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?


Another autumn beginning.


Books begun in August; I don’t know if I will work on them here or just let them look out on the late-autumn colors; they looked lovely in yesterday’s sunlight.

I hit Ragdale on Monday a very, very tired person.  That evening, one returning resident said she almost started weeping when she turned onto Green Bay road. I so understand that. For me there was the lifting of tension I didn’t even know was there, deeper breath, lighter shoulders. Now, I’m in that rare, blessed, calmly excited state. It’s blissful to be here with this clean slate, even though I realized today that my time in residence is four weeks, not five. No matter: any time spent here is purely, simply vital.


The prairie was misty today, the sky soft and pearly as tonight’s rain approached.

There’s already an intriguing test piece made and drying; I’m staying in the Barnhouse tonight to write this, do a wee bit more research, and above all, avoid the temptation to mess with it. I was so intent on the making that I completely forgot to photograph it in progress, which made me realize: I finally am no longer thinking like a teacher first, an artist second.  Yes, I’m truly back.


Long-lens shot across the prairie and into private property; in the manicured areas of Lake Forest, the colors are still brilliant, blazing through the mist.

Here’s a bit of today’s long prairie walk, before the making began.


The wilder prairie and woods colors are more muted now


and linear


or not.


The seedpods I left are open, and doing their job. Some of these wafted away seconds later.


I have visited this old one for years; it’s nearly three feet across now, and probably soon to leave us, having completed its job.


Sometime the fall seems confused; here both bare and still green;


but a bend in the path, and it suddenly returns.


This, I will harvest (and much more of it).


These are bad photos. But, perhaps because I was attuned to vines to harvest, I noticed many more of these young corkscrews in several new locations


and a bit of poetic justice, a vine on vine alteration.

Happy Halloween / Samhain!  For me, it’s also the beginning of the new year. I could not ask for a better start.

…and again.



This one is titled Required Reading.

Here are the one-day installations that happened at Ragdale on Sunday.  It was a great time: so good to see old friends, meet new folks, learn more about some excellent work, and share excitement over new plans together with poignant stories of Ragdale’s past.  For me it was also an opportunity (as was St. Louis) to try some new things, as well as just a huge boost, feeling a bit of what is in store: my fast-upcoming lovely long residency.



Two shots of its interior.  I may be doing more with this…

Overall, I’m pleased with how these outdoor works are developing. The pull in this direction has been strong.  Though I’ve heard (and read) the term ‘interventions’ quite a bit, always in a ‘good’ context, I’m not convinced that’s what they are.  To me, interventions are works that recontextualize what is available at the site: think Andy Goldsworthy.  I suppose these do that in some ways, but in a long, long loop of using often imported plant materials; when they are left to decay, they bring in very little that is unusual to the sites, contributing mostly more cellulose to the soil. But when new and still fully formed, they are definitely, intentionally foreign within the site, gentle intrusions. I like them best when there are no labels, when they simply appear without fanfare. Perhaps they’re better termed ‘apparitions’.


aMT2This piece was originally made to be part of a series, titled Mirror-Touch, to be installed in St. Louis. I abandoned it for the last post’s lichen reprisal piece when the necessary installation method came into question. With Ragdale’s solid cooperation, I tried it out here.  It will likely go further, soon.  

Below are two of several works by Margot McMahon, who had a fascinating story to tell of her early interactions with Sylvia Shaw Judson at Ragdale, well before it became a residency program; that influence is so readily apparent in these works.



There was also a sound installation by Shawn Decker, some of which was recorded on the prairie, and a reading by Dan Vera, who was in residence. (I had met him last week while gathering my bundle of milkweed). And the conference room was filled with wonderful work by Jane Fulton Alt, including photos, encaustic works, and two beautiful books (one published commercially, and another fantastically effective handbound collaboration with Teresa Pankratz).  All the work was based on the annual controlled prairie burns; and a video was continuously showing above the conference room fireplace. All the works had such a direct connection to this place, showing its enormous influence.


I also brought That’s Life back home; it was created here.  During my brief talk, I forgot to also point out a piece that Alice bought to be permanently displayed at Ragdale, which lives just a few steps away.

Alas, the substitute camera I’ve been using gave up the ghost just after I shot Margot’s works; it took a great deal of sheer stubbornness to later extract these photos.  I ordered a new one yesterday!

