Stationery Store Sparks Artists Creativity

People who are serious about their work are serious about their tools – Frank Broz, Co-Owner of the Tokyo Pen Shop

Award-winning author and artist Michelle Edwards writes & illustrates stories for children and adults. Her books are about family, friendship, knitting, and community. Instagram is her sandbox, where she explores new ideas. She enjoys drawing #StudioScrawls with Japanese pens at The Tokyo Pen Shop, too.

Who Iowans Are May Surprise You: Sanskrit Scholar

Tom & Linda Egenes

Universities in the United States, Europe, and Australia use Tom Egenes’s guides for learning Sanskrit. His latest publication? The Upanishads: A New Translation, coauthored with Vernon Katz. Tom lives in Fairfield, Iowa with wife Linda Egenes. Her latest publication? The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic–Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy. I photographed this adorable couple at Fairfield’s solar-powered radio station after interviewing them for The Studio: click below to hear their discussion of their creative process.



Fire Ravages Studio, Artist Creates Collages from Burnt Paintings

Artist Tends Fire-Damaged Paintings

Artist Elaine Duncan Tends Fire Damaged Paintings

Part One



Sometime before 7:19 p.m. on Wednesday, November 16, 2011, fire broke out in Fairfield at 406 W. Depot Avenue. Built in 1919, the burning two-story structure contained apartments, businesses, and art studios. At first, the fire progressed slowly, allowing all the building’s residents and their pets to safely escape.

During this early, optimistic stage, Fairfield artist Elaine Duncan received a phone call from a friend who knew she maintained a studio on the burning building’s second floor. For eight years, this studio had housed all her art supplies, tools, and over 700 of her drawings and paintings.

“At the time there was hope the firemen would put the fire out and my studio would only suffer smoke damage,” Elaine reported later in emails to friends. “I went to sleep with images of cleaning everything and dragging it over to my basement. That is, if anything survived. I knew this was only one possibility,” she added.

While Elaine slept, 60 firemen from Fairfield and nearby communities battled the blaze, but the situation worsened. Explosions in a woodworker’s shop in the building’s southeast corner forced firefighters to evacuate and fight the fire from outside.

Early Thursday morning Elaine drove to West Depot Avenue. Yellow tape cordoned off the block. Small fires burned, and smoke billowed from rubble inside the building. Elaine could clearly see the smoldering rubble because the building’s roof had collapsed.

“The top floor was gone,” she reported. “That is where my studio had been.”

No one could yet enter what remained of the structure, so Elaine left to meditate and begin emotionally processing her losses, which weren’t covered by insurance. Sadness over losing a particular painting or tool vied with relief over not having to undertake an arduous restoration effort.

“My work got a first class cremation,” she concluded.

But that wasn’t entirely true. On Friday, December 2nd, while two workers cleared debris from the building, one pulled back a thick, wet corner of cardboard and exposed a colorful painting. A partly burned countertop weighed down by chunks of roof had preserved a stack of drenched, 22” x 30” artworks.

“Evidently the firemen blasted my studio space with water just before the countertop caught full fire,” Elaine later explained.

The workers carried the paintings to a cleared corner and covered them with a wheelbarrow. They consulted Martin Brodeur, the building’s owner, who recognized the paintings as Elaine’s.

On Saturday, clutching Martin’s jacket sleeve, Elaine followed him through the dark, debris-filled first floor and up an intact back staircase. On the exposed second floor, coils of wire jumped and rolled in the wind. Ash blew everywhere.

Later, Elaine explained that the second floor “had become a completely open space punctuated by charred roof pillars flame-carved into strange, nondescript totems.”

Martin and Elaine picked their way carefully across the wet, slippery floor to the wheelbarrow.

“Charcoal touched everything and an ash gray skin covered all possible color,” Elaine reported. “Marty lifted back a swath of paintings and revealed my painting Fairy Light. It was pristine. I was amazed.”

Could the soggy paintings be saved? How? Martin advised Elaine to quickly relocate her artwork, but where could she take it? Her small apartment and shared basement space wouldn’t accommodate restoration efforts, she realized. At home, Elaine emailed friends for advice. Help came swiftly.

On Sunday, two strong male volunteers made three precarious trips inside the rubble-filled ruins to retrieve the heavy, water-logged paintings. After loading them into a van, they drove to an old school and carried them down to its basement. Elaine had received permission to use it rent-free for four days as a drying space.

Shortly after the men left, other volunteers carried in towels, sheets, and absorbent paper. They helped Elaine separate the paintings and spread them on the floor. Glassine she’d placed over each painting before storing them in her studio facilitated this three-hour-long process. Like carefully tended garden plants, rows of cheerful paintings alternated with walkways that created easy access for restoration.

