Friday, January 17, 2020

The best way to begin

I took last January off to get to know my house in winter and have my own down time for the first time in five years. Being back now to teach this month-long intensive feels more intense than ever! I for sure have not mellowed in my desire to share everything I can with my students. This is one tiny segment of all the dyed and inked papers they made last Friday on a field trip to Cleveland. Only their lunchtime hunger was able to tear them away from this work.
This week, we began western papermaking and for the first time ever, I could ask them to process rag so that I could beat it for them—on campus! There were two batches: one of white blotter offcuts (almost 2 pounds) that I trimmed from large sheets for the drybox, and one of fabric scraps. There was a threadbare yellow linen tablecloth a friend gave me years ago, parts of the legs of a pair of linen pants that a different friend gave to me even more years ago, and a pair of jeans that Ed gave to the studio at the start of this month (the librarian miracle worker here who makes this class possible and works WAY above and beyond his job).
A biology professor who had taken my intensive years ago let me use his Critter to process all of that fiber after class in the science building. I have seen but never used one of these beaters (I even went all the way to New Zealand to meet Mark, who makes them!). After getting over the learning curve, I got this rag to a certain point and then was so exhausted I had to call it a night. Thank goodness Taylor let me leave the batch in the beater until the next day. He even circulated it for a while before I arrived, and helped me empty the pulp to carry back to class.
Every morning, they unload the drybox and sort their papers. They are really good about socialist papermaking so what you see are the sheets they made to share. The sheets they made for themselves are all tucked away in labeled folders that are now bulging. I laughed on the first or second day of papermaking last week when one student asked if we were making "communism paper."
This week we have also shared the classroom with the class working with sound and health in the Technology in Music and the Related Arts department of the Conservatory. Abby teaches the class that is focusing on ways that these students can engage sound and breath when thinking about people with COPD. It will lead into a semester-long inquiry where they actually go to hospitals. Here, they have learned to pull sheets so that they can embed various wires and components of devices that they can later hook up to battery power to activate.
You can see how excited we get when pulling and couching the first sheet of a batch, especially when it's paper made from clothes and rags that we cut up the day before.
This is also the week we got into pulp painting, and I was relieved that all of the stencils I bought / ordered / repurposed / made worked. Some students made their own while others did very fun things with what was in the bin.
I patted myself on the back for ordering eyedroppers years ago for myself and then remembering to pack them this year to share with students.
Tuesday night, I invited the Shansi staff and new fellows to come make a sheet of Asian style paper and then play with the Korean joomchi technique that uses colored hanji. They had a great time and are really well bonded as a group already—in June-ish they will fly off to distant parts of the world to teach English and work on other projects.
This is the load of embedded paper that the TIMARA students made, and we'll hopefully see today what they do as my class will finally visit their maker space. I'll teach everyone how to make paper thread and cord and do a little joomchi.
We do very little sculptural paper but they were more than happy to sit for a moment and play with wire to make armatures. This was instructive for me (as is every single day) to realize that almost none of them knew how to work with wire. Also, I needed to have more sets of needlenose pliers to go around.
They used lightly pressed abaca to wrap these armatures and let them dry.
Yesterday we did lots of paper decoration. The morning was all paste papers and I loved watching them come up with all kinds of ideas. They have no sense of how each thing they learn and do is leading up to another thing, so they get very attached to the one object in front of them, which is a masterpiece unto itself. Wait until I make them cut them up to make book covers (in all fairness, I explained this part, but words are fairly useless—next week will be the awakening).
This student did a great job repurposing a tool. He made this pattern and made me so happy—a different group of students saw that stamp and never touched it. Herb and I have been talking about things like curiosity and how it brings meaning to work, not only for the maker but for the people who experience the work. It's clear when people are inquisitive and excited about exploring, and it keeps me invested as a teacher.
This may not seem like a big deal to anyone, but for years I had been plagued by these long hoses (granted, I bought them, but at the time I did not know that you could buy much shorter hoses). They would sit coiled on the floor and it was a damn miracle that none of my students ever tripped and fell. This week, I got so frustrated that I looked up reviews for shorter hoses. When I mentioned it to Ed, he said, Why don't you just coil them onto the shower fixtures? I couldn't believe what a ding dong I had been about this. I was extremely excited to coil them and then realized why I had never thought of it: this was always a temporary space where we hooked up hoses early in January and then took them down two weeks later to store in another building. Everything changes when you are given a space to occupy legitimately, a real home.
I don't have any good marbling shots but here is the hot and humid shower room where my students and the TIMARA students were watching Ed's marbling demo. Always a huge hit!
I thought suminagashi would be the best technique to share with the TIMARA group as it involves breath. You can see in the foreground that we are experimenting with conductive ink to see first if it will marble (diluted, it will) and later they'll see if it actually conducts.
Last night, I stayed for an extra few hours to host an open house so that other people on campus not taking the class could visit and make paper. One of my students came back with a friend to show off their folder of goodies. I always love listening to students rehash their experience, which usually relieves me because they mostly have learned what I taught. The best part is how excited they are to share it with others.
What could make a physics major who can't normally get into art classes during the semester but is creatively inclined happier than making paper? This is a small recap of a week, and yes, I am completely exhausted. Time to get dressed for a final wet day in the studio! Next week: books.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Sixth time's a charm

