Monthly Archives: January 2014

Reading and Writing and ‘Rhythmatic– Math Art!



A special treat.  My friend Greg gives us a report on some of the beautiful artwork inspired by mathematics.

Dear Friends of the Crafty Lawyer,

I am Greg Coxson.  I have been a friend of Mary G. (the flesh-and-blood crafty lawyer), for decades now.  I would like to report on an exciting development that you may find interesting, maybe even life-changing.

The past several years have seen a growing exploration of intersections between Mathematics and the Arts.  Here “the Arts” is meant in its full flowering, including not just two dimensional paintings, but also sculpture, music, dance, fabric and bead art, poetry and beyond).   There are two notable fun and inspiring gatherings of this burgeoning Math-Art community each year.  One is the Bridges conference which takes place in July each year in a different city somewhere on the globe (in 2014 it will be in Seoul, South Korea).  The second is the judged mathematical art exhibit at the Joint Mathematics Meeting (JMM), which takes place in January in some American city (usually in the south for obvious reasons).

In the last several years, I have become more and more interested in these developments.  Frankly, I now find what these folks do to be quite amazing.  For one thing, the artwork needs to be appealing and interesting.  Also, the artist needs to consider the materials and how to create the artwork from them.  Furthermore, and I am not sure this is where it ends, the piece has to have some serious mathematics behind it.   For some of the artworks at the Bridges conference, for instance, the artist even writes a scholarly journal-worthy article to explain the background of the piece.

This year, the JMM took place at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore,  To take advantage of this remarkable opportunity, the Crafty Lawyer dispatched me to report on the goings-on.  These conferences tend to be times of great busy-ness for me.  Still, I was able to find the time to stop by the show.  I quickly found the newest offerings by Margaret Kepner, a Washington-based print artist.  Margaret does very clean, sharp, colorful works that are at the same time appealing and based on very sophisticated mathematical methods and concepts.  Margaret actually won first prize in the judging in 2011 for a print based on a magic square where the magic takes several forms, which Margaret highlighted using both pattern and color.

While Margaret’s mathematically-based prints are wonderful enough, I am going to share an inside secret.  Her custom-designed cards are even more amazing.   For years she has been doing cards for events in her own family.  These are based on mathematics too, and they celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and holidays in creative, fresh ways.  If you get a chance to talk with Margaret, it is really a treat to see and learn about these cards.


Margaret had two pieces in the JMM mathematical art exhibit this year.  The one I chose to feature is pleasantly relevant to the Crafty Lawyer.  This piece is a print rendered in white and various shades of blue.  The first pattern that strikes the eye is a 6 x 5 array of 30 hexagonal or “hexagon-like” shapes.  Each of these hexagonal shapes is divided into eight triangles (or near-triangular wedges) combined in a pie-shaped arrangement.  Each of the eight triangles represents a separate bead in an eight-bead necklace; its color is one of two colors for that bead.  So one of these 30 pies stands for one way to color an eight-beaded necklace where each bead can have one of two colors.  You are probably now well ahead of me in asking, “Why only 30?  Aren’t there 256 ways to color eight beads using two colors?”  Well, you would be right, of course.  However, after you consider symmetries, it comes down to 30 “distinct’” possibilities.  One pattern can be rotated to give as many as eight that are essentially the same pattern.  The set of 30 provides a minimal yet full set of representatives for the 256 possibilities without tiring the viewer with unnecessary redundancies.

As with many works by Margaret and other mathematical artists, it does not end there.  She has also worked into the piece the 6 ways to color a four-beaded necklace using two colors.  These are depicted as different colorings of four-section diamonds.  Note that the 6×5 array has 36 corners.  These 36 corners are arrayed in 6 columns.  Kepner has placed the six possibilities down each of these columns.  Then, from one column to the next, she cyclically shifts the ordering of these diamonds by a single shift.

Okay, that is probably already more than enough mathematics.  Perhaps, though, you join me in feeling a bit of wonder at how Kepner forms a piece that appeals even without inspecting it for the mathematical underpinnings.

