Monday, January 17, 2022

Final days in Virginia

I got up earlier and earlier to peek at the sky before the sun crossed the horizon and wished that my bed faced east, not west.
Before studio visits on Thursday morning, I soaked the winter milkweed and then cooked at dawn.
One big lesson this time was the value of patience, not rushing through. The tool of patience was my screw press. At right, the heavy joomchi on an indigo-dyed hanji piece (recycled from a dress I made over five years ago). At left, less wrinkles after dampening and pressing overnight, making it easier to write/draw onto and construct into books. I'm often fearful that the ideas will escape for good if I don't get it done immediately. But being able to go into the studio daily helped assuage that panic, because I could truly do it tomorrow, and it would still be waiting for me.
This was part of Sarah's installation in the cupola of her airport studio, awash with windows and an incredible view for her to see foxes hunting in the snow. She was looking at old herbaria and making imagery of plants that we have since lost, documenting their absence.
Calista did an incredible performance where she narrated a script about orchids, climate change, Australia, capitalism's sins, etc. over a video of an installation full of overhead projectors showing composite images that she had painstakingly created through extensive research (obviously this is the Q&A).
Kandy showed us her keenly perceptive illustrations of lichens, birds, nests, and other aspects of the landscape she found here and out in the world. She let us try her metalpoint tools as well and had another botanical illustrator visitor from the Smithsonian. We heard about how botany has been dropped from many programs, and that botanical illustrators are forced to work digitally—causing the traditional tools they used to use to disappear, while young people interested in the field prefer drawing from a photo on their phone rather than the actual plant.
After studio visits, I drove Sarah and Yi Hsuan to the fancy side of the property to visit the gallery. The pruning team was outside with four, maybe five, ladders and a cherry picker.
Elinor (head volunteer and spouse of the current director) had worked for years on going through the linens on the property and creating an exhibit. Yi Hsuan couldn't show us her studio because she had lost her first week to quarantine; plus a lot of her work this time will be for research.
What we saw was 1% of the collection (and these pictures are 1% or less of the show). There is a note from RFK in front of the "Bunny" basket, the stationery lined in black as he was mourning his brother.
The backside of the embroidery work was as stunning as the front. But the sheer display of wealth...it's hard not to feel conflicted about all of this.
In between the show tour and studio visits, we gathered for tea and snacks in the newly-renovated Schoolhouse building. I went back downstairs to visit the basket chairs.
Saskia, the residency chef who has not been able to do much cooking for a while due to pandemic, made a delightful batch of sweets and cider.
I only made it outside once or twice at dawn but would often brush my teeth in front of the window so as not to miss a minute of the show, which changed daily. On our first overcast morning, I recognized a familiar feeling of grey Ohio daylight, and how it is not motivating. No wonder I prefer staying in bed in winter. I had thought I was okay with the cloud cover for 8 months of the year but the contrast here makes me wonder if I am simply lying to myself.
After the studio tours, we were all exhausted. I felt like I lost most of the day and then after that I lost more because I had visitors and we started to socialize in the evenings. Being prone to feeling inadequate, I got carried away making hummus and a massive new batch of popovers (I forgot to add the fresh rosemary from our farm share until the last few).
It wasn't hard to force them upon everyone, which I have to do because my body is not built for bread/butter/baked treats. Yet I have had a LOT here.
On the way to the compost, I took a slightly different route and enjoyed the tree framed by the doorway.
