Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Memory of a Cosmic Heart

Memory of a Cosmic Heart is a comprehensive project by my husband Greg Spalenka that includes music, visuals and a theatrical performance. Ten years in the making with his buddy Rob Jacobs and a team of incredibly gifted song writers, musicians, and opera class vocalists who contributed their talent to the eclectic classical, operatic, electronic musical fusion.

The music is just about finished with a grand plan for a multi-media theater project in the future. The first step is to get the musicians paid and some income to finish up the production, thus Greg created a crowd funding campaign here. Every little bit helps, thus if everyone could just spare $15 we could make this happen with grace and ease.

In support of the project I am creating a fragrance inspired by the story and music. The main note will be rose, since the main theme of the story and music is the heart. At this early stage I am planning to add frankincense and sandalwood for higher consciousness but also am mindful not to recreate Vespertina.

If after listening to the early versions of the music you have suggestions for notes of the fragrance please let me know, as your thoughts and feelings are always appreciated.

Greg is currently soliciting thoughts on the initial cover images he's created, please head over to his blog and provide your thoughts on which is your favorite.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Marilyn Neuhart 1930 - 2017

As I entered the Girard wing at the Museum of International Folk Art here in Santa Fe, I stopped abruptly and had to catch my breath, stunned at how much it "felt" and resembled the interior of the Neuhart house in Hermosa Beach, CA. It comes of no surprise of course, given that Alexander Girard and Marilyn Neuhart formed a creative partnership in 1961 when she created embroidered dolls for his Textiles & Objects shop in NYC.

Although I had visited the museum and Girard wing in the 80's with Ben, Marilyn's son, the shock of the shared kindred spirit of these two designers was much more palatable, perhaps because of her recent departure from this earthy realm.

Marilyn was born on March 3, 1930, in Long Beach, California. Her birth date 03-30-30 seems extremely auspicious with all those three's and zeros. Three is the number of Venus and the Empress, it is associated with imagination, creativity and the artist.

I always felt Marilyn knew she was an Empress, especially when I remember her sitting at the head of the Thanksgiving table with her feast spread out for everyone to not only savor but also take in the beauty of her orchestration.

She attended Long Beach public schools, Long Beach City College and UCLA. Marilyn began her long career as a freelance designer in the Los Angeles area since her graduation. She taught design, painting and color theory at UCLA, UCLA Extension and at East Los Angeles Junior College.

Marilyn and her husband John Neuhart, worked together professionally since their marriage, and collaborated on numerous design projects, including graphics, films and exhibitions. From 1980 to 1998 they were partners in the design firm Neuhart Donges Neuhart, whose clients included the IBM Corporation, Herman Miller, Inc., The Huntington Library and Art Gallery, the Doheny Library, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Government of Taiwan and local businesses and institutions.

John and Marilyn authored and designed of three books on the history of the Eames Office. The first was Eames Design (1989) followed by Eames House (1994) and the two book set The Story of Eames Furniture, a comprehensive history of furniture development in the Eames Office.

Together John and Marilyn were an inspirational team, working together to create beautiful invites to dinner parties at their home, labels and cards for the holidays or the magnificent doll house that took over six years to create for Eve. Below are a few details of the doll house, including a tiny basket with three of Marilyn's dolls as miniatures. The bright, colorful palette and since of whimsy that was part of their signature weaves throughout every part of their life.

The day Ben and I graduated from Otis College of Art and Design, back in the eighties, Marilyn made us glorious crowns for us to wear that were given to us in a special box made by John. Talk about feeling special! 

There is also a photo of her with Ray Eames and John sitting on the lawn of MacArther Park waiting the graduation ceremony to begin. I believe the photo was taken by her son Andrew Neuhart.

I'd love to share more pictures of their truly wonderful and very authentic style, but the CD's are in a box some where within the scary storage closet here in our temporary rental. I'm not sure if I can readily find it.  I'll take a look in a few weeks when my time should be a but more expansive. What's become quite obvious, as I sift through all the photos of John and Marilyn over the last thirty plus years, is that I'll be sharing more about them and their legacy as designers.

Here's a little quote from Marilyn...

"I started to quilt when I was a small child sitting with my mother and my aunts 
over a quilting frame. I continued to sew, albeit intermittently, as I went through 
high school and college. After I left teaching for a period and with two small children, 
I became a fulltime freelance graphic designer and once again took up my needle in earnest. 
After making small cloth dolls for my children and friends, I made a doll for designer 
Alexander Girard, who asked me to make a large number of them the new Textiles & Objects 
shop he was designing in New York City for the Herman Miller Furniture Company. 
Over the next few years  (in the early 1960's), I made nearly 2,000 dolls 
for the shop and for  Girard's exhibition projects." 

Read more about Marilyn by jumping to this little blog I created for her back in 2007 as Christmas gift, naively thinking she might want to contribute to it by sharing her wit, sense of design, inspiration, recipes and abundant stories. In hind site, it was most likely a projection on my part, I was so inspired, in awe actually, by her sense of style and her very Aires take charge and get things done attitude.

