Well! September got away from me a bit. I’m sure it did for many of us, what with one thing and another. Oh, well, we carry on. Pins and needles, needles and pins, as they say. The weather’s nice here in scenic, lovely Somerville, and fall is my favorite season. So I hope you are all safe, healthy, and ready for foliage, apples, and sweaters, because those are the things that keep us going in These Challenging, Unprecedented, and Extraordinary Times.
Let me catch you up on the studio news.
There’s Art for Sale!
Yes, you can actually buy it now. You will notice the shiny new Shop tab, above. It’s so pretty – and hard won, too, because this was the thing that held me up most of this month. You’d think, in the 21st century, it would be easier to create some linked pages and have them look decent, but it’s okay. I’m better educated on the backstage infrastructure of WordPress now, and I’m happy with this set-up.
The inaugural offerings are two of my artist books, The Doll’s House and The Sins of Icarus, a pair of affordable make-great-gifts items to celebrate hitting this milestone on my website. More works will be added as I get the pages looking the way I want, so watch this site, sign up for the newsletter, and/or follow me on Facebook for updates as they happen.
And if you are interested in any works I haven’t listed yet, please email me via the Contacts page.
I will have a piece in “All Small” online at the Brickbottom Gallery, October 29 – November 22, 2020. Watch this site for details.
New Project in Development
A new assemblage is in the works, first of a series on the ghosts of old objects. This is one of those long-simmering, back-of-the-brain ideas. Finding an old paste brush on the street recently provided the missing hook for me to make it real. I figure October is a good time for lingering spirits.
This month, I finally finished one of my projects, the re-binding of my Pictorial Key to the Tarot. You saw it in progress in my last posting. Below are some photos of the finished book.
The new cover uses the boards of the original cover wrapped in a one-of-a-kind decorative paste paper I made recently. I salvaged the torn, beat-up, original spine label, fading it a bit more with a lick of paint. The lines of fine black ribbon on either side of the spine are the exposed stitching attaching the cover to the book. I went with my preferred adhesive-free, sewn binding. The inside covers, front and back, have double pockets for notes, and I included five permanent ribbon bookmarks. As you can see, the book lies open very easily. Closed, it looks quite fetching on my bookshelf as well.
What else is going on? Flowers! Bees! The garden is a satisfying riot of gorgeousness and buzzing. We’ve suffered through some heavy heat and rain, but all is well on the flora and fauna front.
I learned today that the sunflower is associated with the women’s suffrage movement. It was used on a button of the National American Woman Suffrage Association for their 1867 Kansas campaign, and was Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s pen-name in the women’s newspaper, The Lily. (Elizabeth Cady Stanton Hometown Association) As 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the vote in the US, I’m feeling a little extra pride in my lovely, tall, nodding, giant flowers.
Also, exciting announcement, a shop-like arrangement is in the works. Watch this space for updates on when works will become available to buy. I’m a little terrified by the prospect, but it’s really happening. The paperwork is mostly in hand.
I’ve also been rebinding an old book from my library – a 1970’s hard cover edition of Arthur E. Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot, a gift from my friends back in high school. It’s a low-budget, no-frills book, but it has sentimental value, so when the binding finally started to give up the ghost, I decided to rehabilitate it with my favorite non-adhesive book style, the Japanese tetsuyoso binding. It’s quite the job, as the 40-year-old glue did not want to come off, despite dropping pages. I had to do more cutting and reconstructing than I’d hoped, and I added some muslin to reinforce the spine, but it’s going well. The refurbished cover, dressed in one of my paste papers, is drying under weight as I write this.
Pictorial Key to the Tarot in progress
More reconstructed botanicals are coming up. White pine and goldenrod are in progress.
And I did a bit of housekeeping on the website – cleaned up the images, consolidated the books under one heading. The Artworks pages look cleaner and prettier now.
Outside the studio, it’s been pretty much gardening and birding round the clock. Well…I’m not going to any shopping malls, that’s for sure. The community garden is at war with our local city rabbits, but while others engage in brute force with brooms and hoses, I have entered into a psychological battle with one particular adorable fluff-nugget who has a fondness for bean tendrils. Yeah, okay, Peter Cottontail, but I notice he doesn’t touch the aromatic herbs, tomatoes, or turnip greens, so guess what this garden will look like next year? Buckle-up, Buttercup. It is brought.
We’ve also had a fun summer visitor to the mulberry tree outside our kitchen window. Camera-shy little thing – this is the best shot I’ve gotten of him – but from the color, the wing markings, and a brief glimpse of his beak shape, I believe this is a Baltimore oriole. The first I’ve seen in scenic Somerville. Judge for yourself, comparing my blurry photo to the entry in AllAboutBirds.org.
