Ah, Ragdale.


Ah, Ragdale. I’m home now, after loading the Subaru one final 2013 time (with David’s steadfast and much appreciated help) and unloading (with Paul’s, ditto), and a fine evening of comfortable homecoming celebration. I slept deep and late, woke to Lupe’s gentle nose and a sweet note from Paul, who was out getting us dinner for tonight from my favorite takeout place.


Grateful for my papermaker’s boots, I dashed out as storm #1, with spectacular,  frequent close lightning strikes, began to wane into a simply torrential deluge.  The standing water was six inches deep in parts, here and on the path to the studio.

Ragdale and the Shaw prairie continued the changing-season show during the last week, with the severe storms that caused so much damage to areas of the midwest. We fortunately escaped the worst. There were three seperate storms that rolled through during the day, and the sky put on a spectacular show: each storm had distinctly different cloud formations.  The studio was rattling and banging from the winds, but I was working away and didn’t know what was occurring elsewhere, or that I should be worried.


Storm #1 moving out, #2 moving in…


On another night, when the intensified internal shifting I was undergoing threatened to spin off-course into a downward spiral, Chef Linda set me right with a delicious plate in the warming oven, chocolate, and a poem by Dan Vera that was as warming and healing as the superb food, and nurtured me just as vitally.


Four harvests happened, including steaming, stripping, bark-removal and drying for three of them: good batches of fiber all (five counting the earlier-in-October milkweed, and a sixth harvest of winter bast yet to be done).


Four ear-fungi were made, with the highly improved third-generation construction method. One was installed, right back where the original was located. I want a grouping of three there, but wasn’t sure how smart that would be because of the colder temperatures (the adhesive needs some warmth to set properly; it was 8 degrees below the minimum). I decided to come back and add the others in the spring. However, I’m happy to say that this one did survive three days of rain and some snow; I hauled the ladder over and checked it yesterday before I left, and it was still quite firmly attached.


Bits of the original were still attached to the tree, and gave me lots of information when I removed them. After installing, I scouted around again under the now-leafless young scrub trees to see if I could find any other pieces; I didn’t, but was rewarded instead with this lovely raccoon skull.


On Monday I made a fine decision: not to push to finish things, because I didn’t need to.  Unlike past years, when leaving Ragdale meant leaving my work for long periods of time (or, more recently, when I’d been working to satisfy deadlines), this residency segues into my self-provided long stretch of home studio time: I can continue! So, I decided to simply keep taking advantage of the Meadow studio itself. I left with five new works in progress, completely built, only awaiting color.


Since these six projects are in progress, I don’t feel comfortable showing them yet, but here is a teaser detail of one.  (Yeah, I know: sorry.)

And there is a sixth: the beginnings of a new installation, fully thought out and sketched out, with two prototypes made. The second of these was informative enough that the third attempt here at home, with all my equipment at hand, will very likely be the first component of the work.


Early in the residency, walking off-path in the meadow to see a fine sunset, I discovered three milkweed stalks I’d somehow missed during my previous harvest.

Some writing was done as well, and a couple of lovely 2014 classes came in and were booked and/or are under discussion. And above and beyond everything else: that palpable internal shift. I don’t quite know how to write about that yet, but it is personally profound, and I don’t think it might have happened as thoroughly and articulately without this place and what it provides.


I brought them in to grace the studio’s ‘relaxing corner’ along with some prairie dock leaves (which I love), intending to strip their fiber when I left.

I’ll admit: each year of my post-salary life, I’ve wondered if I can afford to come back to Ragdale, and, when I get there, if this year will be the last. But during this, the first residency without an agenda in such a very long time, I learned: I really can’t afford not to. This is the touchstone place, where I am renewed, always. Thank you, Ragdale.


But then, as I was packing up yesterday, I knew where they needed to be.


And now: four to six months at home, with all these new riches spread out before me.  And, just moments before I was leaving, a text: “Lots of mulberry cut down next door, want it?” Ahh, yes.


Kick the tires and…



Yesterday began the final Ragdale week. I got out to the studio relatively early after working late, quite excited by something that has begun. A few moments later, a wisp of smoke drifted past, then became rolling clouds. I grabbed the camera and ran out. Sure enough, Open Lands was doing a controlled burn on the quadrant of the prairie just below the Meadow Studio.


I’d seen a burn here before, but in the early spring.  They’re different in the fall. With the hearing aids on, even I could hear the loud popping and cracking of plants that still retained a bit of moisture, and much more was left standing than in the spring burns, when everything has retted through the winter.  The grasses were dry, though, and the expertly set fires sped through them quickly.  It was excellent to watch, and the smoke smelled wonderful and somehow clean.


That’s what’s happened to me here; what isn’t needed has finally, cleanly burned away; what’s valuable is still standing, watching over the spaces now ready for new growth.


I won’t finish this thing I’m excited about here, but I’ll leave knowing how to make it over the winter, and much more importantly, knowing exactly why I am making it.


