Slow fireworks at Lughnassadh

Possibly my favourite place in Chicago.

One of the reasons I haven’t looked forward to blogging the past few months has been frustration with all the medical stuff, with months of limited mobility, and  (I can admit it now) a whole lot of physical pain. But, last week the health care system finally shunted me into a place I can understand and embrace: physical therapy. Right from the start, during my consultation, things began to look up. I learned that, though I can’t heal back to square one, I can arrest this condition, prevent further degeneration, and maybe even improve it a bit. I’m a few days into the daily therapy practice, and I can already feel a highly encouraging difference.

Of course, I’m generating feel-good endorphins, but it’s also simply the action: of the positive energy of contributing to my own healing, of discovering what I can do and how and that I can do a little more each day. It’s not an endeavor that has anything to do with my artwork directly, but it will keep my body able to produce what the rest of me needs so very much.  In remembering that very simple truth (yet again), I’m reminded of my all-time favourite Lynda Barry piece…particularly the aside, “has no memory of having solved this problem before” …and I used to hand out a copy of this to my thesis students regularly!)

I also did all the serious initial groundwork for a fall show of local artists I’m co-curating with Shawn, had a great visit from my old friend and a sweet warm lovely time at a dear one’s big formal wedding, where we were all bathed in purple light at the reception. At home, the summer gardens are full and lush, the tomatoes are ripe enough to begin eating, and now I have a couple of relatively free weeks with only a (possible) bit of teaching, a short road trip, weekly P/T appointments plus another medical specialist, and follow-up on co-curating duties. Otherwise, it’s The Studio and getting ready for an unusual-for-me new experiment / project I asked to be able to do at Ragdale, which will extend beyond my residency.  They said yes. Ragdale always, always, always comes through for me, and I am so grateful and excited to –hey-! be able to step off into the unknown.

Here’s a listing I’m happy about for this fall.  I was pleased to be asked to take this particular show on an out-of-town trial. If you know someone who lives nearby, pass it on. And it will happen in a bindery!

Happy kozo! It’s gotten big enough to begin exhibiting the distinctive bark pattern.

Happy Holly Daze

Time (aided by rather childish Frustration with The Foot) got away from me these past several days, though I am now totally technologically upgraded (at least for the next few months) and the lights are up in the windows and house, cheering us till early February.  I’ll get back to the blahg-ing soon. For now, I wish you the warmest and most heartening holiday season, whatever and however you celebrate.


Again Awesome Austin

Austin was once again fabulous.  I got in late Thursday evening and had a great time visiting with Judy Taylor, Gallery Shoal Creek’s warm, wonderful and utterly gracious owner and director.  She told me that preparator Duane Sanford wouldn’t let her help install the 35* copies of (S)Edition.  The only instructions I’d sent pertaining to the installation as a whole were, “Don’t make them look like art!  Install randomly, as if they are growing in the space.  Have fun!” (Afterwards, he told Judy, “…Random is difficult!”)

Duane did a fantastic job. The books were installed on four walls, two on each side of the gallery’s entry room. It’s fronted by windows and is much larger than a foyer, with a wide entryway.  Because of the reflective quality of the windows, I couldn’t get a single shot of the entire installation, but it was most effective to experience; you were surrounded by sprouting books. I liked the rhythm, and seeing the books on the gallery’s grey/ olive/ tan walls – the depth and tonality of this color is also frustratingly elusive in photos.

I did do just a tiny bit of tweaking early Friday, tilting some of the books so that their covers were more visible. I documented, then had a lovely lunch upstairs with equally lovely Laura Harrison, who works with Judy.  More prep, Judy and I left to change clothes, and then: a massively packed reception. I had a great time reconnecting with Leonard Lehrer and meeting his lovely, funny spouse, Marilyn, and finally meeting Karen Kunc in person, as well as the other artists; seeing folks I’d met in 2008 again, and meeting many, many new people.  Best of all for me: our niece Jackie has just moved to Austin to begin working on her doctorate. She came to the opening too; it was her first ever.  I got to hang out with her in the back while resting my ears (which I usually do alone) between frequent schmooze forays into the huge, noisy crowd.  Excellent…the show got a thoughtful review, too.

Afterwards, a dinner party for 18 at Judy’s beautiful, comfortable home: two dinner tables elegantly prepared by designer Bonni Taylor, Judy’s niece (who once  did a floral re-interpretation of ‘Force and Duration’ for one of the gallery’s shows melding art and design). Delicious food, lovely wine, a fine flow of conversation and a lot of laughter as well: the word for the evening would be sumptuous. I happily collapsed at about 2 am, entirely satiated.

