Small, growing sparks

Sorry for the radio silence here; it’s been an intense two weeks.

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I went home between sessions, but unexpectedly missed the ZIA Gallery opening. We had a record snowfall for a first snow, about a foot where we live, much more in the western suburbs, much less just a few neighborhoods to the east. But out running errands the afternoon of the opening, a van spun out in front of me and just missed hitting me; I said aloud, “OK, that’s enough.” and stayed home. I did get this little grouping, collectively titled ‘Liminal (Phase Two)’ to the gallery and got to see most of the show a few days before. These were all done at Ragdale while I still had to prop up my knee and limit movement.

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The return to Ragdale for the second session was beautiful with all the snow; it melted a couple of days later. I had completed a piece that I just didn’t like much before the final  days of the previous session. But, I  really liked parts of it; as a combined whole, they just weren’t speaking to me, not even in the way I had originally envisioned the piece doing. I gutted it the first week, struggling, trying different things. Then came all the shootings and all the vitriol on social media; I kept my exposure limited, but still tried to keep informed about what was actually happening, and to read any good suggestions for solutions, while keeping to the studio. The piece began to take on some of my angst and some of my emotion over the uselessness, and I let it; that was the spark the work needed, not to look away from those things, but to allow them to speak. It’s become a small installation. A couple more works are in various stages; my goal is to complete them all before I leave, to take home finished work. Somewhere in there it snowed again and melted again.

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I worked long, long hours, especially last weekend, because I knew I would miss a good bit or all of this one; I went home Friday and just arrived back here a few hours ago. Tomorrow is the big Ragdale holiday party, and afterwards, we grow from a small group of residents to a full house for the final week.

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This was my ‘torso’ for Printwors’ Return of the Exquisite corpse, done before I left for Peters valley last summer. Milkweed on the brain even then…

Friday was the opening of this show at Printworks, with its attendant sadness. I had planned (since last spring!) to go, but had an important appointment beforehand. The timing of that was pushed back, the process took quite awhile, so I also (sadly) missed that opening. But I will make a visit after the residency, and also attend the memorial. Sid was a very nice person.

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Just waking from a nap. She has a pale blue swirl in each eye…

But the reason I missed the reception was compelling: meet Miz Vivi! She is eight weeks old, an Aussie mix, adopted from the same shelter as Chance, but she’s only spent three days there; she was born and raised in foster care. We decided to adopt her while I was home between sessions; we fell for her, hard, even though the timing was not ideal. Paul volunteered to be a single-pup-caregiver during this week to make it happen.  No, she is not a ‘replacement for Chance.’ That is utterly impossible. But she is her own spark, and will grow to become the cure for the dog-shaped rent in the fabric of our lives. And she is so sweet! When the shelter aide brought her to me, sitting on the floor of an enclosure, she came into my lap with tail wagging madly, crawled up immediately to lick my face, and fell asleep in my lap on the drive home. I’ve just spent a delicious, joyful, and funny 24 hours with the whole new pack, and for once, it was a wee bit difficult to leave to come here.

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May Be This Way

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I always love Anne Hughes’ installations. I like this one even better with the duct dots above.

The ZIA opening reception was very, very nice and warm. A surprising and diverse group of long-ago and newer friends attended (including one person who actually saw the announcement in the newspaper rather than on social media. Think of it.) I appreciated the support, and also had a very fine time catching up. I had no time to take more than a couple of quick snapshots afterwards. I remember sheepishly posing for tons of photos, but have only seen three. This shot by Linda M. Barrett is the absolute best of them (it’s one of the things she specializes in, and she did direct me a bit -“To your left. Chin up now!”- which is part of her work and it shows. In the others, I was somewhat sad to see the arthritis so blatantly visible, affecting my posture.)

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On social media, Linda appropriately captioned this with the hashtag: scale is everything!

I got the new work onto the site a few days after the reception.  My hands-down favorite piece in the new series sold. Here is the series, and the news page will link you to a couple of other new works. Done! I also showed some older works and Anne made a great selection from ZIA’s inventory, so it’s a substantial grouping of works.

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For the month of May, my main preoccupation will be nurturing: the gardens and continuing to school my body against arthritis (Chance training goes without saying, and it’s been going well.) Let that be a warning regarding the content of the next few blogs (and most of the rest of this one.)

Monday after the opening was my first garden day. I sat on an upturned 5 gallon bucket to rig a support around a burgeoning peony. Afterwards, I simply could not rise, so I slid off the bucket and scuttled, crablike, to a place where I could grab the house to pull myself up with my arms. That was a bit of a shock, especially since working while standing has been so very much better. I definitely need my body to be functioning more than that.

