Extending

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Not much to say, except: things are moving along so beautifully out there in the beloved Meadow Studio, the knee still has its quirks but is better, and: I am staying at Ragdale for another three weeks, through December 11. Yes!

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That was written last Thursday; I meant to post it Friday evening. Then, at dinner: the news of Paris and then the disturbing realization of the lack of coverage on the similar killings in Beirut. And then of course, the ridiculous anti-immigrant, pro-gun backlash, some from people I expected it from, some from others who deeply disappointed me.

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I kept away from the social media screen as best I could, took refuge in the studio, worked well with swirling, streaming thoughts that offered no resolution coursing through my head. I thought of how I don’t really like us as a species. We are far, far from being the superior organisms on the planet that we believe ourselves to be. I thought about how many times I have been certain that we are on the brink of self-immolation in the 60+ years I have been alive. I thought about a great artists’ book I saw once, listing all the wars for each year in recorded in human history, and the terribly tiny amount of time when there weren’t any. I thought about how climate change, which contributed to the Syrian crisis, might actually, finally do it, allow us the annihilation we appear to crave. I thought about nature, going on about its business in spite of us, going through its cycles, its seasons of regeneration, fruition and decay that comprise its language. Plant researchers have revealed that not only do trees communicate with each other, they offer warnings freely to their species, regardless of type; a pine will help an oak. I thought about how I did my ‘duty’ to humans and allowed a young dog to be destroyed because he feared us, and in fearing us, was judged to be a threat. Was he not correct in his fear? I thought of so many things.

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I made and installed new ears, thinking about them listening for just the slightest bit of sense from our species, for the recognition that we are not apart from the planet nor each other. On most of the projects I have going, I’m working with both raw and refined fiber in renewed, beautifully crude ways, taking it down to its essence. A tangled, complicated web, appearing so fragile, so ephemeral, yet tough and resilient in nature, because of its interlocking, its involvement: each strand dependent on the others.

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That was written on Monday. And now, we’ve had the readings and the open studios and a “supper club” dinner with several interesting architects, and a fun group thrift store visit. People are beginning to trickle away as of tonight and early tomorrow. This was a lovely good solid group of women here. I’m looking forward to the next group too, even knowing that I’ll need to confront my deafness yet again as I (slowly) get to know them. I’ll go home this weekend, to exchange comfort with my small pack, to refresh.

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I’ll be out in the world Saturday, when ZIA Gallery’s annual group show opens. It’s supposed to snow. I’m spending Thanksgiving here. On December 4, The Return of the Exquisite Corpse – the last exhibition of the year and for awhile – opens at Printworks in Chicago; and on December 6, I will be in residence for Ragdale’s holiday party, when some of the world comes here.

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Ragdale, bit by care-full bit

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I am very, very slowly settling in at Ragdale, in increments. I am not sure exactly what happened, but Sunday night, while coming downstairs after just finishing the packing, there was a sudden sharp stab of pain in my left knee, then another as I descended to the next step. So, I led with the right foot, brought the left foot down to the same stair, repeat, repeat. Monday morning, it was still that way, a nuisance but not a real problem. Paul kindly carried everything to the car while I loaded. Just as I was ready to leave, simply standing there, the knee completely gave out, felt like it wanted to bend the wrong way, swelled, and would not support my weight.

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After a little while and a little testing, I knew it was a sprain; I’ve had too many of them, and know what they feel like and what to do. So I contacted Ragdale to ask which room I was sleeping in; having had an ankle sprain here, I knew I didn’t want to spend the next couple of days stuck in bed in the tiny Sewing room. Yep. It was. So I stayed home Monday, leg elevated and iced and arnica-slathered, while e-mails flew back and forth, and the Ragdale folks (Amy and Jeff) came up with a lovely solution. The Beech room and the little Barnhouse studio (just a few steps away from the house itself) were open for the first week; I could have them, and then move to the Sewing room and out to my beloved Meadow when I am able.

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So I came up yesterday afternoon, hobbling and wearing two knee braces (one atop the other), and here I am. Since I have wireless and room to elevate the leg and (later) stretch in the Barnhouse studio, I moved into the Sewing room so as not to make extra work for housekeeper Martha, who I really like. Cheerful new resident liaison, Eddie, moved my stuff upstairs for me, and a single box of paper, small book-hulls and binding supplies into the studio; the rest is still in my car, waiting till I heal more. I brought hanji too; sitting and keeping the knee elevated seems like a good opportunity to do some joomchi. I had a great, sweet visit from my homie Chef Linda (who loves animals like I do, and loved Chance too.) So far I’ve done little but R.I.C.E., re-think, and today, I treated myself to an hour with Bonny, the excellent, strong-and-sensitive-handed massage therapist who visits when there are a group of residents who need her. It was wonderful, and she helped the knee and oh, all those other arthritic locations immensely. I’m very, very, very glad to be here and so grateful to Ragdale for always, always, always making it work, whatever happens…I’m sinking into its benevolence like you sink into a good pillow after a hard day, and I’ll truly be home when I’m out on the prairie. Soon!