While walking, I continued to regret bringing only tiny paintbrushes because I wanted a wider brush. Then I realized in the woods that EVERYTHING I need is here. I'm not a tool maker but chose a few different plants on the way. After passing my third stand of walnut trees since arrival, I reached the pine trees behind a big house and immediately there was the hush that pine needle carpets create. I looked up, wishing I could use a sprig, then looked down and saw great windfall, still intact. This is not a fancy brush but worked fine for my impatient self.
Mattie and Rosa visited from Baltimore and helped trim a new batch of hemp stalks, after bringing lots of Korean food to share! That day became a total wash because their arrival time kept getting delayed, throwing off my studio time. I lost my head for the rhythm of the days and was conflicted about it, but felt tears spring to my eyes once Rosa finally jumped out of the car; we were meeting after a year of virtual communication. That evening, I ran up to the big house for a farewell dinner with Calista, who was smart enough to leave EARLY as we all knew the storm was coming.
The next day, Yi Hsuan came over because she had mentioned she'd be willing to help beat fiber and wanted to learn about papermaking. She was very diligent with the milkweed batch.
I had thought that I'd resent sharing final vat time, but it was actually nice to have someone to help and ask questions. She removed the deckle in a way I've never seen anyone attempt, which was fun to witness. I was sad we couldn't see her work but her main thing here is spending time in the library to get flower images to create 3D molds to make flowers out of agar.
This batch turned out much softer than the fall harvested milkweed. I had forgotten about that characteristic.
The final drawing, on the final batch of paper.
The final book, which I sewed up today. I was antsy to clean up but tried to calm myself by doing a last sketch of the walnut tree with a new pine needle brush, then the egg drawing. Once I did this that I finally zoned out for a tiny while. Final residency days are hard because you want to keep working but you are no longer in that space, since you've crossed into a transition. And you want to linger with your new cohort, even for a brief residency like this. I tried to acknowledge how sad I was, then forced myself to stop imagining what last bits I could get done. Once I cleared and loaded things into my car and started to move furniture and sweep, I felt much better. Like I was honoring the time to close my time in the studio while preparing it respectfully for the next artist.
That pressed indigo hanji went into this book
and this one as well.
I fed Yi Hsuan lunch and on the way inside, the snow started falling. She was able to cycle back home before it got bad, but the dreaded storm had finally arrived.
A few hours later, I doubted that any artists would come to my house for dinner as I had invited them in the morning. Kandy knew to stay home, and Yi Hsuan tried to go outside but couldn't see, so went back in. Sarah was incredibly intrepid, and though she heard the wind howling from her studio, she was well equipped with all kinds of layers and arrived bearing salad ingredients. But even she was wise enough to leave early when we heard freezing rain pelting the windows.
This morning, I marveled at her grit both coming and going. Everything was covered in ice and I had to be careful not to slip while cleaning the car (more like throwing my body against it and flinging ice in great sheets), moving it closer to the studio, and on final errands like compost and gifts. I caught Sarah a few hours before she left and she reached out to grab my hand at the threshold because the ice was just as bad there as at my front door. We acknowledged our weird energy and how sad and bereft we felt, plus how odd it felt to leave when no one was here (holiday/staff out of town). Then I drove home and promptly fell on the ice going from my car to the house. It was straightforward, falling forward and down on my hands and knees, but I tweaked my back immediately. Loading the car tomorrow may involve sliding around on my ass, but that's only the first problem. How will the roads home be? I got visual confirmation that my driveway is covered in several feet of heavy compacted snow, completely unpassable. I'll park at a friend's house and get a ride to shovel for hours just to get my car past the sidewalk.

