Walking the Dog

I started making Walking the Dog soon after my mother died in 2005. It is a kind of modern day mourning needlework piece, popular in 19th century America, although in mine, there are no figures dressed in black, grieving under weeping willows. My mother loved color and I never ever saw her wear plain black or brown. I thought about her throughout the process, about her gift of nonjudgmental encouragement and her willingness to provide time, space and materials for everyone in our household to create works of art. To her, art wasn’t an extra, but an essential part of everyday life.

My mother, Mary (Hartwell) Mavor, holds up a newspaper announcing the end of WWII, while a student at RISD in Providence, RI

I often think about how wise and thoughtful she was. In a term paper about art education for her master’s degree in 1965, she wrote, “The student should be encouraged to find his own way, but this does not mean the void of laissez-faire.

Drawing of my Mom by an unknown RISD classmate, mid 1940’s

Children need a structured exposure to many ways of seeing, doing and thinking. To teach art, the teacher must be an artist. By having confidence in their own abilities, teachers will be able to sensitize children to want to learn and care—not just problem solving.  Through intuitive discovery a child will find himself, what he believes and be really free, even in a computer society. By giving students something to do—learn and contemplate what they can understand naturally—will give them the values needed today.”

“Walking the Dog”, fabric relief by Salley Mavor 2005, 20″ x 23″

I started making Walking the Dog by spreading out a bunch of metal parts I’d been collecting onto my work table. Several of the objects, like the wrenches and drawer pull, I’d found a few years earlier at the Liberty Tool Company  in Liberty, Maine. I had no plan and tried to approach the project as an open exercise that may or may not lead to something tangible. I started playing around with the shapes and a figure emerged, then a dog made from an old key and a lamp pull chain leash. Later I added a handbag to balance the dog on the other side. Earrings and a brooch became her breasts and  tummy. Then the figure needed a place to be, so I made her a hillside out of wool felt. One thing led to the other, with the earth needing a felt atmosphere, which then needed to be contained with ricrac. I finished it off with lots of french knots, chain-stitched curly ques, and added a border made from a long section of antique button loops. Then I mounted the felt piece to some leopard-like spotted upholstery fabric. It ended up being a very satisfying experience, with something to show for it. Thank you, Mum.

This detailed image from Walking the Dog is part of card set in my Etsy Shop.

Detail from “Walking the Dog”

I recently found these childhood drawings and can see that my subjects and style haven’t changed much in almost 50 years!

Cowboy by Salley at age 6

Woman with hat by Salley age 5

Shield Auction

My sister, Anne Mavor, made one of these shields which will be offered in an auction to benefit the Portland Waldorf School in Oregon. Anne’s shield (top row, second from left) is done with encaustic wax, a technique that she’s been learning lately. Anne is a past parent of the school and now works in the office, where she does graphic design, including this very classy auction announcement. Thirty hand-made, blank wooden shields were given to selected artists within the PWS community and the greater Portland area to be decorated through a variety of artistic mediums. They will be exhibited at Portland Waldorf School and auctioned and raffled off from Nov. 30-Dec. 4.

My Studio 2009

I’m often asked how much time I spend in my studio. Well, my husband Rob would say,”When Salley’s not eating or sleeping, she’s up working in her studio.”

my studio in 2009

I moved into this studio above our garage about 6 years ago. Before we fixed it up, it was an unfinished space with bats flying around. Rob had been working on me for years to consider making the area into a studio. I loved my work space downstairs, which was a room conveniently located just off our living room. When the boys were young, I could work and keep an eye on them at the same time, but now they didn’t want or need me to keep an eye on them. At first I thought the 24′ x 24′ room would be too large a space for me to feel comfortable working in, but now I’m glad for the extra room.  I like cozy spaces and my actual working area is quite small, but I need room for storing my materials and for displaying all of the things that I like to have around for inspiration.

my work table in 2009

Picking colors for the walls and trim was important. I wanted the feel of being inside a cantaloupe, with green trim, like the inside layer of rind right next to the orange fruit. I tried out different shades of paint , buying quarts and painting sheets of foam core board to hold up around the room, in different light. I ended up with a light peachy shade for the walls and a light green for the window trim. The painters looked at me funny when I showed them my choice, but later they said, “You know, this came out pretty good”. I also painted an old chest of drawers to match with brighter shades of orange and green. The paint had names like pumpkin seed, summer town and prairie splendor. I wonder whose job it is to come up with paint names!

