Travelog Photo Blog

A quick few shots o’ what I’ve been up to for the past few days…

A peak in the Big Horn mountains that helped explain their strange silhouettes.

It was gorgeous up there, and cold and windy.  Saw snow, lots o’ alpine wildflowers, moose, elk.

Looking down at rain in the Big Horn Basin, on the west side of the mountain range.

Looking down from the east, miles and miles later, at where I’m headed on the red road.

It rained all the way across Wyoming, but I went to Devil’s Tower anyways.  The rains cleared just as I got there, so I got to hike around it (and got this great shot above; the clouds are appropriate for the mysteriousness of this place).

In better light.

Red cliffs in Black Hills, redder after rain.

Pit stop

One of my favorite places on the planet, the Badlands of South Dakota. It was so good to see them again.  Especially because the two roads I wanted to take into the Dakota Black Hills were closed because of storms; rangers made me turn around.  So, I spent longer here and I was glad.

The part of the Badlands called, um, the Yellow Hills. With road & car for scale, tho the hills are on the small side here.  They go on for like 60-70 miles, into the Sioux res.

Rainbow and splattered windshield grasshoppers on the great plains.

Classroom made entirely of corn (a mural of The Teacher as an ‘Everyday Hero’ in appropriate medium, at the rather disappointing Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota).

My last Western sunset for awhile.

Moseyin’ on out

I think this was Sunday night. I will really, really miss these incredible sunsets.

Well, it’s over.  Tomorrow we leave Jentel.  The studio’s empty, except for me and my MacBook, the car is loaded (and how) and I’m about to go to The Last Supper, which the lovely Jentel folks are making for us.  Two of us are gone already; Andres left last Sunday before I awoke (he left me a great note; it’s so fine to know good poets) and Robin took off this morning.  When I went into the residence last night to have dinner with everyone, they laughed, “Wow!  Melissa came out of the studio!” and so I explained about my reaction to Marilyn’s passing.  It’s been a great time here, otherwise, and this was a very fine, fun, companionable and understanding group of folks to be with.  This part of Wyoming has grown on me and I will re-apply here.  But, alas, we have to wait a couple of years before we can.

Tomorrow, I’m heading about 80 miles further north and west, taking a ‘scenic byway’ to go to the Medicine Wheel, which is, as far as I know, America’s only stone circle (I’m not counting CarHenge, built of upended cadillacs, somewhere in Oklahoma, I think).  It seems essential to see the Wheel after the visiting the stones on Orkney and Lewis.  Nina and I are having dinner and sharing a motel room in Sheridan for the night, then she’ll fly home and I will wend my way east, stopping at Devil’s Tower, in the Black Hills, the Badlands, and anywhere else I feel like stopping. I think, just for the hell of it, I’ll visit the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.  Somehow, that seems a perfect last stop before I return to the Day Job for a time.

This is what I got done.  Some of the sheets on the platform in front of the (S)Edition copies were still a little damp, so I spread them out there while I disassembled the drying rack.  Somehow it reminded me a bit of Joseph Beuys.  There are enough text sheets for a little over half the remaining copies of (S)Edition.  The bottom photo is as far as the new piece got, physically.  It won’t look anything like this when it’s done; it’s 6 1/2 feet wide (shot from the studio ladder).

A little while ago.  We’ve been dined and wined and gifted with Jentel “completion certificates” – old Wyoming license plates with a silhouette of a cowboy on a bucking bronc.  Mine is gold and nicely beat up.  Nice.  Jen, who has been here before, got a lariat which should prove useful on the Manhattan subways.  In 90 minutes, we’re going out to watch a meteor shower.  Very nice.

(Andres, we toasted you tonight).

With all that went on, I forgot to say that the Paper Show at Gallery Shoal Creek opened on Friday. If you know anyone in Austin, Texas, send them on over, please!  I’m told it looks great.  The very nice gallery director got my tickets today; I’ll be at the gallery Friday evening, September 5th, in Austin all weekend, then speaking at the University of Texas and heading back to Chicago on Monday, September 8th.