Borrowed fans hastened drying, and 24 hours later Elaine began removing surface soot and ash with the help of another friend and his Shop-Vac. Vacuuming took two days. Elaine tallied the paintings as she restacked them for relocation to another donated space. Thanks to 60 firemen, two workers, and countless friends and helpers, Elaine recovered one hundred paintings.

“I am blessed to live in a community of caring, generous people,” she confided.

Arduous work lies ahead. Elaine will garner information and experiment. She’ll erase fine ash and soot, trim paintings, adjust images, and completely transform some artworks. Despite the work involved, she feels undaunted. The miracle of her paintings surviving a disaster that destroyed much sturdier objects enlivens her efforts to save them.

                       This article appeared in The Iowa Source

© 2012 Cheryl Fusco Johnson. 

Don’t Regret Missed Opportunities!

“Want to go in on this?” my friend Stacey Hurlin asked in an email proposing a unique way to honor our friend, Phyllis Khare, who—on her birthday—was slated to give us a mini-tutorial on writing effective blog titles. “Any thought?” Stacey prodded.

Even though Stacey’s track record makes it wise to say yes, I thought, No, we shouldn’t do it. Stacey launched award-winning First Friday Art Walks, successful women’s crisis center fundraising events, and international small works exhibits featuring over 300 artists. For Phyllis’s birthday, Stacey wanted to surprise her during class with iced cupcakes topped with tiny posters bearing social media logos. Clever, right?

But a traumatic brain injury I sustained in a car accident four years ago skews my thoughts towards the glass-empty side. Phyllis, a social media guru, vigorously consumes every class minute trying to transmit her mercurial mind’s contents to ours. Mightn’t she feel miffed about us diverting our attention? In the cupcake photo Stacey sent, turquoise icing coiled near the curly edges of pastel paper cups. Couldn’t icky icing end up on—or worse yet inside— students’ keyboards? Stacey proposed buying healthier cupcakes than the ones pictured. No turquoise icing! But our town is marbled with foodies who embrace conflicting opinions about what’s good to eat. Wouldn’t class members regard gluten, sugar, fat, even the mere concept of cupcakes revolting?

Yes! Yes! Yes! I concluded. So I shot off a curmudgeonly, wet-blanket email to Stacey expressing my concerns.   

Ha! Stacey’s entrenched creativity easily survived my feeble attempts to dispel it. Recognizing the futility of searching for cupcakes acceptable to divergent palates, Stacey, herself, baked wheat-based and gluten-free versions. Some she topped with sugarless cream cheese icing tinted pink with beet juice.

While constructing mini-posters of social media logos, Stacey chose vivid versions. She foresaw possibilities that Phyllis later fulfilled by enticing her grandkids to play games with the toddler-friendly posters after the cupcakes were gone. Before they were gone, Stacey’s Pinterest poster towered above the rest: the P, she explained, stood not just for Pinterest but also for Phyllis, our ebullient teacher.

The silver platter Stacey grabbed from a cupboard, the one she stacked concentric circles of cupcake tiers on, turned out to be a lazy Susan. So, although Phyllis did at first protest losing precious class minutes to birthday cake frivolity, when she spotted the vibrant logos and her fingers grazed the silver platter and the cupcakes spun around, the birthday girl and all of us clustered around her sensed how magical the moment was that Stacey had made.

What if,  instead of discouraging Stacey, I’d offered to work alongside her? How much fun did my curmudgeonly attitude cost me? How much healing laughter did I forfeit to fear?

Four years later I’m nearly done grieving the changes I experienced after a drunk dental hygienist rammed my car at 11 AM on a drizzly summer Saturday while my Camry and I were stopped at a red light. Enough already with the glass-empty thinking! When you’re lucky, a red light, a solid stop, is followed by a start. One day, in a room filled with sunlight, cupcakes spun on a silver platter amid a circle of bright, happy women. And I was there. I saw that.




Social Media Marketing Students Fete Trainer Phyllis Khare with SEO-Themed Cupcake Tier

Say Yes to Creativity Every Day

Share Expertise & Experiences with Unlimited Viewers via Free Online Video Live Streaming Options

Social Media Marketing Expert Phyllis Khare on The Studio with Cheryl

Social Media Marketing Expert Phyllis Khare on The Studio with Cheryl

New online video live streaming options blazed onto the scene this summer, and they make sharing expertise and experiences with unlimited viewers not only possible but also fun and easy-to-do. Stop by The Studio with Cheryl on solar-powered KRUU today at 1 PM CT or Wednesday at 7 AM CT for social media marketing expert Phyllis Khare‘s tips on how to navigate Periscope and Blab.

