Turn and turn and turn again


Last week, I turned down requests to teach two 2016 classes at new-for-me, interesting venues. Even though I knew I was going to say no, I didn’t expect the little flurry of emotion. The e-mails sat in my inbox for an unusually long time before I replied, and there was a tiny physical frisson when I finally hit send. The replies I received were gracious (and I’m on deck for 2017 if I decide to resume.). Once I got them, there was an almost audible ‘click.’

Suddenly I put the fiber aside and turned inward and domestic, which coincided with a review of our budget. We’ve been turning out the house, accomplishing long, long overdue heavy cleaning, and getting rid of broken or no longer useful things, large and small. It feels so good; we’re finally turning the building away from its role as a ‘sick house’ in the past years, turning towards the future as we do. We even replaced furniture: two new comfortable chairs, a footstool, end tables, dog rugs. I’ve turned the studio over to staining and finishing the new tables (and refinishing an old one.) We work well together. This refurbishing will be ongoing, sandwiched in with everything else, but it should turn out to be a much, much more comfortable winter this year; that is a joy.


I’ve also turned back to another stint of bodily repair. One of my goals for the year off is to find solutions for (and eventually stabilize) ongoing health challenges. Before I left for this year’s road trip, I settled on a med that produced the desired result, but caused a sudden ballooning weight gain (which thankfully  stopped awhile ago) and uncomfortable swelling of feet and ankles. The search for better versions of meds has begun, making now quite a strange time: I’m completely unfamiliar with my own body as filtered through ingested chemicals. There are two new docs to consult in the next couple of weeks, and two new meds, one begun and the other starting in two days. Such is the work of aging (as will be learning to interface with Social Security.) On the 9th, my odometer turned over once again; it was a nice, quiet, albeit medically foggy day, the first of a new age, the first of a new drug (not to mention Chance’s first encounter with delivered helium balloons.)


Two tables (ok, nightstands that we will use as end tables) after the pre-stain and sanding.

Yesterday, the second day, the drug-fog was lessened, but was still too much for me to make the trip out to the reception for the Embarrassment of Riches exhibition at NIU. Today, it’s even less foggy, and I can put thoughts together to make this dull blog, but I’m staying close to home (and out of the driver’s seat) until I’ve completely acclimated.

I have not turned my back on the world, though: along with the domesticity and drugs, I resolved two tricky upcoming late exhibition requests. I initially thought I’d have to turn one of them down, but managed to salvage it with a quick turnover of work from a current show to the next.


And out in the world,  ABC opened in Utah, and though the website has not been updated beyond the original press release, a catalog is on its way.  Very soon, a single bookshroom will become mobile, traveling around for quite some time.  Words | Matter was quickly funded (congratulations!) but they can still use contributions for the unexpected expenses that always turn up, and there are still a few days to submit work; it’s going to be a good one!


I still have my Purdys from my set-painting days; good to have the right tools for the job at hand. I did half the staining today.

Quietly, bit by bit


Last week: before.

We’re slowly moving through Things That Need To Be Done, and I am beginning to achieve a wee bit of balance, thanks to my garden / supply store.


After; Chance of the fox-tail exploring the newly-cleared stones.

The back and one of the side gardens are now trimmed and/ or staked back, giving the dogs more room to run, letting us humans go through the gates without fighting off rowdy foliage.  I trimmed all the mulberry in the yard once again, staked it where that was needed, cut down all the renegade French hollyhocks before they went completely to seed (gathering much of the seed that had already matured, first) but they will still show up in the cracks between the paving stones again next year; they are insistent that way and they really like it there. I halfheartedly tried stripping the stalks, but they were too green yet, and there is another large stand of the same hybrid hollyhocks within the garden if there is time later in the season to steam and strip some. Their stems are not as large nor as straight as what we call ‘alleyhocks’. (Those make lovely paper).


