Tuesday, July 31, 2012

First Day at work in Studios Midwest!

(Above: Studio space at Studios Midwest. Click on any image to enlarge.)

On Sunday I took Mathias to the Peoria Airport. He's now in Pennsylvania with my parents and other family members ... having a great time and a Mexican fiesta party last time. (My sister Sonya sent me text messages, photos, and even a video ... so I stitched in my new surroundings last night while enjoying a virtual Margarita!)

Later that day Genevieve Waller moved her things out of the provided studio space and I moved into it. Thus, yesterday, Monday, was my first official day of working at Studios Midwest. I started sorting all the bags of vintage crochet, lace, and linens. By the end of the day, all the bags were empty and in various piles all over the floor! By evening, I continued stitching on the grave rubbing art quilt I brought with me.

Before unloading my things into this space, however, I swept the floor and noticed the colorful blotches of paint and collage work over the cement. I couldn't help but to take photos ... abstractions.

I have several ideas for these images ... which are this vivid because I'm exploring various options on my camera not because I altered them in Photoshop! Great fun! Great practice ... and a great reason for a residency program. Such opportunities afford time to explore hair-brained ideas like photographing a floor! I'll be blogging more as the days unfold in this residency ... so check back soon!

Getting to know Galesburg

(Above: Corn! You know you're in the Midwest when there are fields and fields of corn in every direction only two miles outside the city limits!)

Mathias and I arrived in Galesburg on Friday. We had time to move into the provided residency apartment, shop for groceries, and visit the Carl Sandburg birthplace before attending an art reception for the Genevieve Waller, July's artist-in-resident.

(Above: Dick Blick's Galesburg outlet.)

Having been inspired by the quotation walkway around Remembrance Rock at the Carl Sandburg birthplace to create a unique rubbing, I needed a crayon ... one brown crayon would do. I didn't think I'd be making any rubbings in Galesburg and didn't bring one. No problem! Galesburg is the home of Dick Blick Art Supplies. In fact, Dick Blick is the major sponsor of Studios Midwest Artist Residency Program. The place is enormous. I've never seen so many jam packed aisles of supplies and materials in one place in my entire life.

(Above: Check out counter at Dick Blick's outlet in Galesburg.)

Frankly, I'm not much of a shopper. Such places totally overwhelm me. Thankfully, they had a box of crayons. It was all I bought ... this time around. I'll collect myself and return for more bargains later!

(Above: Friendly staff people at Dick Blick's)

Everyone was nice and friendly, something one can expect from Midwesterners!

(Above: Remembrance Rock, the final resting place of Carl Sandburg and his wife. Photo is from the back of the rock looking toward the birthplace museum. Around the rock are stepping stones with quotations chiseled into them ... perfect for crayon-on-fabric rubbings!)

Armed with my brown crayon and a vintage, crocheted edged, small tablecloth, we returned for the rubbings.

(Above: Making the first crayon-on-fabric rubbing from the quotation at the foot of the Remembrance Rock.)

My first rubbing was from the bronze plate at the foot of the rock. Then I added quotations and Carl Sandburg's name ... which came from the historical marker in front of the birthplace.

(Above: Capturing one of the quotations from the stepping stones.)

I'm excited to have the first project, a totally unexpected one, underway!

(Above: The art department building at Knox College.)

Mathias and I decided to devote most of Saturday to discovering Galesburg. We walked around the Knox College campus and were impressed with the sculptures underway outside the art department.

(Above: Mark Holmes in his Galesburg Studio. Please note the speaker system! What a great way to recycle an old stereo!)

It really isn't surprising to see sculpture like this when one considers that Mark Holmes is the Chair of the Knox College Art Department! Talented and inspiring, Mark Holmes is also a benefactor to Studios Midwest. He purchased a large, downtown warehouse several years ago. Half of it has been converted into his personal sculpture studio. Most of the rest of the building is exhibition space and two additional studios. During the academic year, Mr. Holmes encourages his students to create installations in this space. During the summer he generously provides studio and exhibition space to the Galesburg Civic Art Center ... for Studios Midwest. This is where I'm now working and will soon be displaying my creations!