An author, trainer and entrepreneur, Phyllis has become a social media marketing guru. [“By the time the early adopters get there, I’m bored,” she recently told me.] Besides writing the Social Media Marketing eLearning Kit for Dummies, Phyllis co-wrote Facebook Marketing All-In-One for Dummies with Amy Porterfield and Andrea Vahl. Together, Phyllis and Andrea Vahl have created an online learning center, the Social Media Manager School. Much in demand both online and at in-person events, Phyllis excels in enthusiastically educating entrepreneurs on the benefits of emerging and classic online marketing tools.

During this episode of The Studio with Cheryl, Phyllis also reveals details regarding her free webinar (scheduled for September 3rd) and discusses effective online tools and time management strategies that enhance productivity. [Check out how students surprised Phyllis at a micro-training session she held on her birthday here.]

#SocialMedia      #blab      #Periscope     #PhyllisKhare





Anola Pickett

Each book begins with a specific incident or memory that someone has shared with me,” author Anola Pickett reported in an interview posted on four days after her 80th birthday.

Set in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1918, her newest historical novel is Callahan Crossroads. Its main character, 12-year-old George, must decide how to react when bullies harass his elderly, widowed neighbor whose husband was German. During a KRUU interview, Anola identified how the creative impulse to write this book arose.

In 1918, when her mother was six years old, neighborhood boys made a dummy of Kaiser Wilhelm, attached it to the back of a car, dragged it around, and then burned it. Anola’s mother shared many memories with her about growing up in Kansas City, Missouri during World War I, but, for Anola, this one stood out.

“That gave impetus to exploring the negative attitude towards anyone or anything German during the war,” Anola explained.

During an earlier KRUU interview, Anola revealed the origin of Whisper Island, her second historical novel. Long ago, she and her husband attended a park ranger’s program at North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

“One shipwreck story that happened in 1913 caught my fancy,” Anola explained, “because the first person off the ship was the captain’s wife, who was very large. Instead of being grateful to the men who were rescuing her, she complained all the way off the ship about losing her jewelry, her clothes, and her fine things,” Anola recalled.

“The other thing that caught my fancy was the fact that when the captain came off, he brought his St. Bernard dog with him. Later he gave that dog to the villagers. So that gave me two little things to spring off of and develop a story,” she concluded.

An eight-year-old shepherdess inspired Anola’s first historical novel, Wasatch Summer. Anola heard the shepherdess’s story from a friend of a friend whose ancestor she was. (An Author’s Note explains that Anola made her fictional shepherdess, Hannah, three years older due to her book’s complexity.) Alone, in 1889, the real-life girl took her family’s sheep to a Utah mountain valley, where she stayed to tend them alone all summer. While there, she met  Blackfeet Indians who helped and comforted her.

Octogenarian Anola Pickett spins odd things—Kaiser Wilhelm’s effigy aflame in Kansas City, Missouri; a St. Bernard rescued from a sinking ship near North Carolina’s Outer Banks; an eight-year-old shepherdess sent to tend sheep alone in a Utah mountain valley—into engaging and historically accurate fiction for children. Why? Her curious, caring, and compassionate nature compels her to share people who shaped our past with those who will form our future. Compassion, curiosity, caring—an octogenarian’s values seem oddly quaint in our present day era of hotly contentious division. If we could look at the world through kind, cool eyes like Anola’s, would our creativity flourish? Would we? Would our nation?

Where Good Stories Come From: Anola Pickett & Callahan Crossroads

Callahan Crossroads by Anola Pickett

Callahan Crossroads by Anola Pickett

Where do good stories come from? Anola Pickett crafts thoughtful yet funny and engaging historical novels for children. Set in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1918, her newest title is Callahan Crossroads. Like her other historical novels, Whisper Island and Wasatch Summer, Callahan Crossroads was published by Sweetwater Books, an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc. During radio and online interviews, Anola identified how the impetus to write each story originated.

“Each book begins with a specific incident or memory that someone has shared with me,” Anola reported in an interview posted July 15, 2015 onto

Stories her mother told her about growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, during World War I whetted her interest, she explained. One particular memory stood out: In 1918, when her mother was six years old, neighborhood boys made a dummy of Kaiser Wilhelm, attached it to the back of a car, dragged it around, and then burned it.

“That gave impetus to exploring the negative attitude towards anyone or anything German during the war and this is one of the book’s themes,” Anola explained.

In Callahan Crossroads, 12-year-old George must decide how to react when bullies harass an elderly, widowed neighbor due to her Germanic last name. His older brother’s pacifist stance, his mother’s support for women’s suffrage, and war-time food restrictions further disrupt George’s life on the home front.

