Vote! Please Vote!

Starting tomorrow, and every day in December, PLEASE VOTE for Women’s Studio Workshop’s ArtFarm project…you’ll vote for sustainable materials, widespread education about them, and you’ll support the only visual arts residency program dedicated to women artists in the US…and you won’t be spammed.  Thank you!

Report, Revolt, Reverie

Friday, I dyed all of the first color pattern (99 pieces).  Saturday, I mixed the dyes for the second color combination, dyed the first bits, and had a visit from a friend I wanted to encourage to apply. We went for a prairie walk, saw a hawk, took a quick detour to a wee pond and surprised a great blue heron. Then I dyed all but the last 12 (largest) pieces.

Both the Ragdale dryers broke down the day before Thanksgiving and I was out of clothes, so Sunday, I was up early, finished the dyeing, packed up my laundry and went home in the afternoon. I had fun with Paul (who made dinner) and Lupe, beat a six-hour load of abaca, drained it and packed up a neat small load of vats, moulds, deckles, felts and my goofy but functional and portable infomercial-based ‘vacuum table’ invention thang. When I went to switch my second (final) load of clothes to the dryer, I discovered that our washing machine had suddenly broken: no spin cycle. ‘Twas the Great Thanksgiving Revolt of the Laundry Machinery, apparently. I wrung everything out by hand and watched a silly movie while it took three cycles to dry, and spent the night.

This morning, shortly after everyone commuted back to work after their long holiday weekend, I commuted back to Ragdale with my clean laundry and pulp. The rest of today I unpacked, set up the studio for the assembly phase and began that, then lost all my fine post-holiday diet intentions to Linda’s melt-in-your mouth homemade gnocci, stayed in and wrote a blog. This blog. The Barnhouse dryer was running.

I can see the end of this piece, and finally, rather than the rather unpleasant brain noise I needed to constantly fight during the last two years’ worth of residencies, while I’m working on these task-phases my head is dancing with images of what might be next.  I’m looking forward to two weeks of serious play.  It’s all good.


It’s Thanksgiving evening.  This was tonight’s sunset beginning. If you celebrate, I hope yours was warm and wonderful; mine surely was.  I got to a good stopping point in the studio earlier tonight, and thought it would be great to come back to the house and catch up with a blog. But I’m not feeling wordy; I’m still full from the holiday feast which was at lunchtime!  So, here are some shots of what’s been happening the past few days:

Colors have been tested (and tested, and tested) and resolved…

…systems have been devised and implemented…

…patterns have been made…

…and utilized, thanks to a lovely visit to Pam Paulsrud and her North Shore bandsaw, on Tuesday.  I sanded these late into the night, but Wednesday, I hit some sort of wall.  It was cold and gloomy and rainy and I never seemed to quite wake up.  I painted them, though, and wrote this: “Wild wind out there, what’s left of the big bluestem whipping around frantically, first clockwise then anti.  On the porch, the two empty rocking chairs oscillate madly.” Then I gave up, went to bed very early and slept for many, many hours. This morning, I woke fine and refreshed, and ran out to buy pies for the feast, then to the studio for a wee bit.

Chef Linda SO completely outdid herself! (And that, my friends, is saying something).  My new fave: sweet potatoes with chipotle. Some residents had gone to family or friends’ celebrations (I definitely missed mine, but I am thankful for their understanding…I didn’t want to miss this!) But still we were fourteen with many guests; champagne toasts, great talk, the infamous turkey butt (long story), and a game or two…fantastic!  (And the fridge is unbelievably loaded).

Some folks went out to second feasts elsewhere; in the late afternoon, I headed to the prairie to try to walk some of mine off…and at the end of the walk I was rewarded with a glorious sunset, and by seeing a fox.  (I thought I saw him on two occasions earlier in the week, but was too far away to tell).  Today, he crossed my path three times – and ran past the studio.  No other creature moves like that, and he had the most gorgeous bushy tail…beautiful.  Then, the studio till about 8, with no desire for dinner, whatsoever.

The Thanksgiving sunset turned everything purple-red.

