Happy Halloween / Samhain / Samhuinn

This is Jill Summers and Susie Kirkwood’s attic installation for House, Dreaming.  They made a great stop-motion video which was projected onto the screen and is perfect for Halloween.  The ghosts in my machine will not allow it to embed no matter what I do, so check it out here, and Happy Halloween and/or Blessed Be.


Good Hauls before (a sort of) Long Haul

Chicago had fantastic skies earlier this week with incredible winds produced by the ‘Chiclone’; they were mesmerizing to watch as band after band after band of clouds swept by at an amazing speeds.  And I liked that wild wind, a lot: it made me feel like I was in Lewis or  the Orkneys.

One of Erin Cramer’s skeletal bird beasties in House, Dreaming’s haunted library.

It’s Halloween Friday night and I’m home, no parties. Paul now has the nasty cold I’m just barely finished with (though tonight my sinuses aren’t entirely convinced). I thought I’d do a quick blog now: tomorrow begins another flurry of activity that will continue on till I land at Ragdale in mid-November. It starts with both the House, Dreaming de-install and Samhain / Samhuinn / Halloween (and I still need to buy treats for the local tricksters). Then I zoom right on into combined deadlines and show prep (paperwork portions of which are also happening this weekend) to the show itself, with a class the day after the opening.

Shawn Decker’s sound installation room – I could hear it a bit, alone yesterday!

I went up to Ragdale yesterday after a slew of errands to visit friends who are in residence (saw one, missed another) and also to document the installation and to gather more milkweed stalks.  They’re pretty much dry and partially field-retted by now and a great deal of them had blown down during the windy days; but I got a good haul. I also got another great haul of black walnuts in the mail; two boxes full from Jo (thank you!).  I’m set for about a year or more of dye now, and more than enough fiber to make the third book in the series.  I wish my haul of photos from had been as good as those, but I made a web page of the installation anyways.

I also got an excellent haul of words.  The spring 2010 issue of Ampersand: The Journal of the Pacific Center for Book Arts has recently come out, and it includes an article about my work by Deborah Kogan. As any former student knows, I have a lot of regard for Ampersand, and I’m very pleased to be included.  I like the way Deb wove an extensive e-mail interview in and out of bits of things I’ve written on the site and in the blog. You can read it here (it takes awhile to load – it’s 9 pages long) or better yet, buy the issue (or subscribe) here.

A portion of Beth Reitmeyer’s installation, with words from Ragdale blue books.

(partially) Lost Week…

Mystery guest and local cultural icons at Superdawg.

Welcome to what seems to have become a weekly blog.  I am still re-thinking what the blog means for me now that it’s become so public. Until I get that sorted out, it’ll continue to be the watered-down, quasi-diaristic reportage thing it’s become; my apologies to old friends and long-time readers for the change(s).

For the past several days, I’ve been under the influence of a nasty cold, and that is affecting my viewpoint / tone, I’m sure. It’s decidedly been affecting my energy level.

So: last week, a friend came through on her way to a residency, and we had a fine fun afternoon visiting some of the (ahem) cultural high points of my neighborhood, and then made a few sheets of paper in the studio followed by a couple wee drams of the good stuff.  To the left is one of our stops, the (I kid you not) Leaning Tower of Niles, IL. (When I first came to this ‘hood, I nearly crashed my car, laughing hysterically, when I drove past it. Scale is 1/3 of the original.)

I got some nice news that I’ll wait to share until there are URLs to go with it, cleaned up the web site a bit, did some writing and a fair amount of research relating to a project I’m mulling over. I also made three new sugetas, and the second and final batch of ethereal paper from my initial milkweed harvest. These were larger sheets, and I pushed the thin-ness a bit too far and lost two of them, but the 30 or so that survived are lovely, and the few that have anomalies will work great in the book I’ve planned.  The rest of the time I’ve been reading, napping, coughing, congested, groggy, feverish, headachy, impatient and quite churlish. I had to miss Friday’s reception for On and Of Paper and postpone a few other planned things.

