Monday, August 10, 2020

Humid home stretch

I'm not sure why I bother to take these photos because there's no way to convey how beautiful the sky is here. Only six sleeps left.
Once we emerged from our two-week isolation, we were able to share a gorgeous dinner with the head of the residency program, the head of the whole foundation, and his wife. Everything is local (meat) or grown on the farm here (shishito pepper, chimichurri I think from carrot tops, and papalo, my new favorite herb. Elizabeth explained to me that the word comes from the papalotl, from Nahuatl (an indigenous language) and it means butterfly. Its flavor is strong and distinctive.
Saskia cooked the entire gorgeous meal for us! I am sad we weren't able to experience her talent and skills on the regular since the distanced residency means the residency chef can't make our dinners, but we've had little pops here and there and it has been a real treat. I can feel the difference, being here and eating from this parcel of land.
I asked about these steps, and they are to mount horses! Of course.
This path is being laid and it's amazing to see the progress of the stone mason who has worked here forever.
This wall I saw yesterday at the state arboretum in Blandy, a bit west. So lovely, especially sharing with friends.
Back here, but on the other side, is their persimmon tree! I wish I could grab some green fruit to take home and ferment.
Caitlin showed me the plum tree in the formal garden and found me one ripe one, which was delightful.
She pointed out some herbs and explained the one climbing the triangular stakes at far left. It's not spinach but it's called Malabar Spinach (or Basella alba) and like okra and hollyhock, it has that distinctive mucilage. That was delicious as well, a chewy bite.
The other day I went up to peek near the greenhouses near the production fields and there's always something growing.
Surprise! I learned yesterday from Frank that these are called surprise lilies (Lycoris squamigera) and they DID surprise me when I was cycling down the road, as they were not there before. I noticed a few near my house as well after he told me about how they just show up suddenly. Gorgeous, and when I took a sniff today as the flowers were all open, they reminded me of Korea.
In the studio I have been busy making paper and books and other things in small batches. Here is some marigold dye in action, though it has dried to a very different color than the first batch a couple weeks ago.
I had brought onion skins from Bill to use if I needed a boost and what I quickly learned is that he uses true yellow onions while I use sweet onions, which have a much lighter colored skin. This is why I should never do commissions, because I can't promise colors (well, I could, but I don't want to) to be like whatever you saw in this or that picture from other dye batches.
You can see the mullein dye I made last week was underwhelming, so I didn't bother using it for much beyond one half of a test sheet of paper and these small shifu samples that I had already dunked in caustic dogbane cooking liqueur (those are the stains on the left, but much of the color leaching out was from the markers used on the paper when it was still a sketchbook).
Marigold dyed covers and I think I tried four or five versions of this book. I have been practicing this structure over and over and can finally almost do it by heart instead of peeking (the upper left book is NOT the same structure. I like it but it requires four straps, rather than two, as well as different cutting patterns based on the page. Too much extra work for me!).
I've also gotten better at this structure, which I love love love and today did this slippery elm/Florida kozo version as well as a bigger milkweed version where I have the laces come out twice instead of once since the page/strap is taller and could use a little more stabilizing.
Initially I used these gorgeous shiny wood folding tables as my drying boards, but they were too slick so I'd come back to check on paper and everything was falling off or curling up.
The old fashioned formica desk surface worked much, much better. The milkweed batches have been lovely, though they have faded very quickly in the studio sun.
Emma presented her studio the night after I did last week, and I was so glad to see her work in person and up close, and also realize she was the one in the studio on the airstrip that I had seen one evening when cycling. I had no idea! Funny, as we were the only two artists here. I was sad I didn't get to know her better because once we did start to talk, I deeply appreciated her personality, perspective, experiences, and shared concerns about going back to teach in higher ed. We went looking for ripe plums on her final night and hung out in the formal gardens nibbling on herbs (well, at least I was nibbling a lot on the fennel flowers). She left yesterday and though we didn't spend much time together, I did feel a bit bereft today.
Yesterday was my final friend treat, meeting Frank and José at the arboretum. Our plan to use the picnic area was foiled (hard to see in this pic, but all the tables were turned upside down!) so we found a shady spot hidden in the trees near a bench and laid a blanket. Again, like our adventure last week, after hours eating and hanging out, we packed up only to find out that steps away was a giant gorgeous vista! All along we had no idea what we were missing.
But we did get a sunset/dusky stroll on the trails and were so glad to see more of this big wonderful place with so many things to look at. The best part of an arboretum is that they label all the trees and plants so you can check! This is a Chinese quince and you can see some unripe fruit above.
Back 'home' is an old circular building used to exercises horses indoors. The horses are all gone but this may be converted into a dance/performance space. So many possibilities all over the place. Today for my evening exercise in the very difficult humidity, I took the bike and cycled the roads and walked the trail with the bike to the airstrip. When I got back on, I took it slowly and always look at the weeds right along the border. I slowed and saw a red velvet ant! Again, not a real ant, but not something you want to get stung by. I was delighted because now I had seen most of the three "dangerous" wildlife listed in our welcome packet: poison ivy, red velvet ants, and ticks. I still have a very hard time recognizing poison ivy so I may have just breezed by. I've survived all of it thus far!