I want to thank the Crafty Lawyer for this arduous and risky assignment.  Despite the stress and the late nights, I am available for similar reporting at Bridges in Seoul this summer, or JMM San Antonio next January.

13 Rocks–A Look Back at a Crafty Year


IMG_2774Last year wasn’t a good year for this blog, as family health issues and intense work requirements didn’t leave much time for play.   This year may not be much better, but I have realized that in the midst of all the craziness last year, we still managed to create some pretty cool stuff, and that I better memorialize it while I could.  In fact, writing about incorporating art into my daily life isn’t just fun–it’s therapeutic.  So, before 2014 gets any older, here’s a quick recap of fun and easy things you can do to celebrate and create.

image  1.Make a Memorial Ribbon.  As you know from my last post, my dad passed away last year.  When the whole family was together (ten kids, 8 spouses and partners, 17 grandkids, various dogs and cats) there were tears and laughter, but lots of time just sitting around reminiscing and catching up.   I wanted to make something for all of us to wear for the funeral.  There wasn’t time for the soldered glass charms (and not really a guy thing, anyway), but a photocopier, black electrical tape, and purple ribbon allowed us to create our own memorial ribbons.  Black electrical tape is an old family joke–our dad fixed everything with black tape!–so edging the photocopies in black tape held meaning as a symbol of mourning and of his creativity.   Tucking a folded purple ribbon behind the picture gave us something to attach a pin to and incorporated his favorite K-state color into the mix.  We made forty of these in a few hours for family to wear and remember.  You could do the same for happier occasions as well–to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary.  And I’m starting to think about how to turn the idea into a valentine–maybe a heart shaped photocopy, outlined in red duct tape, with the line “keep me close to your heart, valentine.”  What do you think?

!13 Rocks--Amethysts made special party favors, little books found on etsy, table cards from moo.com2.  Thirteen–or any age–Rocks!  Rebecca turned thirteen in 2013 and we had a lovely bat mitzvah celebration for her.  At the dinner following her ceremony, we used the theme “13 Rocks” and decorated not with flowers, but with amethyst chunks and candles.  You can find all kinds of rocks online and many people sell you big old boxes of crystal chunks relatively inexpensively.  I had tiny little tags made that commemorated the date, and Rebecca and Mike’s mom, Rita, stuck them on the bottom of the geodes and chunks.  The geode candles glowed and little chunks of amethyst sat at every place setting–the room glittered.  We were able to avoid costly flowers and party favors, but gave everyone a unique remembrance of Rebecca’s special night.  And I’m told that some of the littlest partygoers loaded their pockets with rocks–which is exactly what we wanted

image   3.   Make a really big collage mirror–I have been saving all the little bits and pieces of my life for years, reluctant to let them go but growing increasingly tired of boxes of “junk,”  A few years back, i had done an assemblage of Rebecca’s childhood toys and castoffs on a huge mirror I had picked up in the TJ Maxx clearance section.  I had been holding on to my other bargain mirror in the hopes of making some kind of matching piece and it finally occurred to me that I could make an assemblage of my own tiny things.  To do this yourself, you really just need an old mirror with a frame at least 2 inches wide, mod podge, some craft glue or epoxy for heavier objects, and the patience to fit all the piece of your life together.   I actually did most of the work in a weekend, but this kind of collage work benefits from some sitting and thinking time, and in fact, has many layers, so you can start the project, set it aside for awhile, and come back to it. I will revisit the idea of a collage mirror later this year, and give you step by step instructions for making a smaller version.


4.  Home-made banners in a hurry–when a case my husband had worked on for years was decided favorably in the Supreme Court, you bet we celebrated.  But how to make a banner out of a legal case?  Find a quote that summarizes the case–either from the decision or from a newspaper article– copy or retype it, center it and then increase the font size until just a few words fit (centered) on the page.   Suddenly you have 10 or more flags to string on a ribbon.  If you want, cut the flags into triangles (pointing down) and create that pennant feeling so popular these days.  I will admit that the fellows in the fancy restaurant were a bit stunned when I pulled out a banner to decorate our table, but they took it in stride when they saw the delighted look on my surprised husband’s face.IMG_2970                         IMG_2967                                                 IMG_1419  5.   Halloween–worth its own post but here’s a teaser:  Is Your Child a Teenager or a Zombie?  Take our Quiz.  We had lots of fun with this and Rebecca came up with the idea–will revisit this at Halloween.

