Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Soil Quilt Project

(Above:  The Rensing Center's contribution to the Soil Sister's Soil quilt!  Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)

During my last days at Wormfarm Institute I visited with Erin Schneider at her farm, Hilltop Community Farm in Lavalla, Wisconsin (which is about six miles outside Reedsburg).  Erin had been contacting area farmers for participation in her Soil Quilt Project.  Wormfarm was among the contacts and her information was passed on to me.  It was wonderful touring Hilltop.  I learned that being "organic" isn't enough; sustainable is better.  I learned terms like agroforestry and permaculture design and all about solar panels, but what I came for was to learn more about Erin's latest project, the Soil Quilt.

We learned from one another.  I learned that 2015 is the U.N. International Year of Soil.  Erin learned ideas for taking all the "blocks" of soil printed canvas and how she might easily construct a quilt.  (I suggested mounting the pieces to a painter's canvas ... raw edges showing ... using WonderUnder.  Having grommets applied to the canvas would also allow Erin to hang the finished piece on the side of a barn or just about any structure without needing a sleeve and slats, etc.)  As a non-stitcher, Erin was scribbling notes as I talked.  As a non-farmer, I was simply fascinated.  Erin is a soil expert!  Really, that's her day job ... soil scientist!  She even teaches on the university level!  Her Soil Quilt packets for participation in the quilt are fabulous ... including instructions for burying the 13" x 13" piece of provided canvas, a timeline for completion, details for community "quilting bees" to collect and assemble the quilt, and basic information about what soil is and does!

Here's Erin's blog post called Let the Soil Speak!  It's another way to look at what soil is.  My favorite line is:
Soil is the mixture of minerals, organic matter, gases, liquids, and myriad organisms that together support life. Soil is considered to be the "skin of the earth" – it's largest, living, breathing organism and collective geologic slate.

 (Digging the hole for our part of the Soil Quilt.)

So ... I asked for a packet to take with me to the Rensing Center, another location whose mission includes an environmental focus.  Erin happily passed one to me!  Ellen Kochansky, the director of the Rensing Center was thrilled.  Now, I already knew how to dig a hollow and bury the canvas.  I'd watched Erin's You Tube video!  Erin put a few mushrooms in her square to add to the decomposition.  So, Ellen selected a spot and we agreed to try saturating our square with a bit of Gertrude the Goat's milk.  (That actually took as much time as digging the hole!  Canvas isn't very absorbent, even when already damp with water!)

Here's the canvas down in the hole ... about 14" x 16" inches down ... under the spreading wisteria roots and with the few extra tablespoons of goat milk poured in on top.

Erin's packet even included a yard of fancy yarn ... to put down into the hole with the canvas but allowed to come through the surface like a flag.  Good thing!  It would be just over two weeks before I would come to dig it back up!


One of the reasons Ellen selected this location was because of the nice red clay soil.  Two weeks ago, we didn't see as much of the red clay.  Yesterday, however, a new drain field for the old septic tank was being dug by Scott of Seneca Treehouse Project.  Scott, like Erin and Ellen, is concerned about the environment ... and DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  The Seneca Treehouse project is a great resource for people wanting to learn how they can do something too! Scott helps people use their land, even plots as small as a half acre, better and more sustainably. 

(Above:  Returning to the pink yarn ribbon to dig up the canvas!)

This morning I returned to dig up the canvas.  There was no problem finding it.  I was worried that it hadn't spent quite enough time in the ground.  Erin's paperwork said 2 - 3 weeks but leaned toward the three week mark.  My first two weeks here were HOT ... as in over 90 degrees without any rain.  I wondered if lack of moisture would slow down the decomposition and result in just a little "dirt", no interesting soil markings.

(Above:  Digging up the canvas square.)

This week, however, has been cooler and we did get rain.  I was really pleased how the canvas opened up with plenty of red clay marks.  It goes in a large envelop and gets mailed back to Wisconsin tomorrow!  Thanks, Erin, for letting Ellen and me participate in your important project.

