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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going Back to Go Forward

November 1 is the Day of the Dead.

….Día de los Muertos helps us acknowledge and internalize that we will all die, so that we may live our lives with more awareness and meaning.

Día de los Muertos expresses the beauty and mystery of life and death. For many, it is a time of partying and celebration; for others, it is a time of introspection. At its most potent, it is a balanced blend of the two.http://www.celebrate-day-of-the-dead.com/

This year, several friends in Arizona donned costumes, painted their faces, and joined the parade to honor the dead.

dod cousins 2Years ago, while on the High Road to Taos Artist Tour, http://highroadnewmexico.com/about-tour  I bought a small Dia de los Muertos skeleton made of a clothes pin and felt.

 

IMG_1671The artist had started an organization to provide art classes to underprivileged children. The sale of the skeletons supported her community-based art.

http://www.centerfornonprofitexcellence.org/nonprofit-directory/art-heart

 

Going Back – Community-Based Art

“Community-engaged” or “community-based art,” refers to artistic activity based in a community setting. Works from this genre can be of any media and is characterized by interaction or dialogue with the community. Often professional artists collaborate with people who may not otherwise normally actively engage in the arts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_arts

I came late to art. I visited my first museum in college. My introduction to art mirrored the feminist movement of the 1970’s. Artwork at that time sought to validate women’s imagery and highlight the lack of recognition of women artists. I read about the Women’s House and the Dinner Party. I attended an opening of The Birth Project and sat in the audience as the Guerilla Girls “banana-ed” MOMA and other museums. http://www.judychicago.com/gallery.php?name=The+Dinner+Party+Gallery.

Guerilla girlsMy introduction to community-based art was through Suzanne Lacy. Her piece In Mourning and in Rage called into question the efforts of the police to solve the case of the Hillside Strangler and gave ‘voice’ to the victims. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idK02tPdYV0

In Lacy’s Crystal Quilt (1987) …

…The performance featured 430 Minnesota women over the age of 60 seated at tables on an 82-square-foot rug designed by painter Miriam Shapiro to resemble a quilt. …An accompanying soundtrack mixed the voices of 75 women talking about aging. A loon cry or thunderclap rang through the space in ten minute intervals, signaling the women to change the position of their hands on the table, thus changing the design of the quilt. http://www.suzannelacy.com/the-crystal-quilt/

Community-based art seemed a possible answer to the loneliness of making art while at the same time, making art meaningful to the community.

Recently, I opened an email from a friend I had not seen for years:

I was cleaning out a closet and found a small jar filled with ashes along with a letter …..The label read: Samhain. 1987. Signed by you.

Jen pixIt has been 27 years since I created my first community-based artwork: Samhain.

Some people believe that the veil between the living world and the hereafter is thinnest on Halloween Eve making ‘passing’ easier for the dying. Samhain, celebrated on November 1, is considered to be a Gaelic celebration following the end of harvest. The day was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits could more easily come into our world. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality

My dad died early in the morning of November 1, 1987.

To commemorate his passing, I invited others to attend a Samhain-like ceremony ‘to burn away the hurt and pain of the past.’

I set fire to the sculpture I had created during the 9 months my dad was dying. Attendees added pieces of paper – photographs – small objects to the flames. We stood in silence watching as the flames died and the ashes cooled. Each person then took a vial of ashes home.

I have no photos – just charcoal from the burning…and the memory of that shared experience with friends, artists, and members of the community.

IMG_1678Other community-based work evolved. On my long flight back from visiting the Neolithic goddess temples of Malta, I began the planning for what became a year-long project: Seeds of Change – community based art to feed the hungry.

Food for Thought: Food for the Hungry highlighted issues of rural hunger through a series of pancake breakfasts and “test your knowledge” placemats examining the misconceptions about poverty, hunger, food insecurity, food stamps, etc. The pancakes were made from buckwheat flour grown and milled locally.