And that was the last of the 2013’s public tasks until ZIA’s group show opening in November. I’m breathing in, sleeping more, and planning harvests and new experiments: five weeks of bliss ensue soon!



Here and Now

Now I can bring the Blahg into the present! Or close. Ragdale is: Ragdale, as superb as always, but spectacularly painted by October.  It’s absolutely glorious to be IN autumn every day, not fleetingly observing it from a car or train window in regimented rows of city blocks.

It is odd to only be here for two weeks, and a lesson learned is that it takes virtually the same carload of supplies and equipment as it does for my usual month; the only difference being smaller quantities of brought-in fiber.  Already the residency has passed the halfway mark!  Probably any other blogs that happen will be photo-only.

I’ve harvested  a big batch of milkweed from the Meadow, leaving the seedpods. Half is prepared for pulping, the other half stripped, cleaned and dried for later. The last thing I will do before I leave is harvest autumn dogbane.

I’ve got multiple projects going.  This one (the main project, to me) looks like a departure, but really isn’t, all that much; stay tuned.  I’m trying to nudge drying times along (the October sun isn’t very effective, but we definitely have wind) to have one completed, situated prototype before I leave. This will eventually become an ongoing project; the prototype will tell me what refinements (if any, she says hopefully) will be needed, and I’ll continue developing it in Vermont.

Sunday, I will open the studio for this event; it won’t be the exhibition-type open studio I’ve done in the past, I’ll just keep working and open the doors.  I suspect I’ll be making sheets or will reserve some other relatively neutral activity for that day; I need quiet and privacy when working with color or shaping the final look of a piece.  If you’re in Chicago, come on out!

Work and Wealth

The pictures show how it’s going around here; I’m very happy.

I found a stash of old winter milkweed and stripped it, leaving the grey bark and black spots to be included in the paper. It’s cooked and ready to be hand beaten as needed.

The afternoon sun (sun!) makes the bronze beauty glow.

There are buckets of hemp waiting,  processed two ways; half came out of the beater at 90 minutes for its marvelous mottling, and the rest stayed in to be overbeaten: dark but translucent, high-shrinkage, tough.

While I’m doing all this, I’m working: a (currently) e-mail based, paying project that’s also great fun with a fun, great partner, and still working to take care of us here at home.  Not that all this papery stuff isn’t work; it is, in fact, my work, but it’s also a source of quiet joy, simultaneous contentment and excitement.  So is a visit to my art supplier, above…

…especially when that comes with lunch with a good, dear friend to talk over big, big news, coupled with a long visit to another dear nurturer, and the surprise of seeing an unexpected young friend in an old familiar place…and is topped off by this gorgeous, uncharacteristic February weather.  Life feels so fine and full right now (and it’s all brought on, one way or another, by my work).

And after today’s harvest is stripped and cooked tomorrow, five (really six) fresh pulps will be ready to go, to be mixed, matched, experimented with, shaped. I also filled a big pocket in my bag with unexploded seed pods to play with at a later time, an unexpected find so late in the season.

The University of Dallas has published photos of the Paper in Space exhibition: it looks like a lovely, rich show…I’d love to see it in person but I’m happy here and now, which makes me a very wealthy woman.

Really, I should blog…

The lower prairie looks like a margarine or laundry soap commercial. Some of these are 15 feet tall!

…but, since I am only having this single residency this year, mostly photos will need to suffice for the rest of my time here. The first group has gone home but one, a new group has arrived but for two, who are coming only for the second week, our last.  We had a fun night and afternoon of viewings and readings for the first group, but at that point I had nothing to show. I had a second week of struggle with leg-related and a few other issues. Though I did get work done in spite of it, it went much slower than I wanted to.  I did not go to a doctor. The ankle improved and I removed the brace, but two days later it annoyed me by starting to swell a bit again. So it’s still wrapped but it is healing.

Yesterday, I reached A Great Age. The Birthday was grand: it was heralded two days before by an absolutely marvelous package from Aimee, containing (among other great things) a lovely hanji scarf which surprised me with its warmth; I will be wearing it this fall (which is on its way).  On the 9th itself, I woke early and got the walk and PT out of the way in time for lunch with Paul, who magically dispelled some of the non-leg struggle by reminding me of a few essential facts (and he brought some good things from home as well). I took a totally delicious short afternoon nap, then finished the penultimate piece in the studio, where I was visited by a large class of architecture students and their professor, and later, by two curious deer.