Surreality; Sadness : Marilyn Sward and Jentel Presents

Note: If you have reached this page by searching for Marilyn Sward, you may also want to click the tab ‘Remembering Marilyn Sward’ at the top of the page.

On August 5th, we were scheduled to do Jentel Presents, a public series of presentations at a downtown Sheridan college.  In the early hours of that morning, friend and mentor Marilyn Sward lost her battle with cancer.  I’m writing about Marilyn, for later.  It’s too difficult right now.  But: she is the person who brought hand papermaking to Chicago, first founding and running the nonprofit Paper Press, then bringing that together with Artists’ Book Works, to create the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts.  She served as its founding Director, taught in both the InterArts department at Columbia and at SAIC, and did thousands of other extremely worthy things as well.  She is the person who set me on the path I’ve taken for the past twelve years; she is responsible for my involvement with both the Center and the MFA program; she changed my life.  Marilyn Sward is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever been privileged to know.

At first I had absolutely no idea how I could possibly get through the evening.  But I thought of how much Marilyn loved what we do, how she had an enthusiastic lifelong mission to share the wonders, quirks, beauty and potential of this medium.  It was a good-sized crowd; the room was full.  And so, I talked; I talked about paper, and what I do with it, and why, and I talked with my heart, something Marilyn, with her enormous spirit, highly valued and completely understood.  It turned out to be, personally, the best thing I could have done, cathartic for myself, and to honor her; to carry it on, to keep sharing.

People came up afterwards to touch and handle the paper I’d brought; I was told that the talk was ‘excellent’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘passionate’.  I am nothing at all like Marilyn, but I will do whatever I can to continue to pass along everything she gave me, physically and in spirit, in my own odd way.

Jentel presents PR photo: Top: Ravi, Jen, me; bottom: Robin, Nina, Andres.

Amazingly Not Propaganda

I always thought ‘O purple mountain’s majesty’ was poetic license, perverted to propaganda.  OK, so there isn’t a fruited plain, but purple mountains were actually there tonight.  I saw red light streaming through the trees in the studio window, and knew we had A Sunset, so I grabbed the camera and went out, to find this.  The purple effect faded fast, but O it was gorgeous, yes?

I am working hard and agonizingly slow, on one of my, um, brilliant ideas that has essentially turned me into an art slave.  “If it works it’ll be great!” and “I can do that in a couple of hours!” are my own perversion of poetic license, or rather something I’ve never learned to recognize as personal propaganda from The Voice In My Head; I’ve been at it two full days, and I still won’t finish tonight.  And now, back to it.  It really should be worth it…if it works.

Great Balls O’ Fire

(Oh, ps: if Blahg’s format is different, I haven’t changed it.  The same thing happened on some friends’ WordPress blog a couple days ago, for a couple days.  On theirs, when I commented, the proper format returned, and it seems to have returned permanently after two days or so, too).


I actually DID finish last night, at 1 am!  Now another few days before I know if it works…


I feel that I should write something, but there isn’t much to say.  I’m having to spend too much time dealing with yet another weird-year, frustrating situation in Chicago (entirely by e-mail), but don’t want to write about that yet, except to say that Paul may be elevated to sainthood for this one.  I’m just working here, trying to get the (S)Edition copies out of the way so I can begin exploring the new work.

I went to Sheridan on the weekly group shopping trip on Thursday, but took no photos.  Made a new su for the larger deckle box, from the only material I could find at (shudder) Wal-Mart; it took a half-day, but thankfully, the thing works.

Left: what I was looking for; Right: what I found. It actually drains quite well. (Whew!)

