Cookin’ With Gas (and Reading)

The all-girl rodeo was cancelled on Tuesday, so we postponed the trip into Buffalo as well.  Andres and I made a run into Sheridan instead, where I found the perfect substrate for the new piece.  I also took advantage of the time to crank out all the dyeing for (S)Edition, worked hard for a long day today, and now I’ve reached the ‘meanwhile’ stage.  Meaning: the next few work stages on (S)Edition will consist of short bursts then drying time, and meanwhile, while things are drying, I can work on the new piece.  The new piece has hold o’ my head. Since I’m absorbed in the studio, and don’t want to bore you with my total obsession, I’ll do something I never thought I’d do on Blahg…and bore you with a list of what I’ve been reading since the end of May:

Andrina and other stories: George MacKay Brown (short stories)

Crowdie and Cream: Finlay J. MacDonald (memoir, much better than its title suggests)

The Stornoway Way: Kevin MacNeil (novel – excellent. Well, I liked it. )

The Life and Death of St. Kilda: Tom Steel (nonfiction)

Social Intelligence: Daniel Goleman (nonfiction, very interesting)

The Wee Mad Road: Jack & Barbara Maloney (memoir – delightful)

Beside the Ocean of Time: George Mackay Brown (novel)

Soil and Soul – People Versus Corporate Power:  Alastair McIntosh (nonfiction – a difficult, powerful book – I recommend it highly!  Even when you think I’m crazy for doing it.  Just keep going.)

Free Food for Millionaires: Min Jin Lee (novel)

Market Street: Xiao Hong (memoir)*

Come To Me: Amy Bloom (short stories)*

Breath, Eyes, Memory: Edwidge Danticat (novel)*

The Book of Common Prayer: Joan Didion (novel)*

Currently re-reading:

The Hand – How Its Use Shapes The Brain, Language, and Human Culture: Frank R. Wilson (nonfiction, still excellent).

*in my room at Jentel




I feel that I should write something, but there isn’t much to say.  I’m having to spend too much time dealing with yet another weird-year, frustrating situation in Chicago (entirely by e-mail), but don’t want to write about that yet, except to say that Paul may be elevated to sainthood for this one.  I’m just working here, trying to get the (S)Edition copies out of the way so I can begin exploring the new work.

I went to Sheridan on the weekly group shopping trip on Thursday, but took no photos.  Made a new su for the larger deckle box, from the only material I could find at (shudder) Wal-Mart; it took a half-day, but thankfully, the thing works.

Left: what I was looking for; Right: what I found. It actually drains quite well. (Whew!)

Yesterday, while I did laundry, Jen, Nina, Andres and Ravi climbed to the top of the hill behind the studios, wearing their orange vests and carrying big sticks to ward off snakes.  I wish I’d gone with them, but I’d just put a load into both the (fancy!) washer and dryer.  I spotted them and got a few shots while they were up there; they couldn’t see me.  Staying behind and documenting was good because they couldn’t tell which hill they were on from where they were.  And here they are.

What, you can’t see them?  They’re on the middle hill. OK, here’s a zoom shot:

On Tuesday, I’ll take a break for a bit; I’ve volunteered to be the driver.  Five of us are planning on going to a weekly all-girl rodeo in Buffalo.  I’ve been told by someone whose family comes from the area to go to the Occidental Hotel and have choke cherry daquiris, so we’ll do that too.  And now, back to work.

Chicago Hand Bookbinders and Chicago In Seoul

Chicago Hand Bookbinders is a great and venerable organization for the book arts, for bookbinders, book artists and book people of all persuasions who are interested in the hand arts. I’ve belonged to the organization for many years, but my time, for the past twelve years, was insanely devoted to helping build a Center.  (I was asked to become president of CHB twice before, but didn’t feel that I had time to do it then.  I’m not all that sure I can do it now, because I’ve never done anything like this.)  But, regardless, I’ve become involved; it seems time for me to shift my focus and energies to the larger community.  So, please visit the site, and join us!  You don’t have to be from Chicago to belong…and to enter our exhibitions, and to help shape the future of the hand book arts!  We need you.

I have a fifth show announcement: Chicago In Seoul will be exhibited at The Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts in Chicago, concurrent with the Fifth International Book and Paper Arts Triennial, July 25 – September 12 (there is a closing reception on September 12, but I will be at the reception for The Leaf and The Page).  Chicago In Seoul is an exhibition of the books that were shown at this year’s Seoul Book Arts Fair by the students, alumni, faculty, staff and the lone Artist-In-Residence (moi) from the Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts MFA degree program at Columbia College.  You can see one of my books there, but much more importantly, you can see the prizewinning work of Joseph Lappie (who won the big shootin’ match – sorry, Wyoming is creeping into my writing), Brandon Graham, Kelly Parsell and Liz Wolf.  Congrats to them all!

Moving Along…

The Big Horns in context from the front yard (no zoom lens). Talk about big sky…

Sunday: I took a break between getting the studio set up and beginning to make paper, and had lunch out on the front patio.  It was overcast and breezy, but suddenly the Cloud Peaks, just barely visible in the haze, were spectacularly illuminated by the sun appearing somewhere to the west. The snow was a bright blinding white, the peaks in sharp relief.  In the time it took to think of going back to the studio for my camera, they faded again.

