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Mountain House Monday: The Search for Sentimental/Family Inspired Art


I suffer from chronic “sentimental-memory-making.” The #1 symptom usually involves me orchestrating a big and messy project to do as a family that the kids aren’t even ready for, but it makes us (me) so happy and yes creates memories that I KNOW we’ll all keep. Ever tried building and decorating a gingerbread house from scratch with three 2-year-olds? How about papier maché with gallons of glue? “Building a birdhouse” with a 3-year-old boy and two hammers? Nail polish marble art like out of real nail polish full of chemicals and toxins that don’t come off their hands or faces for days? I’ve been accused, and have pleaded guilty, of so many parenting fails in the name of my selfish “memory making.” But it’s my crime to commit, my mess, my children and continue my serial record I will.

As we keep trucking on the decor phase of the mountain house, I increasingly want to bring in as much personal, family and sentimental pieces as possible, without adding too many “things” up here. So the natural way to do it is in the art and textiles. I’ve been brainstorming, obsessed with personalized art that is pretty, feels curated, unique and furthermore trying to figure out how to involve the kids in the actual making of it. Here are the ideas that I’m exploring, some of which I’m VERY excited about.

Pressed Flowers

art projects for kids
image sources: left | right

My kids pick them and while I know this is normal, the ritual of running into the house and yelling “mama I picked this beautiful flower for you!” will NEVER not be special. Up here, they are more branches and pretty leaves, manzanita and pine. I am a massive fan of flowers and trees (this blog was first called The Brass Petal, after all) and I grew up pressing flowers myself. Plus, I’ve put two forest murals in my house so this seems like a very natural collection.

The question is how to do it in a new way that feels more unique to us and this house? We always try to take a good idea and reinvent it, right? So here’s what we have so far: I want to tweak the scale by going BIG. This could either be big flowers/branches, OR we could press a ton of flowers and wait to put them in a frame until we have a massive amount, then frame a huge huge huge collection, in an interestingly arranged, curated color palette. No pics of that to reference because we haven’t seen it done yet (thus making me really excited about it). I don’t love the idea of an organic collection creating a gallery wall up here (I love it in general but I want it to be more clean and modern) so I’m thinking either a large scale grid or one big piece that we make over the summer together.

art projects for kids
image source

Not exactly like this, but you get the idea. Pressed flowers, done EHD style.

Curated Kid Paintings & Paper Collage Art

art projects for kids
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Art you actually love looking at. I’m sure every mom in the history of parenting has tried this, but here’s my new attempt that I’ve already started: I pulled out all colors in the color palette of this house—muted greens, blues, grays, blushes, blacks—and gave them materials in all of these colors.

art projects for kids

This included pastels, watercolors, acrylic paints, colored pencils, ripped up fabric, tissue paper, origami paper, watercolor paper, newspaper, construction paper and let them go at it. Charlie isn’t that into drawing but he sure loves ripping up paper and playing with glue. This is going to take some time, but it’s super fun and they know they are working on something with me that will live up at the mountain house.

art projects for kids
image source | artist: kirill bergart

The inspiration for this comes from two of my current favorite artists whose work I have purchased for both homes: Kirill Bergart and MaryAnn Puls. Both of these artists create really inspiring, highly provocative mixed media pieces that are quiet and interesting. I love to stare at both of them.

art projects for kids
photo by sara tramp | from: my living room update

These paper hands in my living room are by Kirill Bergart while the mixed media piece below that was used in the living room of the Portland House is by MaryAnn Puls:

art projects for kids
photo by sara tramp | from: the portland project living room reveal

Now, do I want or expect my kids to do anything like this? Am I teaching my kids how to knock off adult artists? No. They are 3 and 5. This is just the inspiration that got me excited and made me think that curating the materials might actually produce a piece or multiple pieces that can adorn the walls of this house and remind me of this age and time. I’m even thinking that I can take all their work and collage them together on one big piece of beautiful paper or canvas. Maybe I can add some embroidered bits. I’m not sure, but so far I’m loving the process with them. This is more about the process, doing it together than the final outcome. It’s an experiment in doing an art project over time together, and if it is attractive then all the better.

