A bit of shared herstory…

Almost the entire past week was spent relentlessly setting up things for the Penland class, a massive undertaking with a tight deadline, but as of today I believe I am there, though I will spend parts of February doing other prep like making new samples and revising handouts.  Today the regular mail brought, alas, notification of an earlier proposal: “…your work made it to the final round, however…” So, more refining and defining. I’m determined to make that project a reality somewhere, sometime.  But the mail also brought a folded up-newspaper copy of a very nice article about my old dear friend Mary who lives near Penland.  I did a search and found it online, here.

It’s lovely to see her have this recognition; the town is chock full of her work, and she loves what she does, has a true passion for it.  It was never quite that way for me, partially because the paint was horrible to use compared to the malleable flow of the oils, alkyds and acrylics I used in my artwork then (not to mention that painting the sides of giant corrugated semi trucks or on brick walls while standing on 30 foot ladders was physically grueling). But Mary’s company made it all worth it.  Getting familiar with the sign enamels and Japan colors also led to a concurrent freelance business of my own, restoring carousel animals and antique penny arcade machines with historically correct mediums and techniques. Working this way also made it possible for me to support myself in a fluid manner; it was during our time as partners that I began to block out six-week periods devoted solely to my own work, so that when I began having formal residencies, the pattern was familiar and I was able to be fully productive immediately. And, no matter how much I did or didn’t care for what we did, there was always a certain extremely satisfactory solidity in making a living with skilled hands, something exceptional that is poorly understood and as a result often fiercely denigrated in the self-rarified worlds I later occupied.

The article made me nostalgic, and even more happy that I’ll see Mary in person again soon.  There are no friendships quite like the ones that have endured over time. We have thousands of shared stories; we didn’t just work together. So I know the errors in the article: my current job and her dear late Ed’s surname are among them, but the funniest omission is one of those shared stories:  yes, we spelled the name wrong on that first truck… because the client had spelled his own name wrong on the job order!

I’ll bet she talks me into doing another landscape in sign enamel while I’m visiting. That’s fine with me, because we’ll create even more shared stories while we’re working, as we have always done.


What (some of) you have been searching for:

The view from my office chair…pretty much what I’m seeing for the next few days.  When I take my daily walk, it’s way too cold to shoot anything!

The spring schedule is mostly nailed down, finally. I am still involved in piles of paperwork relating to these and a number of other things. Still up in the air are exhibitions, curating projects and the summer, fall and early winter schedule. But as promised, here’s what I have:

March 5, a one-day Portable Papermaking workshop at Evanston Paper and Print, 10am – 4pm (I thank Eileen and the good folks there for their patience and willingness to rearrange everything, several times. We had planned a different version of this but will wait till later to debut it).

March 13 – May 6, an eight-week class titled Surface & Structure, Paper & Book at Penland School of Crafts in the mountains of North Carolina, near Asheville and old dear friends in Black Mountain as well.  I’m taking over this class for the lovely Amy Jacobs, who was unable to teach it, and I thank her for asking me (and again, all the folks who were understanding about shifting other obligations about to do it). Penland, like PBI last summer, is something I’ve always wanted to experience but had never applied to do; during the years of fulltime teaching, I desperately needed my summers for my own work.  So it will be wonderful to finally be there, and for eight weeks to boot – not to mention spring in the mountains! There are a few spaces open in the class, and I’d love to see some of you there too…

I’ll now fly out of Asheville to take part in The Art of the Book in the 21st Century on March 25 and 26, where I’ll not only enjoy the rest of the symposium and see the large, intriguing show, but will be able to hook up with two more old dear friends who live nearby as well.

That’s me till mid-May, and now: back to the paperwork and its deadlines. (And then hopefully on to a February of my own work).

…still January

I just haven’t got much to write about. I’m still lining up things that will be interesting for me, and so (hopefully) to you, whoever you are. I’m seeing a steadily increasing number of searches for ‘Melissa Jay Craig 2011 workshops’ and I heartily thank you, whoever you are: there are some classes in my current juggling act, which I’ll post as they’re settled.  The one thing I know is that they’ll start in March.

These are finished now.

The past week consisted of much more of that juggling act with a lot of effort and little refinement, not only for things relating to artwork and teaching (and still, technology) but convoluted medical record weirdness (resolved, finally) and collaborative plans involving other folks like me, whose schedules are written on Mexican jumping beans. Saturday, a suddenly pushed-back deadline allowed me to leap over to an application I’d resigned myself to missing, and I hit the ‘submit’ button at 11:59 for a midnight deadline, laughing. It all works out as it needs to, but doesn’t make for much to blog about while it’s happening.

I’m also cooking, becoming (nearly) a vegetarian.  I’m doing it to ward off a threat of medication. Both the cooking and the reasons for it require research, an interesting ongoing process, but again: not to write about. While I’m sure aging is going to demand a good amount of introspection I might eventually care to share, at this point it and I are simply eyeing each other, new fellows on a long residency together.  I’m aiming to learn to make the whole experience savory, even when I need to tear down and rebuld.

