Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, July 21

Gapers Block

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Some folks are crafty, and some are arty. Some are both, and some are neither. My daughter, for example, is arty, but not so crafty. Markers and paper are all the craft supplies she feels are needed by anyone. Maybe some tape. Oh, the eye rolling that occurs when the suggestion of making a collage is made. The very notion of tearing a page out of a National Geographic from 1987 is disconcerting to her, because someone, at some point, might really want to read that article about Egyptian Treasures. I have been known to stand around reading old NG articles, so I understand where she's coming from, but I have no issues with dismembering one in order to glue pictures to a macaroni box. Luckily, I've got two more kids to get crafty with. We do a lot with duct tape and cardboard. I don't know if we'll be winning any awards down at the craft bazaar, but it's pretty fun.

Girl Scouts are internationally known for their skills at transforming everyday objects into peculiar, often holiday-themed decorations. Give a Girl Scout a couple plastic spoons, some googly eyes and some feathers, and presto chango, you'll have a turkey that you can take home and set on the holiday table. (Or in our case, leave in the van, let it get stepped on, have people fight over who gets the googly eyes on it so you can taunt your little brother with them by pretending to have so much fun with them, and observe its fall out of the van into the gutter, where it will lie in increasing states of decay until it's rediscovered, sadly lamented and thrown back into the van). I am fortunate to be a Girl Scout leader for a group of girls that I've been with for 4 years now. We've got a good mix of girls, including some who will happily make 2-foot square collages out of precision cut eyeball photos, while others hastily tear pictures of junk food that their mothers won't buy, slap them down on a piece of cardboard and call it a day. That's cool; it all evens out. I'm sure there are girls in the troop that would prefer having individual servings of craft supplies and clear instructions to make identical crafted creations. Unfortunately they'll have to join someone else's troop to do it.

I prefer crafts that are open to personal interpretation, rather than the more "traditional" crafts that have a right way and a wrong way. I get how to do those kind of crafts, and I understand why others like to do them. I even understand why those kinds of things are fun for large groups to do. They are easy to organize and the maker gets a sense of accomplishment. I just don't have the interest in doing them myself, so I don't see much point in making others do them. Nor do I see the benefit in sending kids home with piles of useless crap that their parents are going to end up moving from shelf to shelf, until it ends up in the bottom of some random bowl and doesn't get discovered until the cat knocks it off of the shelf. Does anyone need a plastic spoon turkey? Not really, beyond the "oh, that's cute sweetie" moment that parent and child get to share upon the presentation of just such an item. Does anyone need an eyeball collage? Yes. Of course you do, especially if your daughter is the genius who spent two hours making it. Perhaps more importantly, the making of the collage needed to be an experience of personal discovery for the blossoming artist.

The word on the street is that the best way to teach a kid anything is to do it yourself. If your kids see you loving to read/exercise/cook/knit, then they will probably grow up loving it, too. My kids see plenty of stuff getting made around here. I like to knit and sew and draw and paint, and their dad is well known as the go-to guy for just about anything three-dimensional. I hope that the arts and crafts streak will rub off on them, or at least they will know that it's possible to make things with their own two hands, even if it isn't something they much like to to do now.

A long time ago I spent an evening in a glassblowing studio, drinking wine with a bunch of glassblowing graduate students, who insisted that their ability to blow a perfect wine glass was just craft, and nothing more. It followed soon after that all craft was crap and never art. Lines were drawn and people started getting hot under the collar. My friend, an avid quilter who loves a good argument even when she is sober, took the side of the crafter, and insisted that art was in the eye of the beholder, even if the beholder was someone who cranked out painted wooden snowmen. It turned ugly. The glassblowers started smashing things, and the pleasant evening turned into one of those odd occasions when you find yourself out in the cold, unclear as to how you arrived there. Can't artists and crafters just get along?

