Harvesting, still

I am in the middle of my first kozo harvest!  There’s been quite a learning curve, good to have happen this first year while the harvest is small. It started spontaneously yesterday, to keep me from worrying about the Bro, who did not arrive Tuesday, and virtually disappeared for two days (he was taken with a nasty cold / mild flu, knocked out in bed, a situation I understand all too well lately! He’s improved enough to get in touch last night and this morning and will arrive tonight).

I was a bit squeamish about cutting at first, but equally eager for the fiber.

Our long shears need sharpening; I’d have liked cleaner cuts. I couldn’t resist leaving one long thinnish young stem; if I regret it next season, I’ll let you know!

Separated into fat (above) and lean (below).

I am used to working with slim stems from milkweed and dogbane and the like.

I decided to steam indoors, since we can always use humidity even in the early winter, and my outdoor hotplate is good for cooking fiber but I wasn’t sure about steaming.  Our kitchen is mired in the previous owners’ admiration for the 70s, and we have a horrid old microwave holder / hood built in above the stove (with a nonfunctional ‘venting’ fan that, if it worked, would simply blow the smoke / steam out into the kitchen, not outdoors). In order to fit between the burner and the hood, I had to cut everything down to 17” (a little over 43 cm). Unbelievably, the entire tree fit into my large enamel stockpot. The steaming kozo smells like an odd herb tea; not unpleasant.

I steamed for several hours last night, but way, way, way too gently: the bark didn’t ‘shrink back’ and there was still fiber left on the test stems (I scraped it away and saved it); it’s also probable that too much steam escaped the foil / towel lid as well.

So, this morning, I devised another solution, and now have the flame higher with more water. We shall see!

In other worlds, Diane Whitehead, a current Detroit / former NY artist I truly, truly enjoyed meeting and hanging out with in Vermont (who really, really needs a web site: hint), sent a gorgeous harvest of 16 photos of the Gihon River ear in situ, taken after I left. The snow hit Johnson too!

These are two of my favorites (as is the first photo). Thank you, Diane!

Other bits of abundance are rolling in as well, including a .pdf copy of (and permission to post) Richard Minsky’s Book Art column titled Without Words, from the lovely editor of Fine Books & Collections, Rebecca Rego Barry.  I am truly honored by Richard’s introduction to the Q&A; you can read it here -click the first link – if you’d like. Thank you, Richard and Ms. Barry!

(Just checked the kozo: the new steaming arrangement is working much better: stay tuned! Hopefully, tonight this bin /bath will be full of stripped fiber.  Then the bark-scraping fun begins…)

Days of Thanksgiving continue

I’m home, and though I did take Sunday for an all-day, no-alarm Giant Thud, I still have a week of busy-ness and overlapping events (all of which I’m grateful for) before I begin truly settling in for the winter, and quietly begin to process all that’s occurred this year.

First, the art that happened in Vermont:

Here’s where the ear was installed (just one, because I’m not sure my bit of structural jury-rigging is going to keep this one any more stable than the first).  Initially, I wanted them to be on dead trees only. I was at dinner at one point, thinking aloud about how I was to differentiate between dead and live trees in late November. Vermont Studio Center co-founder Jon Gregg was at my table and said, “You are in Vermont.  People drill into live trees all the time.” And so I spent Wednesday afternoon hanging out over the river, grateful for all the tree-climbing I did as a child.  I was too good with my dyeing, and the ear side blends into its setting, making it quite difficult to discern from across the river.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all.

I might like this a little better this way, but still remain somewhat unconvinced.

These two are in progress still, a few more things to be added to the tall one, structural work on the smaller.