(Above: Another view of art in progress outside the Knox College Art Department.)

Mathias and I browsed through a three story antique mall, two very nice art galleries along the revitalized, historic shopping street (Seminary Street), and then decided to go into a store the likes of which we've only seen on television or in the movies!

(Above: Mathias in Simpson's Collectors Firearms.)

I've never seen so many guns in all my life. It was amazing.

(Above: One of the aisles in the gun shop.)

There was a row of World War I guns. I learned that the movies aren't very accurate. There's no way soldiers carried these things as easily as it looks on film. These weapons are HEAVY ... and I mean, really HEAVY! It was also interesting to read the price tags. Like other collectibles, there's a unique descriptive language. Terms have very precise meanings and an order to what is written. In a sense, it reminded me of the rare book industry where "Fine" is better than "Excellent" which is better than "Very Good" which is better than "Good" ... and each term has a distinct relationship to condition. The guns all included accurate information, the type of terminology another collector would know even across the world.

(Above: Engine 3006 at the Galesburg Railroad Museum.)

Galesburg was once a major hub for the railroads leading west. Unfortunately, that was in a bygone era. Yet, there are still approximately 120 trains passing through every day. Two of the tracks are literally within one hundred yard of the Studios Midwest residency housing! (I like the sounds of trains ... and have already learned to sleep through whistle late at night!) It is one thing to look at these fast moving, iron machines while inside a car waiting from them to pass over the road in front of you. It is another to be up close to an engine. They are BIG ... really big. Standing in front of Engine 3006, I couldn't get the entire thing into a single photo. Above is the "top"; below is the "grill".

This engine was built in 1930. It weighs 225 tons and traveled 2,348,267 miles before coming to the museum.

The coal car is enormous.

The view into where the coal was shoveled even looks hot without anything inside!

Mathias even got to ring the bell!

On Saturday night Mathias and I headed to nearby Lake Storey to see the balloons that were suppose to ascend in mass. We stayed over an hour and a half. Balloons were raised but never ascended during this time. We were too hungry to wait for the wind to die down but enjoyed watching the effort early on.

Over twenty balloons had come. They actually fit into the back of a pick-up truck or in a cargo van with a back lift for the basket. It takes an entire crew to unroll the fabric and start blowing ordinary air into the interior with what looked like an ordinary fan powered by a small generator.

At this point, ordinary air is still being pumped inside.

Finally, the gas is lit and the balloon starts to raise into position.

As the balloon raises, the basket (which heretofore was lying horizontally on the ground) becomes upright.

Neither Mathias nor I had ever been so close to a hot air balloon. They are indeed very pretty and pretty much a lot of work!

Veterans were asked to help raise a giant flag.

This was the only balloon we actually saw get off the ground ... and it was also how we could tell that the winds aloft were problematic.

This balloon was tethered to two pick-up trucks. The flag looked great.

We could have eaten while looking at the balloons. We were "on the prairie" so to speak ... with a carry out service offering buffalo burgers!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Studios Midwest ... Arrival

(Above: Mathias upon arrival in Galesburg. Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)

It doesn't happen very often that Steve and I miscommunicate something so important as the date for a major trip, but we almost did! Steve thought I was to "leave" Columbia on Friday, July 27th. He made en route hotel arrangements for that night. In truth, I was suppose to "arrive" in Galesburg, Illinois that day! We discovered the error on Thursday morning ... and then had to push everything up 24 hours. Fortunately, I was well prepared for my departure. Mathias was my chauffeur for the two days of driving.

(Above: The apartment complex used by Studios Midwest for artist-in-residents' accommodations.)

The Galesburg Civic Arts Center's residency program is called Studios Midwest. Housing is in a local building that's been converted into college apartments. The former mansion now has six units. I'm on the ground level in a two-bedroom flat with a spacious living room and a kitchen. For the first week I'm sharing the place with Genevieve Waller, Gallery Director for the Hartnett Gallery at the University of Rochester. Her installation enjoyed a public art opening yesterday night. During it, Mathias and I were introduced to several of the Galesburg Civic Art Center's board members and shown around the space that will shortly become my "Illinois studio".

