Thursday, January 29, 2009

Milkweed Pod Project and May art plans

Now that the artist books are off and either in, or close to, their new homes, I have been invited to take part in another project. Hm. I was thinking about vegetating for a while, but it is not to be.

Largely I'm doing it because I can't resist the Milkweed Pod Project, which will be a huge installation, many parts one per many artists, all in fibers, yarns, spinning, knitting, crochet, and all in white, any white, all whites. I have already crocheted a long narrow grid in offwhite soft yarn, and I'm figuring out how to relate it to white nylon sisal type cord, which I can fray and fool about with. Great fun.

The organizing artist is a wonderful woman, Shan,in Wisconsin, and the eventual installation will travel. One location I am hoping for, have got almost all the go aheads for, is the brand new gallery in the brand new library in Plainsboro, NJ!

One of my lifelong quests is to erase the foolish distinctions made between art and craft, to blur the lines of demarcation, and this project fits right into our ambitions for the new gallery, where the fittings can accommodate crafts as well as fine art, allow for 3D objects to be seen from all sides while being safe.

So the Milkweed Pod Project is just right in that place! and it's open to anyone willing to observe the guidelines, don't have to be professional artists, or professional knitters or crocheters or spinners.

Anyone who wants to try her or his hand (you'll be one of hundreds, no need to be too intimidated!) just tell me in the comments under this post and I'll give you the deets on where to look for info and application and all that.

Then, art news part two, is that I have been offered a solo in the Library Gallery at Plainsboro in May,one of the last shows in the old modest gallery before the new snazzy one opens, and I plan it as a kind of farewell, with works that have appeared either there or in other places.

Haven't planned it yet, since it's only today I got the invitation, but often my first thoughts are okay, because they've got energy. So I'll post pix of a few ideas of what might hang there. The libe director and I founded and have run this gallery for hm, I think about 15 years, so it has a lot of nice thoughts in my head. We've encouraged a lot of new artists there, and generally done our bit to bring original art to a small town. Her energy is wonderful, too, in supporting artists of all kinds and ages, and being open to great new ideas.

It will be exciting to have a whole new gallery in the new building, actually designed for the purpose!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Happy New Year!

The Lunar New Year is here, and your books have gone in the mail, so I did manage to get them under the wire for New Year, after all!

And I celebrated the New Year in outdoor fashion: went to a place where I know witch hazel grows, and took a couple of pix, plus some tiny twigs, which were tight buds this morning, already opening this afternoon in the house into tiny beautiful flowers, one of the few January flowers we have, even before the snowdrops.

Then over to our local tiny wilderness area, for pictures of a vernal pool, ice covered, but in spring will be alive with frogs and their offspring, and of the lake, where the deepest part is open water, Canada geese having a great time with it, and through the beech wood, where the temperature is several degrees warmer in winter, cooler in summer, than any other part of the Preserve.

Cold, in the low 30s with a brisk wind, but I still saw a flock of yellow rump warblers, faithful little guys staying all winter when all the others have fled.

And a group of nursery school kids and harassed parents and an intrepid leader showing them trees and the lake and ice and all that, with parents saying, well, we'll see whatever we can see, it's okay, look at the picture we got, and it's okay about the mud, oh, look a bird....

And there were deer tracks in the snow at the side of the path leading down to the lake, so I wonder if they went down to drink at the edge. Also other prints, probably fox. A good winter afternoon expedition.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Books Away! any minute now

Okay, Houston, we have artist books.....which will be in the mail shortly. I think I'll mail them as -- books!

Anyway, if you are a recipient, please just enjoy! all of them have paper for writing and drawing, and handmade paper for just stroking and liking, and you can easily put more pages in if you want more, or copy the construction if you like it and want to replicate it. Above all, it's to use and enjoy. I already had the pleasure of making them, so now it's your turn to have a good time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Potato Peel Pies and Vertigo!

When I'm not doing several thousand other things involving taking care of Handsome Partner, the house and three cats, and making art, and walking, and gardening and planning for gardening, and playing music, and knitting for friends and so on, I read!

Currently, I wildly recommend: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It lists itself as a novel, but is partly a documentary about the hardships of occupied Guernsey, the channel island,in WW2, together with a great cast of comic/serious characters. It's oddly ill assorted in style, with tragedy behind farce, but it still pretty much works, and is a great read. It's like Margery Sharp meets CNN in a way, but worth reading. Judging by the length of time I had to wait to get it from the libe, it's on everyone's reading list.

