Laundry Sunday


Those lovely reds faded to sienna browns very quickly, and I’ve been entertained by huge numbers of scuttling leaves in the wind: beautiful.

Laundry has to happen, wherever you are.  After three days of attempting to get to the Barnhouse machine and always finding it in use, I’ve commandeered both of the machines in the Ragdale House basement, in sheer desperation.  It’s a beautiful day, and I’m itching to get back out to the studio, where one more day of labor on the penultimate harvest awaits, but there will also be a necessary run into Lake Forest, once I have clothes. (Am currently attired in an, er, highly eclectic mix of The Last Clean Things, with no socks). Good time for a blog!


Another test piece happened this week for some new work; larger than the first. I’m on the right track but am not quite satisfied yet. Each time, though, they teach me more; each requires three days of drying. Lots of harvesting, steaming, stripping, bark removal and fiber-drying has been happening.  What with these and the fibers awaiting a late harvest when I get home, and two more wonderful donated batches, I am looking forward to a very satisfying amount of experimentation for my four-to-six month ‘sabbatical’ at home.  (There is a show in April, but I do not yet know if that means travel or just shipping).


Socially, it’s kind of a lonely residency this time, though that’s no one’s ‘fault’. I cannot hear anything in the dining room (for some reason, worse than ever, though my hearing hasn’t changed).  I suspect, too, that I may be the first deafened person anyone here has ever encountered on a daily basis.  All of which made me even more pleased for this week’s (quick, surprise) visit from an old friend and long-time residency-mate, a lot of generous e-mail input from new and old plant-fiber friends, and (speaking of generosity!) a sweet, wonderful out-of-the-blue gift from Aimee: the summer 2010 issue of Hand Papermaking, about invasive plants! (A very timely arrival too, as I’ve been working with one, and changed the following day’s harvest accordingly). And it’s oddly comforting in the evenings to see posts on Facebook from papermaking friends who are deep in fall harvests as well: connection!


And the final load of laundry is due to come out of the dryer: soon, the studio, the prairie. They are ever-changing, yet constant old friends, and that is more than enough.


As for color, there is always this beautiful red-gold, just-before-sunset light whenever there is sun; it comes very early now with daylight savings. It’s my favorite time of day in any season; I always stop and go out to bask in it. Now that the shrubby foliage has died back somewhat, I went looking for the original Ragdale ear-fungus, which toppled last spring.  It’s gone, totally, probably by human means, but I like to think of some critter – maybe the fox – making off with it. But what that light did for this old real fungus in the same location was just gorgeous, yes?


Segue: on the Vineyard

When Sandy and I were discussing the upcoming workshop, she said I must take time to spend on the island. I’m very grateful to her for that, because Martha’s Vineyard is a place I’ve always wanted to visit, not only because I love being on islands, Atlantic islands (on both sides of the pond) in particular. I also love – and even have a need – to physically experience places that are steeped in human history. The Vineyard holds fascinating, uplifting history that resonates at my core.


I borrowed and read this excellent book about twelve years ago. In anticipation of my upcoming visit, I recently acquired my own copy. Re-reading it now, not so long after experiencing first-hand how ridiculously easy it is for corporations to blatantly, casually flout ADA laws, is proving to be an emotional event.

For about 300 years on Martha’s Vineyard, due to hereditary factors, there was an unusually high percentage of deaf people (one in 155, as opposed to one in nearly 6000 on the mainland). As the title of the book states, hearing and deaf alike learned sign language along with English as a matter of course in early childhood. Hearing people used sign language among themselves, whether or not deaf people were present; it was simply second nature. As a result, deaf people were full participants in every aspect of island life: like their hearing neighbors, they were farmers, fishermen, shop owners, churchgoers, members of local government and fully present at every social occasion. ‘The deaf’ were not though of as a group, but were remembered as individuals, according to their accomplishments, personalities, professions, and relationships first. To be deaf was simply not perceived as being unusual in any way. “It was taken for granted…as if somebody had brown eyes and somebody else had blue…They were just like anybody else.” Perhaps the most telling of many such quotes in the book is this, a reply by an island woman in her 80s when asked about neighbors who were ‘handicapped by deafness’: ‘“Oh,” she said emphatically, “those people weren’t handicapped. They were just deaf.”’

