DelAware, Penlandamonium

Propellers! out of Asheville and back, and the Blue Ridge from above…

I’ve been trying since Sunday to complete some writing about the profound, revelatory experience I had at the Art of the Book in the Twenty-First Century symposium at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art last weekend. The symposium was erudite, provocative and as wide-ranging and comprehensive as The Book: A Contemporary View exhibition it accompanied. The selection of speakers who also were artists represented in the show leaned towards the sculptural side of the equation, something that rarely (if ever!) happens, but the big picture balanced out in other ways.  I enjoyed it all, thoroughly. (But didn’t take many photos).

How I heard.

The reason my experience was personally profound was due to the fact that the DCCA applied for and received a grant to accommodate all levels of hearing loss.  I had CART (Computer Assisted Real Time Captioning) throughout the weekend, and it not only provided for fuller participation than I have ever, ever had before in my own field, it brought me to some startling realizations…which I will need to wait to share, until there is some downtime to quietly consider and edit. All I can do at this point is to wholeheartedly thank and commend the DCCA for being so forward-thinking, so inclusive.

I have perhaps never seen a more appropriate use of the slash symbol…

I worked until the moment I left Penland, and even though the superb Shawn Sheehy has been doing the teaching since I returned, I am exhausted.  Sunday evening (when I also returned) brought an influx of one-week classes. The Penland event calendar, already vigorous, escalated over the top…there are events every single night this week, Friday will bring several at once, including our Edible Books, and that will be followed by another huge party on Saturday (which I predict I will totally need to skip).  Class prep continues to be intense (this week I need to repair equipment for next week), the weather is back to cold and rain and fog and even heavy snow that didn’t stick, which causes mealtimes to be a veritable maelstrom of echoing noise with everyone packed indoors at once. It doesn’t help that I haven’t had a weekend rest since I arrived (I had a guest the entire first weekend, and the symposium and a sweet long visit from old dear friends and hours and hours of plane-changing travel the second, and a steady stream of out-in-the-world things to deal with via the inbox as well…most very good).

It snowed Monday morning and was c-c-cold.  Papermakers are tough. Teams worked out here all day, and on the porch as well. We only have Shawn for 3 days.

In spite of how this all reads, I am still absolutely loving it here! I suspect I just needed to tell you why Penland will be like Ragdale and like my DCCA revelations: it’s all something I will need to write about after the fact, whenever there is time.

Reubens and Shroobens

Paper studio windows!

Today’s title was the lunch menu one day last week…the food at Penland is luscious and there are always vegetarian options, helping me to easily keep to my self-imposed regimen. If you miss a meal (like I did this morning), there is a lovely coffee shop with sandwiches and muffins and art…always art.

There is so much I want to write about, so very, very much going on every day and every night, but no time to do it in, so I’m thinking mostly captioned pictures will have to suffice, at least when I remember to pull out the camera.

Paper outdoors,

paper indoors,

and the pulp painting has begun in earnest, along with watermarks, abaca, flax; we’ve been harvesting here and there; field-retted iris is soaking, and Heather has raided the stand of bamboo for leaves; jeans and linen have been made into pulp…

We are making tons of paper and a number of books, people work late into the night, and still: the class as a whole is enthusiastically putting on the first ever All-Penland Edible Books Festival next Friday evening, so watch this space! I’m excited. We all are. Meanwhile, the stack dryer and beater are running constantly.

Tomorrow, the absolutely wonderful Heather Bella teaches the 4-needle Coptic binding while I prepare the first three of an eventual nine pounds of what we’ve named Shawn’s Perfect Pop-Up Pulp, and then I pack and head back down the corkscrew road to Black Mountain; Mary will take me to the Asheville airport on Friday morning and I’ll fly to Philadelphia, where I’ll be met and driven to Wilmington, Delaware for this.  Old dear friends are driving in from Maryland on Saturday, and we’ll have a night together after the symposium, and I’ll fly back on Sunday; the incomparable Shawn Sheehy will have already arrived, and he’ll be teaching Monday through Wednesday…so maybe I’ll be able to blog about the symposium while 9000 other highly blogworthy things happen around me.

