First class (entirely.)

Teaching, or rather being a thesis consultant at home, went very, very well. Working one-on-one as a thesis advisor was my absolute favourite part of the years of grad school teaching, and it was wonderful to experience a brief version of that once again.

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We worked from Thursday morning till mid-day Monday. It couldn’t have happened without Paul’s help as pup-sitter, and the extended-weekend time frame worked for him as well. My ‘advisee’ was able to complete eight test objects and to make five reusable armatures, as well as to gather notes and ideas for more series she’s working on, and ways to further her sculptural ideas beyond thesis. We mostly used the basement paper studio, though on fiber-beating day she spent time in the quieter, warmer, more comfortable second-floor studio, making armatures. We wrapped it all up with a Q & A session on Monday.

The main reason this worked so very well was the excellent caliber of this particular person: mature, focused, inventive and motivated. She  embraced the experimental nature of the processes and was looking for exactly what I could help with in a short, intensive time period: a springboard towards her own further investigations. Moreover, her aesthetic was one I was able to entirely relate to, and she had the astuteness to contact me initially, hammer the parameters out with me, and to find funding for the whole thing. On top of it all, she took Vivi’s daily intense interest in her shoelaces in, um, stride. I wasn’t joking when I told her she would be a hard act to follow for future private study candidates.

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Now, as I segue back into my free year (or two), there’s more to think about. Will I do a similar private tutorial again? If so, I’d want to do so during the summer, when cooking and larger sheet formation can happen outdoors.  I’d also need to set up a firm selection / vetting process.

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In the meantime, I took no photos (it was a private tutorial), so you have to make do with Vivi, who’s busily doing what puppies do: getting bigger. We begin puppy school in ten days.

Here we go: 2016

Happy 2016!

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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.

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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.)

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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.

Hometown and Back Home

I’ve been home since Tuesday and quickly became thoroughly immersed in what I hurried home for: our shared not-blog-able situation which is just beginning to shift into high gear. It will rumble on, occupying much of our time for the next few months.

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This really is a really good show, and the catalog is excellent, with brief essays by each artist.

Cleveland was grand, grand, grand: all of it, the class, the Morgan and Morganites, the friends!  Oh, the friends.  But still I have no words, just huge overflowing gratitude to everyone there in my hometown (friends who reside there and friends passing through) for a time that I can carry within as we go on with our extended odd and sometimes difficult tasks here.

I may not find many words for awhile, but I will try to have images and write a bit, captioning those.

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This is where I asked to stay while teaching, on Tom’s second floor.  I love the light, the space, and waking up to the three koi who live in this fountain. Though they are friendly and stick their heads out to be fed when you whistle ‘Garry Owen’ they’re almost impossible to photograph, never still.  But I like their greeting each morning and evening, very much.

MorganTeach2Above photo courtesy of Lauren Sammon; pretty much the entire class on the first day (a few people were out of the frame).

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The classes all seem to need to start the same way, even though I had several people who were repeating. I do lots of demos, talk, answer questions, and from the first day, odd amorphous shapes begin to appear. The magic is in watching these blobby things develop, get added to, and completely transform over the next few days.

(You can see the Morgan’s Facebook album here. Lauren shot photos almost daily; I didn’t have time for much).

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When the kozo and the color come into play, things begin to get quite exciting. Several people made bark lace to be shaped later; some made bark lace to be cast then and there. I try not to be jealous of people whose knees still function properly!

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At the dye table and in the paper studio; by day 3, people were spread out all over the Morgan.  We were lucky to be the only class running during our five days, so we had it all!

Morganclass3I truly enjoyed working with Radha, who came to develop part of her MFA thesis work; she got some viable prototypes and I will be eagerly looking forward to seeing what happens with them, how the whole fits together.

MorganOceanLike the WSW class, most people came to add something to already substantial practices or to develop specific projects; most left with prototypes and / or components for work to be completed later, which pleases me to no end.  This is Ammon’s main project, a bark lace sea and an abaca boat which will ultimately become an animation.  (On the very last day, a whale’s tail appeared, too). There were many, many colorful bark lace pieces, a series of red bark fists, collages that attained dimension, a series of large abaca-dipped mesh geometric shapes to become an installation, components for arrangements by an Ikebana master and oh, so very, very much more: riches.

MorganFlowahsSome people did finish things; on the last day, Susan left early, all spiffed up for an event, carrying a bouquet of big calla lilies made by re-shaping and dyeing air-dried sheets of abaca and flax.