Once I asked her how she had managed to do so much as a mother of two children, wife, designer, cook and creator extraordinaire, etc., her response was..."Just keep going, without thinking about it." Hence her chosen name for the blog "Don't Be A Bump on a Blog." She had absolutely no patience for laziness. As I edit this post, adding more memories and photos, it occurs to me that perhaps I will add more on her blog, building it as a resource for those of you her are inspired by her as well as John.

Besides having a great sense of color, pattern, texture, design and flavor, she was also a bit of a sensualist. Marilyn liked to take baths and enjoyed beautiful scents. Her favorite fragrances were 4711 and roses, the photo below is a vintage bottle of the illustrious perfume that she had in the guest bathroom. I would gift her bottles of my Blossom cologne and bath salts for the holidays and her birthday.

Lucky for us, House Industries worked with Marilyn and John to recreate some of their wonderful designs such as a poster of the hand print, which I've always been a huge fan of.

Marilyn passed on September 1st, 2017 just as Greg and I were driving through the desert on our way to Santa Fe. In a way, one of the many reasons I am living in Santa Fe today is because of Marilyn. She and her fabulous style which will live on for years to come, especially if books about her creative life and dolls are published. Marilyn was an integral thread in the Mid Century modern design revolution whose craft-womanship is an inspiration, particularly to all the makers who are part of the current DIY culture.

See more of the Neuhart house and Marilyn's fantastic style in a few of these posts here at the journal.

Photos: Museum of International Folk Art,  John and Marilyn's home in Hermosa Beach, a variety of shots at the Neuhart house of Marilyn's embroidery, quilt, handprint, 4711 perfume bottle and Mexican statues display.

Edited April 13, 2018

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Birth of Venus

Round and round we go, here we find ourselves at another day of Veneralia, the feast of Venus, although the masses use the modern name Easter with celebrations that include chocolate bunnies and church.

As you know, I tend to like to delve deeper and look at source material, like where exactly did this ritual come from? After all, Spring existed here on planet Earth long before the arrival of the individual named Jesus.

April by the Romans was considered the month of Venus, just after March, attributed to the war God Mars. In Greece the name for Venus, the Goddess of Love and Fertility, was Aphrodite (Aphro meaning seafoam, and dite, bright.) Journeying further back we have Astarte from Phoenicia, a deity that may have been worshipped as far back as 1000BC and the potential source material for Venus, Aphrodite and imagery associated with Mary. 1

We already know that the Goddess culture existed long before the patriarchal Gods took over sacred sites where names were changed or great cathedrals built. It's possible that with the melting polar caps, particularly in Antartica, more clues into ancient time will likely be revealed shortly.

Opening image: The Birth of Venus by Alexandre Cabanel via wikipedia

Thursday, March 29, 2018


"A rolling stone gathers no moss."

In my palette as an authentic nature perfumer, oakmoss is one of my most cherished base notes. The damp, forest floor quality of this lichen lends a rich, full bodied, earthiness that reminds me of Demeter. As you may recall, she is the ancient Greek Goddess of the harvest and agriculture who governs over the fertility of the Earth and the mother of Persephone.

Oakmoss is also known as tree moss or Mousse de Chene, and goes by the latin Evernia prunastri. Although the name can be deceiving, it is a species of lichen from temperate forests in Northern Hemispheres. The fragrance note is a key component in the composition of historical Chypre and Fougère type of perfumes. I tend to use it in small amounts paired with complimentary resins and woods in chords which are then added to the final orchestration of the fragrance. 

Oakmoss has been used to construct many of my perfumes but is most obvious in Hedera helix, Q, Figure 1: Noir, Terrestre, Figure 5: Bois and GreenWitch. She is quite robust and requires a delicate hand, but, rewards those who can cultivate patience. 

I consider this very dark and viscous material a scent ally for me, especially since moving to the desert. The scent profile has agrestic notes of decaying earth but also a lyrical component which harkens the dwelling where you find the elves of Middle Earth from the Tolkien series. It's no wonder Wendy Froud wrote this after receiving her compact at the San Diego Comic Con.

"I love fragrances and everything that my favorite ones evoke but I was truly captivated by Roxana's Q perfume the first time I experienced it. It evokes something ancient and at the same time very intimate and personal. To me it's a "remembered" fragrance that taps into the green world of Faerie in the same way that a painting or sculpted image can. When I wear it, which is often, I feel closer to that elusive and magical world."

Photos ©Roxana Villa
Elves image from Movie Magic

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Ouroboros

This day marks the beginning of Spring in the northern hemisphere with an equal balance of day and night. In ancient times, when our ancestors paid close attention to nature and the heavens, Mean Earraigh also termed the Spring Equinox was celebrated with festivals and ritual.

In several texts the symbol of the Ouroboros is said to go back to 1690BC Egypt, the birth place of alchemy as well as perfumes used for medicine and consciousness. The serpentine later appears in Greece where we get the origins of the word “oura” meaning “tail” and “bόros” meaning “eating”.