And now I’m all set up for my personal feast of color tomorrow and Saturday…the privacy screen makes a great drying rack (it’ll be protected).  Every day at Ragdale is a feast; I feel so very blessed to be here right now for two feasts upon feasts: today, and the holiday party coming up next week…

Sunday studio

I realized last night that when I leave, I will have been at Ragdale during every month of the year.  Dark November skies are beautiful, the autumn scent of coming snow spicy, bracing, as is the brisk wind. The prairie is deceptive at this time of year, stark and muted in the long view, riotously vivid in detail.

I have my eye on this big gorgeous wasps’ nest: papermakers.  It’s waaaaay way high, and if it falls while I’m here and survives, it’s for me.

I’ve begun to occupy that space I covet: I am not thinking in words, though an intense, rich, flowing language is everywhere, a symphony of images, tactility, scents, association.

I’ve always been baffled by artists who complain about ‘the isolation of the studio’. It’s the very situation I crave.

Give me a large daily dose of that isolation, unspoiled land to observe, and like-minded people within easy reach, and that’s when I most come alive.

Those are all the words I have. Here’s how it’s going:

I have landed…

Saturday afternoon, Sunday and Monday I pulled a detailed proposal out of my hat and got it into the post office fifteen minutes before closing.  It’s been a long, long time since I have done that.  I hope it appeals to the jury; I would dearly love to realize the project. Tuesday: massive disaster restoration (housecleaning) and tons of laundry. Wednesday: polish off the last bits of admin on my plate, and begin to pack.  I changed my ideas about what to bring to Ragdale, and decided to go minimal (well, minimal for me) for the first week to ten days: I packed a project I want to finish, and the things I need to finish it (besides the big space), plus an experiment.  While working on those, I’ll listen, and what wants to be made will reveal itself, tell me what it needs, and then I’ll go get it. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

(This is not from today).

So I have landed at Ragdale, with the month before me.  And I kid you not: Chicago has been overcast and grey for several days straight, including today, but when I pulled into the drive, the sun came out, stayed and lit the prairie with gold while I moved into the studio.

(And my floor is full of frogs).

“It’s not a contest.”*

Erin Paulson interacting with the space.

The past three days I commuted back and forth between Rockford, my storage facility, one evening’s stop for a fun news-filled gab with family, and home.  I had a great time!  Rockford College Art gallery is a lovely formal space, a big white rectangle, 28 by just under 37 feet.  I had volunteered to install my own show, but I had friendly, essential help each day, too: many thanks to Carey Watters and her crew!  Once there, I also wanted to do my own lighting; the gallery’s great grid system was way too appealing to this old gallerist not to want to play with it.  I had great fun and it was absolutely satisfying, but I did discover that ‘old’ is a key word here…my knees are arguing that it’s probably time to leave extensive ladder-climbing sessions behind. I only took a few snapshots at the beginning and end, but there was a fine turnout for the reception, including some friends who made the trek, and a surprising number of folks at the lecture last night. Somewhere during it, I realized: this is my job now. I can live with that (and I will, I swear, eventually learn to let go and delegate.  I do love to transform a space, whether it’s a gallery presentation like this, an installation or a workspace; that will never, ever stop).

It’s been a year of utilizing this mix / body of work while doing that.  I’m so excited for what comes next, for new work, and above all: time for not-knowing.  Today I’m writing this while fiber beats for a proposal piece, and beginning to think of the ‘what goes to Ragdale’ list. Yeah.  Life is good.

Favorite from Rockford: LISTEN in this configuration and the question: “Are those lichens swearing at me?”

Coming up:  a piece in Abecedarian Gallery’s year-end show, Our Favorite Things (opens November 19 in Denver, Colorado); and another created for Art of the Book Cover, Printworks Gallery’s 30th anniversary exhibition (opens December 3rd in Chicago). I cannot wait to see this show, too). Immediately after Rockford, the day after Ragdale, part of (S)Edition heads to the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art, for The Book: A Contemporary View (opens December 22 at the DCCA in Wilmington, Delaware). I’m honored to have been invited to participate in the symposium on that show’s theme in March, along with Doug Beube, Brian Dettmer, Buzz Spector, and the Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, Mark Dimunation. The show will travel on to Towson University, near Baltimore, afterwards, so portions of (S)Edition are out there doing what they do for the next year. And…I want to thank Margaret Braun for her shout-out but especially for the photo. What can I say?…except that’s all the talking about myself I can do for a day or two.