Patrick Dougherty is one of my favourite artists: he has festooned the porch of The Pines, also on the National Register of Historic Places, where the dining hall and the coffee shop are located.  Mary visited last weekend (and we had a sweet Full Moon Porch Party of our own) and at first she thought his work was an amazing growth of wisteria. Dougherty is from North Carolina; being surrounded with utterly astounding trees like the one below (just up the road from where I live), it’s easy to see what he initially might have drawn from…

The Student

There are the mountains!

It’s now the end of the first week, which feels simultaneously like six weeks and twenty-four hours.  Yesterday, St. Patrick’s day, when the gorgeous morning fog rolled away, it was spring, and warm, and the mountains re-appeared. Today, we were able to move some of the papermaking outdoors, wearing only t-shirts. Right now, I’m ducking out of the Iron Studio’s ‘pin the pastie on the pinup’ party (though I sent on the paper pasties I made, cast cotton doorknobs embellished with flax, which I forgot to photograph…our one male book and paper person volunteered to take or maybe even wear them): quiet time to sit, relax, and above all to not hear, and to try and write a proper blog.

Our studio (up only five sets of stone stairs).

I am loving it here; can’t tell you how much, and I have only scratched the surface.  Marilyn Sward first told me about Penland soon after I met her, and she constantly urged me to come here (and also to Haystack in Maine, where she was on the board, which I have yet to even visit).  Somehow, I never made it except for a brief afternoon maybe five years ago, when I was visiting Mary while friends were teaching; Mary drove me up the narrow, twisty mountain-climbing roads for an afternoon visit. I was highly impressed and decided I absolutely had to come, but then my life began to segue into the strange period I’ve been slowly leaving behind for two years now. So Penland is somewhere I’ve wanted to be for a long, long time, and now I’m getting the first inklings of understanding why.

Where I live. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. I have my own bathroom, and only two sets of stairs…

First impressions: it’s like two of the things I enjoy most rolled into one: a residency with all that entails, coupled with teaching that seamlessly and unapologetically melds content with craft.  It’s also in one of my favorite areas of the country. It’s a bustling, multileveled village high up on a mountaintop made up of artists who work or are learning to work in iron, precious metals, glass, wood, clay, fiber, paper, books, painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, performance, food, media and much, much more. I see no pretentiousness, no jockeying: just a community enthusiastically suffused with the joy, energy and intimate knowledge of making and exchanging…and I have so much more yet to learn and to share.

The dining hall and the view from it; Patrick Dougherty has festooned the porch.

Like any village, it has a wide range of ages, which makes it even more enriching.  The span in my class alone is fifty-four years. Artists do not retire. For me personally, there were the usual bumps in the road that come with learning the idiosyncrasies of a new studio while teaching, and the initial oddness of being the deafened person.  But I gave my slide talk yesterday which introduced me to almost everyone, and I learned something: while talking, I heard nothing, and simply assumed that everyone was unresponsive.  Not so; there were plenty of reactions. I had to watch what I was doing, so I simply didn’t hear them. So I’m definitely not only here to teach, I am wholeheartedly looking forward to all that Penland has to teach me. Now, I think I’ll head back to the wee house with my hearing aids on, to catch what I can of the chorus of hundreds of spring peeper frogs…

Nightly neon on the mountaintop, with the almost-full largest moon in 18 years…


They tell me there are mountains beyond those windows but I haven’t seen much of them.  (To be fair, too, it’s been raining).  It’s the end of the third day of class and we have made three large stack dryer loads of paper from four beater loads of pulp; two more loads are soaking.  We’ve made one book (and some folks have made three or four), and now people are working on this week’s second book, a 48-page opus with progressive content.  And, we’ve done it in a rather cramped indoor space in one end of the bindery, to save ourselves from the cold of the expanded space we’ll have available when it warms up a bit. I have also made two pasties (long story). Two instructor gatherings, one slideshow, two general meetings, and I missed the instructor’s show opening yesterday. My slideshow is tomorrow, appropriately on St. Patrick’s day. Have yourself a good one!  I’m going to. I love Penland.

Black Mountain

Just over the NC state line…there’s a river down there.  Way down there.

