Memories in Bed: Lost Opportunities

Parallel

adjective

(of lines, planes, surfaces, or objects) side by side and having the same distance continuously between them.

noun

a person or thing that is similar or analogous to another.

verb

to be side by side with, always keeping the same distance.

6:45 am Union Bridge, Maryland

It has been almost a year since I began to research the reliability and malleability of memories.

It has been months since I began to research the origins of my personal memories.  

I continue to search for the origins of my ‘parallel lives’ memory.

I travel back and forth through time – imagery emerging unbidden – and then disappearing – tracing not only my own memories, but those belonging to others.

6:45 a.m. Union Bridge Maryland, Spring

I am once again huddled under the covers. I am reading The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. It is a novel that tells the story of a former math professor who had only 80 minutes of short term memory yet could still solve intricate math problems. He would cover his clothing with slips of paper – reminders – of how to live through the day – of the names of people he might encounter and should recognize – but didn’t.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3181564-the-housekeeper-and-the-professor

Every 80 minutes his day began again.

He was not haunted by what he had forgotten.

He did not spend time searching for the derivation of a memory.

Or trying to hold onto one.

Or regretting those that never materialized.

#1 Lost Opportunity to Make a Memory

Theatres went dark. Concert halls remained empty. Museums closed. Exhibitions were installed in spaces that would not be filled with people. Works mined from collections were joined by traveling exhibits and never seen by an audience. The exhibits were then packed up and sent to their next destination.

Exhibition of Private Lives, Public Spaces was scheduled to openOctober 21, 2019 and continue until May 23, 2021 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (MOMA) https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/5074

This 100-screen presentation of virtually unseen, homemade works dating from 1907 to 1991 explores the connections between artist’s cinema, amateur movies, and family filmmaking as alternatives to commercial film production. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/17/arts/design/moma-film-private-lives-public-spaces.html

March, 2020 my Vermont Studio Center Residency ended abruptly in response to Covid 19. 

March, 2020 New York City went into lockdown.

March, 2020 MOMA closed.

The  ‘2 week’ quarantine would last for almost 2 years.

Moving Emotions to Moving Images

Growing up, no one in my family or even in my neighborhood as far as I know, had home movie cameras. We were fortunate if we could afford school photos every year. Owning a movie camera and projector was unthinkable.

Sean Yetter writes in How to See Home Movies:

 “The root of the word ‘amateur’ is love…(Amateur) Home Movies offer an unfiltered window onto history, telling important stories of the century that didn’t pass through film studios, news companies or advertising…

Amateur films function as time machines into the past. They connect us with parents, grandparents, even our younger selves. Watching them embeds the idea of the past into our brains.”

https://www.moma.org/magazine/articles/273

Sixteen years ago, 2005, (SIXTEEN. Really? Yup. 16. ) Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva aka the Kitchen Sisters examined the history and purpose of Home Movie Day https://www.centerforhomemovies.org/events/

on their radio program: Exploring Home Movies and Ephemeral Films.

They interviewed Canadian filmmaker Karen Shopsowitz, recipient of the Peabody Award for her film My Father’s Camera. In it she weaves the history of home movies together with footage shot by her father.

MEMORY

Prior to entering graduate school, I had made only one film. It was an 8 mm ‘home movie.’  Splicing together film footage using a razor and clear tape enticed me. Layering image upon image, juxtaposing, re-configuring.  I created a whole image from small pieces – a visual collage.

Screened only once, the film disintegrated during its first showing. I blamed the projector although it was probably due to my splicing skills. The pieces are stored in a leather bag in my studio.

Home movies (amateur films) have traditionally documented specific events – birthday parties, family get togethers, celebrations, vacations, weddings, graduations, holidays. They are unscripted and silent.

The camera is used to capture a moment in time. The images are a memory in the making. Sometimes a consequence of that spontaneity is an unintended message – a sense of something underlying an image – just outside the frame.

(In My Father’s Camera)…the film’s inspiration is the idea of history making its way into the frame. http://www.phsc.ca/DadCam.html   Yet even seemingly innocent footage shot on a family vacation may contain underlying messages.

On first viewing, My Father’s Camera appears to be a personal narrative intertwined with iconic historic film footage. Yet in some scenes the footage reveals more. Images not intended to be the focus of the shot emerge -creating unarticulated memories.

         Segregated beaches

         Racist graffiti warnings

         KKK marches

         Exploitation of children.

The Dione Quintuplets were born in 1934. The Province of Ontario swooped in and took them from their parents, declaring that they had to be protected from exploitation. Then it exhibited the children three times a day in a human zoo called Quintland, to be raised as a sort of science experiment. Three million visitors came in the 1930s. https://dionnequintshome.com/

Images intended to chronicle only a moment define a cultural norm.

Karan Sheldon, co-founder of Northeast Historic Films (https://www.oldfilm.org) and advocate of the importance of home movies, emphasized in a 2001 interview (TWENTY years ago. Really? Yup. 21 now.)

…the home camera captured an amazing amount of un pre-mediated contextual material: …some of it is very painful to see today.

These un-premediated images are a kind of “cultural artifact’– a hidden history. Sometimes – even the filmmaker – is unaware of their existence.

#2 Lost Opportunity to Make a Memory

The New York City lockdown continued. MOMA Public Spaces/Private Lives exhibit went on-line – films, lectures, articles, panel discussions. The previously unscreened Jarret Family Home Movies (1958-1967) became available to everyone.

The Jarret Family Home Movies were rescued from a Pittsburgh flea market in the 1990’s by the founder/curator of the Pittsburgh Orgone Archive, Greg Pierce. http://www.orgonearchive.com/

In 2002 (NINETEEN years ago. Really? Yes. 19) Greg was a presenter at the Northeast Historic Film Symposium entitled: Close Readings: Seeing Amateur Films in Important Ways. Serendipitously, a year ago, when I began my search for the origin of my “ parallel lives”  imagery,  I contacted him. 

POSSIBLE MEMORY:

One of my most prized works of art was created by Lynn Cazabon, Her 2003, Discard,  “is a body of work consisting of several discrete series of photographic prints featuring movie films discarded by public institutions (libraries, schools, archives). https://www.lynncazabon.com/discard

I have a memory that the films were ‘found’ in a Pittsburgh dumpster.

 

David H. Jarret, an African American firefighter from Pittsburgh filmed his home movies on 8mm. For almost 10 years, 1958-1967, he documented the lives of his family and neighbors living in what was known as the Hill District of Pittsburgh.

The Hill District was once a thriving African American community known as the ‘’crossroads of the world’ for its music, art, culture and commerce.

One of the most famous residents of the Hill District was the playwright August Wilson. Nine of the 10 plays included in his Pittsburgh Cycle are set in the Hill District. Each play depicts a different decade and the challenges confronting African Americans within that framework.

http://www.august-wilson-theatre.com/index.php

The movie Fences  is based on one of his plays set in the 1950’s. Race relations are explored in this film which starts with a couple of garbage ‘pick up’ men who wonder why they can’t become garbage truck drivers.

“Some people build fences to keep people out and other people build fences to keep people in.”

#3 Lost Opportunity to Make a Memory

Sometimes out of focus, pans too fast, often shaky, Jarret’s footage captured holiday celebrations and events. There are shots of wedding cake cutting, kids grinning into the camera while opening and displaying Christmas presents.

There were movies of family gatherings and roller coaster rides.

Reluctant onlookers, to avoid being filmed, would hide their faces behind their hands.

Others rehearsed ‘entrances and exits’. Sidewalks served as a kind of fashion show runway. Walking side by side, as they passed cars parked along the street, they smiled and waved.

Serving as backdrops were shots of the neighborhood – doorways and stoops, parks and picnics, swimming pools, community street fairs, parades, store fronts.

The passage of time was reflected in the changing fashions, hairstyles, cars, house décor and (sometimes) dance moves.

IMuch of the original Jarret Family footage has been corrupted by mold and is crumbling – disappearing. 

The disintegration of the images forces me to replay sections of the footage. These reversals disrupt the continuity but often reveal images that appear ‘outside the frame’ – probably unintended or maybe intentional.

 

 

  • a white police officer walking past the stoop 
  • swimming pools of only African American swimmers
  • little girls cuddling white dollies at Christmas
  • little boys holding toy hand guns, rifles and bazookas aimed point blank at the camera
  • a black and white television screen featuring Huntley/Brinkley evening news
  • parades featuring only African American marchers.

These ‘cultural artifacts’ tell another story. They may be bringing ‘history into the frame.’

#4 Lost Opportunity to Make a Memory

In many of the downtown scenes depicting street fairs and parades, Jarret and his camera follow along the route. Often a storefront window – lettered with the words “Freedom House” – appeared in the background. Freedom House Enterprises (FHE), was a nonprofit that helped people find jobs, register to vote, and organize NAACP meetings.

http://freedomhousedoc.com/

The Jarret Family Films span the years 1958-67. In the 1960’s Pittsburgh was segregated by race. Pittsburgh hospitals had discontinued their ambulance services. Poor neighborhoods received little emergency care and people were dying in the streets.  Paramedic training was nonexistent. For residents of “The Hill District’ transport to hospitals was in a police paddy wagon or funeral hearse.

https://www.uniquecoloring.com/articles/freedom-house-ambulance-service

During a 1966 campaign rally, the Governor of Pennsylvania, David Lawrence (formerly the Mayor of Pittsburgh from 1946-59) collapsed after suffering a massive heart attack. He was loaded “ like a sack of potatoes”  into a police paddy wagon equipped with only a broken resuscitator. Although resuscitated at the hospital, he never regained consciousness and died two weeks later. His death became an impetus to provide more equitable Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

A consortium of community visionaries, non-profits, charitable organizations and government programs created the first EMS training and ambulance re-design program in the country.  Funds once used to train underemployed people for jobs like hairdressing and truck-driving were used to train ambulance drivers and EMS personnel. Some of the recruits were felons, ex-convicts, or Vietnam War veterans. 

The training medics received was cutting edge. Ambulances were redesigned to include life support equipment.

Freedom House EMS became a national model.

https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/03/01/389798498/how-pittsburghs-freedom-house-pioneered-paramedic-treatment

 

By 1975 the program was disbanded due to political infighting over funding and blatant racism.

The Jarret Family films begin in 1958. In that same year, as part of the “urban renewal” effort, every building in the Lower Hill was demolished including historic churches and profitable business establishments to make room for a stadium.  No attempt was made to preserve or repair historic buildings.

“The original Crawford Grill, the Musicians Club, the Blue Note Café, Marie’s, Lola’s, the Bambola Social Club, the Washington Club, the Loendi Club and many other thriving jazz nightspots fell to the wrecking ball. The historic AME and St. Peter’s churches were destroyed.  The corner of Wylie and Fullerton was erased from the map.  No effort was made to save and preserve the Crawford Grill or the clubs of Fullerton Street and Wylie Avenue.  The Fullerton Street area became a parking lot.  Wylie Avenue became a memory in the plays of August Wilson.”

MEMORY:

I first visited Pittsburg in 2002 to attend the International Sculpture Center (ISC) Annual Conference. Lectures and exhibits took place in venues around the city. I don’t recall if any took place in the Hill District.

I do recall learning of Eduardo Kac and his transgenic art: Alba- a glow in the dark bunny created by transferring jellyfish genes into an albino rabbitt.

 

#5 Lost Opportunity to Make a Memory

David Jarret was a firefighter. Interspersed throughout the 3 hour Home Movie are images of firefighter training. Men flinging themselves from buildings and being caught in trampoline ‘life nets.’

There were scenes of firefighters combating an actual fire – Onlookers hanging out of windows – firefighters on rooftops – smoke obscuring the views. Firefighters appeared as shadows in the sky   climbed ladders extended from hook and ladder trucks. I don’t know if David Jarret appeared in any of the firefighting footage.

In 1954 the Supreme Court in the landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education decided that state-sanctioned segregation of public schools was a violation of the 14th amendment and was therefore unconstitutional.

I found a 1954 photo taken of the then Pittsburg Mayor Lawrence swearing in 12 unnamed firefighters. Maybe one of them was David Jarret.

Home Movies are a kind of time machine. As viewers, we don’t know what came before or after that particular reel. While traveling back in time, we forget or are unaware of what – and who – was excluded from the film. Home movies – filtered by class, privilege, censorship, race –  do not mirror the times we lived in. We still need to look ‘outside the frame’ for the entire story.

How to See Home Movies

The Jarret Family Home Movies footage ends in 1967.

  • One year before the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King
  • One year before the ensuing unrest and riots
  • One year before the passage of the Civil Rights Act
  • One year before the Tet Offensive
  • One year before the first Freedom House EMS teams completed their training

And the footage ended just before the iconic Mr. Rogers (also a native pf Pittsburgh) soaked his feet with African American Police Officer Clemmons in a wading pool. https://misterrogers.org/videos/sharing-a-swimming-pool/ The scene aired amid civil unrest over pool segregation policies in the U.S.  The same year it aired, the Supreme Court ruled that pools could not be segregated by race. 

Opportunity to Make a Memory

It has been almost a year since I began to research the reliability and malleability of memories.

It has been months since I began to research the origins of my personal memories.  

I continue to search for the origins of the imagery behind my ‘parallel lives’ memory.

I travel back and forth through time – imagery emerging unbidden – and then disappearing – tracing not only my own memories, but those belonging to others.  And I continue to follow the stone path

Memory in Bed: Malleability

Conflating:  to combine two or more separate things, especially pieces of text, to form a whole.

Conflation is the merging of two or more sets of information, texts, ideas, opinions​, etc., into one, often in error.

Bucksport, Maine is a town you drive through on your way to Acadia National Park. It seems an unlikely place for a film repository.

MEMORY:

1968 – I am 17 years old. Rosemary’s Baby is playing at the movie theatre. We were driving to Bucksport to search for the tomb of Col. Jonathan Buck –town founding father. The drive was agonizingly slow due to dense fog.  Local lore has it that at his internment an outline of a witch’s boot appeared on his gravestone. Repeated attempts to remove the image have failed. So did our attempt to find it.

Buccard00330_fr

In 1986 Karan Sheldon and David Weiss, following the completion of their work on the preservation of the film From Stump to Ship: A 1930 Logging Film, saw a need for the preservation of films that reflected the history of Maine – think logging, fishing, farming. They created Northeast Historic Film (NHF) ‘ a nonprofit archives dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing northern New England’s moving image heritage.logoThey support the efforts of others who believe amateur films are ‘cultural artifacts’ by hosting annual symposia. www.oldfilm.org

Northeast Historic Film is an entire organization devoted to the ‘Preservation of Memory.’

In 1999 NHF ‘rescued, restored, re-purposed’ the Alamo Theatre to serve as a community cinema, study center, technical services, distribution and administration. https://oldfilm.org/content/history.

The Alamo Theatre witnessed the pandemic of 1918. Throughout 2020, NHF offered the cinema marquee to residents of Bucksport to post positive messages. They joined other movie theaters throughout the world.

alamo marquis

If Memory Serves Me Right…

In September, 2001, (TWENTY years ago. Really? Yes. 20) I enrolled in a 3-year graduate program to earn an MFA in Imaging and Digital Arts. For the previous ten years, I had created stone sculptures and site-specific works of art. You could say I specialized in ‘un-moving images.’

pomegranate

The world of film and video is one of ‘moving images.’  The  transition from celluloid film to digital bits and bytes to record our memories was taking place in 2001. I learned to both load film into a hand-cranked Bolex camera and edit on a flatbed Steenbeck as well as how to shoot, download and edit digital images on a computer.

checklist_steenbeck_1024bolex images

https://nofilmschool.com/2017/06/editing-on-a-flatbed

MEMORY:

I have an image of a hand (maybe mine?) drawing with a Sharpie permanent marker on blank film leader. (NOTE: Sharpies were invented in 1964.) We were creating short animations. It may have been an after-school program called Explorium. Or not.

While others debated the merits of digital vs celluloid film, I explored the genre of experimental films. I was most intrigued by the re-purposing of old film footage – especially black and white – in their production. And of the ‘happy mistakes’ that can arise when working with film as a material – not only a medium.