Sun Art

art projects for kids
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I have ALWAYS loved sun art and last summer we started doing it together up here. The kids love it because all you do is leave an object on top of a piece of sun paper and let the sun bleach it out. You then add water to stop the reaction. It’s scientific, quick, colorful and pretty. So I’m going to find a way to integrate sun art that, again, we do with the kids up here. Maybe it’s all leaves they forage, or maybe it’s their current favorite toy. Then we can either collage them all onto one big piece or create a grid down the hallway.

art projects for kids
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Sentimental Quilts

art projects for kids
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Hold on to your granny on this one. I grew up quilting and have an affinity toward pieces of fabric sewn together. I made some very similar to that above, but this would be different. My kids are a bit young to quilt with me, but I’m VERY into textile art right now. So I have a plan and it sounds creepy, but I’ve been hoarding some of their baby blankets or my favorite, nostalgic clothes of theirs. Not a ton as I’m such a purger, I wish it were more, actually, but I can’t seem to donate their baby blankets specifically because all I do is picture the first months of their lives in them. Some of them are in bright colors that clash, so here’s what I’m thinking: I’ll dye them all the same tone OR bleach them out. You’ll still see the pattern and get the texture, but it will reduce the color palette. I was telling my friends about this and they looked at me VERY skeptically but then I was in a store and saw the work of Adam Pogue and I said “SEE THIS IS IT.”

art projects for kids
image source | artist: adam pogue
art projects for kids
image source | artist: adam pogue

Turns out he follows me on Instagram and is based in LA so I’ve reached out to see if he wanted to work with me on it, even if it’s just giving some advice or yes, if he WANTS me to drop off the blankets/clothes and give him free reign to create a large piece of textile art for our house I WILL NOT SAY NO. I’m still waiting to hear back and if he’s not involved then I’ll do my best and likely create something ugly, but if it’s all blue or all bleached and combined with simple washed linen or denim then I think it could be pretty enough either for a piece of art, headboard or a blanket at the foot of the bed.

The next two ideas are pretty basic, but I think we can execute them well and frankly, they are always good ideas.

Black & White Family Photo Wall

art projects for kids
image sources: left | right

The reason for this began because I have SO MANY already and they just aren’t popping in our LA English Tudor as much, but when I brought them up here with the dreamy light and simple modern architecture, they sing. They are quiet, interesting and obviously very personal.

I like the idea of putting them above the bench here in the front of the house by the staircase:

art projects for kids

I need more interesting shapes and texture, more photo strips, Polaroids, etc. But it’s the perfect fit up here and it makes me super happy. Part of me wants to mix in other wood tones, but I have so many in white frames that I’m like “why not just keep it simple?” I will mix up the white frame profile and the matting, though so that it looks interesting.

Monthly/Seasonal Polaroids

art projects for kids
photo by tessa neustadt | from: sara’s living room reveal

Lastly, another long term photo project because I suffer from an incessant need for sentimentality (my scrapbooking has gotten out of control). I got a polaroid camera from Jess for Christmas and while I’m still learning how to actually take a good picture, the kids love it and will actually let me take photos of them. So ideally, we’d do one a month, but I think that’s a bit ambitious. Maybe one a year each? Or one summer, one winter each every year? I don’t know. I just love seeing them altogether in a grid and there is something inherently nostalgic in a polaroid that gets lost in a printed photo.

art projects for kids
image source

So that’s where we are at. Family memory making in the form of art projects that with some luck, curating and discipline, we can ACTUALLY put on the walls and always remember how we did it as a family. Anybody need any pink, red, orange or yellow art supplies?


Any other ideas? Any good references that you’ve seen on the internet? Memory making family art projects?


Fin Mark


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My Mum had all her seven grandchildren (aged between 2 to 8) dip their feet in a different colour paint (she used a selection of left over Farrow and Ball emulsion which is water soluble!) and asked them to walk slowly and firmly across a huge piece of white board. Then with a marker pen noted whose feet they were and what age. The resulting art hung up in the pool house for many years.

Looking at it always reminded me of the fun afternoon we had together in the garden, on the lawn with a crowd of kids waiting their turn to legitimately get covered in paint and make an impression. Best marks were left by those with flat feet 🙂


Such a sweet idea!!!!! I love this!

