Here we go: 2016

Happy 2016!


I’ll soon be beginning the year by trying something new that is also an old, familiar and favourite way of working. I’m teaching privately, here at home, doing a tutorial / advising intensive with a sharp thesis candidate from an excellent MFA program located in another state. We shaped this by e-mail, she applied for and received funding for it, visited me at Ragdale, and we’ve kept in touch. She’ll stay nearby and work in my tiny studios all day and some evenings.

I won’t violate privacy by writing about it any more than I would write about about a thesis advisee or class if I were in an academic situation. What I will (likely) make note of is the new, experimental component: how teaching works in my small, quirky studios, and how well it interfaces with our daily lives. I’ve been spending my non-puppy time clearing space, more diligently than I would do just for myself. That feels absolutely great, and I’m truly looking forward to this. We begin in a few days.


The rest of 2016 will also be unprecedented: my hiatus. There will be no workshop / class teaching, no applications, one residency, and a very (very) scaled-back exhibition schedule. If I travel (I have no current plans to) it will be for myself. I have written a ‘base list’ of things I want to address. These are not ‘new year’s resolutions’ nor is the list (at all) deadline or production-driven; it’s more about broader concepts I feel I need to tackle at this point in my life. While I’m not going to publish the list, I’m sure I’ll be writing about it, item by item, as the hiatus progresses. (Once again, what I am aiming for does not coincide with much of what artists are taught to do, nor how they’re taught to think about their careers.) I do have some broad end goals, and am already seriously thinking of extending the term to two years. We shall see, and that is also a phrase that sums things up.

As the year closed out, (S)Edition made a ‘best of 2015” list at My Modern Met. I’m quite honored. (Ironically, though, it is a work that was completed in 2009 -2010, which touches on one of the items on my list; time for looking at that later.)


Whatever else 2016 brings, it will also be the Year of Raising Ms. Vivi, which continues to be a joy. She slows me down, warms my lap (and heart), makes me laugh out loud every day, and I’m fascinated by watching her perceptions and personality grow. I wish for you all something or someone who brings those delicious factors into your life.

And now…


A good place to chop up a stem harvest on a hot day, with assistant.

Home a bit over a week now and beginning to feel…fresh, as if this is a new time, a new paradigm. A lot of clearing out has happened indoors, making way for some fine, needed changes. Unpacking happened. A great deal of chopping back and chopping down and a few harvests were completed outdoors. Though the big harvest is past, I did get home in time to eat some tomatoes and more are ripening here and there. The indigo plant has its new home. Chance training goes on daily and mostly well, and of course there’s been inevitable bouts of admin.


I still pause every year as school season starts, but this year it’s with not a single pang at all, just gratitude. As soon as I began to breathe in this no-teaching year, to feel it peacefully settling around me, there were three tempting requests in my inbox. I’ve been contemplating (and constructing some initial parameters for) just one of them: a new reprisal of an old way of working that seems to be falling into place after falling into my lap. I had just barely begun to think of it as a future possibility when I was asked to try: win / win. That’s all I’ll say now but the potential is excellent.


Jalapeño, nigella, lupin, lunaria.

Mostly, my mind is on the immediate future in the studio. Early last week, I managed to quickly harvest the daylily stems on a very hot day (a smaller crop this year, taken about a week later than I like.) Working in small increments during the week they were cut, soaked, cooked, rinsed and are soaking again, ready for the beater today. A fiber prep mini-marathon is underway: the stems plus abaca, flax, water hyacinth root and backyard mulberry to begin a few August-to-October projects. The weather has been fabulously mild the past several days and more sweet days are expected all week, so the late summer studio (which includes the outdoor spaces) is in full glory.


I’ll grow these again; flavorful but definitely mild enough for the other human. This one was 9″ long. It’s a pasilla-type pepper called Holy Mole (which I admit I chose just for the name.)

Out in the world:

Here is an article about Unusually Natural which opened Friday at the Guenzel Gallery of the Peninsula School of Art up in Door County, Wisconsin; I hope there will be photos! And here’s one about An Embarrassment of Riches which opens tomorrow, August 25, at the NIU Museum’s Altgeldt Galleries in DeKalb, IL (I will see this one; two of the other artists and I will be carpooling to the reception and panel discussion on September 10.)

And, if you make books and you’d like to show them, this call for entries opened Friday and runs through September 15th for an October Chicago Artists’ Month exhibition.