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber artwork ... in the hopes that others will take up this unique idea for an educational and totally awesome way to share the needs of our planet's "skin", aka soil!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

More from the Rensing Center Art Residency

(Above:  New series underway, a work in progress.  Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)

My time at the Rensing Center is dwindling away.  It saddens me as the time spent here is so laid back and relaxed.  There is a very natural flow of art, visiting and resident people, and environmental concerns. Conversations have been thought provoking and enlightened.  Plus, I am able to think a lot too ... which is a really, really good thing!  Much has been on my mind!

Once upon a time I read an interview about a prominent, self-supporting painter who was trying to pass on secrets of successful time management for professional artists.  (Unfortunately, I can't remember who!)  He said he'd carefully measured the way his days were spent over several weeks, even months.  His truth was that as much or more time was spent in the "paperwork" and "business end" of an art career as in the studio actually making the work.

(Above:  Fourteen pieces in progress for the new series ... laying on the floor in my studio at the Rensing Center art residency.)

At the time, I thought he was nuts!  How was this possible?  Surely there aren't so many contracts, commissions, inventory lists, and other "boring" pieces of paper and Internet correspondences to do!  Well, time has proven him right (whoever he is! LOL!)  Little did I know that I'd have to sacrifice nearly three days at the Rensing Center for "catching up on the business of art"!  Plus, I played "hooky"!  Steve drove up to Pickens late on Friday afternoon to take me back to Mouse House in Columbia for Saturday and part of Sunday.  I've been away from home/business since April 30th, and now there was a price to pay!

(Above:  Fourteen pieces in progress for the new series ... laying on the floor in my studio at the Rensing Center art residency.  I'm thinking of calling this series, Escutcheon.  To me, each one is really like a shield or a coat-of-arms.  Plus, I love the fact that the word "escutcheon" also refers to the flat piece of metal around a keyhole or door handle.  I've used such things in my found art objects ... as the photos below show!)

During the three residency days and the "hooky-playing" weekend I managed to tackle a seemingly impossible "to do" list including:
1)  Creating two lectures and two Power Point-like presentations for August's Festival of Quilts in England ... including learning the Office Libre program to create the slide show and then uploading/sending them using WeTransfer, a free on-line system for large data communication
2)  Enter the 701 CCA biennial, our state's overview of contemporary art
3)  Enter "What's for Dinner?", a special exhibition slated for the upcoming Festival of Quilts in Houston, Texas ... including taking the necessary photos
4)  Mount a recently made Lunette window for a "first refusal" at the Grovewood Gallery ... a piece Steve will deliver on Friday before picking me up at the Rensing Center on my last day
5)  Send a proposal for the "break out" sessions for next year's SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) national conference ... my TEDxColumbia presentation!
6) Submit images and statement for the Grovewood Gallery's website
7)  Make inquiries about acquiring the SAQA regional Cut from the Same Cloth exhibit to be on view at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios (where my studio is located) during an August workshop I'm teaching there
8)  Make delivery arrangements for the pair of altered boots I made for Judy Hubbard's upcoming installation called Envisioning O'Keeffe at Columbia College
9) Write an article and select images (and get Al Black's permission to submit since the article features our collaboration and his poetry) for Through Our Hands upcoming publication
10)  Print and sign an exhibition contract to go into the box with the three accepted pieces for the juried The Book as Art v3.0: No Jacket Required.
11)  Remove sold pieces from my inventory book
12)  Add new calls-for-entry into the three-ring binder for that purpose
13)  Put away all the things I shipped home from the art residency in Wisconsin
14) Design and cut the mats for over twenty Mouse House orders.
15) Cut Steve's hair
16) Buy new shoes, bra, and pantyhose plus pack for my son's wedding in Scotland ... a destination to which we depart immediately from the Rensing Center.

Sure ... some of these things are more "personal" than "art related" ... but catching up means lots of things needed my attention! While I was cutting some of the mats, I also prepared for this week at the Rensing Center ... cutting presentation mats that would help me gauge sizes for a new series.