Jordan G

This is lovely! I want to do this with my kiddos!


So many great ideas! Unfortunately I know from experience that the pressed flower pictures will eventually turn into a drab collage of dead weeds, and it will be sad……
Be patient with your children’s artwork and good things will appear. Brilliant idea to start them with color-appropriate materials.
Please DO NOT put additional pressure on yourself to create monthly Polaroid collages!


I’ve been trying to find a way to print a long run of pictures from my phone so it looks like an old fashioned contact sheet (without fancy photo editing tools) but I’ve struck out. Maybe you guys can figure it out for us! Looking forward to the final outcomes.


if you know someone who has the Adobe suite they can do this for you in Adobe Bridge in about 2 minutes! 🙂 Otherwise, I would suggest asking a local print shop to setup the print file for you with your images — they should be able to do this for a small fee for their design time.


Hi there,

Large and small scale pressed flower art:

Mjolk currently has a very large diptych of framed pressed flowers on display in the shop. It looks amazing.


I love your ideas and how you are making it all so special for your family!

Thank you 🙂 xx


As a preschool teacher, I’ve done lots of fun projects. Once I let kids drip glass paint over an old window. In my current classroom, we have a very large old fireplace that we were required to cover. We got three large canvases from Amazon. First we let the kids go crazy with various shades of blue and white acrylic paint. Then after that dried, we gave them brown to make trees and branches. Then we finally added various greens for grass and leaves. I love the result! The key was letting it dry after each step to keep the colors distinct. Also, know when to stop. Kids love the process more than the product.

Elisa F

Remember those turkeys we all made as kids where you trace around your hand, then draw a beak, an eye, and a wattle on the thumb, and add feet? We have a collection of those that our guests and children have made (signed and dated) on Thanksgiving day for the past 15 years. They’re in large square black frames and displayed in a grid, in our dining room year round. As the kids have gotten older, I limit everyone to black sharpies; it’s a graphic but whimsical display that I adore. There are hands of loved ones no longer with us, those that have moved far away, and small hands that are now big.

Jordan G

What a great idea!


I *love* that you include all ages in the hand turkey art! What precious memories!


Lauren Liess hung her son’s art up in her house and it looked very cool:

I can’t find a photo but Jenny Komenda did a huge pressed flower frame for her grandmother and it was stunning.

I have a quilt my mom made me hanging in my home and love it.

Are you planning to AirBnB the mountain house? If so I wouldn’t want my family photos up and it would be a pain to have to take them down and up them back up. I’m not sure I helped narrow down your options, but I love them all!


Also recommending Jenny Komenda. She’s done quite a few sentimental art projects that also look chic.


Hi! Where are your white frames from? Thanks!


When we first moved into our house I got a huge canvas and put down a neutral-colored, acrylic base coat. At summer dinner parties outside, or kids play dates, I take it off the wall and haul it out to the lawn where guests would be invited to add Pollock-style drips or splotches with (a highly edited – by me- color palette of) acrylic craft paint in squeeze bottles. It’s so fun to see how it’s changed over the years – people, especially teenagers who have been adding to it since preschool, love to make their mark each summer.



Oh yes I love this. such a sweet idea!!


Ah, really love the black and white Family-Friendly photo wall on the right! Those light wood frames are ? and it’s REFRESHING to see photos that go all the way to the edge, without a mat. I think different sizes/eliminating the mat could bring some variety back into photo gallery walls!

Jordan G

I love all of these ideas! I’m creating a little display for toddler artwork in our hallway out of a vintage Pantone swatch book that I can’t wait to finish up.

The flower pressing immediately made me think of Jenny Komenda’s project for her mom using flowers they picked when they visited her hometown in Sweden.. It was one of the sweetest gifts I can remember and it was executed so well. Possible inspiration for you:


yes this is immediately what I thought of as well! I think she is also working on a gallery wall type thing of pressed flowers for one of her current projects.


I was immediately thinking about jenny’s pressed flower art too. That was so touching and beautiful.