Next is Philipp Blom, The Vertigo Years 1900-1914, a wonderful historical view of those years from various European vantage points. He has a great grasp of the interrelatedness of political actions, the arts, both fine and performing, and can see with great clarity how artists reflect, whether intentionally or not, their own society and expectations. And he suggests in his preface that we try to forget what we know of the years since then, since, he reminds us, the actors of that period did not know what was to come, so they were not conducting their lives in expectation of WW1. It's hard for us to realize that people didn't have foresight, since we are always looking back from the point of view of people who saw what came later.

This period was one of psychological awakening on a lot of fronts, with different segments of society developing greater powers while the established powers were losing their grip. The rise of technology was exciting and frightening at the same time. The World's Fair of 1900 in paris is an educatin in itself! waiters serving dinner to 20,000 people, all the mayors of France, by driving round in cars delivering food....the opposite of modern car service, where the food comes to the car...He also discusses the setup in Germany in a way I'd never seen before, explaining how the aristos and the middle class fought for power and why.

He gives a horrifying picture of the reign of Leopold of Belgium over the Congo, and how rubber, the search for it as a profitable commodity, caused great hardship and destruction for the people of the Congo. Nothing new under the sun.

And the situation in Russia, in turmoil for decades before the Revolution finally happened.

But it's very good to get this insight into the period before WW1, makes the whole world more understandable. So I think it's a valuable read, as well as an easy one in the sense that he doesn't get lost in technicalities, but remembers that his readers are intelligent but may not be policy wonks. and it clarifies amazingly a lot of what's going on right now in the world.

And there's always Anne LaMott, any of whose books of essays is wonderful reading. I'm not a practicing Christian, and she is powerfully so, but she still writes in a way that is very accessible to those of us who don't go for doctrine, but do go for what is a good way to conduct your life! her novels are rather feeble, and I don't think they're her best work. But her books of essays, Plan B, and Operating Instructions, and Grace Eventually, are wonderfully honest and clear and brave writing. I've just finished rereading Grace Eventually, and still found ideas in there I hadn't noticed before.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Caution: Artist at Work!

Caution: Artist at Work

The zero degree weather has not daunted me from entering my third floor, under the roof, studio with the heating turned off to conserve energy. The odd thing is that once the work is under way, you don't really notice the cold, until your fingers go numb and you start dropping things, and doing sort of stupid stuff, indicating that your brain has frozen over...

Despite all this, I have embarked on the artist books I promised, and am kneedeep in all kinds of materials and ideas and second thoughts and fifty-first thoughts, and it is getting making is a nice balance of needing to be pretty accurate, certainly in cutting pages and making sure the book opens and shuts in a friendly way, while cutting totally loose in making the overall object, wild covers, whatever fastenings strike my fancy, drawing maybe, printing maybe, stamping maybe, painting, maybe, gluing and playing and tripping over the faithful CK Duncan who insists in being underfoot at all times to lend a paw where needed.

I have always had wonderful studio cats, willing to get involved to any extent. Little Boud, my tiny little grey girl, would trot across the inked plate before I made my monotypes, and more than one of them had her silver footprint in the design. She improved it, more often than not. And one time she jumped, put a couple of silver footprints on the wall as she left, and I never had the heart to paint over them.

Her sister Vico, twice her size, wonderful dark tabby with fur like plush, was happy to be given a little bit of whatever material I was working in, to play with. Duncan seems intent on seeing if he can make me fall down. His interest in art is strictly aerobic.

So I took a couple of pix of the studio in the throes of composition! won't be too long now.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Spilled milk, Purcell and Schubert

So this has been an exciting day up to now. It started out
innocently, then Handsome Partner took a bad fall in the bathroom, but recovered
well enough, was eating breakfast when I left to take the car in for
routine, famous last words, state inspection and oil change.

HP is fine, by the way, I was just worrying about him while I was
out, but things turned a bit pear shaped.

First, the dealership where I get the inspection done (far better to
have friendly mechanics than rotten State inspectors at their own
station) found I needed new bushings or my suspension system was on
its way out, couldn't pass inspection that way, then I needed two
new tires, too bald to pass inspection, which meant realignment plus
the inspection fee. The oil change went smoothly.....but it meant
that instead of waiting in their cosy waiting room with the plants
and the coffee and a very entertaining little boy to amuse me, it
would be several hours' of work. I will be lucky if the bill comes
to less than a thousand dollars...