You see, I've been added to the roster of artists with representation at Lagerquist Gallery in Atlanta.  They took four pieces in mid-February and have already sold three of them.  They want more work!  What's more ... the delightful owner gave me some very helpful critical feedback.  She looked at my "In Box Series" and said she really loved the individual elements, the tiny, simple blocks.  She suggested that I enlarge a single block ... as a finished work.  She was excited and said she could sell such a work for more than what my "In Box" pieces were commanding.  I almost protested ... because to do as she suggested was EASIER, less time consuming, and ... in my mind, wouldn't sell for a comparable price much less MORE money.  But, she's the gallery owner ... and Lagerquist has been around since 1971!  I knew to trust her!  This conversation was likely the first time I've ever had a really beneficial bit of feedback from a gallery!  So ... I really wanted to explore her suggestion.

(Above:  Three presentation mats with "fall outs" measuring the size of the works needed to fill the void ... plus three pieces, in progress, for each size.)

So ... while in Columbia for a day-an-a-half, I cut three presentation mats (templates).  I trimmed the fall outs to the size I would ideally need to fill each mat.  The outer dimensions of the mats, from left to right, are:  16" x 16", 20" x 16", and 20" x 18".  The fall outs are, from left to right:  6 1/2" x 7", 10" x 6", and 9" x 8 1/2".  When I returned to the Rensing Center, I cut my recycled, black acrylic industrial felt and started FOURTEEN pieces!

(Above:  The same three presentation mats with the three pieces fit inside the openings.)

It was much harder than I expected to resist making the pieces more complex.  I kept repeating to myself:  K-I-S-S ... Keep It Simple, Stupid!  Of course, these pieces will later have holes melted through the polyester layers and be zapped with an industrial heat gun.  I can't wait to go on to the next step!  In fact, I didn't finish all the stitching as I ran out of the 100% black cotton thread I use!  (The two in the upper left corner of the "group shot" aren't stitched!)  Thus, I'll finish them when I return from Scotland.  (Going for my elder son's wedding!)  I think the advise I've been given has really opened my mind to a new way of looking at my work.  I know I'm exploring a totally new and exciting direction.  It is wonderful to be at an art residency, a relaxing place ripe for new ideas and permitting an entire day for ART!  Please return to this blog to see how they turn out!

(Above:  Bonnie Boiter-Jolley's bridal shower.)

Now ... my whirlwind trip to Columbia wasn't all "work".  I had fun too!  On Sunday afternoon I attended Bonnie Boiter-Jolley's bridal shower.  Her mother, the hostess, is Cindi Boiter ... the co-owner of Jasper Magazine and Muddy Ford Press.  She's the lady who spearheaded February's invitational exhibition Art from the Ashes.  My work was used on the cover of the literary piece by the same name.  I had three installations and two pieces in this show!

(Above:  Sesquicentennial, Sherman's Burning, Mother's Garment.  A detail from this garment was used for the cover of Art from the Ashes.)

I submitted two of the rusted and naturally stained vintage garments used for an Art from the Ashes' installation into a juried show at the Mendocino Art Center in California.  Both were accepted ... including the one used on the cover of the book, Art from the Ashes.  I'm really pleased about this.

(Above:  Sesquicentennial, Sherman's Burning, Child's Gown.)

Submitting for juried shows is just one of the on-going bits of life for a professional studio artist.  Now comes the exhibition contract, packaging and sending it to the venue, the pre-paid return shipping label, etc.  It's all in a day's work ... and the hours really do add up!  No matter what, I'm happy to do the paperwork every time there's an ACCEPTANCE!

(Above:  Book I.)

That's why I was also very happy to box and mail all three accepted works for The Book as Art v3.0: No Jacket Required in Decatur, Georgia.  The juror liked EVERYTHING ...

(Above:  Book V.)

... including these bronze escutcheons ...

(Above:  Book VII.)

... and this piece with it's individual epoxy filled containers of "stuff"!

(Above:  Punch bowl at the Columbia Museum of Art.)