The alchemical image depicts a serpent or dragon, or both, eating its own tail. I used it in my online course at both the beginning and end to represent “Circular Thinking”, since the symbol is the re creation of the self. The circular image reminds us of the cyclical nature, the "eternal return” and primordial unity.

The Ouroboros feels like a perfect symbol for todays Spring Equinox as it relates to the aspect of balancing duality and the union of opposites. Out of the chaos of formless disorder we are born into this infinite, repeating cycle of natures constant creation and destruction. In the great wheel of the earth, the Spring Equinox is the transition point as we move from the darker half of the year into the light here in the North. In the Southern hemisphere its the opposite, transitioning from the light to the dark.

The dualistic principle of this symbol is like two sides of the same coin the aspect of the chaotic state, where everything exists at one time. There is a perpetual motion, like that of consciousness and the cyclical, repeating nature in life. Depending on where we stand in our perception I have observed this state as the void. On one hand I am able to grasp the awarenesss of observing the duality, while on the other, not being a very "mental" body individual, I get confused and desire more concrete answers. In some ways this reminds me of the four processes. More on that in another post. In the meantime, if you are new to my work, check out my presentation at Bastyr University titled The Tree of Life.

Monday, March 12, 2018

New Mexico Plant Feature: Osha Root

Keeping in the vein of last weeks post, I thought I'd share a bit about a local root that I have been cultivating a relationship with. It's called oshá root, Ligusticum porteri, a perennial herb that grows at high elevations in rich, moist soils. Common names include: Porter's Lovage, Wild Lovage, Indian Parsley, Mountain Carrot, Empress of the Dark Forest, Colorado Cough Root, Chuchupate, "Indian Parsley", mountain ginseng, and Bear Medicine. 1.

I had avoided it for years because it is threatened due to over harvesting. Here in northern New Mexico osha is native and is fairly easy to find at the Santa Fe farmers market by growers who are respectful of the plant. Osha has a co-dependent relationship with the mycorrhizal fungi, which is the main reason the plant won't grow outside of its native habitat.

In January I contacted the respiratory infection that was going around, besides my usual regime of eating lots of garlic & ginger, taking baths with essential oils and salts, fasting, consuming specific herbs and tinctures, I picked up some osha cough syrup—that's when the love (lovage) affair began and has been building ever since. I've heard osha referred to as the ginseng of New Mexico.

"Osha root contains anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties and therefore supports health or healing for respiratory conditions (coughs, colds, tonsillitis, flu, and other types of viral infections). Its antiviral properties are well recognized today, and as an alternative medicine, it's often prescribed at the first signals of the common cold or flu. Osha can also be taken when traveling to higher altitudes or for long-distance hiking to promote easy breathing.

A decoction (essentially a long, slow simmer) will extract the medicinal properties of the root into a flavorful, dark tea, which can be sipped purely, or mixed into any variety of tea-lattes or broths.

To make a decoction, simply add a handful of dried root to several cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a gentle simmer and allow to reduce for at least thirty minutes - though five to six hours is preferable as the longer the roots simmer, the stronger, and more beneficial the decoction.

When finished, the water will be a translucent, grey-brown tint, reflective of the root's color, and rich in beneficial plant-properties."2.

Osha tastes and smells warm, earthy and wonderful—the rather strong fragrance contains creamy, syrup-like anise, tonka and pepper notes. I have an essential oil of lovage that I plan to revisit, especially for my New Mexico pure fume series.

The indigenous people consider the root sacred and used it for respiratory conditions and as an incense or strung for purifying the air.

1. Taos Herb
2. The Alchemists Kitchen

Sunday, March 4, 2018


"Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light."
~ Theodore Roethke

It's root vegetable season, very evident at the Santa Fe farmers market. In California, where the growing season is all year long for the most part, you don't witness the shift that occurs in the plants as much, a shift which humans also experience on a much more subtle level.

Roots are very dense in nutrients since they absorb lots of beneficial earth based components as they grow underground. These nutrients are then turned into antioxidants, vitamins and iron that help support and cleanse our systems. Other benefits include slow-burning carbohydrates and fiber, good for nourishing our interior life during the cold winter months.

It's as if roots are fuel to keep our inner light flickering. This idea reminds me of other concepts, related to the opening quote by Theodore Roethke, a perfect illustration of how plants are great symbols for us of how to live and thrive in the world.

We begin our lives as tiny seedlings, nestled in a dark, watery womb where we are nourished via a root-like cord. After emerging into the world, we first receive nutrients from our mother milk and eventually get teeth so that we can chew our own food and begin to embody/in body our own self as an independent being.

The light from the sun (Fire) helps us to blossom, to push through the earthly (Earth) mantel, into the open expanse (Air) and receive those drops of life force from the heaven above (Water). Through this constant, repeating pattern, we grow and hopefully learn, keeping that inner light—the spark of life, alive and constantly tended.

As you may have noticed, at this journal I highlight our connection to the plants, how we are like the different representatives whether the flowers, the trees, the elementals and how by getting back to those roots we can perceive the light.