(Oh, and the third experimental piece worked well, too, and taught me how to reclaim the second, so I made a fourth today. And there’s more ear-fungi). The burn is over but things are truly on fire.


Changing, Content(ed).



After wrapping up the big main part Sunday night, I finished up the last bit of the harvest work on Monday; I’d left what I thought would be the easiest portion for last. Not so; it took all day. I contentedly worked in my stocking feet, savoring the sweet warmth of the lovely heated floor, watching this happen. There’s something so peaceful about experiencing the change of season here, three stages in a little over two weeks.  (It should mostly melt today).


I now have nice amounts of four new fibers (three different types from one plant) squirreled away to work with this winter, as well as a couple of familiar ones to learn new things about.  Now the focus is on the making; a third new piece is drying (also on the heated floor) and hopefully the preceding two have taught me how to make this one to be what I want. And still, Ragdale continues its work on my thought processes; even if I did nothing else here, this residency would be invaluable for that.


A new resident arrived, a very nice writer I’ve been here with before, and there was a great bustling shift of room-changing yesterday.  When I saw someone moving out of the sweet Yellow Room, I asked for it, and moved in.  Last night, I slept the best I have since I’ve been here, and am off to the studio to happily, intentionally break rules, doing what I do.


Laundry Sunday


Those lovely reds faded to sienna browns very quickly, and I’ve been entertained by huge numbers of scuttling leaves in the wind: beautiful.

Laundry has to happen, wherever you are.  After three days of attempting to get to the Barnhouse machine and always finding it in use, I’ve commandeered both of the machines in the Ragdale House basement, in sheer desperation.  It’s a beautiful day, and I’m itching to get back out to the studio, where one more day of labor on the penultimate harvest awaits, but there will also be a necessary run into Lake Forest, once I have clothes. (Am currently attired in an, er, highly eclectic mix of The Last Clean Things, with no socks). Good time for a blog!


Another test piece happened this week for some new work; larger than the first. I’m on the right track but am not quite satisfied yet. Each time, though, they teach me more; each requires three days of drying. Lots of harvesting, steaming, stripping, bark removal and fiber-drying has been happening.  What with these and the fibers awaiting a late harvest when I get home, and two more wonderful donated batches, I am looking forward to a very satisfying amount of experimentation for my four-to-six month ‘sabbatical’ at home.  (There is a show in April, but I do not yet know if that means travel or just shipping).


Socially, it’s kind of a lonely residency this time, though that’s no one’s ‘fault’. I cannot hear anything in the dining room (for some reason, worse than ever, though my hearing hasn’t changed).  I suspect, too, that I may be the first deafened person anyone here has ever encountered on a daily basis.  All of which made me even more pleased for this week’s (quick, surprise) visit from an old friend and long-time residency-mate, a lot of generous e-mail input from new and old plant-fiber friends, and (speaking of generosity!) a sweet, wonderful out-of-the-blue gift from Aimee: the summer 2010 issue of Hand Papermaking, about invasive plants! (A very timely arrival too, as I’ve been working with one, and changed the following day’s harvest accordingly). And it’s oddly comforting in the evenings to see posts on Facebook from papermaking friends who are deep in fall harvests as well: connection!


And the final load of laundry is due to come out of the dryer: soon, the studio, the prairie. They are ever-changing, yet constant old friends, and that is more than enough.


As for color, there is always this beautiful red-gold, just-before-sunset light whenever there is sun; it comes very early now with daylight savings. It’s my favorite time of day in any season; I always stop and go out to bask in it. Now that the shrubby foliage has died back somewhat, I went looking for the original Ragdale ear-fungus, which toppled last spring.  It’s gone, totally, probably by human means, but I like to think of some critter – maybe the fox – making off with it. But what that light did for this old real fungus in the same location was just gorgeous, yes?


Another autumn beginning.


Books begun in August; I don’t know if I will work on them here or just let them look out on the late-autumn colors; they looked lovely in yesterday’s sunlight.

I hit Ragdale on Monday a very, very tired person.  That evening, one returning resident said she almost started weeping when she turned onto Green Bay road. I so understand that. For me there was the lifting of tension I didn’t even know was there, deeper breath, lighter shoulders. Now, I’m in that rare, blessed, calmly excited state. It’s blissful to be here with this clean slate, even though I realized today that my time in residence is four weeks, not five. No matter: any time spent here is purely, simply vital.


The prairie was misty today, the sky soft and pearly as tonight’s rain approached.

There’s already an intriguing test piece made and drying; I’m staying in the Barnhouse tonight to write this, do a wee bit more research, and above all, avoid the temptation to mess with it. I was so intent on the making that I completely forgot to photograph it in progress, which made me realize: I finally am no longer thinking like a teacher first, an artist second.  Yes, I’m truly back.