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The HUGE ice pack that Linda found in the freezer. She tucked that pillow under my leg yesterday (and suggested renting a golf cart if it doesn’t heal quickly!)

Hometown, Back Home

Cleveland was, as always, wonderful and way, way too short. (Trip recuperation has been way too short as well, as I’ve needed to jump right into things, most notably to hack back a huge amount of vegetation in order to be able to re-enter, at both the back gate and the front porch.)
A six hour drive from Owego, NY was a bit too much for me, especially with storms during the last third, so I was glad to be able to take two relatively slow days in Cleveland.

aneon The SmithSanctuary always is just that, easy, good good talk, beautiful healthy food, the light, air and comfort of the space high up at the top of an old Victorian, high ceilings, good people, approving amusing cat queen. Bee talk, homegrown hometown honey to eat and bring home. Crystals in the window to send morning light dancing, tighter twilight rainbow reflections onto the windows and calm Jeff Chiplis neon light for the night. Traffic goes by on two sides, a busy street and a freeway, making an amazing range of sound. After Kathy says, “I think of it as two rivers,” it’s impossible to think of the flowing sound in any other way, and it adds to the peacefulness. Aaahhh…indeed, and thank you.

adux I did something I’d never done before, which was a ‘private class’ that did not feel at all like a class and was mighty pleasant and it, too, was peaceful. Aimee came along to visit while it happened (and wrote about it) so we were four very compatible women on a quiet big brick porch, working and talking after good food on a most mild, most lovely day. And ducks! I’ve been loving watching the ducks each emerge online, and there they were. So fine to handle each, to look close, feel textures, and watch two grow.
The next day, the Morgan was peaceful too, though with a poignant air of unused potential. I was glad not to be teaching, yes, but it was hard not to think of the space as I usually experience it, a buzzing hive in that beautiful light. But it gave me some time to just wander a bit. And ducks, more ducks, including the head-explosion-in-reverse finish of this one:

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aRadhaAimee And these two, Radha and Aimee. With the quiet and time to talk, I came away aware of long lines of strong paper women, of Marilyn, of the odd but wonderful lives that paper leads us to.
Just as I was leaving the Morgan, Ana Fernandez, on her way home from my WSW class, pulled up for a visit.

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Hush…

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…a murmuration…

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…impressive and somehow in harmony with the unaccustomed hush in this big, beautiful space.

Then, after driving vaguely remembered streets, I spent the late afternoon with long, longtime friend Joanne, finally seeing her great place, near to the city but tucked up against a Metropark. We’ve known each other since the 70s, were late night RAT compadres: the camera went away, the old mail art and letters came out and so did a lot of laughter; nice. Back to Smiths’ for an equally nice night on into the neon, up and easy relaxing till out, and a no-drama six-hour drive that was still a bit too much, and now: lots to think about while I do the lots there is to do.

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A’s and A’s and A’s

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My Women’s Studio Workshop class earned a collective A plus-plus-plus; I do so love the caliber of the people who come there. Once again, it was a sort-of dream class: everyone had a considerable practice already, and came to find ways to enhance that, or in search of another direction to take, or as a way to reconnect with the materials and/or to explore them further. We had an extra person, seven instead of six, with me being the eighth body; for a 3D class, that was pushing the limits of the smallish but beautifully-equipped studio, but we all managed the rather intricate dances we needed to do to navigate around the space. I learned a bit about my new-ish physical limits after straining my back rather badly the second day, but everyone was incredibly helpful, class and staff. I had two repeat folks: truly enjoyable Jim, from last year, who built himself a wee paper studio in his Manhattan space, and Terri from a few years ago, who had strayed away from paper for a while but came back to it with a diligent bang during the week. My only regret is that, after seven full days of working, I misunderstood the time the class would end on the last day (an hour earlier than I’d thought, which was also the opening of the au-gust festival) so we had no time to lay all the work – and I do mean ALL – out for a show and tell and photo session. You’ll have to trust me when I say that there was an incredible amount and variety.