(Above: Chickens outside my backdoor.)

Before getting set up to work, however, I had to settle into the apartment. Please know, I'm from the Midwest ... born in Ohio and went to Ohio State for college. The chicken coop outside the backdoor served as a reminder that this residency is a "return" to my roots and a visit to some of the joys of a simpler life, not in the country but certainly not in a big city! I'm going to have a very productive month here!

(Above: Chickens)

Everyone is friendly. The town is a collection of turn-of-the-last century buildings ... family houses, warehouses for the goods and produce carried by trains to big cities, small college structures, churches, parks, and retail spaces. I'm looking forward to discovering all these places on foot. Galesburg is perfect for walking. Everyplace is within an easy stroll. Trains still come and go ... whistling as if from yesteryear.

(Above: Carl Sandburg's birthplace.)

After grocery shopping, Mathias and I head off to the local historical site ... The Carl Sandburg Historic Site. It was wonderful! The introductory movie shown in the Visitor's Center included footage from various interviews with the iconic American writer.

(Above: Bedroom at the Carl Sandburg Birthplace.)

The birthplace was totally restored with family possessions and other period pieces. Textiles were everywhere ... and truly beautiful.

(Above: Doll and doll cradle on braided rug in the Carl Sandburg birthplace.)

The little doll was found during the restoration of this special building.

(Above: Kitchen in the Carl Sandburg birthplace.)

The kitchen was full of all the expected containers and utensils.

(Above: Crazy Quilt made by Sarah Walker Marshall Lindsay, 1844 - 1924.)

On display (behind Plexi-Glass which made more photos nearly impossible) was also a marvelous crazy quilt made ca. 1898 by Sarah Walker Marshall Lindsay of Galesburg, a family to which Carl Sandburg delivered milk ... one of his many jobs before becoming a double Pulitzer Prize winning writer! The campaign ribbons were all in tact ... helping to date this marvelous piece.

(Above: Early typewriter used and owned by Sandburg.)

I also loved looking at Sandburg's Remington typewriter. I learned to type on a manual machine not too unlike this one. While I love the look of these things, I'm sure happy for a computer's keyboard!

(Above: Remembrance Rock.)

Yet, it wasn't the textiles or the typewriter that brought the promise of inspiration. It was the final resting place of Carl Sandburg's and his wife's ashes .... Remembrance Rock. This special place was described in Sandburg's only novel and later created on the Historical Site. Surrounding the rock is a path of stones on which Sandburg quotations are carved. I've already gained permission to make crayon-on-fabric rubbings. So ... from day one, the seeds of a new project have been planted.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Experiment with Epoxy

(Above: The EPOXY EXPERIMENT! Stirring the individual cans of epoxy before mixing them together.)

From the start I envisioned epoxy poured over my embroidered "sand" pieces. Why? Well, I have two wonderful mixed media pieces by Suzy Scarborough. Suzy and her partner Andrew often pour epoxy over her work ... an expanse of wet looking, highly reflective, eighth inch thick, crystal clear epoxy. It is magical. Suzy's brushstrokes and textures are all there but untouchable. Subtly, the glass like surface separates the viewer from the interior world of beauty, history, and mystery. It also reminds me of water ... liquid and wet ... perfect over "sand" ... just like on the beaches of Key West.

I visited with Andrew and got lots of instructions. It sounded scary. A propane torch was involved and a tyvek suit was recommended. The instructions warned of toxic vapors and a limited "open" time for working. Epoxy is also rather expensive. Andrew gave me a toll-free number for a company selling massive quantities at more affordable rates ... but ... what if this didn't work on fabric? What if I hated doing the pour? What if I couldn't operate the propane torch? Andrew recommended using clear epoxy for carports, available at home improvement stores but still costing $94 plus the tyvek suit and the propane torch ... as a "test", a major experiment.

Well, earlier in my preparation for Sun and Sand, my August show at Frame of Mind, I had nine "squares of sand" ready for the epoxy experiment. (I blogged about them HERE.) Then I panicked. How could I subject these works to an experimental epoxy pour? What if it went wrong? I really needed these pieces for the exhibit.