Long-lens shot across the prairie and into private property; in the manicured areas of Lake Forest, the colors are still brilliant, blazing through the mist.

Here’s a bit of today’s long prairie walk, before the making began.


The wilder prairie and woods colors are more muted now


and linear


or not.


The seedpods I left are open, and doing their job. Some of these wafted away seconds later.


I have visited this old one for years; it’s nearly three feet across now, and probably soon to leave us, having completed its job.


Sometime the fall seems confused; here both bare and still green;


but a bend in the path, and it suddenly returns.


This, I will harvest (and much more of it).


These are bad photos. But, perhaps because I was attuned to vines to harvest, I noticed many more of these young corkscrews in several new locations


and a bit of poetic justice, a vine on vine alteration.

Happy Halloween / Samhain!  For me, it’s also the beginning of the new year. I could not ask for a better start.

…and again.



This one is titled Required Reading.

Here are the one-day installations that happened at Ragdale on Sunday.  It was a great time: so good to see old friends, meet new folks, learn more about some excellent work, and share excitement over new plans together with poignant stories of Ragdale’s past.  For me it was also an opportunity (as was St. Louis) to try some new things, as well as just a huge boost, feeling a bit of what is in store: my fast-upcoming lovely long residency.



Two shots of its interior.  I may be doing more with this…

Overall, I’m pleased with how these outdoor works are developing. The pull in this direction has been strong.  Though I’ve heard (and read) the term ‘interventions’ quite a bit, always in a ‘good’ context, I’m not convinced that’s what they are.  To me, interventions are works that recontextualize what is available at the site: think Andy Goldsworthy.  I suppose these do that in some ways, but in a long, long loop of using often imported plant materials; when they are left to decay, they bring in very little that is unusual to the sites, contributing mostly more cellulose to the soil. But when new and still fully formed, they are definitely, intentionally foreign within the site, gentle intrusions. I like them best when there are no labels, when they simply appear without fanfare. Perhaps they’re better termed ‘apparitions’.


aMT2This piece was originally made to be part of a series, titled Mirror-Touch, to be installed in St. Louis. I abandoned it for the last post’s lichen reprisal piece when the necessary installation method came into question. With Ragdale’s solid cooperation, I tried it out here.  It will likely go further, soon.  

Below are two of several works by Margot McMahon, who had a fascinating story to tell of her early interactions with Sylvia Shaw Judson at Ragdale, well before it became a residency program; that influence is so readily apparent in these works.



There was also a sound installation by Shawn Decker, some of which was recorded on the prairie, and a reading by Dan Vera, who was in residence. (I had met him last week while gathering my bundle of milkweed). And the conference room was filled with wonderful work by Jane Fulton Alt, including photos, encaustic works, and two beautiful books (one published commercially, and another fantastically effective handbound collaboration with Teresa Pankratz).  All the work was based on the annual controlled prairie burns; and a video was continuously showing above the conference room fireplace. All the works had such a direct connection to this place, showing its enormous influence.


I also brought That’s Life back home; it was created here.  During my brief talk, I forgot to also point out a piece that Alice bought to be permanently displayed at Ragdale, which lives just a few steps away.

Alas, the substitute camera I’ve been using gave up the ghost just after I shot Margot’s works; it took a great deal of sheer stubbornness to later extract these photos.  I ordered a new one yesterday!

And that was the last of the 2013’s public tasks until ZIA’s group show opening in November. I’m breathing in, sleeping more, and planning harvests and new experiments: five weeks of bliss ensue soon!



Here and Now

Now I can bring the Blahg into the present! Or close. Ragdale is: Ragdale, as superb as always, but spectacularly painted by October.  It’s absolutely glorious to be IN autumn every day, not fleetingly observing it from a car or train window in regimented rows of city blocks.

It is odd to only be here for two weeks, and a lesson learned is that it takes virtually the same carload of supplies and equipment as it does for my usual month; the only difference being smaller quantities of brought-in fiber.  Already the residency has passed the halfway mark!  Probably any other blogs that happen will be photo-only.

I’ve harvested  a big batch of milkweed from the Meadow, leaving the seedpods. Half is prepared for pulping, the other half stripped, cleaned and dried for later. The last thing I will do before I leave is harvest autumn dogbane.

I’ve got multiple projects going.  This one (the main project, to me) looks like a departure, but really isn’t, all that much; stay tuned.  I’m trying to nudge drying times along (the October sun isn’t very effective, but we definitely have wind) to have one completed, situated prototype before I leave. This will eventually become an ongoing project; the prototype will tell me what refinements (if any, she says hopefully) will be needed, and I’ll continue developing it in Vermont.

Sunday, I will open the studio for this event; it won’t be the exhibition-type open studio I’ve done in the past, I’ll just keep working and open the doors.  I suspect I’ll be making sheets or will reserve some other relatively neutral activity for that day; I need quiet and privacy when working with color or shaping the final look of a piece.  If you’re in Chicago, come on out!