After the bridal shower, Steve and I both put in an appearance for a friend's retirement party.  It was held at the Columbia Museum of Art.  I was most impressed by the fact that laced punch was being served from a lovely, engraved silver bowl.  I see these sorts of things in museums and in historic building all the time ... but until Sunday afternoon, I don't think I ever saw one being used!  I think this is GREAT ... a sign of using PRECIOUS POSSESSIONS!  I'm all about doing that!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

This week at the Rensing Center

(Above:  Working the Land, 5" x 16" x 11". fiber and found objects.  Zigzag machine stitching.  Click on any image in this post to enlarge.)

I'm closing in on my second week at the Rensing Center, an art residency program just outside Pickens, South Carolina.  I'm getting plenty of work done ... both fiber arts and catching up on lots of the computer and paperwork that come with a career in the arts.  One of the pieces I finished just the other day is Working the Land

(Above:  Working the Land, detail.)

I uncovered the rusty old pitchfork part while pulling wild wisteria from the Rensing Center's upper garden.  For the past two or three years, the garden was a little neglected while owner Ellen Kochansky established the art residency program.  This August, however, it will be the site of a wedding for the Rensing Center's bookkeeper.  Lots of weeding, planting, and needed maintenance will continue through the summer.

Now, since I found the pitchfork, I was allowed to keep it!

(Above:  Working the Land, detail.)

This was undoubtedly the most complex vessel incorporating found metal objects I've thus far made.  I knew I wanted "green" for the fibers ... to represent the many things this pitchfork probably tossed.  Many pitchforks have only three or four prongs.  They are for hay, straw, leaves or other "loose" material.  Five prong pitchforks are generally for dung or silage.  I'm going with the "silage" ... which an on-line definition is: grass or other green fodder compacted and stored in airtight conditions, typically in a silo, without first being dried, and used as animal feed in the winter.  Green is GOOD!  I'm really, really please how this one turned out.  There were moments when I thought it really was going for "the dung"! LOL! 

(Above:  One of four art quilts on which I'm furiously stitching.)

I'm not ready to share the four, large digitally printed, whole-cloth art quilts on which I'm currently working.  Yet, here's a photo of one folded over a stool near my Babylock Tiara.  I don't actually sit on the stool to stitch.  I stand.  This particular piece will incorporate an enormous area for seed stitching.  It's rather relaxing to do!

(Above:  Tying the Knot, a wedding installation, work in progress.)

Every art residency is different.  Some have rather steep participation fees.  I've never gone to one of them.  Some require each artist to donate a piece to their permanent collection.  I did this at Hot Springs National Park in August, 2011.  Some require a workshop ... like the Studios of Key West, March 2012.  Some are basically "the gift of time" ... like the Anderson Center was in May of this year.  I just came from Wormfarm Institute, a place requiring fifteen hours of work on their farm ... every weekday morning from 8:30 - 11:30.  It was hard but interesting.  Here at the Rensing Center I paid a very reasonable $50 per week and get to elect how I want to contribute eight hours of work. What's more, many of the work details also function as ways to get to know the other artists!

Due to the logging being done on a steep slope that is very near the upper garden, Ellen Kochansky (who is out weeding and working alongside everyone else) asked me to brainstorm about an installation that might deflect from this eye sore.  Immediately I thought of my I Do / I Don't installation which is currently on view at the Bilston Craft Gallery in England in the show The Liberated Quilt: New Work from Through Our Hands.  (If you haven't visited Through Our Hand's website ... it's a MUST SEE!)

 (I Do / I Don't as seen during Artista Vista 2011 in Columbia, South Carolina.)

Alongside the eleven wedding veils are hung "tie the knot" ribbons.  I made this suggestion.  Ellen then pulled up a particularly large wisteria root from which plenty of shoots and smaller roots hung and said, "I like the idea!  Something like this ... organic!"  Within a day, we raided Ellen's studio for all the ribbon, lace, trim, and interesting string she had.  Then we raided a storage structure.  Inside was a large bag of t-shirts that had been cut, stretched, and twisted into rope.