So I asked if they could give me a loaner for the day, and I could
come back later for my own veehickle. Fine, they would. Then the
Avis woman showed up, gave me a ride to their agency (they used to
deliver cars, evidently it's different now) in a massive minivan,
which hurt my back climbing up into it, very very difficult for me.

So they finally after many phone calls established that this was a
loaner, not a rental, but the dealer had forgotten to do the
paperwork....and finally gave me something that looked nothing like
an ignition key.

And said since the minivan I'd been in was a bit difficult for me,
they'd give me a different --- minivan! no cars available, just
these giant ships. Gah. I had literally never even sat in one
before. The woman had to show me how and where to put the weird
plastic thing into the ignition, I felt so dumb! and how to change
gears -- that tiny knob on the dash is the gear knob, evidently.
She assured me that handling was fine, not to worry....

So I did manage to get home, in great fear and trepidation, this is
not traffic for learning in, and stopped at the store on the way
because we needed milk urgently and a couple of other things, and I
was damned if I was gong to take this bus out before I have to go
back for my car.

Luckily they put the milk into a bag, though they try not to use
bags these days, because I had trouble lifting it all high enough to
get it into the passenger seat (could not fathom how to unlock any
of the other doors, doh), and on the way home, the milk fell over,
the plastic jug split and milk started running all over the
van....except the little amount that remained in the jug and the

Much cleanup later, at home, of the van, the console, the floor, my
coat, my bag, not able to stop safely before then, no place to pull
over, and frantic searches for containers to put the rest of the
milk away in the fridge, I finally calmed down enough to make a cup
of coffee and whine at length to HP who was hugely sympathetic.

So if this was a day for it, I'd say it's actually okay to cry over
spilt milk...

We needed firewood, too, but I absolutely dared not think what would
happen if I attempted to load wood into this huge white bus with
Florida plates....We were amused by the Fla plates, since neighbors
probably think we have someone visiting who's so dumb they come
north in the winter!

Notes from later: nearly a thousand dollars poorer but with a safe and legal car, and the Moby Dick returned to the dealer, I did get firewood, which will be welcome this evening, since it's gone very very cold around this part of the world, just like most other parts of the world.

But here's where things are better: last evening was the January meeting of Princeton Recorder Society, hereinafter referred to as PRS, and the conductor was a wonderful musician, great musicologist and performer and lucky for us, local person, John Burkhalter, one of the most generous and kind of men.

Since he put together an evening to celebrate the 400th anniversaries of both Purcell and Handel, he had had some of the pieces mailed to him from friends in Germany, other pieces faxed from England, not yet in the new edition, but special permission from the editor for us to play them. We are amateurs, and this is very very flattering stuff!

As is John's approach to conducting: encouragement phrased in Noel Cowardesque phrases, things like: let us revisit the felicities in this passage! and this piece is bucolic, try to think of bucolic things. Not rowdy. Bucolic...

I was assigned to take pix for the PRS website, so I asked him ahead of time how he was with this, and promised not to be obtrusive as he conducted. To which he exclaimed, oh, but I love it! Obtrude all you like, my dear. Since he was celebrating Purcell, an English composer, he had brought a Union flag which he draped from his conducting rostrum! and when he wanted to illustrate a way to phrase a section, he would whip out pieces of recorder from various pockets, assemble them and then play like, oh, unbelievable and beautiful tone.

If you ever get the chance to hear him in concert, wait for nothing, grab it. He is a wonderful musician, now a fine recorderist, used to be a fine oboeist, was a boy soprano many decades ago. And a collector of antique instruments.

The Art Museum on the campus of Princeton University has a fantastic pre-Columbian collection of artifacts, many of which turn out to be sacred instruments, played by priest in the course of religious ceremonies. One time John was asked to play a selection of them, gads what a thrill, to see these wonderful clay and jade and stone instruments taken out of their cases with gloved hands, handed to him, and then played like an angel. the jade flute had the hugest sound you can imagine, big and round and mellow, and it's quite small in the player's hands.

So that's John B., and no wonder he has such a following!

So it's good that I was fortified by a wonderful evening of early music last night before today fell on me.

And then, just to show that the universe can be nice at times, on the way home in my own car, the local classical music station played a great arrangement of Schubert's Ave Maria, for violin and piano, and I joined in loudly, this being my party piece from years ago, and I sounded pretty good, to my audience of one!