It’s not easy to write upbeat blog posts these days, what with all that’s going on. I’m not even going to say “in the world.” Let’s just call it – things are not swell in the USA, and yes, there are people to blame for that. I spend about as much time as most people worrying and growling over it. There is a lot of uncooperative BS being bandied about that I am completely over and done with, together with the people spouting it, and the horses they rode in on. Done. I’m just done. It makes staying home easier, at any rate.
But after all, my sainted mother and I and our immediate neighbors are all healthy, and there’s a Baltimore oriole outside my kitchen window. What have I got to complain about? (Okay, plenty, but you know what I mean.)
So take care. Be well. Wear your masks. And look out your windows. There’s probably something pretty and amazing out there that will lift you up and keep you going.
A few weeks ago, the world changed as the pandemic forced us all out of our normal contexts and made everyone paranoid about being in their own homes. Now the world is changing again in a far more fundamental way, a far more uncomfortable way, a far more hopeful and frightening way as the whole construct of systemic racism is being confronted all at once. No one I know has ever seen anything like what’s happening now in the US as well as around the world.
Could this be it? Could we finally be able to end a society structured around racial inequality? All I know is a lot of people are putting their lives on the line for this since the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, and the reaction against those protesting brutality and violence has been brutal and violent.
The very least I can do as a creative is shine what small light I can on it. So this is my statement:
As an artist, writer, and human being, I am anti-racist, anti-fascist, pro-equality, pro-democracy, pro-environmental justice. I am not neutral, and I am tired of being surrounded by oppression and corruption, of being bribed with societal privilege I never asked for and do not want by people who want me to remain complacent and compliant with the status quo. This privilege – white privilege – is a gift made from hate, and it’s poison.
People of color do not need me, a middle-aged white lady, to speak for them. But too many of my fellow white folks do need to hear some speaking, and they need to be spoken to. So I commit to do some of that talking. I commit to use my words and my work to speak truth wherever I see it, however I see it, in public and in my personal life, and to point towards better ways to be. I hope I will be just one of many, many more. I hope you will join with me.
If you’re not in a position to donate money, then speak. Use your voice. Challenge what must be challenged. Call out what must be called out. If you see something, say something, just like we’re always told to do. Please reach out to your neighbors, friends, family. Join forces where you can. Have painful discussions where you must. The time for politeness is over. Now is the time for honesty.
That includes self-honesty. The rot of racism and bigotry corrupts every part of our society. We can’t root it out of our systems without also rooting it out of our own lives. It’s not that we are racists – no, far from it; most people are not racist, I really believe that – but we live saturated in racism. Everything around us generates it or is warped by it, especially in the US. It has to stop, and the stopping starts with us. That might be the scariest part of this whole thing, the societal equivalent of realizing we’ve become hoarders or addicts. They say the first step is admitting we have a problem.
What a month to launch a newsletter, eh? That’s still happening, scheduled for sometime next week. Gosh, I wonder what I’ll write about. I think I might be emotionally ready to get back to my dark and disturbing vibe, though, because, y’know, it’s what comes naturally. It feels more appropriate now.
Be strong. Be well. Be safe. Be brave. Embrace a better way. Wear your masks.
The Brickbottom Artists Association exhibition, “Construction/Deconstruction,” is now up in full online. Please enjoy!
The Brickbottom Gallery here in Somerville was forced to close to the public due to the pandemic, but my fellow artists did a fantastic job establishing our first virtual gallery. Our annual spring show is extended into the summer.
COVID-19 has people all over the world confronting the idea of being at home in ways that we may never have before. Many are chafing at the restriction imposed by the virus, but why? Isn’t “home” supposed to have a good connotation? It’s where the heart is, right?
I’ve always felt a vague fascination with interior spaces. The light through a window, illuminating floating dust. The clues hinted at by personal possessions, by people’s neatness or their mess. The sense of place and time we get from furniture, decor, organization, tools and appliances. Our homes express much about us, more than we plan or may realize.
One of my pandemic pleasures has been sneaking glimpses into the homes of TV people – reporters, politicians, various kinds of experts broadcasting the news from their houses. I’m forever peering over their shoulders. Are their bookshelves serious or for show? What about their color choices, their window treatments? Is this room lived in, or has it been turned into a stage set? Some of the newspeople superimpose their shows’ regular studio backgrounds over wherever they really are. I guess it promotes professionalism and normalcy, but I wish they wouldn’t do it so much. When they share their personal space, even if it’s just the guest room they never use or a cleaned-up corner of the garage, it humanizes this crisis we’re living through. It highlights that we are all sharing the same experience together.