A new work detail was issued ... called "Movie Night"!  Now, that's the way to work!  We watched the King's Speech and made many of the strands now hanging in my studio here at the Rensing Center.  I've been working on this project ever since.  It's going to be gorgeous!  This is definitely a great way to contribute hours of work while also MAKING ART ... the focus of an art residency!

(Above:  Tying the Knot, detail.)

Best of all, there's rumor that another "movie night" will be happening later this evening!

(Above:  The Pickens County Dump!)

Another "work detail" is hauling all the trash to the Pickens County dump!  I've elected to go both weeks.  I'd never been to a dump before and this one is GREAT!  It has proper bins for all sorts of recycling, from glass, plastic, paper, and corrugated to electrical components and more!  That's Ellen and Katie Nocella, the Rensing Center intern.  We all went to recycle!

(Above:  The Hagood Mill's giant water wheel.)

Another fantastic thing about the Rensing Center is the "field trips"!  Last Saturday we went to the "third Saturday" mini-festival, a monthly event at the Hagood Mill

(The interior of the Hagood Mill.)

Songwriters were performing on a stage and every building on the site was in full operation.

The mill grinds all sorts of things that are sold in their gift shop.

Everyone was busy inside ...

... and outside ... and in the other buildings where weaving and quilting and churning butter were being demonstrated.

This is the cotton gin!

Despite the heat, the blacksmith shop was operational too ... as well as the moonshine area (though I don't think they actually make real moonshine!)

(Above:  The Pickens County flea market.)

On Wednesday mornings there's always a field trip to the Pickens County flea market.  It's gigantic and sells all sorts of fresh produce, discounted household items, used clothing, "junk", antiques and collectibles ...

... and even baby pheasants for $1.50 each ...

... and this guy drives up from the coast every week with fresh shrimp!

There are vendors who hawk their wares and edibles just like the "as seen on television" commercials.

I marveled at the size of those panties

... and the Batman who was entertaining kids while at a stall for a local charity.

I absolutely LOVED these found object sculptures ...

... and probably should have bought this one.  It was only $25.  Maybe next week if it's still there!

The variety of things and services was amazing ... like this portable key shop ...

... and these salt and pepper shakers!

Now ... remember the shrimp?  Well, that's what we had for my 56th birthday celebratory dinner on Wednesday night.  It was so good that I forgot to snap a photo until afterward when we made a toast with writer Gavin McCall's home brewed stout!  What a wonderful birthday!

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber art!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A walk around the Rensing Center

(Above:  Filigree in Blue, a fiber vessel made by zigzag machine embroidery.  Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)

It's hard to believe that a week ago I was spending my last day at Wormfarm Institute, an art residency set on a working organic farm.  I left last Friday morning to spend the day in the Chicago Institute of Art.  I took scores of photos and hope to blog about it later ... but time is precious, especially since I'm now at the Rensing Center in Pickens, SC ... another art residency ... the gift of even more time!

(Above:  The Main building at the Rensing Center.  My studio is actually just inside the sliding garage doors!

The Rensing Center is located on 26 acres in the Appalachian foothills near Pickens, South Carolina.  It is owned by Ellen Kochansky, an internationally respected fiber artist, who also serves as the center's executive director.  I've know of Ellen long before we were finally introduced (a moment I remember very, very well ... it was in June 2008 at my solo show opening for Blues Chapel at the Pickens County Museum of Art and History.  I was honored ... floored that someone with her reputation would even come ... and I said so on this very blog!)  I also wrote about Ellen's solo show, Embedded Energy, the inaugural show at 701 CCA.  That was February 2009.  Since that time, Ellen has focused on creating the Rensing Center.

The Rensing Center is unique among art residencies as it focuses not only on art but ecology and professional creative development.  I'm thrilled to be here and plan on making art, learning more about composting and ecological issues, and also doing quite a bit of "professional development" as I have several great opportunities on the horizon.

From their website: 
The Rensing Center nourishes creative capability. It fosters individual renewal, community connection, and interdisciplinary interaction among people in artistic, environmental, and entrepreneurial fields.