Not Alleyhocks.  I have a grandma kind of garden, but it’s exactly the kind of grandma garden I’ve wanted since I was a wee kid…

I did harvest all the tall orange daylily stalks from the front and side yard and the ones I’d planted in the alley, plus the stalks from a favorite darker red, still tall, daylily. When I left, they were all blooming profusely, and I thought I would miss the window for getting the most benefit from them, but I lucked out.  The stalks make rather ugly, rough, fibrous sheets of paper but yield a great strong pulp to use for the internal structures of castings, especially those meant to be installed outdoors.  It’s win-win: nice, dense (and easy plant-to-paper) foliage, a lovely long month or more of blooms, and then a just a few quick hours of work to harvest, cut, cook, beat and freeze the drained stem pulp to have on hand when I am building again.


Daily dog training, an appointment with a highly recommended trainer (who has trained service dogs! Fingers crossed for his evaluation and affordability), and web site updates, admin for the next show, and a residency / grant I’ve been nominated for are things getting done incrementally, as well: the late-summer rhythm of home is re-establishing itself, and that’s fine and good. So is eating my own tomatoes and fresh herbs every day, and (surprise!) having time and the inclination to blog a bit today.  Next week, we receive the schedule imposed by our situation for the next few months,  adjust our rhythm to encompass that and whatever it brings with it.


The extra-tall bucket, before covering it with a mesh bag.  Today is perfect weather for the cook.



I’m enough of a geek that sometimes, designing and building  something like a (necessarily) fancy shipping container can actually be fun, and a good odd use of the book arts skills – but…


…not so much when it’s so huge that it doesn’t fit in your studio. It took me DAYS longer than I anticipated…but that was also working around a whole huge lot of sudden unexpected tasks.

I’ve been busybusybusy getting ready for the next three shows while dealing with our situation and its possible consequences; however, that is not my story to tell.


So glad we got this trellis up when we did!

2014 is resolutely refusing to be about achieving a fuller balance, but rather, it seems to want to be about trying to maintain what balance is already extant.  I’m re-learning some important things: (1) stuff does come along that needs to be addressed with pretty much all the energy, time and spirit you’ve got, and (2) the people you allow into your intimate life are far, far more important than career, exhibitions and even the studio. Those important people also absolutely include the friends who have offered a wide, wonderful range of support I am quite grateful for.


A gorgeous anomaly: a mutant lupin.  The non-mutants are also beautiful: the garden continues to be a peaceful sanctuary, even when I am behind on what needs doing.


So the blog?  It may be sparse and even more sporadic (or just photo-based) for the next wee while, but I’ll try to keep it going without being too cryptic.


This is not a camera angle trick. Chance is now bigger than Lupe, but he’s still very much a pup.


Out in the world, a sort-of fourth show: Emily Martin’s Pantone Postcard Project opens tonight at r.s.v.p. gallery in Iowa City, and remains on view for the month of June.  I’m not entirely sure what the plastic is about (maybe so you can flip the cards over to see the verso?) but it makes a nice installation, yes?

Gearing Down to Accelerate


A harvest begins.

It’s been a GREAT week at home: lots and lots done but all at a very sane, enjoyable pace.  The only fly in the ointment has been (and actually still is) technology.  Our entire system was rewired yesterday, and we’ve had 3 different SSIDs in four days; now I need to make the also-new new printer-scanner switch to the upgrades as well.  That proved frustrating, so it can jolly well wait till I return for a longer period.


Summer studio! This is also where the scroll saw work was done, on an ancient but perfectly serviceable wee machine that Paul picked up at a local garage sale.

The majority of my time has been spent much, much more pleasurably making phase two ear-fungi, trying out new structural enhancement possibilities. I was experimenting with options, and all of them worked beautifully (and two came from the garden). I did some work nailing down and fleshing out details for fall events (here’s one I’m very happy about), and decided to take on One Thing Too Many, which will make for the kind of time-crowding I swore to avoid this year. But it’s just one week in October, and the idea is irresistible.


 A good haul of stems, yes?

There also was a bit of a watershed, a coming together of ideas that began with rich conversations at Haystack. I worked in the gardens a lot. They have never been better, more enjoyable, or more productive.  This week was the optimum time for a fine harvest of tall lily stems. I decided to use use their fiber for the irresistible thing I took on, and with that decision, I realized: the garden is not a separate, singular activity nor a guilty pleasure. Now that it’s established, it’s providing harvests at several times during the summer and fall. Maintaining it and harvesting the results is part of my work now. That’s a sweet realization.


