Another autumn beginning.


Books begun in August; I don’t know if I will work on them here or just let them look out on the late-autumn colors; they looked lovely in yesterday’s sunlight.

I hit Ragdale on Monday a very, very tired person.  That evening, one returning resident said she almost started weeping when she turned onto Green Bay road. I so understand that. For me there was the lifting of tension I didn’t even know was there, deeper breath, lighter shoulders. Now, I’m in that rare, blessed, calmly excited state. It’s blissful to be here with this clean slate, even though I realized today that my time in residence is four weeks, not five. No matter: any time spent here is purely, simply vital.


The prairie was misty today, the sky soft and pearly as tonight’s rain approached.

There’s already an intriguing test piece made and drying; I’m staying in the Barnhouse tonight to write this, do a wee bit more research, and above all, avoid the temptation to mess with it. I was so intent on the making that I completely forgot to photograph it in progress, which made me realize: I finally am no longer thinking like a teacher first, an artist second.  Yes, I’m truly back.


Long-lens shot across the prairie and into private property; in the manicured areas of Lake Forest, the colors are still brilliant, blazing through the mist.

Here’s a bit of today’s long prairie walk, before the making began.


The wilder prairie and woods colors are more muted now


and linear


or not.


The seedpods I left are open, and doing their job. Some of these wafted away seconds later.


I have visited this old one for years; it’s nearly three feet across now, and probably soon to leave us, having completed its job.


Sometime the fall seems confused; here both bare and still green;


but a bend in the path, and it suddenly returns.


This, I will harvest (and much more of it).


These are bad photos. But, perhaps because I was attuned to vines to harvest, I noticed many more of these young corkscrews in several new locations


and a bit of poetic justice, a vine on vine alteration.

Happy Halloween / Samhain!  For me, it’s also the beginning of the new year. I could not ask for a better start.

new stuff

Ah, the new and highly anticipated quiet: beginning to pack for Ragdale, thinking about what I want to think about there, with easy time to see an old friend who was in town, and catching up at a sane pace on neglected everyday stuff (partially with a new washing machine; ours died just before St. Louis). Tomorrow a run to ZIA, more packing, and fiber prep, Saturday a quick trip to Kalamazoo and back, Sunday fiber beating and Monday: five weeks.

During the past weeks, there was a less-urgent but ever-present focus on fibers going on all through the rest of the activities. Here are some new samples, with big thanks to three lovely ladies:


L to R: Lush sheets of autumn equinox milkweed and milkweed seed fiber from Aimee; and elm, artichoke and yucca made by the late Paul Robberts, from Ros Robberts, whose company I greatly enjoyed in Michigan.


Finding this in a small pile of samples at the Robberts’ home was exciting! I’ve been wondering about bittersweet vine since two Ragdale residencies ago, in late fall. I picked a seedpod to take back to the studio to study its intriguing structure; a beautiful long strip of fiber insisted on coming with it. Open Lands told me bittersweet was an invader and to take all I wanted, but I was lost in work and didn’t. Last year’s residency was too early in the season. This year, the timing is perfect.


Cecile made these air-dried samples during her pre-conference visit: maple seed wings (from her gutters; beautiful but fragile, already accidentally torn) and water hyacinth roots (gorgeous, tough, high-shrinking, natural deep black).

In St. Louis, Cecile also handed me a big bag of milkweed seed fiber and some of the beaten water hyacinth, as well as samples of her own seed hair paper with a glossy, high sheen. I bought two sheets of bamboo half-stuff from Carriage House at the trade fair, too; Shannon recommended it for watermarks. The Ragdale milkweed yielded over a pound of dry fiber, and there’s a list of late-fall, back-at-home garden harvests to come, including mulberry and rose-of-sharon. I just learned that a winter show I’d agreed to is actually happening in 2015, so I’ll have a sweet long quiet season to try new fibers.


The new camera is here and seems pretty good; today’s shots are quick auto point & shoot tests, made to set up its accompanying software. I quickly figured out how to bypass that; it’s awful, except for one feature that I don’t already have and will want to use occasionally.