And that’s all I’ve got for you this week, or rather all I can easily share, except that I finally found where I’d stashed this beautiful wee piece of shifu that Velma made and gave me this summer. It was wrapped in tissue and tucked carefully away in one of the books I had brought along to read in the evenings.  It’s two inches square, made from spun lokta, and I just love it…it makes me smile, even when I am grumpy.

On another note, regarding local culture:  I decided not to go into this competition (even though the potential money was attractive, particularly at this stage of my ongoing unemployment).  For one thing, most of my current work was already committed; for another, as someone who has administered things like first-time combined shows in new venues in the past, I knew the initial run would almost certainly be fraught with enormous unforeseen problems…and, sadly, I was rightReally right.  I feel awful for Bernard Williams, whose work is very, very strong.

Addendum: Bernard Williams was re-instated a couple of days ago, and now there are eleven finalists.

Rambling quietly on

We’re really into the fall color now; I think this week was the watershed, the peak.  The cool air smells wonderful permeated by the essence of fallen leaves. And the taxes are done (which, since I’ve deferred them till October for lo, these many years, is a seasonal if pedestrian ritual).  Having that out of the way lets me breathe this lovely fall air a bit more deeply.

I’m sad about one thing that’s falling, though; Paul is having our big blue spruce taken down tomorrow…I guess it’s reached the point where it’s damaging the roof.  I will sorely miss it, and the privacy and shade and shelter from the wind it gave, and its green all winter. I scheduled a haircut while it’s all happening…I don’t want to watch.

I’m working on a couple of book-ish projects with the milkweed; I made a batch of sheets yesterday, air-dried them and will make more tomorrow.  The books wanted gossamer-like pages, so I decided to see how thin I could make milkweed go. It did beautifully with my new little sugeta and a vat that barely seemed to have fiber in it at all.  After two days with tax forms, I was in a mood that made hand beating it, um, enthusiastically quite an easy task. I’m very pleased with the results, it worked out better than the fiber I’d originally thought  to use, and is quite, quite tough. It’s adding its own twist to the books, physically and conceptually. Here is a sheet below, on my orange desk over a pile of quarters. More harvesting is in order. Soon.

So today I got new harvesting shears, and poplar. I am liking the sugeta so much that I’m building a couple more in different sizes, and some new smaller deckle boxes for my small studio, too, while I flesh out odd new plans that are hovering around the edges of my consciousness.

Ragdale with big work in the big studio, in exactly four weeks.  Lots of rather pleasant stuff to do before then, including the solo show and several experiments for a proposal I’m submitting…a rare thing these abundant days, when good things continue to happen without my asking.

Unscheduled Time (process)

The six month long season of running around, marathon driving sessions, moving tons of supplies, equipment and artwork, and to-the-minute scheduling is pretty much finished for the rest of the year.  I need to do my deferred taxes this week, have the Rockford show in November that I’ll be hauling and installing myself, and two more in December; but the work was done and delivered for one of those back in July, and the other will just require packing and shipping. I have a few other brief obligations here and there, and also (hooray!) my Ragdale month.

I’ve worked hard and now I reap my reward: Unscheduled Time.  There is nothing so essential to my process as that.  Many years ago, when I was a painter, I would work freelance jobs obsessively until I had enough money to buy myself six weeks of Unscheduled Time; and later, when I began to discover residencies, that is how I approached the time they afforded me.  Then, from summer 2007 on, I had specific projects that needed to be worked on, and even though there was  some discovery and side experimentation, all my residencies took on a scheduled approach.