Head out for a family nature walk around the cabin and give the kids your iPhone to take photos of whatever they find interesting. We did this with out kids (mostly to distract them from whining about having to hike) and they took the most amazing shots and close ups of mushrooms, leaves, bark….You could choose a few to enlarge and have framed but what we did is have them printed into personal greeting cards with the photographer credited on the back. This was our Christmas gift to Grandma and she was so moved and still is every time she uses one for whatever occasion is needed.

oooh what a cool idea!


I’d be down for seeing some sun art. I’m also curious how the painting in the home’s color scheme activity works out. About the B&W photos, I’ve seen it a million ways before from other folks, so I think it’d be challenging to find a new or unique way to do it…

About favorite items from my kids’ babyhood, I feel like changing the color or texture would ultimately reduce their ability to conjure memories for me. Apparently I’d prefer to just hoard a plastic box of the stuff in my attic, lol.


If you are looking for inspiration for large scale pressed flower / leaf / organic materials art, you should check out the work of Sasha Sykes. She did some really cool functional pieces of pressed flowers encased in plexiglass that might serve as a jumping off point.


I’m not a craftsy person. Like, at all. However, I saved a bunch of my kids t-shirts over the years from throughout their childhood, with the idea that I would someday “make a quilt.” Of course I have never actually made a quilt before. So … I don’t know how realistic/possible it is to make quilt squares using pieces of t-shirts. Or would t-shirt material be too flimsy for a quilt? I know I would be able to attach it to some firmer fabric but what kind of fabric? Or is this just an utterly impractical idea?

They have good memories from some of these old shirts so I thought it would be something memorable and cozy — not necessarily for a bed but to throw on a chair maybe.


There are Etsy sellers that make quilts out of T-shirt’s for you…you mail them your shirts and voila. I thought about doing this for all of my college T-shirt’s I can’t bear to toss.


Instead of pressed flowers that will definitely fade and fall apart over time, even between tight feaming, try PRINTING FLOWERS AND LEAVES!
Do this by painting (with a brush or small roller) real leaves or flowers, nuts, seeds, grasses…whatever had good texture, and press quality watercolor paper (thick and absorbent) on TOP of them.
Then, carefully peel back thd paper and your art creation is revealed!
You can also do this with absorbent cloths and then quilt the designs made from that whole year, capturing each season for that year into one quilt/throw. You’ll need lots of throws in that mountain house! 🙂
This is so much fun with little kids, because they can still produce a quality print with their little hands which makes them feel so competent and you can choose the color pallet.
Enjoy 🙂


This post is amazing to me because you are taking crafting with the kids into a more considered, designed place. This is some next level sh!t. Really interested to see the process and results. What a great way to spend time with your kids and share your work process with them too.


I’ve been wanting to overdye some old quilts that my grandmother made in unfortunate colors. That could work with your clashing baby blankets etc. Check out sharktooth for some examples.


One thing that I tried with my kids was that we did a big painting together on a large canvas outside, total Jackson pollock style. Again I curated the supplies in colours that I wanted. When we were all done and covered with paint and my littles had completely forgot about it and moved on, I sneakily “finished” the piece. No real major changes -I didn’t want to take away from the beautiful kid freedom look- just enough to make it look like a completed intention pieces and cleaned up messes. Turned out pretty good!


Hi Emily, you are so connected to the outdoors…the light, water, and trees in particular it seems. What about some blown-up pictures of very architectural trees, ie, trees with interesting branch shapes and no leaves? Or a picture up through the trees? Or the water? Those would be beautiful images that you could possibly add to the interesting things you are already considering.


I don’t have any ideas to add, but i would love some pointers on taking good Polaroid photos. I recently received one of those cameras as well, but my photos turn out terrible, while all across the internet I see wonderful candid Polaroid shots!


I love Darcy Miller’s scrapbooks…so interesting, memorable, fun:

I’ve always dreamed of a huge glass-fronted antique curio cabinet in an entryway filled with nature finds…rocks, shells, flower heads, bee hives, antlers, whatever anyone brings home from hikes. Just looking at it over time would trigger so many happy times.

Oooh all her ideas are SO PRETTY. Thanks for sharing xx


I think you should do a large scale frame made (glass on both sides) filled with pressed flowers and then have it secured in your wired pony wall area cut out that you asked about a week or so ago. 2 for one solution!