Last Friday, the day before the ZIA opening, I ‘graduated’ from the spine portion of p/t, with a good, workable and flexible routine. This week, we began to focus anew on the knees, with the added perspective of the spine issues. The therapist gently but frankly reminded me that arthritis is a degenerative disease. So, I need to keep a better grip on it, and I’m very glad to be able to take this time to get there. The hospital p/t will end in mid-June with a blended back-and-knee routine in place, and I’m researching a few additional options to complement it. Meanwhile, yesterday was a beautiful t-shirt warm day, and after a good, calm(!) session with Chance, I did the exercises out in the back yard, and the mat work on the deck, looking up at endless clean spring blue, breathing it with the movement.

Then, the rest of the day in the garden, with this mobility solution, which worked nicely.

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This tiny strip of garden got trashed and made even tinier when the big fence went back up, while I was at Ragdale last fall. Dormant plants were chopped out and tossed into a pile that was under snow when I came home. I found them during a late-December thaw and just threw chunks of roots into the garden or the vegetable pots before it (immediately) snowed again. Yesterday I pulled off dead material and re-planted the ones that had sent up shoots, while clearing up the first of 8 garden spaces. Bits of everything survived, even indigo (!) and I think I see new growth from the young kozo, whose branches were randomly snapped off. Life is good in all its forms, though it might not make interesting blogs.

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The space is one of the few places in the yard that gets all-day sun, so it’s important. 

Out in the world, I was very, very sad to read about the passing of Jane Farver. While at Spaces Gallery in Cleveland, she was a fantastic early supporter, who not only helped me to see the immense value in following my own odd winding path, she also shored it up. I am definitely not the only artist so influenced; she will be missed.

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Blooming for Jane.

Attempting to Spring

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Just checking in. I’m a little too busy. The current work is all tedious admin, so making a blog in small chunks is a nice break between stages. The deluge of paperwork is not due to the fact that I took on a 10th show with an attendant artist’s talk. It’s a local book-related group show, with a great independent place I want to continue to support, and it’s at a not-too-crowded time this fall, so I could not resist.

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Yesterday.

Though right now we’re sadly in the midst of a fat snowfall, we had one utterly glorious day in the low 70s last week: the first Windows Open day of the year, sweet breezes eradicating winter funk. It also melted all of the late-winter crusty grey snow, so at least today’s is a single layer. Even more important than the calendar or weather, the garden is confirming that spring is here, the hardy sprouting early plants making me smile.

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Today only one is still visible.

It was absolutely great to see Aimee when she was in residence at my alma mater (and also to finally see one of her excellent lectures) and to have a long dinner with her and Shawn afterwards; we closed the restaurant.

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Sadly, the walking that day nearly killed my back the next day, but physical therapy finally began a day later. For the next couple of months, I’m there twice a week, and doing changing sets of exercises and stretches twice a day, every day, at home. I got too eager and a (mere) mile and a half roundtrip to the grocery did me in yet again last week, so walking is still curtailed. But muscles are definitely being re-activated and re-educated and I’ve just reached a familiar but still strange stage of cracking and popping all over my skeleton as things loosen up, begin to shift.

Chance’s reaction to the home p/t is nice; all but two of the exercises occur on the floor.  After the first session of alternating exercise with “no,” he does some initial gentle snuffling, maybe a face lick or two, and then lies down quietly, often doing a stretch himself. Animals understand stretching; they are superb at it. Lupe will always look into my eyes and stretch a bit whenever I do; when I stay with my good Smith friends, their cat Mandy will lie down near me and purr loudly in approval of my stretches. Right now, all of us stretching while seeds germinate, plants and sap rise, feels a bit like connecting with the moving of the planet towards the new season. And, the first three of my variety of indoor-sewn seeds have begun to sprout: milkweed! Take that, post-equinox snow.

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Out in the world, all three summer classes are now open for registration, and the next two shows are imminent, all linked in the sidebar, and here’s a nice blog at Secreto de Papel that wasn’t solely about (S)Edition.

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First Freeze

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As it began…

Getting that new roof was pricey, but the timing was most fortunate: the snow came and then the first polar freeze of the winter. It’s been five days; we ran out (with many other neighborhood folks) to stock up on provisions just as it began. The dogs don’t want to be out unless it’s necessary, not even Lupe with her spectacular winter coat..