I am an inveterate movie watcher (Pre-pandemic.) It is a genetic predisposition: My Mom is purported to have seen Gone with the Wind 47 times. My Dad watched WW2 movies every Sunday.  A niece saw Titanic 14 times. My sister watches every Oscar nominated film. (You get the picture. Oh, just realized that was a pun. Or maybe not.)

In search of a thesis topic, I headed home to Maine where I stumbled across Northeast Historic Film and the Alamo Theatre in Bucksport.Lobby Walking into the theatre lobby that first day – walls covered with old film posters and a ‘candy’ display case filled with film memorabilia, it felt like a home away from home.

Although I had no specific plan or even a research topic, NHF graciously accepted my request to research and view both industrial and amateur films (including home movies) in their collection.

Not a Memory:

 I can’t recall how I learned about Northeast Historic Film and their film archives. Maybe my brain will dislodge that information by the time I post this blog entry.

 Moving Emotions to Moving Images

or

This Is How My Brain Works (sometimes)

6:45 am Peaks Island, Maine  2021

I have the covers over my head to block out the glare of the rising sun and this image appears:

I am sitting in a small theatre, the sound of Elmo movie projectors in the background. I am watching home movies projected on 2 separate screens. The screens are installed parallel to each other.

On one screen an African American girl is in a party dress or maybe it is a confirmation dress – and on the other screen the same image – only it is of a white girl.

As each film continues, images of various life passages – birthdays, Christmas mornings, weddings  – appear side by side: an African-American family and a Caucasian family – parallel lives.

For months now, these ‘home movies’ keep reappearing in my mind’s eye. They are haunting me. I cannot recall where I might have viewed them. For artists, writers, musicians it is always the same quandary when haunted by an image, a phrase, a series of notes:

accept it as an artistic ‘leading’ and go wherever it takes you

Or

ignore it.

I have an inkling that there is something to be learned from discovering the origin of this image.

It seems highly probable that the ‘parallel lives’ images could have been screened at one of the NHF symposia. So I go on. https://oldfilm.org/content/2002-symposium

You Probably Won’t Remember Me …

In July of 2002, (NINETEEN years ago. Really? Yes. 19. ) I attended a Northeast Historic Film symposium entitled:

Close Readings: Seeing Amateur Films in Important Ways

Attendees were professors of communication, film preservationists, authors, collectors, researchers, amateur film devotees and film makers. They all view amateur film – aka Home Movies – as a cultural heritage.

The format of each presentation was a short lecture frequently accompanied by film clips. There was always a question and answer period. In the evening we ate dinner together, discussed issues related to film, and often screened more movies.

I begin the email to each presenter:

You probably won’t remember me. We met at the NHF Symposium in 2002…

Some responded in the affirmative –  ‘of course I remember you.’

Some recalled learning how to eat a lobster at a dinner we attended.

Some even remembered critiquing my experimental film.

I explain why I am contacting them.

I then describe the “Parallel Lives” image in as much detail as possible.

After 20 years of catching up and multiple emails and referrals to other speakers from the symposium, I reach Greg Pierce, Assistant Curator of Film and Video at the Warhol Museum and founder of the Orgone Cinema Archives in Pittsburgh.

warhol mus

Once again, I describe my ‘Parallel Lives’  memory and reiterated my quest.

Yes.

He was the presenter.

Yes.

He screened selections from nine reels of 8mm home movies he had purchased in Pittsburgh.

Yes.

He screened them on an actual movie projector.

HOWEVER:

There was only 1 screen – not 2.

There was only the sound of one projector – not 2.

There were only images from one family – not 2.

The nine reels of home movies he projected came from a white Pittsburgh family. There were no images of an African American family shown.

Memory Malleability

Elizabeth Loftus studies false memories.

“I don’t study when people forget. I study the opposite, when they remember things that didn’t happen or remember things that were different from the way they really were.

The “Lost in the Mall” experiment is a memory implantation technique used to demonstrate that confabulations about events that never took place – such as having been lost in a shopping mall as a child – can be created through suggestions made to experimental subjects. She explains:

Our memories are not ironclad representations of reality but subjective perceptions. The problem arises when we treat memory as fact rather than accepting the fundamental truth.

We once believed our brains were like a tape recording: push a button, record and playback the exact same response. However, Memory works like a wikipedia page – you can change it and so can other people…

How Can Our Memories be Manipulated? https://www.npr.org/transcripts/557424726

In one project in the United States, information has been gathered on 300 innocent people – 300 defendants who were convicted of crimes they didn’t do. They spent 10, 20, 30 years in prison for these crimes. And now DNA testing has proven that they are actually innocent.

And when those cases have been analyzed, three-quarters of them are due to faulty memory, faulty eyewitness memory.

Unknowingly, each time I described  ‘Parallel Lives’ to another person, I included additional information. I am not sure if the details were from my initial recollection or embellishments added in each retelling.

In sharing the description of ‘Parallel Lives’ with others, I embedded my memory into their memory.

I had conflated their actual memories of the symposium with the ‘parallel lives’ images that had emerged from my brain.

Parallel Lives” never existed. It is a false memory.

Memory Fallibility

It didn’t matter that she blurred some of the points. The past, even revised, was meaningful. 

Bonesetters Daughter By Amy Tan

Ephemera are any transitory written or printed matters that are not meant to be retained or preserved. The word derives from the Greek ephemeros, meaning “lasting only one day, short-lived.”

Ephemera can include programs, ticket tubs, scripts, photos, postcards and other seemingly disparate items associated with ‘moving images.’  Some of the items are donated by private collectors, some unearthed while cleaning out barns or discovered at auctions. With film, there is sometimes an olfactory component: a vinegar smell indicating it probably can’t be salvaged.DecomposingReels_0

https://www.filmpreservation.org/preservation-basics/vinegar-syndrome

While searching for a thesis topic at NHF in 2004, I honed my research techniques by cataloguing ephemera. I learned to index the contents of collections. I considered myself a kind of investigator whose job was to provide clues to future researchers as they attempted to solve their own mysteries.

Currently, there are more than 29,000 items in the NHF collection. (TWENTY-NINE THOUSAND. Really? Yes. Really.) They are all available on line.

When working on the final version of a blog entry – I work in silence. Copy editing requires keeping the entire theme in the forefront of your brain and at the same time moving the story along, reaching a conclusion… much like editing a film.

However, as I write, more memories intrude. And in excavating that memory, another image emerges. And so on.

I don’t know if it is pandemic-related but I am unable to envision the end of this series of blogs related to Memory.

I look to others for a solution to the mystery.

So I just keep writing. I once again, stay on the path.

Partial Memory:

 While tracking down the origin of a snippet of an old silent film to be able to index it – I uncovered the history of a film production company once housed in Brookline, Massachusetts. I located the descendants of the owners of the production company then living in Florida.  I remember making lots of phone calls. However, I can’t recall the outcome of my efforts.

Possible Memory AND Earworm Alert:

What:

Song Yes, I Remember It Well from the movie Gigi.

Who sang it:

Maurice Chevalier (French actor) with an actress whose name nor face I recall

When:

1958

How can I know some of the lyrics and hum the refrain yet I was too young to have seen the film?

Memory In Bed: Reliability

6:17 am Peaks Island, Maine

I am feeling a bit disgruntled as I peek out from under the covers. The sun is rising and it’s only 46 degrees.  

It is difficult to write something meaningful while attempting to stay warm. It seems no matter how many pillows I pile up behind me, I end up slipping and sliding until I am back to my original prone position. Nevertheless, I try again.

I re-arrange the pillows, prop them against the headboard. I am in a partial sit up with bent knees and feet flat on the mattress. The laptop rests on my thighs. As I type, my feet inevitably start to slide (because I am wearing socks to keep my feet warm) and then my legs straighten out and I am once again prone. I am, however, warm.

I continue this futile exercise in staying warm and being creative until I concede to gravity, throw off the covers and head to my writing desk – balancing my laptop, trailing cords and cables

If it’s really cold, I keep a blanket around me – cocoon like – emerging like a cicada after a 17-year slumber. I wonder if they are aware of time passing.

I can’t recall what I was doing seventeen years ago. So I do the math: 2021 – 17 = 2004.

Recently, a friend thanked me for blogging about my island experiences during the quarantine. She worries that as we adapt to how life is now, the lessons learned from the pandemic will fade and become lost memories.

I move to the couch to drink my coffee. I doze. Upon waking, I  remembered what I was doing 17 years ago. (SEVENTEEN. Really? Yes. 17)

Memory:

Upon completion of my MFA exhibit Heifer Relief: Compass, Ark, Berth, I coordinated the ‘Passing on the Gift’ Conference – a reunion of the WW2 ‘seagoing cowboys.’  They recalled experiences and exhibited their memorabilia. Their efforts became Heifer International.  I captured their stories and memories in a short documentary film. https://www.heifer.org/blog/honoring-heifers-history.html

Stop Me If I Already Told You This

I’ve been writing the Stonepath blog for more than ten years. (TEN. Really? Yes, 10 +.) www.thestonepath.wordpress.com. In it, I chronicle my journey as an artist – a sculptor, a community-based artist, filmmaker, and writer.

I have forgotten which experiences I have shared on my journey. So I created a spreadsheet of dates and topics in order to avoid repeating themes and events. It now serves as my blog back-up memory.

Each post averages 2500 words x 6 times a year x 10 years = 150,000 words. The Italian composer Salieri is purported to have said after hearing Mozart’s music: ‘Too many notes.’ Many of my friends complain about the length of my posts: ‘Too many words.’

Note to friends:

It could be worse. Tolstoy’s War and Peace has 587,287 words.

Recently, I read a short story in the Sun magazine in which one of the characters deems herself a writer. She was bedridden and had taken to recording on slips of paper any idea that surfaced – intending to expand more on the topic later. These notes were strewn about the house, the bed feathered with scrips and scraps of notes – some legible, some not.

Unfortunately, I recycled all my back issues of the Sun prior to starting this post. I can’t recall the title, author, year the piece was written. I feel badly because I want to credit the writer. I realize my memory is not as reliable as it once was.

https://www.thesunmagazine.org/

There are certain ‘Culprits’ that impact memory: age, stress, depression, isolation – all attributes of living in a pandemic.  Each contributed to my feelings of loss: loss of focus, loss of time, loss of memory.

I even lost my ability to spell. I have always prided myself on my spelling ability. For several years, I had a job in which I spent the day responding to my boss’ query: How do you spell? Now he just asks Siri.

Memory:

In 3rd grade I lost my chance to compete in a city-wide spelling competition tripped up by a homophone – break vs brake. How is it I can recall the word ‘homophone’ and not know where I put my house keys?

Memory Reliability

There are 3057 Getty Images of people writing in bed (ASIDE: The pix are predominately women – in various poses of undress – but that is a topic for another blog.)

Dame Mary Barbara Hamilton Cartland was an English novelist who wrote romance novels. She was one of the best-selling authors as well as one of the most prolific. https://www.barbaracartland.com/

I have an extremely vivid image of the author writing in bed where she is purported to have written her 723 novels.

(DISCLAIMER – I have NEVER read one of ‘those’ books – hers or anyone else’s  – but have been told the covers of each book depict a combination of  lust and chastity.)

ASIDE: Fabio has been replaced by Baca as the model on romance novel covers. https://www.newsy.com/stories/meet-jason-baca-the-model-with-more-covers-than-fabio/)

Although Dame Cartland has her own Getty Image website, I have yet to find the image that is indelibly lodged in my brain.

Or maybe I am confusing her with Mamie Eisenhower, wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who is purported to have adhered to “all things pink.”  They named a paint color in her honor: Mamie Pink. I can envision her ensconced in bed in her pink room at the White House.

However, I couldn’t locate that image either. I did come across a ‘Save the Pink Bathrooms’ web site:  https://savethepinkbathrooms.com/

I also stumbled upon the photo of Yoko Ono and John Lennon – in bed –  neither of them was writing. The photo appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in 1981.  I didn’t recall what she was wearing. I did remember he was nude.

Recovering Memory

After six months quarantining on the island, returning to Maryland for 6 months and then back to Maine, I now know how Sleeping Beauty felt when waking up after her long sleep. Somewhat befuddled. Unsure of where I have been or where I am going.

As this series of blog postings evolves, more and more memories emerge. Some connected to specific projects I have completed; some to people I have met along the ‘stone path’; some seemingly unrelated to the artist life I have chosen. There are fragments and images that appear of their own volition; some while I am sleeping, some while I am awake. I attempt to make sense of them – but to no avail – at least not yet.

So, I keep asking questions; I keep dreaming;  I keep writing. I am reliable.

Twenty-five years ago (TWENTY FIVE. Really? Yes. 25.),  I built 7-circuit outdoor meditation labyrinths to accompany an installation of marble sculptures depicting the Persephone myth.

When entering a labyrinth, you begin with a question. You walk slowly to the center, waiting to receive an answer (sometimes not to the question you asked but often the one you should have posed) then return to the beginning with (hopefully) the answer.

The jab of a needle put Briar Rose to sleep.  

Memory:

Sleeping Beauty is also known as Briar Rose. How did I remember that when I can’t recall where I left my glasses?

The jab of a needle woke me up.

Sometimes when I cannot find my path, I go back to where I began.

Once again, I will start at the very beginning.

Earworm Alert: Often an earworm accompanies a memory. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earworm

I expected the Overture to Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty to work its way out of my memory. However, my brain took another route.

….Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…from the Sound of Music 1965

Memory in Bed: Mending

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

Learning to Sew

I have no memory of being taught to sew – just of being able to sew. First by hand; later by machine.

My mother was a social mender who advocated for low income housing, voting rights, civil rights.

Often through my artwork,  I am ‘mending.’

Sometimes I am mending the personal: the institutionalization of my great grandmother and grandmother in Invisible Legacy.

Sometimes the historical: immigration history in Maine Welcoming the Stranger Sarah’s Generosity.

Sometimes the societal: the role of conscientious objectors post WW2 Heifer Relief: Compass, Ark, Berth                 

Abraham’s Tent

I once sewed together pieces of 16mm film for my first experimental film Today is Thursday. The accompanying audio were memories of a school fire that left a classmate severely burned and a teacher devastated.

MEMORY:

Whenever I visited my grandmother, I would thread a number of needles – each with a different color thread. She then placed each threaded needle into a pin cushion shaped like a tomato.

I always wondered why she didn’t do it herself. Now that I am older and more far sighted, I use a needle threader. This seemingly flimsy tool has a loop on one end and a circular metal tab on the other. It is embossed with the image of Ariadne. (In Greek mythology, Ariadne is known for leading Theseus safely out of the labyrinth.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Needle_threader

Although I can thread needles without borrowing a grandchild, I do not pass on any knowledge. No one learns how to sew by hand or to cobble together or make do.

Use It Up

Much of my wardrobe is ‘acquired’ from friends, thrift shops, rummage sales.  Throughout the winter, I work in the studio, clutterbust or take on house repairs. Summers, I weed gardens, housesit, clean cottages. I attend on-island lectures or workshops or concerts for which there are no dress codes. If anyone notices I am wearing the same things again and again, they don’t comment – or at least to my face.

Over time, my clothes develop holes and accrue stains from painting porches, making art, picking berries or eating ice cream. Eventually, they end up in the rag bag to use for dusting, cleaning brushes, washing cars.

Sometimes I donate clothes that are still good enough for someone else to wear but no longer appeal to me.

Maybe I lost (rarely) or gained (frequently – coffee icecream) weight and they no longer fit. Maybe it doesn’t feel ‘right’ when I wear it. Maybe I am no longer emotionally attached to it.

During the pandemic, de-cluttering closets was a pastime for many people. Empty coat hangers provide an opportunity to make clothing choices that are both ethical and sustainable rather than driven by the ‘fast fashion’ industry.

https://www.npr.org/2021/03/14/975728474/5-tips-to-ditch-fast-fashion-and-cultivate-a-sustainable-closet

The  ‘slow fashion movement’ examines the human and environmental costs of clothing production and possible remedies. There are even apps that rate the impact of brands on people and the planet.  https://goodonyou.eco/

The US produces over 17 million tons of textile waste every year. There are 1.2 BILLION (Billion? Yes. Really.) pairs of jeans purchased every year. Their disposal accounts for 5 %  of textiles that end up in landfills.  Blue Jeans Go Green converts denim into insulation. However, it does not eradicate the problem.