But I'll always have this experience! Links:

A great screw press, good for travel if you have a car

Sarah Jones

Calista Lyon

Kandis Phillips

Yi Hsuan Sung

Oak Spring Garden Foundation Residency Alumni

Rosa Chang

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Bounty and continual gratitude

The CSA here makes me want to weep. It's about five zillion times better than Christmas (that's not hard, actually) and totally made my morning. In fact, it has made the entire stay here because it was unexpected. Even the head of the residency program didn't know for sure if we'd get shares so she didn't include it in our handbook. I am so glad that I can truly not grocery shop this entire stay but more grateful for the most gorgeous produce...and that fancy luffa on the bottom left! Hard to find seeds for it, we heard the whole story at dinner, the name is Luffa operculata.
I was immediately enamored when I opened the egg carton. Last week they were all about the same color so this took over my morning in the best way.
Here's my random other food-related thing: Sarah invited Calista and me to dinner over the weekend but I didn't know until that morning that it was a dinner! So I freaked out about what to bring as I was very low on food and didn't know a share was coming the following week. I found a popover recipe and made very good use of the milk that had been provided when we arrived (I haven't had cow's milk in years). If I do it again, I'll bake for a touch less than 30 min, but was very pleased by how handsome and puffy they were.
The whole reason I came back was to work with winter-retted milkweed. I got very sidetracked but today finally finished stripping. This was from a day or two ago, when I sat outside to do a few but found the snow had turned to ice and mostly the stalks were dry.
This morning I hauled them in to strip a bit before hauling them out again to put on the ground to pour water over. That's a joke; the best ones have been sitting in the snow or damp for a while.
You can see it in the fiber that pulls away naturally from the stalk. The upper and lower parts of the stalks that were bent over were the best as they were submerged in snow, while the middle portion gave me more grief. But the good thing is that I can always leave fiber on the stalk (getting over the compulsion to strip it clean of all silvery fibers) and give it to the birds or whomever.
I had just under 40 stalks or so, hard to say since some broke, and this is the yield before I put it in a pot to soak. I'll cook tomorrow.
This time, there were two painter's easels in the studio so I dragged them over to rig three clotheslines. Easy peasy.
Working on this desk to dry paper, but also beat it, and do any number of things, made me realize that what used to be ubiquitous office furniture is not pretty but heavy-duty good. If I can find an old one back home, I will definitely get one for the studio. This first batch was 11 sheets but the final one was thin so I left it on the interfacing to dry on the line.
My first batch of paper was from milkweed and a touch of Florida kozo I had brought from home. Tons and tons of picking, I did a bad job sorting and did no cleaning (obviously) before I cooked. Lesson re-learned.
This was batch two of the same fiber, but experimenting with kakishibu powder (persimmon). I learned a lot from this minor disaster.
Because the powder stuck more to the interfacing than the papers! Aside from the powder I embedded between thin sheets, what I sprinkled onto the surface of wet sheets preferred the pellons. Total bummer. And reminds me why this is different from the last time I worked with this powder on paper: that was with hanji, no interfacing, soaks right in or into the next sheet. Another lesson learned.
Here is my giant sidetrack. Well, this was a batch delivered yesterday evening that I just left outside because if it's in the studio I'll go insane. It's bigger hemp stalks than the first batch. This I'll likely prune to various sizes to bundle and take back home.
Since these are plants for CBD and not fiber, it's different but this piece i cut off and laced looks just like the structure of paper mulberry. Stripped cores are in the corner.
I scraped for four days straight. I wanted to quit on Day One but have finally re-learned that I should just see the whole thing through after having started the whole mess in the first place. Why do all the work of pruning and steaming and stripping if I don't do it right to the end? Trying to spar with my impatience and I am winning but my neck hurts a lot.
I know, these are tiny pieces. It's a test batch and it's actually somewhat easier with short stubs for now.
Scraping off the outer layer makes me think about every bast fiber that requires this. Going forward, I don't want to skip this step with milkweed, either. Of course plants have this layer, because they have to protect their cambium layers, where all the food runs.
Cleaned on top of the giant mirror/paint palette that I first was annoyed by but then found very useful as I had forgot to bring a piece of wood to scrape upon.
Cleaned fiber
Scraped waste fiber that I cooked today (the pile got much bigger by the end) to test: will I be able to beat and make sheets by hand? Usually I assume this stuff needs a beater but it behaves so much like Ohio mulberry bast that I want to try by hand, just a little. I looked it up and these species were in the same order before the classification went defunct. But they share a new order now and I see tons of resemblances.
This was a book I struggled to finish back home and then today I pulled two together with the new paper.
Messy but now that idea is in the world and flattening in the press.
I have another bear of a book coming together really slowly, that won't get done here but today I did this little weaving for it. L to R: twisted cooked paper mulberry bast, waxed abaca paper, dogbane bast, twisted milkweed paper, safflower-dyed hanji, marigold-dyed milkweed paper, hanji twist 1, hanji twist 2.
I am obsessed with this sun and it has not failed us since we've arrived. We marveled about it last night at dinner and it reminds me that we each have our personal experiences with stars, milkweed, hemp, whatever, and they feel so unique to us. But then across the board, anyone with exposure to these things has some similar experience, and who am I to assert mine as The Way or Better? Imagine if we stopped doing that.
One morning I walked to dump the compost, cut into the woods, and then walk to the airstrip. I hadn't planned that when I first left, so I didn't wear boots and had to run through the path to the airstrip, which was deep snow, so that I could match the stride of whomever had walked it prior with their dogs. Once I landed, I took off my shoes and socks to dust off the ice/snow and feel the weather. Then it started to rain.
But the airstrip is so long that by the time I got a ways down, closer to the airport waiting room (now a studio), it had stopped raining!
Today I took a brief walk before making dinner, scared away a bunch of deer, looked at more walnut trees that I hadn't noticed until I saw husks scattered all over the ground, and watched a few birds.
Tomorrow we'll learn about the lichen drawing artist but her comments at dinner last night made me look just a little more closely.
I truly cannot get over the eggs.