During a 2013 radio interview with me on KRUU-LP 100.1 FM, Anola revealed that Whisper Island germinated for years. Quite a long time ago, she said, she and her husband visited North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where they attended a park ranger’s program about shipwrecks.

“One shipwreck story that happened in 1913 caught my fancy,” she explained, “because the first person off the ship was the captain’s wife, who was very large. Instead of being grateful to the men who were rescuing her, she complained all the way off the ship about losing her jewelry, her clothes, and her fine things,” Anola recalled.

“The other thing that caught my fancy was the fact that when the captain came off, he brought his St. Bernard dog with him. Later he gave that dog to the villagers. So that gave me two little things to spring off of and develop a story,” she concluded.

Anola’s Author’s Note in Wasatch Summer reveals that this novel also arose from a true story she heard. In a Utah valley in 1889, Hannah, the book’s 11-year-old main character, must tend the family’s sheep all summer alone in the mountains. There she encounters Blackfeet Indians, who help and comfort her. In the book’s Author’s Note, Anola confides that, “The girl in the original story was only eight when she took her family’s sheep to the mountains in 1889.” During a 2011 KRUU radio interview with me, Anola explained that due to the book’s complexity, she decided to make Hannah a couple years older than the real-life girl who tended sheep and met Blackfeet Indians in a Utah valley.

Interesting anecdotes lead to engaging fiction only when a lot of other factors converge. A former school teacher and school librarian, Anola knows how young people think, and she understands what kind of stories elicit their interest. Eschewing didacticism, she presents her readers with complex situations that her characters must strive to understand and untangle.

Anola fortifies her fiction with solid research. For Callahan Crossroads, she plumbed resources available at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City; the National Archives/Kansas City; the Midwest Genealogy Center, Mid-Continent Public Library; and the Missouri Valley Room of the Kansas City Public Library.

“All provided a fascinating look at the home front in Kansas City during ‘the Great War,’” she explained.

To make her story come alive, Anola culled specific details from this extensive research. Did you know that during World War I, the filters in gas masks were made from crushed prune pits? Anola does, and so do her readers.

Where do good stories come from? Good storytellers like Anola Pickett.

Whisper Island

Does proximity to nature enhance creativity?

My Journaling Desk

My Journaling Desk

Does proximity to nature enhance creativity? In September on The Studio with Cheryl on KRUU I interviewed three authors whose preferred writing spaces connect them with the outdoors. Cartoonist Francesco Marciuliano’s pet poetry books (like I Knead My Mommy and Other Poems by Kittens) appear on many best-seller lists. His first-floor New York City apartment boasts a small, private backyard. Weather permitting, Francesco writes there. Outside, under the shade of an umbrella, he sits at a small table in an Adirondack chair.

Standup comic and internationally known performance poet, June Melby recently penned a memoir: My Family and Other Hazards details her family’s years running a hand-crafted but unprofitable miniature golf course near Waupaca, Wisconsin. From her writing desk, June sees the woods surrounding her Decorah, Iowa log cabin.

Oral historian Esther Ehrlich’s Richmond, California home borders a large park filled with deer, foxes, and hawks. Tucked into a corner of her bedroom, her writing space consists of a shelf-like slab of wood positioned below two huge windows. Esther’s view includes a ravine, trees, a creek, birds, and wildlife. “It’s a very peaceful place for me to write,” Esther told me, adding that she wrote her whole book (Nest, her first historical novel) sitting right there.

In his nonfiction book Thrive, author Dan Buettner praised flow rooms, spaces in Danish homes designed to encourage families to cultivate the arts. I may never have a flow room. I may never succeed in making all my home’s rooms the tidy, nurturing spaces I want them to be. Thanks to the inspiration of people I’ve interviewed, though, I have created a flow niche.

During my teens, my parents bought a solid-maple vanity for my bedroom. After they died, I took it home to Iowa. At my request, my husband recently detached the heavy mirror from its back, and now the vanity fits perfectly under our bedroom’s north window. With a vintage chair of my mother’s beside it, the vanity feels desk-like. The north light draws me to it, maybe because it deepens the patina of use emanating from the vanity, the chair, and two old suitcases my husband kept to remind him of his father.  Sitting at the vanity, I see a stretch of sky, a gravel road, and trees, now mature, that my husband planted.

Tiny as it is, this space comforts me in ways I can’t explain. Journal writing is effortless here. Breezes from the window, the chirpings of crickets and birds, the daily deer sightings—these simple sensory impressions quiet my jumbled thoughts. In this small space, I feel connected not just to nature, but to the inner me, my creative self, and also to loved ones now gone.