The Turtle Way

After he saw my piece, Iris and Aurora, at the Somewhat Secret Place: Disability and Art show, Cody Goldberg, the Executive Director of Harper’s Playground, asked if I might be able to contribute a piece to an art auction for his organization.  Harper’s Playground will be an inclusive playground here in Portland, Oregon, for children and adults of all abilities.   Here’s part of the letter he sent:

Harper's Playground Plans

“Harper’s Playground is co-hosting an auction of art to help fund the public art that will adorn our first inclusive playground at Arbor Lodge Park. Please visit to learn more about our project.

Here’s the score thus far:

We have raised $240,000 of the $350,000 we need – the city of Portland has pledged the final $50,000, so we are just $60,000 short of our goal.

Our co-host, Disjecta ( is on-board and excited. They will allow all of our pieces to hang one week prior to our event and will co-promote and co-produce the event with us. We already have some beautiful rare vintage 60’s and 70’s rock posters from Victor Moscoso and Stanley Mouse. We will thus bill the lot as “Rock N Roll Poster Art and More. Zoltron is sending some stuff as well, and Upper Playground will be kicking down, too.

Funds raised from this auction will go directly to the costs of public/functional artwork inside Harper’s Playground from two very talented sculptors:

Pete Helzer –

James Harrison –

Auction is Friday, September 30th , 6PM-9PM”

An art auction to get art work for an inclusive playground?  How could I refuse?

I’ve had an idea for a long time about making a girl with a leg brace riding a turtle.   The turtle is my animal symbol.  I’m slow but I get there; I carry my entire house with me wherever I go (you should see my purse), AND you can’t make me come out of my shell till I’m good and ready.

This seemed like the perfect opportunity to actually start working on it, especially after Cody told me that they loved turtles, and the art for the park will feature Pete Helzer, whose does brilliant turtle sculptures.  I sketched out my idea, although the piece itself won’t look like this exactly.  For one thing, a friend of mind gave me a wonderful bit of fabric with painted turtles on it years ago that I’ve been waiting for the right time to use.  I’m pretty sure that will be the girl’s skirt/dress.

Drawing and fabric sculpting are such different mediums that I never know exactly how things are going to turn out, and that part of the fun.

I decided to branch out into paper sculpting with this piece, another thing that I’ve had on the back burner of ideas for a long time, so that’s going to add another element of surprise to the mix.

I did a lot of consulting on Jonni Good’s website, Ultimate Paper Mache, and found a great step by step guide for making a Ploughshare turtle.  I wanted a longer, imaginary turtle, but the structural advice was great, so I went to work on the armature, using paper, foil, duct tape and wire.  I also had my great turtle reference book.  Turtle shells are so beautiful and wild, I really wanted to paint this one instead of using fabric or embroidery.  I decided to use Celluclay for the first layer and then do the finer details with Paperclay.


To speed up the drying process for the first layer, I put it in the oven between 150 and 200 degrees for half a day turning it over once an hour.

Guess what's for dinner, honey!
Looks done to me!

Next, I’ll sculpt the feet and details of the face and shell with Paperclay.

It’s going to be a slow process, but I’ll get there.

You can keep up with Harper’s Playground events and progress on their Facebook page:

As I am writing this, they’re having a Benefit Barbeque at the Arbor Lodge New Seasons (Saturday and Sunday, August 27-28) from Noon to 4 p.m.  If you get a chance stop by and enjoy a group of people who have made play a priority.

3 thoughts on “The Turtle Way

  1. Joy, I’m so glad you have a piece in the works involving you spirit animal! Also great that you are doing some stash-busting. Thanks for yet another peek into your process – it’s such fun to stop by and watch you work. And that turtle in the oven is priceless! Can’t wait to see the next phase…

  2. Thanks so much K-Boe! I got a little waylaid by other events in my life, but today I get to work on my turtle feet and face. I hope to post again tomorrow. I hope to do a lot of turtles as time goes by. Slowly, steadily…

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