Amy Jones

Oh Emily! Did you see what Jenny Komenda did this past Christmas for her mom (I think?). She pressed all the flowers etc they had gathered from her yard at the house she grew up in (somewhere in Scandinavia?). Then mounted them on a black background. It looked AMAZING!

I love all your ideas!


I love all these ideas! For the cabin I especially love the curated kid art, sun art, large scale pressed plants, and family pics (both b&w and Polaroid). Will def borrow some of these for my own home!

Julie S

Oooh these are some great new ideas here. I love the idea of a giant single piece of a hundred pressed flowers (frameless, between two large pieces of plexi with pegs holding the corners – so Scandi and done in a fresh way). Kids art done with colors of your choosing is pretty genius. I totally get what you say about the process and togetherness being the most important part, and if something publicly display-able comes out of it, bonus! I love art quilts and hate “normal” quilts, plus do hand dyed woven pieces myself, so I’m 100% on board with your idea of how to pull off a memory textile with baby items. The polaroid grid is a little inorganic for the mountain house IMO I did want to mention. But I’m taking several of these ideas and putting them in my pocket as a mom who loves my kids but needs things to look goooood on the walls.


While a lot of what comes home from school end up in the recycle bin, there is still a lot of good and surprising stuff from the kids. I love it because it is a window into their minds at that particular time, and does not feel forced. I think the trick to sentimentality, like a lot of things in design, is waiting for the right piece and not trying to force it. The blank space on our collage wall is not something that is incomplete, but a space for the kids to grow into, and a future delight.

Ahh yes so true xx


I totally agree. Our kids are 4,8 & 10. While it’s fun when they’re young to create with them, now there is really great art coming home from school from the older kids. I’ve picked a few to frame and even once gave one of their paintings as a gift.


I love this post! So many great ideas.


I never did get around to framing and hanging more than one baby photo of my daughter, but each year on the weekend nearest to her birthday (since her first birthday!), we head to downtown Portland for books, donuts and then a visit to the Ace Hotel photobooth. We all fit in the booth together each year until she was about five, at which point, we let her have her photo taken on her own. I’ve framed these all in sequence in a long slender frame and hung it among our family wall, on which I have also intermingled pieces of art and travel photos.

Beth Cote

As an art educator and artist, I feel you are on the right track by giving your kids good quality art materials in the right colors. But be careful of taking their art, which to them is a finished piece and collaging it together etc, unless you make sure they understand this is the project from the outset. Maybe calling it a family collage project and have them create painted papers a la Eric Carle and use those for an abstract creation, so they understand that painting is step one and will not feel personally hurt when it is ripped for step two.


This is something to think about!

I’m also a future art educator and I want to pay attention to the materials you are using with your young children.

For example acrylics are not harmless. They do have poisons that get into your body through skin and mucous membranes. That is why usually acrylics are used only after primary school, in secondary school and high school .

Also this sun art puzzles me: is it similar to cyanotype (your example pictures look like cyanotype)? Because it has cyanide which is also dangerous if not handled right.

I don’t mean to scare you, just wan’t to make sure you know that all of these art supplies are not harmless. It’s great that you are engaging your children with these art projects that you all really enjoy!

Love from Finland!


My step baby and I make “art” together in Procreate on the iPad Pro! I get to choose the stroke type, scale, and color, he gets to “paint” away! It’s not messy and if I don’t love a stroke (hello I am a perfectionist Virgo after all) we can easily just go one step back and try again. It’s so fun to work together and I plan on printing off a few in a poster size and hang them in our space!


My step baby and I make “art” together in Procreate on the iPad Pro! I get to choose the stroke type, scale, and color, he gets to “paint” away! It’s not messy and if I don’t love a stroke (hello I am a perfectionist Virgo after all) we can easily just go one step back and try again. It’s so fun to work together and I plan on printing off a few in a poster size and hang them in our space! Plus – there is no mess to clean up!

Emily Burgess

I’m so in love with these ideas! How fun! I recently discovered an encaustic artist (it’s oil mixed with wax over a photograph) that makes a photograph look like an insanely dreamy oil painting. The artist I’m working with is Kayla Barker Fine Art, and I believe she will do commissions. You can submit a decent photograph and have her do the encaustic process over top of the photograph. It’s not super expensive (under $200 for an 11×14) and I’m so excited to have something sentimental turned into real artwork for my home!


