prosthetic flute thumb in action

Got a UCL tear?  No use of your thumb?  Can’t stop playing traditional Irish flute because your need to do so is a compulsion bordering on addiction, the cessation of which would cause a debilitating self-identity crisis?  No problem!  At least not if you have the following:

1.  Access to a great hand specialist practice.  I highly recommend Lamont Cardon (MD) and Broheen Elias (PA) at Alta Bates.  Competent and accommodating, they respected my professional needs and supported my decision to continue playing flute during the healing process.

2.  A solid cast to protect the injured ligament, one with extra wiggle room for four fingers.

3.  Prosthetic materials/supplies:  plastic coat hanger, ace bandage, scotch tape roll, OTC wrist support brace, duct or teflon tape, hot glue, patience, a sense of humor.

4.   (and this is critical…)  Indomitability.

5.  Optional: bottle opener fixture and epoxy to adhere.  I decided this was important because what could be cooler than opening someone’s beer with your prosthetic flute thumb?


Remove layers of scotch tape until the outer diameter of the tape roll fits into the inner curve of your coat hanger hook.  Glue the scotch tape roll into the curve of the coat hanger.  Use duct or teflon tape adjust the inner diameter of the scotch tape roll — it should fit snugly onto the bore of your flute, right at the point of desired support.  Optionally, attach bottle opener to the distal coat hanger arm using epoxy.  Here’s what it should look like so far.

coat hanger with scotch tape roll attached

bottle opener

Now work out how you will put the coat hanger on in a way that is comfortable and stable.  I used a simple velcro wrist brace to support the distal end of the hanger, then an ace bandage to hold the hanger in place against the cast and keep it adjacent to my forefinger.

Now your thumb is on, and you are ready to hit the seisiún.  Attach flute.  I play a keyless split-body (four piece) Olwell and designed the scotch tape roll to fit at the proximal end of the third section, right up against the silver tenon ring.  Wherever you choose to attach the hanger, the instrument should be held firmly in place, just as if you were supporting it with your previously-functional thumb.

A scrappy plastic thumb that can open beer bottles is exciting, I know, as is playing again for the first time since your big injury.  But be mindful of the medical situation and your (dis)abilities.  Muscle fatigue was a problem for me, as were hand tremors and spasms.  Be gentle with yourself and play only to tolerance.  Long term healing is critical, so construct your project with safety in mind — run the basic design of your prosthetic by a hand specialist.  That’s one of the reasons you went to the trouble of hiring a hand specialist, right?  Utilize his/her expertise.

For longer performances, detach the flute from the hanger to take a break and socialize.  But I suggest leaving the prosthetic attached for the whole evening, partly for convenience, but also because it is a great conversation starter.

Over time, make flute body alignment and ace bandage wrap changes as necessary.  As your fingers grow stronger and the swelling goes down, you may need to make minor adjustments to get the instrument in the right place for your healing fingers.

coat hanger thumb in action at the starry plough

an earlier version (pre- scotch tape ring) where globs of hot glue supported the bore


Wednesday, February 2, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . flute, music, sculpture, traditional music. Leave a comment.

ms. hickory nut ponders songs and places

ms. hickory looks cleverly in her book

if a hickory nut faced woman were to study songs and their places of origin, what would that look like?

songs and places, the study of

• antique camera found on travels • photo of traditional irish musicians, one known one unknown • arm of an uncomfortable couch • hickory nut woman from Grandma Dot’s old shelves • afternoon light from generous living room window

Tuesday, August 24, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . music, photography, sculpture, song, traditional music. Leave a comment.

Shout! Art by Women Veterans

Many thanks to Swords to Plowshares for putting together Shout, an art show featuring work by women veterans.  The show was held in San Francisco at The Women’s Building, a place that is its own work of art:


While meeting many amazing artists and interesting art-show-goers, I soaked in the experiences of live readings, excellent cake, and a woman-centered space.


here are several of my pieces displayed on an old grand piano


another view of the display piano

I shared three pieces at this show:

ruby red combat boots

ruby red combat boots

Ruby Red Combat Boots – glitter, acrylic paint, studs, and jewels on leather

By early 2003, 6 months from separation, I was ready to click my heels together three times and head home.  But how would I get there?  And what shoes would I wear?  They’re not as delicate as the slippers Judy Garland wore, but I like to think if Dorothy left the Oz-land of the military, these are the boots that would transport her to her next adventure.