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Here we are: Maureen, Barbara, moi, Terri, Jim, Ana, Louise and Dale.

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I also really enjoyed my roomie, Shelley Thorstensen, who taught a five-day intaglio workshop up front and rocked a mezzotint plate in the evenings. Early in the week, my class at the Morgan was cancelled, so I could not have asked for a better group nor better company nor a better experience all round for my official last-class-until-2017-at-least.

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During the week as the class was going on, all of WSW was even more of a hive of activity than usual, everyone building up to Friday’s opening of the au-gust festival along the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. I installed my two groupings after class on Thursday, in the woods with Woody who was superbly helpful. Sadly, I missed Friday’s festival opening,  by falling asleep after class at the kitchen table (!) and on Saturday, because my car began flashing brake / battery dashboard lights. I suspected the alternator, so instead of seeing the afternoon performances along the trail (some very intriguing tree costumes had appeared in the second floor studio), I spent too much time at a busy Jiffy Lube in Kingston that the amazing Chris Petrone found for me. Jiffy Lube said there were no problems, so I had an oil and some filter changes, and had the tires rotated because it was inexpensive and I was there, grabbed a very late lunch and made it back past crowds of happy attendees in time to catch the tail end of Barbara Westermann’s interactive workshop, then packed and loaded everything but what I needed for overnight. After gassing up and grabbing some dinner and road food, I was able to walk part of the rail trail in the twilight and see some of the other impressive installations, though the woods were getting too dark for photos. A HUGE A- plus and congratulations to WSW for au-gust!  It is amazing, and is going on through the end of the month with a series of public events (ear-fungi will quietly linger on.) Photos on my Facebook page.

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Yesterday, up early in the morning mist, out to the car to find a lovely farewell: a beautiful healthy indigo plant from sweet Chris, waiting next to my driver’s side door. About two and half hours later, cruising through the last bit of the Catskills and admiring the bands of morning mist that had wafted up into lovely thin strands around the hilltops, BAM! The alternator blew. I managed to coast downhill past a retaining wall to be able to pull over onto the verge and put the flashers on. My partner Paul gets an A plus-plus-plus for insisting that we sustain a membership in triple A. After an initial frustrating 30 minutes of trying to understand a squeaky-voiced person over the phone, I was transferred to a man with a deep, enunciated voice I could mostly understand, and from that point on I’ve been truly taken care of. A highway patrolman came and parked behind me with his lights flashing until a huge truck came and hoisted up the car for a 60-mile tow (on my route!). I’ve just spent the night in a king-sized bed in a motel room overlooking the Susquehanna river, while a part is on its way to the very good triple A garage. The indigo plant got a drink and spent the night in the window with the garage’s plants. I’m awaiting the text that tells me I can be back on the way to Cleveland and the SmithSanctuary soon…where I will say a-a-a-hhh.

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Buddy, who hung out with me for several hours at the garage yesterday.

Kozo and Fawns and Bears, Oh My (Peters Valley)

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I am at Women’s Studio Workshop, my second stop of the summer. Peters Valley was unusual in a number of ways, but also quite good (not for blogging: wireless only in the studio where I was working, or outdoors on picnic tables, where Flying Biting Things were during my free times.) It’s literally a craft village located in the Delaware Water Gap national park in New Jersey; several of its buildings are a town that was evacuated to be flooded, but then wasn’t. I stayed in a house I liked with another instructor, Beth, who I had met before at Penland and liked (and liked again.)  We drove to the studios, which was the most unusual aspect. The studio complex I was in was not part of the original town, but was purpose-built a couple of miles away along a rutted dirt / gravel road a mile and a half long, through dense woods and past strange-ish ponds with dead trees sticking up out of them. Three times a day, I made the drive there and then back: so did everyone who worked in the woodshop, photo and fine metals studios, and my group in fibers: surface design.

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A scary pond, and a not-so-scary pond below, on the way to the studio (at top.)

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Each morning I woke, made coffee, and skipped the dining hall breakfast in favor of the Early Animal Show that went on in the big mowed meadow outside a convenient picture window. Two wild turkey moms, each with a flock of seven chicks, one group teenaged, another much younger (this morning, just the younger flock appeared, and sadly, it was reduced to six chicks.) There were also a varying number of deer with their young  every day, and the fawns were much fun to watch, playing, leaping, tearing around for the joy of it, reminding me of Chance-pup. And two bossy lady bluejays, feasting on the stunted blackberries growing up over the side porch of Lloyd House.