Right now, I’m happy that most folks in the US are off work and busy today.  That let me take yesterday off to just mess about in the studio with no objective, to write this blahg, and to let Lupe take me for a long walk….back to juggling work today and then maybe a bit more studio. I wish you all a nice, quiet, productive day, whoever you are.

Just for papermakers: here’s my sweet cutter, making short work of breaking down a friend’s $1 garage sale linen tablecloth, several layers at a time.  Obviously, I couldn’t shoot it in action till someone else came by to use it and agreed to be a safe-use hand model.  This will make delicious paper:


January Remix


It’s been an odd uneven week, largely personally pleasant (dinners, drinks and visits with friends, fun with Paul and Lupe, sunny cold walks, forays out to now-seldom-visited parts of the city) but also full of pesky reversals and adjustments, none of which seem blogworthy and most of which were time-consuming: exchanging the refurbished iPhone for a new one, dealing with numerous other persnickety results of the recent technology upgrade (about two-thirds of which are resolved), finding out I am not quite as healthy as was originally proclaimed (nothing dire, but adjustments required both physical and in attitude) and so on.  The shootings in Arizona threw me into an all-time low as well.  This far-too-appropriate stencil graffiti was found awhile ago in an alley just off Washington Street in the loop; my personal title for it is Republiguns.

Other than that, I am just finishing up several not-quite copies of the Printworks piece (first two badly shot above), and once again doing quite a bit of intricate spring and summer juggling with a number of lovely unsolicited opportunities that popped in, while trying to figure out how and if things I’d like to apply for (with fast-looming deadlines) might fit into the as-yet unknown mix without my becoming ridiculously overbooked again.  It’s a rather fortunate dilemma to have!  This is the one thing that’s certain…but there are a lot o’ possibilities swooshing around up there in the January air right now. So far, 2011 continues an unpredictable, enjoyable path.

PS: Here’s a bit more Ragdale Revisited by Michael McColly…

Ragdale Revisited, part 2 & Now

I might have predicted that the pieces below would begin to occur at Ragdale; the images had been popping up for a good long while beforehand.  I devised and built reconfigurable armatures and cast three of them while there, but also, of equal importance, solidified my understanding of what they mean, and how and why they will extend my current body of work.  There will be several more, and even though they will receive color, the fiber patterns will still be very apparent. I didn’t push to finish them while in residence; they are a good size to be continued at a slower pace now at home.

After finishing the first large piece, I felt a little cheated by the season, because one of the sweetest features of the Meadow Studio for me is making large sheets of paper out on the big screened porch in summer.  But then I became curious about the heated floor. One evening, I couched some sheets of overbeaten abaca directly onto it, and also plopped a large-ish blob of drained pulp onto it to see what would happen.  The floor has a dimpled, slightly pitted surface, and is coated with multiple layers of glossy polyurethane or varnish. I pretty much expected the high-shrinkage abaca to pop off the shiny heated surface as it contracted.  It didn’t.  And both the sheets and the pulp blob (which contracted down to become a sheet) had different, intriguing textures when dry.

So, I became a bit obsessed with using The Floor.  There followed several days of tests of dye migration, and ways to lay pulp directly onto the floor, while evenings were spent sketching and researching; my self-imposed stipulation was that whatever I did should also fit into my current body of work*, even though it would be a physical departure.  Finally, those things merged, and I was ready to roll.

The piece had to be done in one go.  I did it on a Saturday (no dinner break). My old mobile’s battery died so I had no clock; without realizing it, I worked till 3 am.

finished, wet

I worked back into it a bit after it dried, and when I finally, carefully began to pry up the piece, all hell broke loose from the tension of the abaca and I had to lay on parts of it to keep it from tearing itself in its eagerness to release.  (It was a bit like cutting those steel shipping bands.) The piece is mounted about an inch away from the wall, and light bounces back through the translucent fiber.  I’m still considering its title, but I am pleased with it…I’ve hung it in the house to live with a bit. Here it is:

Back to Now: I’ve begun nearly three uninterrupted months at home in my own studio. Currently, I’m working on a commission, then heading on to finish the first piece I showed you today and bookworks that were begun before Ragdale.  I’ll also be updating the web site, solidifying the 2011 schedule and applying for one or two select residencies. I have a definite dilemma regarding one of them: summer with Porch, or winter with Floor?

Last but not least: I took my first (short) walk yesterday in weeks, and finally, the foot didn’t hurt any worse when I got home than it did when I began. I feel tons better because of it, and I’m heading back out (and a little further) today.  This excellent post by Michael McColly (a fellow resident twice now) explains why.

* Forthcoming updates to the web site in the next month will highlight the body of work, if you are interested; I’ll keep you posted.