Free: from work to work


There was just enough room in the pot to sneak out and snag the seven milkweed plants that survived the summer’s aggressive alley weeding…which one person does with poison spray (ugh).

I almost don’t want to jinx it by saying it, but as of yesterday, I’ve entered a solid four weeks with only one relatively uncomplicated deadline, with every afternoon and some evenings absolutely open to do what I want, to completely self-define what the work of each day will be. (Barring the occasional glitch; Wednesday’s will take me to the genius bar. In a mall. It shall go quickly).


Realizing this feels rather fantastic, a deep intake of breath.


This stretch of time was deliberately set aside to address our situation; but as things have evolved, it and admin and Chance’s training take up the mornings only.  As I schedule 2015 (which so far contains a comfortable three classes and four shows), I’m going to try to duplicate this lovely free stretch…maybe twice, but definitely for a month in the fall, when harvest and fiber prep is a good bit of the work I want to do. And next year, I’ll maybe have the mornings too. It feels so good…


Finished stripping the second type.


This year, I have enough of each to separate the two types of Ragdale Meadow milkweed to see if there is any difference in the paper. One type is shorter, and often has a reddish cast to the stems. The other is quite tall and has already developed a lot of black spots. I don’t know what they are because I don’t see the plants when they are flowering, which is what most guides use for identification, but I hope for some clarification soon, during an afternoon harvest at a generous person’s garden. She knows these things.

prairie day


The Meadow milkweed harvest at Ragdale. I always, always think I am too early, just after the equinox / Mabon. I also always take a first look round the meadow and think, “Oh!  There isn’t much this year.” Yet I am always right on time, and there is always a good-sized harvest.


Fall has barely begun, just an inkling.  The work was hot and sweaty under the afternoon sun, as I crawled into dense foliage, with thorns or pesky burrs.  Yet for someone who lives contained by buildings, fences, concrete, alleys, it was glorious.  Just to BE, out where the only visible boundaries are trees and the big bluestem hides nearby buildings, just me and prairie, sky, birds and critters.


And the Meadow Studio.  No one is in residence just now, so I went and peered in the windows, said hello, and made a fervent wish that our situation will allow me to be there later this fall. I’m scheduled for late October through November. I sat in the shade and trimmed my stems, then walked a circuit round the meadow, tossing the seedpods back in for next year. It’s a rich, vital wheel on which to turn.


I love this year’s version of the Ragdale Ring. Love it.

There was even more reward:


I couldn’t yet get near it without, say, a machete, but:

the Ragdale ear is still here!


It’s lasted eleven months and it looks solid, and is most wonderfully, subtly warped. The dye has faded but is still there, and some seems to have moved through the piece. I’ve been making more plans for this site this year, regardless of whatever might have remained. This is better than I hoped (and I owe a lot of that to other harvests). I already value this place so much for the enormous gift of allowing me to interact with a landscape over time; that has now gone to a whole new level. I’m feeling a bit like one of those seedpods.


(Thank you, Ragdale and Lake Forest Open Lands).


In & Out

We’re quite busy with our non-blog activities here at home, but a few good things have been happening Out There:


Earlier this week, I went to visit and assist the lovely Sandra C. Fernandez as she installed her ofrenda in memory of Sam Z. Coronado at the National Museum of Mexican Art.  The Dia De Los Muertos exhibition there has long been one of my favorite annual events in Chicago, so it was great to be behind the scenes, working and watching all the altars being made. Unfortunately, I did need to miss the opening reception last night, but will definitely (definitely!) see the show. Congrats, Sandra!


Radha Pandey wrote a sweet blog about her work in my class at the Morgan Conservatory last August (thanks!). I’m looking forward to seeing her completed thesis work!

This also appeared on a site from the Ukraine called Real Thing. My translation app did not provide anything that made sense, but friend Smith kindly sent this: “Today read that about 90% of our cells are similar to the cells of fungi and bacteria. Because of the Melissa Jay Craig can be interpreted in different ways: mushrooms-books, each of which can tell your story, eared trees able to listen, trees growing out of the books and hands – of trees. Got something to admire and something to think about. (smiley face)” Большое спасибо!

The Morgan’s Revive and Renew exhibition closes today, sadly, but Ann Starr has celebrated it beautifully in this thoughtful review of some of the works (more and many thanks!).

Tomorrow, Pulp Culture opens at the Morris Museum in New Jersey. And I am hoping for a milkweed harvest this week, and am thawing out a gift I popped into the freezer awhile ago,  a bag of cooked water hyacinth roots.


Sandra’s ofrenda, completed. A beautiful tribute.

pulp / perseverance


Properly cooked.

This year, the lily stem pulp kicked my butt a bit, though I finally, stubbornly ended up with what I needed today, a few days under a month from the harvest.


Getting there.

There were three differing factors from last year: (1) Our circumstances (combined with weather) caused me to leave the cut harvested stems soaking for well over a week; they retted a bit before cooking (which usually helps the process). Last year I harvested, cooked and beat within two days. (2) There were some stems from a different type of daylily in this year’s batch. (3) There simply were more lilies this year, and I probably crammed too much into the biggest cooking pot, and underestimated the amount of soda ash needed.  That, I think, was most likely. It probably didn’t help that I also stopped the cook for about 40 minutes in the middle due to a sudden fast little rainstorm, but I gave it an extra hour and let the stems sit in the cooking solution for another several days (that’s also something that usually helps). The fiber simply refused to circulate in the beater.



So, I did a second cook, this time in two batches and again, the fiber sat in the cooking solution for three days; that’s our life right now. I also hand-cut the still-tough stems down before beating. Success! All the extra re-processing took about 25 minutes off the beating time to get the exact same pulp as last year.