Even Levi Jeans has a new ad campaign:

Buy better. Wear longer.

Their tagline should really be: Buy better. Wear Longer. Wear it out.

https://mudjeans.eu/pages/sustainability-impact-of-fashion

Wear It Out

The New Brackett Church Rummage Sale takes place on Peaks Island usually in October. Funds raised support community programs throughout the year.

Originally, the word rummage referred to the arranging of items such as casks in the hold of a ship. After a ship put into port, unclaimed or damaged cargo would be hauled out of the hold of the ship and put up for sale: a rummage sale.

A secondary meaning for the word rummage is searching.

The Brackett Sale encompasses both definitions:

Volunteers sort through bags and boxes of donations to prepare for the sale. They organize, evaluate, price and display clothing into one of the ubiquitous ‘banana boxes’.  (Banana boxes are used to transport any and everything on the ferry. Islanders reuse them again and again especially to transport groceries from the mainland.)  

At the sale, shoppers search through piles of sorted items before making their purchases.

Throughout the following year, you may see your once favorite shirt or pants or sweater being enjoyed by someone else.

Make It Do

New Englanders – especially islanders – have been known as inventive, resourceful, frugal, as well as parsimonious (almost stingy.) At one time, fishing nets, lobster traps, and buoys were repaired at the end of each season rather than purchase new.

https://scarboroughhistoricalsociety.org/2016/11/lobster-traps/

For other ‘ to do’s’ you may not have exactly what is needed to complete the task permanently. As a result, Islanders have also perfected the art of ‘cobbling:’ “– to make or assemble roughly or hastily just to get by for the moment.”

Cobbling has its own vocabulary. For example: rather than replace porch joists that are failing, you can ‘sister’ – attach – a new joist to the one that is sagging.

For rot damage, you can make a ‘Dutchman’ joint. This takes more skill and more tools. And usually more time .

https://www.thisoldhouse.com/curb-appeal/21016480/how-to-repair-rot-damage-with-a-dutchman

Early in the pandemic – the shortages of masks, ventilators, and beds – forced hospitals to ‘make do.’  They cobbled together masks from leftover quilt material. Cobbled together multi-patient ventilators. Cobbled together meals. Cobbled together schools, work, staying well and keeping others well.

However, although the cobbling solution is intended to be temporary and to be remedied at a later date. Soon another ‘repair’ takes precedent.…then another…then another. And the cycle continues. We continue to just make do and fail to address the cause of the initial problem.

Do Without

During the pandemic, some of us learned (and continue to learn) how to “do without.” Some because of economic necessity due to loss of jobs, some because of shortages in the supply chain, and some because they have no real need for ‘more’ of anything.

Copious words have been written about sweatpants replacing office attire – eventually downgrading to pajamas. We turned to delivery of just about everything. If it couldn’t be procured via delivery, we did without it.

Some of us struggled to do without distractions: movies, ball games, dinners out, art exhibits, vacations. Some of us had to learn to do without face-to-face interactions.

And some of us had more time on our hands: some cleaned out closets, some cooked meals from scratch and some learned to sew.

MEMORY:

I have a clear image of my mother hemming. Moistening the tip of a thread, threading the needle, creating a knot at the end by rolling the thread between her index and thumb. Piercing the fabric again and again using whip stitches. When done, biting off the thread.

The Art of Mending

Kennebunk, Maine is often linked to the Bushes, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Preserve, blueberries, and the Nature Conservancy.

And the Brick Store Museum. http://www.brickstoremuseum.org

The Brick Store Museum began as a dry goods store in 1825. The building was unusual for its time because it was constructed of locally-kilned brick rather than timber. Hence the name.

The great granddaughter of the original owner, Edith Cleaves Barry was an artist and world-traveler. In 1932 she inherited the building and founded the museum. Not only was it open during the Great Depression but “remains one of only 21 museums (out of 35,000 U.S. museums) to be founded by a single woman.”

From Peaks Island, it is only a 20 minute ferry ride, a 30 minute drive, and a 10 minute search for a parking space (Free – right in front of their door – a rarity in Maine during the summer.)

I had never stepped through its doors until the Art of Mending exhibition opened.

Scott Nash and Nancy Gibson-Nash – (nationally recognized illustrators and all-around caring people) established the Illustration Institute (II) on Peaks Island in 2016 to provide ‘ an opportunity to create deep and personal connections to art and literacy.”  https://www.illustrationinstitute.org/about-ii-2

Every summer, they invite illustrators of various styles and techniques to a week-long residency that includes housing and time to create. The artists share their ideas and work with the community through lectures, workshops, video presentations and exhibitions.

The pandemic prevented artists from attending their residency but did not prevent the Illustration Institute from creating the Art of Mending:

One of the most beautiful characteristics of human nature is our desire to fix that which is broken. This inclination is especially poignant during and after tumultuous times. The Art of Mending is an exhibition that explores the artistic manifestation of this loving art.

The exhibit features works of art that reflect on three kinds of mending:

  • practical mending that restores beloved objects or as a sustainable effort
  • the aesthetic mending that comes from art that has a healing effect
  • and cultural mending or art that engages the community in a conversation about healing.

https://www.pressherald.com/2021/07/19/kennebunk-exhibit-is-on-the-mend/

Curators – Nancy Gibson Nash and Kate Gardiner selected the 100 artworks for The Art of Mending exhibition to make visible the damage as well as the repair.

Claire Dibble, artist, makes ‘mending’ visible. Visible mending is “An exploration into visibly mending damaged garments, looking at the ways this can be art and an act of subversion in our consumer-driven world.”

https://www.clairedibble.com/blog/2018/7/2/visible-mending-as-art-disruption

As an advocate of visual mending, Claire darns, patches, embroiders, needle felts the holes, tears, and stains in the clothing that she wears. And she teaches others to do the same.

By happenstance, Claire was visiting her family in Brooklin (Maine not New York)  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklin,_Maine and offered a Pop Up Visual Mending workshop through II.

Participants were experienced and inexperienced menders.  They possess art conservation skills, expertise in sewing masks (3500!), knitting blankets and sweaters, quilting, and a shared belief in the use it up, wear it out, make do, do without philosophy.

Menders, Patchers, Darners

Everyone came with something to repair. A sweater with moth holes; a torn tablecloth; socks needing new heels. I brought a jacket that I retrieved  from my “to donate to the rummage sale” box. It needed a button, a pocket patch and new cuffs.

There is no lack of wool socks in Maine. There is also no lack of wool socks with holes – usually in the heels. There was a large tub of hand-made socks  – knitted from beautiful yarns of varying colors and patterns. Claire offered instruction from a menu of visible mending techniques: But everyone* wanted to learn to darn.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/style/visible-mending.html

Darners:

Darning a hole is surprisingly simple. …you are re-creating fabric to fill a hole or reinforce fabric where it is wearing thin… However, it does take time.

In the 1952 Combat Forces Journal, Chapter on Spit and Polish

pp 28 – 29 there are instructions for members of the armed forces on how to darn. If you overlook the sexist comments, (the name for the sewing kit is housewife…the world’s best tailors are men..) and have a darning egg or mushroom (a soup ladle will do in a pinch), needle, thread specific to the fabric and can follow instructions, your feet won’t hurt when you don the repaired sock.

Author Noriko Misumi in her book Joyful Mending includes step by step instructions with detailed photos.

Patchers

Making patches ‘visible’ is not difficult.

“…(Patches) were essentially a symbol of poverty until the 1960’s when this symbolism was subverted by the hippies and later by the punk who adopted them as an expression of rebellion.” Mending Life: A Handbook for Repairing Clothes and Hearts, Nina and Sonya Montenegro

Patched Jeans – Jody Halliday – www.jodyhalliday.com

Those of us of a certain age fondly remember patching our jeans and often using them to announce our political views. Using different colored embroidery thread and heavy duty needles we extended the life of our favorite jeans.

Menders

There are some basic Mending Skills you need to know:

Threading a needle

Tying an overhand knot

Tying a square knot

Sewing basic stitches (running, whip, backstitch)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFhsftQzugo

  • Visible mending has also sparked interest in sashiko stitching and boro patching.

“How we tend our textiles is as intimate and important as we feed ourselves, and the industry that produces them – including all its tentacles (shipping, buildings, packaging, washing, etc – is even more damaging than food production and may even prove to have as much planetary impact as fossil fuel.’ Mend! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto: Kate Sekules

Time to Mend

Since the beginning of the pandemic,  I seem to be ‘rummaging’ through my memories. My brain is reviewing decisions made over time, people I have met, places I have visited, causes I have supported, projects I have completed, exhibitions, volunteer work, sculptures, community based art.  

I have been plagued with intermittent random images and incessant earworms. Each time as I prepared to publish a blog entry, another memory would come forth. So I write and re-write my blog entries.

I struggle once again with whether creating art serves a greater purpose.

During the pandemic, we were all learning to ‘use it up, wear it out, make it do or even do without.’  And now we are learning how to mend:

Our clothes

Our lives

Our community

Our world

What do I need to mend? I’m not exactly sure. I am hoping my incessant memories, dream images, and persistent ear worms* will guide me.

So, I’ll retrieve wool socks from my dust rag bin, thread a needle, and learn to darn. I’ll patch with scrap fabric, select a button and replace cuffs on my jacket.

It takes time to mend.

I will make the time.

  • * Definition of an Earworm: a catchy song or tune that runs continually through a person’s mind.

How Can I Mend a Broken Heart?

Part 4 – Uncovering History (continued)

 Cultural heritage” doesn’t consist of money or property but of values and traditions. It implies a shared bond, our belonging to a community.

In 2015 I needed a studio that was walkable from the ferry terminal to prepare for the installation of Welcoming the Stranger: building understanding through community based art at the Maine Jewish Museum.  https://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2015/10/

The museum is located in the historic India Street corridor. This neighborhood has served as a commercial maritime center for Portland since the 1700s. I walked along the streets that had witnessed the arrival of refugees for centuries. City of Portland Maine. Maine.

Much of what I know about early African American history in Maine, I learned from the stone markers that comprise the Portland Freedom Trail.Freedom trail marker

Each marker is capped with brass plates commemorating significant events, persons and places in the history of the African American community – after Maine was admitted to the Union – leading up to the Civil War.

https://www.mainehistory.org/PDF/walkingtourmap.pdf

Every day, on my way from the ferry, I read another marker. Little did I realize I was also on the path taken by ‘refugees from slavery’ on the Underground Railroad.

Portland became a northern hub of the Underground Railroad because it was so easy to get to by rail and sea. People who helped African-Americans escape used railroad terminology as a code to describe their activities. People who moved the refugees were called conductors. The buildings that sheltered them were stations and the people who fed and clothed them until they were ready to move on were stationmasters. https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/6-stops-underground-railroad/

One morning, as I crossed Newbury Street – the site of one of the oldest synagogues in Portland – I noticed construction fencing surrounding the location of the former Abyssinian Church and Meeting House. http://www.abyme.org/

By the early 19th century, Portland (Maine) had a small, vital African American population. Black Mainers were raising families and running small businesses. Many worked in maritime trades as sailors, longshoremen and fishermen. As the country was roiled by the question of slavery, African Americans in Maine became leaders in the anti-slavery movement, founding and leading local organizations.

https://visitmaine.com/things-to-do/arts-culture/portland-freedom-trail

The Portland Abyssinian Meetinghouse is the 3rd oldest African American Meetinghouse in the United States. It was built (1828 – 33) by members of the African American community. The meeting house housed a school for Black children, church suppers, concerts and religious services. Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison both spoke from the Abyssinian’s pulpit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Si24aCgUiw4

After the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act providing for the seizure and return of runaway slaves, members of the Abyssinian Meetinghouse organized escape routes for fugitives to England and Canada.

Although the 1866 Great Portland Fire destroyed the surrounding neighborhood, church members protected the meeting house by putting wet blankets on the roof. Thereby, not only saving its history, but preserving a cultural heritage of community, education, and freedom.

The fencing serves to protect what remains and to indicate future restoration – of not only the building – but of the African American community’s place in the history of Portland.

https://www.newscentermaine.com/article/news/local/maines-pivotal-role-in-the-underground-railroad/97-524312649

Digging Things Up

In 2020, Maine celebrated its Bicentennial.bicentennial plate

In 1820, as a result of the Missouri Compromise, Maine was admitted into the Union as a free state and Missouri as a slave state. Implicit in this event was the assumption that Maine was not involved in the slave trade.

Dr. Kate McMahon www.katemcmahon.net/ writes about the “complicity and connections of economies” that emerged in her research of the history of free African Americans in Maine. By 1820 she maintains Maine shipping vessels were still the predominant ships engaged in the illegal slave trade. The citizens of New England have been blind to the notion that “ their illustrious maritime traditions are deeply rooted in slavery.”

https://www.mainepublic.org/post/maines-role-slave-trade-research-uncovers-significant-slave-trading-new-england

The economic forces that kept the institution of slavery alive were based on the triangular trade. Africans were captured, enslaved and transported through the Middle Passage, the route taken from Africa to the New World – North America, South America and the Caribbean. Slaves worked on plantations to refine sugar into molasses which was shipped to New England and distilled into rum. The rum was sent to Africa and traded for slaves.

…Salted cod was a cheap food source that kept well in the warmer climates of Cuba, South America and the Caribbean. Maine ship owners supplied salted cod to feed the slaves in exchange for barrels of molasses. Ship captains would sell the molasses to one of Portland’s seven rum distilleries.

https://www.mainehistory.org/PDF/walkingtourmap.pdf

Sugar

In her presentation with Thomas Zeigler at the Maine Historical Society entitled Freedom’s Woods: The African American Community of Peterborough in Warren, Maine , McMahon describes her “archeological” approach to ‘unearthing’ the history of the largest African American settlement in Maine – known as Peterborough.

In her 10 year quest to solve the mystery of Peterborough, she reviewed receipts, tax records, census data, deeds, probate birth/death/marriage certificates, wills, newspaper microfiche, legislation, interviews, ship logs. (I believe I may have found a kindred spirit researcher.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7U-ym0kZqs

In 1775 Amos Peters, an African American slave, won his freedom by enlisting and serving in the Continental Army. At the end of the Revolutionary War, he was given 150 acres of land on South Pond near Warren, Maine by General Henry Knox.  (The reason behind the ‘gift’ remains a mystery.)

St._George_River_and_Main_Street,_Warren,_MaineSometime around 1782, Sarah (Peters) was brought to Warren as a slave. After slavery was outlawed in Massachusetts, Sarah successfully sued for her freedom and married Amos Peters. The Town of Peterborough was established.

By 1823, descendants of Amos and Sarah Peters constructed a school for African American children. It was the first school district in Maine designated for “colored people.”  The construction was paid from monies earned from the sale of an ‘excess of alewives.’

Schoolhouse

The economic decline after the civil war, loss of shipyards, westward expansion, as well as the collapse of alewife fisheries, probably contributed to the disappearance of the town itself.

By 1910 – the school closed due to the lack of students.

All that physically remains of the Town of Peterborough is a sign at the entrance to the cemetery, a cellar hole (possibly belonging to that of the school) and unmarked headstones.

cemetery

There are no headstones for Amos and Sarah Peters.

The African American Town of Peterborough was established on land that once belonged to the Wabanaki. It was located 11 miles from Waldeboro – the current home of the Mednoka Heritage Seed Program – and only 10 miles from the Passamaquoddy middens.

Within this small triangle of land situated along mid-coast Maine, there are ‘remains’  of cultural heritages. Some we may wish to embrace. Some we may wish to erase.

  • Some of exclusion, betrayal, denial, appropriation.
  • Some of inclusion, truth, belonging, community.

Culture and its heritage reflect and shape values, beliefs, and aspirations, thereby defining a people’s national identity. ’The ‘Ethics of Cultural Heritage’ is a treatise on the complexities of the concepts underlying cultural heritage. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-cultural-heritage/

But in some ways it is simple:

      • Are we willing to listen to each other?
      • Are we willing to revise our beliefs?
      • Are we willing to re-examine our histories – personal and collective?
      • Do we want our cultural heritage to echo the underpinnings of the residents of Peterborough?

McMahon writes:

“I think what was most interesting about their (Peters) relationship is that they fostered the sentiment of freedom, of this love of liberty, of this notion of pursuing justice for themselves and for their families and this community.”