IMG_0027 6.  Picture table runners.  OK, this is kind of a cheat, since I made these on Shutterfly, but I knew that I wanted to do something special for my in-laws who moved from my husband’s childhood home into a retirement community this year.  On our last visit to their house,  I snapped a bunch of pictures and then later incorporated them into this table runner.  I thought the sentiment really said it all “The House May Change but the Love Never Does.”

Go here: Table Runner from Photos of Mike’s Family Home

7.   Fun jewelry.  This was a year of making bat mitzvah presents out of invitations.  I think a personal piece of jewelry made from an invitation, a save the date card, or a program is a terrific way to remember and treasure an event.  For girls, at least, we made sure to include a special charm to remember the day.  Here are some samplesBat mitzvah invitation necklaceellaback of two charms--one is a detail from an invitation, the other a snippet from an old book

So, despite the appalling lack of writing on this blog post in 2013, there was lots of creativity in my house.  This year, I’m resolving to track it and write about it a bit more–I hope you will join me and share your crafty lawyer, baker, teacher, candlesticker maker stories as well.

My Dad Made Me an Anvil–What Has Your Dad Done for You Lately?


Tomorrow (January 6) would have been my dad’s 87th birthday.  Paul Sanders Giovagnoli, inventor, mechanical engineer, father of ten, and true love for 55 years (and beyond) of my Mom, Joyce, ,passed away last April.  His legacy as an  inventor (Dad’s obituary )of the baseball pitching machine is a story we have told a lot in the past year,

My young dad at the beginning of his pitching machine career

My young dad at the beginning of his pitching machine career

but Dad made many things, large and small.  I thought I would pay tribute to him today by recounting one of the most amazing Christmas presents I ever received:  my very own jewelry anvil.

Handmade for me by Dad about fifteen years ago.  Look at those markings on the base--it's like art!

Handmade for me by Dad about fifteen years ago. Look at those markings on the base–it’s like art!

Take a look at the photos of this stainless steel marvel.  Not only was it handcrafted, cut and polished by hand, but Dad imagined my nascent jewelry career and anticipated what he thought I would need to successfully pound and shape delicate wire earrings.  See the carpeting attached to the bottom–Dad’s solution to cushioning blows and keeping the sound down. photo 2

thick industrial carpet, cut from who knows what salvaged item,  ensures that all my blows are gentle on the ears  and that the anvil won't go flying!

thick industrial carpet, cut from who knows what salvaged item, ensures that all my blows are gentle on the ears and that the anvil won’t go flying!

And the little airplane/butterfly screw on the end?  My own personal mechanism for twirling and twisting wire.  He made me a tiny jewelry hammer as well, and a jig  (with random holes for greater creativity) and a butane torch holder .  Maybe he was just so excited that I had found a hobby that involved manipulating metal or that I needed lots of tools, but I like to think that he knew that my jewelry anvil would last forever and that every time I used it, a little bit of him would be infused in my art.

In the last few months of his life, Dad continued to invent things, even making his own rehabilitation tools.  But the greatest thing he did–perhaps his best and final present–was to share with us till the very end his absolute love for his family, his faith in God, and his belief that if you just thought through a problem enough, you would find a solution.

Happy Birthday, Dad–we love you!

I have no idea what Dad is working on here

I have no idea what Dad is working on here

Dad as present

Dad as present

Mom and Dad were never afraid to show us they loved each other--another gift!

Mom and Dad were never afraid to show us they loved each other–another gift!

My mom is also very crafty--and you just have to love her couple's self portrait in shrinky dink plastic!My mom is also very crafty–and you just have to love her couple’s self portrait in shrinky dink plastic!