Meaning of Materials Feed

Thanksgiving 2023 Combines Art /Craft History and Czechoslovakian Pottery for Inspiration - Six tips for your table.

My Thanksgiving 2023 table setting was inspired by 100 year old Czechoslovakian plates.


This plate was the inspiration for this year's table. 
Over 40 years ago, I bought five plates for a few dollars at a flea market.  Since then.....I've searched  to find more plates, hoping to find enough to set an entire table -- and recently purchased nine more plates on e-bay!  The plates are over 100 years old.

Here is the quick history of this extraordinary abstract pattern.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the porcelain factories (that had been making porcelain plates for the aristocracy) attempted to reinvent their industry by painting blank porcelain plates with abstract images and political messages supporting the new revolutionary political ideology. 

Artists at that time, like Lissitsky and Kandinsky (as two examples), thought their art or craft should be as revolutionary as the politics. Constructivist, Supremacist, and abstraction were considered revolutionary ideas. Constructivism focused on experimentation with modern industrial materials to reflect admiration for machines, technology, and functionalism. Supremacism emphasized expression of artist feeling rather than visual representation of objects.


My plates are marked Czechoslovakian and were part of an effort between 1918-1938 to create an export industry in porcelain and glass factories.










These plates and this water pitcher were the beginning of my theme for Thanksgiving 2023.

The pitcher looked fantastic next to a framed metal collage I did for my CD catalog cover from 2004. They both have a fragmented pattern.
Vase with flowers.
Here is a closer image of my CD catalog cover image from 2004.

Now, back to Creating the Thanksgiving Table -- step by step.

The table started with plain paper.


After the paper is taped on, I place the plates. This year I am using under servers for a touch of gold.
Tip 1: I have learned to place the plates early in the process so that I don't paint under the plate and waste my time. This year I only had a few hours to paint the table cover. There was still a lot of cooking to do.

Tip 2: Place the flower arrangement early. No sense spending a lot of time painting under the flowers that will not be moved.PXL_20231122_185024069
Tip 3:  Always, always, always do your own flowers. Flowers from the grocery store are pretty, but average, lacking personality. Going to all this effort for a one-day table covering, you can easily imagine that "average" is not good enough. You don't have to buy expensive flowers, and foliage can go a long way. Notice how I used ivy from my garden. Ivy is free. Foliage from your yard is free. Many times foliage can be more interesting than standard pretty flowers.
Tip 4  Mix your own paint colors. Sorry, but paint colors directly out of the tube are average by definition.  I mixed my paint to match the colors on the plates. The patterns on the plates inspired my painted shapes.  Painting the table is a great way to enlist the participation of your family or friends, but this year I was painting solo. Amazingly, as I studied the plates to paint the table covering, I began seeing more detailed shapes in the plates that I had not noticed before.  Inspiration and spontaneous decisions allowed me to choose to replicate or modify or deviate from the shapes and patterns on the plate.   

Tip 5: Details are everything. Gold markers that I bought online were used to outline the painted shapes quickly with gold edges.  This whole table was painted in about three hours -- but it was such a creative joy that I would have loved to spend two or three more days painting. Putting down the colored dinner plates and Czechoslovakian plates at every place setting continued to generate inspiration all the way around the table.

No time to stop. Add candlesticks to the composition.
Add details to the composition and placement of the table objects.

PXL_20231122_223849348 (1)
Vintage 1950's black and gold water glasses provided additional pointy geometric shapes.

Gotta keep moving fast . . . . !
PXL_20231122_225048365.LONG_EXPOSURE-01.COVER (1)
A gold marker pen for outlining the patterns added gold outlines -- like on the plates. There was no time to be careful. Did you look closely at the plates? No two are exactly the same.  They were all hand painted.  Although they follow a similar layout, each plate shows a bit of individuality.

Go fast, make mistakes. Paint over a mistake. Details are everything.

Add wine glasses and vintage gold flatware. These all have to be hand washed only. You can find the gold flatware on e-bay. No one wants it except crazy people like me.....hand wash, hand wash, hand wash.   

Creating this one-of-a-kind table covering to establish our theme for Thanksgiving 2023 makes the evening special.   My guests always talk about previous table themes.


Tip 6:  Create a seating plan for better conversation.  Pressed for time, Bill, my husband, made a seating plan. Then I wrote the names on the table covering above the forks.

Let me know what you think of the table for Thanksgiving 2003. Really... I want to know.