That night and that argument stuck with me, though. I have always been able to draw and put things together in a reasonable sort of way, and I can pull off both arts and crafts. I also get that there is a big difference; being able to blow a perfect wine glass does not make you a great glass artist; it makes you a great craftsperson. Art and craft can happily coexist, as they do in the work of printmakers, quilters, glassblowers, knitters and so forth. Lord knows it would be a dismal existence without wine glasses or festive snowmen, and the truth is, if it makes someone happy to spend an afternoon gluing beans onto a jar lid, it's not going to be me to tell them that it's not art, because why rain on someone's parade, right? Crafts make people happy, and I like happy people, especially happy kids.

That is why, when I was given the directive to disseminate the following information by a girl I know, I took her seriously:

Arts and Crafts Day

I made up Arts and Crafts Day so more people would do crafts. Arts and Crafts Day is a day that you are supposed to do all the arts and crafts you can do in one day. Then you think about which craft you should give to which person, and you give it to the person you thought of the next time you see that person. Arts and Crafts Day is November the 30. Good craft ideas for Arts and Crafts Day:

1. Draw a picture of your friend
2. Use a shoe box to make a doll house
3. Collage
4. Sock monkeys

Please spread the word by blogs, by phone or by mouth.

This girl has included examples of both arts and crafts for people to do. Everyone loves a sock monkey, and each one can have a unique personality, but let's face it. A sock monkey is a sock monkey. That's a craft. Drawing a picture of a friend? Art. The dollhouse project might include both. Something for everyone.

November is a hard month, with lots to do. It's getting cold. We're all adjusting to the end of daylight so-called savings time. Election day is upon us. We've all got to figure out our Thanksgiving plans, whether it's booking flights and traveling with small children in a metal tube that hurtles through the sky, or planning, shopping and preparing a big meal. There are winter coats to find and, all of a sudden, mittens to keep track of. Everyone has grown out of everything that fit last year so it's time for some shopping, and while you are there you might as well get started buying presents. Plus the election results will have come in, and we'll all be living with them. I think that a day of nothing but arts and crafts is an excellent idea, and should really be a national holiday to give every stressed-out American the time needed to do some rug-hooking, string some beads, or perhaps attempt a portrait of a friend. Think about how happy everyone will be when we exchange our arts and crafts with those we were thinking of while we were making them.


If you want to get crafty, but feel that you would prefer crafting with a crowd, why not volunteer your time with a youth organization in Chicago. There are Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and The Boys and Girls Club. Park districts are often in need of donated craft supplies; stop in and see if there's anything they need that you can give.

The Creative ReUse Warehouse was at one time located in an actual warehouse, but was relocated during the expansion of UIC. Now housed in the Resource Center, Creative ReUse takes odds and ends from business around the area and sets them out for all to creatively reuse. In its present quarters the store is limited in what it can take in, but is hoping a solution to the housing issue will present itself, so the staff can once again take in the amount of stuff they once did, to redistribute to teachers, artists, kids, groups and whomever would like to take something and make it into something new and beautiful. Meanwhile, take a trip down and see what inspires you.

The Art Institute of Chicago was apparently named "most kid friendly museum" by Child Magazine. Not sure what the criteria was for that one, or if by kid, they meant a well-behaved 8-year-old girl, because the last time I checked, the museum wasn't the best spot for a rowdy 3-year-old. The museum does offer fun family programming, which you can find on the web site. We've had some fun making stuff at the MCA as well, but according to the MCA schedule, "there are no family events planned at this time." What's with that? Maybe they don't know about November the 30.

The Children's Museum has a fun art studio where kids can go to get crafty. Here's the current schedule.

(Thank you, Fiona)

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About the Author(s)

Lori Upchurch lives on the far Northwest Side in a house that's overflowing with books, kids, pets and too much stuff from the thrift store. She is a proud member of Team Upchurch, a family of multi-talented unschoolers. She can generally be spotted driving around with a bunch of kids, not all of them hers, looking for someplace fun to get out and play.

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