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I never got a shot of any of the bears, but Karen One (we had two Karens) did, on her phone.

I also saw black bears: a cub just melting into the woods the first day, a lone adolescent standing dreamily in the road, who stared curiously at me in my four-wheeled creature for a minute or two before deciding it was a good idea to run (while I scrabbled for my camera, but missed the shot.) And then one evening I drove round a bend and surprised a big mama bear with a roly-poly cub looking exactly like a glossy stuffed toy. They each shot away into cover on different sides of the road. I stopped the car and waited. A few minutes later baby bear came zooming across the road to mama, at an amazing speed for such a plump little thing. My city-dwelling self was purely delighted by all these sightings.

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One of the dorms, and a visit to the forge, inside and out. It pleases me when there are women blacksmiths; in this case, like at Penland, the blacksmith instructor was female, though this isn’t her.

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The class was lovely, five women hailing from eastern locations from Maine to Maryland. We cooked, dyed and manipulated kozo, and beat some and incorporated it into western sheets we pulled from 50-50 cotton rag and abaca I brought along; there is no beater. But there were moulds, deckles, pellons, good felts, a nifty small press, good hotplates and an amazing variety of dyes. JoAnna was a rocking Studio Manager / Fellow / Resident who made it all flow smoothly.

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The first sheet-making day. The big recycling bins are full of the discarded dye baths and cooking water with soda ash.

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Rumor has it that a New Jersey species of ear-fungus appeared, too: if you should find yourself driving along Thunder Mountain Road towards the fiber/ metals/ photo/ wood studios, you just might find one. Or if not, maybe you’ll see a bear.

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One of the best reasons to love being at craft schools: the intersections.  This is a bit of bark lace impressed into copper and then annealed, made in the fine metals class by Lauri, who is from Cleveland. She made a beautiful necklace using kozo-textured metals, and then made this for me!

Progressing

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Beautiful but quite cold; January temps.

I was lax with the camera last week; it was a time of being too personally engaged to think of framing it through a lens.  On Monday and Tuesday, I got out the dyes and finished a piece, while taking others further. I’m pleased with what’s been happening. Wednesday, I met the very lovely man who funded the Prairie fellowship. We had a fine visit (with Linda-prepared lunch!) for a couple of hours.  Thursday, I held an open studio, and all the residents who remained at that point came out, in spite of cold bitter winds; it was warm and fun inside. Friday, we all left, and I came home to a happy pack (and the literally termed ‘excellent’ conclusion to the situation we’ve been dealing with for most of this year: hooray!)

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As yet untitled above, in progress below, along with much more. 

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Saturday evening I attended one of the nicest opening receptions in a long time, the annual end-of-the-year group exhibition at ZIA. What made it special was the fact that though I was engaged in conversations from the time I walked in to the time I left, they were with no more than three people at a time, and I could actually participate in some meaningful (and fun) dialogue. Sunday, I had a sweet restorative quiet rainy day just being with my pack.

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He’s calmer when I come and go, but while I’m home, he wants to be aware of my every move. 

But I’ve saved the absolute best for last: yesterday I drove up in the snow that’s now blanketing everything and I’m back at Ragdale for another three weeks!

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Been waiting for this.

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Big bluestem after wind and snow.

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And still.

Touchstone Place

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Good morning!

I am at Ragdale (which has a lovely brand-new web site), still not quite realizing I that am actually here. This sudden utter freedom is stupendous, after six months of being buffeted about by the outside forces of our situation, and then being rather locked down since returning home from teaching in August, snatching bits of time in the studio while nearly every moment of every day was dictated by those forces. I wasn’t the primary person who was affected, and (if I do say so) we did both cope rather well throughout the ordeal, so I simply did not realize (or did not allow myself to think about) how constricted I had been feeling until it was past.

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Someone had painted this bush right outside the studio window where I usually place a drawing table. The red and the green are fluorescent colors. I was quite amused for a moment, even laughed out loud, but the straight-out-of-the-can artificial colors are too jarring, and I am too influenced by what I see, so…

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…this is the new drawing place, and I’m finally using that screen in the manner for which it was intended.

And now, here I am, still a bit shell-shocked. But the studio’s set up, fiber soaking, I had my first prairie walk and delicious dinner by Chef Linda, and I slept deep and woke when my body wanted to. Oh, and I am living in the lovely Hayloft room when not in The Best Studio In The Universe. On top of it all, not only do I have everything this marvelous place has to offer laid out before me, I am honored to learn that I was named this year’s Prairie Fellow…riches upon riches!

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These colors.