Step ladders, collaboration, and grandkids

Last spring we visited my sister Helen in Colorado, after a family wedding at the other end of the state. Her beautiful house is sparely and artistically furnished with things that spark joy, and this charming ladder, decorated by a local artist as part of a fundraising event, is proudly displayed at the center of the action. While we were there, my childhood friend Sue came down from her mountain top to hike with us, and she too was smitten by its quirky presence. We each made a mental note to investigate decorating ladders once we got home.

IMG_7033Sue got there first!
Sues ladder

I never found a local source for tall wooden step ladders, but Ikea had some good short ones, ready to assemble. I bought four, and it wasn’t long before Noam, a grandchild who loves projects, swam into my net!IMG_8242

I don’t know if all just-turned-four year olds are as brilliant at following assembly pictograms as Noam, but he lined up the pieces perfectly, selected the right hardware, and let Jacques tighten the screws for him.

I suppose I am like many others with an artistic temperament in that I have always preferred working on my own. You can get a little territorial about your space and your supplies, and following your own hunches seems compelling enough without the distraction of someone else’s input. But I started rethinking the benefits of collaboration when Steve Ford of Ford and Forlano, one of my favorite jewelry designers, came for a visit with slides of his work. Steve explained how he and “Forlano”, who live at the opposite ends of the country, send partially finished work back and forth via UPS, trusting that they are on the same page, and welcoming each other’s “surprise ending”. Not long after Steve left, the Parisians arrived for their summer holiday, and I tested this Collaboration thing, making a family table cloth. It was fun! Nobody spilled toxic chemicals or left my best paint brush to harden in the sun. We surfed on each other’s creative energy!

Collaborative table cloth

Noam, an early layer

So, eager to continue the experiment, I became Noam’s collaborator when we got out the paints. He mostly made the marks, and I mostly said, “Whoa! Enough! Here, try this tool…”, and mixed the paints with the medium. Noam is a man of process!–a new day, a new layer (“any color as long as it is blue!”). I finally declared this stepladder done; it could have gone on forever!

Noam's ladder Don’t you love the signature?Noam's signature

And then we dashed off another, with four or five playful layers. (As you can see, by now the tube of blue paint was History!)unnamed

This week Alexander and Martin are back in Italy for their school holidays. The weather has been moderately cooperative, but yesterday we were all restless from an inside day, and I proposed–guess what?!–assembling and painting the last two step ladders. This team was able to put together their own ladders, and when it came time to decorate, I had a feeling I knew what to expect! (From Alexander, careful geometrical renderings, and from Martin, explosions and amputated limbs and Star Wars imagery…) What was I thinking?–they announced their theme in one voice, with no hesitation. DAZZLE Ladders! We had been looking with delight at the camouflaged battle ships from World War II, and now they were ready to camouflage some furniture.images4926741146_2a31b23416Because the final two ladders are black, it wasn’t such a stretch. I gave them each a pin-nosed bottle with white liquid acrylic, and they dived in. Martin, like a true artist, took the surprises and ran with them. Here is a little Paint Book experiment he had done on my iPad a few months ago:


And here is how he dealt with an unruly blob of white paint that squirted out of the bottle onto his ladder. I love how he applies discoveries made in other media to the project at hand! IMG_8884Here are both fellows out in the field with their still tacky ladders, hoping to speed up the drying process.IMG_8888


2 Responses to “Step ladders, collaboration, and grandkids”

  1. Love the ladders! I am going to have to make a trip to ikea myself now!

  2. Martha Neal Says:

    Betsy, mom and Dad had a friend that gave people a newly stained ,dated and signed small ladder or step stool as a house warming gift. Maybe you and the grandkids can start an online business! Looked like all had fun!!

    I passed your mom’s page on to Paula Schuette Kraemer (Myrth’s daughter). Hope that was okay. She is also an artist (printmaking) and I thought she would enjoy seeing it. Paula has a website too if you would like to see her work. Trudy’s or generation’s artist,then on to my Elizabeth.


    Sent from my iPad


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