Monday: My test sheets worked! I took my life into my hands because I had no time to make anything other than wet tests before I left.  (Well, not really, because I could have scrapped working on (S)Edition in favor of all new work). But though the paper is slightly grainier than the last batch, it’s of acceptable shrinkage and color to keep working on (S)Edition for the first week or so.  I do have to make yet another trip into Sheridan, because somehow, I packed the wrong size su for my larger deckle box (sigh).  However, the studio things are now in motion. I can make the (S)Edition “stems” with the smaller sheets, though it means pouring a few extra. I’m going to hold off a Sheridan trip for a few days while I figure out things about the first new piece (such as: Which is the best one to start with here? What can I build with the available tools and what will I need to build it?) and then I can make tests and hopefully go get all the extra materials in one swell fifty-mile-total foop.  In the meantime, today I’m testing the possibility of taking advantage of the climate (below) and making more sheets.

Three of the residents, Nina, Ravi and Andres went to a small-town rodeo on Saturday and had some interesting observations and experiences.  I had considered going myself, because one of the featured events was “chicken roping” and I was mightily curious about that, but I needed the Sheridan Home Depot more.  Nina said it was an event for kids, and that they were amazingly skilled at lassoing…chickens.

Photos, Air and Art

On the way to Sheridan. I think it’s Black Tooth, elevation 13,014.  If not, it’s Cloud Peak, 13,165

It’s a quiet Saturday night; there’s only one other resident here and she’s up watching something in ‘Times Square’, the media room (which has a table made from an old clock face and some other clock motifs but definitely isn’t square).

I’m having a late, light dinner, and writing mostly as an excuse to publish the photos.  I did go back into Sheridan, or at least to its mega-mall street, this afternoon.  So that’s another hundred miles in the last two days. 

I have everything I need now to finish the studio setup and get to work, but tonight I’m going to go to bed early.  I’m having a bit of a physical adjustment to being here, or else having a time of adjusting back to whatever normalcy I might possess, after the five days of nonstop labor before leaving, and then the driving marathon.  I slept very late this morning and now am tired again.

It could also be the humidity, or rather the total lack of it.  Even inland in the Highlands, Scotland had caressing sea air, or the more typical mist and drizzle, but yet did not feel uncomfortable, because the air is almost always in motion.  Catskill was cloyingly still and muggy (and buggy), except when storms blew through, and Chicago was doing its usual extreme fluctuations. Here it is utterly dry.  I’m told that the landscape is unusually green for this time of year, due to frequent short-lived storms like yesterday’s. It’s not a desert, it supports an abundance of life, but it’s also easy to understand how the bleached bones that decorate Jentel got that way.  The sun beats down, relentlessly hot, the air is thinner from the elevation and seems to let the heat through more easily. Yet I can wear my heaviest pair of levi’s (like you see folks do in the cowboy movies) because there isn’t enough humidity to cause sweat.  It’s not uncomfortable, though I don’t think I’d like to live in it for a long time. I am constantly thirsty and I can feel my skin drawing tight. And I can smell water; I’ll smell it and then a few minutes later, drive past a creek that isn’t dried up. Now, in the night, with no sun, it’s quite cool but still dry.

(This is for my friend Mary, who used to always shoot photos of ‘breast mountains’.  We got a million of ’em here.  This one even has a nipple).

On Monday night, we’re all going to get together to show each other our work, though I had an impromptu session of that with one artist and both writers last night.  But I didn’t see or read theirs.  I’m looking forward to that, and to waking reasonably early, finishing the studio, and making paper tomorrow.

The Raw Boundaries show at KN Gallery, which opened on Friday, got a brief but positive mention in Paul Klein’s Artletter, with photos.  It looks like a good show.  I’ll get back just in time to see it.

Here’s some more Wyoming for you; I’m off to bed.  Or better yet, a dram and bed!

Jentel in context.  The bit of building visible to the far right is the director’s big house, across Piney Creek and oh, about the same distance as a few city blocks away from the main residence. The flat green field at the bottom of the hill is relentlessly irrigated, watered twice daily.  Jentel itself has sprinklers that come on twice a a day, even though it’s next to a creek with water in it. This is shot from about three-quarters of the way up what residents call the Cell Phone Hill. That’s where you’ve got to go to use one.

The standing stones of Wyoming.  Some of ’em, anyways.

Documenting the UnDocumentable

Hazy view of the Big Horn mountains from the ‘front yard’.

OK, I’m going to try to show you a bit of Jentel.  It’s almost impossible to document.  The grounds are multileveled and beautifully landscaped, with plantings and trees, enormous rocks, huge petrified logs, antique ranch equipment and animal bones abounding.  The interior of the main residence is kinda crazed, all odd angles and halls and nooks, and it’s packed with stuff: huge, um, ‘exuberant’ abstract works, shiny new fittings contrasted with distressed odd antique cupboards and converted furniture, overstuffed chairs, benches, gigantic pottery, lamps, books, baskets, sculptures. (I keep thinking Architectural Digest, 1980s).  It’s comfortable, posh (luxurious, even), and totally well-equipped, but not even I, who pride myself on my ability to decipher such things, can imagine the overhead floor plan…though that’s a personal goal.