Love that bench! Can you share the source???

Julie Bonjour

My aunt had each of her grandkids paint a flower I’m a pretty blue in her bathroom wall. It’s very cute and the kids like showing off which flower is theirs.


Just last week I bought canvas paper and used my three-year-old son’s hot wheels cars to make a series of three pieces by dipping them in black acrylic paint and driving them across the papers. He is obsessed with cars l, and the prints make me happy every time I look at them. Next time I’ll have him help me make them. 🙂


I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only Mom who limits their kids palettes! I am not a quilter but I did make a sentimental quilt. I filled in between sentimental squares with fabric samples I liked. For fabrics that were too saturated, many of them looked better wrong side up. And my littlest ones loved helping with pins, pressing on the sewing machine pedal and cutting threads. And now that they are older, I will remind them of the significance of the fabrics. Don’t wait for the right time, just do it, and embrace the wabi sabi!


I have done the sun art with the my kids and I love them so much, plus they look beautiful! I love your pressed flower art idea, my first thought was the framed pressed flowers Jenny Komenda gifted to her mom, after their big Scandinavian trip. It was gorgeous!! Can’t wait to see what you do?


My artist grandmother did so many projects with us as lids – including full blown print making with inks and chemicals and things, although we were older than your wee ones. One of my favorite projects comes to mind though. She gave us white pillow cases and fabric markers and had us draw a doll/stuffed animal shape. We then learned to cut around the outside, leaving a quarter inch, sew the two sides together (drawing facing in) and leaving two inches open so we could turn it inside out, stuff it with cotton and close it up for a doll/pillow. My brother made R2D2 (I just dated us) and I made some kind of horse/dog creature. It was so fun though and teaches basic sewing. I was the youngest though and probably 7 or 8 when we did this, so hang on to it for a few years 🙂


Love these ideas! I’ve been obsessed with Bea from Zero Waste Home’s staircase: she used her kids’ artwork in the risers. It’s fabulous:

Pat McRee

One way to get children to make art on a bigger scale is to take away the brushes. Have them use their arms, legs, heads and even tummies to make the marks. Painting with your hair (or your sister’s) can really make a memory!

You might want to look at the Gee’s Bend quilts from Alabama as you plan your fabric art. Your children could definitely cut (or rip) the fabrics from their outgrown clothes to do this and put together their own designs.


My then 6 yr old granddaughter painted some wrapping paper for me and I cut it in strips and wove it together and added a heart shape from another drawing. I mod podged it onto a small canvas and hung it in my husband’s bathroom.


quilt kween makes some really cool hanging pieces


Well timed post Emily! I was just thinking about this subject all last week and am really inspired now . Love all these ideas , especially the modern quilt one.


The best deal on the internet is a 365-day-calendar from Social Print Studio. You can print any photo you want on to polaroid-style paper, and then assemble them as you mentioned in the post. It takes the pressure off taking brand new photos, and allows you to curate a selection.

Felicity Kerr

Check out Stargazey quilts. I have used these patterns with kindergarteners and first graders to make baby quilts for their teachers…You do the cutting, they do the choosing, and then they sit with you at the machine and you just keep addingstrips until it is big enough. Then you trim down each piece with your 12.5 inch square and assemble. By second grade they can manage the foot pedal themselves.


Those pink cheeks in the photo of Birdie. Sigh.

Karla Kirelawich

My girls are 19 & 16 now and I had saved many of their early scribble sketches and finger paintings because the colors were just so pretty. A while back I bought a large circle punch and a shallow shadowbox frame and made my own modern art with the pretty colored circles punched out from their childhood art placed in a grid pattern. It is one of the things I would grab if our house caught fire and I had a moment to save something.

This was one of the pins that inspired me:


Sun paper with kids toys is something a 3 and 5 year old can really participate in and enjoy. Also, since they don’t choose “flat” toys, the shadows created on the cyanopaper can be really interesting. Even if most of it isn’t frame-able in the end, it’s only $10ish for a pack of paper, no chemicals or big messes, and everyone has fun.

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