On Saturday, Jackie and I spent the entire day having a total blast. With a list of recommendations, we set out to explore a bit of Odd Austin.  This is not at all difficult to do in a city where you see the slogan, “Keep Austin Weird!” everywhere…do you wonder why I like it so much? We wandered all over South Congress (aka SoCo), with its huge assortment of weird and wonderful shops and congregations of food vans and airstream trailers in the vacant lots; then we went back towards the gallery and had a BBQ dinner at Ruby’s (mmmm), visited Toy Joy and Book People (where we ran into Judy), then took in the not-odd but lovely botanical gardens, and finished up with some fine gelato at Teo’s (my fave: salted caramel). So much fun…and so much more fun to be able to do this all with Jackie!

Sunday, Judy and I left for the airport early enough to thoroughly peruse an exhibition of Romare Bearden’s prints, which not only focused on the works themselves, but on his extensive experimentation within the various techniques, and he pretty much used them all: silkscreen, collagraph, lithography, etching, and offset.  Plates were hung along with the prints.  It was a fascinating show that I’d had to miss when it was here at the Cultural Center earlier this year, and it was great to see it with Judy, not only because I also met the curator and museum director who, of course, know her.

Just to top it all off, below was one of my last sights on the way to the plane. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be an artcar, but Austin does have an annual artcar parade.  Love the bumper, and I do love Austin. Many, many thanks to Judy, Jackie, Laura and everyone who made my visit so great.

* I was supposed to send 36.  I was sure I had but when I had two left over, I began to worry that somehow I had actually made 100, and not 99, and that I’d miscounted at the Morgan. Nope.  That was the only time I had counted correctly!  Right now there are 62 instead of 63 in Door County, 35 in Austin, one at North Branch projects, and one here at home (sigh).

Nine Nine Ten, Nine Ten Ten

I had a fine, relatively leisurely-paced birthday yesterday, with lots o’ love coming from and going back out to folks in real-time, facebook, e-mail, text messages and paper mail.  It felt good, nothing but good. Though we’re still in pesky mercury retrograde and unexpected events had me late to lunch with friend and fellow nine-niner Jamie and her son Bean, and my camera battery died after the second photo, those things didn’t mar the day.

Since I was originally supposed to be at Ragdale, we three went there for a long lovely prairie walk (with a giggly stop at the swinging bridge; you should always have a 4 ½ half year old along to traverse one of those) and tons o’ goodwill; it was just lovely to see everyone and it left me feeling warm, happy and fulfilled.  I also delivered some work for an upcoming show, and chose and sketched and measured an installation space (and an alternate) for a site-specific piece coming up soon, did an hour or two of exploring on my own, and spent a fine evening with Paul, making plans.

For some reason, today was just a nothing day, maybe because the weather has changed and is so much cooler.  I relaxed, which was good, but couldn’t really get moving on anything, so I gave in to complacent non-accomplishment.  It’s more than OK to do that occasionally, but so very unusual in my world. Tomorrow, back to it.

we now resume our irregular broadcast

Photo: Peninsula School of Art

I’m back. The folks at Peninsula School of Art sent these photos of the current Book As Sculpture show and its opening. It’s nice to see it all finished and to see some works that were not yet installed when I left. The gallery put our artists’ statements and info onto open books attached to the walls and / or pedestals.

Shawn Sheehy’s pop-up book pages with corresponding prototypes. Photo: Peninsula School of Art

There’s not much I will say about what recently occurred in the personal realm, except that it was huge, and requires ongoing adjustment. Also, a great deal of good luck was involved and things are essentially quite well, in a “this-could-have-been-SO-much-worse” way. I thank all my friends who sent private messages: it helped during the worst of it, very much.

Dan Essig. Photo: Peninsula School of Art

So it’s a little like my own plans were a jar of sand that was picked up and shaken; it’s all still there, but its topography has been reconfigured.  I did not go to Ragdale as planned; instead, I’ll have my month-long residency in the late fall. I had to change the ending date of a show to be able to do that, but it all worked out well (thanks, Regin and Carey). I got the Texas show packed and shipped out at the very last minute; the good folks at Gallery Shoal Creek are installing around where the work will be till it arrives. They also made this nice page about the work and gave a lovely shout-out to the Morgan (thanks, Judy).

I love this image of appropriately dressed people with Mike Stilkey’s work. Photo: Peninsula School of Art

Before the new residency, I’ll have work in this show, which is work from the museum’s permanent collection (so all I need to do is attend the opening: lovely). I’ll be in another show to celebrate a new book arts studio in Chicago, in the upcoming benefit auction at the Morgan, and I will be doing an exciting site-specific installation which  I’ll wait to tell you about till it’s announced. Just before I head to Ragdale, the slightly re-scheduled solo show will open, and last but not least: I am offering a few fall workshops and a six-week class at Evanston Paper and Print.