We are a residency program, providing living and work space to self-motivated applicants looking for an isolated rural, creative landscape, for periods ranging from three weeks to three months. Focus may be creative, professional, environmental, or all of these.

So ... This is the door into the Rensing Center's main building.

It opens onto an indoor porch ... where containers for recycling are located.  I've already had the opportunity to take them to the Pickens County Trash Facility.  It was great!  I've never been to a dump before ... especially one that has a recycling bin for everything from electronics to corrugated to paper, glass, plastic, and a working compactor!

There's also a laundry area!  No more laundromats like I used in Wisconsin!

Here's my bedroom.  Please notice it comes with a cat!

This is Bob.  He rules!  He's already protected me from "something".  I'm not sure what it was as Bob left only the intestines uneaten!  Good cat!

The Main Building is the location of a large and well stocked library.  It also has a WiFi hook up!  Yippee!

Books range in topics from all area of art, art history, environmental concerns, poetry, non-fiction, and even a section for DVDs and other media!

Here's the kitchen.  (Please notice, Bob has his own door!)

Best of all ... a BATHROOM WITH A FLUSH TOILET!  No more out house!  Yippee!

My studio is enormous!

No, I didn't bring most of the things in this area ... but I have more than enough space!  (It doubles as a wood working studio ... thus there are plenty of tools around too!  Love it!)

(Above:  Three fiber vessels.)

I was able to arrange my machines and materials and get right to work.  Using cording made at the Anderson Center in early May, I immediately made these three fiber vessels.

This is a detail of the "open" one that I'm calling Filigree in Blue.  I'm very happy with how it turned out.

This one ended up a bit flatter than I anticipated, but I still like it.

These photographs were taken on the studio floor ... when I had the garage door up.

Some local guy drove up to inquire about the logging being done elsewhere on the property.  He was quite taken with my vessels even though he thought they were hats! LOL!  So ... let's look around the rest of the place!

My large studio garage door looks directly across to Ellen's new, sustainable house!

(Above:  A former resident, the new intern, two residents, the goat herder, and Ellen.)
This is where everyone gathered for a potluck dinner on Tuesday evening.

We ate on the back porch ... which looks over the pasture ... including several goats.  Two were born just this week!

Aren't they adorable!

Every day Chad comes by to milk them.  They are his goats.  He has lots more grazing on other local farms.  He's very generous with the milk!

The goats (and some cows) have a nice barn ...

... on the other side of which is Evelyn Rensing Kochansky's house.  The center is named for her.  She is exactly how I hope I am at ninety-five years of age ... smart, adventuresome, independent, and living to the max!

Just down from there is the "guest house".  It might look small but there's a screened porch on the back which makes it a perfect place for writers or poets or other artists who don't need an enormous studio!

Unfortunately, the guest house is beside a steep slope that was once planted with cotton.  Cotton doesn't fair well in this soil and especially in this near vertical orientation.  The crop failed.  Pine trees were allowed to grow among the hardwoods ... but they are now dying and have to be torn down before they fall into the road below (or onto a person!)  I'm learning plenty on soil management!

Next comes a garden.  It's been a couple of years since it was well maintained.  Part of my "work detail" is helping to reclaim this area.  Pulling wisteria is actually great fun.  The roots go on forever!

Soon this will be the site of a lovely wedding.  The Rensing Center's book keeper will be saying her vows here!

Beside the raised beds in the garden is "The Pottery".  It was once a large pottery studio but is now a large place for an artist or two in residency.

This is the back area of "the pottery".

Very near there is the entrance to the Alder Creek trail ...
... which winds down along the pasture ...

... until reaching the water ...

... always near quilted trail markers ...

... but it was the details that really caught my eye!

A great spider's web

Beautiful moss

Interesting lichen

A blossom on the water

I'm not sure if this is rhododendron or mountain laurel ... but it sure is pretty!

Finally ... a cascade of little waterfalls ...

... and the end of the trail.