The history of Martha’s Vineyard definitively points out that the notion of ‘disability’ is something a culture creates by tacit agreement (as discrimination often is practiced as well). Perhaps walking the land and breathing the air of an island imbued with such beautiful history will provide my own last bit of healing, finally obliterating the remaining scars left by sanctioned bigotry. I felt a bit guarded about writing of this, until I read the jacket notes by no less a personage than Oliver Sacks: “ I was so moved by Groce’s book that the moment I finished it I jumped in the car, with only a toothbrush, a tape recorder, and a camera – I had to see this enchanted island for myself.”


Spring is here! And I’m in the studio, making books (but out every day, basking).

Levels of Limbo

This is my current world. (As is still waiting, and keeping a number of others waiting, for a single decision, but that’s another ever-present story). I have a new and profound appreciation for web developers; I cannot imagine how people do this every. single. day. Eyestrain and muscle atrophy prevention are essential, as is just climbing out of the all-consuming screen periodically.  But here is the why  – which I really needed to be reminded of today – from an interview by Barbara Landes:

Q: “You have a large presence on the web. Do you feel this is an important way for artists to ‘keep up’ in the art world today? How is it important to you?”

A: “(Is it large?  I’ve never quite thought of it in that way).  My web presence is most vital to me as a deafened person.  I have enormous difficulty with most of the conventional ways that artists present themselves and network: I simply can’t hear enough in noise to do a great deal of effective schmoozing at openings or conferences. In fact, I shun most conferences because they rarely provide accommodations (such as CART captioning). They are essentially speech-based, and definitely exclusive to hearing people. I don’t use a voice phone; you can only text or e-mail me, so the e-mail link on my site is essential. I use cyberspace to basically level the playing field and to stay in contact. I maintain a web site, a (rather dull) blog, and a public Facebook page.  One thing I’ve been unable to embrace is Twitter…it seems a bit too immediate or intrusive for my preferences, but it could happen someday.

I’m not sure every artist needs it; I don’t believe in one-size-fits all solutions. My work is fairly well represented in photographs, so the medium is appropriate. When I am curating, I need to be able to see other artists’ images and read descriptions, so I really appreciate informative sites, and in turn, I also appreciate when curators or gallerists approach me with a prior knowledge of my work.

However it’s done, it is important for artists to be easily contacted, but if your work isn’t represented well online, I’m not sure this type of presence is useful. (After all that is said, one of the most common things I’m told at exhibitions is what an enormous difference experiencing the work in person makes, and I completely agree.)”

The process of building that contact point is nothing like making the work, either.


Yesterday I had a pivotal conversation via captioned iPhone. Short tests with the app were wonderful, and I’ve used it successfully (and with a sigh of relief) for things like appointments. I really thought it would be fine. But the long conversation was simply ridiculous on my end: the app suddenly became agonizingly slow, misinterpreted words, and froze. three. times. I backed it up with headphones and cranked-all-the-way volume that just barely gave me the speaker’s voice, yet disconcertingly fed back loud, distorted,  delayed echoes of my own. I can do most anything but have an effective phone conversation, so I’m rather frustrated by the fact that so much, so often, seems to hinge on just that.

And now I’m left to wonder: do I become my own arch-nemesis when I attempt to accommodate the hearing world instead of relentlessly insisting on the other way around?

Before and Again.

I’m working on / dealing with a variety of things, and don’t have much to say, so today’s Blahg features visual and verbal recaps.  The visuals show the general layout of the Sensing Language show at St. Ambrose University, shot by Jay Strickland; the accompanying class photos are by Heather Lovewell, Catich Gallery curator extraordinaire. The verbal portion is my answer to one question from a recent interview by Barbara Landes, who is currently doing graduate work at the University of Iowa Center for the Book ; her (excellent) questions are part of a research project. (I’ve answered this question for articles before, but briefly; Barbara kindly gave me permission to publish my expanded, unedited responses). Thanks to all today’s contributors!

