Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Woodmistress at Home

Set in a copse of trees, a few hundred feet off the main road, stands the small, unassuming home of Jean Boutillier. Built in the 1700's, this lovely old house was purchased by Jean's grandfather in 1910, and has stayed in the family ever since. It's easy to see where it has settled into the ground and become a part of the landscape. In Jean's eyes, the settling is not always a good sign because it means another inch or two of "internal leanings", a few more crooked floors and windows that don't fit properly. To the untrained eye, the house is adorable, full of character and ancient whispers of long gone souls still clinging to their home. For Jean, the house is letting go of more and more original rafters and beams, all made out of either chestnut or oak. Under the floor boards are more floors, and then more floors on top of the older ones.

As Jean replaces an original rafter or beam in the attic, the slow, delicate growth of a piece of sculpture, a carved wall hanging, or any number of beautifully turned items like candle holders and vases takes hold in her mind. Using a lovely piece of walnut, Jean carves out an image that seems to have grown out of the wood's natural grain, but then takes on a life of its own with twisting tree shapes and female forms climbing upwards, carved braids hanging down their backs, and long arms reaching towards the sky. Using original parts of the old home that have lost their function in one way, means they live on in another, and the house is less likely to fall down around them. In Jean's case, the balancing act between the artist and the carpenter is perfected.

The art that Jean makes from the wooden remnants of her old home would be enough to single her out as unique. But, unbeknownst to this writer until I met Jean in her home, is the fact that she is a master furniture builder. No little doll's chests or uneven rickety chairs are these, but rather incredible reproduction furniture. A storage bench that has been on display at the Litchfield Historical Society, took my breath away. Designed and made by Jean, the bench includes butternut back slats, maple seat, walnut frame and beautifully carved feet. The list of her accomplishments and shows, including The Philadelphia Furnishings Show and the Wharton Eserick Museum, and Niche Magazine for Progressive Retailers, are many. As well as doing custom work for people, Jean does antique furniture repair.

It's not often that one finds someone literally in their own backyard who is doing such amazing work. It was truly a magical morning to discover Jean Boutieller in her little house in the woods in Cornwall, Ct.
Jane Bean
Feb. 2008

You can purchase one of Jean's chestnut candleholders, made from wood reclaimed from her family's historic home, at

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bee-Ginning with Bees

On the second Saturday of every month, Motherhouse offers workshops focused on the mainstays of country living. a.k.a. Old Style Life Skills. Here's one participant's description of our February Bee Keeping workshop:

Phil and I helped our farmer friend, Deb Tyler, of Local Farm in Cornwall Bridge, CT with her Bee-ginning With Bees workshop this past Saturday, February 9, 2008.

Bee-ginning With Bees is one of Deb's Old Style Life Skills workshops that she does every second Saturday of the month.

This workshop was taught by Mark Moorman of Sprain Brook Apiary in Woodbury, CT and the workshop took place at the UCC Parish House in Cornwall Bridge. As you can see, I took some pictures of this workshop and even figured out how to display them here.

The first picture is of an actual hive that was overwintering. Mark took out one of the wood slots in the middle (don't know the proper term) and showed us that the bees had formed a ball in the middle of the hive to keep warm. Unfortunately, they didn't survive.

Deb hauled out two big boxes containing a hive kit and equipment for beekeeping. Mark and a young workshop participant are taking out all the various parts.

And here's the kit all put together including three smokers and a hat, the guy in the back, Norm, is looking at the gloves that also came with the kit.

Here Mark is showing how to get a smoker going. He used strips of cardboard rolled up and the end set alight then dropped in the smoker.

Phil's first puffs from the smoker.

After we came back inside, Mark showed us how you start a hive. That box would contain the worker bees and the can at the top allows you to take out the little box with the queen and put her in the hive first while holding the other bees in the box. Then once the queen is settled, you can let the other bees in the hive.

After lunch, Deb was ready to show folks how to make candles with bees wax. It took a lot of patience and dipping to create candles.

Stay tuned for our March 8 OSLSS workshop: a Wool Gathering where area "spin-sters" will demonstrate carding, spinning, knitting, crocheting, weaving, and felting with wool. Meet a sheep. Make your own knitting needles and try your hand at these soothing traditional arts. Join others in a pot-luck luck lunch. $35/family. For more information or to register contact