The Processing Begins

Home! I got in Friday afternoon, and have been decompressing with happy Man and Dog: the Pack is together again (admittedly, one of the pack is not quite unpacked yet). This first summer trip has been (as Velma wished for me!) something of a watershed; wondrous.  Both my destinations far exceeded any good things I might have anticipated even in my broadest imaginings, and the road itself was rich, easy, calm and warm.


A short stop at Chataqua Lake.

There is so much to process, to write about and also to privately ponder and grow into, and a lot of portioning-parts-of-it-into-media, too: blogs are forthcoming here and at MakerCentric, plus website updates and a new page to be added as well. (I have just about a month’s break to do that in: foresight in planning, for once!)

Carota TBalbosis

Finished just before I left: industrial vegetable, species Carota TomBalbosis

But first and foremost, HUGE thanks are due to the warm and wonderful folks along the road, without whom this would not have been the amazingly all-round positive experience it was. All were at places and with people who are touchstones for me, places that also feel like coming home, and there was one wonderful gamble as well.


First, Tom Balbo and the Morgan. It’s always both comforting and exciting to walk into the Morgan, whether you’re going to be there for ten minutes or for weeks. When I e-mailed to say I was stopping by to pick up my beautiful new half-size bal (a gift from Paul, via Aimee’s work with her connections in Korea, shipped to the Morgan earlier) and wanting to get flax, Tom immediately asked if I wanted to stay overnight.  Oh, of course: yes please! That’s always a huge treat; just seeing what’s new in his ever-fluctuating museum / studio space on the fourth floor.  That would have been absolutely wonderful as it was, but Tom’s spontaneous kindness literally saved me from a faux pas of my own making, and allowed the entire trip to happen without what would  have been a major troubling glitch. I can’t (ever) thank him enough!  Here is a nice recent feature video about Tom and the Morgan.


New 5lb beater at Tom’s, made by the incomparable Helmut Becker.  There’s a window in the roll cover!


The soon-to-be WSW Compound is progressing nicely.  Kozo will be grown out front; beautiful.

The next day, I took six healthy young kozo plants to Ann Kalmbach and Tana Kellner at Women’s Studio Workshop; a gift between dedicated handmade paper producers and perpetuators, from the Morgan to the WSW ArtFarm. I was more than pleased to be the delivery person! I’d thought I’d simply be stopping for a night in one of WSW’s spare resident / intern rooms, but instead, I was surprised and very happy to be Ann and Tana’s guest: a delicious home-cooked (and much of it home-grown) dinner (with Anita Wetzel’s kind and witty company as well) and breakfast; with great, fun, wide-ranging conversation, and a long after-dinner talk about Scotland, looking people and places up online with Tana as they came up. Ann and Tana are there now, in a breathtaking, remote setting! I am so excited for them both (and I just received a gorgeous lichen photo from Tana, who’s already out hiking!)


Scottish lichen, uploaded fresh this morning: just…wow.


The 12 noon ferry heading towards Vineyard Haven, shot from the 10:45 ferry from Oak Bluff.

I made it to Haystack on time, had a glorious two weeks, drove down to catch the boat and had another fabulous four days at Seastone Papers on the Vineyard: those experiences definitely require their own blogs, ASAP!  On Tuesday, lovely Sandy Bernat shepherded me to the ferry back to my car, parked in Falmouth, MA. I drove till I was tired, then pulled off to find a motel. That happened to be in Corning, NY: I slept long and deeply, and then spent a nice few hours at the Corning Museum of Glass. It was much better than I anticipated, fascinating with live glassblowing and flameworking demos (they do these on cruise ships as well!) by articulate, precise craftspeople with nicely miked headsets and a good broadcast system: I could actually hear them! And featuring some rather amazing innovations in glass, as well as its history, chemistry and stories, and a huge collection all housed (of course) in a very glass-y building, below. It was a most interesting, relaxing stop before the final two legs of the trip.