Your work changed dramatically when you moved from manipulating books to using handmade paper to create your work. Why do you think this happened?

“I can tell you how it happened: first, my work was already changing before its medium changed, moving away from overt social or political themes and pointed commentary. It was becoming quieter, more contemplative, and I was beginning to compare and contrast human conditions with seasonal cycles in nature. (Why that happened, I’m not completely sure.  Perhaps it was maturity or simply an urge to go deeper, or a burgeoning dissatisfaction with sociopolitical critique).

With that change already beginning, I became interested in working with paper at just about the same time I learned that I would eventually become deaf.  Kozo, the fiber I experimented with first, was simply so eloquent on its own that adding words seemed to cheapen it, to detract from it and lessen its impact.  As I began to experiment with other fibers and to discover the unique properties in each, I made a conscious decision to stay away from conventional language: if I was going to be deaf, and not have access to spoken words, I wasn’t going to use conventional language in my work, either; I wanted my work to reflect my experience.

Usually when I say that, someone will respond: “But…you could still read, couldn’t you?”  Yes, but that’s not the point; our extensive use of non-conventional communication is.  At the same time I learned I was becoming deaf, I also learned that my body or brain had taught me to expertly read lips, without any conscious knowledge on my part. I had simply believed that I was hearing. When the audiologist told me I had been reading lips for years, I still didn’t quite accept it. How could I be doing something so complex without being aware of it?  Then she held a card in front of her face and spoke…and I couldn’t understand a single thing she said. The phenomenon, this completely pivotal, enormous but unconscious adjustment, just astounded me.  Then, not too long afterward, I won the all-college Excellence in Teaching award for full-time faculty where I taught, and was invited to a two-year fellowship addressing the scholarship of teaching and learning, aligned with the Carnegie Foundation.  During the fellowship sessions, we investigated Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (here’s a good brief summary), which thoroughly echoed my own experiences and solidified my desire to make work that focused on and utilized our sensory intelligences; i.e., the alternative ways we ‘read’.

So, while the appearance and materiality of the work changed, and the utilization of conventional language changed, I am still ultimately investigating (and toying with) the act of reading.”

(Speaking of teaching, this appeared in my Google alerts this morning, from a class at the University of Baltimore. I applaud the use of a class blog. I tried something similar twice using an allegedly interactive early learning system; but my efforts apparently were too early in the online age).

Frenetic Fall

Swamped, swamped, swamped, still.  As soon as things get checked off the to-do list, more are spawned. And, more inquiries continue to pop in.  It’s wee bit crazy, and I’m currently having to try and calm that breathless feeling daily.  I’ll manage it, I am managing it, but I’m late on some things.

I ‘graduated’ from knee-related physical therapy sessions this week, with a long-term plan I’m still implementing in spite of it all. That’s essential; I definitely feel it if I don’t. I’ll miss the excellent therapist, but I can keep in touch with questions (whew). New PT starts Monday with a different therapist, addressing a recurring inner ear situation that cost me several days recently, significantly contributing to the current work crunch. I also met my new audiologist this past week, and liked her. The evaluation was not the best but I knew it wouldn’t be. The hearing aids are now reprogrammed for my new level of loss.

So much for my physical plant; it’s old, and requires extra maintenance these days, but it’s still chugging along. That’s a good thing, because it looks like it’s not slowing down for the foreseeable future.  In so very many ways, that’s most fortunate, so now: back to it!

Today’s drawings are by John T. McCutcheon. He was another member of the original Ragdale family, and these panels are taken from one of two original six-panel works that still hang in the Barnhouse.  His old studio is right next door, but not a part of the property. When I was a child, this 1907 piece of his ran in the newspapers annually, over fifty years later,  just as the leaves began to fall in earnest.

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.

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…

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.