Some people swear by Valium and TM, but music just about does it for me!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Phyllis Amaryllis and other critters

This is what happens when you're cutting fruit for dessert and are suddenly overcome by boredom. Critters happen! they have now been eaten, but they had a brief moment of glory. I think I'll declare this Play with Your Food Week! please do so and forward pix to me.....

The other critter causing excitement around here is Phyllis Amaryllis who finally opened her first blossom today, and her gradual debut will be seen around here when I find it! amaryllis are amazing, unbelievable that that unpromising looking bulb will become anything, much less a massive series of blooms that need holding up. they don't last long, but it's like fireworks: worth it for the moment! I've never succeeded in getting a second year of bloom, just a second year of showy foliage.

And then there's the other January blossom, outdoors this time,to be found in a location I will not disclose, since I don't think I'm supposed to swipe them. I speak of witch hazel, one of the few shrubs that blossom wonderfully, complete with scent, in January. I know where to get a couple of twigs of them, bring them home and they're so tiny you need a magnifier to really grasp how wonderful is their architecture. I recommend you go out in search of them.

Not long now till snowdrops, brave little guys who flower and go on with their lives even if they're buried in snow! every year I have to rip out some pachysandra to make sure the snowdrops have a fighting chance of making it.

Anyway, Phyllis, take a bow!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Books, cooks and thoughts about transience

Latest books: I hugely recommend Jane Flanders book on the Victorian home, a marvellously researched and very engagingly written social history of the Victorian era in England, really entertaining even if you are not a social history fiend as I am.

Did you know that in the early days of the postal service, the letters arrived up to 12 times a day (to houses that were affluent enough to be using mail at all, it was expensive) and that the post man had to collect the money at the door? which meant that the poor old housemaid had to keep on stopping blackleading the grate, scrubbing the floors, sweeping the kitchen, etc., take off her dirty apron, run to the door, arrange about the money, take back the mail, and resume the apron and the work. Over and over again.

Then Hill, the inventor of the whole shebang, had a rush of brains to the head and invented the Penny Post! you could send a lightweight letter anywhere in the UK for one penny, paid in advance at the post office. So the postman could just leave the letters and keep on going. Post then meant, not the letters, but the route the postie had to take.

The only bits of the book I skipped over were the medical ones, too awful to read about "treatment" for serious ailments. But I can attest to a lot of the fog and dirty air anecdotes, since the same was still true in the 50s in some English cities.

There are hilarious accounts of the early interior designers influencing the people who were now able to afford some extras, very dogmatic, very funny. why you should have major mirrors over the fireplace, extra shelves, a lot of ornaments and clocks and stuff on the mantelpiece, very very tasteful...

Then, in the world of fiction, on the detective front, two great writers, Susan Conant, a dogtrainer detective protagonist, owner of Malamutes, very knowledgeable about the world of Dog, and a good mystery writer. And then there's the other dog related attorney turned investigator, located in Paterson NJ, and very authentic stuff, and if I can remember his name, dangit, it was there a minute ago....anyway, I will supply it when I can get it back from the outer reaches of my brain. Or if anyone reading this knows who I mean, he's really good, I know this is not much help to someone looking for a nice book to read...

And, if you're up for real mental work, Karen Armstrong, on religions of the world, particularly Islam, truly wonderful writer with great understanding of the historical underpinnings of a lot of our religious assumptions, and well worth working on and with.

Did you know that Mohammed, the founder of Islam, that one, I mean, approved of Christianity since it was based on the written word, and he profoundly relied on the written word for his own thinking? and that at the founding of Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Islam were seen by most of the middle eastern population as equally valid religions, no friction on that front? most of the friction has been a politically driven afterthought, sigh.

And our local cook, i.e. me, made Tibetan pizza today, always goes over well. It's Jacques Pepin's Tibetan Flatbread from one of his fast food books, which I use as the pizza base, put mushrooms and home made pesto, tomato paste, etc., and a handful of Mozzarella cheese on, very good with a nice mixed green salad. Not hard, since I usually already have the ingredients in the house so if it's one of those oh dog, what to eat today, kind of days, it works in just fine.

Jacques Pepin's tv programs are wonderful -- he's a food artist, really, just watching his knife skills as he chats away unconcernedly, is a whole education. And he can make a wonderful black rabbit out of a giant olive! slice off the side, so it sits on its side, take the sliced off bit and make a slit behing the "head" end (the place where the stem was is the bunny's butt), halve the sliced off bit, insert in slit and voila a rabbit! very funny and cute and good to remember at Easter.