The Church Entryway

The last but never, ever the least stop, was with Kathy and Steven Smith: they call their place (wherever they are) the Church Of Not Quite So Much Pain And Suffering; that is, actually, not a joke. The calm, relaxed and peaceful – yet always intellectually vibrant – energy of the home they’ve so willingly shared with me so many times let me do the final Cleveland-to-Chicago run carrying that peace they create within me.  Once again with their encouragement, I stopped for an extra night, stretched, relaxed, and renewed my body and brain. A thirty-year-plus friendship through wild and sometimes rough times and now this ripening: riches.

And through it all, behind it all, at however far the physical distance: Paul. Missing me but encouraging and supporting me, happy knowing that I am happy, having my discoveries and adventures.  When I arrived, there was even a welcome-home gift: these handmade fiber-beaters, beautifully balanced for my hands, turned from hard maple.


One thing I don’t need to process: I know that I am a fortunate, grateful and wealthy woman.


Receiving blessings at the Church Of Not Quite So Much Pan and Suffering 

Home, Town, Cleveland

Peace everywhere, especially here.

The weather has cooled considerably but the pace heats up as of today; tons of prep to finish.  I’m spending quiet last moments at Smith Central as the dryer works on my laundry, then I move to Tom’s to the Fainting Couch (which I have yet to see), a ton of prep and studio set-up, an opening, and a full class in the morning.

5lbs kozo, 5 abaca…

This baby is almost ready to go: 20 lbs!

Cleveland treasure: the view from Cindy’s porch.

For the transit of Venus.

It’s been so, so good to have this sweet, not-rushed hometown interlude, and time to get some of the prep out of the way, and to visit with new folks, people I’ve known for 30 years and more, and a town I’ve known for more years than I care to name.  Many many thanks to Smith & Lady, Cindy, Jeff and DCB, and to all the Morganites. And here we go.

Cleveland treasure.

This floor in the beautiful new bindery space is done; here it was yesterday morning.

Kozo cooking (and later rinsed) in the fresh rainwater.

These are for all of us.

And now…

…and its opposite.

You’d never guess what’s out there beyond that wall…

Today was my first full day at Arrowmont.  Things went a wee bit haywire before I left; I’d originally planned to leave Thursday afternoon and spend the night with friends in Indianapolis, but that didn’t happen, so I drove here in one go Friday.  And, due to the  haywire-ness, I’ve had to cancel two visits to old friends that had been planned for ages, while wending my way between here and Women’s Studio Workshop. Instead, I’ll immediately return to Chicago for 10 days to take care of business.

Yesterday’s drive should have taken just under 10 hours but took well over 12, due to a chunk of 1-75 that was missing (looked like might have slid down the mountain) outside of Knoxville, and then worse: driving through Pigeon Forge on a Friday evening.  I can’t even begin to explain; I’m trying to forget.  But we are in Dollywood Territory, and what that has become is INSANE.  Giant ‘attractions’ that look like half of the Titanic, packed in next to thousands of others like enormous King Kong figures with glowing red eyes, popping flashing animated signs everywhere, Shark Attack!, fake mountains obscuring the real ones, and traffic to rival a Chicago rush hour. Gatlinburg, which I remembered as a sleepy little mountain town from way back in time, is now like Pigeon Forge’s even cheesier sideshow. I am so, so very sad for the dignity of the beautiful, haunting Smoky Mountains themselves. But when you turn in the driveway to Arrowmont, suddenly, you are in a small peaceful haven, a different universe. One step out, though, and it is immediate, total tourist hell and there are multitudes, thronging the sidewalks, choking the roads. Food everywhere; none of it real. Corn dogs, fudge, taffy, deep-fried Oreos. I actually ate at a Subway, because at least they had a tub of squashed avocados, some shredded lettuce and flabby pink tomato slices, the only vegetables I saw.

One of those dormers is mine.

But tomorrow night, Arrowmont begins feeding us; most of the instructors and students will arrive during the day. Somehow, I had it in my head that classes began at 9am on Sunday; no.  There’s a short session at 7:30 pm. and it all really starts on Monday. I’ve met 4 of the folks in my class; 3 are working here. And friend Kerri is here, working for six weeks, getting a show ready!  Sweet!  So is the little Valley / Voith beater: it overbeat abaca beautifully in just 3 ½ hours today; perfect shrinkage and translucency. With luck, I might not have to go back out that driveway till I’m headed home.