Look for me on Instagram where I am creating a number of reels, stories and posts  for this table with more images.


Be inspired.


Photo credit for images: Philip Cohen, Bill Shelander, Alpa Sheth, and Harriete Estel Berman
Check out my Instagram reels, posts and stories for more images.


 A few Thanksgiving Tables from Past Years:
Thanksgiving 2019

Thanksgiving 2017 in Black and White

Artistic Expression and Being an Artist 2016

Vintage Visual Feast Thanksgiving 2015
Thanksgiving 2015 052

Thanksgiving 2014 
Thanksgiving 2014 flower arrangements 012
Thanksgiving 063
Setting the Thanksgiving Table

Gelt, Gilt, and Guilt
ThanksgivingPlate closerlower

Thanksgiving Visual Feast Giving Thanks 2012 with a Mondrian Theme for the table and food.
Thanks2Mondrian2012ARyn and Harriete

Thanksgiving 2010

Thanksgiving 2009


Giving Thanks, Remembrance and Reflection at Our Thanksgiving Table

The Thanksgiving Table 2022 was a departure from my normal seasonal themes and precision. 

Beginning with a couple of squirts of red paint on a plate -- red as symbolic for a difficult and painful year. The black paper (behind the plate) represents mourning.


A big brush dipped into the two shades of deep red paint, equipped me for cathartic broad strokes to thrash out my emotional pain. 

Over the past couple of years, many of us have felt loss. It may have been personal or more abstract.  Covid, missed family and friends, political worries, or social upheaval -- so much that continues to impact how we feel every day.


For me, my Thanksgiving Table has to be different and unique every year. This is an artist's life revealed -- a table setting that must be memorable.  Pussywillow sticks provided strikingly vertical lines out of a base of red berries from my yard topped with three red roses from the florist. 

 This year I used Japanese lacquer red plates that I had purchased years ago. 

The plates contributed to a practical approach of trying to be inspired and create a new theme while using things I already have.

The table setting progressed rapidly with Marissa's help on the morning of Thanksgiving.  Normally, the setting would be done the night before, but we had to wait this time to let the fresh red paint dry overnight -- those broad strokes had some thick places.

My vintage 1960's gold leaf glasses are always a good choice for Thanksgiving. PXL_20221124_172805455
We need wine glasses.


The napkins were left over from another time when we all entertained ourselves by shopping. 


Vintage 1960's gold plated flatware was the height of style until dishwashers made them too inconvenient. I still love them anyway.


The table is ready for the meal and a small group of company. A small group seemed an acceptable Covid risk parameter.


As everyone neared filling up with servings on their very full plates of food, each person shared one or two "thoughts of gratitude" this Thanksgiving. What can I be thankful for?

I am "grateful for an education."  said an inspiring young lady at the table.

I am "grateful for our neighborhood."

I am "grateful for being born in the second half of the 20th century."

What are you grateful for?

Please share in the comments.


"I Can See Plastic -- Everywhere"

I've been working on my Recycle Series of jewelry for eight years.

Plastic-bottle-Herbal-EssenceAs an artist and visual thinker, I'm well aware of the huge investment consumer brands put into their packaging with alluring, beautiful jewel tones and shapes.  As an avid recycler I'm also aware that so much of this consumer packaging is for single use -- then just thrown away.  Until recently, I was primarily dismayed about the enormous quantity of plastic that gets thrown away, or perhaps recycled (for those who have an activist mindset and a curbside recycling program.)  

I've come to realize that the plastic pollution problems are much larger than most people realize. 

A lot of single-use plastics go to landfill, and a very small percentage of the plastic is actually recycled.  But vast amounts of plastics are improperly disposed of and get washed or blown into the environment where they do not degrade for hundreds of years.  A new documentary exposes the huge quantity of plastic that is accumulating in our oceans.

In parallel with the oceanic accumulation of plastic, I also learned that black plastic is not recycled (even though it is made of recyclable material).  These two insights launched my current work in progress titled,  Black Plastic Gyre Necklace. It is about the vast quantities, big and small, of plastic in our oceans. The use of only black plastic to appear more threatening.

Coincidentally, while working on my Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, I kept wondering how so much plastic gets into our oceans.  With heightened mindfulness during the past few weeks, I become aware of how much plastic, including black plastic, is littered on our streets. Yes, in the streets and yards or on sidewalks and shrubs.