Part 4 – Uncovering History

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

There are specific tastes that I associate with the arrival of summer in Maine:

    • A perfectly ripe strawberry,
    • A warm juicy peach,
    • A handful of native blueberries,
    • And an ear (or 2) of just picked butter and sugar sweet corn.

Maybe it is a failure of expectation or a failure of memory but these tastes  seem to no longer exist.

Maybe what I should have been longing for is – an apple. apple.jpg

On Memorial Day the fragrance of lilacs envelops Peaks Island. By Indigenous People’s Day, the all-encompassing smell is of apple cider vinegar. Gnarled trees dot the landscape of the island. Like cemetery grave markers, they indicate locations of former orchards. Some are hidden by invasive bittersweet or native hops winding their way around trunks and branches.

In the autumn, ‘windfalls’ – apples blown down from a tree by the wind – carpet the island. They provide a steady source of food for the deer and the turkeys.  The neighborhood list-serve encourages anyone who wants apples to ‘come and take ‘em’ – as many as you want. There are de-facto apple ‘gleaners’ who gather specific windfalls to use in their favorite recipes.

Apples ground

Growing up in New England, we celebrated Johnny Appleseed Day in September. I read the story of Johnny Appleseed, the barefoot wanderer, who wore a pot on his head and planted apple trees across America. Many of us learned of his exploits watching a 1948 Disney feature, Melody Time,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=484AJlOnOnc

In reality, John Chapman aka Johnny Appleseed was a shrewd businessman in the 1800’s who established orchards along the path of the westward expansion.

Starting in 1792, anyone willing to form a permanent homestead on the wilderness beyond Ohio’s first permanent settlement would be granted 100 acres of land. To prove their homesteads to be permanent, settlers were required to plant 50 apple trees and 20 peach trees in three years.

Chapman realized he could do the difficult work of planting and cultivating these orchards. He would sell them when the homesteaders arrived, and then head to more undeveloped land.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/real-johnny-appleseed-brought-applesand-booze-american-frontier-180953263/

Although most of us are unable to identify a specific apple variety, a taste test determines whether it should be eaten raw, made into a pie, a crumble, apple cake, applesauce or even apple cider – sometimes even hard cider.

 

Almost  all apples grown during the early years of this country and westward expansion were turned into hard cider. Up until Prohibition, an apple grown in America was far less likely to be eaten than to wind up in a barrel of cider. In rural areas cider took the place of not only wine and beer but of coffee and tea, juice, and even water.  Michael Pollan in The Botany of Desire

There are 7,500 varieties of apples in existence throughout the world —2,500 of which are grown in the United States. The Maine Heritage Orchard is a ten acre preservation educational orchard located at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) in Unity, Maine. The orchard is currently home to 300 varieties of apples and pears traditionally grown in Maine dating back as far as 1630.  https://www.maineheritageorchard.org/

MOGFA offers an apple identification service or you can conduct your own research using John Bunker’s book: Apples and the Art of Detection: Tracking Down, Identifying and Preserving Rare Apples .

51XzHdczmBL._SX387_BO1,204,203,200_

https://www.amazon.com/Apples-Art-Detection-Identifying-Preserving/dp/0578507552

John also advises on how to make a perfect apple pie. https://www.pbs.org/video/apple-pie-oisusi/

Throughout the 2020 summer, census takers counted Peaks Island residents. However, no one has conducted a census of island apple species.

 

At least, not yet.

Seeds of Heritage

Recently, I attended a friend’s family reunion. As each guest departed, they received 2 peach tree saplings of a rare, native heirloom –  an Indian White Freestone Peach. The species, once prolific in Maine, has all but disappeared.Peach trees

Each sapling was grown from seed by the students of the Medomak Valley Heirloom Seed Project in Waldoboro. It is probably the largest high school heirloom seed bank in the United States.

Medomak is Abenaki (Wabanaki) for “place (river) of many alewives”.

Alewives and other sea run fish have been critical to the economy and the ecology of the State of Maine and its peoples. Alewives are anadromous fish that spend the majority of their life at sea but return to freshwater to spawn.

https://www.fws.gov/gomcp/pdfs/alewife%20fact%20sheet.pdf

Maine fishermen once boasted: “You could cross a river on the backs of the fish.” When the rivers were dammed to provide hydropower and electricity, the alewives almost disappeared. The removal of dams in Maine has resulted in the return of the alewives and a rebirth of rivers. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/21/880539021/one-of-the-best-nature-shows-a-river-transformed-after-dams-come-down

Historically, Maine towns frequently designated the taxes gained from the sale of alewives to fund schools.

alewives

A friend has been saving open-pollinated heirloom varieties of veggies and flowers for many years and now shares them with others via Etsy. She believes every seed has a story – a history. https://www.etsy.com/shop/GardenGateFarmer

She gave me a “spotted” bean known as Jacob’s Cattle bean or Appaloosa bean to grow in the community garden in Maine. Jacob cattle beans

This bean is a Prince Edward Island heirloom. Legend has it that it was a gift from Maine’s Passamaquoddy Indians to Joseph Clark, the first white child born in Lubec, Maine.

Lubec is the easternmost community in the U.S. and vies with Acadia National Park for the title of the first place to see the sunrise.

https://downeast.com/our-towns/lubec-maine/

Known collectively as the Wabanaki Nation – People of the Dawnland – the four Maine Indian tribes are the Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribes.  https://www.abbemuseum.org/about-the-wabanaki-nation

WabanakiMapThe Passamaquoddy Tribe hunted, fished, and gathered food along the coast for more than 12,000 years. Shell middens are evidence of their encampments. They represent the cultural heritage of these peoples and millennia of coastal interaction.

https://umaine.edu/middenminders/why-are-shell-middens-culturally-sensitive/

 

midden signIn the 1880’s middens were removed from the Whaleback Shell Midden in Damariscotta for use as chicken feed and fertilizer. ‘Monuments’ that commemorate a community, its people, and its traditions were destroyed.

https://digitalmaine.com/mgs_publications/457/

 

Seeds of Reconciliation

In 2012, the Maine State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission was instituted by the State of Maine.  A Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an official body tasked with discovering and revealing past wrongdoing by a government. The Commission was to examine the impact of the removal of Native children from their families and their subsequent placement in foster care by the State of Maine child welfare system in the 1970’s. Revealing the history of government abuse and its impact on the lives of the survivors was a step toward reconciliation. It was hoped that the process would promote healing and system reform.

https://www.npr.org/2020/10/11/922849505/healing-u-s-divides-through-truth-and-reconciliation-commissions

The multi-year process is documented in the film Dawnland. Listening to the testimonies and heartfelt stories, I realized how a truth and reconciliation process requires the willingness to examine the impact of our actions – both as individuals – as well as a society. 

Dawnland

Seeds of Redemption

The Museum of Women and the Arts in Washington D.C. opened its doors in 1987. Coincidentally, in 1987 I attended my first art history class. It was the beginning of my journey as an artist. The required texts were H.W. Janson’s History of Art first edition.

Janson

Throughout the semester, slide after slide depicting images of works created by male artists – predominantly of Western descent. I wondered why there seemed to be no artworks created by women.

At about the same time, the women artists in the New York art world were asking that same question.

In 1985, a group of artists formed the activist art group Guerrilla Girls, in response to a Museum of Modern Art exhibition of 169 artists with only 13 women and eight artists of color included. The anonymous group—composed mostly of artists using aliases borrowed from famous women artists, wearing gorilla masks to hide their identities—was hellbent on delivering institutional critique to the masses through striking advertisements that poked fun at the art world establishment while also calling out its deeply entrenched sexism and racism. https://theattic.jezebel.com/the-guerrilla-girls-on-fighting-art-world-sexism-since-1845411686

During lectures, the Gorilla Girls “awarded” bananas to individuals and institutions that did not promote work by women artists.

gg_naked

 

 “Cultural heritage” doesn’t consist of money or property, but of values and traditions. It implies a shared bond, our belonging to a community.

For the past 30 years, the themes in my artwork often emerge from little known historical facts reflected in current events – personal as well as societal.

I research primary sources: diaries, recorded interviews, newspaper accounts, government documents, – knowing full well that everything was not documented and everything documented was not representative of all views.

I struggle knowing that everything I learned in preparation and later represented in the works themselves, were only partial  truths – an interpretation of the ‘facts.’

My recent work titled Aletheia –  commemorates the  search for “the disappeared”  that takes place annually throughout Mexico. https://www.npr.org/2020/03/05/811277021/the-mexican-mothers-who-make-a-grim-yearly-search-for-missing-loved-ones

05Aleteia tags (1)

Aletheia is a Greek word meaning an “unclosedness;” “the state of not being hidden;” “the state of being evident.”

 How do we determine the ‘actual’ facts and take them from being hidden to a state of being evident?

Cultural heritage doesn’t consist of money or property, but of values and traditions. It implies a shared bond, our belonging to a community.

How do we learn about histories that have been overlooked, misrepresented, denied, removed, appropriated?

How do we create a community of shared values and traditions?

 

To Be Continued: Part 4 – Uncovering History 

 

Part 3: Uncovering Heart(s)

pall

something that covers or conceals

especially : an overspreading element that produces an effect of gloom

 

Heavy Hearts

Some mornings, before the last dream fades away, the world – my world – feels ‘normal.’

As I open my eyes…the feeling dissipates…and reality falls over me – clothing me in a kind of grief – a pervasive sense of gloom.

My ‘normal’ return to Peaks Island would be to clamber to the top deck of the Casco Bay ferry, stand next to the railing and become hypnotized by the waves. (VIDEO)

Mid-way across the bay, I would turn my back to the mainland and take in the view of the islands.

In years past, as we approached the dock, there would be a line of islanders waiting to board. They were headed to work or school on the mainland. Some may have nodded a greeting as they sipped their coffee. I once was welcomed by a serenading accordion player.

In May, there was no one waiting to greet arrivals. No one heading to work. Instead as the gangplank was lowered, a stenciled number 9 appeared on the road.

As I turned the corner, the number 9 appeared in store windows and on sidewalks. On telephone poles and car doors.

I later learned of the accidental death of a teenager from a longtime island family. His football jersey number was #9.  Islanders conveyed their compassion by adorning their doors and house windows with the number 9.

 

 

Eyes that do not cry, do not see – Swedish proverb

 

In his article titled ‘Spare a Moment of Sorrow,’ John Dickerson of 60 Minutes wrote:

… in this period, we should spare a moment for sorrow and grief. This is the human thing to do; it is what following through on the pledge to be in this together actually means.

If we spare a moment, we give our neighbors the simple communal feeling of being seen in their loss. If we spare a moment, we minimize the risk of sending a public signal to those who have just lost their world that the rest of the world is indifferent to their suffering. If we spare a moment, we acknowledge that the national push to find solutions and get back to normal at some point, as reasonable as that is, is impossible for many.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/the-grieving-world/609013/

 

 

I find myself tearing up at the most inopportune  moments – in the grocery store, the middle of conversations, or after a small act of kindness.  Events and scenes that in the past would not engender tears are now inextricably paired with spontaneous sorrow.

 

 

 

 

I can’t help but feel this grief is not just personal but a reflection of our collective losses as we learn to live within the “new normal.”

Revealing Heart(s)

Melancholia was described as a distinct disease with particular mental and physical symptoms in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Hippocrates, in his Aphorisms, characterized all “fears and despondencies, if they last a long time,” as being symptomatic of melancholia. Other symptoms mentioned by Hippocrates include: poor appetite, abulia, sleeplessness, irritability, agitation. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melancholia

Artists appear to have struggled with melancholia throughout recorded history. Aristotle gave melancholy a philosophical dimension. In his Problem XXX, written in the 4th century before Christ, he asked:

“Why is it that all those who have become eminent in philosophy or politics or poetry or the arts are clearly melancholics?

https://www.medicographia.com/2010/10/melancholy-in-the-arts/

Works of art depicting those inflicted with what is now classified ‘melancholic depression’ by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – V appear throughout history.

In 1514 Albrecht Durer, the German Renaissance printmaker, created Melancholia 1- a psychological self-portrait.

“Dürer may have associated melancholia with creative activity; the woman may be a representation of a Muse awaiting inspiration but fearful that it will not return.”

Metropolitan Museum of Art  www.metmuseum.org

In 1621 Robert Burton in his book An Anatomy of Melancholy described melancholy as the ‘character of mortality.’ Somewhat facetiously he wrote: “I write of melancholy by being busy to avoid melancholy.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imagery later evolved from depictions of the angst of others to self-portraits reflecting personal ‘melancholia.’

In her article: “How Artists Took Selfies 400 Years Ago,” Tanya Mohn wrote:

“The differences between then and now are significant. But one thing remained unchanged: the fact that the creators of a self-portrait must choose how they want to present themselves.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/tanyamohn/2015/07/30/selfies-from-the-golden-age/#59564d993859

Seventeenth century Rembrandt (1606-1669) produced more self-portraits than any other artist of his time.

Early images of himself as a young man reveal a secure, yet introspective, demeanor. At 53, following the death of his wife and bankrupt as well, Rembrandt’s self-portrait depicts none of the self-assuredness of his younger self. Instead, his image reveals the changes that he has endured.

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/baroque-art1/holland/v/rembrandt-nga-self-portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The PBS American Portrait series, In This Together, features first person accounts of how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted their lives. They are a kind of video selfie – shot and edited by the ‘citizen producer.’  Through personal stories, photographs and videos, people share their firsthand stories.  They are provided an opening phrase (…I never expected…) and closing phrase ..(…when this is over…) around which to create the work .

https://www.pbs.org/american-portrait/series/season-1/special-1-in-this-together-an-american-portrait-story

 

‘I never expected’..

… that a pandemic would create a journey from normal to the ‘new normal.’

… that I would mourn the death of live performance.

… that I would question the role of art in my life.

… that I would lose heart.

 

In her article, Breaking Open in the Bardo, Buddhist Pema Khandro Rinpoche explains four essential points for understanding what it means to let go, and what is born when we do.

It’s when we lose the illusion of control—when we’re most vulnerable and exposed—that we can discover the creative potential of our lives.

https://www.lionsroar.com/four-points-for-letting-go-bardo/

 

Recovering Heart

Mainers, especially islanders, are known for their creativity and problem-solving skills.

No yard sales:

Place no longer wanted or needed items at the side of the road. Attach sign – ‘Help yourself – but leave the table.”

No public library:

Set up “free to good home” book tables.

 

 

 

 

No playgrounds:

 Build tree houses or secret hideouts under porches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No PPE for essential workers:

Re-tool your company and produce face shields for the State of Maine.

Charley Friedman grew up on Peaks Island. As a teenager, he learned to use an industrial sewing machine to make and repair boat sails. And as the story goes….

One day, his grandfather’s hand-me-down leather wallet finally fell apart, so Charley crafted himself a new one out of scraps of racing sailcloth from the factory trash. The wallet was super thin, lightweight, and tough as nails. And just like that, trash turned to treasure, and Flowfold was born. https://www.flowfold.com/ The product line includes wallets, backpacks, totes, bags and now faceshields.

To respond to the overwhelming need for PPEs, masks, and face shields for Maine’s hospital personnel, in eight days – yes, 8 – Charlie retooled his machinery, trained employees and became the producer of face shields for the State of Maine.

https://www.newscentermaine.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/maine-business-flowfold-steps-up-manufacture-shields-for-health-care-workers/97-a46eb135-93b1-4297-8b8e-0e0ce52d66dc

 

Making the decision to return to Maine was influenced by my commitment to produce a play to commemorate the Maine Bicentennial. In 2007, while sculpting a memorial bench to my Dad, I cleaned the 5th Maine Museum in the evenings. www.FifthMaineMuseum.org

I washed floors, scrubbed bathrooms, dusted pictures of generals. I polished glass cases filled with ephemera related to Maine’s contribution to the civil war.

I became curious about a framed handkerchief embroidered with names.

Every time I dusted it, I copied another name to research.

Solving this ‘mystery’ was the inspiration for the creation of the play: Trunk Show.

Trunk Show highlights the origin of summer stock theatre in Maine and was intended to provide an immersive theatre experience. Attendees would attend a 1920’s style summer stock theatre production including opening acts, a short play and closing musical event. Proceeds from the sale of popcorn and root beer would go to the Lion’s Club scholarship fund.