Report, Revolt, Reverie

Friday, I dyed all of the first color pattern (99 pieces).  Saturday, I mixed the dyes for the second color combination, dyed the first bits, and had a visit from a friend I wanted to encourage to apply. We went for a prairie walk, saw a hawk, took a quick detour to a wee pond and surprised a great blue heron. Then I dyed all but the last 12 (largest) pieces.

Both the Ragdale dryers broke down the day before Thanksgiving and I was out of clothes, so Sunday, I was up early, finished the dyeing, packed up my laundry and went home in the afternoon. I had fun with Paul (who made dinner) and Lupe, beat a six-hour load of abaca, drained it and packed up a neat small load of vats, moulds, deckles, felts and my goofy but functional and portable infomercial-based ‘vacuum table’ invention thang. When I went to switch my second (final) load of clothes to the dryer, I discovered that our washing machine had suddenly broken: no spin cycle. ‘Twas the Great Thanksgiving Revolt of the Laundry Machinery, apparently. I wrung everything out by hand and watched a silly movie while it took three cycles to dry, and spent the night.

This morning, shortly after everyone commuted back to work after their long holiday weekend, I commuted back to Ragdale with my clean laundry and pulp. The rest of today I unpacked, set up the studio for the assembly phase and began that, then lost all my fine post-holiday diet intentions to Linda’s melt-in-your mouth homemade gnocci, stayed in and wrote a blog. This blog. The Barnhouse dryer was running.

I can see the end of this piece, and finally, rather than the rather unpleasant brain noise I needed to constantly fight during the last two years’ worth of residencies, while I’m working on these task-phases my head is dancing with images of what might be next.  I’m looking forward to two weeks of serious play.  It’s all good.

Marvelously Meteoric at the Morgan

Lauren Sammon made this great image of (S)Edition in its entirety, from her own fabulous shots of the show. I love it.

The tip of the iceberg: approaching the Morgan on 47th street.

This entire summer is a whirlwind, moving so fast that I’ve only been able to lightly skim its varied surfaces here on the Blahg.  And so it is with my three (not four) days at the Morgan, a place that I’m more and more impressed with each time I visit.  It’s the people: Tom Balbo, its executive director, first of all, and Susan Kelley and Lauren Sammon and everyone else there as well. Like Women’s Studio Workshop, it has incredible, positive energy, and manages to feel like home at the same time.

I love this photo of Aimee sitting in her newly-built traditional-style Korean vat:

I got in late on the 29th (after a grueling thirteen-hour ordeal in Chicago the day before) and wrote the last blog; the next morning I woke and began overbeating fiber in Tom’s studio, just behind the kitchen.  Tom came to fetch me and we began another load in the sturdy red cast-iron powerhouse of a main studio beater at the Morgan. Aimee was there (ray hoo!) and almost immediately my old friend Jo stopped by to see the show and we both got to see and handle Aimee’s hanji in all its manifestations, a revelation after seeing the photos over the last two years; amazing material, incredible variety!  John was making watermarked Morgan sheets in the paper studio, and when I took Jo over to observe, he generously had her make a few sheets, something she’d never done before. I think she’s hooked; she was late to work! During it all,  I took care of my class prep, and then Aimee and I went out to a big Vietnamese dinner and catch-up fest; so lovely.  I drove her back to her hosts in Shaker Heights, and then got back to Tom’s studio around midnight.

Saturday, up early and over to the Morgan an hour before class; two participants (who had driven in from Michigan) were already waiting when I got there.  I put the first pound of kozo on to cook, and then met the diverse group of 12 people in the class: a person who had never made paper or any kind of artwork before, established artists, papermakers, teachers, professors, medical doctors, book conservators, art students…a broad, eclectic but highly enthusiastic mix!  Lots of demos the first day, a papermaking session, and then only a couple of hours for experiments, but a surprising range of them occurred.  While class was going on, Aimee and Morgan folks were working on the hanji studio, Morgan board members and representatives of Cleveland and Cincinnati arts organizations and other folks came through: bustling!  And the class flowed on, intently active amid all the other activity.