As one example, I saw this black plastic takeout tray, black plastic spoon, and cellophane laying in the street while on my way to the gym.  I'm always in a rush in the morning and promised myself that I would photograph the trash and pick it up after class.  But then for one reason or another, day after day, I would forget. 

Each day I was again confronted by the same black plastic takeout tray and made the same promise to myself.   After a few days of repeated negligence, I also noticed that the tray inched its way along the curb and soon realized it was inevitably heading toward the storm sewer.  Just a little bit of wind or moved by a car tire, it inched its way toward the storm sewer leading to the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. 

Finally, I photographed it and picked it up. One small crisis averted, but every day I started seeing more and more black plastic in the street.  I feel like I'm in a weird version of the Sixth Sense movie -- "I see post-use plastic everywhere."

black plastic sharpie pen laying in the street
This Sharpie pen laid on the street for days.  Crushed by cars, the tube was broken, but the black pen cap proved to be indestructible. I photographed it, picked it up and took it home. 

The pen cap is now incorporated into the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace.

No wonder plastic accumulates in the ocean and waterways. It lasts forever.     

Now I am really paying attention.  In the two block walk to the gym, I almost always find plastic litter. 


This white plastic strap is really tough. You can't break this. You can barely cut it with scissors.  There were two of them. This is what they use to strap boxes and furniture so they don't come apart. 


Next there was a plastic bottle. There is nothing "Super Green" about a plastic bottle.  


I photographed it and then picked it up. This is becoming a very smelly and distasteful experience in plastic waste awareness.


Before I get to my car there is a plastic baggie laying on the storm sewer grate.  

So this is how plastic is getting to the ocean....


This plastic baggie was used for perhaps an hour or two but is now on the brink of going into the storm sewer, floating through the waterways, draining into the San Francisco Bay, and suspended in the ocean for centuries.

Where does my responsibility end?

Sure I picked up the plastic along the street where I walk, but every day there is more. 

This was on 43rd Avenue in San Mateo.  Within these two blocks are several restaurants with takeout food, e.g. Papa John Pizza, Round Table, a taqueria, Molly Stones grocery store, and CVS pharmacy. They all have plastic packaging and takeout food. Every business and every person who walks that two blocks should be responsible for keeping it clean and cleaning up the trash. 

San Mateo has a new Adopt-A-Drain program. I've already volunteered to take care of the storm sewer near my house. At home, I have captured a considerable quantity of organic debris and plastic waste from going into that one sewer. Is that enough?

By 2022, the City of San Mateo will be required to prevent all trash from entering the San Francisco Bay through the storm drains to meet mandates set by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, but who is going to help?  It occurs to me that we will all pay for this trash left in the street, one way or another.


Plastic packaging has to be redesigned.


Right now the burden of dealing with plastic waste is on the consumer and they are doing a terrible job. Consumers recycled only 9.5% of plastic waste in 2014.  Another 15% was combusted for energy, while 75.5% of what was collected was sent to landfills. China used to accept America's plastic waste, but no more. We need to think about how we can reduce the quantity of plastic waste, now

Future posts will include assembly and progress on the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace and some concrete, but easy steps for reducing plastic. 

Scroll down for continued documentation of more plastic that I discover each day in one block of 43rd Avenue, San Mateo, CA. 



Daily updates of plastic found on 1 block of 43rd Avenue, San Mateo

plastic waste in the gutter

Cellophane and a chapstick- February 14, 2018



Pure Fresh Spearmint Gum plastic package - February 16, 2018



"Nice" purified plastic bottle (crushed) - February 16, 2018


Plastic Bottle Cap  & Cigarette butt - February 16, 2018
Evidently, someone drove over the bottle (shown above.) The cap burst off and laid in the street until I picked it up. Plastic bottle caps are becoming a huge part of plastic waste in the waterways and oceans. The cigarette but is disgusting (though not part of my project.) Cigarette butts are toxic to fish and marine animals.  


Plastic Dental Flosser -  February 16, 2018


Ice Breakers Plastic Box  -  February 18, 2018 
This includes both the top and the bottom of the box. 


Plastic Bag  - February 17, 2018 
The plastic bag was obviously driven over a couple of times, but no one stopped and picked it up.



Plastic sushi tray with soy sauce package - February 17, 2018 

Red plastic straw - February 17, 2018  
Plastic straws are becoming a huge problem as they are dropped in the street, no one cares to pick them up and they end up in the ocean.  


