Thursday, September 24, 2020

More from Great Basin National Park

(Above:  ELK ... as in big, bugling to potential mates, and way too close to me!)

I would have enjoyed blogging every day from Great Basin National Park but the Internet connectivity between my old, 3G iPhone and my laptop just doesn't always seem to find a "sweet spot" ... aka a "hotspot".  Even when it does, the speed at which data moves is almost like my hiking ... the speed of a snail!  (Well ... not quite!  I'm actually finding that I'm rather "normal" on these high elevation trails and have every right to be very proud of my sixty-one year old body navigating trails deemed "moderate" or even "strenuous".)

After hiking the Osceola Trail, I returned to the distance parking lot that was at the far end of the trail.  Of course during the first hike, I had to walk back the entire trail to get to my cargo van ... but I decided to drive to the far end the next day in order to hike the Sage Loop Trail and the Strawberry Creek Trail which started from that very remote place.  I was the only vehicle when I arrived.  I was the only vehicle when I left.  Basically, it was just me and the wilderness ... and an elk!

I'd heard that elk lived in that area of the national park and that this was the season for bugling.  Yes ... bugling.  That's the official word for the sounds elk make, and it's a good one.  I didn't realize how metallic the sound was.  So starting off down the trail ... in the middle of a high desert sort of pasture with nothing growing above knee height ... I heard this strange sound coming from two places on the nearby mountainside.  A similar sound seemed to be coming from ahead of me.  I wondered if it might be elk.  I hoped to see an elk!  I should have hoped that the elk NOT SEE ME! But that's not what happened.

As I peered at the mountainside looking for elk, I nearly walked into one!  He was laying on the ground.  (In my imaginations, an elk would have been standing proudly ... and obviously ... not not blending into the short shrubs ... and certainly not with his back to me and allowing me to stupidly come within about twenty-five yards of him ... but that is what happened!) I was petrified. 

(Above:  The beautiful aspen and pine forest just off the open field where the elk was.)
Thankfully, one of a few, burned and downed trees was only about ten feet away.  Quietly, I shuffled over to the bare branches thinking it might make me look bigger if the elk turned his head (or at least put a few dried twigs between the elk and me!)  Of course, the elk bugled a few more times and turned his head in my direction.  He saw me.  He stood up. He stared at me. I could have fainted but that would mean moving.  I didn't move a muscle.  
Last year when Steve and I visited Rocky Mountain National Park.  We saw an elk.  A park ranger was also there.  He told us that elk are very skittish.  They will only charge if feeling threatened. But, how does one know if an elk feels threatened? If he felt half as intimidated as me, it could be a problem.  Then, the elk slowly walked about ten yards, stopped, stared at me, and walked another ten yards.  I had my camera in my hands. I aimed and took the photo.  For more than twenty minutes, I watched the elk as he walked, stopped, stared back at me, and got further and further away.  I waited until he was out of sight.  Why?  Well, of course he was walking in the general direction of my trail!  I sort of tiptoed up the path which finally turned into a lovely aspen and pine forest (away from where the elk went ... though I hear more bugling for another half hour!)

(Above:  Example of graffiti carved into the trunks of the aspen trees along Strawberry Creek Trail.)
I felt much more safe among the trees and aimed my camera at the literally dozens and dozens of aspen tree trunks with cut graffiti. This area is known for these inscriptions. Some of the signatures were dated to as early as 1911.  Many were from the 30s and 40s. This is, of course, wisely prohibited nowadays. I also snapped pictures of the eye-like patterns on the trunks.  I was so busy taking pictures that I hardly noticed the trail ascending over 1000 feet in elevation.  The trail is two miles up and two miles back.  

(Above:  Eye-like formations on the tree trunks.)

Every day I have walked over my Fitbit goal of 10,000 steps.  On the day I saw the elk, I hit 20,241 steps.  That's 8.84 miles!  When I initially wrote my proposal for this residency, I said I would hike during the day and stitch at night.  Honestly, I never thought I would hike for as long or as far or up so many feet in elevation.  I never thought I could be outside walking for five to seven hours ... but apparently I can!  What's even more eye-opening is how little stitching I am doing.  Sure, I've stitched a little every day, at least an hour, but that's not like me!