Just today, we became one of the newest and I think one of the final neighborhoods in Chicago to be inaugurated into the recycling program: these blue bins have been a long time coming.

Last but not least, I realized today that though I have a few projects that I might work on, for the first time in a very, very long time, there are no deadlines, no urgent agenda for the residency: I can and am dedicating it to exploration, to new. (While, of course, utilizing the Meadow Studio’s lovely heated floor).

…and again.



This one is titled Required Reading.

Here are the one-day installations that happened at Ragdale on Sunday.  It was a great time: so good to see old friends, meet new folks, learn more about some excellent work, and share excitement over new plans together with poignant stories of Ragdale’s past.  For me it was also an opportunity (as was St. Louis) to try some new things, as well as just a huge boost, feeling a bit of what is in store: my fast-upcoming lovely long residency.



Two shots of its interior.  I may be doing more with this…

Overall, I’m pleased with how these outdoor works are developing. The pull in this direction has been strong.  Though I’ve heard (and read) the term ‘interventions’ quite a bit, always in a ‘good’ context, I’m not convinced that’s what they are.  To me, interventions are works that recontextualize what is available at the site: think Andy Goldsworthy.  I suppose these do that in some ways, but in a long, long loop of using often imported plant materials; when they are left to decay, they bring in very little that is unusual to the sites, contributing mostly more cellulose to the soil. But when new and still fully formed, they are definitely, intentionally foreign within the site, gentle intrusions. I like them best when there are no labels, when they simply appear without fanfare. Perhaps they’re better termed ‘apparitions’.


aMT2This piece was originally made to be part of a series, titled Mirror-Touch, to be installed in St. Louis. I abandoned it for the last post’s lichen reprisal piece when the necessary installation method came into question. With Ragdale’s solid cooperation, I tried it out here.  It will likely go further, soon.  

Below are two of several works by Margot McMahon, who had a fascinating story to tell of her early interactions with Sylvia Shaw Judson at Ragdale, well before it became a residency program; that influence is so readily apparent in these works.



There was also a sound installation by Shawn Decker, some of which was recorded on the prairie, and a reading by Dan Vera, who was in residence. (I had met him last week while gathering my bundle of milkweed). And the conference room was filled with wonderful work by Jane Fulton Alt, including photos, encaustic works, and two beautiful books (one published commercially, and another fantastically effective handbound collaboration with Teresa Pankratz).  All the work was based on the annual controlled prairie burns; and a video was continuously showing above the conference room fireplace. All the works had such a direct connection to this place, showing its enormous influence.


I also brought That’s Life back home; it was created here.  During my brief talk, I forgot to also point out a piece that Alice bought to be permanently displayed at Ragdale, which lives just a few steps away.

Alas, the substitute camera I’ve been using gave up the ghost just after I shot Margot’s works; it took a great deal of sheer stubbornness to later extract these photos.  I ordered a new one yesterday!

And that was the last of the 2013’s public tasks until ZIA’s group show opening in November. I’m breathing in, sleeping more, and planning harvests and new experiments: five weeks of bliss ensue soon!



Learning In Public

Though I can’t at the moment remember where, I recently read an article that defines an artist as “someone who learns in public.” I laughed out loud. Love that: am always living it, especially this crazy week.

Before heading to St. Louis on Wednesday, I had some fun with these:




On location at the Pulitzer Museum on Thursday, I discovered that the trees  these were made for were much narrower than I had thought.  I had been sent measurements, and photos, and made the pieces to fit the average. Nope.  They were way too wide, which immediately affected placement, and required massive adjustments; I worked all day.

Krysten Watson, a fantastic young woman, assisted me in the morning. Not only was she an excellent second set of eyes, I tasked her with marking the spot from which a word might be discerned. She came up with this bit of absolute perfection:


Later I added a hint.


As you may have noticed, I’m currently stuck with with an old camera which is not functioning well, and could not give me an overview shot.  Here are the individual pieces in sequence:





Soon, I’ll report back on the great wee bits of the conference that I attended.  After the (fun) panel yesterday morning, I drove home to work on tomorrow: more outdoor works.  This afternoon, folks in St. Louis will be bussed around town to look at shows; this is a scheduled stop.  Late last night texts came in:


Truly embracing today’s blog title with this work!