(Above: Wet Sand I, before the epoxy pour. Click on image to enlarge.)

Well, I ripped up two more pieces of the old painter's drop cloth on which I'd made my "sand" pieces. These two measure 16" x 16". Free motion and hand embroidery were added. (There's a layer of recycled acrylic felt underneath each one.) Then I added a layer of Golden's GAC 400. This unique produce stiffens fabric. I hoped it would also seal the surface, make the material less porous, and prevent the epoxy from soaking into the cloth.

(Above: Wet Sand II, before the epoxy pour. Click on image to enlarge.)

Next, I stitched each work to a piece of 15 1/2" x 15 1/2" acid free mat board. Finally, I went to Home Depot and bought everything I needed (plus PVC pipes and t-fittings for my "giant canopy" installation which is coming up next month at my art residency in Galesburg!). So ... yesterday was the day for the epoxy pour experiment!

So ... Here I am ... mixing the individual contains of epoxy ... dressed in the splash-proof tyvek suit, ventilator, plastic productive eye-wear over my bifocals but without latex gloves. This is our garage, aka our picture framing workshop. There are two big barn-like doors on the building. They are wide open. Mathias was a safe distance away snapping these photos.

Steve noticed my hands and brought latex gloves ... then evacuated. We only own one ventilator!

The two fiber pieces, sewn to their mat board bases, were placed on two boxes. The boxes were on top of corrugated cardboard. The two-part epoxy was stirred together in the large can. I poured smaller amounts into a throw-away plastic container and poured the solution over the textiles.

Epoxy can be created in various thicknesses for different functions. The stuff for the carport is rather runny but it doesn't cause many air bubbles. I now know that I'd like a thicker solution ... which would likely cause larger bubbles ... but I also know that the propane torch's emission of carbon dioxide really does cause the bubble to raise to the surface and pop! The propane torch was easy to use!

We also learned that the epoxy can and does soak into the corrugated and will run onto the floor. We will be "better" the next time and THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME!

(Above: Wet Sand I and II on my mat cutter. Click on image to enlarge.)

I am so very, very happy with the results of this epoxy experiment. The surfaces really do look wet, like water on the beach. The only thing left to do was to glue these pieces to stretcher bars cut smaller than the outside edge, add a wire, and slap a pricing/info label onto the back! They are ready to go to the exhibit at Frame of Mind!

(Above: Mathias holding another epoxy pour experiment.)

Yet ... I'm not quite done sharing the epoxy experiment. The carport epoxy's box claimed that 250 square feet could be covered. I knew from the start that I'd have more than enough epoxy to try two other ideas. First up is an idea developing around the title of Pete Seeger's song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Anyone whose been following my blog for the last few years probably knows that I have an obsession with artificial flowers collected from cemetery dumpsters. I have bags and bags of dissected and washed "flower fabric". I've used the blossoms in my Last Words installation, in the creation of recycled dresses, on image transfers, on art quilts, in a store front window installation, and in my only performance art piece, Ophelia, which was also in a store front window on Main Street. The last time I dumpster dove for artificial flowers, I didn't toss the plastic parts. I saved them. I had this hair-brained idea of using them for other artwork.

So ... using a piece of 28" x 22" glass, I poured epoxy and arranged hundreds of plastic artificial flower parts. I worked! Mathias, fighting the bright sun in his eyes, held the results outside our back door.

(Above: Where Have All the Flowers Gone? epoxy experiment. Click on image to enlarge.)

The side with the epoxy and plastic flower parts looks like this!

The opposite side looks like this ... and is very, very difficult to photograph. The reflections off the glass were quite problematic! Now I have some other plans for future work using these materials!

(Above: Bat in a box with epoxy. Click on image to enlarge.)

Still, I had more epoxy but also one last idea. I found the dead bat carcass months ago. It was just lying by the sidewalk outside my studio. Of course I saved it! The badly worn, satin lined handkerchief box came from Bill Mishoe's auction. In the bat went. Over it the epoxy was poured. I cannot wait to use this in one of my 3D assemblages of found art objects.

I think I love epoxy!