Out of the Studio – Mystic River Walk

JFries Mystic River border 1.11.2020

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.

Please enjoy these shots from my 2.5-hour walk.

Happy New Year – It’s the Roaring Twenties!

JFries leaves banner 12.31.19

Tomorrow dawns the 2020s, and I realized that exactly 100 years ago, the 19th Amendment became part of the US Constitution, and American women got the vote.

The parallels between then and now are uncanny. We were talking it over at dinner this evening. In addition to giving women the vote, the 1920s saw the rise of extreme political and religious beliefs, overweening morality laws and backlashes against them, social and political grassroots organization, massive advances in science and technology with accompanying benefits and abuses, domestic and international terrorism, a great flowering of arts and intellectualism, and fundamental, permanent changes in the ways people lived day to day. In the wake of WW1, it was a decade of no going back to the old conformist pantomimes of class and propriety of the 1890s and 1910s. We can debate whether it was good or bad, but it was truly a revolutionary decade.

I’m pretty sure our 20s will be revolutionary too, with climate change crashing into us, the return of extreme ideologies, science racing forward, and all of us facing the challenges of a shifting world. One way or another, I think we are all going to change our lives forever. I think there will be a lot of ideas to express. Who knows, but we might even finally settle some of the fights we started way back then.

It’s scary but also exciting. Maybe I’m just itching to mix it up with the world. Maybe I’m tired of the same old same-old. I can’t help it – I’m an Aquarius. We like new things. We live for tomorrow.

But tonight, I say farewell to the 2010s. Here is the last of my final project of the decade, the East Somerville Trees collages – preserved memories of autumn under our urban canopy, part of the Botanicals and Cities series. It’s about the things that really matter in the midst of all the changes.

These are destined for a book, so be on the lookout for updates on that.

Happy New Year!

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!

Organizing the studio; books and birds

Hi, all. I’m a bit late with this post, sorry. I spent the past two weeks reorganizing my studio – not quite done yet, but much better than it had been. Finally able to get back onto my work tables, I have jumpstarted the dollhouse and begun work on a future workshop on non-adhesive bookbinding. I’m also running behind on my 50/Week story challenge, but I did write a nifty little period piece about a mad monk. I need to do two more before Saturday to be back on my weekly schedule for that.

It hasn’t been all dust and heavy lifting, though. I spent several days photo-hunting loons and other birds on the Mystic estuary and watching wildlife from my kitchen window.

JFries - My writing desk, 2.13.19
JFries – My writing desk, 2.13.19
JFries - Book models in progress, 2.13.19
JFries – Book models in progress, 2.13.19
JFries - The dry media table, with distraction, 2.13.19
JFries – The dry media table, with distraction, 2.13.19
JFries - dollhouse gables, 2.13.19
JFries – dollhouse gables, 2.13.19
JFries - Loon, Charlestown, 2.11.19
JFries – Loon, Charlestown, 2.11.19
JFries - Canada goose, Charlestown, 2.11.19
JFries – Canada goose, Charlestown, 2.11.19
JFries, Rock, Charlestown, 2.11.19
JFries, Rock, Charlestown, 2.11.19

Monoprint, Micro-fiction, and the Mystic life

JFries Bufflehead ducks, lower Mystic, 1/2019
JFries Bufflehead ducks, lower Mystic, 1/2019

2019 promises a lot of challenges, and I feel pretty good about that. This month’s Full Super Wolf Blood Moon, with total eclipse, falls on my birthday, which also happens to fall on Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year. It’s hard not to feel a certain emotional boost.

So I am embracing the theme with a series of art, writing, and lifestyle challenges. 

First comes “50/Week,” in which I must produce one 50-word story each week. In this update of a micro-fiction game from a previous blog, I’m upping the ante by making an illustration for each story. These past two weeks, I have written a version of Rapunzel, focusing on star-crossed lovers, and a suspenseful heist thriller. Watch for these to become available soon.

I’ve also decided to learn a new skill – monoprint. My first attempts are oil pastel transfers – a fun and satisfying creative exercise.

Finally, I’ve started a new year of wildlife spotting on the Mystic River estuary. Last year, I fell in love with the birds, fish and other creatures of the Mystic and began primitive efforts to record their comings and goings. This year, I am laying the groundwork for an ambitious online project. Keep track here.

JFries monoprints 2 & 3, 1/2019
JFries monoprints 2 & 3, 1/2019
JFries monoprint 1, 1/2019
JFries monoprint 1, 1/2019
JFries Mallards, lower Mystic, 1/2019
JFries Mallards, lower Mystic, 1/2019
JFries Red-Breasted Merganser male, zoom, lower Mystic, 1/2019
JFries Red-Breasted Merganser male, zoom, lower Mystic, 1/2019

Birds of Somerville and dollhouse progress

It’s been a crazy several weeks, with a strained knee, two bouts of the flu, a blizzard followed by record warmth in February, and a nor’easter to usher in March like a lion, so I haven’t had time to put together a blog post until now. But progress has been made, and a new hobby has emerged.

On the dollhouse, the clapboard siding is finished at last, and I am working now on replacing the acetate in the windows with small wood frames. I found it difficult to focus a camera through the acetate, and in any event, I just didn’t like it all that much.

And the new hobby – wildlife-spotting around scenic urban Somerville. My at-home feeders serve a resident flock of about 15 resident European house sparrows, two pairs of house finches, one lingering junco, a mated pair of northern cardinals, several mourning doves, two blue jays, and the ubiquitous feral pigeons and gray squirrels. Meanwhile, near where I work my day job, I’ve also noticed a welcome return of water fowl to the Mystic estuary, where year-round herring gulls and summer-resident Canada geese have been joined by a pair each of red-breasted mergansers and mallard ducks, and some red-throated loons appear from time to time. This past month, I decided to break out the camera.

The Dollhouse

The Birds on the Estuary