JulieKiMoNoMorganJulieFriend Julie McLaughlin, whose big beautiful kimono was one of (several) personal favorites in the show, was in the studio making more from the big deckle box; Tom was making some work with it as well. I wanted to, too.

MorganKimono2MorganKimono1Ivey, Eastern Paper Studio apprentice extraordinaire, combined one of her kimonos from Julie’s class with bark lace and a subtle use of dyes, in addition to making several other great things.  This was just gorgeous, both with the light on it and showing through it.

MorganMilkweedThriving Morgan milkweed!

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ASmithpstersThen, after class and leaving the Morgan, a lovely, restorative time at the SmithSanctuary, with message rocks, bee talk, poetry, a trip out for so much great ice cream that it became our dinners (“Our portions are…rather large”, said the waitperson after delivering the giant bowls), stretching, congenial quietness, homemade jam: touchstone time.

GahdenHomeHomePeppasHome, to mid-August gardens needing a lot of trimming back, and burgeoning harvests, some of which have already begun.

ChanceHomeAnd this one. He is HUGE, grew so much; the markings on his coat are changing, becoming more defined; his eyes appear to be changing from bright electric blue to a pale greenish-grayish-yellowish hue.  He is shedding a short, dense undercoat, and he was a total drama queen, yelping and yowling whenever I left his sight for a few days.  We’re back to much-needed training.

Truly home, and balancing.

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I’ve been in the studio for the past few days. I said, In The Studios – both of ‘em!

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2014 wasn’t planned to be this way at all, but till now, every time I tried to get back to my work, something else happened.  It has been almost as long a hiatus as semesters had gotten to be during my final few years at the edu-corp. That’s just wrong.

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But it’s over: now I’ve made paper (some with a new quickie deckle box cobbled together from scrap crate-building stuff) and have spent long blissful hours casting, dyeing, shaping, sewing. Tuesday, I wrapped up this piece slowly (glue, sew, wait to dry, glue, sew, wait to dry), and then literally, to be FedEx-ed out in the morning.

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Dogbane things…

The first book piece of this year. It’s been so good in the studio, I had to post these photos, hoping you can feel the peace and flow…ultimately, what I live for, the rest temporarily fading to background noise that doesn’t interfere with the music of making.

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Alas, the next wee while is full of non-studio tasks. But not for long: lots of early July studio time planned. Lots! By choice, the next show will be almost all new work on my part, exciting for me.

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Oh, the milkweed…

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I’m really looking forward to to seeing images from both Denver shows opening tomorrow, and I admit I am a little wistful that I can’t be there. At Abecedarian, Alicia Bailey has written a lovely intro to the show, and is exhibiting the largest grouping of the diaristic books I’ve been making since 2009 that have ever been shown together, along with (S)Edition, Manifest, O and an earlier work, Blood: Simple. I’d love to see Mary Ellen Long’s work with it, and the many friends, former colleagues, or just plain People Whose Work I Like in the Reading Room. Then, just across the street at CVA, are three larger, ‘non-book’ installations, one that has never before been installed by someone else, with a highly interesting group of artists I’ve not shown with before now.

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But home it is: and there’s great comfort in knowing that every step I’ll take this week will lead me back to the studios: truly home.

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(And on the other side of the country, some sweet fruits of the seeds spread by traveling, teaching…)

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Return to Sabbatical

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One thing that happens when a dear friend dies after you have attained your third score of years is a heightened confrontation with your own mortality; that’s been the subject of several recent conversations among my old friends, those of us who knew Bro.

However, my look at that began much earlier, not in morbid terms, but as a practical part of the shift in thinking that took place during the past year. I had the great fortune during the second half of 2013 to meet and have fertile, pivotal conversations with several artists who make their way and their living outside the academic sphere: some had been there and rejected it, some chose to dip in occasionally, carefully portioning their interaction, and some simply had never considered it to have any relevance to their lives or work.  These were artists from a wide range of ages, and all were thriving. Each conversation had its initial impact, but it wasn’t until the November peace at Ragdale that they coalesced, blended with other lines of thought, and culminated in some strong realizations.

One of those was the fact that, though I had consciously and actively rejected the results of the corporatization of academe in the arts, I had somehow internalized and at least partially had not questioned its markers of success, its dependence on acknowledgement bestowed by others. None of that has anything at all to do with the making of work, nor of living. And so I decided on this quiet year, to focus on what is essential, on questions and decisions: what do I want now, within the means I have, while I still have, with luck, a decade or more of health, mobility and – pun probably intended – faculty? Not a bucket list, by any means, but a honing.