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:



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.




…a murmuration…


…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.




The next show was shipped without a glitch, outstanding admin was finished, and Friday night I had a lovely time attending the reception for ‘Constructed / DeConstructed’ where I ran into a couple of friendly former InterArts folks, met the college president, spoke to a drawing class, and had some fine conversations.


Detail of ‘I heard you the first time’ by fellow Constructed / DeConstructed artist Shaila Christofferson.

Only a wee bit of prep and one more outside task remains (taxes, on time for once) and then: I have three full months, from late January to late April, with NO admin and, aside from a day retrieving the aforementioned show when it ends, only a single late-April deadline. Unprecedented! My self-appointed work will be to finish the series (and installation) made at Ragdale, make new work, begin an appealing house project, and get Chance ready to conquer his outdoor fears. Even though I deliberately set this up, I can still hardly believe it. Three months! It feels SO great.


Out in the world, a nice blog mention. Thanks to Green Chair Press and to Velma for telling me.


Awaiting transformation.

And, I was quite sad to learn that formidable former colleague Nana Shineflug has left us, but I know that she surely must be cocooned in the peace that comes from a life lived well and to the hilt. Here is a nice tribute, and here are some photos of her life and work.


Nana taught awareness of the body like no other.  Right now, we’re above freezing for a few days, but if and when the deep freeze returns, I am ready to shelter mine with this, and to keep moving.

Free: from work to work


There was just enough room in the pot to sneak out and snag the seven milkweed plants that survived the summer’s aggressive alley weeding…which one person does with poison spray (ugh).

I almost don’t want to jinx it by saying it, but as of yesterday, I’ve entered a solid four weeks with only one relatively uncomplicated deadline, with every afternoon and some evenings absolutely open to do what I want, to completely self-define what the work of each day will be. (Barring the occasional glitch; Wednesday’s will take me to the genius bar. In a mall. It shall go quickly).


Realizing this feels rather fantastic, a deep intake of breath.


This stretch of time was deliberately set aside to address our situation; but as things have evolved, it and admin and Chance’s training take up the mornings only.  As I schedule 2015 (which so far contains a comfortable three classes and four shows), I’m going to try to duplicate this lovely free stretch…maybe twice, but definitely for a month in the fall, when harvest and fiber prep is a good bit of the work I want to do. And next year, I’ll maybe have the mornings too. It feels so good…


Finished stripping the second type.


This year, I have enough of each to separate the two types of Ragdale Meadow milkweed to see if there is any difference in the paper. One type is shorter, and often has a reddish cast to the stems. The other is quite tall and has already developed a lot of black spots. I don’t know what they are because I don’t see the plants when they are flowering, which is what most guides use for identification, but I hope for some clarification soon, during an afternoon harvest at a generous person’s garden. She knows these things.

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.

Wee bumps in the road

Chance went in to the vet Tuesday to have the bandages taken off his rear leg, where the little useless dewclaw was removed. (Miraculously the bandage was still on, though much chew-frayed). He had pulled open two of the four stitches, which had gotten infected; of course we couldn’t see that through the bandage.  He hadn’t damaged them by chewing, they’d torn from his too-active antics (though as prescribed, he didn’t go for any walks, nor have any training sessions till Monday). We were supposed to keep him quiet, which we did to the best of our ability, but he is a strong, athletic young guy, bursting with energy. So he had a laser treatment, got a new bandage, antibiotics and: tranquilizers.


Which was just as well, because by Tuesday evening, I had started to feel pretty strange, enough that I asked Paul to  take over as handler at puppy class, something I don’t usually do (and the trainers don’t recommend).  The vet, recognizing Chance’s energy and personality, had said, “He’ll heal anyways eventually, go ahead and take him to class before you start the meds, he needs that.”

He certainly did. After nearly a week off to recuperate, Chance was a total, out-of-control rotten brat, though Paul didn’t let him get away with anything. By the end of class, I was a soupy, eye-watering, nose-dripping, coughing mess, and I stayed that way for over 48 hours. I had so far escaped any sort of flu or respiratory problems in 2014, even sailing through three polar vortexes, and yet, as soon as the weather finally got good: wham. I had plans, but everything shut down and Wednesday I slept and slept and was miserable the little time I was awake, though I did do a brief training session with Chance as best as I could: that boy needs it, tranquilizers, flu-ridden owner or not. Paul had to be out Thursday, so I stayed semi-awake, watching Chance’s half-tranquilized butt (I cut the pills in half during the day; the full dose makes him wobbly drunk). At night he gets a whole pill and everyone sleeps and heals. Today, finally, I can breathe and I’m hoping the pup’s leg is healing too.