Me, Dan Essig, Mike Stilkey. Photo: Peninsula School of Art

And that’s that.  With the bulk of the recent crisis over and all the rearranging taken care of, I’ve nearly three full weeks to go before I head down to Austin, then back to Door county. So today I’m finally finishing the unpacking (I’d left a lot packed in anticipation of the now re-scheduled residency; it was to begin last week) and getting ready to get back into my own studio…ahhhhh…

One of Brian Dettmer’s book excavations. Photo: Peninsula School of Art

A (pleasant) academic interlude.

Paul and I jumped into a family van, complete with family, for a whirlwind overnight round trip (thirteen hours of it in said van). We were the super-proud aunt-and-uncle team at our niece J’s graduation from a large midwestern university (a Big Ten school, whatever that means. Something to do with sports, I think). It was surrounded by vast farmland, the kind of place where the school is much, much larger than the town it’s in.   J received her Bachelor’s degree, was part of the Honors College, and is heading straight to a prestigious PhD program, with funding and job attached.  I’m not going to talk about her or the family here, to guard their privacy, except: did I say we’re proud?

Waiting for it to begin, while the orchestra played. That big while object behind the orchestra is a huge mound of rolled replica diplomas, each about 1″ in diameter.

I can say that I’ve never before been a graduation guest, nor have I been to anything other than arts school versions of the ceremonies; I’ve only either been receiving a degree myself or, much more often, required to be a gowned faculty body* so I found it all interesting. First, we all attended the BioChem Breakfast, which title I (alone) found amusing, and I really liked some of the hallway notices.  The university is so huge that they held back-to-back graduation ceremonies for different areas and degrees for three solid days; we attended the undergrad Natural Sciences segment, which filled a huge indoor sports arena. It was much more formal, straightforward and well-behaved than what I was used to, and everyone knew things like the alma mater songs and fight songs and chants and belted them out in unison.  When they asked the families to stand at the end, the thousand or so students – now alumni – did a ‘wave’. On campus, there were lots of places like research greenhouses I was really curious to see inside but couldn’t, and I was told of lovely botanic gardens, but it was raining off and on. But it was a warm, happy, fun and interesting time, besides the fact that we were so proud (did I mention that?).

*I don’t own my own regalia, and neither do a lot of the faculty in the places I’ve taught, so forms were filled out so that the correct outfits could be rented for the majority of us, and just before the ceremony we were dressed in wrinkled straight-out-of-the-plastic-package gear. Often, my hood-and-gown order went astray, so I was given whatever was left over. I have attended ceremonies impersonating Doctors of  Philosophy, Engineering and Music.  PhD’s have the best hats by far, as well as nice little velvet stripes on their gowns. Apparently, they also tend to skip out on ceremonies. But was I also once a Master of Journalism, which, if you read the blog, you know is truly stretching the truth.

I finished making all the remaining text sheets I needed the night before we left; when I got home, they were dried and shrunken beautifully. Now I am back to a whole lot of studio work and (yes) more admin, and I am down to waiting for just two more e-mails before I can finally publish the upcoming show schedule, hooray!



Once again, someone I love has passed from the planet while I am on a residency: Paul’s mom, Barbara.  She was in her 80’s and had been having sad difficulties since January.  She left along with Michael Jackson, the same day, which made checking e-mail, waiting for news about her, a bit more surreal than it already felt. Her memorial service was organized swiftly, and it was today (Sunday), and I am still here…even if I had packed up and left WSW a week early, as soon as we learned of the service, I would not have been able to make it back in time, driving. Paul talked me out of flying in; it would have been a 24 hour turnaround only to come back and pack up and drive back home.  So, here I am in that same strange place, mourning her alone, trying to honor her for myself and to send my comfort out to Paul, to the family, in some ephemeral way. She was a lovely, funny, petite, but enormously strong lady, and though we will all miss her greatly, I am grateful that she is at peace.

from rock

When Barb took a turn for the worse and I was waiting for news and expecting that I would leave momentarily, in a rather dazed marathon, I finished the big piece. But now that I finally see it installed on a wall (rather than bending over it, or looking down from the ladder), it needs a bit more work. There are also additions yet to come; it’s just a central grouping I worked on (and figured out how to make) here.  It’s an adjustable configuration, currently just under ten feet wide. I worked a little too single-mindedly, though, and threw my lower back out. Badly. One hip is painfully higher than the other. I’m heating it and stretching, but I may need to find a chiropractor. I doubt if I will make anything else new, and I will leave a little early to be with Paul. I’ll spend the rest of my time here prepping for the following residencies; beating fiber, making sheets, using the bandsaw, just busy-ness and practicality. That will suit my current limitations, emotional and physical.