In my sixth iteration of this January papermaking/book arts class, I have a fine group of six students in the studio that is old/new: the space is the same, with a slight upgrade (the peeling lead paint was finally painted over), but the studio itself is new. We could finally commit time and resources to putting the tables in here and leaving them (rather than folding up and sending away), and building out or purchasing or scavenging the rest of a paper studio. It required over half a year of planning and execution and even this morning I was sewing more sugetas with one of my students, but everything is working so far.
The group is slightly smaller than previous years and as they inhabit the space it makes me realize how much EASIER this class is to run with a couple less students. If we can keep it that way going forward, I would be delighted. I met the custodian for the building and learned a lot, even though we know that the college will eventually tear down the building. It's unclear how many more years we have in here but I'm making the best of it.
The new press works with an easily adjustable lower platen while the drybox had a lot of initial glitches. We will put it to the real test next week and fingers crossed it functions (you can see the back of it with the box fans on the left side of this pic). After a full first day of scraping mulberry bark and dry stripping milkweed, they made clean Florida mulberry paper, slightly less clean Florida mulberry paper, Florida chiri paper, and Thai kozo paper. Tomorrow we'll clean and beat the milkweed fiber and do a bit of bark lace. I've already heard and been part of numerous fascinating conversations as I settle back into my alma mater's very particular and very verbal environment. Already lots of adventures and looking forward to more paper discoveries.

I can't remember if I shared this or not, but this is the video of my live papermaking "performance" last month on stage. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Taking stock to make stock

Well. My home visit to NY was much more than I thought it would be, and all I'll say for now is that I survived and am glad to be home! One of my first jobs was to visit Stefan for a photo shoot and always enlightening catch up. One of my many takeaways was his reminder that the two most vicious places in the world are the Vatican and academia. Above, a detail of one of my newer paper compositions (you can see a few more here, and then more woven fun here).
The one show I wanted to see for sure was of handmade paper art in Brooklyn, and I was so happy to visit with my friend Lisa, who also loves paper.
I had met Candy briefly when they assisted me in a hanji class years ago in Cleveland and am gratified to see their current work now that they are done with grad school and in the wide world. This piece addresses their own body while looking at altar work of other artists.
I met Lina a few years ago when I helped Dieu DonnĂ© with studio buildout, loved her work then and still love it now. She combines colorful paper pulp with fabrics and imagery that address different issues—this particular one addresses a festival in Ohio that used to welcome seasonal migrants who did agricultural labor but then was cancelled because of anti-immigrant feelings.
Lisa is inside of Paul's enormous installation, which brings together three past pieces into a new iteration.
This is inside, but my favorite part is on the outside panel where you can see burned joss paper embedded between abaca sheets and then cut, so you see the different layers of the different paper.
I always try to see my conservator friends at the Met, but usually am too tightly booked to see any of the actual shows. I loved seeing Wangechi Mutu's four sculptures on the front facade but wondered how much of her work was on the inside.
The final museum bit was to see Amanda at the Museum of Arts & Design to see what she has been doing with paper cording since she took a class with me at the Center for Book Arts years ago. She had taken to it right away and then ran with it. It's fantastic because she is doing what I had wanted to do over 10 years ago but never had the time to do because of the education and dissemination part of my hanji work: I never felt like it was enough to make the art. I had to provide all of the cultural context. This is still something I grapple with.
But look at what you can do with hand-corded paper! She is really into nets, which I have been wanting to do since Pat Hickman so generously showed us how to do it at rainy, cold Haystack in 2015 (these ideas take longer and longer to come to fruition these days). I was going over old notes from two years ago from reading an anthropology text and it said something about material culture being only concerned with culture and not materiality. Guess who needs to check this book out of the library again to re-read?
Because of family constraints, I could only literally run through the rest of the museum, like this bit of the Anna Sui show.
Loved this Jaydan Moore piece. A docent tried to get me to talk to him about a video installation behind this wall but I had to run down the stairs to find my family instead.
And then a Vera Neumann exhibit.
The gift shop had soooo many delightful things, including paper rock containers from Japan that I wish I had written down the designer of. I was admiring the very top necklace on the bust when my sister pointed out the designers were from Cleveland. I took a jewelry class with Debra! Small world.
This was another run through the museum, this time of folk art. I'll never get over them being forced to move from a beautiful building next to MOMA; I really do not like this space but it's all about money. It's hard to see everything, it feels discombobulated, almost like they never really recovered from that move.
Everyone around me is looking back at their year before heading into the next, but I don't feel I have the time. Last night I re-read handwritten notes in the front calendar part of a journal I've had for years, and it was like looking into the weird mind of someone else: profound statements that came from an unattributed lecture, to-do lists of all sorts in all orientations on the page, technical details from website redesign, drawings, notes from books, schedules, and so on. That's all I'll do before moving on. It would be great to make those long simmering soups but the fast ones are okay in a pinch. My celebration today was to swim for the first time in weeks and do it alone in the small diving pool because the lap lanes were full. Small luxuries!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Between home and home

My last gig for the year was a live event, taped to broadcast this week on radio. This was the first group, a band called The Katy. We each only had 5 minutes to perform so The Katy could only do one song, a shame! I had a little extra time because my papermaking won't be on the radio as visual art does not translate well without visuals. You can see the host at right, Mike McIntyre, who was really well prepared. It was a relief to answer new kinds of questions that were thoughtful.
I arrived after 2pm though my sound check wasn't until 3:30pm, for a 6pm show, because I had a lot to set up and then tuck into the wings. I was extremely jealous of the people who could get up without props, perform, and then relax, but I enjoyed all of the gigs immensely. They had this camera on a big crane in case they air this on TV later. The director of the TV part was very kind and helped hold my display stands as I tried to screw legs onto them.
Choreographer Dominic Moore-Dunson (at right) performed part of a show that he'll present next month at Akron Civic Theatre. His goals are inspiring and we were all sad that we couldn't see more of the performance. There were six gigs in total and the show will air this Wed on 90.3 WCPN at 9am, with the video of the event eventually going online at their community tour site. Thank goodness a friend came and was like an angel, ordering food for me to inhale between striking my set, loading my car, and having provided props for the solo show I de-installed only days prior. Where would I be without my friends?!
If I had had more time to relax after the show, I would have curled up in a ball for a few days before flying, but instead had meetings, January teaching prep, and final class and grading. I packed the night before leaving and arrived so early that I had enough time in the weirdly quiet Cleveland airport for this selfie with my art at the current airport exhibit.
The direct flights to NYC on my regular airline are always in sardine cans, so we were smushed in with a pilot who did at least one sudden descent and then lots of killing time (I know, that's not his fault). Soon after passing Manhattan, we passed the airport and kept going so I closed my eyes because I didn't want to see Boston or wherever we were hovering over. At that point, passengers behind me who perhaps had never flown had been spending 40 minutes exclaiming, "Are we there yet? Where's the runway?" and I felt quite ill from all the turbulence and inane chatter.
Seeing her with her arm still aloft makes me feel sad when I think about how we are tearing each other apart, but also makes me think of novels that center around immigration and islands, way stations where people who have been on boats for a Very Long Time pause briefly. I hope we push the ship towards better days.
This morning I spent hours finding old photos and scanning them for the PBS producer editing a show about my life. I thought my art in my undergrad senior show was so wonderful, and it's so not, but it shows me A LOT about how to approach teaching art students at this age. I also am amazed by how much velvet I was wearing. David and Eliza, pictured here, were my showmates and I still love what we did together in this gallery for a brief week or so in 1999.
I don't remember exactly where or when this was, but it must have been high school because I recognize the slip-on high-heeled clog-like shoes that my mom got for me and the white-top black-bottom rules. My favorite part of school concerts aside from performing was collecting cash from my classmates ahead of time and going to the local florist to put together the loveliest bouquet I could get for our teacher/conductor. I still love flowers and teachers, especially this one. On the back of this photo in someone else's handwriting (whose, I don't know) is "PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE" plus a smiley face in the corner. I get two weeks at home to practice being home amidst friends and family while balancing with a bit of rest. :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Rooting the moon

My dear friend Therese reminded me of the full moon due shortly, which helped me remember why things are converging so intensely all at once. This is a piece (I didn't get a good enough shot of the artist's name but it's part of a show of Ohio artists) at the Canton Museum of Art.
I went there for the first time to see Yuko's solo exhibit, which was lovely. A lot of it is based on paper she finds in old books that have been eaten by wormholes. A nightmare for a conservator and a treasure for her. She takes pages and paper apart, pieces them together, and uses them as resists in her printmaking. This corner shows some of her collages mounted onto antique wooden spools.
I attempted a less work-filled weekend, but did have a lot of panic over the paper studio I've wanted Oberlin to have for years. My fantastic librarian colleague drove a press over to my house to deliver to my neighbor, who will construct pieces for us. We did a big hardware store run but there was still a ton of stuff on campus that we need on my side of town, which I picked up yesterday on a rainy Monday after de-installing my solo show. This task was much easier than install, especially since a number of pieces sold—the best end-of-year present I could ask for!
I had eight different meetings but each one was enlightening. I especially loved visiting the new maker space in the Conservatory's TIMARA department. I rarely if ever went to the basement when I was a student as it felt like not a place for me. Time and advances in the field have changed the program and the space feels much more welcoming now.
I was skeptical of getting everything done yesterday but writing a list helped. Completing the list and more explains why I am so beat today. This was my sugar rush at 4pm yesterday where I began more lists, as work begets work. The next several days are overbooked: radio gig tomorrow (which meant papermaking and prep today), continued studio build-out for Oberlin, final class and grading this week for school, booking a NYC fortnight full of childcare and meetings, and continued juggling of a massive exhibit idea that I envisioned a month ago (which will take over years of my life).

Though it was bumped for impeachment radio coverage, I did my interview this morning via phone while looking out the window at deer feeding on my back lawn. Since they've already eaten all of my plants, I don't know what they find so delicious in my grass and leaves, but they always hang out because I don't have fences. To help me survive the next few days, I roasted root veggies and re-read the poem I saw yesterday on the storefront window of the bakery:

Maybe Ohio Needs

Ohio needs three active volcanoes.
Ohio needs three jungles.
Ohio needs three bustling cities.
Ohio needs three blizzards a year.
Ohio needs three emerald mines.
Ohio needs three world-known jazz bands.
Ohio needs three huge jack-o-lanterns.
But maybe, just maybe,
Ohio needs just one
insecure and immature
kid like me.

Daylon Mason
7th Grade Student
Langston Middle School