Why the garden needs (standing-up) fences: we put these down when we found Chance shoulder-deep in mud last month; you can see his impressive hole lower right.  He may have dug out a giant hosta I put in this shady spot last year, but I have more to transplant if need be.

Though a rainy weekend is predicted, very soon I’ll be busy at one of my favorite aspects of life / work, in the garden: cleaning up for spring, feeding, scattering some early hardy seeds, trimming back roses, red-twig dogwood and mulberry, making and putting up a new tall trellis for the clematis, and fencing everything so I can enjoy both pup and plants.

The past few days were just a bump in the road: I’m still liking my life now better than ever.  This is one of the best things I’ve read lately that describes why. It’s spot-on.




…I am quite scattered as the schedule, and finally (!) the season continues to warm up.  And again, grateful for this time ‘off’, which isn’t, really: I never suspected that simply dealing with eight different exhibitions and a few publications (particularly with zero applications in the mix) would be so convoluted and time consuming.  There are so many balls in the air right now!  But another exhibition is nailed down; only three more to go…


I know how we got from this…

There are other things I’ve been doing all along this winter that I haven’t mentioned, too; I’ve written 17 letters of recommendation since the first of the year.  That number is way, way down from the past, as I do not write for academic jobs / appointments anymore, telling each person who asks this simple truth: I no longer have letterhead, and academics are only impressed by other academics; therefore, if I write for you, it could harm your chances, no matter how high my praise.  It’s an unpaid, and rather ridiculous business all round, this reference-requirement glut; and sadder still, it’s something tedious we’ve all just come to accept.  I periodically still need to request them myself, and have written them for esteemed colleagues whose reputations should negate any need for reassurance.  (Back in the academic days, more than once I ended an already tremendous semester workload by writing references for every. single. grad in my department – all for the same, in-house grant). Yet I rarely see this situation addressed, and certainly never as eloquently as Ann Beattie did this weekend. Amen, amen, amen. (And if you’re someone I’ve written for, do not despair: I am not criticizing you, but simply railing against the system here: WHY are we not exclusively judged on the quality of our work? Or even the CV?)


…to this, and it seemed to take FOREVER.

Another recent revelation came from an unlikely source: puppy class. We were asked to track one 24-hour period in our pups’ lives in a written document, to bring to class tonight.  Now that training has begun in earnest, along with regular puppy care, pack walks and maintenance, mine was three pages long.  Good Goddess, it’s a wonder I’ve gotten anything else at all done, and no wonder at all that I’m feeling scattered.


I am still utterly astounded at how we went from this…

But we’re moving slowly forward on all counts, and the exhibitions are sort-of comparable to schooling an adolescent pup: Chance will learn something, perform well for three days and forget everything on the fourth. I’ve learned, too: particularly to be careful what I praise him for.  One night as I worked intently on some exhibtion-writing while he and Lupe played, I didn’t notice that their water had run dry. He picked up the big stainless steel bowl, carried it to me, dropped it at my feet, then sat back with tilted head, looking hopeful. Pretty smart! Of course I laughed, praised him, got up and half-filled it, and put it back in its place. He drank a wee bit, then decided to show me what a ‘good boy!’ he could be, and tried to bring it to me again.  Mop-up time…


 …to this, which seemed to happen overnight, and isn’t done yet.

two interesting webthings

Polar vortexes mean more time on the (new!) computer than is absolutely necessary, though: I did actually kick out all the shock-delayed work commitments that had backed up during January, and even found two things I’d like to share.


The first is a lovely look at the wonderful Jim Croft – and the video is captioned! Jim’s one of my favorite people on the planet; his partner Melody seems wonderful as well.  If I ever did make a bucket list, attending one of their Old Ways sessions in Idaho would be on it.


This article from Penland’s blog seems to go hand in hand, or rather to begin to make a bridge between the old ways and the new planet. And this polar vortex session is finished; we’re above zero today. Though a long-range forecast says we’re due for another in a week or so: then, maybe, I’ll make myself get back on here and get to work on all those web site updates hanging over my head.