Some of the first day’s experiments drying.

Six vats and draining stations for twelve folks: very nice! Makes a lot o’ paper, fast. (Shot Saturday after everyone went home).

I had an errand to run on the west side after class, so I took an hour to be deaf, and drove two routes through town, experiencing the strange layering of time I always do in Cleveland; without really trying, I passed nine places I had lived. When I returned, the amazing Tom had all of Pamela Paulsrud‘s portion of the Listening show down and packed!  So we ate dinner from the Morgan lunch fridge, and I began packing my portion of the show, with Tom helping; then he drove Aimee back to Shaker while I stayed packing, and he came back to help and to get me back to the studio, as there was some problem with the security system.

A great surprise: friend, Guild of Bookworkers officer, conservator and book artist Chris was in the class!  She’s also taught at the Morgan.  It was a blast to see her and catch up, and I liked the kozo mask…it’s to become part of a book project.

Sunday: up and in and some class folks were already there again, making paper!  We looked at the previous day’s experiments, I did the last demos (dyes), then hung around to answer questions and help as folks went to town, using the entire final day to do whatever they wished to with the materials.  Everyone was utterly busy! And that left me with some time to shoot photos. Even though it was Sunday, still there was an amazing amount of other activity going on around us.  About two hours after lunch, the questions had dwindled off, so I told folks to come to the gallery and ask them when they had them, which they did, while I began taking down the rest of the show.  At 3:30 we wrapped up and cleaned up in another whirlwind, the class left and everyone at the Morgan pitched in and zoom!  The show was packed and loaded into the big van, the materials were sorted and mine were packed and loaded into my car, Susan and I figured out how to work a wee sheet-metal brake for the hanji project, and Aimee and I had fun brainstorming a different solution by drawing all over the protective paper on one of the big class tables, just like our old times.

Then in yet another layering of time, Aimee and I went to visit Cindy Barber and then the three of us went out to a fun (if odd, food-wise) dinner with a bottle of Australian Shiraz, then I dropped Aimee off in Shaker where we said goodbye (snif). I drove a different memory-laden route back to Tom’s studio, and packed up the suitcase I had there.  Monday, up and out and I followed Tom and the van across Ohio and Indiana, he followed me through Chicago, we unloaded my work and he followed me up to Pamela’s house in the northern suburbs where we unloaded her work and had home-made, home-grown rhubarb pie and then said goodbye for now; Tom went to pick up some type cases to take back to the Morgan the next day and I went home to a very happy dog and large man.

I took some kozo shots in the thriving Morgan garden: first harvest will be in late fall!  It’s beautiful at every stage, and bugs love it: my ankles are covered in bites.

Regrets: I did not have time to do all I wanted: I did not get to visit Jeff, see the Smiths or DCB, and I so, so wish I could have stayed for Aimee’s hanji class.

Today, little else but unloading the class stuff, a delicious nap and this long but still only sketchy blog. I’m home for a whole week, to get ready for this:

…PLUS this.  And while there was no review of Listening, someone sent me this blog, and there was a blog at Publisher’s Weekly (of all places!), and then Crain’s Cleveland Business picked up on that one (final item) – too late for people to go see the show! The whirlwind continues, and though it is a tad chaotic, I have to say: if this is the New Life, I am liking it even with its uncertainties.

Over The Moon

Did you see last night’s moon?  I was out walking under it, but without the camera. It was  a perfect slim bright sickle, but a horizontal one, describing the bottom third of the circle, the whole of which was outlined by the palest tiny blue line here in Chicago. Yes. Gorgeous.