Waiting to move indoors in the evening, after the pack walks.

So is the stretching and body awareness the garden work provides; the sciatica’s not gone, but it is much improved.  Today, after cooking up the stems, I have a day of total lazy indulgence planned with a friend. Tomorrow is packing and then off to Cleveland for a week (and a full class), better than restored and rested. Those things, yes, but with something more: a contented, calm excitement, something I had forgotten was possible.  It is, and I am there; I really am back.





I slogged through the first half of the text-based projects, but words were not only not flowing, I struggled mightily to maintain even a trickle.  Yesterday, I gave up, put the writing on a back burner and began the first part of the second batch of house projects: building a closet in a small, oddly-shaped nook that we carved out around the chimney when we did all the building upstairs. It will house things we need to keep on hand that are currently taking up space inconveniently in numerous locations; I’m calling it a linen closet.  The first task was to sand down the joint compound, something I dislike doing immensely, particularly when the sanding screen is attached to a cumbersome shop vac to minimize dust, and I need to become a contortionist to reach the corners.  After a comical, dust-mask-wearing, sweaty day, that bit is done (and it feels good). For the next few days I’ll try writing in between applying coats of paint, and hope that satisfying physical work will somehow release the word-flow.



Domestic restructuring #1

I expanded the first group of home projects, or rather, decided to work within the natural order: as shelves and cabinets were moved to the places they were slated for,  I took the extra time to deal with the newly freed spaces as well.  One of those was my upstairs studio / bindery, which was also still unsettled from sorting through and jettisoning stuff into the yard sale before I left for fall residencies. I’ll finish up there today (and I really like it).  This weekend, I can go back to working in both studios!


This photo shows why I couldn’t work in the paper studio and on the house at the same time: sawdust and paper don’t mix, at least not in ways that I want or need for my work. But my studio was the only convenient space to set up power tools, so amending that situation was my first priority.


After Paul and Pat did some re-wiring, patched the old outer walls, insulated, built new interior walls and tiled the floor a few years ago, this laundry / furnace room quickly filled to the point where there was only a pathway (past the laundry machines and into my studio) through the jumble of stuff haphazardly stored in it. Now I’m able to set the tools up in here for the next projects without compromising the studio, and clean up in the freed utility sink as opposed to my studio sink.  All it will need is a couple of tarps tossed over appliances and storage.


While this makes a boring blog, the surprise is how enormously satisfying it all is, much more than I had anticipated. I’m ultimately always an installation artist, and the state of my surroundings affects me, perhaps too much.  The place has been in chaotic upheaval for most of the past year as we sorted, gathered and eliminated stuff.  Now I’m re-settling us in, optimizing the ways we move through and use our space. With every bit that’s completed, I feel myself standing taller, flexing, re-adjusting my bones, literally with room to breathe.


That’s in concert with the very best thing I did: after almost a year of this area being used as a sorting/ temporary storage space, I now have a dedicated place to stretch and do physical therapy in once again (where waiting ear-fungi accompany me for awhile). I’m using it daily and it feels so, so, so good.

Cheese Balls


I like where this Vermont experiment is going now but there’s more to be done.

I’m not sure how well blogging is going to go during this six months.  My loose plans were to spend a week on one of our much-needed house projects, and then a week in the studio, then another house project, studio, etc.  I’m keeping in mind another quote from Annie Dillard: “There are all kinds of ways to live. You can take your choice. You can keep a tidy house, and when St. Peter asks you what you did with your life, you can say, ‘I kept a tidy house, I made my own cheese balls.”


To the paper studio as well as my current house project; the lower stairs are functional but the upper ones go nowhere, have no outlet on either floor.