After a winter of writing and revising the Trunk Show script with my co-author, forming the Ad Hoc Theatre Company, casting the show with both year -round and summer residents, finding a director, finalizing dates with the venue, and applying for a grant, we scheduled the first reading of the play for Memorial weekend.

As the pandemic spread, more and more arts and community related events were first postponed and then cancelled. In response to Covid-19, it appeared that all performance venues on the island would be dark for the season.

The Trunk Show would not be performed live on stage.

Radio was the first broadcast medium, and people regularly tuned-in to their favorite radio programs, and families gathered to listen to the home radio in the evening. A variety of new entertainment formats and genres were created for the new medium…By the late 1920s,… sponsored musical features soon became the most popular program format.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Age_of_Radio

Most radio stations are corporate or group owned. PIRadio 1700 AM is the brainchild of Chris Marot and Brijit Joyce. (Brijit also has a used book shop.

Peaks Island Radio 1700AM is committed to providing high-quality, local radio to the Peaks Island community. PIR is self-supporting and very – VERY – local. Waddling ducks greet you as you approach their home. The studio is wedged into a second floor guest room.

Programs are streamed live as well as available on-line. Chris exhorts island residents to share their personal stories through PIRadio. He believes: “We could all use some neighborly contact….”

Persons of a certain age who watched Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movies know the solution to all setbacks and challenges is to “put on a show.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRZ5400UKSc

In July, the members of the Ad Hoc Theatre Company embellished the rallying cry:

“Let’s Put on a Radio Show!!’

Converting a play written for the stage to a radio program, on the face of it, should have been simple.

  • Voices would need to differentiate characters.
  • Narration would need to clarify scene changes.
  • Sound effects would need to distinguish action.
  • Humorous dialogue would need to replace sight gags.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/profiles/tnkQgSgPJVWM4ZpZ3hHbjv/ten-tips-for-writing-a-play-for-radio

  • However, during a pandemic, there are other factors that require, not only creativity, but out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Casting would need to be based on quarantine requirements or cohort relationships.
  • Scheduling read throughs would need to consider time zones, work schedules.
  • Rehearsing would need to take place via Zoom.
  • Recording sessions would need to be in a space large enough to accommodate recording equipment, sound absorbers, dividers, microphones and stands, computer, cables.
  • Actors would need to maintain social distancing while recording.
  • Doors and windows would need to remain open throughout the session to allow for airflow. (This proved somewhat problematic due to passing airplanes and lobster boats.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editing would need to be completed by a production specialist with a connection to Peaks Island, a sense of humor and dogged determination. And, of course, a willingness to volunteer.

Trunk Show is the story of 1924 theatre, tourism, prohibition and politics on Peaks Island through the eyes of two sisters as they prepare for an uncertain future. It is a 2-act play with multiple scenes. There are 14 characters as well as music and sound effects.

Editing of any kind (words, video, film, music, sound effects) is a slow, tedious and always frustrating, process. It could take 10 hours of editing to produce a minute of video.

  • You need to download the sound files to the computer.
  • You need to sift through each sound file for the best of 3 takes for each. character for each scene for each act. (Occasionally parsing out a two-syllable clip.)
  • You need to research, identify and download onto separate sound tracks the music, commercials, sound effects and then insert them into the sound track.
  • You need to match audio levels.

And you do this again and again…and AGAIN. Until it is ready to air.

Steve Devoney, Production Specialist, musician, actor and volunteer editor.

“When this is over…”

… I will appreciate the willingness of others to accompany me along a difficult path.

… I will honor the indomitable spirit of the ‘creatives’ in my world.

… I will believe that solving problems can grow from artistic endeavors.

… I will celebrate the completion of another community-based artwork.

 

MARK YOUR CALENDARS:

Trunk Show Premiere

Thanksgiving Week.

Wednesday:        November 25th  –  8 p.m.

Thursday:           November 26th  –  2 p.m.; 6 p.m.; 9 p.m.

Sunday:              November 29th –  8 p.m.

The live broadcast will include interviews with the playwrights and cast. To listen, go to peaksislandradio.com and click on “listen live.” Trunk Show will be archived and available to download after premiere week.

 

More ShowS That Did Go On …

Peaks Island in the late 19th century was famous for its summer entertainment and earned the nickname “Coney Island of Maine.” Entertainment on Peaks Island has a long history, beginning with a picnic grove that visitors accessed by rowboat during the 1850s. …later transformed… into an amusement park, known as Greenwood Garden, that featured an open-air roller rink later converted to a playhouse … http://www.portlandlandmarks.org/peaks-island-amusement-district

Despite Covid-19 and its restrictions, the burning of the island post office, reduction in boat service and fewer tourists, the arts community of Peaks Island has been able to continue its long tradition of providing quality entertainment for island residents.

 

The 19th Annual PeaksFest kicked off the summer with virtual events: Scavenger Hunts, Schmoozefest, BINGO, Dock Day Expo. In lieu of the Common Hound parade, canine competitors and their owners practiced their favorite tricks and “paraded’ via Zoom.

 

 

The 71st Variety Show a 2-night event open to all island ‘talent’ built an outdoor stage. Audiences sat at socially distanced picnic tables.

 

 

 

 

 

The TEIA Players staged the play Our Place on the TEIA Docks and set up the sound system in a dinghy. https://teiaclub.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 5th Maine Museum Art on the Porch highlights local crafts became an Art Walk providing a map to individual artists homes. https://www.fifthmainemuseum.org

 

The Umbrella Cover Museum erected a ‘Pop up Pavilion.’ At the end of every tour, visitors shook mini maracas (sanitized nightly) to the beat of  “Let a Smile be Your Umbrella” played on accordion. https://www.umbrellacovermuseum.org

 

Concert performances and other musical events became Porch Concerts and a way to support island talent.

The Lion’s Club substituted burger nights and outdoor seating in lieu of lobster bakes and weddings to raise monies for scholarships. They opened their grounds to outdoor Pilates classes and jazz concerts.

Part 2: Uncovering Changes

 Part 2: Uncovering Changes

gettyimages-1214829913

 Missing the Before

The City of Portland, Maine is home to 66,215 people. Bon Appetite named Portland the 2018 restaurant city of the year. https://www.bonappetit.com/story/portland-maine-city-of-the-year-2018.

Portland has followed the pattern of city revitalization taking place throughout the country. The boom in real estate led to a lack of affordable housing and an increase in homelessness. Neighborhood histories disappear as condos replace older homes. The process to preserve historic landmarks cannot keep up with the renaissance. Long-time residents bemoan the lack of parking, the increase in taxes and uninspired architecture. Newer and younger residents revel in all the city has to offer – green space, walkability, music venues, microbreweries and ubiquitous coffee shops. Some, like Coffee by Design, served as my de facto office for a year while creating Welcoming the Stranger: building understanding through community based art in 2015.

Tourism is one of the five major industries of the State of Maine.

April 1 – COVID-19:                377 confirmed cases statewide                     9 deaths

When Maine Governor Mills issued the stay-at-home order on March 31, she said:

 “I implore you – look to yourself, your family, your friends, your loved ones, your neighbors on the front lines, first responders and health care workers fighting the virus, those who can’t stay home; the children who live around the corner, the farmer who grows your food, the grocer and the pharmacist who sell you goods, the teachers who are missing their kids; the fisherman, the sailor, the truck driver, the janitor, the waitress at your favorite diner; these are the people you are protecting by staying home. This is who you are saving.”                

 The City of Portland closed: no hotels, no restaurants, no cruise ships, no coffee shops, no bars, no barber shops and the list goes on.

The stay-at-home mandate reduced the need for car ferries to and from Peaks Island. They scheduled only 3 boats a day. https://www.pressherald.com/2020/03/19/casco-bay-lines-to-reduce-ferry-service-because-of-coronavirus/. At 5:30 am, I joined the line of cars waiting for the ferry. The lines continue throughout the day to accommodate construction workers, food deliveries, essential workers and returning summer residents. Masks required; social distancing at all times.

ferry

Finding Home

In preparation for my 2-week quarantine in Maine and possible food shortages on the island, I did what is euphemistically called: A Big Shop. The trunk and backseat of my car were now a mobile pantry.car seat

Growing up in New England, neighbors always had “ just in case’ food.  Some they grew and canned. Some they purchased. Snow storms, power outages, lost employment, ferry breakdowns, or any number of other possible catastrophes –  and now a pandemic  – are on the list of ‘what ifs.’

The children’s book Stone Soup  has its roots in European folktales. Once upon a time, a stranger arrives in a town. He carries a soup pot but has no ingredients with which to cook. He sets to boiling water and adds a stone.

Each villager stops by and asks:

What are you cooking?

The stranger replies:

Stone soup.

Each villager then says:

That would taste much better if you added …

 – a carrot, a potato, some greens and so on and so on…And they did. The community created a soup and the soup created a community.

“Just in case” pantries are, not only for your home, but for sharing with others in need.

Finding Community

The island was deserted. All businesses were closed: gas station, laundromat, café, restaurants, library, bicycle and golf cart rentals, ice cream shop, school, museums, churches, hardware store, taxi service and non-profits. Hannigan’s grocery store was open limited hours.

Hannigans 1

Peaks Island was a microcosm of the state – if not the country.

When I first returned to Peaks Island to share in the care of my mother before she died, I was welcomed into a year-round community of  900 residents that traditionally swells to more than 5000 in the summer.

I learned the names of the mail carriers, restaurant owners, grocery store cashiers, librarians, tour guides, waste collectors, landscapers, musicians, and artists. I joined the chorale and (hoped in the future) the ukulele band.

In her book Year of Wonders Geraldine Brooks tells the story of a walled town in 1666 that chose to protect the greater community from the plague raging within its walls by allowing no one to enter the town and no one to leave. http://geraldinebrooks.com/year-of-wonders/

At the conclusion of the weekly Maine CDC  Covid 19 briefing, Dr. Shah reminds everyone:

Be Kind. Take care of one another.

banner

The residents of Peaks Island took to heart his ‘mantra.’

A Peaks Island Covid 19 response committee was formed to provide up-to-date communication, assist with shopping and transportation, food pantry access. Mental health teams offered support if requested.

https://wgme.com/news/coronavirus/maine-island-residents-work-together-to-keep-community-safe

Year-round residents used stimulus checks to purchase gift cards to island restaurants and shops to support their small businesses.

Masks and social distancing and stay at home orders are strictly adhered to.

Arriving summer residents are expected to self-quarantine for 14 days.

 May 1- COVID 19:                 1149 confirmed cases statewide                   59 deaths

Traditionally, Memorial Day weekend shepherds in the opening up of cottages and return of summer residents. “Opening Up” a cottage means adhering to a long list of  ‘To Do’s’ developed over time through trial and error. My friends/patrons/supporters of island arts are not able to travel to the island due to the pandemic.

cottage

Therefore, I am the designated cottage caretaker. In exchange for housing, I will oversee a roof replacement, landscape the gardens, perform general repairs and paint. My other task is to collect news of others and general goings -on.  I will respond to islanders who inquire of them. In weekly zoom meetings, we will exchange information about life in England vs US,  compare the graying of our locks and trade recipes. I will send them photographs of the most recently bloomed flower and exquisite sunsets.

Their 3-page list includes the following tasks:

Locate the hidden key if you forgot yours.

Unlock and open the doors to air out the cottage.

Get tools out that you need to proceed.

Turn on electric.

Take down shutters.

Install porch screens. (Check that no bird has created a nest on top of the screens. If so delay installation until babies fledge).

Check for damage  – evidence of leaks, torn screens, broken tree limbs.

Seek out evidence of any dead creatures and remove. (I ask the neighbor to remove them.)

Vacuum up bugs, dead flies.

Turn the water on – check for leaks.

Uncover the Goddesses. 

As part of Crossroads: Art for Contemplation, I created 7-circuit meditation labyrinths throughout Maryland to provide a place and a process for anyone to “journey inward.”

When walking a labyrinth, you enter with a question. When you exit, you may have an answer or a sense of direction or hint of movement towards something  you had not considered.

I installed ceramic sculptures of the Greek goddesses – Demeter, Persephone and Hecate – as part of the artwork. They now ‘live’ on Peaks Island. One possible interpretation of their myth asks what we learn about ourselves when we have time to ‘journey inward.’

For many, being in quarantine provides that time.

Finding Nature With My Eyes

In general, I am a big picture kind of person. When walking, I see an entire landscape – not individual trees or blades of grass. Since I am forced to slow down due to the pandemic, I am seeing ‘smaller’.

I arrived to a second spring. It feels heartless of Mother Nature to create this amazing spring while we are under strict orders to stay at home and distance ourselves from friends.

Lilacs had just started to bloom. Hostas were leafing out. The viburnum would soon provide a backdrop for the purple Siberian irises and lupines.

viburnum

During my first removal of fallen branches and leaves from the gardens, I uncover plants heretofore not seen before – at least by me:

Under the juniper – Jack in the pulpit Jack in the Pulpit

Moss roses

 

 

 

Under the hops – covered apple trees – moss roses

Lady slipper orchid. (It is endangered so their location is secret.)

Ladies' Slippers 2

I am still hard pressed to discern between native plants and weeds. (Although a friend once told me that anything in the garden that isn’t where you want it,  is essentially,  a weed.)

cover_2

Dr. Chuck Radis’ (with his brother Rick) co-authored Wildflowers of Peaks Island, Maine. The color coded pages group wildflowers by season and habitats. They describe each plant by color, placement, shape of leaves, and measurements. I refer to the book as I weed.

ASIDE:

Dr. Chuck Radis in his book, Go By Boat: Stories of a Maine Island Doctor,  shares his time as the doctor for the residents of Casco Bay islands. https://www.pressherald.com/2018/12/31/peaks-island-doctor-brings-practice-to-pages-in-new-book/

 

Tree rings

The stumps of maple trees felled over the winter provide seats from which to observe more “small.”  I realize how different the vista is without them. The light has changed since it is no longer being filtered through the leaves.

I count the rings on the stump: 1 light plus 1 dark ring = 1 year https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwNJC-IRgPE

Each ring has a story to tell. Maybe this tree witnessed the 1918 pandemic.

One morning, while putting on my work boots,  I noticed a shiny ‘trail’ on the exterior of one of the boots. I know slugs leave this ‘trace’ as they meander about.  Gingerly, I inspected the interior – fortunately it was empty .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8ma6vDvXAM

SlugNo one likes slugs.

Everyone I ask:

“Of what use are slugs? “

To a person each replies:

“Absolutely None.”

For me,  taking the time to watch a slug perambulate provides new mantras on to how to go forward each day – not just during a pandemic:

Set a goal and persevere.

Keep eyes looking forward.

Slow down and take note of your surroundings.

Stay still if threatened.

“ Just being alive is enough” Suzuki Roshi

 

June 1 –  COVID-19:                  2352 cases statewide                         95 deaths

Finding Nature with my Ears

When I first arrived, the island was preternaturally quiet. No sounds of golf carts or cars or planes or party boats or cruise ships. No lawn mowers or leaf blowers. An island committee formed to study noise levels pre and post pandemic – in hopes of stemming the future increase in airplane noise when the friendly skies re-open.

There is one exception – one very loud exception – the sounds of birds – songs, tweets, squawks, gobbles (yes, the turkeys have landed. ) create a new island soundtrack. Every morning the birds signal the beginning of another day in quarantine.

Turkeys

My sister and brother in law are “birders.”  They have ‘life lists’ (To date: 286) and cool binoculars.

They learn habitats, recognize calls, possess language to describe each bird and spend time ‘looking and listening.” I have never really listened to the sounds that birds make. Until now.

Bird vocalizations includes both bird calls and bird songs.

  • Songs are used to defend territory and attract mates.
  • Calls tend to be shorter and simpler — often just one syllable long. There are different kinds of calls:

Alarm calls

Contact calls

Flight calls

Begging calls (feed me)

Mating

Warnings

There are phone apps that record the song and match it to one in the data base. https://www.audubon.org/news/how-start-identifying-birds-their-songs-and-calls

https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home/

Bird songs can even be used to create an opera.  Just listen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMXD4h5w8D8

Finding Nature with My Nose

There seem to be roses blooming in every garden. Out of quarantine and back to my daily walk, I continue to see “small.” I look at the color and shape of roses in gardens around the island.  I breathe in the smell of the rose then squeeze a blossom in my hand and inhale the fragrance. It seems the most visually beautiful are the least fragrant – some with no fragrance at all.