I thought plastic 6-pack rings were outlawed because marine animals and fish get trapped inside the loops.

6-pack ring laying in the sewer grate
6-pack ring discovered laying on the storm sewer grate - February 20, 2018

green plastic straw wrapped in paper in the street
Green Plastic Straw with paper wrapper lying in the street on the way to the plastic ocean -  February 19


Translucent plastic cup lid with a piece of sand paper and paper litter laying on the storm sewer. This plastic lid is one blast of wind or a rainy day before it arrives in the San Francisco Bay on the way to the ocean.  Of course, I picked it up. Why didn't you?  - February 20, 2018 


More photos coming for each day I visit this one block and document the plastic waste in the street. 


Related Posts and Resources:

Black Plastic Gyre Necklace - Jewelry Brings Awareness to Environmental Crisis

Plastic Recycling Facts and Figures


Black Plastic Gyre Necklace - Jewelry Brings Awareness to Environmental Crisis

Do you know that black plastic is rarely recycled?   When I 've asked around, not one person so far has known that black plastic is not recyclable. 

Most people think that the recycle symbols indicate that it is "recyclable," so did I, but it is not.  This was recently verified by my local recycling center.  The recycling center, ReThink Waste, is now helping to bring this issue to wider attention and issued the following message on Twitter and Facebook to help me collect black plastic for a new artwork. 

Black plastic is not recycled (even if it is labeled as recyclable) because most plastics are sorted by optical scanners that cannot "see" or recognize black plastic. Essentially black plastic can't be differentiated from other trash, so it goes into landfills, or even worse, goes into our oceans and waterways. (More on this topic in the next post.)  

Yet black plastic is used pervasively for catering, take-out, deli containers, and microwave packaging. Pay attention to this issue and you will be shocked!  Black plastics in the form of food containers, pen caps, bottle caps, black spindles, etc. -- all go to trash.

Here is one example.  Shown below are twenty 12-inch diameter bowls from one event catered by Lyfe Kitchen. Lyfe Kitchen sells take-out and catered food marketed as sustainable. But there is nothing sustainable about using black plastic containers.

I contacted Lyfe Kitchen about the use of black plastic.
They responded: "...we are in the midst of a packaging vendor transition on the West coast. We have been diligently looking to source a more sustainable option for our catered salads container pictured here."

To bring more awareness to the issues surrounding black plastic I made this bracelet years ago.


 Now I am immersed in making a "Black Plastic Gyre Necklace" that will be 24-feet long. The "necklace" will wrap relentlessly around a model, again and again, to convey the accumulation of plastic debris that is clogging waterways, strangling animals, and damaging coral reefs.  The piece is intended to highlight the impact that plastics are having in our oceans and rivers.  

For the past six weeks, I have been frantically cutting tentacle shapes from black plastic containers to create the gigantic Black Plastic Gyre Necklace to meet an exhibition deadline.


The shapes are cut from black plastic forms such as this container (below) clearly embossed "Go-Green" -- yet it is nearly impossible to recycle.  This is an example of what is called "greenwashing."

 There is nothing green about this black plastic.

GO-GREEN-container-and-cut copy

 I'm finding that the enormous variety of black plastic items allows me to cut out some very interesting shapes. 


Interestingly, each black plastic container inspires different shapes. The above photo includes exquisite shapes cut from a  Noosa yogurt lid. The lid was soft yet flexible, ideal for cutting curvilinear shapes. I can't imagine why this brand uses black plastic lids.


Why do cookies and candies come with a black plastic insert? Only because I think someone thought it looks good or sophisticated. This is another example of unnecessary plastic waste in packaging. 

One of those 12" black plastic salad bowls (shown above) provides a lot of plastic. In the photo below, I am starting to cut it up into pieces for the necklace.   

One black plastic bowl can generate so many parts, producing a messy pile of great shapes (below) that will go into the necklace.


Every day I spend hours cutting black plastic for the necklace to meet the deadline.


If you would like to contribute your black plastic to this project, contact me to drop off your plastic or mail it to me. The idea is to raise awareness about plastic in our environment and become an advocate for change. 

Stay tuned for more posts about progress on this necklace and the local makers who I hired to help meet a tight deadline.