I packed the car up Wednesday night after open studios, documented the ear location Thanksgiving morning, then had a lovely, sunny drive, skirting the Canadian border to arrive at Velma’s warm, wonderful North Country sanctuary. The day was just perfect: sunny, not-cold, a spontaneous meadow milkweed harvest, a tasty dinner for four with even tastier conversation (which I could hear ALL of; excellent after a month of meals in a room with 50+), and Velma and I talking, talking, talking late into the night and resuming in the morning. Just: wonderful. Also to see so much of her work in person! I wanted to stay.  I left with generous gifts of milkweed, flax and cedar fiber, a perfect packed lunch and this:

my own ‘witches’  brew’ – eco-dye bundles (my first ever!) of linen and paper –  to be opened in a few days, to extend the day’s warmth and friendship whenever I look at them.  On a rainy drive heading south to be funneled onto interstate blandness, I marveled at the connections the internet allows us, once again.  In an earlier life, Velma and I would have been neighbors (just before our paths diverged, and I chose art school, a partner I am still friends with acquired acres in the North Country and built a house there, where he lived for many years).  And yet, Velma and I met anyways, for which I am very grateful, as well as for meeting her sweet, smart, intrepid companion Wendy: border collie love and wistfulness on my part (she is a bit camera shy up close).

I hit some nasty weather, lake effect snow/hail and nasty winds coming off Lake Erie, all the way down from Buffalo NY to Cleveland.  At one point, a long line of us were doing 25 miles an hour with flashers on, and I decided I was being stupid, and that I would stop as soon as I saw a motel, but by the time I did, it had cleared enough to just become an annoying, no longer dangerous drive. I gratefully arrived at Cindy’s late, and we, too stayed up late talking, talking, talking, and made some tentative summer plans.  She didn’t see my note asking to be woken next morning, which was ultimately good; I slept a couple of hours longer than I would have, which I was thankful for during the drive home.  Then: the bank, to FINALLY deposit the check that had sat uselessly on my desk all month in Vermont, a quick stop at Busta gallery to pick up my (thankfully packed) work, and a visit and lovely homemade-by-Lady lunch and talking, talking, talking at the Smiths‘ (where I forgot to retrieve my hearing aid case, which is thankfully a reason to return – as if I need one!)  I really, really wanted to stay at Velma’s, Cindy’s and Smiths’ (and to stop at the Morgan and stay too) but I was also very, very grateful to arrive safely home, and for the fact that I’ll be staying put for a good while now.

Yesterday, I delivered the work to ZIA gallery for this: the opening reception is on Saturday, the same day as the Ragdale holiday party (where I’ll go, quickly, first). ZIA gallery director (and artist) extraordinaire Anne Hughes was packing things to be shipped to Miami for this…and a portion of (S)Edition is attending!

Lupe can also be camera-shy up close, but she has not left my side for more than a few minutes since I returned.  And now, today: I’m sending some things off to Australia, hanging up the wee seasonal lights, and The Bro arrives for a week of Our-Own-Early-Winter celebration: more abundance to be very thankful for.

Wrapping up (in) Vermont

It is cold, cold, cold!  The studio is warm, warm, warm (I was actually sweating a bit today in my long vinyl apron), but my room has definitely NOT been, except for Thursday, when I wrote up a request. I got heat that evening and went to bed early, to read and luxuriate in almost 62 degree comfort.  Friday and yesterday I’ve come in late at night to find the house pleasantly heated, but when I open the door to my room, it’s 10 or more degrees colder. There’s no one to fix that on weekends.  It’s bitterly cold out there tonight, and I am dreading the return to the room…it’s likely to be another three-fleece-sweatshirt night, with the covers over my head to keep my scalp from freezing. I’m SO glad I bought that cheap-o fleece blanket (tiger-printed!) my first week here. I also have two VSC quilts, and the sweatshirts, but still: brrr. So I’m staying here in the warm and writing a blog, postponing the inevitable.

Why they needed all the tweaking. Took an entire afternoon & part of an evening.

The ears are now all tweaked and only awaiting dye and sealant, and unfortunately, a bit of new structural help.  This week I had the disappointing news that the one at Ragdale hasn’t weathered well, but I was able to see exactly what happened thanks to a photo sent by the lovely Jaclyn Mednicov, who’s been in residence all this time (and just left; she went to visit the ear before she did, which is wonderful).  I can prevent it occurring again by simply adding a bit to these ten, and I’ll replace the Ragdale one when I get home (and will build subsequent ones a bit differently).

Meh. Didn’t know if it would work (did), and didn’t know if I’d like it (don’t).