Hedges of the ubiquitous beach rose – rosa rugosa – circumnavigate the island.

IMG_2844

Swedish botanist Carl Peter Thunberg first introduced the western world to Rosa rugosa (meaning “wrinkled rose” because of its creased petals and serrated foliage) in the 1770s, having come across it in Japan. So, although it is a dominant species in certain areas of the northeast and northwest of the United States, it is not native.

https://www.gardenista.com/posts/rosa-rugosa-roses-perennials-flowering-shrubs-growing-care-tips/

lowest tide

I walk the circumference  of the island – starting or ending at low tide on Centennial Beach. There is a distinctive smell – especially at dead low tide.

It is a Sulphur-y kind of smell produced by bacteria as they digest dead phytoplankton.

As a child, I would stomp along the sand in hopes of enticing a clam to “spit” – creating a tell-tale hole revealing its location. It is still a valid technique when digging for clams.

https://bangordailynews.com/2018/08/31/outdoors/the-inside-scoop-on-how-to-dig-for-clams-in-maine/

In 3rd grade I won a contest for the most books read over the summer. (I had an unfair advantage since I lived directly across the street from the library.) The prize was a chart of seashells with accompanying samples of each shell. https://www.maine.gov/dmr/shellfish-sanitation-management/shellfishidentification.html

Walking along the beach today, it is rare to find a razor clam or a sand dollar or a horseshoe crab.

Horseshoe crabs are “living fossils” that have existed for at least 445 million years and are not really a crab.

invertebrate_horseshoe-crab_600x300

Their blue, copper-based blood contains lysate, which reacts to bacterial toxins by clotting. Horseshoe crab blood has long been harvested to test everything from water to intravenous drugs for contamination. It’s also key to making vaccines for diseases such as COVID-19. https://www.nps.gov/gate/learn/nature/upload/nature_horseshoe_crab.pdf

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/07/covid-vaccine-needs-horseshoe-crab-blood/

Searching for beach glass has replaced beach combing for shells. Beach glass hunters are readily identified by their start and stop walking, stooped posture and/or bowed heads. Children collect the shards, store them in their pockets and parents find them in the bottom of the washing machine. Glass-filled jars occupy window sills for years – and eventually discarded over time.

Seaglass shell

July 1 –  COVID-19                             3288 cases statewide                        123 deaths

Making the decision to drive to Maine was influenced by my commitment to co-author and produce a play to celebrate the Maine Bicentennial. Proceeds from ticket sales would support scholarships for island students.

Due to Covid 19 – all performance venues would remain closed until summer 2021. After 2 years of research and countless revisions, we had been holding onto the possibility we would mount a stage production.

Trunk Show” tells a story of 1924 summer stock theatre, prohibition and politics on Peaks Island through the eyes of two sisters as they prepare for an uncertain future.

Like so many art and performance groups, we hope to share our vision. However, like the “Trunk Show” heroines, the future of our cast, our play, our lives – everyone’s lives – is uncertain.

Yet, the sun still sets every night.

Nice thing about sunsets is you can't do anything to them. 
You can't improve them, repair them, prolong them, sell them or 
change them in any way at all. Miranda V.

Uncovering: Circles

The circumference (from Latin circumferens, meaning “carrying around”) is the perimeter of a circle .

The circumference of a circle is related to one of the most important mathematical constants. This constantpi, is represented by the Greek letter π.

pi….an ideal that in numerical terms can be approached, but never reached.

March 14:

My residency at the Vermont Studio Center ended abruptly. The Governor of the State of Vermont declared a state of emergency and began closing schools, bars, restaurants in hopes of containing the virus. I had been in a news-free bubble during my residency so was unaware of the severity nor the rapid spread of the virus. I packed up my installation Aletheia: state of not being hidden and headed home. https://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2020/03/30/a-different-line/

01Aleteia

Warned by many friends to expect empty shelves at Maryland grocery stores, I stopped along the way for toilet paper.

March 15:

I self – quarantined. I had spent several weeks with artists from other states and countries and had crossed several state borders (and Canada.)  My decision coincided with Maryland’s first stay at home order:

…Leave only for essential work or critical health care – doctors , food shopping, walk yourself or walk the dog. Schools will remain closed. Work from home if you can. Wear masks. Wash your hands.

March 30:

Governor Hogan of Maryland extended his initial shut down/stay at home order:

“We are all going to need to depend on each other, to look out for each other and to take care of each other. We are all in this together,” Hogan said.

Drawing the Circle

Friends shopped for me and deposited bags of dried beans, rice, lentils, oatmeal, corn meal at my door. Yeast and flour. Fruit and veggies. Cleaning products. One brownie mix. And of course, more toilet paper.

I made cloth masks for friends and families. Using fabric from quilters’ stashes.

masks

 

Just 2 weeks prior,  I had used my 100 year old Singer sewing machine to create an art installation  It might have been used during the 1918 pandemic. Maybe even to sew masks.

Sewing machine

 

In 1918, advanced masks like the N95s that healthcare workers use today were a long way off. Surgical masks were made of gauze, and many people’s flu masks were made of gauze too. Red Cross volunteers made and distributed many of these, and newspapers carried instructions for those who may want to make a mask for themselves or donate some to the troops. Still, not everyone used the standard surgical design or material.

 https://www.history.com/news/1918-spanish-flu-mask-wearing-resistance#:~:text=Masks%20Were%20Made%20of%20Gauze,the%20pandemic%20flu%20in%201918.&text=Red%20Cross%20volunteers%20made%20and,donate%20some%20to%20the%20troops.

Coffee – its consumption and creation – has featured prominently in many of my past blogs.  This time it wasn’t the coffee, but the plastic coffee bag closure used to re-seal the bag.

Tin ties

I collected them from anyone I knew that brewed their own cup o’ Joe in order to create fitted nose pieces.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MSyjcbr90E

I talked, texted or emailed daily with others – like myself – who live alone.

A Smaller Circumference

There are 28 stairs from my sleeping loft to my studio shower. It has been ‘strongly suggested’ by friends and family (in response to a fall and broken ankle that my next artwork should be to create a shower in the loft. This would necessitate moving the washer and dryer to a location TBD.

Building a shower where the washing machine had been seemed like a fairly straight forward project. There was existing plumbing, drainage and venting.

I am an inveterate watcher of This Old House https://www.thisoldhouse.com/ and revere Richard Trethewey – the plumber – enough so to research his introductory quote:

it is a typical plumber’s lament…”220px-MarioNSMBUDeluxe

A Plumber’s Lament is the name of a piece of art created by Garro of Nimbus Land for the kingdom’s queen Valentina during the events of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. The gold-colored statue is a depiction of a plumber.

There are hundreds of internet sites devoted to Mario if you have time to research  – but I had work to do.

After watching innumerable you-tube videos, I determined which tasks were within my skill set. Next,  I called the plumber to handle the remainder (Naturally, it included re-routing the existing pipes, drains, vents, etc. )

Before leaving for the art residency I had demo’ed the old wall board and replaced it with durarock (resistant to water); applied leveling material (due to the uneven durarock installation ) and was  ready to tile.Durarock

The walls for the new laundry room and closet (the first and only closet at the firehouse) were framed in.

Then I headed to Vermont. Then I returned from Vermont. Then I continued the renovation. Fortunately, I had already purchased the materials for each project from the Loading Dock http://www.loadingdock.org/

The Loading Dock, Inc. (TLD), a building materials reuse facility, offers great deals and interesting finds to people who need inexpensive building materials and are interested in keeping materials out of the waste stream. TLD serves as a national model for communities interested in starting a reuse facility.

It is rooms and rooms of everything and I mean everything – needed for construction and renovations and just plain old cool stuff.

TLD_Warehouse

Because I was in quarantine, if I didn’t have it, I improvised often. (Although a neighbor did deliver some drywall screws I had run out of. It was the opposite of curbside pick-up – more like doorway drop off.)

At the end of each day, I walk to the town Wetlands Park – now 20 years old. The trees are full grown, native plants have taken root and milkweed proliferates to attract butterflies and other pollinators.

images

https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1997-01-20-1997020032-story.html

I wear my mask – but when no one else is in the park – I remove it. I revel in the ability to take a deep breath – unencumbered.

I walk on 4 foot wide paths mowed an additional foot on each side to create a 6 foot distance. I perfect the ‘swerve” to avoid unmasked walkers. I learn the names of dogs whose owners I had never seen at the park before. And encourage tottering young bicyclists.

As I installed the final tile in the bathroom and hung up the last article of clothing in the closet, the Governor issued another 2 week extension of the stay at home order.

2 more weeks of being alone

2 more weeks of relying on friends

2 more weeks of finding ways to fill the day with meaning.

Creating a Circle of Care

Comfort_PRINT_CircleCare-1

I graduated from high school the same year Sesame Street was first broadcast.  When I became a first grade teacher, I often relied on materials and concepts developed by the producers of Sesame Street.

There is an activity that asks children to complete a worksheet called ‘Circle of Care. ‘ The goal is to reassure kids that they are never alone. There are always people who will be there to help you.

 “The Circle of Care is like a giant hug.”

https://sesamestreetincommunities.org/activities/exploring-kids-circle-care/

As the pandemic restrictions continued, friends offered me gift cards or brought me food as part of their weekly shopping forays. One friend offered me their stipend check since they were still employed. I was deeply touched by their offers of kindness.

I am included in their ‘circle of care.’

My Circle of Care

PC Marker

I don’t know if it’s part of aging but I have grown comfortable with silence.

Maybe I realized that I would rather sit in silence than attend a traditional house of worship.

Maybe the Quaker belief in non-violence and community led me to attend.

Maybe my increasing comfort in silence led me to Quaker Meeting or maybe attending Quaker Meeting led me to silence.

Maybe it’s not about silence but about ‘seeking that of God in everyone.”

The Pipe Creek Friends Meeting was established in 1772. Its doors have remained open since its inception.

At one time, there were only 2 attenders. They met in their living room because they couldn’t afford to heat the meeting house. Yet, they did not “lay the meeting down.”

In the 1970’s,  possibly in response to the Vietnam War and civil unrest or (according to Pipe Creek oral history) because the outhouse was replaced with indoor plumbing, the number of attendees increased. When I started to attend in 2001 there were less than 10 members. As the U.S. contemplated entering another war in 2003, more ‘seekers’ entered our doors. https://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2016/09/

Throughout the pandemic, I am ‘led’ to open the Meeting House doors on Sundays. It is a 10 minute walk from my studio. I sit silently while other members – out of an abundance of caution – ‘zoom.’  Like Quakers throughout the country.

https://whyy.org/articles/in-the-age-of-social-distancing-quakers-have-quickly-adapted-to-online-worship/

Expanding My Circle of Care

 When stay-at-home orders were first announced, radio commentators remarked that 2 kinds of people would welcome the order: artists and writers.

Artists and writers have always had to guard their time. They need to turn inward to create characters or plot lines or images. They may need time for research or just what a friend calls ‘dreamtime.’  Time is a precious commodity during ‘normal times.’ But this is the ‘new normal.’ For many, time spreads out like a vast ocean.

vast sea

Many of us have time now but are plagued by a heavy heart.

As a community based artist I need community input, collective knowledge and skills to complete a work.

My first community based art project in 1994 in Carroll County: Seeds of Change focused on rural hunger through the lens of women’s spirituality. We grew buckwheat to make flour, distributed it to food pantries and sponsored Pancake Breakfasts through local volunteer fire departments to highlight the existence of rural hunger.IMG_1678

https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1994-03-04-1994063038-story.html 1994.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1994/09/12/reaping-what-shes-sown/91ca5ff6-3d66-4ffa-bb8b-e1946adf476b/

Twenty- five years later,  food insecurity has continued to grow throughout the country. The increasing unemployment in the pandemic have worsened the crisis.

https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/news/facing-shortages-rising-demand-food-banks-may-turn-to-rationing

ubseal

The population of the Town of Union Bridge Maryland is 964 and  encompasses 1 square mile. Settled by Quakers, Union Bridge began as a farming community. Food production is no longer the major source of employment.  The median income is lower than surrounding cities. According to the 2010 census – 394 households were counted and 34% had children under the age of 18.

When the locally owned and operated grocery store closed in 2008, it not only deprived local teens their first job opportunity but ushered in the term: food desert.

To help meet the food needs of families in town, members of St. James Lutheran Church joined with Dream Big Union Bridge to create a Food Pantry.  Pipe Creek Quaker Meeting provides fresh vegetables raised in the community garden.

https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/carroll/opinion/cc-op-nonprofit-dream-big-union-bridge-20180802-story.html

PC garden

Almost 30,000,000 school aged children qualify for free/reduced price lunches.

https://www.mdhungersolutions.org/pdf/maryland-school-breakfast-report-card-2017.pdf

Throughout the school year, 45% of students receive breakfast and lunch. Closing schools for vacations, snow, and now a pandemic – leaves many children hungry.

With the help of a town council member, we were able to create a local feeding site  for curbside pick-up of breakfast/lunch. As the quarantine continues, the line of cars increases.

https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/carroll/top/cc-meal-delivery-20200417-4my22vxnlbhkfebxs2qsgmggfm-story.html

In other towns, residents are converting their Little Free Library into Covid 19 pantries. http://www.littlefreepantry.org

Photograph+of+Bishopthorpe+Little+Free+Library_Little+Free+Pantry

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/little-libraries-become-food-pantries-during-covid-19

May 6: Schools closed for the remainder of the year.

Extending My Circle of Care

Spring-Paper-Roll-Crafts-43Making “virtual” art is a challenge. I have a weekly craft hour with a five year old via Facetime. Fortunately, she is more skilled with how to use the technology than I am – and has more patience with it.

I decided to create ‘Take and Make’ bags for the neighborhood school-aged children. I scoured my studio for supplies, solicited toilet paper tubes from everyone, scrounged crayons, tape, scissors, coffee filters. I included directions for projects and links for more ideas. I wore gloves to assemble the materials into individual brown paper bags. Out of an abundance of caution: All materials sat for a week in my studio. They were distributed at the Food Bank.

Governor Hogan was right. We are all in this together

Going in Circles

I struggled with the decision to make my annual trek to Maine. In 2007,  I returned to Peaks Island to create a memorial for my Dad.  https://vimeo.com/29998120 More recently to share in the care of my Mother before she died.

I have spent the summers creating with others – music, plays, gardens, art. Making the decision to drive to Maine was influenced by my commitment to write and produce a play to celebrate the Maine Bicentennial and raise monies for island scholarships.

Maine’s Governor Mills decided to institute strict restrictions to help stave off the spread of the virus.

https://wgme.com/news/coronavirus/maine-island-residents-work-together-to-keep-community-safe

There is a mandatory 2-week quarantine for out-of-staters upon arrival in Maine.

I weighed the risks, to not only myself, but to others in my Maine circle of care .

My friends were more concerned that during the 12 hour drive, rest stops would be closed. *

I was more concerned about missing the last ferry and having to spend the night sleeping in my car.

As I crossed the border from New Hampshire into Maine, I  read the sign:

Maine Welcome Home.

But will  home be the same?

image sign

https://www.mainepublic.org/post/maine-turnpike-signs-will-instruct-out-staters-self-isolate-if-they-come-maine

 

* My friends were correct – rest rooms and rest stops were closed necessitating detours into towns with ‘welcoming gas stations.”  The 10 hour drive extended to 12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Line

A Different Line – Dots and Dashes

A point in geometry is a location. It has no size i.e. no width, no length and no depth.

line is defined as a line of points that extends infinitely in two directions. It has one dimension, length.

I am driving to a 2-week artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center (VSC) located in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont  https://vermonter.com/nek/ where a 2008 report rated 74% of the roads in poor or very poor condition. And 408 bridges need repairs of some kind.

I am going to VSC for an ‘artist spa retreat.” There will be yoga classes, healthy meals, gym and pool close by and no requirement to produce a work of art.

Nothing is a straight line when you are driving to Vermont from Maryland – everything meanders: roads, ski trails, cow paths, Green Mountain Range, and rivers.