display area in my studio, 2009

Rob calls my studio “Kit Peak” from the years when I cranked out a steady stream of Blossom Fairy kits. I gave up the kits a couple of years ago in order to finish illustrating my new book, which is a hefty 72 pages. Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes is now in production and will be released next fall. It takes a whole year after the artwork is delivered for a book to get to the bookstores. The pieces are photographed, the type layout is designed and corrected, copy is edited and corrected, printing proofs made and corrected, printing and binding done and then the books are sent via a container ship back from Hong Kong. I just saw the newest layouts of the book and Houghton Mifflin is doing such a good production job that I can hardly contain my excitement!

display table in studio, 2009

Thanksgiving Offering

Fairy bringing a pie for Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!  I am thankful to all of you who have come to see and read my blog this past week. It’s been a pleasure to hear from so many of you and I am energized in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. Ideas are coming fast, the scanner is warmed up and working overtime and the posts are queuing up. Please keep visiting!

Thanksgiving Dilemma, pen & ink by Salley Mavor 1976

I’ve been looking through my old portfolios from art school and came across this drawing of a Thanksgiving turkey dinner gone awry. I had forgotten how much I liked to draw before I started using mixed media techniques. I rarely draw now, except to work out designs for my illustrations. Needle and thread have replaced the pen and become my tools of choice. In future posts, I’ll be showing some more early work with the intention of pointing out common themes and styles in my evolution as an artist, regardless of the method or technique.

I made this soft sculpture stove 30 years ago, the first year out of art school. It is made with white satin,  covering a padded cardboard structure. I remember spattering paint with a tooth-brush onto the black fabric which lines the inside of the oven. I can see velcro circles on the oven door. The oven rack is made from hair pins, the knobs from buttons and the clock is the face taken from an old wrist watch. It looks like the burners are key rings fashioned with hooks from hook-and-eyes. I don’t remember what the frying pan is made from, but it must be cloth as that is my material of last resort. And the pie crust lattice is likely made from kid leather. This stove has a refrigerator to match, which I’ll show another time.

Stove, 5" tall, fabric sculpture by Salley Mavor 1979

Walnut Shells


There’s nothing like the sight of a sleeping baby.  I’m constantly on the lookout for natural objects that can be used as beds for my dolls. A baby can curl up in a cradle made from half a walnut-shell.


This walnut is bigger than most that you can buy in a bag at the super market. I usually pick out the larger ones during Thanksgiving season, when the stores sell them in loose bins. I am a curious sight, digging through the box, determined to find the biggest ones. To make the nuts more easy to split open, bake them in a low oven at about 200 degrees for a few hours. They start to crack along the center seam and you can then break them open with a knife. You can also cut the shells open with a fine saw. In the above illustration from my up-coming book, Pocketful of Posies (Sept. 2010), I sawed half a walnut-shell  in half again lengthwise, so that the side could be seen in relief.


This blue suited baby is lying on real reindeer moss in a walnut-shell.  He is part of an illustration from my board book, Wee Willie Winkie, on the page that says, “Are the children in their beds?” This image is available as a note card in my Etsy Shop. I edged the felt leaf with wire to give it a curvy, raised lip that fits the shape of the walnut. You can glue the shell in place or drill holes and sew it like a button.

detail from "You and Me Poems of Friendship" 1997

detail from “You and Me Poems of Friendship” 1997

Inspiration from France

This fall, I traveled in France, on a barge in the canals of Burgundy. What a beautiful area, with lots of appealing doorways, ivy covered walls and even morning mist off of the canal. I’m drawn to doorways and entrances. Here are some photos I took of the sights and places I saw.

Cuisery, France


garden gate, Pont-de-Vaux, France


Cuisery, France


dirt road in the morning


Morning mist on the canal, Cuisery, France

Fairy Camp

A few years ago Judi DeSouter sent me this photograph, enclosing a note that said, “These remind me of your fairies, but without the wings. Enjoy!”

Fairy Camp, unknown location

 These girls seem transformed by their costumes and their personalities really come through in the picture. The amount of detail in the outfits is impressive, with each one being unique, right down to the little caps. I love the baggy knees on the cotton stockings. This must have been taken about 1920, judging by the hair and clothing styles. The crepe paper basket being held by one of the girls is similar to some party baskets that I found in my grandmother’s things.

holding crepe paper basket

Crepe paper baskets from my grandmother