*the gist of the best Facebook quote about being an artist I’ve seen this week.


I’m writing during my very last quiet moment: show installation begins in full-tilt physical earnest today, when I load the car for the first trip to Rockford very early in the morning; it’s 90 minutes away.  Then it’s completing a skin-of-the-teeth proposal deadline (if I make it; if), packing and at long, long last, after nine mad days: a month at Ragdale.  Whew.

I did take time off to do something highly unusual for me this past weekend: I went to  Riva Lehrer’s outstanding lecture at the Chicago Humanities Festival, ‘Beauty and Variation’.  Riva was joined by Norman Lieska, an associate professor of anatomy at UIC.  Usually I avidly avoid lectures, but the folks at the festival cheerfully reserved me a seat right in front, so I could read lips.  This worked and didn’t work for me: Riva was easy to understand, but Mr. Lieska was not. Fortunately, he had visuals I could interpret somewhat, having studied anatomy from an artist’s perspective.  I was very much engaged, and came away with bags of food for thought. I jotted down notes on the way home: expect a later blahg, during the slower, contemplative winter.  I couldn’t (of course) hear the audience questions, except for two from people who were seated quite near me, a woman whose question will begin my later blog, and…the singing professor!  His riff ended with a resounding, ‘Body does not want to explain!’ Perfect.

A big shout-out to Aimee Lee, who just posted her excellent video slideshow of the Hanji Studio construction at the Morgan!  So good to see this in retrospect, and to see so many Morgan friends, too. It’s also got me thinking about another possible fruit-of-labor project for the winter…thanks, Aimee.

Several Highs (and one big fat red low)

I’ll get the big fat low out of the way first: yesterday I woke up, went to the election results page for the Senate and then the House…and Illinois was red. Red! There was some small consolation when breaking the maps down to county level: I live in a tiny – but heavily populated – island of blue.  But I basically lost the entire day in a miserable funk that alarmed Paul a bit.

Since I can’t do one. damn. thing. about it except to continue to work for change, on to those lovely high points:

It’s been MJC Interview Week.  Not only did Deborah Kogan’s article come out in Ampersand, Steve Miller released his podcast interview (part of his series on Book Artists and Poets, which everyone says is excellent, but which I cannot hear) on Halloween (that delights me). And today, this incisive article by Stephanie Cristello came out in Chicago Art Magazine. (Links to all here).

It’s fun and odd to have these all appear at once, since the timespan of my involvement goes from eleven months to a few weeks ago.  It’s been surprising and enormously gratifying to have people actually ask me to share my perspective after a long period of experiencing quite the opposite…and this ain’t the end of it, either. I thank everyone involved, very much.

Linda Cunningham, aka my ‘mystery guest’ of a few blahgs ago, is on her way back home after a residency at Ragdale.  It was great to spend a day with her before she moved up to Lake Forest, and to see her several times during her stay, while I documented and de-installed my House, Dreaming piece.  I was gobsmacked (as she would put it) when she gave me this incredible piece of hers, a Shetland-style shawl titled Craobh/Tuinn (Tree/Wave). I can’t decide whether to hang it or to wear it…mostly, I’ve been petting it. It’s sooo soft and gorgeous. Thank you (& safe journey)!

Last but definitely not least: a big shout-out and congrats to Velma Bolyard, whose show opens tomorrow night in Potsdam, NY.  I wish I could be there!  And also to Pamela Paulsrud and the project she started years ago with Marilyn Sward, Treewhispers.  Pam recently went up to install at Nicolet College in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where they shot this video … And also kudos and congrats to Susan Page Tillett who’s just written a new book about the Ragdale House, The Ragdale House Speaks, with photographs by Sarah Hadley; I really like this description of it.