So, in the last few days I redesigned the internal structure of future ears, made another experimental ear, which worked, but I’m not crazy about. I built a new book structure, which is currently awaiting its pages, which are drying (along with the pages for another book, if their colors dry to what I think they’ll be).

It has some possibilities like this…maybe.

Today was spent making sheets for the two books with my sugeta, first milkweed and then kozo, using up all the prepared pulp I brought with me except for the stinky abaca and a small bit of now rinsed and non-smelly flax.  The studio was so warm that I went and got a bucket of ice from the kitchen after beating kozo, to keep the vat (with its bit of leftover milkweed and precious formation aid) cold enough for decent sheet formation. The ice melted immediately but worked beautifully. Sheets are drying everywhere. I wanted barely-there milkweed sheets and pushed my luck with the thinness a bit too far, but they will still work very well for the new book, and I won’t have to feel any regret over tearing them.

Tomorrow and Tuesday are for book-building, ear-dyeing (maybe only the one that I’m leaving here), ear-installing and, absolutely: laundry. Wednesday, pack up and load all but the artwork. Wednesday night, final open studios, then pack and load artwork, then it’s up early Thursday, to say farewell to Vermont, and head out on the northern route to visit Velma!  That will be just lovely.

I will miss this river.  I love it. Though I had to buy a fluorescent orange hat I will probably never wear again to walk along it: it’s deer-hunting season.

All the Ears

And here they are.  I’m out of flax now, except for a bit reserved for tweaking, i.e. repairing holes left by inserts and anomalies caused by shrinkage.  They dried much, much faster than the initial one at Ragdale, so I’ve pretty much spent the past week just building them; the molds were in constant circulation.  There are 10, out of just under 3 pounds of flax. Next, tweaking, then dyeing and coating. And then?  Who knows: I’ve got prepped kozo and milkweed (and very stinky, awful abaca I may just atypically toss out rather than try to salvage), but I am (also atypically) feeling at a bit of a loss, at least today.

I’m still having a rather difficult residency. But, like the first week’s illness and the election, that’s not caused by the residency itself: VSC is an absolutely wonderful place to be; it’s dedicated to us. I’ve been dealing with outside things, some requiring painful soul-searching and decision-making, in which none of the options were entirely satisfactory, as well as sad news of an untimely, sudden passing.  I’ve been steadily working nonetheless, but during such situations it can be a bit isolating to be surrounded by brand-new acquaintances in very different (Hey! There’s another party tonight!) moods. I’m so grateful for the internet and its instant connection to those I love and trust.

I never get tired of watching this river. Busy, swift but peaceful, ignoring us.

Today I considered leaving 3 or 4 days early, and beating the holiday traffic home (the residency officially ends the day after Thanksgiving, so that’s tempting and prudent) but I also know that once I got home I’d regret not using this time and space, so: it’s time to get in touch with folks along the road, make definite plans, and then get back to work. (Hmmm..milkweed and kozo, kozo and milkweed…)

 Frost makes me think of my waiting kozo harvest at home.

(Oh, I’m changing the blog: first-time comments will now be held for my clearance. I don’t think this will affect people who’ve been commenting all along, but if you post one and it doesn’t immediately appear, that’s why. Don’t worry!)


All Ears

I am cautiously proclaiming myself well again; even the fever blister is gone (and I am so relieve to stop tasting the camphor in the effective but awful topical med).

It’s been Almost All Ears here, slowly carving, handbuilding, casting, breaking down and beginning again, but I now have four viable molds of different ear types and have begun the much more fun activity of actually casting the pieces, and thinking about what else might be made during the next two weeks while ears are drying.  The response to the project during slide night on Monday and last night’s lengthy open studio crawl has been excellent. I had wanted to make two more smaller molds (or rather a single mold with double ears), but I am out of plaster and so is VSC; we’ll see if I can talk someone out of a quarter-bag or so.