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Past halfway but still immersed


This is the first rhododendron I've seen here! We were finally allowed inside the buildings for a private tour on Sunday because our quarantine is done (just the two of us, Emma is the other artist and we have barely seen each other).
I harvested only about 7 dogbane stalks and stripped them right after I got home, and got about six tiny sheets (each half the size of a regular letter-sized sheet of paper). I knew how it would look based on other samples I had from friends but wanted to have done it myself because I am stubborn like that. How else do you develop relationships with plants?!
The dark one, what's your name?
After my tick bite I was horrified but knew I couldn't let it keep me inside forever, so I took an hour-long hike on the other side of the property and it almost killed me (because I am still not in great shape and because it was about a thousand percent humidity so it was hard to breathe). But I found the creek and had big boots on to get through the dampness in the rain.
After a week of letting the steamed stripped milkweed sit outside in soda ash, I rinsed and washed it and went through almost every bit to try and remove some outer skins plus latex bits. But it's never going to be enough unless I did a full fermentation or scraping (my knife is not with me and there's no time/patience to ferment).
This is after today's cook in washing soda with peroxide. I haven't had such a green batch since 2013.
I barely beat, just a bit.
The okra for goo was from the garden but it wasn't quite enough so I added some synthetic goo as well.
My first batch of larger sheets! I didn't use all the fiber, was too tired after a studio visit to go all out.
To break quarantine with friends, I met Frank and his partner at Sky Meadows Park and we happened to park right under a big walnut tree! He suggested I take some home but I was too hot to worry about it and I already feel overwhelmed by all the plant options around me. But he's right, I should have!
This was my first test bundle though it's not helpful because I don't really know what most of what I harvested was! But when you're just doing it for fun, that's okay.
This was coming down from my duck teapot, not as exciting but just needed to get the extra steam in my hands onto some more stuff. Onion skin dyed cords from last year.
A regular stopper, but that took a long time to figure out. Finishing bits always do.
The deep joy here is being able to eat the veggies from the land. These are the sweetest beets I've ever eaten or roasted.
One bit turned into beet hummus (using peanut butter because I had no tahini, and it worked!). It was a big hit at our Sunday picnic.
The rest went into the chocolate beet cake. I didn't want to buy more sugar for frosting so I got strawberries instead and made a lovely glaze with extra dates and whatever leftover sugar I did have.
On the fancy side, we saw interiors with lots of painted floors. The floors are wood...and then painted to look like wood. Hm. This seems like a lot of work to make something look like a different version of itself but what else would big wealth want to do with its money?
I miraculously turned my milkweed chiri messy paper into a mix of respectable sheets with a tiny bit of leftover slippery elm, and made a new book. I couldn't sew the small paintings on because the thread would show on the other side so I opened my glue container to see it was mostly really old, which is perfect! Less moisture. I put it all in my book press and it came out flat.
Today and yesterday I visited the library in the excitement to enter buildings again. There is way too much to really get my teeth into but it was still lovely to look around and today to browse after seeing fancy things yesterday. I'm looking forward to see how a second book in the press comes out tomorrow, plus the milkweed paper, but for now happily eating a late late dinner of a green onion pancake. Feeling a bit overwhelmed to have some kind of in-person appointment every day this week after two weeks of isolation, but it helps remind me that I'm not the only person in the world right now.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Major minor


