October 29, 2014

Max Ernst, Birds and Barrier Socks

The last few days of art making has been a synthesis of the observed present, the remembered past and the anticipation of future events. In reviewing my sketch books of former years, I came across a sketch I had made of an odd rock formation. It looked almost like two long necked birds facing away from each other. I recall at the time I made this drawing that the bird like shapes reminded me of the surrealist painter, Max Ernst. Abstract birds were a predominant feature of his drawings and paintings, hearkening back to his own memories of a pet parrot from his childhood. I was inspired to complete this drawing in charcoals and pastels shortly after reviewing a biographical film of Max Ernst. His drawings now fresh in my mind, I was able to add textural details to my work similar to the Ernst rubbings and fastidious collages.
After completing the birds underneath the arch in this drawing, there remained the problem of a vertical blank area on the right side. Enter contemporary experience. I am still in the slow process of replacing allergens in my home and on my person with allergy free materials. The next solution to the allergy problem will be a few pairs of barrier socks from Alpretec. Realizing that a truly allergy free support shoe most likely does not exist, I decided to go with barriers. With that purchase, one more brick will be set in my wall against myriad allergies. The white booties that I ordered had an interesting shape to them. So I drew in five impressions of white barrier socks on the right side of my abstract bird drawing. In the drawing the socks take on an almost fossil like appearance - very much in keeping with the original stone fossil that inspired this work.
For those who have been searching in vain for solutions to shoe and sock allergies and are considering a barrier solution, the web address for Alpretec is: www.alpretec.com The company was founded in 1997, specializing in the design and production of medical textiles, obtaining a patent for DermaSilk therapeutic clothing in 2001. Their customer service is excellent and they do ship to the United States. They do not yet have a distributor in the United States but perhaps that will change. I will write again on this subject after their product is on my feet for a while instead of just in my drawings. By that time I should know a little more about Barrier Socks and DermaSilk. For now this exists as potential mana from heaven for the relief of shoe and sock allergies.
The solution in general to multiple environmental and chemical allergies seems to be elimination when possible, avoidance when a choice is in the offing, and sealing off with barriers when the first two aren’t options.

October 25, 2014

Fair Returns

The season of the state and county fairs has concluded. This year, health issues so preoccupied my time that I was unable to attend either the state or the local county fair. But I was able to send work to both these venues. The state fair yielded no honors or awards. I have no problem with that because in years past I won a Best of Show Award, First Place Award, Second Place Award and numerous merit and purchase awards. I suppose I had my fair share of prizes.

I did win first place in miniature art at the Orangeburg County Fair. There were only two entries in that category so at least second place was a sure bet.

The larger painting that I submitted to the County Fair came out without accolades or prizes but it was a nice painting to have worked on and I am glad I completed it. This painting, reproduced above, was a remake of an earlier painting of a scene at the Tarn Gorges in the South of France. The previous painting was made with an overlay of thin washes so that it looked more like a watercolor than an oil painting. In my remake, I made the paint more opaque for a thicker, more substantial surface. The end result was something that looks a bit too impressionistic for my taste but is still an improvement over my earlier attempt at the scene. I do like the shadow of the gate at the base of the painting and the large expanse of subtle shades of green in the middle. The haphazard network of tree limbs satisfies me as well. For now, the painting hangs in my sunroom overtop a marble table set with a large pot au confit jar. This large ceramic piece was something I had painstakingly carted in a large sack ( in lieu of a carry on) through several airports to get it back home from France. It looks at home now with a this painting hovering above.

October 23, 2014

Socks and Crocs

The hunt for allergy-free footware has been ongoing. This search is now melding with my concomitant project of revising/restoring sketches and drawings from my travel notebook. My most recent intriguing finding was a pencil and pen sketch of an actor in a play that I made some years ago while watching a live performance at the Trustus Theater in Columbia, South Carolina. The actor was dressed in a woman’s shoes and tights. He donned a gold blouse, I recall and a wig of long dreadlocks. During his performance, he histrionically snapped his fingers. I caught him on paper with his right hand raised about to make a snap. In completing this drawing, I added lace details to the shoes and drew a long sock dangling from his right hand. I gave him a long sock to celebrate my finding hypoallergenic socks made of bamboo and cotton. There was most likely some spandex in these, however, for my characteristic rash appeared at the top when I wore them, but the rest of my leg and foot were fine and comfortable. All cotton socks with no elastic in them whatsoever are on my horizon. For these I envision two wads of material clustering around my ankles. No rash, no cling.

Another source of comfort were my second pair of crocs. The woman’s flat didn’t work out too well and were sent back. But the Baya slides were fine, allergy free and comfortable. As sandals, they are not supportive enough for problem feet to walk, run, or exercise outdoors but they make for an allergy free sojourn around the house. Good enough for now.

Should fellow allergy sufferers wish to try Crocs, I have found, as have many others, that sizes run large and that one would do well to order a full size down. My slides were a half size down and still a bit large.