As part of the focus on hunger, I conducted an “archeological dig” and created a “museum exhibit” filled with “ancient” sculptures that reflected the beliefs of the Neolithic goddess culture to care for the earth and its inhabitants.

Going Back – Site-Specific Art

 

It has been 30 years since I bought my first “real” artwork. I paid for it in installments. It was a 3-dimensional work depicting an easel, a brick wall and an arched window created by Guenther Riess. http://www.nytimes.com/1986/09/07/nyregion/westchester-journal-art-and-construction.html.

 

025 Reiss 2It has been 20 years since I moved to the Firehouse. When I walked into the building, it became clear that this would be my home.025 Studio 2 Site-specific art is artwork created to exist in a specific locale and integrated in its surroundings.

I jokingly refer to my Firehouse Studio as my largest site-specific work to date.

 

Invisible Legacy (1998)

Invisible Legacy was an installation of 1930’s furniture reupholstered in canvas upon which images, stories, medical reports, photographs, drawings related to the lives of women in my family I never knew. The work creates a conversation about, not only their lives, but those of others like them. Each diagnosed with a mental illness;

Each institutionalized for all or part of their life; Each leaving only an invisible legacy in the form of untold stories, unactualized lives and unrealized dreams.Israelson_jo_01 IL

 

Palimpsest Series (2000 – 2003)

When the ink on vellum was scraped off in order to reuse the vellum, traces of the old lettering bled through. This was called Palimpsest.

From 2000-2003 I created a series of work in which underlying histories – public and private – at one time ‘erased” – would be brought to the surface.

 

Palimpsest: Oella Mill (2000) examined the history of the Maryland cotton and wool industries through mill worker oral histories. I used raw wool, chalkboards and drawings to describe their lives as millworkers and the impact on the local environment. I examined the politics of the cotton and wool industries from sail making to war uniform production.Oella

I also learned a great deal about the life cycle of moths when I received a substantial invoice for their extermination.

 

 

Palimpsest: Wocus (2003)

Crater Lake National Park (Oregon) is one a magical place. The lake appears as a deep blue mirror that reflects passing clouds. Crater Lake filled a volcanic depression (a caldera) that formed when the Mount Mazama volcano erupted approximately 7,700 years ago. http://www.nps.gov/crla/index.htm.

 

At one time, the land and the lake belonged to the Klamath tribe. But ranchers were allowed to drain local wetlands to provide land for grazing cattle. And the habitat for the wocus plant – the main stay of the tribe – disappeared. The U.S. government then “terminated’ the tribe.02Palimpsest3

 

During a residency at the lake, I researched the history of the termination of the Klamath tribe, interviewed members of the Klamath tribe, gathered tule grass to weave, and created a work that depicts both “versions” of the history of the land and its peoples.

 

israelson_jo_04_Palimpsest

Going Forward –

Welcoming the Stranger 2015 Exhibit Maine Jewish Museum

My artwork often focuses on a little known moment in history that reflects larger issues within a contemporary context, The Maine Jewish Museum has accepted my request to create a site-specific community based work for a September 2015 exhibit entitled: “Welcoming the Stranger.” – hachnasat orchim.

I want to weave the names of those once detained on House Island into the fabric of our history.

I want to mesh the stories of 1920’s immigrants to Maine with those arriving today.

I want to document Bela Gross’ quest to be an American citizen and compare it to the quest of current asylum seekers.

I want to learn more about each of the National Council of Jewish Women members who helped early immigrants integrate into the City of Portland.

I want to honor those who “Welcomed the Stranger” almost 100 years ago in hopes of encouraging us to do the same today.

HOUSE ISLAND IMMIGRATION AND QUARANTINE STATION UPDATE:  

quarantine-2

Planning Board Public Hearing, November 25, 7:30 pm. The City Of Portland Planning Board will hold a public hearing regarding the request for historic district designation of House Island. If you cannot attend, please send comments to Deb Andrews: dga@portlandmaine.gov.