There are some spectacular views on the way to Sheridan; it’s something like 25 miles to go get groceries.  I couldn’t get shots on the way there, because, though the day was sunny, I suddenly heard (without hearing aids) a really loud WHAM! on the roof of my car, then another and anotherandanother, then a million…it was a freak hailstorm, followed by heavy rain, followed by sun.  I’ve got new dents on the roof and hood of my car.  On the way back, I wanted to get to our (gravel) road before it got dark, to make sure I could find my way.  But I’ll be going back tomorrow, because I need some studio setup stuff, and Home Depot closes a full three hours earlier here than those in the east and midwest.

I’ve met four of the five other residents, and three of the staff folks, and everyone seems great: friendly, helpful and above all, very happy to be here.  So am I. 

What you can see of the main building (the residents’ living space) from the front, and the back, below (shot from the studio building doorway).  The hills behind it go on for miles and miles and miles, and they’re called the Snake Hills, for what I’m told are obvious reasons.










The writer’s building, top, and the front of the artists’ studios, bottom.  The studio shot is deceptive. The building goes pretty far back; you just can’t see it from this view. There are four  huge studios in here, plus a full kitchen, a dining area and a bathroom.

Part of the 1000 acres we can wander (wearing flourescent orange vests).


The kitchen, top, and the main living and dining area, bottom, shot from the staircase (below). And: where I sleep – with my eyes closed!


West with the night (and all day)

Truth in advertising.

I am, finally, here at Jentel, near Sheridan, Wyoming, exactly two days and three hours late.  I wasn’t able to leave Chicago until 7pm yesterday, and got here in 24 hours, including a five hour stop in a motel in Albert Lea, Minnesota (only three of which were spent sleeping).  Jentel is utterly gorgeous, both in its setting, and indoors, where it’s just totally plush.  And the studio is nice and big.  The studio is unloaded, I’ve moved into my room and unpacked, have been fed and have had a shower and I feel almost human again; an extremely tired human.  So photos will have to wait, except for these two from the road.

How to tell you’re in the west (and good advice anywhere, actually and metaphorically):

This photo: overlooking the Missouri River on its east side, at a rest stop in Chamberlain, South Dakota; kind o’ where the west begins.  Moments later, I was driving over the bridge.

(Oooooh, a big huge bolt of lightning and LOUD crack of thunder just now, out there in the dark. It appears that my late arrival was timelier than I thought).

Art Infomercial!

That’s Life, 2005.  Copyright Melissa Jay Craig.  (Illinois State Museum Gallery)

I’m WAY behind, due to the Building Of Too Many Specialized Crates, Missing Artwork, and other factors I will not name. It should all be alleviated today or early tomorrow morning.  By this afternoon, I will have packed up and shipped 55 artworks this month, with still one show to go! The photos show a small sampling of the works that have gone out.

If you are in Chicago or Austin, Texas in July, August or September (and in some cases, beyond), here are links to three of the four shows I’m in:

Raw Boundaries, KN Gallery, Chicago, Illinois: July 18 – August 23.

The Paper Show, Gallery Shoal Creek, Austin, Texas: August 8 – September 12

(I will be at an event in the gallery on Friday evening, September 5, and will give a talk about my work at the University of Texas on Monday, September 8th)

The Leaf and The Page, Illinois State Museum Gallery,

The Thompson Center, Chicago: August 25, 2008 – February 2, 2009

(This show will travel to other Illinois State Museum locations through 2010.  I’ll be showing with a few folks I haven’t seen in a long while, so this will be a lot of personal fun.  Come out to the reception on September 12!)

There will be a fourth show a bit later in September: Rock, Scissors, Paper at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston, IL – but there is no link for that one yet, and I’m as yet unsure of the dates: I just know it’ll be mid-September through November.  Watch this space!  

And now, back to the crates, and the road.  See you in Wyoming!

Force and Duration, 2008.  Copyright Melissa Jay Craig, 2008. (Gallery Shoal Creek)


Incident, 2005.  Copyright Melissa Jay Craig, 2005 (KN Gallery)

(S)Edition, 2007-08.  Copyright Melissa Jay Craig, 2007-08.  Shown: 27 of 72 copies. (Illinois State Museum Gallery and Noyes Cultural Arts Center)

Hielan’ Coo

Hmmm…I just got a comment from an old friend who was confused over two references to the Heilan Coo, in regards to my hair. Oops, sorry: that’s a little cultural chauvinism there on my part; again, it’s something I grew up with. This is a good place to see a Heilan’ Coo, actually a few of them, which I guess would be Heilan’ Kine. (It also helps to know that, oh, for about 15 years, when I was younger, I was plagued by the voices of adult relatives, telling me to get my hair out o’ me eyes).