Yesterday, while I did laundry, Jen, Nina, Andres and Ravi climbed to the top of the hill behind the studios, wearing their orange vests and carrying big sticks to ward off snakes.  I wish I’d gone with them, but I’d just put a load into both the (fancy!) washer and dryer.  I spotted them and got a few shots while they were up there; they couldn’t see me.  Staying behind and documenting was good because they couldn’t tell which hill they were on from where they were.  And here they are.

What, you can’t see them?  They’re on the middle hill. OK, here’s a zoom shot:

On Tuesday, I’ll take a break for a bit; I’ve volunteered to be the driver.  Five of us are planning on going to a weekly all-girl rodeo in Buffalo.  I’ve been told by someone whose family comes from the area to go to the Occidental Hotel and have choke cherry daquiris, so we’ll do that too.  And now, back to work.

Moving Along…

The Big Horns in context from the front yard (no zoom lens). Talk about big sky…

Sunday: I took a break between getting the studio set up and beginning to make paper, and had lunch out on the front patio.  It was overcast and breezy, but suddenly the Cloud Peaks, just barely visible in the haze, were spectacularly illuminated by the sun appearing somewhere to the west. The snow was a bright blinding white, the peaks in sharp relief.  In the time it took to think of going back to the studio for my camera, they faded again.

Monday: My test sheets worked! I took my life into my hands because I had no time to make anything other than wet tests before I left.  (Well, not really, because I could have scrapped working on (S)Edition in favor of all new work). But though the paper is slightly grainier than the last batch, it’s of acceptable shrinkage and color to keep working on (S)Edition for the first week or so.  I do have to make yet another trip into Sheridan, because somehow, I packed the wrong size su for my larger deckle box (sigh).  However, the studio things are now in motion. I can make the (S)Edition “stems” with the smaller sheets, though it means pouring a few extra. I’m going to hold off a Sheridan trip for a few days while I figure out things about the first new piece (such as: Which is the best one to start with here? What can I build with the available tools and what will I need to build it?) and then I can make tests and hopefully go get all the extra materials in one swell fifty-mile-total foop.  In the meantime, today I’m testing the possibility of taking advantage of the climate (below) and making more sheets.

Three of the residents, Nina, Ravi and Andres went to a small-town rodeo on Saturday and had some interesting observations and experiences.  I had considered going myself, because one of the featured events was “chicken roping” and I was mightily curious about that, but I needed the Sheridan Home Depot more.  Nina said it was an event for kids, and that they were amazingly skilled at lassoing…chickens.

Photos, Air and Art

On the way to Sheridan. I think it’s Black Tooth, elevation 13,014.  If not, it’s Cloud Peak, 13,165

It’s a quiet Saturday night; there’s only one other resident here and she’s up watching something in ‘Times Square’, the media room (which has a table made from an old clock face and some other clock motifs but definitely isn’t square).

I’m having a late, light dinner, and writing mostly as an excuse to publish the photos.  I did go back into Sheridan, or at least to its mega-mall street, this afternoon.  So that’s another hundred miles in the last two days. 

I have everything I need now to finish the studio setup and get to work, but tonight I’m going to go to bed early.  I’m having a bit of a physical adjustment to being here, or else having a time of adjusting back to whatever normalcy I might possess, after the five days of nonstop labor before leaving, and then the driving marathon.  I slept very late this morning and now am tired again.

It could also be the humidity, or rather the total lack of it.  Even inland in the Highlands, Scotland had caressing sea air, or the more typical mist and drizzle, but yet did not feel uncomfortable, because the air is almost always in motion.  Catskill was cloyingly still and muggy (and buggy), except when storms blew through, and Chicago was doing its usual extreme fluctuations. Here it is utterly dry.  I’m told that the landscape is unusually green for this time of year, due to frequent short-lived storms like yesterday’s. It’s not a desert, it supports an abundance of life, but it’s also easy to understand how the bleached bones that decorate Jentel got that way.  The sun beats down, relentlessly hot, the air is thinner from the elevation and seems to let the heat through more easily. Yet I can wear my heaviest pair of levi’s (like you see folks do in the cowboy movies) because there isn’t enough humidity to cause sweat.  It’s not uncomfortable, though I don’t think I’d like to live in it for a long time. I am constantly thirsty and I can feel my skin drawing tight. And I can smell water; I’ll smell it and then a few minutes later, drive past a creek that isn’t dried up. Now, in the night, with no sun, it’s quite cool but still dry.