Yet the idea of “home” in this common experience has become fraught with tension. What does it mean that so many of us are uncomfortable being where we live?
I’ve mentioned my in-development project, “Orchid Beach.” It’s a story – probably a digital graphic novel – that uses the idea of home, but it’s a crime thriller, quite dark and intended to disturb. And I’m just not feeling it. I don’t want to subvert the idea of home right now.
So I looked at other works, and I realized to my surprise that, despite my personal interest, I don’t have a lot of home-focused art or stories. The ones I do have are, well, quite dark and intended to disturb.
The collage “House of Hours” brings us into an Escheresque hall populated by shadows where time and faces float away from us and inner space dissolves into outer space.
My mini picture book “The Doll’s House” is a gothic melodrama of undefined family conflict which ends with an invasion by an overwhelming natural force. Oops, heheh, that one might be a little too on point at the moment.
These works are meaningful to me, but they don’t reflect my relationship with my real home at all. Naturally reclusive, I love being at home, and I love this home in particular. I’ve been in it for twenty years on purpose. We have our issues. It reveals maybe more of what I wish wasn’t true about myself (lazy slob me) and not enough of what I believe is true about myself (creative, organized, professional me who has great taste). It has too few electrical outlets and you can’t put a nail in the walls, but it’s warm and comfortable, the light is fantastic, and the vibes are happy.
And yet, I tell dark, disturbing stories about home. Why the disconnect? What am I trying to uncover, what do I want people to confront when I work with the concept of “home”? Privacy. Secrets. Personal history. Relationships and solitude. Memories. So much of my work focuses on the world outside, on distant landscapes and tall city buildings, but there are stories to be found indoors as well, in those inner spaces where we sleep and dream.
So I’m starting a new project to get my thinking on this a little less vague. Because of the pandemic, I can’t access the printing services I normally use for collages, so it will be a photography-focused online series. Should be amusing since I just have just a doddering old point-and-click Canon, no studio lights, and only the picture-editing program that came with my Mac’s antique operating system. But these are trying times and needs must, so I shall MacGyver something.
I played around a few years ago with photographing miniatures. I’ll start with that experiment and see where it takes me. I can’t guarantee we won’t end up back at dark and disturbing. But since I’m staying home, I’m free to explore. 😉
Please enjoy some small domestic scenes and views from the outside looking in.
The exhibition “Construction/Deconstruction” at the Brickbottom Gallery in Somerville is moving ahead, and so am I. With the kind help of some fellow artists with a car, my new piece, “Pink Yarrow,” made it to the gallery with proper physical distancing observed at all times.
The show will be presented online, so watch this site for further updates.
A new project starts tomorrow. For now, please enjoy a sneak peak at “Pink Yarrow,” part of the Botanicals series, made with actual pink yarrows from last year’s garden, restored to their summer colors.
Staying at home, maintaining physical distance, and working on a new piece for spring.
This is for the “Construction/Deconstruction” group show at the Brickbottom Gallery, scheduled for April 16 – May 16. Details may change due to coronavirus, so watch this site for updates.
My experiment: “Painting” dried flowers with thin skins of dyed tissue paper. The flowers were collected last fall, after they had gone to seed and dried naturally on the plants. I am trying to restore their summer colors. I like the effect – it kind of looks like paintings rendered in 3D. This work-table still life shows pink yarrow and hydrangea in progress. Far in the background, blurry behind my coffee cup are more yarrow, seaside goldenrod, and white pine, waiting their turn. The yarrow are from my own garden. The rest were collected from roadsides, and the hydrangea I actually found in a parking lot where it had been dropped by the wind. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the broken china and egg shell yet.
I’d been tinkering with this technique for a while, but the disruption we’re all going through with the coronavirus pandemic has inspired me. “Construction” and “deconstruction” are classic Art Words, more or less abstract concepts we creatives often dance around with. But as things kind of come off the rails around us, it occurred to me that “reconstruction” is what art really does. Artists see things, and take them apart, and then we put them back together, a little altered, interpreted, understood in some way, and made part of the human conversation. Our work isn’t done until we’ve got it all together again somehow.
Right now, a lot of us feel like we’re watching things fall apart, but we’ll get through these times. Nothing will be the same, but we can rely on the continuity of construction, deconstruction, reconstruction. The artists, writers, poets, musicians, etc., will tell the stories of how it all went down, and each of us will add our memories to it. We’ll reconstruct our world, with a little more weight of experience and a little more light of understanding.