My test sheets are PERFECT.  Absolutely perfect rate of shrinkage and translucency! The one on the right is what I was shooting for; the one on the left is the result of yesterday’s beat. It’s a tad thinner, so it appears more translucent. The darker color is not due to the beater, but is simply the result of a different lot of fiber.  This batch of abaca will allow me to FINALLY finish (S)Edition.  I’ve had all the covers made for nearly a year, but had no beater access to make the last of what’s needed: 132 text sheets for 11 copies, and 66 larger, heavier sheets to make the final 22 stems. I have bleached abaca on hand, so I’ll beat up a pound or so of that and mix it in to lighten the color – it won’t be  the first time I’ve had to do some tonal fiber blending during this long project.  But, the shrinkage and texture were my main concerns, and those were perfect on the first go, and I am absolutely over the moon about my beater!

I’ve been so over the moon about fetching it and getting it set up that I’ve neglected to shout out about two important things from two very important places:

First: You can buy this 2009 book!  And, you can support the only visual arts residency program dedicated to women artists in the US by doing it.  It’s part of Women’s Studio Workshop’s annual online auction.  Bidding opened on March 15th, and continues through April 15th.

Bid early, bid often, please – if not on my piece, you have 65 other artists to choose from.

Check it out and get ready to bid HERE.

(So far I have no bids and I am (snif) devastated).

And,  if you’ve been reading the Blahg for awhile (thanks!) you might remember how much I truly enjoyed a transitional residency at Catwalk in June 2008.

I was over the moon (and quite a bit closer to the moon) about using this fantastic octagonal tower studio, four stories up atop a high cliff overlooking the Hudson River and the Rip Van Winkle bridge. It was this peaceful, lush environment that allowed me to develop the original sketches for LISTEN, and to conceptually solidify the series I’m currently working on.

Catwalk has just launched a brand-new website; you can read and see more about this beautiful and unique place, and about its founders, Purcell and Jim Palmer, who share their wonderful home with artists HERE. Congratulations, Catwalk!

Éirinn and Abaca go brách!

I’m beating my first batch of fiber on Saint Patrick’s day, which seems entirely fitting.  I’m starting with overbeaten abaca, because I’m so familiar with it (and because I need it!)  Everything looks, feels and (as far as I can tell) sounds exactly right. In about four more hours I will pour a sheet and will know what rate of shrinkage I have tomorrow morning. Wonderful!!!

The wearing of the green patina, as my personal St. Patrick’s parade swirls by.

Saturday, while working hard on the web site, I missed reading a volunteer beater help e-mail!  Alas, the window was only for that day, but I thank Mr. R anyways. So, Sunday was more work on the web site, which is working now except, apparently, via Internet Explorer (sigh), and I actually cooked our feast as well: corned beef & cabbage & leeks & potatoes, because Paul and I have radically different schedules today. Monday, a long day of meetings downtown amid green rivers and fountains, and then home. Kurt came by again to help, we got the tub up on the base, and I spent the rest of the evening adjusting and bolting it all together and hooking up the belt and turnbuckle and finding the leveling.  Yesterday, the beater and I had two great long visits from old friends, more exciting plans were made, and then I scrubbed out the tub and ran a load of water through, getting rid of all the carborundum grit and dried ten-year old pulp, adjusting and re-adjusting the belt tension while that happened. Finally, I put a full load of abaca to soak overnight.  And here I am.  I cannot describe how good this’s yet another long-held dream come true. But maybe my face shows it!

How I hear what a beater is doing. (And in this instance, how I discover I really need to get a haircut).

Pádraig meets Picasso.

Foggy, Soggy

…that’s how it is out there today. But at least it’s foggy and soggy and springlike, and things are poking up through the debris in my garden. (Like Velma said, that doesn’t mean we won’t have another snow.  I can think of multiple snowy Saint Patrick’s Day parades. But I get to ignore that possibility today).

I spent two days prying an amazing amount of pulp out of the wheels on the beater, then removed layers of rust with wire brushes and steel wool, then coated them with WD-40 and greased the ball bearings, so they’ll be protected, will roll properly and lock in place.  Then I cleaned lots more pulp off and assembled the base, and hit a brick wall; we need a third person for the next bit, to help hoist up the tub and hold it in place, while I scurry around underneath and jiggle the legs until they’re aligned enough to insert the bolts. (The beater’s a bit taller than the newer Reinas, and the bronze is heavy). Everyone is out of town or busy, so that will need to wait till tomorrow or Monday, when two friends return. All Monday, I need to be in a long meeting.