My artwork comes about in a wide variety of ways; each work is different in terms of its conceptualization. One piece might start with a fully-realized conviction, another might begin with a resonant phrase. Others I have literally seen, whole, and then had to learn both how to make them and to discover what they meant to me. Those are only a few examples. But at all times, no matter how busy I am with teaching, traveling, housework, research, writing, doing taxes or anything else, there is a perpetual, constant flow of images inside my strange head, flashes and fragments of things that might be made, and of connections between ideas.  During Unscheduled Time, one or more of them pushes to the forefront, begins appearing more and more frequently, literally demanding to be made. I trust this process implicitly (as well as the haptic aspects that come with the physical process of making).

Large portions of my installation for House, Dreaming (a few details in the images above) worked that way.  I went in knowing the atmosphere I wanted to impart, and why I wanted to focus on it; and I brought pieces I had made there that I knew must become a part of the whole.  But I wasn’t sure how I would do it; that is, I didn’t have floor plans. While I reflected on all the times I’ve worked at Ragdale, I let the space speak to me, tell me what it needed. As always, I got more than I bargained for: I remembered how truly important this way of working is for me, and realized how very long it’s been since I’ve been free to fully embrace the simultaneous not-knowing and full faith of Unscheduled Time.  Definitely, aside from one piece I need to finish in a large space, my Ragdale residency is going to be dedicated to that marvelous process.  I’m excited.

My first bit of Unscheduled Time yesterday was spent cutting, steaming, stripping and cleaning a smallish batch of milkweed; it’s cooking out back now, then will be used in a couple of experiments. If they go well, more harvesting and processing will happen. I’ve had milkweed fiber dancing about in my brain for a few weeks now, hoping it will be able to be used in the odd manner I’ve been visualizing. Even if it can’t, I know for certain that I will at least end up with sheets of paper I like: win-win, like most aspects of having unscheduled time.

Fast Forward Fall

September closed out and the first bit of October began with one of the strangest five-day runs of technology screw-ups I’ve experienced in a long while, and it wasn’t just me.  I lost my text phone for three days, and of course its battery died.  Someone sent me a text, had their phone immediately die, borrowed another and sent the text again only to have that phone die as well.  Three different people got lost on the way to our house; one, an old friend coming in from out-of-town, actually gave up and spent the night in his car in a parking lot east of here (while I stayed awake till 2am, worrying)…his phone had died, too.  E-mails and a job application went missing, and due to it all, carefully timed schedules basically exploded.  Amazingly, almost everything got done anyways, though I did miss some folks who were passing through, and a chance to be present when my old Critter was fired up for the first time. Perhaps my astrology friend will read this and come up with a celestial explanation for those five days.

I did have a great three-day visit with my old friend (really, family: we’ve known each other for well over 30 years, and for many of those, he was my contact-in-case-of-emergency person)… once he arrived. I kept the workload to a minimum during that time; it had been over two years since we’d seen each other.  He and Paul get on well, and it felt like a holiday. I even cooked. Twice!

Good things happened: an interview for an article which will be out soon, a nice surprise description of one of my pieces by Audrey in an interview of hers (which brought a lot of website and blahg traffic), Gallery Shoal Creek in Texas is keeping the (S)Edition installation up till the end of the year even though Paper 2 is over, and the spring event is definitely happening and will allow me to hook up with another old friend, too.

I spent yesterday, today and most of tonight at Ragdale in lovely fall weather, doing my installation for House, Dreaming.  Those are two of my pink foam insulation crates on the porch. I chose the workroom of Alice’s suite, and am pleased with what happened…it was a great opportunity to sort-of translate my experience of Ragdale, and a treat to work in the house. Three other installations are up, and I’m eager to see the whole house transformed on Saturday. I’m finished and, thanks to permission from Lake Forest Open Lands, I also harvested a nice pile of both green and field-retted milkweed, currently residing in my car overnight.

Tomorrow, errand-running early, beating cotton and cooking daylily and packing up for Saturday’s Portable Papermaking class at Evanston Print & Paper (oh, and laundry); Saturday: teach all day, pack up, and head to Ragdale for the House, Dreaming reception.  After that, things calm down a bit, till this:

Thanks to Carey Watters for a great job on the postcard design!  Here’s the info.