Made a bunch of samples (the new drybox / stack dryer worked perfectly. Perfectly!), dug through tons of sample papers and structures and found some I forgot I had, didn’t find some I was certain I still had, raided my handout files, packed packed packed, got new corrected glasses, shipped a piece to Colorado that will eventually end up in a state I just drove through, put the studios to sleep, packed some more, loaded up, and hit the road at 3pm yesterday, motel in Lexington KY last night, Black Mountain at about noon, big brunch and a mountain walk and catching up: Penland tomorrow. It’s lovely here: spring.  Daffodils and creeping phlox blooming, trees budding out, 65 degrees, but you can still see a dusting of snow on the higher mountaintops here and there. We ate our brunch out on the wee restaurant’s porch, in the sun.  Tonight, Mary is out for ‘movie night’ and dinner at a friend’s and I begged off for some quiet class prep, rest and quiet for quiet’s sake, and everyone’s easy with that. This all begins tomorrow.



Active (ist)

I am crazy busy, but I have to tell you this: Recently, I was asked to help two arts organizations with grant applications for funds to provide accessibility, by describing my own experiences and providing information on methods of accommodating all levels of deafness.  I’m very, very pleased to be able to report that the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art has received funding, and will provide both CART (Computer Assisted Real Time Captioning) and an American Sign Language interpreter for the Art of the Book in the 21st Century Symposium on March 25 and 26. (And I’m so excited that I’m personally going to be able to fully experience my fellow speakers’ presentations!)

This morning I sent off an additional letter of support to be included in the application of the second organization, a stellar residency program I’ve experienced twice (I’m not mentioning it by name; I don’t know if that would affect their chances). I have high hopes that they’ll also receive funding. I wholeheartedly commend these two organizations for making access a priority, for wanting to educate and to be educated. As I wrote in the letter: “(this residency program) is highly renown for its international community, for the enriching interaction between creative representatives of widely varied cultures; those of us with sensory disabilities also inhabit unique worlds. Offering us the tools we need not only accommodates us, it allows our colleagues to easily interact with our worlds, promoting the same kind of understanding already fostered by an active international exchange.  Including us makes for a truly global experience; because, when everything is said and done: all humans are only temporarily abled.”

I’ve also been invited to become a part of an advisory network for the residency program, and I’ve accepted. All of this work, while unpaid, contributes to personal success as well, in terms of helping to craft the life I want to lead: one that is open, embracing and inclusive, further dispelling clouds of past prejudice, which is really only fear of difference, which is ultimately a condition of ignorance, sadly, in some cases, willful ignorance.

Elsewhere: The DCCA has published an online catalog of The Book: A Contemporary View.  I love that it has an ISBN number, even though it only exists online (though soon you will be able to download it if you so desire).  That’s interesting in terms of the ongoing conversation about the future of books of any kind. Saturday’s Portable Papermaking class was great, but I was too busy to take a single photo. Many thanks to Evanston Print for their help and the loan of their silkscreen-making facilities on Sunday, and to Abecedarian Gallery, who’ve placed another of my bookworks into a collection.  Now, back to work; I hit the road in four days.


Forward: March

Into overdrive as I enter the final week before Penland, but I’m getting it all done.

Yesterday, a lovely segue: composer Christopher Preissing came by to pick up three new little experimental abaca instrument-pods that I had finished the day before. They’re the next stage in some experiments that began at Ragdale, and we talked excitedly about further possibilities.  You (but not I) can hear some of his work here.

The inbox has been jumping with many more exciting possibilities, and I’m keeping those in mind (and receiving ’em via iPhone) while I’ve been alternating between days spent running all over town and intense studio days. A nice note: I was gifted with 40 cotton linters for blotters for the drying system; sweet. Right now I’m taking a wee break in prep for tomorrow’s Portable Papermaking class, which will be fun, even though it involves a lot of schlepping. I’ll head back Sunday to make use of Evanston Print and Paper’s fine facilities for something of my own, and then next week is all studio all the time, and when it’s not, it’s packing.  Spring is also an apt word for how I’m beginning the season, and I’m loving it.

It’s also Women’s History Month, and here is a nice tribute to some very deserving women, particularly those who work to showcase our work…making new stories.