Nature in the City: Leaf Specimens, Geese, Ducks, Sunset

JFries Tobin and boat banner 12.19

Hello, all! This week’s – (checks calendar) – er, I mean this fortnight’s artwork comes from my walks under the urban canopy of Somerville, Massachusetts. I made these specimen collages from just a few of the many tree leaves that have found their way amongst the pages of my books. I have a deep fondness for leaves as objects – their colors, textures, intricate inner structures, varied shapes. So I present them just as they are in a vaguely scientific context, for contemplation and exploration.

I am also working on 2020 updates for the website, and wouldn’t you know it, this month, every government in the world decides to announce new laws affecting online content to be implemented as of next month. So now I get to learn more things. Life is chaos. I believe some physicists say that, don’t they? If not, they should because it is. In any event, be on the lookout for a working contact function (finally!), new pages and reorganized categories, and yes, it’s really happening, a way to buy stuff. I know, right? Miraculous.

Bird-Nerd Update: A recent walk along the Mystic estuary was highlighted by some rather nice afternoon lighting and bird sightings. Between bad weather and ill health, I’ve fallen behind on my birding, but last week, I got buzzed by a small flock of Canada geese as they swooped in to graze the ball field – always a little thrill – and I observed some Bufflehead ducks bobbing and diving in the river, one male and two females. Unfortunately, the light by then was fading, and Buffleheads are quite small. This blurry shot of one of the females is the best I could do, but she can be known by the distinctive white strip on her cheek, and the white spot on her wing. The male, by comparison, is a striking black and white with iridescence on his head, but he was too far from the dock for me to get a good shot of him as the sun set. Buffleheads winter in Massachusetts. I hope these stick around so I can get better pics and add them to the Estuary Birds series.

Leaf Specimens



Female Bufflehead in shadow

JFries female bufflehead 12.19


Canada geese grazing

JFries canada geese 12.19


Tobin bridge, tug boat, and the Pier 4 barge

JFries Tobin and boat 12.19


An ironic view of the Everett side in really gorgeous light

JFries powerplant and casino 12.19

Mystic Birds, a New Exhibition, Green Life

Work abounds, and thus I’m late again. This past week, I launched at last a project in planning all last year. Mystic Birds 1, 2, and 3 celebrate some of my favorite waterbirds – Herring Gulls, Common Terns, Canada Geese, and Mallard Ducks – against the backdrop of the Mystic River estuary and Boston’s Tobin Bridge. I used some of my own photos of the birds and bridge, taken over the last year at the Schrafft’s Center in Charlestown. You can go there any time and see these scenes just as I did.

If you happen to be in Somerville this spring, you can also see these collages at the Brickbottom Gallery, in the Brickbottom Artists Association annual Spring show “Green,” running April 18 – May 18. You can come and meet me at the reception, April 29, 5 – 7 pm, and be sure to visit all the artists during Somerville Open Studios, May 4 – 5. Details at the BAA’s website.

These Mystic Birds are the first of a series of works exploring the life of the Mystic River watershed from Boston Harbor up to the Mystic Lakes. Once one of the most polluted water systems in the US, the Mystic is now one of the most improved, getting stronger every year, but still threatened by development, industry, and climate change. Learn more about it from the Mystic River Watershed Association. It is wonderful to spend time by the river, see the wildlife carrying on their business, and realize that the human world and natural world are not at all separate, but one and the same. Our own neighborhoods are environments worth saving, something I remember as I write this and listen to sparrows outside my window and a woodpecker working on a tree somewhere nearby. I hope with my new Mystic River Project to raise awareness of the vibrant nature around us all the time, and to encourage people to live in nature wherever they are, even in the middle of big cities.

So this year look for more of my love letters to this urban river. Also more walks around the rest of my city, commissioned toys and objects, artist books and self-publishing, and blog posts about greening up my studio and art practice. Spring is the time for cleaning up and getting started.

I hope to see you at the Brickbottom “Green” reception!

Experiments and holiday cheer – Stars and Mushrooms galore

Hi, all. I hope all my friends and readers enjoyed the holiday. We were cozy and small at home, and I had great fun making the decorations for our little live tree this year.

The paper stars were made using a delightful little origami model. Click this link for a tutorial from Jo Nakashima on Youtube. I dusted them with a hint of metallic gold acrylic paint – which doesn’t show in the photos but gives the stars a bright glow in the light, in person . I then strung them on simple red cord to make a garland. They are so much fun to make, I will definitely see what more I can do with them.

The paper mushrooms, though, are my success story for the season. I managed to make papier mache with thin, translucent layers of crumpled tissue paper. In the past, I’ve gotten good results with other types of paper, but this month, nothing wanted to work but the plain white tissue paper. It gave the best shapes, but of course was way to flimsy. So I spent a total of about three days lightly and carefully brushing the shaped mushrooms with a very dilute paste of water, PVA glue and wheat flour to stiffen them without tearing or dissolving the tissue. I then painted them, mixing the paint with more of the paste for added stiffness. I am very pleased with the results.

The bases are a last-minute improvisation. The mushrooms themselves were made without bases, but I wanted them standing. Can you guess what I have holding them up?

The display in front of our kitchen window brings a hint of a winter forest into our home. Soon, the decorations will be put away, the cats will get their toy squirrel back, and our little dwarf Alberta Spruce will go back outdoors in the cold where it likes to be. And then a new year will begin, with a new look for this site, new projects from my studio, and lots of plans.

I wish you and yours great happiness and growth in 2019!

Paper Decorations, Website Changes, and Feeling Eager for a New Year

I am spending this week making holiday decorations. There will be more paper bows like the first ones I made last year, plus paper mushrooms to make a “forest floor” around our tree and paper stars to twinkle above it and amongst its boughs. I’m having lots of fun playing with paper forms and surface treatments.

Also this week, I am working behind the scenes on an overhaul of this website. The new look will be brighter and livelier, with better organization. It will go well with some big projects coming up in 2019, including new books, dollhouses, toys, more of my Cities series of collages, and lots of art and writing experiments.

It’s been a crazy and distracted year, but I feel excited about the holidays and the new year. I’m ready to buckle down and get to work.

By the way, the new background image for winter is my own photo of white pines in Charlestown, at the Lower Mystic estuary.

mushrooms in progress
Paper mushrooms in progress on my work table