Like most single mothers will tell you, everything Tarrytown's Blanca Medina does is for the benefit of her child. In her case, this happens to be a smart and talented 13-year-old who clearly has been given every opportunity: he's on scholarship at the Harvey School in Katonah and takes music at the Music Conservatory of Westchester in White Plains.
"I'm working always for something for him," Medina said.
Being a good mother of course has its price. Medina is an immigrant, who speaks passable English, but she has found herself working within the limitations of her status here since she came from Peru 15 years ago. She cleans houses, and travels by bus, often as far as Brooklyn, to do so, but the work and the commute is taking its toll. “I’m getting too old,” she says, and adds that her eyesight is starting to fail her.
Medina wears glasses for close work and it’s the close work she’s obsessed with. Any spare moment she has she is crafting the most intricate beadwork jewelry (a bracelet with a beaded lizards, Swarovski hearts, crochet-like necklaces) and fabulous dolls. The lifelike dolls are made from recycled goods. One of them is getting packaged up this very day to make its way to Texas for inclusion in the Artistic Figures in Cloth and Clay collective, a website celebrating “art dolls.”
She's a proud mother to these dolls too. Medina shows off the various little people and sparkling jewelry pieces with joyous laughter. The darker skin she colors with tea and cinnamon. The boots of the Texas-bound doll (who happens to be fashioned after Glinda the Good Witch) are delicately sewn from leather gloves she found at Main Street’s Cherry Door store.
There are witches she’s working on, heads all in a row and each with their own expressions. Corn husk dolls, made with techniques she learned from her mother and grandmother. Anatomical pieces that will become a baby Jesus for a manger.
"People don't do this anymore," she said with sadness. "These kinds of arts and crafts are disappearing."
She's been doing this “since I remember,” Medina said of her history with crafting. She studied architecture in Peru but couldn’t complete her degree because it was too expensive. Instead she applies a certain architectural precision to this work.
She hopes to get out of the phsyically challenging housekeeping trade and start making a living from teaching her skills to others, which she does from time to time now. She goes to libraries (she did a seminar at the Greenburgh Library and in June she will teaching a group at the Irvington Library how to make one very cute fairy ornament). She will work with Girl Scout troops, community centers and the like to make items requiring one to five sessions. She can do crafting parties for teens, adults and seniors, where she brings along the kits to sell with all the materials needed to make a piece.
The woman who used to sell her crafting supplies had to close her store in Nyack a few years ago because too many of her precious jewelry pieces had been stolen. Now the "Beadwildered Women" shop owner works out of her home.
Ultimately, she is open to anything that will help her get by right now. She admitted her phone line had just been cut because she couldn’t pay her bill that week. She babysits and tutors Spanish to elementary school kids, helping dual language kids with their homework.
Her son is bilinqual. He wants to study computer engineering in college, though sometimes, Medina said, he just wants to be a baseball player.
There’s the piano in the living room of the small Franklin Courts apartment where her son practices, a pervasive smell of soup, and a table laden with beautiful things that take her hours upon hours to make. She doesn't want to sell most of these items because she can't produce them fast enough. The dolls take several months; often she sends them to her niece as gifts.
Old-school traditions are held sacred in this household in the face of times moving increasingly online and away from such pursuits. Medina and her son straddle these different worlds: past and present, Peruvian and American, crafting and computerized.
You can take a class to make the "Swarovski Puffy heart" (by way of PDF for purchase) online here. Medina also maintains a blog with photos and info on the latest projects she’s up to at Peru-medesigns.com. She can be emailed at: email@example.com.