I’ve met several very interesting, fun people; some will leave tomorrow and a few new folks come in, but the bulk of us are staying on.  I did pretty much lose two days to the election, All Eyes fanatically glued to the computer, unable to look away from Huffpost’s live election results (ultimately better than I believed possible, with ALL the idiotic ‘rape’ candidates defeated and SO many fantastic women elected). I lost the next day to recuperating from staying up till 3:30 to see the president’s acceptance speech (I gave that day up to laundry as well, sewing some ear inserts while waiting in the laundromat, so I did accomplish something)..

There is a benefit that’s coming up next week for an incredible organization in Illinois: Equip for Equality. Read their about us page to learn what they do; it’s invaluable. They are tireless advocates for all disabled people in my home state. The benefit information is here, and if you scroll down, it includes a donation link. If you can, please support their important, relevant, necessary work.  I’ve done so by donating this piece to the auction, and writing the caption to accompany it:

“Too often, the key factor that is perceived about someone with a disability is the  difference, either in the way we look or, in the case of ‘invisible disabilities’ such as deafness, the inconvenient differences in the way we must be interacted with. The vast root system of our humanity, intelligence and hearts remains out of sight.”

Please help Equip for Equality continue their considerable efforts to rectify that.

Wonky but intact

My heart goes out to everyone affected by Sandy; Facebook photos (which have fast become more accurate, candid reporting than any corporate media outlet) are devastating.  Here in northern Vermont, we pretty much escaped with just winds; friends in Cleveland, 500 miles from landfall, did not fare as well, with Cindy posting some truly incredible footage of the 24 foot waves on Lake Erie (eating away at her cliff / yard), and virtually everyone I know there without power for days.

I like how this was built; a wee lesson about getting around obstacles.

It makes my troubles seem tiny and whingeing, but I’ve had a rough start to the residency; that dizziness I last wrote about may not have come from the weather.  I had a sudden, nasty relapse beginning Tuesday morning and spent 22 hours knocked out sleeping (sans food) and coughing, coughing, coughing. I finally felt able to sort of gingerly crawl to lunch yesterday and food helped, but then I had to excuse myself from the first residents’ slide night last night (I basically bolted out) due to an ugly, uncontrollable coughing fit, went back to bed and woke this morning with what must be a giant fever blister on my upper lip (I’ve not had anything like that manifest itself for over 20 years).

Dinner for roof birds.

So, today after lunch, I drove 60 miles roundtrip for serious cough and blister meds, Ricola drops and some things like a warm, cheap blanket and a strainer so I can make cowboy coffee in the mornings.  There used to be a grocery / drugstore in Johnson (also a lovely organic foods / remedies shop), but they’ve gone. I’m kicking myself a bit because these are things I have better versions of at home that other people sorely need, and money’s tight because there’s no branch of my bank  in Vermont to deposit the check I planned to live on. But I need to beat this illness and be more comfortable in order to be productive and honor my Fellowship’s donors.

Another disappointment was missing meeting Linda Cunningham in Montreal; we’d planned that for awhile. She’s gone back to Calgary now, taking with her the bottle of cask-strength Macallan she offered to share! Now that would have gone a long way towards comfort and cure. But these are all small inconveniences; I’m so grateful that I have a home to go to at the end of the month, and that I have even managed to get some work done: another ear cast (with stinky flax: I did remember the oxi-clean, which I’m sure my studio building mates are unknowingly grateful for) and another clay ear built and ready for plaster. And no matter what else is going on, I like – very much – being in a place that displays serious “Moose Crossing” signs.

A studio window gift from the last resident.

Outrunning hurricanes

Unbelievably, I am in Vermont.  I pulled up outside just in time for dinner after 12+ hours on the road yesterday, something I should not do and will not again; my feet and legs were still vibrating unpleasantly when I went to bed hours later.

Hurricanes and Halloween.