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Not that I’m completely rejecting the outside world (at least not yet); I’ve spent the week working on details of some of the few 2014 events I’ve committed to.  There will be four or five invitational shows; here is the first. The vital exchange of teaching, I don’t think I’ll ever completely be able to give up, but I have cut it way back: just two classes, at two of my most beloved, home-like places.  Here is the first of those (with a nice blurb in italics that I can’t really say is true; I’m pretty sure I am at least second-generation in terms of artists who work with paper.) This class will fill very quickly, so if you are interested, reserve space now.

And out there in that world, I want to point you to this fantastic blog on medieval books, and this excellent new business, with great documentation of processes. (Go, Abby!)

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Oh, why the photos of Lupe? Because she’s important to me, and that fact led to my first decision.

City of Light, City of Magic

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Sadly, I did not take nearly enough pictures: too busy!  Here is a portion of the very full class at work.

Tonight’s blog title comes from Randy Newman’s song ‘Burn On’ from the 70’s (music or lyrics here), which was meant to be sarcastic. But for me his delivery (memorized before deafness) rather succinctly captures the paradox of my strong affection for my hometown and my ‘industrial byproduct’ roots. Even though my early life was spent there during the time of its greatest decay, it was indeed also a magical place, a pleasingly eerie landscape of rust and crumbling past industrial splendor, completely open to the adventurous young whatever-it-was that we were. That magic has changed, but is still present, and it was absolutely grand to be back for a busy week. Highlights were many and bright:

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Jared’s mural on the big shed across from the kozo garden reminds in some ways of Randy Newman’s song,..maybe only because the mosquitoes don’t bite me anywhere near as often as they do Aimee.

Always, always, one is the Morgan itself, and always, always Tom Balbo and also always, Susan, Lauren, Margaret, Jared and all the Morganites.  I don’t think that there’s a single negative personality attached to the place; everyone is happy, helpful and honed in on what needs to happen (even when – even especially when – there are hundreds of things that need to happen simultaneously). The class was very full and totally energetic, and many grand things happened or were begun. Chris Takacs taught a leather-paring class in the bindery at the same time, lots of other paper projects were happening, the marvelous new beater room was steadily being built (it’s larger than my entire basement studio!), auction donations were rolling in and the kozo garden was beautiful, ready for its dedication in September. There was a constant stream of visitors, all of whom received personal tours and attention while all the rest was going on.

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Beater room!  With two sets of big doors installed while I taught.

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Aimee with the odd rolling pin, beginning some joomchi magic.

I got to have so much quality time with Aimee!  She came to stay for three different nights, in spite of being loaded up with appointments and admin, and we ‘camped’ on mattresses in Tom’s second floor gallery; its partitions became cozy private rooms once we stopped talking late into every night. I liked the space so much that I asked to stay there instead of moving up to the fourth floor when that became available. I was able to peacefully stretch almost every night, thanks to Aimee’s loan of her yoga mat, and, though I forgot to take photos, it was also fine to wake up and feed a morning snack to the three koi who live in the indoor fountain (they eagerly pop their wee fishy heads out when you whistle).  Aimee and I talked and talked and talked: valuable, enriching and most enjoyable.  Many of the possible paths she’s uncovering give me great hope for us all.

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Velma taught at the Morgan earlier this summer; in certain ways she was with us as well, as you can see!

Staying with the Smiths for two days after the Morgan class was excellent, next to those stretching sessions and late-night talks, the closest I got to completely relaxing. Lady K attended the class, which was wonderful, and so was all the delicious vegan food she made.  And of course, the easy flow of everything and the simultaneous calm comfort and energy of both Smiths makes the atmosphere peaceful even when things are actually quite busy.

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At the top o’ the stairs, things look different now at the Smiths’ sanctuary.

Seeing some other old friends piled on even more greatness: Sunday evening dinner (and a class-is-over margarita) with Cindy and Aimee, Tuesday lunch and then sitting in the nearby park with Joanne, and thanks to the Smiths and Susan Kelly, Saturday night at the Museum of Contemporary Art, where Jeff Chiplis had some beautiful, wry work featured in a four-person show. I saw more old friends there and met several new, and it seemed like half the class attended as well.  Jeff also came by to visit later at the Smith’s.

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 Cleveland ear-fungi.

