Civil War General Salt Dough Ornaments! (tutorial)

Civil War General Salt Dough Ornaments! (tutorial)

Christmas is tomorrow- huzzah!

But wait- Do you find yourself needing one last gift for that hard to shop for second-cousin, but find that all the stores or closed, or that you can’t be arsed to get out of your sock-monkey onsie?* Or maybe you’ve done all your shopping but need some sort of craft to really put you in the Christmas spirit? Never fear, I have just the tutorial for you to make your very own…

Civil War General Salt Dough Ornaments!

Jolly General Jackson wishes all Rebs the Merriest of Holidays!

Jolly General Jackson wishes all Rebs the Merriest of Holidays!

If you’re like me, nothing gets you more into the spirit of the Holidays like learning about the war between the states. Did you know that Ulysses S. Grant made Christmas a national holiday 5 years after the war in an attempt to unite the North and South in spirit?** Of course, before this Christmas was still celebrated by people on both sides. Abe Lincoln received his “most famous Christmas gift” in 1864 when hottie General William Tecumseh Sherman announced the surrender of Savannah.

Dear universe, All I want for Christmas is a PBS mini series about the Civil War with Hugh Jackman playing the roll of W.T. Sherman.

So how does one immortalize a general  or two in salt dough? Easy peasy-

Step one: Make the dough. There are more recipes for salt dough on the internet than there are johnnies in the North. I ended up using a 2-1-1 ratio (2 parts flour, 1 part salt 1 part water ). Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add water, stirring as you do to avoid lumps. Once it’s fairly well mixed, knead it a little with your hands on a floured counter-top . The final texture should be close to slightly sticky play-doh. If it feels too sticky, add a little bit of flour (though be sure you don’t add too much or the dough will be as tough and unpliable as Stonewall Jackson.)

Fun fact: Should you find yourself suddenly in the trenches and with rations running low, you can simply adjust the ratios to make hard-tac!

salt dough_1

Watching Ken Burns’ ‘Civil War’ helps to infuse the ornaments with a sense of historical gravitas appropriate to the holiday season.

Step Two: Get Sculpting! Using either the internet or your companion’s illustrated Generals of the Civil War books set, begin to model the faces of your favorite generals. Salt dough doesn’t lend itself to subtle details, so I recommend sticking to generals with interesting and distinctive hair/facial hair (which- Good fortune! Is roughly 95% of them)

salt dough_2 burnside

…like General Burnside.

To get the small details I used a defunct ballpoint pen. I also found it advantageous to sculpt them directly on a cookie sheet covered in foil , that way transferring them to the oven was undisasterous. Also, don’t forget to poke a hole through the top for the string to go through.

Step 3: Bake the ornaments. According to the source I used, salt dough should bake for 2 hours at 250 degrees F. Two hours?! Balderdash! I’ve got nog to drink and carols to sing. I baked mine for an hour, handled them gently afterwards and they seemed fine.

My oven is boring and disgusting, so here’s a picture of a civil war campfire recreation instead.

Step 4: Decorate! If you want your ornaments to reflect the scarcity felt by the soldiers on both sides during the lean months of winter during those cruel war years, you can pull a loose thread from your grey or blue shoddy, string it through the top and stop here.

If you, like me, wish to give the ornaments a weathered, metallic sheen- as though it were a metal earned through service rendered and passed down through the ages, start by painting the whole thing black with acrylic paint, making sure to get into all the nooks and crannies in those magnificent beards.

salt dough_3 grant

W.T. Sherman, not even salt dough can diminish your raw manliness.

 Once the black has dried , lightly brush a layer of gold acrylic paint over the top

Braxton Brag- your service to the Confederacy may have been controversial, but there's no controversy about that rockin' beard.

Braxton Brag- your service to the Confederacy may have been controversial, but there’s no controversy about how rockin’ that beard is.

Step 5: Finish it! Attach a bit of grey or blue felt, maybe a bit of lace if that’s your thing (and it should be) and your ornament is done, ready to be gifted to starving Georgians under-seige or hung on your tree, next to the hardtack and salt pork***


photo credit: Allison Buenger of the Creative Cleanse.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”


-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written 12/25/1863 after his son joined the Union cause.

