Monday, November 20, 2023

Place, plants, people: Milkweed Residency

Yes, of course I could harvest Ohio milkweed, and I have and do (this year, it has decided to have its way in my yard/border and how can I say anything? I put it there, there's no stopping it). But each fall brings my favorite time of year: Milkweed Residency! I get to commune with my favorite plants, people, and places.
Tim and Pati live here (and work in the studio building to the left) in the house that he built and added onto over the years. Ever since I visited the place in 2017, it has been one of my very favorite homes/studios, and I have been to very many homes and studios throughout my life. They host me every time and Pati had the idea last year to expand the residency to include a student, to try and share all that milkweed has to teach. I had resisted at the time, after being exhausted by launching my own hanji retreats and wanting space away from students.
But this year I had two students in my annual retreat that I thought would really get a lot out the experience. Veronica was curious about milkweed for papermaking as it's in her backyard, too, and Esther was motivated to learn more about toolmaking after our week together. I asked Pati if they could handle TWO, as V&E are kind of a package deal. They are in their final year of their Madison MFA program and Pati got her MFA in printmaking in Madison years ago, so she and Tim had lived there and now their kids are also there/in the area. Turned out to be an ideal fit!
It was going to be a bit late (in Nov instead of Oct) and abbreviated for my students because of a variety of scheduling challenges, but there was still plenty of milkweed hanging around. Can you see Pati in this picture? She's there.
Veronica took this and the next three pics, which I love so much. Also, SO much easier to document when you have a pro photographer in the group!
Pati and I used the be the only one to harvest in David's field, though last year Jill was able to join us. I was very sad to miss her this time around but she got sick and needed to stay home.
We had plenty of time harvesting and I probably could have let them do less but striking out to find just the right ones in the field is its own deep and solitary pleasure. Here, we've already trimmed away exploded pods and are organizing the stalks to bundle and transport back.
I still have plenty of coma (the fluff) back home from past harvests, and am not interested in separating silks from seeds from pods from other bits, but figured V&E might want to see the process, so we had a bit of trimming and sorting to do before we could shove the pods into multiple buckets to take home.
Every day, Tim started cozy fires, the best part of being in the woods in chilly weather. Plus I got to hear more stories about the system and learn more about how it works. I realized that someday, if we ever get far enough in the process, we should use the ash (which is not even that much, from my understanding of how efficiently the system works) to cook fiber. For now, the better use of the fire was to roast tomatoes!
I had urged my students to bring gifts of the local (to Madison) and edible kinds, so every morning Veronica took care of the pour over for the coffee she brought.
And Pati made exquisite meals for us every single day, which are always so delicious and heartwarming. The only problem was now that we had five at meals, there were so many more stories to share and food to talk about, so each meal would extend for a long time until we were up past midnight by their final night.
Pati and Tim kindly laid out a bunch of his moulds downstairs in the studio, and it was great to see such a big range of laid, wove, dimension, and time.
I wanted them to see Tim's loom, too, but I think that would require more time to really understand. I forget that on first glance, the loom (to the left) does not make sense to people who don't know what it's supposed to do. Here we're looking at Tim's straightened wires.
While milkweed was steaming or whatnot, we tried to make time to look at artwork. This was just a one-on-one with Esther but I was very glad to see her using the jiseung techniques she learned in July. We had talked about this at least seven years ago and she had never gotten a chance to work with me until this year. Her early attempts were like many early attempts when you don't have a teacher to guide you. But like many gifted past students, once we were in person, everything clicked for her and she was off to the races. There are secrets (literally, written secrets) woven into the basket-in-progress.
I really, really wanted them to see Pati's artwork. But given the time, it was only ever going to be a sliver of her oeuvre. This was a blank wall when we arrived, and then she very kindly hung a bunch of her prints to share, which became a backdrop to our stripping bast fiber work.
The books, she showed us in the house. This one was GIANT, and like so much of her work, incredibly ambitious, layered, impeccable. I'm still stuck on trying to figure out how to get a book structure engineered now at home, and I run away from it for days on end after only handling it for half an hour at a time. Being able to map this one out (there are 18 books bound into this one, and they all have to line up with each other on every single spread—right now they haven't been opened yet). I loved seeing her work in more of a context from the early grad school books through the ones I've seen, to this giant one. The quality of her work even as a grad student was so high; I have tried as much as possible to sell/give away/hide/throw away my work from then but that's probably a waste of shame.
Because I didn't want to make a total mess inside of their studios, we worked on Pati's balcony and steamed the stalks out there with outdoor outlets and burners.
Unsurprisingly, V&E very much enjoyed separating seeds and coma and pods and other non-coma stuff. At one point, we got locked out, but V got the latch up before I started yelling over to the house.
They worked until it was too dark to stay outside. I love how joyful they are up there, while Tim is hard at work downstairs.
There is SO much more I could have shared but will leave it between us for now. The residency expansion was a huge success, and we were sad to see them go. After they left, I thought, is this how parents feel when their kids leave? And then a parent friend told me, no, because once they leave, you start to worry again. What I felt was, okay, I think that went well, time to nap!! And as always, I was so grateful to Pati and Tim for letting me feel so much at home in their home, and being just as generous and welcoming to people who were up until a few days earlier, strangers.
Final pic by Veronica!

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