So, I got busy and planted seeds to start for the gardens and went grocery shopping and did other domestic things that we’re always a few weeks behind on; shipped out another piece to a group show, and this morning, decided to finish re-formatting the captions and publish the web site as it is now, reflecting all the work I’d done before the road trip.  I’ve been at it all day, and iWeb is just kicking my ass.  It’s refusing to include things I’ve added, and is completely ignoring some of the galleries; everything works and looks fine in the application, but just will not publish correctly.  Grrr.  I did enough fudging to make it acceptable, and am leaving it for a bit.  When I’m ready to do the scanning, I’ll go back to it, and re-build the galleries if need be.  Now, back to domesticity, and trying to not think about beating fiber!

These frustrations are minor compared to what some friends are going through; particularly someone whose partner is being deployed to Afghanistan. I’m thinking about you all.

(Next day addendum: I solved some, but not all of the problems by re-publishing the entire web site late last night).

Who’s Who (and Why)

The beater and I are back in Chicago.  It was a very, very fine trip, if a bit physically exhausting.  Five consecutive days of driving was a bit much. On the last leg of the way home, across western Ohio and Indiana, I kept recalling a comment that was made about this being a solo trip, and how untrue that is. I was also marveling at the enormous kindness I encountered the entire way. The fact that I was so impressed made me realize that a larger journey is still in progress, that I am still slowly moving out from under the long shadow of the past few years of concentrated negativity and ill will.  Still. And so, I want to acknowledge these folks for giving me the gift of even more support than they knew:

First, thanks to Dave Reina for his utterly thorough (and zealous) restoration of the beater, his good company, and for treating a small-potatoes, DIY-type, strapped-for-cash artist client with just as much (maybe even more) friendliness and courtesy as the big-budgeted institutions he deals with regularly.  He cheerfully gave me an entire Sunday, and it was an easy, relaxed, highly enjoyable and informative day; I felt like I was hanging out and working along with someone I had known for years and years.

Dave ‘signing’ the beater – signature below.

Thanks to Shannon at Carriage House for coming in on her busy Sunday to get my small pick-up order ready, and to give me some  advice on some of the materials.

Thanks to Tana and Ann at Women’s Studio Workshop, who, when I said I’d like to stop by on my road trip, generously offered me WSW’s hospitality. I had a fine time and excellent conversation at dinner with them; the fact that I’d never been to the great local restaurant made me admit, “I think I was in shock when I was here last summer,” and to realize how much that was true, in hindsight. I had more fun talking to Kristen and Terez and current residents.  It was wonderful to have the comfortable, peaceful surroundings of WSW as a resting place, bookending the drives into and out of NYC – in addition to the pleasure of getting to visit one of my favorite places on the planet and seeing some intriguing work in progress.

WSW Paper Studio orchids

Thanks to the Smiths in Cleveland, for their fine hospitality, for offering me their spare room, and also for encouraging (and convincing) me to slow down and break the trip into a much easier pace. I am so very glad that I did, and that I got to spend time with them.

Thanks to Cindy for her easy patience with my constantly-fluctuating, unpredictable non-schedule, for rearranging hers so we could have time together, and for saying, “If I’m not home, the key is [here] – just go on in, take a nap, whatever you need.” I didn’t take her up on it, but those words had an impact; and they began to truly trigger the reverie that had begun lurking in my consciousness at WSW.

Frozen Lake Erie on a warm spring-like day.

Thanks to Tom and the fine folks at the Morgan Conservatory for their enthusiasm, friendliness and compliments and shared excitement over future ideas – and for insisting on packing me a road lunch!

And on the home front, thanks to Paul for so very, very many things, but in this context: for helping me get off to a good start, for dealing with the fridge-removal folks, for installing a dedicated electrical line for the beater with his friend Pat, who I also thank; and more thanks to Paul and his friend Kurt for their help in moving the guillotine, and tonight, just a few moments ago, carefully wrestling the bronze tub assembly down into the basement. It wasn’t easy.

I am a very, very lucky woman.