*it is real and it is life-changing.
***”Union soldiers would use salt pork and hardtack to decorate Christmas trees.[8]

“The shortest day has passed…*”

“The shortest day has passed…*”
My mother, making the necessary, traditional cinnamon rolls Christmas Eve.

My mother, making the necessary, traditional cinnamon rolls Christmas Eve.

CLynch 2012


Clynch 2012

G’s favorite way to spend evenings…and mornings….and afternoons.

Newt, in a rare moment of stillness.

Newt, in a rare moment of stillness.


Snowstorm as seen from inside a tiny, warm kitchen.

CLynch 2012

mint, jade and onions – enjoying a bit of sun

A wonderful, love-filled Christmas and a blissfully quiet and Schwarzenegger-filled New Year’s Eve.

Despite all my outward protestations that New Year’s is ‘just another day’ and ‘barely a real holiday’, every year I get pulled into the list-making, vow-taking optimism that comes with a new calendar year. I have no logical reason to believe that a 3 where there was a 2 will suddenly transform me into a new being that Dresses Smartly! and Cooks Dinner on Weeknights Regularly! and Balances a Rich Creative Life with Social Outings! and yet I still find myself some time in the early days of January declaring that this is the year I become more/less ____.

In the spirit of my hilarious friend, Sharon, this year I’m trying to keep it a bit ‘mo’ real’;

  • focus less on things like ‘becoming famous’ and ‘getting into shows’ and focus more on making art.
  • this I will do by cultivating a daily art practice and following through on current projects before starting new ones.
  • learn to cook more ‘intuitively‘.
  • run 2 half-marathons (one in spring and one in fall)
  • drink more water each day than I do coffee (because drinking nothing but coffee and wine in a 24 hr period can’t be great for my kidneys)



been eating an unreasonable amount of citrus and apologizing to no one.

*”The shortest day has passed, and whatever nastiness of weather we may look forward to in January and February, at least we notice that the days are getting longer.  Minute by minute they lengthen out.  It takes some weeks before we become aware of the change.  It is imperceptible even as the growth of a child, as you watch it day by day, until the moment comes when with a start of delighted surprise we realize that we can stay out of doors in a twilight lasting for another quarter of a precious hour.”
–  Vita Sackville-West

And to All a Good Night.

And to All a Good Night.

Merry Christmas Eve Eve!

Whether you’re getting ready to celebrate Christmas, have already finished celebrating Hanukkah, or are simply celebrating because  it’s cold and dark and a good time for a party, I hope that you are warm and with people (and animals!) who love you as much as you love them.

And now, a cat Christmas card from our friend, Andy.

Post-Party Thoughts.

Post-Party Thoughts.

I’m going to apologize right off the bat for the incoherency of this post: it’s basically 10pm, dinner hasn’t happened yet (though a glass of wine and half a cookie have) and I’m emotionally jacked up on new ideas and social hilarity-

I’ve just come from the CAW (Creative Arts of Women) December Meeting/Mixer/White Elephant exchange and I am on FIRE. Never before have I been to a meeting where so many diverse artists give each other so many warm fuzzy-fuzzies (holy hell, though, the White Elephant was INTENSE)

Two years ago I went to my first CAW show, which was coincidentally my first art-event-going in Columbus. I had only lived here a few weeks, I hated my job and social anxiety was at an all time high. I felt totally intimidated by all the art/artists, made one awkward conversation with a fellow spectator, read WhollyCraft’s entire rack of zines to avoid another, and managed to sneak out before all traces of my deodorant had been melted away. I was so impressed by not only the artwork, but also the sense of community between the artists. If my face hadn’t have been so red it would’ve totally been green with envy.

Fast forward a few years- You know what I had to do to become part of this amazing group? What sort of arcane and shrouded ritual surrounds the sisterhood?
Absolutely nothing. Nothing! It’s totally egalitarian* and totally supportive and lovey. It’s a nice reminder that while art is often said to be a “highly competitive field,” it doesn’t have to be.**

Anyway, I was going to get slightly more incoherent and theoretical about all this, but the pizza’s here, the Trek is on and it’s a holodeck episode.

Also, f’real, this is not the best state in which to be stringing words into meaning.

cheers all!