And there's always art. I'll post a few pix of my main thrust of last year's work, kind of crossover work, mixed media around the concepts of quilting, including the notion of "handwork" being forced on women at some periods, whether they were up for it or not. All the way to quilting as an art form, and via quilting as a fine craft where attention to workmanship is very important.

But I don't believe in conservation -- I think once art has served its purpose, it's okay to wave goodbye. Now admittedly, Vermeer has not yet finished serving his purpose, and The Demoiselles d'Avignon will continue to exude force for the foreseeable future, and Vlaminck will continue to be worth seeing, and Judy Chicago's passion will continue to be valuable. And so on.

But I do like to say that the opposite of conservation is not destruction, it's creation.

And tomorrow on the subject of moving on, I'm waving goodbye to my Gocco printer, a lovely little machine no longer manufactured, to another artist who's been wanting one for a while. It's a great little screen print shooter and printer all in one machine, and I had great fun with it, created everything from fine art to art opening invitations (I hate the photo type cards people use now for opening announcements, much prefer the ones that are artworks to keep!) You can find out material about the Gocco by an internet search. It was taken very seriously in Hawaii as an art tool, less so on the mainland, where size is perhaps more of the essence, and it makes small images. It's been overtaken by high tech, but there are still devotees out there.

I'm not into keeping art for its own sake, I guess. We do have a lot of it on our walls at home, mainly becaue Handsome Partner loves to have it around. If it were up to me, it would be either recycled or in boxes in the studio, waiting to be improved.

In fact now and then people have called me to try and buy a piece they saw months earlier in a show only to find that it's now ripped up and part of another piece, or pulped to make mixed paper, or just being used as a backing for a new painting....this sort of mystifies people who have a sacred feeling about art.

Well, I do too, but it's about the need to do it, the process, the developing of the vision, not really about the end product. If people like it, that's wonderful. If they need to have it in their houses, even more wonderful! but it's not the mainspring of why I do it!

Anyway, clearing up the studio a bit, hopeless task, is part of my next foray, into clearing the decks for the artist books I promised and will definitely get to as soon as I get the concept organized in my mind. I've been drawing constantly for the last year, so drawings may feature in them, not sure yet. But they will be the sort of book that is intended to be drawn and/or written in by the recipient, so I need not to overload them with my own concepts and get in the way of the writing and drawing of the person who will have custody of them.

The other thing is that I turn off the heat in the studio this time of year to conserve the horrible cost of heating, so that's a bit of an issue moving the materials downstairs to work on them. It will happen, folks who have requested a book, it really will! and if anyone else wants to get in on this, just lemme know and your new year's free gift book will eventually be in your hands. It's just a thing I like to do now and then as a friendly thing. Be sure I know your actual address though, okay.....can't email them.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Two heroes: Suzman and Pell, thank you

Today's entry is brief and heartfelt, to be a small tribute to two giant major hero figures of the last century, both of whom died in the last couple of days, old and proving that good people can also have a long life.

One, Helen Suzman, was a South African white woman, a member of the SA Parliament and the lone opponent in her day to apartheid, braving all kinds of harassment and physical danger to push for an end to what she saw as simply something wrong. She knew that her color and social position might not protect her, and still went on, meeting with the oppressors, facing down the chief of police, making sure the press was on the story, relentlessly, bravely. She loved her country and wanted it to be better.

And she lived long enough to see the end of that regime and the start of new government for South Africa, which is still in some disarray but nothing to compare with that institutionalized injustice. I knew about her many decades ago, as a student wondering what we could do to help end apartheid and not coming up with much, and was surprised that she was still living till last week, but glad she'd seen the fruits of her brave work.

The other, Claiborne Pell, a hero of a different kind, a wealthy man who nonetheless understood the trials of people who were not born to privilege and the difficulty for them of getting even an education. He represented Rhode Island in Congress, for many years and was the creator of the Pell Grants, which accounted for many many students' being able to get a college education who would never have been able to afford it otherwise. He didn't wait for the whole government to move, just pushed on behalf of his own constituents and then by extension all eligible students in the country.

When I worked in higher education in the 70s, I came across many minority students whose Pell grants were the difference between a future and no future, and was amused that so many people didn't even realize Pell was the name of the man who created the grants. A lot of people assumed it was an acronym! It was so accepted that people forgot someone had to invent the notion. I doubt if he would have cared, though.

So let us thank them both and see what their example means for us, too.