It’s that time


This was (a bit of) the show in Kalamazoo, before the doors opened, while labels went up.


The next day, we held class in the gallery, which I liked,


and also in the paper studio.  I documented the KBAC for a MakerCentric post, along with Haystack and Seastone Papers, but none will appear online before December. A LOT of winter web work ahead!

But now it’s that crazyoverbooked time: in the next nine days, I am doing four small-ish outdoor installations in two locations, and talks in each, and a lot of driving.  The lovely flyer for the second:

Fall Salon + Art Walk FLYER FINAL-page-001

It feels a little frantic, until I remember that whatever pressure I am feeling, I largely chose, and that the few rakes in the face I’ve experienced are benign, definitely not the deliberate maliciousness of the past; and I take a breath.


A break to harvest yesterday helped; that’s breathing.  Seasons no longer seem ruled by date, but by temperature, and in that context, it’s earlier than usual, but there was no way to know that till I got there. It was fun searching through the still-dense big bluestem, towering way over my head. Some wee beastie comes along in the fall and gnaws at the bases of one milkweed species, topples them, and then abandons the stalk for papermakers. So it was a treasure hunt, spotting one stalk, wading in, then finding five more concealed on the ground nearby. There are at least three varieties of milkweed where I harvest; all provide nice bast.  By request, I leave the seedpods behind.


Fall colors are just beginning to reach us, as yet nowhere near what they were further north in Michigan. That means that in a wee bit over two weeks, they will begin to peak during my residency, and I will be able to breathe them in every day. Who could ask for more?


from Kalamazoo


It’s been a wonderful time here: great facility and people to match, and I was blessed with a hostess who made me feel more than comfortable, in fact one of those rare times when you instantly feel that you’ve known a person for ages: rapport.  Early in the morning, I’m off back home for a packed whirlwind week, so for now I will leave you with this, a mural / poem that greeted me at the back of the Park Trades Center, home of the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center and several other studios (hot glass, perhaps for jars like these, being made right next door). I loved this: technical appreciation as a former painter / sign painter, and for the poem, especially now, when I’m thinking of upcoming harvests. And tonight we had the last of some multicolored local tomatoes at dinner, each hue a different taste. Looking forward to views of the burgeoning fall foliage on the way home.  Goodnight!




While I am out (there)


I’ve been an installation factory, and am at the point I wanted to reach: production finished, underlying structures built, with just a bit more color here and there, then final assembly when I return next week. Now I am the prep and packing division (both specialist and labor). Tomorrow I am the chauffeur, off to Kalamazoo Book Arts Center, glad that the next destinations are each within a day’s drive. In the meantime, if the following quote appeals to you, this excellent article resonates strongly with one of the several not-new-but-more-in-depth ways I’ve been thinking. I’m looking forward to exploring further and conflating with other lines of thought at Ragdale (and a welcome quiet season at home).

“You might imagine that “disability studies” is just one more category of identity that’s purely for political advocacy, interesting only to those directly affected by issues of accessibility, accommodation, or special rights. But “disabledness” is a far more slippery designation than even the other notorious ways cultures have of historically organizing themselves—along the lines of race, gender, ethnicity, and the rest. And while these latter categories have also been shown to be much less stable than once thought, disability is another matter altogether. There are at least two big reasons why disability concerns are everyone’s concerns.

First, it’s a false divide to make a we/them: either able-minded, able-bodied, or disabled. After all, how cultures define, think about, and treat those who currently have marked disabilities is how all its future citizens may well be perceived if and when those who are able-bodied become less abled than they are now: by age, degeneration, or some sudden—or gradual—change in physical or mental capacities. All people, over the course of their lives, traffic between times of relative independence and dependence. So the questions cultures ask, the technologies they invent, and how those technologies broadcast a message about their users—weakness and strength, agency and passivity—are important ones. And they’re not just questions for scientists and policy-makers; they’re aesthetic questions too.”

Sara Hendren (someone I’ll be reading more from)