*(unless you have a penis. Though if you identify as a female we’re glad to have you!)
**(unless your engaged in a cut-throat ‘stealing-round’ or White Elephant, in which case it’s totally on.)

Three French Hens

Wednesday evening I had ambitions to write posts full of tasty pictures and hints of Just What I’ve Been working on lately (that’s been so hushhush) that would publish over weekend in a sort of Christmas treat.

Then Thursday happened. And then Friday. And then before I knew it, I was in Indiana.

Not that they don’t have internet at my parents’ house- they do. But they also have two dogs (one of whom is a persuasive napper). And an abnormally large comfy couch. And a nearly endless stream of coffee and tea. AND it was Christmas.

So that post didn’t happen when I planned it, and the weekend was lovely enough that I make no apologies. That said, I do still want to let you guys in on what’s been going on. So, I give you, a sneak peek at what is being called the Letterbox Project:


A very Merry Feast of Steven to you!

*For some reason unknown to even me, I always clean the kitchen/do the dishes before leaving for any extended period of time. The kitchen is usually cleaner when I’m not home.



Hibernation, or, Where I’ve Been, and Where I’ll Be.

fallow 1 |ˈfalō|
(of farmland) plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility.

I’m fairly green (HAR HAR) when it comes to veg growing. I have only the vaguest idea of what counts as a brassica, and I may or may not have left a ‘to-pant’ bulb of garlic in my sweater pocket on a Saturday that was found on a Tuesday. But the concept of letting a field lie fallow has made sense to me from day one. Like hibernation. OF COURSE mind and body need a break. I used to blame it on school and finals, but I’m more convinced now that I just need a step back once in a while, and now (December) is the perfect time to do so. It’s cold. It’s snowy.* It’s dark by five. Morning runs? How about yoga. Or how about a nap. Any and all beverages should be warm and dinner should include the words roasted, spicy, bread or some combination of them all. Even the internet becomes overwhelming- My internet connection, outside of work, has been used almost exclusively to lurk about craft sites and cheat at Zelda.

And It’s Christmas.** And being tragically uncool, I love Christmas in a most embarassingly unironic way. I love the lights, I love the songs, I love surprises. And I love telling people I love how much I love them. (Tragically. Un. Cool.)
Things I don’t love: crowds, rampant consumerism, people telling me to be jolly.  Avoiding these things means lots of making/crafting happens this time of year too.

I’ve come to realize that this shift- from active to rest, from fast to slow, from making ART THINGS OF IMPORT to making Christmas ornaments for coworkers- is something I shouldn’t apologize for. I should instead embrace it. And take a nap.

So that’s where I’ve been- hibernating. Sitting on a pile of lovely visual and audio things to share. And  will share them. Right after I wrap a few things. And finish this chapter. And make some tea.

Stay warm.

*Or should be.
**For me. Maybe you celebrate something else, maybe you hate celebrations in general, maybe you’ve made up your own celebration- Awesome. In a spirit of religious pluralism I openly share what I celebrate and invite you to share what you celebrate (or don’t)- interesting conversations happen that way-huzzah!

Goodwill Project Entry 5

Long time no see, was busy, locked in battle with the beast known as Fall Semester Finals, from which I’ve returned more or less victorious (huzzah!) Am meeting with a professor the first week or so to photograph a bunch of it.

Significant changes to the Goodwill Project. Went to the Muncie store to find Painting #2, but it apparently had been sold! At first a part of me was upset, especially after my success in finding #1. After some initial wandering about the store, trying to figure out what to do, I grabbed a small jewelry box and a few odds and ends that fit in it, intending to make Goodwill Painting #4 to continue the project.

This eventually became a sort of memorial piece to the original painting.  (photo coming after my shoot in Jan) After some thought, and  feedback during my final watercolor critique, I decided to do away with my 3 x’s 3 idea (taking three, rotating three times). Instead, I’m going to keep rotating the remaining two, documenting like I’ve done so far, until they’re gone, after which I’ll do two more memorial pieces. The final display, then, would be these three pieces surrounded by the photos, receipts, detritus, etc relating to each.

Other than that, the past few days have been spent sleeping, reading, drinking entirely too much coffee- the way breaks should be spent.