What I forgot to post just now was that I ordered Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong a while back but it arrived in the mail right before I found out I would be able to come here. I immediately put it in my pile of books to read and it was the first one I finished here. I am so glad she wrote it, and that I was able to read it here with all the space and time it deserves. The story she mentions about a white American surgeon in Korea serving in the Army who developed the eyelid surgery that has become all too common now made me crazy. I found this article that delved deeper into that pretty racist practice, which is now deeply internalized racism practiced in Korea and beyond.

Too much to think about and articulate clearly but I'm grateful to her for doing the hard work: just going back to the memories of childhood, immigrant parents, not being accepted here ever, all of that takes incredible energy and time. I avoid recalling a lot of my own memories because they suck. But a friend shared with me the story of a biracial opera singer who posted about his experiences of racism in the field and the history behind it. Again, grateful to all of these artists who do this work and remind me to keep doing my work.

Above, the first book I finished here. I'll start that structure all over again tomorrow, re-practice, re-learn.

Itchy milestones

This was a walk from the weekend, I think. I realized it wasn't as hard to walk to the other property as I feared, and that it's a nice walk if you take the mowed paths through the fields, which apparently are a newer phenomenon (the paths, not the fields).
I started this lid and finished it but now it has no bottom! I thought it would be easier to make a pot fit a lid than vice versa but that means I have to make a pot first and I'm only half in the mood.
For years I had big thick cords laying around and I've kind of wrangled them into baskets but they really just want to do what they want, which may not be this.
Years ago I tried to harvest and strip dogbane from the fall and it was a total fail, because I didn't read Winifred Lutz's research closely enough to see that you have to strip earlier than the fall! The fiber is gorgeous and the next batch I almost don't even want to turn it into paper, only strip it for the fiber to do other things with—spin, weave, twine, make string.
Yesterday (was it yesterday? Maybe the day before? I can't keep track of days) I did a small marigold harvest from the garden for a tiny dye batch.
I didn't have white papers so I dyed milkweed and slippery elm/mulberry ones. It's nice to do small batch everything, so manageable. For three days I've done tiny paper batches, very contained and low pressure but still with delightful results.
This morning's hodgepodge of a harvest. It was from the garden, then I biked to the side of the road where I had seen milkweed but didn't want to walk through the tall grass to get there, just one stalk to have a sample stalk. I stepped on tall grass that was laying down, thinking, is this grass laying down because deer were hanging out on it? I check when I come in every day from being in fields or gardens, but I wasn't being vigilant enough: usually I only check my bottom half. I found the first tick ever on my shoulder and freaked out of course but in the end it's a miracle I survived four decades without this experience.
Pictures never do justice but the sunsets (and sunrises, I've been told, but don't get up early enough to witness) are gorgeous here.
I made two versions of this book, and though I hate the prep work on these lovely bindings, I always love the results. I had intended to do this for a long time at home, but it never happened. This is why residencies are so helpful. I've been feeling more antsy this week in quarantine and am really excited to be done with it soon, but have made plenty of plans to finally be able to enjoy the insides of the buildings here and the library collection.