VSC meander

All serve to create a circuitous route – no matter which direction you are heading. I have planned a 2 day drive to allow for detours. It will be easier on the body as well as what I euphemistically call the Granny car.

‘Bert and I’ records were first released in 1958. Most Mainers of a certain age can tell this story by heart when folks are asking for directions:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6V2Ew1M0sE

Detour 1:  Collar City

My goal was to be in my pajamas at the Airbnb by dark . However, I missed my exit. So I just keep following Siri’s directions. Like many others have discovered, she isn’t always up to the task.

https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/09/02/218070371/in-maine-even-with-a-gps-you-cant-get-there-from-here

 As the sun was setting, I was still wending and winding my way across the City of Troy. Due to the confluence of major waterways and a geography that supported water power, the American industrial revolution took hold in this area. Troy was known as the “Collar City” due to its history in shirt, collar, and other textile production.

I drive past churches of all denominations that line both sides of the street –   all with Tiffany stained glass windows and steeples that tower above each community I pass through. I was looking for the Woodside Presbyterian Church.

Henry Burden (April 22, 1791 – January 19, 1871) was an engineer and businessman who built an industrial complex called the Burden Iron Works. He designed the “Horseshoe Machine” that could produce 60 shoes a minute and became the chief horseshoe producer for the Union Army.

In 1869, Burden built the  Woodside Presbyterian Church as a memorial to his wife. She had expressed concern for the iron workers and their families who had to walk miles in inclement weather to churches in downtown Troy and wished for a church closer to the Iron Works.

Woodside-postcard

Its location may have been advantageous to the workers but finding it before sunset was proving to be elusive.

A few years ago, the church was scheduled for demolition but members of the Contemporary Artist Center purchased it in 2007. For several years it operated as an arts center and artist residency.  http://www.cactroy.org/history.php

They now offer rooms through Airbnb to raise funds for upkeep and to continue renovations. It seemed like a perfect fit for me. After all,  I had been an artist in residence in a Benedictine monastery and live in an 1884 firehouse.  https://www.stgertrudes.org/

Well after sunset, the granny car and I take a sharp left hand turn, climb the steep hill to the parking lot and began the arduous process of dragging in luggage and groceries while walking precariously on ice. ( YUP still winter in Upstate New York.)

WPC hill

I entered the code and the door opens into a large kitchen, dining room and studio area. CAVERNOUS is the only word to describe the edifice. There are 2 stone structures. One  is currently occupied by a composer/musician and I will be ensconced in one of the 3 Airbnb rooms in the church itself.

The church brochure notes that early inhabitants of Troy expressed their passion for architecture by using the following materials in their buildings:

WPC studio

  • Iron: cast and structural iron works (facades, gates, railings, banisters, stairwells, rooftop crenellation, window grilles, etc.)
  • Stone: carved hard and soft stone foundations, facades and decorative elements
  • Glass: a vast array of ornate stained and etched glass works
  • Wood: fine wood work.

The Woodside Presbyterian Church reflects all of them.

My host Shea (also an artist) provided a tour of the studio workspace (formerly the worship area), a small library (originally the choir loft) and my well heated room. The bed was constructed from pews – and  I fell asleep to the sounds of running water in a nearby creek and awakened to light streaming through stained glass windows. WPC room

I take a mini-walking tour to the local Farmer’s Market (well attended though temps hovering mid 20’s) and enter the Daily Grind café – a breakfast place whose walls are covered with artwork. https://www.dailygrind.com/ 

Troy’s empty mills, factories and churches now provide large artist studio spaces that overlook the Hudson River. Both work space and living spaces such as the Hudson Arthaus Shelter for the Body, Art for the Soul. https://hudsonarthaus.com/  breathe new life into moribund communities.

Troy is also home to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute https://www.rpi.edu/ whose graduates establish cooperative work spaces, eat at farm to table restaurants and are involved in the evolving mushroom technology. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACoA6vUD-h8

And of course, drink lots of coffee.

On the road

Detour 2: Art and Soul of Vermont

Leap Year provides a gift of an additional day. I can think of no better way to spend it than with a longtime friend.

 I find myself taking a detour to Brandon, Vermont – known as the ‘art and soul’ of Vermont. Brandon is just a 2-hour drive from VSC as well as the home of B. Amore – my mentor and friend for more than 30 years.

The exit names seem familiar as does the scenery. It is the same route I followed to Rutland, Vermont 33 years ago where I  learned to carve stone.

B. founded the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center https://carvingstudio.org/ that helped to spark the revitalization of Rutland and stone carving. She recently published an article on ‘Sculpture Walks in Barre and Rutland, VT.’

https://www.rutlandherald.com/features/vermont_arts/art-and-stone-rutland-and-barre-create-a-living-legacy/article_27d0dbbe-046a-54e8-a419-700aa288f3a1.html

The last time we saw each other was at the Maine Jewish Museum when she reviewed my Welcoming the Stranger show for Sculpture Magazine.

https://sculpturemagazine.art/portland-maine-jo-israelson-maine-jewish-museum/

B. is never at a loss for ideas or projects. We will celebrate the publication of her most recent book – Journeys on the Wheel: Poems by B Amore and the completion of several public art projects and initiation of others in New York and Boston.

B's Book

 

Best of all, we will have time to tour her new studio and talk about the roads we had traveled since last we met.  We would have the time to enjoy each other’s company.  

And of course, mangia bene.

https://www.thelocal.it/20190129/italian-word-of-the-day-mangia

 

 

A Different Line: Dots

dots“; (2) a thoughtful or troubled pause, as in “I … I just can’t help myself”; and (3) a trailing off thought…

 

Plaque

The Vermont Studio Center was founded by artists in 1984. Our location—situated along the banks of the Gihon River in the historic village of Johnson, Vermont—was chosen with the intention of fostering creativity through community, collaboration, and quiet reflection supported by the unspoiled beauty of the northern Green Mountains.

https://vermontstudiocenter.org/

 

Arrival

Sunday: High 25; Low 5

Tours, reception, dinner

Studio assignments

Over the last 30 years, VSC has grown to become the largest international artists’ and writers’ residency program in the United States. Our mission is to provide studio residencies in an inclusive, international community, honoring creative work as the communication of spirit through form.

Upon arrival, we receive a packet of forms, general information, and tour the campus.

Each building has a specific designation.

campus_map_2019

There is an ever present sound of the river as we walk. Most of the snow is gone BUT locals call the respite ‘fake spring..”

Keys are then distributed – it has the solemnity of being awarded a key to a city.  In some ways it is. Our key opens every studio.

Once settled into our rooms, we gather in the dining room.

Dining room

I join 56 artists – both writers and visual artists They come from as far away as Germany, Pakistan, Argentina, Ireland, Egypt, Korea and Canada. Their ages range from mid-twenties to 70 +. All come to have uninterrupted, concentrated studio time to work at their craft.

Protocols

Protocol #1:

Tink – Tink -Tink. That is the sound of someone tapping on an empty glass to signal quiet. This is the first of many protocols that have developed over time.

Unlike my residency at St. Gertrude’s Monastery where we ate in silence, the dining room is  strictly reserved for connections and conversations. It is a designated  ‘no cell zone.‘ Everyone rapidly stashes their phones and conversations resume.

If the decibel level of the room is any indication that communication is taking place, we are adhering to the letter of the law. Our conversations even drown out the sound of the river flowing beneath us.

                    Small World:

River from dining

A friend always says Peaks Island, Maine (where I spend summers) is the belly button of the universe. I sat at dinner with a printmaker from Massachusetts – Julia Talcott. https://juliatalcott.com/

She is a friend of Scott and Nancy Nash of the Illustrator Institute. https://www.illustrationinstitute.org/

Vermont Studio Center says there are no expectations for the residency – no required proposals, products, presentations. When asked by fellow artists why I came – my response is consistent: – to care for my corporal and spiritual self:

Really good food 3x a day that I didn’t have to prepare

Exercise (yoga, gym, pool at local college, hiking trails)

Meditation

Studio dreaming

I jokingly add I might apply for asylum in Canada.

As part of taking care of my creative self, I would be going dark for 2 weeks.:

no news, no internet, no phone

I would listen to podcasts, read and sit in silence until I had an idea for an artwork or until the end of the residency.

No Place Like Home

I am assigned to the Wolf Kahn Studios for painters.  I am somewhat perplexed as to how I ended up with painters and not sculptors but I assume there must be a cosmic reason.

VSC kahn

Like all of the VSC buildings, Kahn Studios had a former purpose before being purchased and renovated.

Kahn sideIn 1925 a group of citizens agitated for the construction of a community gym, and after a local volunteer construction effort, completed the project in spring, 1929.

It was built to serve as a community center for public gatherings, dancing, basketball and candlepin bowling lanes in the basement kept citizens recreating during the long winter months. The town sold it to VSC in 1996.

It is named for a well-known artist with ties to Vermont. Jonathan Gregg, one of the VSC founders, studied with him. Kahn belongs to the discipline of color field painting —-

WK_Red_Ridge_213810Kahn is 93 years old and still making art.http://www.wolfkahn.com/artworks

 

The jamb on the doorway into my space is lined with the nametags and signatures of artists that preceded me.

Doorway

It is sparsely furnished:

 

2 work surfaces

 

4 saw horses

 

A rickety chair and stool

 

2 tables

 

Chair 2

 

Protocol #2:

Swapping of chairs is allowed but no outright theft.

 

What came before

There are remnants left by previous artists:

A Kleenex box attached to the ceiling (about 24 feet up) and

raised braille-like splotches on the floor.

I came with no clear project or plans. I am not afraid of  the white walls or empty space.

Protocol #3:

I establish a ‘no boots’ policy in my studio. I supply a chair in which to sit to encourage their removal. The chair also affords a view of the river.

 

NOTE:

There is a well-known Van Gogh image of boots. https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/collection/s0011V1962?v=1   The philosopher Heidegger used the Van Gogh image to support his treatise: The Origin of Art. I want to understand his premise but found it impossible to interpret. I viewed a U-tube class, listened to a podcast, watched a Khan Academy lecture but to no avail. But I still love the boots.

Weather 

If you grow up in New England, you know that the first topic of any conversation is always the weather. Often before a greeting or asking how you are or how did you sleep, the inquisition starts. “What’s the forecast.’

The response determines what you wear and how much effort it will take to get through the day.

High or low boots?

Hat, gloves, scarf – none, all or some?

Do I need a shovel?

I listen to a podcast about the book – Weather Machine: A journey inside the forecast https://www.npr.org/2019/06/30/736822395/how-the-advance-weather-forecast-got-good

In The Weather Machine, Andrew Blum takes readers on a fascinating journey through an everyday miracle. In a quest to understand how the forecast works, he visits old weather stations and watches new satellites blast off. He follows the dogged efforts of scientists to create a supercomputer model of the atmosphere and traces the surprising history of the algorithms that power their work. He discovers that we have quietly entered a golden age of meteorology—our tools allow us to predict weather more accurately than ever, and yet we haven’t learned to trust them, nor can we guarantee the fragile international alliances that allow our modern weather machine to exist. Goodreads

Predictions travel faster than the clouds.

But in New England, you just look out the window.

Window ice

 

A Different Line – Dashes

dashes indicate a sudden shift in thought or a break

Day 1:        15 degrees low; 36 high

Sleet, rain, SNOW (no expected accumulation)

TO DO:       Re – arrange furniture

Unpack boxes 

Exercise

Red Mill birds

My windows face northeast. I have a view of the river and the Red Mill Gallery. A flock of pigeons gather on the roof. When disturbed, they fly off in unison, perform an aerial ballet and return to stasis, roosting once again on the peak of the roof. The performances are repeated throughout the day.

I walked the hill to Northern Vermont University to check out the gym and pool. However, the walk was enough of a workout that it would suffice as my cardio for the duration of the residency.

Attempting to adhere to my original idea of a VSC spa residency, I attend yoga class.  The instructors are certified yoga teachers that work multiple jobs. Like many in Johnson, they depend on the VSC to provide opportunities to practice their craft. Capitulating to the ever increasing limits placed on my body through accidents and aging, I spoke with the instructor and was assured of the gentleness of the class.

VSC yoga

 

 

However, the serenity of the space was broken by frequent ‘snow thunder’: the sound of snow sliding off the metal roof and crashing to the ground.

 

 

 

Day 2:       Temperature at Sunrise 37; High 55

Fog lifting to sun

Icicle window

Snow melting

TO DO:      Inventory materials

Create paper wall

Draw lines – dots and dashes

 

 

I spread out my materials and take an inventory.

oil bars, gamsol

clothespins

6’ long piece of roofing rubber

6’ piece of canvas

Rope of various lengths

Sewing thread, needles

Grommet kit

Wood carving supplies

Upholstery pins, needles

Letters and numbers stencils – 2 sizes in an oatmeal box

Tools – sewing machine, iron, staple gun/staples, plumb line, hammer,

T square

Shards of sand paper

Assorted pens, pencils, markers, chalk, charcoal, erasers

Tape – duct, blue masking

Push pins

Lined writing paper

File folders

Scissors – large, small

Book making tools and supplies

As I sort  – arranging and re-arranging – I listen to a variety of podcasts whose topics include creativity, developing imagination, meditation and self-care.

Protocol #4:  Leave No Trace; Take only memories

At the end of the residency,  I will need to return the space to the way I found it –  white walls, clean floors. This usually means at least a day of painting. Huge rolls of rosin paper are provided to the painters to cover their studio floor.

Rosin wallhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_rosin_paper

I decide to create a wall of paper using duct tape, rosin paper, and push pins. When completed, I begin to draw parallel lines across the ‘wall’ using a chalk line and level. It is reminiscent of children’s writing paper.

I have no idea what to do next. So I listen to another TED Radio Hour podcast

February 28: Jumpstarting Creativity –

https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/719553183/jumpstarting-creativity

One of the solutions to jumpstart creativity is to take a walk.  So I do.

 

Day 3:       20 low; 37 high

Sunny to cloudyDay 3 window

Very windy

Intermittent snow ish’

TO DO:       Sew canvas

                    Attend Presentations

 

VSC is unique among residency programs in the diversity of voices and visions that come together here each month from across the country and around the world. We ask that every artist- and writer-in-residence honor and celebrate that richness by embracing a shared spirit of respect, harmony, support, and non-competition throughout your stay. https://vermontstudiocenter.org/

If creativity is measured by the number of boxes you receive from Amazon, I am definitely not even in the running.

Amazon

Almost hourly, the delivery trucks unload boxes of all sizes and shapes filled with canvas, paper, paints, stretchers, charcoal. Between deliveries, we visit studios and remark on their size or shape or light. We share our origins and a little about our work. I notice once again that I am the only non-painter in Kahn.

However,  I do have 2 pieces of raw canvas to do something with and decide to sew them together.

‘Straighten the grain’  is the mantra of home economic teachers and quilters everywhere. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KF60qVY83j4  I tear off a strip from each side of the pieces of canvas to insure the grain is straight. I retain all scraps and toss them onto the trash pile. My machine is 100 years old and only sews forward. I sew and sew. And sew.

Singer

Protocol #5:     Privacy/Sharing

Music is often integral to making art. Yet, there is a noticeable absence of  music or noise in general. To avoid conflict, head phones are de rigueur. The same rule applies to podcasts, news, television. Closed doors indicate the artist is at work so knock at your own risk.

Tonight is the first of a series of weekly “Presentations “- ‘’volunteers’ are allotted 7 minutes to share their work.

First to present are the poets. Followed by essayists, authors. It is a poetry slam without the slamming – at the end of each 7 minute reading, I expect snapping –

In a culture ruled by the instant feedback loop of retweets, likes and hearts, the snap (and by “snap” we mean the old-fashioned act of brushing the thumb and middle finger against one another in an effort to make a popping sound) is more often being used as a quiet signal of agreement or appreciation in conferences, university auditoriums, poetry slams and even at dinner tables.

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/fashion/snapping-new-clapping.html

Protocol #6:        Snapping seems NOT to be a VSC protocol.

The Visual Artists share next. As each image is projected, I am astonished by the caliber of the work, diversity of the imagery, underlying concepts, and highly developed craft.

It is hard not to feel competitive. Comparing one’s work to another’s is a fool’s errand. Mostly I feel honored to be in their company.