October 21, 2014

The Hunt for the Allergy Free Support Shoe

Last night I completed my drawing of a woman glancing down rather forlornly at shoes. This was influenced by my search for the hypoallergenic shoe with hypoallergenic insoles that also provides good support for problem feet. For various reasons, this beast may not exactly exist. What is left is a step down into using what may be the least provoking of materials. My search for latex, neoprene free insoles did not pan out. The insoles would have to be made almost completely of GORE tex which would not offer stability and support. So the next best solution may be neoprene with a synthetic barrier cover.

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, there are still small companies that make hand stitched shoes with leather soles. But cost aside, there are a few draw backs with these. Many of the higher end brands do not make wide width shoes. I am speculating that this is because the companies are making a well crafted product that looks good. A shoe made in a width that would fit my feet would not be pretty. Also, many of the hand stitched shoes that are sturdy and supportive of feet come in styles for men only. The women’s lines tend to be mocassin. But one solution here is to find a small men’s shoe that has an equivalent in a woman’s size. There are size charts on line that help with this conversion. But since sizes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, I found that the best solution is to take measurements of your foot (see www.shoes.about.com) and provide these to the shoe makers to be sure. Depending on the brand, the sizes to fit my measurements vary all the way from 6 to 8 ½"! Rancourt shoes has men’s hand stitched in a size that could fit women so I’m told. I haven’t nailed that down to specifics yet, but the men’s boots could easily double for women’s.

But even with a shoe that is hand stitched the problem of the insole will emerge again. So what to do? Barrier socks, and keeping feet and shoes as dry as possible seems to be the answer - a decidedly low tech solution.

October 19, 2014

Allergic to the Shoes on One's Feet - The Continuing Search

The crocs shoes did not work out. They were too loose, made my feet chaff and had virtually no breath ability. They had no support, which I already knew before ordering given they were slip ons, but I thought better of using them even for just walking around the house. I sent them back to the company on Friday. I will still try their shower sandals, which for some reason have been stuck at a post office in Atlanta these past two weeks. Something to investigate for sure.

The Gabor shoes did not work out either. Although a very stylish and well made shoe, they are really more of a dress shoe with their narrow width and low heel. They might be fine for someone with narrow feet that aren’t fraught with orthopedic problems. But with feet that are extra wide with a weak right ankle and right tendonitis they were decidedly impractical for me. I sent them back on Friday.

The hunt for the hypoallergenic shoe that will also accommodate my frail pronate duck feet continues. I went back to my allergy list that I obtained from the test results and wrote out the list of chemicals found in shoes that I am allergic to. The list was seventy-one items long! This would be a challenge indeed. It soon became apparent that I would have to either resort to shoes that are still hand sewn, thereby skipping the use of the resins and adhesives that I am allergic to, or find a good support shoe that has the least amount of the offending chemicals in it and find good barrier socks and a latex free orthotic insole.

There still are companies in the United States that are small, family run businesses that craft hand sewn shoes. They are pricey, generally beginning in the upper $400 range for one pair. The less expensive hand sewn alternatives that some of these companies make are mocassins. The companies I had found thus far are; Rancourt shoes, Sebago, The Eastland shoe company, and the Feit shoe company. Such beautiful shoes these companies make! I have no problem with their price - the price reflects what the value of a handcrafted shoe is. My problem is my budget. But these may be something worth saving up for some day. I only chatted with the folks at Sebago and they were delightful. I may call the rest just to talk briefly about their craft. The art of shoe making in general interests me as an artist, but in particular because I am descended from a long line of Welsh shoe makers on my mother’s side. Talking with these shoe makers is like a homecoming. Since my foot problems preclude the use of a mocassin I would be obliged to purchase a very pricey shoe indeed.

The stop gap measure became one of finding something more economical and expedient for the near future - especially since I am trying to make do with a makeshift bubble-wrap insole of my own design that I have been using to replace the latex insoles that I was allergic to. The tiny explosions coming from my shoes as I walk make walking into public, government run facilities prohibitive. Bubble wrap insoles aren’t working out too well. I did find latex free, EVA made insoles from The Insole Store which will ship out tomorrow.  I started the above ink and color pencil drawing of a shoe while I was waiting on-line with them.

Barrier socks, made for people with allergies to latex and leather adhesives, are available from Alpretec, manufactured in Italy. They cost $65.00 each and they do ship from Italy. They are unfortunately not manufactured anywhere in the U.S. Perhaps that may change one day as the demand for allergy free good increases. I will contact a few allergy supply stores and suggest that they consider having these available if possible.

After countless hours of searching, I did find a 6" high boot made by LL Bean in Maine that was only $99.00 ($89.00 if you get their credit card) with a sewn leather on the top and polypropylene on the bottom. The sole is rubber but that may simply be unavoidable in just about any shoe today -although some hand sewns have leather soles for a premium price. The interior of the boot is lined with allergy free materials. So I decided to have a go with this.