I’m not so much going for tidiness for its own sake, but I do (badly) need to increase this building’s functionality and efficiency as a live-work space.  Our place is a wee bit over 100 years old and contains many structural oddities, like this stairway to nowhere from a previous owner’s interior re-build.  I’m into my first improvement project (one which will facilitate all the others) for which I budgeted three days, thinking that was a generous time frame.  Nope. That’s something I should’ve been able to predict from the considerable amount we already have done; there’s always something ridiculous hidden behind wallpaper or tile.  Then it becomes necessary to either rip out and rebuild, or figure out how to work around the existing cheese ball construction.  House projects are always well worth it when they’re done, but are not blog-worthy, just time-consuming.  Poignantly, this particular effort is taking place right next to my paper studio, where dogbane, abaca and a slew of exploratory-things-in-progress are waiting for me.  But I’m off to buy shims, brackets and bolts, and hoping when I get back and put them to use, I won’t uncover something else, at least not till the next project!  If the blog occasionally goes silent from now till July, you’ll know I’ve probably run across another cheese ball.

Books & books & paper: but first

I’m currently very quiet, but:

  • I’ve happily agreed to book one more bookish (group) show this year; it will be excellent.
  • Guaranteed to be the oddest sort-of-autobiography you have ever read: Smith’s new book is out and you can get one. Heed the blog headline!
  • Friday night I had a lovely time at ZIA’s summer group show opening; Rita came down from her Ragdale residency for it, and we had a blast reconnecting. I can’t wait for her new book.
  • This is a blog I wish I had written, or rather, I wish I had written about my own visit, and had taken photos. I seem to always have this conflict between Being There and writing about it (or even thinking about writing about it), particularly when I’m on the road.

Above are some of the things I am working on. Each has a story to tell. The telling of stories is always a bit more difficult at home. I wish that weren’t so but there is always the weight of So Much Else That Needs To Be Done when I am here. Though, I have knocked out other work besides home things this week: the finishing of one interview, the beginning of another, more prep for upcoming shows: that work is easier at home, it can overcome distracting interruptions and be easily returned to.

There are also the practicalities of still re-learning the independent teaching life. For instance, I make paper with fluctuating methods. The past two years, I’ve done a lot more with my sugetas and standard Western moulds & deckles, and have hardly touched my deckle boxes. But I brought smaller ones along on my teaching trips, intending just to use them for demos. Instead, for various reasons, I made them available for extensive class use.

Now I need them again for my own work. It was easy to see that I needed to replace the velcro, but when I began to do that, I realized that they were basically trashed: loose and wobbly, with torn seals, the finish completely worn away in parts, and several new scrapes and gouges which would let water into the wood.

That’s not a surprise; people learning are concentrating on their work and not on tools, so studio and equipment maintenance is an absolutely necessary part of the tuition that anyone pays anywhere. In terms of my own learning, I’ve found that this type of deckle box is not standard equipment at most studios; so if I want to make these available, I will need to provide them, which means I will also need to build maintenance into my class materials fees, as well as making sure the correct type of pellon is available for student purchase. Living is learning.

It’s taken good chunks of 3 days, but they’re all squared and solid again with some new screws, gouges filled in and sanded, three new coats of sealant, new velcro and new weather-strip and I am good to go. Well, as soon as I cut new pellons. Tomorrow I am out and about all day and late into the evening and then Tuesday it’s paper and books, books, books until I leave again. Freshly overbeaten fiber is waiting…

Missing in (a lot of) Action

Busy, busy, busybusybusy.  The physical-realm restructuring has begun in relentless earnest, and it will be constant before I leave, and occasionally absolutely insane as my deadline for completion of various tasks strives to jive with others who are taking part in the process.  Not to mention four other deadlines built-in. It’s intense but ultimately excellent; freeing.  Tonight and tomorrow I take an enjoyable break, to finish up a long-overdue project for an old friend, who I thank for her patience. That is, after shipping out work to the first of nine (or a dozen, depending on whether or not I get specific projects finished) exhibitions before the end of the year. As I was packing, I realized that I’ve just ended the only time period – slightly over three weeks – during 2012 when my work wasn’t / isn’t in a show.  Yes, busy.  Sorry, blog. But hopefully things will become interesting when I begin my travels oh so soon…