This Black Plastic Gyre Necklace is destined for an exhibition titled, Uneasy Beauty. Curated by Suzanne Ramljak, it will be in an exhibition at the Fuller Craft Museum. If you're ready for more, check out the page on my website that has more images and information.  



Using a Gun in Whole or In Parts - The Meaning of Materials

In the previous post Boris Bally made a comment that is worth further consideration:  

Biba Shutz response to Imagine Peace Now

"I am surprised how many metalsmiths have chosen to keep the gun as a whole, rather than to manipulate or reconfigure the gun’s materials. Certainly a big part of this was the barrier of working with a frighteningly ‘loaded’ (metaphorically) and often unfamiliar object."

I am thinking about Boris's statement. I see both sides now. 

When my gun arrived in the mail for this exhibition Imagine Peace Now I had never touched a gun before. I was definitely planning on taking it apart or cutting it apart. Both were easy options using my metalsmithing skills....but then taking the gun out of the box, even a small gun seemed threatening. I thought, maybe the gun was scarier, more frightening, more lethal,  if it was whole.

By putting the gun on the handle of my check writing machine, it meant that the viewer had to metaphorically grab the handle of the gun every time they were calculating or "Checking the Cost of Gun Violence."

BermanH-checking-cost-gun-violence-fullBut does using the entire gun in every artwork look or feel equally scary.

Sharon-MasseyIn the image right these guns by Sharron Massey  are decorated with enamel or paint. They say: "new normal," a powerful message, but do the guns look scary and threatening?  

Do you think you might have to grab these guns? or use them? Is this your "new normal?"

Stacey-Lee-Webber-full-viewIn the artwork shown (left and below) by Stacey Lee Webber the guns are cut lengthwise.  The colors of the different gun metals are very interesting.  The frame echos similar metallic colors. The photograph with grey sludge concrete on the wall seems far more poignant. I see the frame on the wall as a memorial to the victims of gun violence on the street. A memorial of death.

Despite the fact that the guns are cut in half, they still hold a powerful resonance.

So a whole gun really isn't the point. Half a gun can send a powerful message.


Here are two more examples in this discussion about guns whole or in parts and the meaning of materials.

A necklace by Squash-Blossom-Necklace-LeeAnn-Herreid LeeAnn Herreid is made from one gun trigger  with additional gun parts that were molded and cast to create duplicate parts. The necklace uses gun parts in an attractive decorative way. The photograph is neat and consistent with quality photographic standards but leaves me a little empty. It doesn't grab me with the threatening issues surrounding gun violence. Does the "pretty" perfection get in the way?

Boris BallyBrave-No.@Contrast this to a necklace by Boris Bally made with gun triggers.  (right)   While very similar as a comparison it seems more "steely," harsh threatening.



Boris often photographed work in this Brave series on "gansta"  guys.  The message was clear. Jewelry from the street made from actual gun triggers.  The parts of the guns, the triggers themselves still carried powerful meaning.

In summary, my first assumption that the whole gun was scarier isn't really true. Parts of a gun, a slice or a trigger can still carry a powerful message.  

Creativity really is an art more than a science. One principle can not apply to all situations, and nuance can make all the difference between good and great interpretations.


Imagine-Peace-Now-pinView the Kickstarter campaign for an exhibition catalog by Boris Bally. At the time of this post, 37% of the needed funds had been raised by 135 generous backers. Thank you to those who donated in the final 9 days, raising over $50,000 for this important project to be immortalized in print.

Stay tuned for updates about the upcoming exhibition locations for Imagine Peace Now. If you run a gallery or exhibition space, perhaps you might want to contact Boris Bally about the traveling show schedule. 


This post was updated on December 13th, 2021.

Recycle, Repurpose and the Meaning of Materials - a short presentation

During the first nights of Hanukkah, I'd like to share this lecture that I gave at The Magnes Collection about four Hanukkah menorahs in their collection.

The goal is to share insights that anyone can use when viewing artwork in an exhibition, or working from the perspective as an artist or maker developing their own work.

The concept of "The Meaning of Materials" is an important consideration that will be explored further in future posts.


Watch Recycled, Repurpose and the Meaning of Materials directly on YouTube. You are welcome to share or embed this lecture. 



Abracadabra - What Is Said Will Be - I Create as I Speak
Museum Storage of the Collection at The Magnes Museum
Tzedakah Boxes at The Magnes Collection
Museums Save Ordinary as Extraordinary
The Magnes Museum Collection Cradles Extraordinary Objects and Textiles