The customer service at LL Bean was excellent and very helpful. To my surprise they did not shun the question about the chemicals used in their adhesives and will compile a list that will be ready in two weeks. My guess is that it will have at least some of the seventy-one aforementioned chemicals on it. But with so many internal barriers that might not be too much of a problem. Besides, after reading through my shoe allergy literature more carefully, I found that shoe allergies can be staved off to an extent by keeping shoes and feet as dry as possible. The allergens from the chemicals used in the adhesives leach out with moisture. I found to my dismay that the boots I ordered from LL Bean are out of stock and won’t be shipped out until December 4 when they have a supply again. Good thing my orthotics are on the way as my bubble wrap won’t hold out much longer! And I do believe it is making me itchy.

October 15, 2014

Allergic to the Shoes on One's Feet....And Everything Else for That Matter

This autumn was supposed to be a "fall without agendas." This was because I had decided to concentrate once again in finding answers to the nervous system, eye and muscle problems that changed my life so dramatically. Illness removed me from the world of being a productive and basically healthy teaching artist to that strange underworld of the disabled. Firm answers were not forthcoming, only theories - some legitimate others quacky.

Things began to change when I pulled out all my records and did some painstaking research. On the basis of my research I requested more professional investigation into the field of allergy and immunology. It was determined that I had autoimmune illness but determining precisely what caused that and what to do about it is still a work in progress. What did emerge in greater focus was a veritable plethora of environmental allergies, which I already knew about. But what I didn’t know about was the legion of chemical allergies - upwards of thirty or more commonly used chemicals in the manufacturing, agricultural and medical industries. Each of these had lists of ten or more chemicals that cross react and several alternative names for each. It was overwhelming.

For my next entries, I will address some possible solutions I have found in my research because I am certain there are others in need of help for multiple allergies. And it gives me a great excuse for making new art work - like my drawing of toxic shoes.

I began the long search for allergy free materials from the ground up - starting with the shoes on my feet. Shoes turned out to be the most problematic allergy free item to locate. Almost all contain latex products, to which I am allergic. If they do not contain latex they contain alternative rubber products to which I am also allergic. The leather in shoes is glued with adhesives I am allergic to. The insoles are often sprayed with metallic substances to which I am also allergic.

After weeks of searching I did finally come up with some solutions, each with it own pros and cons. It was an interesting, albeit time-consuming journey. The most difficult part of this search was getting information from manufacturers about what exactly is in their shoes. For adhesives, the answers to my queries ranged from "don’t know" to "can’t find out," to "that changes monthly depending upon availability" to "that is proprietary information." It soon became clear that finding out about the actual adhesives used in shoes would be an impossibility. I found only one company that claimed not to use adhesives with known allergens in them. That was Gabor shoes, made in Portugal. I will have to take their word for it. These are available through Nordstrom Shoes. The one company I found in the United States that manufactures shoes without adhesives is Crocs. Their shoes are made from an EVA composite material that is molded as one unit. ( The actual composition is...you guessed it... proprietary information). I learned about Crocs from my dentist and from my sister. Customer service at Crocs was excellent! There are just two drawbacks to Crocs: 1. The use of EVA was apparently banned in Europe as a possible carcinogen 2. The shoes don’t offer much in the way of support. But I decided to get them anyway as slip ons for the shower and slip ons as light dress shoes. They fit fine. I am more concerned about autoimmune illness and allergies at this point than cancers anyway.

Now for the insoles. These are problematic as well. Some products that are touted as allergen free in fact are most likely not. Ortholite, for instance, used in insoles in many shoes is actually a rubber amalgam and therefore probably not safe for people allergies to latex, rubber products, or chemicals used in the rubber processing industry. Cork insoles are not pure cork (it would be too unstable and inflexible) but a cork and rubber composite. New Balance does offer insoles made from Gore tex, which is a material so inert that it is used in medicine as a tissue replacement. Poron insoles are another option for the allergic-to-shoes crowd. Many of these soles, I found were sprayed with Medzap, an anti-bacterial which may contain metal that I am most likely allergic to. Lost soles all those. One company that has been very helpful was The Insole Store, which has a great customer service and a shop online. I’m still working with them on insoles. (Update on that ...couldn't find a definitively allergy free insole)  As luck would have it though, the Gabor shoes I received today have plenty of support without the added insole. (Update on that, they don't have quite enough support for tendonitis).  But I am still going to obtain an allergy free pair to use as an interface in shoes I already have, as I need something to use as a work shoe. These will need to have a pair or two of socks "segregated" from my "clean" socks used only in the allergy free shoes. This is because I read from my allergy warning list that I am obliged to discard all my socks and start anew. Reason being, that allergens from adhesives and rubber are absorbed into the socks over time and do not wash out. Yikes! All the more reason to try to get the shoe and insole allergy question right the first time. Dreadful to think of having to throw out all one’s socks a second or third time.

If someone wants to be a purist and obtain shoes with no adhesives whatsoever, there are small companies that make shoes the old fashioned way, with hand stitching. I have my shoes, but I may look in to these companies anyway - just out of curiosity.

Many thanks to the shoe companies, Crocs, New Balance, Nordstrom, The Insole Store, Zappos.com, Foot Solutions, Finn Comfort, who aided in my search.