This process is slow and delicate, perfect for being under a stay-at-home order. And sometime after I’m done building my memories of last year’s flowers, this year’s flowers will be blooming everywhere.
Today, I launch an informal, irregular series about my inspirations in life and work. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone a little. I don’t like to “explain” art, but I hope to share the interests and ideas that make my work what it is.
I have an absolute passion for planet Earth, and of course, I have strong feelings about climate change and humanity’s role in both driving and stopping it. As an artist and as a person, I feel a duty to speak on this issue in the ways that the arts can, that the arts are supposed to speak. So what am I saying about it?
Nature is the omnipresent context of everything humans do, and my work pushes back against the idea that humans and nature are somehow alien and distant from each other. You can find nature in almost all my work. The street scenes of the Cities series include birds, weather, plants. Even a toy like the Interphase Multiversal Observatory references the infinite night sky.
I want to lure people into seeing nature differently, feeling differently about their relationship to it. I show them what is in front of them every day. This is Earth. Yes, it’s polar bears, but it’s also right here, right now, next to you.
The Mystic River Project
The Mystic River Project will be a long journey examining this relationship of humanity and the natural world via the Mystic River watershed here in the Boston area. It’s a dramatic tale of human impact, of US history, the Industrial Revolution, politics and cultural attitudes, environmental degradation and recovery, and the persistence of nature.
The story will be told in collages, objects, books, maybe some videos (not sure about that yet), and in chapters focusing on different parts of the river, using my own photographs as well as made and found materials.
The first few species portraits of the Estuary Birds chapter set the mood. My photos of the birds and the Tobin Bridge are cut apart and reconstructed to capture moments as I saw them at the Schrafft’s City Center in Charlestown. Anyone can go there and see for themselves. That’s what I want people to do.
We see these birds every day, but maybe the problem is that we don’t see them. We should. They are our neighbors. They have survived all our bullshit and stupidity, and they are still here. They are the nature we struggle with and long for, staring us right in the face. They are every bit as much the natural world as the legendary, romanticized whales, which, by the way, also happen to be right here among us, just outside the river, passing through Massachusetts Bay.
Estuary Birds may end up with as many as twenty species portraits. Just last week, I saw two birds I’d never seen before, a male surf scoter and another I’m still trying to identify. Then there’s the rest of this micro-ecosystem – the life under the water and on the streets. And later, chapters on the upper river, the lakes, the tributaries.
In every part of it, there is the struggle, the presence of human beings, and the question of what we will do with our living world. Which brings me to the other side of my inspiration. The shadow side, as it were. There are always shadows when you deal with me.
In 2014, I made an assemblage titled Judgment in response to an article in Smithsonian Magazine online. It was about climate change melting the glaciers of the Italian Alps. As the ice melts, it uncovers the remains of soldiers killed in World War I. The campaign there was called the White War and included a vicious and environmentally allegorical tactic. Apparently, each side used artillery to deliberately trigger avalanches to destroy each other’s encampments on the mountainsides. Thousands of soldiers were killed this way, their bodies and belongings encased in miles of ice, lost – until now. The report said that every day brings another discovery of human bones washed down the melt-swollen mountain streams into the villages below. I found the Biblical reference apt indeed.
Nature in my work expresses what I love most about life. It is beauty and continuity and hope. It is the seamless connection of every person to the whole of creation. It is what really matters.
And it is the choice we face. Humanity is at a crossroads, brought here by our past choices. In one direction awaits judgment for our mistakes. In the other, a new way of thinking, an adjusted set of priorities. One, payment for the past. The other, a future based on love and connectedness.
As I try to sort it all out, I find myself celebrating the natural world in the city. I hope to raise people’s consciousness of their immediate surroundings. The world worth saving, the one where each of us makes a difference, is the one we happen to be standing in.
A Selection of Recent and Older Works Inspired by the Natural World
This week’s post takes us out of the studio for an impromptu hike along the Mystic River. It was 70 degrees F in Massachusetts yesterday – not entirely reassuring re climate change – and I took advantage of it to stroll the river walk from Assembly Row to the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse here in Somerville to refresh my lungs and my spirit and refill my creative reserves .
It was a red-letter day for water fowl. I saw hundreds of herring and black-backed gulls, at least 80 by my count mute swans, the same or more of Canada geese, and the flocks of bufflehead and mallard ducks, and red-breasted mergansers. The real stars of the day were the swans, who were everywhere one looked. These are the inspirations for my Mystic River Project, of which the Estuary Birds are part.