basic combat training journal

basic combat training journal

Basic Combat Training Journal – paper, ink

In 1998 I hid a blank journal in my pants, sneaking it through boot camp shakedown.  Luckily no one discovered my contraband (ideas and the ability to share them!).  Every night, head under an itchy wool blanket, I wrote.  Readers may explore this journal by reading entries in order, opening to random pages, or selecting entries marked with color-coded tags.

vase, self-portrait

vase (self-portrait) plus display placard

self-portrait – clay, sand, acrylic paint, shoe polish, rub & buff metallic goo.

unglazed vase.  i do not see myself as glazed.


more photos of these pieces…

Sunday, March 22, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , . feminism, sculpture, song, veterans, writing. Leave a comment.



a multimedia art show featuring works by women veterans.   it is open to the public and absolutely free.  everyone is welcome to come…


Tuesday, March 3, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , . feminism, midwifery, sculpture, song, veterans, writing. Leave a comment.

wedding hat

wedding hat

wedding hat

some of you remember an antique cream colored hat of mine, once covered with red silk flowers, worn frequently during the great adventure of 2003 —–>

remember this old hat? oh yeah!

remember this old hat?


this old hat accompanied me to two weddings that summer, perfectly matching my red spring dress.  after 5 years i thought it deserved a makeover, just in time for a new wedding.

note to hatters and milliners of the future – never use a hot glue gun to adhere 100 red silk flowers to a silk hat.  armed with a tweezers, tiny scissors, and a needle, i painstakingly removed flower pieces and stubborn bits of glue.  and when the work was done, i took my brand-old empty hat to the craft store and designed it a new outfit.  dressed in pink and green with iridescent wire edge ribbon, this restored hat made its debut at the summer wedding of greg and lynn in rockport, massachusetts.  it was incredibly popular, and was even asked on a date several times throughout the weekend.

hat, restored

hat, restored

Tuesday, July 15, 2008. Tags: . sculpture. Leave a comment.

destruction of scale model fetuses

ft-1due to space constraints i had to part with my clay model fetuses.  i considered giving them away.  but because they were unfired clay pieces, they would break at the touch of a finger and over time would certainly fall apart.  after spending 100+ hours creating them, i thought that instead of just chucking the board in the dumpster, i would archive its destruction with a series of photographs.  soon all the work of sculpting, molding, and intricate detail lay clustered in scattered heaps of broken parts.


  ft-2  ft-3  ft-4  ft-5  ft-6  ft-7

Thursday, November 15, 2007. Tags: , , , . feminism, midwifery, sculpture. Leave a comment.

scale model fetuses


fetus-1_bigthese pieces are scale models of fetuses at 2.5, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 20, 26, 32, and 38 weeks. in the larger models, only half the fetus is represented and the viewer is left to imagine the mirror half. this is partly because i wanted nice flat backs for wall mounting, and partly because in the third trimester fetuses i had trouble creating whole babies that were not deformed. before doing anything like this again, i think a sculpting class is in order. this was a project for the Embryology and Fetal Development module of my National Midwifery Institute studies.












Tuesday, April 3, 2007. Tags: , , . feminism, midwifery, sculpture. Leave a comment.

refinished chair

i found a chair at the side of the road on hearst avenue, less than a block from my house. it was dirty tan with a red vinyl seat and gummy blackened metal feet. i took it apart, ditched the vinyl, painted, and reupholstered. to honor the roots of this humble beauty, i left the original color stained tan color in the background of the top bar.



Saturday, March 10, 2007. Tags: , , , . sculpture. Leave a comment.

self portrait

unglazed vase. i do not see myself as glazed. i textured and colored with sand, acrylic paint, shoe polish, and rub & buff metallic goo.







Monday, December 4, 2006. Tags: , , , , . feminism, midwifery, sculpture. Leave a comment.

tea equipment


ceramic mug covers and spoons made from coils keep tea warm, shape steam, and make for a jolly 4:00 tea.

some covers consist of a crossbar and a lid. the crossbar allows the cover to fit different mugs and cups. the lid traps the majority of tea heat but has openings through which steam can escape. as the steam comes from the quirky openings, it swirls nicely in the air, a pleasure to watch. the bird’s nest tea cover is created entirely from coils.

the spoons are made from thin slabs and coils extruded from an amputated medical syringe. thirty or so spoons were created, but only six made it through the drying process, bisque firing, glazing, and all the transfers inbetween. some were lost to air pockets or accidents – oops, i touched it and it broke – and others were so delicate and thin that they just couldn’t hold. my favorite is the exquisite copper spoon, its handle made from a single coil and its cup modeled after a rounded rectangular dessert spoon given to me by steve.




Friday, October 20, 2006. Tags: . sculpture. Leave a comment.

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