I continued to work at the Morgan on Monday and Tuesday while staying at Smith Central, getting the JentelShofirst small colony of Cleveland ear-fungi ready to go. It was too rainy to install on Tuesday as I’d planned, so yesterday, I said goodbye to the Smiths, went to the Morgan and, in overcast,  damp weather, installed ears in a configuration I haven’t had the opportunity to do before, bought some flax from Tom and made some near-future plans, documented the ears, said more regretful goodbyes and hit the road. While I was driving, this show opened in Wyoming.

I got in before the sun completely set last night; this morning, quickly unloaded the car, unpacked the studio and adjusted the beater. Heather and Erin came by to beat the first four of six pounds of varied fibers for some of their upcoming projects; they’ll return again tomorrow afternoon and evening to finish up. I quickly put some of Tom’s flax to soak as well, to beat on Saturday.

Now I have just about five weeks at home before the next round and then: the huge ‘ahhhhh’ of Ragdale.  Lots to do during the coming five weeks, though: projects, webpages, harvests and more, but first I’m taking the long weekend for me, Paul and Lupe, prep and the gardens. I’m loving it all, and very glad to be able to call both Cleveland and Chicago home.

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Some of Elizabeth Mather’s work drying on the ground in the sun.  She took the class last year, and she had a wonderful kozo heart in the current Morgan show, and awhile ago wrote this nice short blog about these.  That’s my only small regret for the class, that I didn’t have time to gather people together at the to reiterate: it’s not so much what you make during the three days, it’s how things develop later that’s important. 

On the other hand (ahem), some pretty great things were made; I just didn’t get to see them finished, as most went home wet. Rachel was a Morgan intern, so her piece remained to dry, and I got to see it finished and its predecessor in the show.  Wonderful!

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Penland Farewell (Already!)

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The class is over and I’m lingering in the suddenly, sadly empty studio for a wee while to write.  Penland never fails to amaze me.  I consider it to be the grandmother of these lovely rich places (each with the considerable misnomer of ‘craft school’ attached) where I have been and continue to be privileged to work.  This class was absolutely stellar and each person, I am more than happy to internally realize, got something very different but equally valuable from it, whether or not that something was expected by me or the participant. I cannot ask for anything better than that; I’m honored, and that is exactly what keeps me doing this.

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Heather, who agreed to be my incomparable assistant again, did make wings.

Here are the lovely women of the group, as drawn by Emily.  Excuse the smudges; I failed to see the flashing light of my alarm clock this morning and overslept mightily (three HOURS!) so I didn’t have time to do the usual morning group goodbye, nor final documentation of everyone’s amazingly varied work at the all-campus show and tell, nor to ask if it was OK for people to be fully identified on the blog.  The smudges are where I’ve clumsily removed last names and the beginnings of the personal messages each person wrote. These two pages are definitely going on my upstairs studio wall when I get home.

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Our session raised $13,000 for scholarships at last night’s auction; I was truly pleased that this book was one of the highest-ticket items (second only to an absolutely gorgeous ceramic piece).  Two smaller auction pieces brought my personal total to a nice tidy amount, and will provide opportunities for more people to benefit from this fantastic place.  Now the entire campus is getting ready for this year’s BIG auction this coming weekend, and I’m happy to have also contributed to that.

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A Book of August

In addition to just the wonderful experience of being here on the mountain working hard and learning and laughing and being surrounded by a village of people doing the same in wood, clay, print, weaving, glass, neon, photography and iron, we also had an unusual treat, thanks to bad weather on the fourth of July: we got the fireworks show on August 3rd! That was sweet and exciting and oddly intimate: maybe a hundred of us as opposed to Chicago’s thousands.

Penland has also sprouted its own species of ear-fungi; I do plan to get that project’s web page up soon, hopefully even before I get home. But here’s a preview: this tree had so many ‘eyes’ that it definitely needed an ear to complement them. With a little luck, the project will continue as I travel on to my next destinations; some recent events have made me even more committed  than I already was.

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This afternoon and tonight are a rest for my ears; in the morning, after breakfast, I’m off down (way down) a twisty spectacular mountain road, climbing out of the Blue Ridge and then right back up to Black Mountain, and a long-anticipated visit with my dear old friend Mary.  Wireless might be a rare commodity for the next several days, but I’ll catch up as I head north to another wonderful place: the Morgan. Right now the mountain breeze beckons, backed by the delicious smell of baking bread wafting up from the Pines. It’s time to say my own quiet goodbye to Penland, to the land itself.