 

Day 4:       27 degrees ; High 40

Sunny, intermittent clouds

Very , very, windy

Sound of rushing river increasing as the snow melts 

TO DO:       Sand upholstery pins

Wrap clothespins

Day 4 window

As I continue to draw more lines on the wall, I listen to another podcast entitled the Source of Creativity. https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/351538855/the-source-of-creativity

After decades of acclaim, the musician Sting could no longer create music. For 8 years he suffered from writer’s block. He defines creativity as the ability to take a risk. If you are compelled to put an idea out there, then you must take the risk. You must put yourself on the line.

I am still unsure what I will ‘put on the line’ or the lines on the wall.

I re-arrange my supplies again and notice that the upholstery pins are rusted. I sand them. Then I experiment with a variety of techniques to wrap clothespins. “Pegs” have a long and history in many cultures. So I conduct research https://medium.economist.com/the-curious-history-of-the-clothespeg-3f8615519c61

I end up using waxed linen thread from the book making supplies.

Clothespins

 

Day 5:         Low 26; High 45Day 7 window

Sky clear blue – no clouds

TO DO:      Stencil roofing rubber

Gesso canvas

 

The ice has re-frozen overnight and makes walking treacherous. I overheard a discussion of “yakstrax” –. These devices are a kind of personal traction system that attach to boots or shoes. I do not have any.

Yaktrax

I gingerly make my way across the frozen parking lot. As we stood in line for breakfast, I commented to a woman holding a ski pole how prescient she was.

Unknown to me, my brief exchange was with Louise Von Weise, one of the founders of the Vermont Studio Center and driving force behind its continuing mission.

https://www.pbs.org/video/jonathan-gregg-louise-von-weise-rpcsl3/

She takes her dog on a daily walk and wondered if I wanted to go on a field trip. The emphasis on the ‘field’ part. It could be icy and being ‘yakless,’ I would need hiking poles – extras are available in her ‘mudroom.’

Most mudrooms are filled with the detritus of outdoor gear: boots, coats, hats, wet mittens, dog leashes and of course, mud.

Louise’s mudroom is a misnomer. I would label it an “Alcove Museum”- floor to ceiling shelves overflowing with artwork, unusual ephemera and mementos of a life time as an artist, arts supporter and visionary. And, of course, walking poles.

We drive to Eden (yes, that is really its name), park along a dirt road and follow the dogs along a path created by snowmobiles. It was a glorious Vermont day – replete with crystal blue skies, views of mountains and the crunch of boots on the snow. And the quintessential covered bridge (in need of repair.)

It was a perfect time to practice being in the moment.

Zen saying:

Everything is connected

Everything changes

Pay attention

When I return to my studio, I open the oatmeal can filled with stencils – numbers and letters and dump them out on the roofing rubber. I set the letters aside. I return the numbers to the oatmeal box, shake them and cast them onto the roofing rubber – like runes. https://www.yourtango.com/2018316703/how-to-read-cast-interpret-rune-casting-astrology-zodiac-horoscope

Stencils

Using a sponge dipped in the gesso, I fill in each stencil. To create a more random pattern, I recast them again and again – filling the space with layers of numbers. Since the paint can is open, I decide to gesso the canvas.

 

Day 6:        Low 16  to a High 31

Snow melt continues and mud season has arrived today.Mud

Road grit and dust prevails.

TO DO:     Attend community workshop

                  Laundry

 

 

The Town of Johnson, population 3446 (as of 2019 census) is a stone’s throw away from Canada and boasts:

 

Historic society

Library (where you can check out snow shoes; cool kids’ reading nook)

Chinese Restaurant and Downtown Bar and Pizza

Ebenezer’s Book Shop (amazing)

Johnson Woolen Mills outlet

Butternut Mountain Farm Store (supplies to make syrup)

Art Supplies Store (well stocked and helpful sales people)

Laundromat (open 24 hours)

Grocery store (attached to the liquor store or vice versa)

Sewing machine repair (I had mine serviced before I left)

2 barbers; 3 salons; Massage

2 Covered bridges ( 1 repaired; 1 waiting)

Johnson Elementary school

JES

Johnson suffers from the ills of most small towns – lack of economic opportunity, affordable housing and youth programs. However, it is a community that seeks solutions. A coffee shop will open soon as part of a rehab program designed to provide job training to those in recovery.

 

Protocol #7:  Connect to the Community

A Community Pizza Oven is located at the town playground.

Pizza oven

It is a visual metaphor of the mission statement of the Town of Johnson:

The people of Johnson embrace inclusiveness and together we will build bridges to understanding, ensuring that all who live, work and visit our town feel welcome and safe. We reject racism, bigotry, discrimination, violence and hatred in all its forms. The things we embrace are kindness, gentleness, understanding, neighborliness, peace, tolerance and respect for and toward all. Together we can have a cooperative, sustainable and thriving community where everyone is honored and valued.

To support their mission, a workshop on Implicit Bias (facilitated by the Vermont Human Rights Commission) will be held in the elementary school gymnasium. https://hrc.vermont.gov/news/12220-implicit-bias-training-discussion-montpelier

Bias workshop 2

Sitting with residents of Johnson and participating in workshop exercises, I realize how fortunate I am to be part  of their mission – even if only for a short while.

I spent the Leap Year day visiting with a friend but tonight is a full moon and the start of Daylight Savings Time  guaranteeing I will be sleep deprived tomorrow..

 

Day 7:        16 low; 47 degreesMud

Mud and mud

TO DO:      Prepare presentation

Grommets

 

 

What if I slept all day

Waited until everyone headed to breakfast to roll over and avoid thinking

What if I didn’t make the bed

What if I stopped being brave

Or didn’t shower for a week

Didn’t eat right or do my exercises or take my vitamins

What if I stopped expecting so much of myself

What if I slept all day

 

On the 7th Day (s)he rested…

Actually, no one ever rests at art residencies. It is hard to take a day off. No one wants to squander the gift of time – and losing an hour through daylight savings seems particularly unfair.

I sort through my materials again. I decide to grommet the edges of the sewn canvas while I listen to podcasts on Meditation.

I write another blog entry.

I prepare for my presentation.

Zen saying:

Before enlightenment you

Chop wood. Carry water.

After enlightenment you

Chop wood. Carry water.

I do laundry.

socks

 

A Different Life 

Day 8:        Low 37; high 55Huge water.jpg

Sunny

Snow continues to melt

River grows louder

To Do:       Taking stock

 

With 5 days remaining at the residency, I begin to think that maybe the seemingly disparate objects I have been creating could be components of an installation.

Some artists embrace those moments of uncertainty before an idea is fully realized. Others – like myself – avoid the start as long as possible until the whisper of an idea gets so loud that you have no choice but to take the risk.

Wars produce the missing: soldiers as well as civilians. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is dedicated to deceased U.S. service members whose remains have not been identified. Occasionally, remains of soldiers who died during WW2 or the Korean War are found and they finally “come home.”

We are familiar with the faces of missing children on milk boxes. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York, we saw posters of  the missing pasted on walls and attached to fences. We see MIA flags flying since Vietnam.

On February 28th,  I listened to a TED podcast on ‘Jumpstarting Creativity’ as I headed to VSC. On that same day, the last news story I heard before going dark was a report on the annual search for the missing by mothers in Mexico.

Mexico’s Statistic of Horror:

There are more than 3600 mass grave sites and an estimated 61,000 ‘missing’ as a result of the government war on drugs that began 10 years ago. It is now an annual event in Mexico for families of the missing to search mass unmarked graves. Their only technology are feet, pick axes and shovels. https://www.npr.org/2020/02/28/810287984/mexican-families-join-annual-search-for-loved-ones-among-mass-graves

To the searchers,  it doesn’t matter why the ‘disappeared’ went missing – only that they deserve to be found.

In 1983 peace activists Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert performed a song about the missing women of Chile during the Pinochet junta.  Hay Una Mujer Desaparecida  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SxKkVVtpLY

Women. Men. Children. Missing. Everywhere.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewelinaochab/2018/08/29/the-international-day-of-the-victims-of-enforced-disappearances/#4f78021bb42e

 

Day 9:        Low 37; high 62

Snow continues to melt

River grows louderfruit window

TO DO:      Cut Tags

Punch holes

Pull  Threads

Looking – artists are always looking – at objects, at spaces, at people – to find that illusive next piece. We search both the outer world as well as the inner for ideas. We visit museums and artist studios. I visit the Schultz Sculpture space and notice several artists working with grid imagery.

” For centuries, artists used the grid mainly as a tool to achieve proportional accuracy. But only in the 20th century did the grid itself become the subject of artistic study and inquiry.

The grid is especially salient for painters. As a network of woven linen threads, the canvas they work on is already a grid; https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-artists-grids-inspire-order-rebellion

The painter Agnes Martin said she was thinking about how to paint innocence and there appeared in her mind’s eye an image of the grid.

Martin developed her signature format: six by six foot painted canvases, covered from edge to edge with meticulously penciled grids and finished with a thin layer of gesso. ..her practice was tethered to spirituality and drew from a mix of Zen Buddhist and American Transcendentalist ideas. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/may/22/agnes-martin-the-artist-mystic-who-disappeared-into-the-desert

She maintained that she painted with her back to the world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=902YXjchQsk

Grids are used in archaeological digs and forensic archeology.

Grid searches are used to locate missing people. It is considered a last resort technique.

 

Day 10:       Low  34; High 52

TO DO:       Pull threads

Construct a grid

It is always a challenge to ‘begin again.’  Every time you open a sketch pad or gesso a canvas or put a mark on a stone, it is another beginning.

Life drawing.jpg

There is a daily life drawing session with a live model in Kahn. I decide to attend in hopes of using a material that has sat in my studio for years: oil bar – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXXolGecBro  Our life drawing model is an artist in her own right. She is adept at holding poses that challenge the hands and capture the eye.

I attach my ‘grommeted  canvas’ to the wall. When I work in charcoal and chalks, I cover paper with chalk and then use my bare hands as ‘erasers’  – excavating the images.

My oil stick experimenting is more difficult than I expected. The oil bars proved not to be the best choice – the canvas is unwieldy – and I couldn’t ‘erase’ using gamsol without endangering the health of everyone in the room.

Life drawing result

 

I retreat to my studio – not defeated – but struck by the irony:

I am attending a ‘Life’ Drawing session at a time I am researching the dead.

I carry my health directive when I travel. I keep it in the glove compartment. Several years ago, I attended a ” 5 Wishes” workshop conducted by Hospice in which we recorded answers to these questions:

  1. Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them.
  2. The kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want.
  3. How comfortable you want to be.
  4. How you want people to treat you.
  5. What you want your loved ones to know. https://samaritannj.org/resources/5-wishes-living-will-documents/

Bronnie Ware, a palliative care professional, wrote about the most common regrets expressed by the people she had cared for .https://www.amazon.com/Top-Five-Regrets-Dying-Transformed/dp/140194065X

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I  hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Ho‘oponopono, the Hawaiian forgiveness process, relies on 11 words to create personal peace:

I am sorry.

Please forgive me.

Thank you.

I love you.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/focus-forgiveness/201105/the-hawaiian-secret-forgiveness

But the ‘missing’, as well as those left behind, were denied the time to make peace with each other. And themselves.

The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and for deeds left undone. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Little Foxes, 186

 

Day 11:     Low 24; High 35

TO DO:      VolunteerJES takeawalk CU

Excavate the trash

Grid

Taking stock – again

 

A Line is a Dot That Went for a Walk 

There are artists that grow up in families that support their interest in making art.  But there are many other children who do not have  those opportunities unless it is provided by their schools.

Each year, VSC’s School Arts Program offers weekly hands-on arts instruction to over 200 students at the Johnson Elementary School. VSC artists-in-residence can volunteer to assist. I sign up.

“Challenge Yourself,” Program Coordinator Arista Alanis exhorts her students. “How many more colors can you invent?”

Her art classroom is overflowing with evidence of creativity – paintings, ceramics, puppets, origami.  Recent work is drying on clotheslines strung across the room. There is not an empty surface.

Students are expected to behave like working artists.  Each has a designated work space, smock and a high quality sketchbook.

‘To Do’

Create a castle– doors, windows, parapets – using one line. Then create ‘stained glass windows” – each a different mixed color.

JES takeawalk

They work diligently and intently – some struggle to stop as class ends. They want to keep ‘challenging themselves.’

At the beginning of my travels to VSC, I explored Brandon, Vermont – a town of 3,966 inhabitants – many of whom belong to the Brandon Artists Guild (BAG). https://brandonartistsguild.org/ 

The 30+ members exhibit a variety of work: paintings, prints, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry. Several pieces brought a smile to my face – especially Judith Reilly’s. Her gallery, studio and home are housed in a rambling connected farm house that spans multiple eras.  She generously gives me a tour. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connected_farm

Fabric art doesn’t adequately describe Judith Reilly’s work: colorful, quirky, inventive. Her process includes original image design, painting fabric, working with scraps and “free motion” machine stitching.

JR3

She conducts workshops. Author of the 12 Life Lessons for Creativity https://www.judithreilly.com/creativity/, she commented on how difficult it is for artists to complete the ‘cross the page with one line’ exercise. Adults are afraid of not ‘doing it right’.’

JR ACross

Artists have to learn to be brave or learn to live with anxiety and fear.

Young artists appear to be fearless.

Go back to go forward

I always retain my discarded sketches and scraps of material until a project is completed.  I often ‘excavate’ the pile of trash.

This time, I retrieve strips of discarded canvas to sew a grid. I gather up the strands of thread that came from ‘straightening the grain.”

It is two days before Open Studio and my departure. I am cognizant that my time is running out to complete a work before I leave. My studio floor is a holding cell.

Wall of paper

Canvas with grommets

Rubber mat with stenciled numbers

Upholstery pins

Clothespins

Hole punched tags

Canvas Grid

Protocol # 9:      Spray fixative outdoors.

Is what I have started – done, good enough, not worth the energy to continue or something in between?  Members of the life drawing group come to look. They ask questions. They encourage me to continue. They want me to be fearless.

I start to write on the wall.

 

Days 12/13:  Low  24: High 44

TO DO:       Request helpFarewell window

Attach threads

Install

Prepare for Open Studio

 

The Way  It Is

There’s a thread that you follow.

It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

Or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford

 https://onbeing.org/blog/a-thread-to-guide-us/

 

Protocol #9:        Collaborate

Tink – Tink – Tink

Much of my prior work has been socially conscious. Frequently community based. Often collaborative. It is my turn to tap the glass at lunchtime. I request help from everyone in the room to tie a thread onto a tag. I cannot finish the piece in time for tonight’s Open Studio without their help.

The cosmos finally reveals the reason behind the location of my studio in Kahn. I have  the beginning of a vision for the piece. But I need painters – painters who are brave, skilled at their craft, and generous with their time to work with me.

Mimi Pantuhova  spent every moment at VSC working on her paintings – braving the cold to spray charcoal fixative outside as she layered image upon image. https://www.mpantuhovapainter.com/

Stefan Berg  is a highly disciplined, skilled full time painter who creates works of  great precision.  https://www.stefanberg.ca/Painting

Brigitt Kocsis came to VSC, abandoned her previous work  to begin anew.  https://www.saatchiart.com/kocsis

Each generously volunteers to lend a hand – literally.

Protocol # 10:         Express Gratitude

Tink – Tink –  Tink

The entire staff stands somber before us. Unlike our welcome – filled with expectations and opportunity – They  announce that VSC is closing out of a ‘preponderance of caution.’

Although I had managed to remain somewhat detached from the severity of what was taking place in the outside world, I suspected that we could not hide from the Covid 19 epidemic.

Most VSC attendees were scheduled to be in residency for a month. The closing would be a hardship for all – from the kitchen staff to those who had traveled so far to be part of this community. There are those who have to leave unfinished sculptures and wet canvases. Everyone is disappointed.

We must now all be fearless.

Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from.

  Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

With much gratitude to the staff and artists for your help – especially Mimi, Stefan and Brigitta whose assistance and support contributed to the completion of  the work: Aletheia.  Be well everyone.

Aletheia is variously translated as “unclosedness”, “unconcealedness”, “disclosure” or “truth“. The literal meaning of the word λήθεια is “the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident.”