This lovely accidental 3D piece was made by forgetting to clean out a mesh bag after draining the beater the first time to re-cook. It’s a good illustration of why I kept at it: a tough pulp that connects tiny rough fibers (the ones that didn’t break down in the ‘piece’) that add bulk and a great deal of strength to cast works. It’s great for interior sketetal structures. (Plus, the house is surrounded by clouds of tall bright orange blooms for weeks before harvest).


During our unpredictable schedule for the next weeks, I’m hoping to use what studio time I have just testing some fibers, making sheets and small castings. There are some important harvests happening in that time frame, too, and today I was offered a second milkweed harvest, plus seeds to start in the yard for next year. Excellent. Hello, autumn.


Cool, quiet.


I suspected this might happen, which is why this particular ear stayed home.  But now that I see it in progress (it’s happening very slowly and the whole thing is still quite sturdy), I am intrigued by it; thinking of new interiors, of deliberately encouraging (and loving the connotations of) “ear-splitting”…

Now, after four months of relative chaos, we are in the thick of our situation, which is characterized by making day-to-day life only merely unpredictable. My solution for that – which so far is working – is to only schedule a few days ahead, and to focus on adaptable work. Right now, that consists of a lot of backed-up office and house maintenance (yawn), and some slightly more interesting work on the paper studio itself. But also spending a good bit of time out with the dogs daily, walking Lupe, training and ball throwing sessions for Chance (who loves to retrieve, relentlessly and most enthusiastically) in newly cool, crisp fall temperatures (actually, a wee bit too uncharacteristically cool: it’s like late October, which seems so odd with the trees still green and tomatoes, peppers and herbs still ripening). It’s good, and the quiet afternoon work needs little mental attention and allows for some pondering time.


I had a quiet but good birthday on the 9th; all the texts and e-mails and FB greetings were lovely, as was that day’s balmy beautiful weather, before the cool came.  I spent most of the day outdoors, made some good short-term decisions, and celebrated those and the new age with a late-night dram or two, and then we confidently dove into what we had to together the next day.


Out in the world, a nice mention from the hometown from a few shows ago. Another show came back in. One piece returned in a newly-built exo-crate, for which I thank the CVA Denver gallery staff. I’m taking its labeling as a directive.




September; back to school in a way, for the first time in five years.  Two team-teachers with a single canine student, we’re of course also learning, and we’re conducting class rigorously 24/7. Every week to ten days, we’ll visit our new trainer, who I like very much. Chance now wears his training collar all day, unless we are both out. The expected course outcome is: to no longer need the collar. He’s definitely a sophomore; he sometimes talks back, making exquisitely smart-assed sounds (and faces and body gestures) when given a command. But he does do what he’s told in spite of the commentary, and I have, somehow, found the strength not to laugh when he’s being such a hilariously pouty brat. Not once!


The past  week or so felt like moving through dense fog, but actually a lot was accomplished, including unpacking two shows in seven crates, two teaching-sample crates, a (so-tedious) app, and getting the next show assembled, admin-ed, packed and shipped.  Pulp Culture at the Morris Museum in NJ is the final show of the year requiring shipping, and now I can be intrigued by it and excited about it again; it does look most interesting and with diverse, unusual inclusions from artists to engineers to iconic paper dresses from the1960s. It’s another one I’m sorry not to be able to see, though it would be exceedingly difficult to avoid handling Li Hongbo’s work.  I’m not sure I could restrain myself.

There are two more relatively lightweight deadlines before mid-month, another large show returning, and of course all the other things we are dealing with, but: fingers crossed. It’s looking like I can begin to add studio and garden into the mix again: my kind o’ September.

dawgsThe Tail.

Pavlov’s Dogs, Private Life


I’ve had nothing to say. On Wednesday, we reached the watershed beginning of the active phase of our combined current situation. It will continue for at least the next two months. In most ways, I’m very glad that we’ve agreed to keep what’s going on private, sharing only with those we love, trust and can rely upon. In another way, I’m experiencing a small, unexpected internal struggle, attempting to disengage from and / or construct the necessary walls here on the blog and in the few types of other social media – largely Facebook – that I regularly participate in.


Shows go out; shows return.

This is a bit of a surprise to me. It’s not as if I haven’t needed to temper my words, or obliquely / cryptically refer to events before; far from it.  In most of those instances, though, I was dealing with adversarial situations, even overt persecution. To be able to focus on my artwork (and its attendant realms like the garden and teaching) was a lifeline and an affirmation. I’m sure writing about those parts of my life will feel that way again, maybe even soon, but at the moment, they seem lackluster; even the upcoming shows are like old repetitive tasks to be completed, not all that much different than doing the laundry. I’ve done it all hundreds of times; what’s to write about?


Plants grow and are cut down; these have already returned.

Likewise, social media, once another type of lifeline (an end-run around deafness), holds little interest just now, possibly because it feels quite false to so severely compartmentalize. Yet, I vaguely miss the bit of daily interaction even as I shun it.


Pre-social-media, pre-deafness, this was never a problem; I simply ‘disappeared’ as often as I needed to, for as long as I needed to, whether it was to get some artwork done without distraction, or to deal with personal situations akin to the one we’re currently undergoing, or just to have some quiet space. In the less-deafened, pre-caller ID, pre-answering-machine days, I can remember a room-mate watching, amused, every time I fiercely stared down the ringing telephone, refusing to answer, “to be one of Pavlov’s dogs!” I don’t know why that simultaneous need for privacy and to question our conditioned responses disappeared for me in terms of technology and particularly the internet, but I do know that, like the woman in this moving tribute, deafness was the impetus. Now that artists are routinely conditioned to live out loud, attempting to withdraw is, well: something I had to write about, if only to share inconclusive thoughts on not sharing so much.