I SO wish I’d had the presence of mind to photograph dinner!  The ever-fantastic Chef Linda made things I love: her famous mango salsa and savory grilled salmon. She had asked earlier if I wanted a cake, and I declined. So, instead she piled delicious crisp sweet black watermelon cubes into a cut-glass, stemmed serving dish, decorated it with flowering sprigs of mint, and topped it all with a pink sparkly star-topped candle on a skewer…just…perfect (and utterly delicious). Ahhh.

These are (finally) all done now.  So are the second shapes for the piece; tomorrow and Monday, while the last two finish drying, dye tests, experiments, fun…

The milkweed harvest will be huge!  This is only one patch: fat & healthy plants…plus I have a waiting bundle of imported-from-New-England milkweed (Thanks, S).

(Earlier) tonight; and now: goodnight.

(Yes,  I will remember, today, in the prairie teeming with life that existed before us and goes on without us, life that kills only to perpetuate life.)

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.


It’s Thanksgiving evening.  This was tonight’s sunset beginning. If you celebrate, I hope yours was warm and wonderful; mine surely was.  I got to a good stopping point in the studio earlier tonight, and thought it would be great to come back to the house and catch up with a blog. But I’m not feeling wordy; I’m still full from the holiday feast which was at lunchtime!  So, here are some shots of what’s been happening the past few days:

Colors have been tested (and tested, and tested) and resolved…

…systems have been devised and implemented…

…patterns have been made…

…and utilized, thanks to a lovely visit to Pam Paulsrud and her North Shore bandsaw, on Tuesday.  I sanded these late into the night, but Wednesday, I hit some sort of wall.  It was cold and gloomy and rainy and I never seemed to quite wake up.  I painted them, though, and wrote this: “Wild wind out there, what’s left of the big bluestem whipping around frantically, first clockwise then anti.  On the porch, the two empty rocking chairs oscillate madly.” Then I gave up, went to bed very early and slept for many, many hours. This morning, I woke fine and refreshed, and ran out to buy pies for the feast, then to the studio for a wee bit.

Chef Linda SO completely outdid herself! (And that, my friends, is saying something).  My new fave: sweet potatoes with chipotle. Some residents had gone to family or friends’ celebrations (I definitely missed mine, but I am thankful for their understanding…I didn’t want to miss this!) But still we were fourteen with many guests; champagne toasts, great talk, the infamous turkey butt (long story), and a game or two…fantastic!  (And the fridge is unbelievably loaded).

Some folks went out to second feasts elsewhere; in the late afternoon, I headed to the prairie to try to walk some of mine off…and at the end of the walk I was rewarded with a glorious sunset, and by seeing a fox.  (I thought I saw him on two occasions earlier in the week, but was too far away to tell).  Today, he crossed my path three times – and ran past the studio.  No other creature moves like that, and he had the most gorgeous bushy tail…beautiful.  Then, the studio till about 8, with no desire for dinner, whatsoever.

The Thanksgiving sunset turned everything purple-red.

And now I’m all set up for my personal feast of color tomorrow and Saturday…the privacy screen makes a great drying rack (it’ll be protected).  Every day at Ragdale is a feast; I feel so very blessed to be here right now for two feasts upon feasts: today, and the holiday party coming up next week…

Sunday studio

I realized last night that when I leave, I will have been at Ragdale during every month of the year.  Dark November skies are beautiful, the autumn scent of coming snow spicy, bracing, as is the brisk wind. The prairie is deceptive at this time of year, stark and muted in the long view, riotously vivid in detail.

I have my eye on this big gorgeous wasps’ nest: papermakers.  It’s waaaaay way high, and if it falls while I’m here and survives, it’s for me.

I’ve begun to occupy that space I covet: I am not thinking in words, though an intense, rich, flowing language is everywhere, a symphony of images, tactility, scents, association.

I’ve always been baffled by artists who complain about ‘the isolation of the studio’. It’s the very situation I crave.

Give me a large daily dose of that isolation, unspoiled land to observe, and like-minded people within easy reach, and that’s when I most come alive.

Those are all the words I have. Here’s how it’s going: