Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Back to school

The fun is over and strangely enough upon my return home the weather acted like fall weather when returning to school, back when the planet wasn't so hot and we had gradual shifts into seasons. The picture above of how Korean women in Confucian culture had to stay unseen by men is pretty much how I feel about teaching at school in person. The anticipation anxiety was through the roof for a couple weeks and though we survived the first week, I still worry as it's only a matter of time before we get an outbreak or exposure or illness or any combination of the above.
The other looming large reality is the studio. I have so many misgivings about my choices now that they are manifesting in real life and no longer abstractions in my head. Now I see the consequence of having choices: taking responsibility for them. Still juggling what seems like more and more balls, but after tomorrow night one more thing will be done: artist talks for a group show I'm in. Register for a 7pm zoom session with four of us—I'll probably do a little jiseung demo.

Friday, August 14, 2020

When you know

I had been scared for nothing in this tiny corner of woods. I think after the tick bite I generally got overly scared. But I biked down here today for one last hurrah.
I finally took the path that I knew led to the airstrip (I had always seen the two paths from the airstrip but didn't follow because I didn't know where they led. Silly fear!). This was about when today I knew I wanted to leave tomorrow, a day early.
I had had a lovely final visit to the library this week and saw this delightful Japanese book on growing mushrooms.
And these tidbits, plants tucked into the book (mostly likely a conservator's nightmare but terribly fun to discover).
The fun thing is that this wasn't even what I had requested but it was better so mistakes are often fortuitous.
I had searched the entire catalog for Korean anything and failed, so I looked up "Japan" and found one book that included Corea. Of course! Fascinating account, of course racist and not well informed because it's a white British guy going to Corea before Japan turned it into Korea and so on, but still so interesting. He wanted to look at plants and horticulture but found them utterly uninteresting and not special there, so instead he talked all about the people and how hot it was. It was foolish to travel there in the summer on horseback (I don't like going in summer even with cars and trains and A/C), but he said it was impossible to get accurate info about the country.
I had noticed this sweet piece on my first visit but wasn't able to ask until my last what it was: a piece by the late Jan Baker. Of course! It's so her.
There is plenty I haven't explored and yesterday, when attempting to avoid my school prep by taking three walks, one bike ride, cleaning, asking for a tour and then talking a lot, and so on, I came out this way. These are turned off but wow, to have your own gas pumps?!
The surprise lilies are all shouting and I'm so glad I was able to meet them. When I arrived, I was greeted by fireflies. Now, a month later, already so much has changed.
This is the house I asked to tour, the Nora Mellon house. I had expected grand wide open spaces but that isn't how it was. It was more like the other side, lots of smaller rooms attached to more and more.
This facsimile of a painting had me stumped. A dog playing harpsichord, I don't have enough art history study to understand why this image would ever have happened, but it was hilarious.
I only got around to dyeing, not using these. I started one tiny piece a few days ago but it languished in the face of reality: we're forced back to school and I'm terrified. Herb put it very well here. Since pandemic, I've felt a lot of resistance to a lot of my work. This is where I feel an incredible amount of it. A teacher long ago said resistance is information. Well, I know exactly what the information is and I don't feel good about it. Days of revamping a syllabus/schedule with very slow progress.
I knew I had to get home to deal with it, where all my notes and sample structures and real life are. Yes, it's beautiful and peaceful and whatnot here, but my work is done and I am needed elsewhere. Packing is so easy with these grand wheeled carts and I'm confused by how I seem to have less when I'm pretty sure it should be the same amount coming and going (actually, slightly more leaving). But a calm packing job when I live all on one level makes it easier. It has been great and it has come full circle.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


Here the dominant noise is buzzing. So many pollinators, so many insects. At the arboretum this weekend when we were looking for where to put down the picnic blanket, all the grass was twitching. Up here on a sweaty late afternoon visit to the formal garden, I finally noticed these giant gorgeous pods!
Here are the flowers I cut from the walled garden to see what will dry tough enough to make it home on a 6-hour drive, and then survive being shipped in a box to NYC to my photographer for a piece.
I'm packing the wet studio and cleaning a bunch, which leads to some dry studio stuff getting packed as well. These cords are bundled in a cloth and already in my car trunk!
From the light orange down, those are colors I did here. Onion, marigold, marigold plus icy salty fresh indigo leaves, and then those leaves again (very weak because this is NOT how to use indigo but I wanted one last hurrah in the dye garden).
This is the third version of this book and I am finally getting the hang of these paper strap bindings.
This one was from when I first practiced these structures years ago. Now it's finally holding a bit of content. I delivered one to the library and had a great visit because I finally found a book that got a grip on me.
These are the small papers from this month. That was fun!
Pods are bursting everywhere. Not all, but more than when I first arrived.
I saw this photo essay about blood quantum in Native communities today and it was wrenching, just as it always is when I think about this cruel colonial rule that lives to this day. I loved what the photographer said in response to the interview question about "being objective" as a Native journalist covering Native stories: why don't we ask white folks if they are being objective when they cover white stories? All My Relations covered blood quantum in two podcast episodes, this one with outside guests and then this more personal one with their own team. And then to contrast this with the one drop rule for Black people. How is it possible that white supremacist colonizers could come up with BOTH rules and apply them with no inner struggle? I mean, of course they did. It just sucks that they're still around.
I hope this one is praying for us because we really need it.

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.