(This is for my friend Mary, who used to always shoot photos of ‘breast mountains’.  We got a million of ’em here.  This one even has a nipple).

On Monday night, we’re all going to get together to show each other our work, though I had an impromptu session of that with one artist and both writers last night.  But I didn’t see or read theirs.  I’m looking forward to that, and to waking reasonably early, finishing the studio, and making paper tomorrow.

The Raw Boundaries show at KN Gallery, which opened on Friday, got a brief but positive mention in Paul Klein’s Artletter, with photos.  It looks like a good show.  I’ll get back just in time to see it.

Here’s some more Wyoming for you; I’m off to bed.  Or better yet, a dram and bed!

Jentel in context.  The bit of building visible to the far right is the director’s big house, across Piney Creek and oh, about the same distance as a few city blocks away from the main residence. The flat green field at the bottom of the hill is relentlessly irrigated, watered twice daily.  Jentel itself has sprinklers that come on twice a a day, even though it’s next to a creek with water in it. This is shot from about three-quarters of the way up what residents call the Cell Phone Hill. That’s where you’ve got to go to use one.

The standing stones of Wyoming.  Some of ’em, anyways.

Documenting the UnDocumentable

Hazy view of the Big Horn mountains from the ‘front yard’.

OK, I’m going to try to show you a bit of Jentel.  It’s almost impossible to document.  The grounds are multileveled and beautifully landscaped, with plantings and trees, enormous rocks, huge petrified logs, antique ranch equipment and animal bones abounding.  The interior of the main residence is kinda crazed, all odd angles and halls and nooks, and it’s packed with stuff: huge, um, ‘exuberant’ abstract works, shiny new fittings contrasted with distressed odd antique cupboards and converted furniture, overstuffed chairs, benches, gigantic pottery, lamps, books, baskets, sculptures. (I keep thinking Architectural Digest, 1980s).  It’s comfortable, posh (luxurious, even), and totally well-equipped, but not even I, who pride myself on my ability to decipher such things, can imagine the overhead floor plan…though that’s a personal goal.

There are some spectacular views on the way to Sheridan; it’s something like 25 miles to go get groceries.  I couldn’t get shots on the way there, because, though the day was sunny, I suddenly heard (without hearing aids) a really loud WHAM! on the roof of my car, then another and anotherandanother, then a million…it was a freak hailstorm, followed by heavy rain, followed by sun.  I’ve got new dents on the roof and hood of my car.  On the way back, I wanted to get to our (gravel) road before it got dark, to make sure I could find my way.  But I’ll be going back tomorrow, because I need some studio setup stuff, and Home Depot closes a full three hours earlier here than those in the east and midwest.

I’ve met four of the five other residents, and three of the staff folks, and everyone seems great: friendly, helpful and above all, very happy to be here.  So am I. 

What you can see of the main building (the residents’ living space) from the front, and the back, below (shot from the studio building doorway).  The hills behind it go on for miles and miles and miles, and they’re called the Snake Hills, for what I’m told are obvious reasons.










The writer’s building, top, and the front of the artists’ studios, bottom.  The studio shot is deceptive. The building goes pretty far back; you just can’t see it from this view. There are four  huge studios in here, plus a full kitchen, a dining area and a bathroom.

Part of the 1000 acres we can wander (wearing flourescent orange vests).


The kitchen, top, and the main living and dining area, bottom, shot from the staircase (below). And: where I sleep – with my eyes closed!