parked in the driveway.

A fate more tragic than that of St. Bertha’s is St. George’s in Shenandoah, Schuylkill County.  Closed in 2006, St. George has particular historic significance as the first Lithuanian parish in the U.S.  Despite this fact, the Allentown Diocese deemed the building structurally unsound and opted for demolition rather than preservation in 2009.  After years of pleading with the diocese to spare the church from destruction, even offering to buy the building and subsequently suing the diocese in civil court, the parishioners of St. George saw their beloved church razed to the ground in February 2010.  Each year, at the annual Lithuania Days heritage festival in Schuylkill County, parishioners publicly mourn the loss of their church at a small shrine erected just for the event.  A former parishioner told me that since he no longer has a church, he no longer attends Mass.  At midnight on Christmas Eve, he can be found in front of the fenced, vacant lot where his church once stood holding a solitary candlelight vigil.

When I once asked my grandmother, a life-long, devout Catholic, how she felt about her own parish, St. Bartholemew’s in Brockton, being shuttered, she replied:  “I am bitter.”  I realize I am bitter too.  Maybe funds ought to be expended to preserve the material legacy of Anthracite Mining.  Maybe the Huber Breaker bears enough historical significance to justify the cost and effort.  It is a debate worth having.  (And it is already taking place in the Region, though often not charitably.  See comments here.)

But, I ask:  If a wrecking ball can smash through the face of Christ and his Blessed Mother as painted on a gorgeous ceiling fresco, why not through through the rusted sheet metal walls of a breaker?  If a colossal pipe organ can be smashed to splinters, if an angel can be hauled away in chains to an unknown destination, why cannot corroded pieces of metal be sorted and sold in the scrap markets of Philadelphia?

If our churches, why not our collieries?  And if our cultural heritage, why not our labor legacy?


Living the Creative Life with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

I didn’t want to let two whole months go by between blog posts, but here it is, glorious mid-May.

I would like to blame my lapse on my new job, but it’s only part-time, and so that is only part of the problem.

Mostly, I’ve been experiencing a strong compulsion to stay off of the computer and get back to basics.  After years of creating almost exclusively in two-digital-dimensions, I suddenly can’t keep my hands off of my paints, my brushes, my furniture, my fabrics, and all things tactile.

Even as I type this, I’m dying to get out from behind this backlit monitor screen and out into the early evening sunlight.  The true colors are calling me.

But I’ve a few new pieces to show, so I might as well get on with it. Henrietta Nightstand Detail

I salvaged this nightstand for $12 at a flea market back in February.  The embossed carving inspired me, but the original dark mahogany stain did not.  (As usual, I neglected to take a “before” shot.)  So I opted for painting rather than restoring (oh, and painting is so much more fun!)

I used (primarily) Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Henrietta.  One $11.95 sample pot was more than enough for this small project (and traveling 30 minutes to buy it at a specialty boutique was worth it).

This paint has been called the “best in the world.”  I can attest that it is the best I’ve ever used on wood furniture.  Though I did sand and clean this piece, these steps are not necessary when using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.  Neither is priming.  The paint covers incredibly well (only one coat was needed) and dries almost instantly to a chalky vintage finish.

I rubbed a little of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Duck Egg Blue along the embossed carving and on the hardware, which gave it a weathered-copper patina.  I also painted the inside of the drawer and the underneath of the piece in blue. Henrietta Nightstand - Open Drawer

I heard that Annie Sloan’s finishing wax can run $30 a pot here in the States (she’s based in the UK), so instead, I took my chances with Miss Mustard Seed Furniture Wax, which I purchased for $20 on Etsy.  Not only did Miss Mustard Seed’s Furniture Wax give the piece a ravishing finish, its luscious texture and pleasing fragrance made it a joy to work with.

To the opaque wax, I mixed two drops of chocolate brown and two drops of dark gray acrylic pigment.  Vigorously rubbing the wax in and then lightly buffing away the excess gave the piece that delicately dingy, genuinely vintage look I wanted.  A little distressing along the edges also didn’t hurt.

This sweet, sturdy, and serviceable piece is now for sale.  If you’re interested, shoot me a message.

Henrietta Nightstand



Southern Comfort Calling at Cafe Campbelltown

Earlier this week, I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Central PA.  On the drive home, completely famished and about to go “Donner Party” on one another, we stumbled upon Cafe Campbelltown just outside of Hershey, PA.

Cafe Campbelltown serves up “classic American and Southern-inspired” fare.  Having now sampled their offerings, I translate this to mean, “darn satisfying comfort food.”  For a gal who lived some years in Louisiana, and who often craves a good “jam-ba-lay and a crawfish pie,” I’m completely gaga over this place.

To begin with, our waitress brought us a basket of hot-from-the-oven sweet cornbread and toasted country white.  We devoured it in minutes and felt our blood-sugar rise and hunger-induced rage subside.

From the enticing menu, I ordered the grilled catfish, which the chef agreed to blacken.  For $14, it came with two sides.  I couldn’t choose only two, so I ordered three:  scalloped potatoes (the potato du jour), mustard greens, and baked beans.

Unlike the catfish I ate down south, which tasted of the muddy river water in which it swam, this fresh (not-frozen) farm-raised fish had a perfectly mild flavor.  With the blackened crust (a tad salty), house-made tartar, and precise preparation, it was a real treat.

As for my sides, I could have made a meal of them alone (though I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on that fish!).  Rather than thinly-sliced and layered scalloped potatoes, these were cut into bite-sized chunks with the skin-on.  A more rustic preparation, they were every bit as cheesy as the casserole-style ones.  The mustard greens were smoky and savory and made more interesting and less bitter by the addition of carrots and red bell pepper.  Although the baked beans were from a can, someone had lovingly doctored them to be sweet and smooth.

My husband’s vegetarian vegetable soup was toothsome and hearty with its tomato-based broth and every conceivable garden-fresh veggie all cut into uniform bite-sized pieces.  Does size matter?  In this case, yes.

The bread pudding was served in a caramel-colored glass goblet with piping hot brandy sauce.  It was more than enough to share.  To complement this Nawlins-staple, I was grateful for the Kona blend coffee (although chicory would have been even more welcome).  Both of us were impressed with the loose tea selection.  The husband enjoyed the fragrant apple chamomile.

Our server took excellent care of us, particularly as we were pretty ornery when we walked in the door.  She was knowledgeable of the menu and genuinely seemed to like her job.

Though Cafe Campbelltown is inexpensive and entirely without guile and pretense, its substantial selection of vegetarian and gluten-free entrees, and its use of local produce, place it at the cutting-edge of central PA’s culinary scene.

Well-fed and happy, the two of us lingered awhile to delight in the eclectic, plantation-style decor.  The gooseberry green walls were the same color I painted my bedroom as a teenager.  Mix sweet nostalgia with craveworthy comfort food and you have a winning experience that bears repeating.

Upcycled Door Decoration for the Season of Lent

To mark the season of Lent, I created this front door decoration using, as a base, a ragtag twig wreath I purchased over a year ago at the Salvation Army for all of $0.97.  I wove in elements from my woodland Christmas tree, which I only recently (and shamefully) disassembled.  The purple Beautyberry twigs symbolize Christ’s passion and the verdant green Spanish moss is a reminder that spring will come, eventually. Repurposed Lenten Wreath