Wednesday, I wrote the last blog and caught up with all sorts of paperwork (electronically), and notified Vermont Studio Center that I would probably not be arriving till Monday, though the session began Sunday.  On Thursday, I was finally well enough to make it out of the house, still slightly bleary; I ran delayed errands, delivered a lot of artwork and picked up a couple of lovely items I bought for the studio, thanks to Evanston Print & Paper‘s generosity. Friday, Paul and I addressed the house (which I am sorry to say was absolutely disgusting; when I return, we’re having a guest for a late, weeklong delayed Thanksgiving celebration; now it can be kept decent for that) and I re-packed, switching out things from Ragdale for what I plan to do here.  That evening, I had a lovely visit from and impromptu dinner out with Gail Stiffe, who was visiting Chicago post-conference. We both discovered that we would be back at the Morgan the very next day! I offered a ride, but she had already booked a bus ticket.  I got only a few hours’ sleep so I could leave early in the morning, but was delayed; didn’t leave till 8 am, braced myself for horrendous traffic…and there was…none!  No traffic at all and I made my fastest time out of town ever: 38 minutes. (It was Saturday, and I didn’t even realize it; that’s what being knocked out for several days will do for you).

Behind the studio.

I got to the Morgan and put 2lbs of flax (I had none at home) to beat in the red monster beater; the Morgan folks had kindly soaked it for me overnight.  I had a great time talking to Susan and Tom and heard more about the conference and made some future plans; it was lovely to be there as it always is, for any reason. I beat Gail by an hour.  I drained the flax down to fit in one bucket (tossing out most of the hemicellulose, but I am casting with it, not making sheets).  On the way to Ohio, I kept getting text and social media messages, saying I was heading towards Hurricane Sandy, so Susan checked out the predictions for me. It seemed prudent to do the entire drive Sunday, instead of stopping overnight as I’d planned. I drove to Cindy’s and we only had a few minutes’  visit; she went out and I was in bed by 8 pm (which wasn’t hard to do; I was mightily fried by then and not capable of anything else); up and out early and a long, nasty drive, with Sandy pushing lots of rain and wind in front of her: rain from Ashtabula, Ohio to Syracuse, NY; advance high wind all through Vermont, rocking the car.  I was so tired (again) I didn’t even unload the studio last night; did that and set it up today (and snagged the last half-bag of casting plaster, woohoo!).  Now, this evening, we’ve got our predicted Sandy-related winds; spectacular gusts out there, and we’ve been told what to do in case of a power outage.  I’m wishing safety to everyone in Sandy’s path!

Hello, Sandy…

(Just as a side note, because of my damaged ears, I can be extremely sensitive to rapid pressure changes in the atmosphere.  All day, I’ve been a bit dizzy; now that the winds have arrived, I’m fine…)

Roof birds and Sandy…

Excellent Advice

I’ve never been a huge fan of abstract expressionism. During my first foray into art school in the 70s, a final project required that we make a painting in that style.  Annoyed, I propped a four-foot square canvas against my wall, loaded my brush with color, placed it between my toes, and painted the entire thing with my feet. The professor was fervently ecstatic about the piece, and placed it in contests; it won two awards and sold for $400. I thought (and still think) that was hilarious. (I don’t remember if I ever told him about the feet).

Joan Mitchell was one of the exceptions to my general indifference; something in her mid and late career works spoke to me, in an exciting language of of color, texture and vigor. Then, when I received my BFA degree, Joan was selected to receive an honorary doctorate and I fell head over heels. She sat onstage amidst all the pomp and flowers and immaculately suited officials, clad in her grubby work clothes and a pair of paint-splattered sneakers. A prim, pristinely-coiffed historian began speaking about her life.  Each time the historian got something wrong (quite frequently), Joan muttered, “No, no, no”  and interrupted with the facts that, quite honestly, only she could know.  Finally, exasperated, she leapt up, pulled the mike to herself and bellowed, “OK, forget all that!  Go paint. Paint. JUST…PAINT!”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a stellar example of the gap between the (often career-building) brouhaha that surrounds art, and the simple truth of being an artist, a maker.

Pretty much how my brain feels at the moment…

I started writing this last week, in honor of the very pleasing fact that I have been awarded a full fellowship for another residency at the Vermont Studio Center, specifically through the Joan Mitchell Foundation. I am truly impressed.  But I’m publishing today after being involved in an exhausting contretempts, forcing more tough decisions on my part, and making me mightily tired of that ridiculous chasm between artist and art world. I just want to make some work, and that’s what I will do for the next few days: “Forget all that.”

…what my brain needs, and what some Making will do.