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During last year’s barrage of polar vortexes, I shut the door on my cold cold office, moved the laptop out to the living room and stayed there, working and watching Chance being a baby-pup. This year, I was determined to keep it open, so in between easy bouts of teaching / show admin and a few site updates (including a new book page), I addressed that. I put up shrink wrap window insulation, got all the extra pink board from the basement studio and lined the lower wall next to my desk with it, then insulated with books, cramming the lower bookshelves on the outside walls full, and moving some boxes of stored paper things to fill in the gap between shelves. Books and paper rule in many different ways, and in this instance, they actually brought the temperature in here up from 48F to just a hair under 60F. Excellent (though admittedly not pretty.)

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Paperbacks in particular are superb insulation because they fit together so well.

(In keeping with my 2015 theme, it was even a Transformation of sorts, though by insulating the walls, further Investigation led me to discover how cold the floors are, located as they are over the only unheated room in the basement. There will hopefully be a Productive day or two insulating the basement ceiling.)

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Working to get Chance used to his new training halter is a part of each day, sometimes twice a day. It’s slow, slow going, but he wouldn’t have posed patiently at the beginning of the week. Hopefully by late winter we’ll be outdoors with it on; now is a good time for pursuits requiring patience, and he’s especially attentive because he wants something -anything! – to do. Moving books off the top shelf to use as insulation also allowed me to adapt to another aspect of winter with a bored young thief. It makes life easier.

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It’s going well, but of course I’m ready for the freeze to end, and hope we have awhile before the next. On Sunday, when it warms, I’ll pull crates out of the garage and pack and ship a show that will leave a pleasant empty area in my storage space till August. I always welcome more space in winter!

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Out in the world, I’m pleased once again to have a detail of my work as the cover for the current issue of Spoon River Poetry Review, Construction / DeConstruction opened at Prairie State’s Christopher Gallery, and Jim Croft and Melody Eckroth put up a new web site with tons of wonderful photos, in case you’re cold indoors, dreaming of book arts pursuits.

The Flow

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December! Things are moving along wonderfully and peacefully in the studio.  I met most of the new group on Monday (one person arrived Sunday night – an artist I went to school with! – and the final two arrived yesterday). All interesting folks, and of course everyone is happy. I went home again, after Wednesday night’s dinner for Thanksgiving, and cooked us a lovely, stress-free holiday dinner: we had things to celebrate! Now I stay put till the residency ends.

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Before I left, I added some color to another piece, and resolved and built a rather complicated odd armature, which is kind of funny because the shape is quite simple. Needing to extract it after casting made it complex. The piece has been asking to be built. I came back Friday at noon and made a fat post of heavy sheets for it.  Saturday was beautifully warm, so there was a long, muddy but lovely prairie walk, then a late night casting and embellishing the piece: so far, so good. There are two more points at which it could fall apart, but that’s how I roll. (Then again, if it all works, the armature is adaptable and re-usable; a series could happen.)

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Now that most of the leaves are gone, you can see the ears from the studio door.

I came back to the Barnhouse wireless near midnight to discover that ZIA sold a significant piece from the group show, as well as a few small studies. Excellent! Sunday, it was misty, drizzly and wet. I did the extensive prep – building a single-use armature – for another floor-cast piece. Yesterday was another late night, casting it in one go. This rather dull list-blog is meant to say that I am in heaven, with only a tiny bit of admin (due this week) to interrupt this beautiful, peaceful flow.  (Today, the sun is out: hello, prairie).

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My world. And a summer-worthy sunset.  Ahhh.

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unusual territory

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Giant mutant potatoes?

The residency’s a day past its midpoint, but I’ve only really been here a total of seven days (I went home for awhile last week. Chance cried piteously when I left again. I also needed to spend a day away and at the computer for outside work that didn’t get done before I came, some of which still needs to be done). I do love simply being here, and the company is good, and the level of physical comfort is as wonderful as always, but I said I would always write about the warts, too, so here it is: in the studio it is a genuine, uncomfortable struggle this time. So, I have few words; I’m not used to this, especially not here. All I can do (and am doing) is to keep trying, keep showing up.

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No, just this year’s Ragdale Ring coming down and being hauled away. 

A few good things did happen; I made new ear-fungi and know how I want to expand the installation (and the original ear survived a ferocious Halloween windstorm). And, I inadvertently made something I never realized was possible: high-shrinkage milkweed. It is incredibly tactile and tough and translucent. I’ll show up and make some sheets of that tomorrow, and hope that state of being that usually comes to me here will finally appear as well.

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Not high-shrinkage milkweed pulp, looking a bit like the interior of my brain just now.

Free: from work to work

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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).

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

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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…

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Finished stripping the second type.

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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.