In the past I've always been driven to be productive, focused on the process of making in which I could lose myself, and happy to have plenty to show for any time spent during an art residency. That isn't happening here at Great Basin.  Something different is happening ... something meaningful on spiritual, emotional, and even intellectual levels. 

What do I mean by that?  Well, about fifteen years ago (shortly after I decided to "become an artist when I grew up" despite having no academic background in art), I went through Julia Cameron's twelve-step program called The Artist's Way.  It is a process meant to unblock artist, help them reach their potential, take their work and their creative calling seriously, and find internal support and confidence.  In a nutshell, the program teaches artist to do two important things: 1) write daily, stream-of-consciousness journal entries and 2) take a weekly "artist date".  Like millions of others (yes ... millions ... as the book has been translated into just about every known language since it was first published), my life was changed.  I've been writing my "Morning Pages" on my laptop since 2007.  Before that, I journaled long-hand.  I know that this habit propels me.

Because I've been so successful being "unblocked" and so easily productive, I never really put much stock into the weekly artist date.  Yet, Julia Cameron insisted it was important for maintaining inspiration and awe and spiritual/emotional balance in life.  She called it "filling the well".  For the first time, I'm experiencing what she really meant.  I thought I understood before, but I really didn't.  Here at Great Basin National Park, I am amazing myself with my own physical ability to hike, the awe found in nature, and the feeling of relaxation.  I am working but I am taking it easy, putting my brief time here with nature as the first priority ... putting "output" in second place.  This is new.  I always seem to learn something new during an art residency and this is most unexpected but certainly welcomed.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Working at Great Basin National Park

(Above:  Me stitching cording from eight different skeins of yarn.)

Adaptation is important when experiencing an art residency.  For me, this means finding a place for my sewing machine.  I stand to stitch.  Here at Great Basin National Park, the kitchen counter is the right height, but the more amazing part of stitching in the kitchen was utilizing all the empty drawers!  I had two balls of yarn on the floor and two in each of three different drawers.  Never once did anything get tangled.  At home, I put yarn in boxes to avoid tangles.  This new approach worked wonderfully!  (The drawers on the side of the kitchen did contain flatware and cooking utensils.  The kitchen is fully operational even with my sewing!)

My residency proposal does not actually call for me to make cording or a fiber vessel from the cording, but I had an idea for "Art in the Dark", the public programing that included my work and me.  Much of what I've been doing these last few days is impossible to capture with a point-and-shot camera or an iPhone.  "Art in the Dark" is obviously such an occasion ... but it was great!

(Above:  The White-lined Sphinx Moth.)

"Art in the Dark" was one of the programs for Great Basin National Park's 11th annual Astronomy Festival.  Up to twenty socially distanced, masked participants were allowed to register for it.  The concept was to illustrate the fact that we humans do not actually see color at night.  Rebecca Gordon, a park ranger, and I brain-stormed about this over a month ago.  We needed a "pretty", symmetrical night-flying and night pollinating moth that was native to this area and had a high resolution image in the public domain.  I did the research and found the white-lined sphinx moth (commonly known as the "hummingbird moth").  I took the image and created a line drawing.  Rebecca secured crayons, clipboards, and printed my drawing on 11" x 17" paper.  Each page was folding in half.  In the area outside the Lehman Caves Visitor Center chairs and two types of lighting were set up.  Participants got to color half the moth with all the lights on.  Then, the white lights were turned off, leaving only the red/dark imitating lights.  While their eyes adjusted, I showed my fiber vessel.  It was stitched with glow-in-the-dark thread.  I also stitched a vintage doily with the bear Ursa Major, a constellation.  It was impressive.  I took no photos.  Why?  Well ... it was dark!  Only a professional with years of experience taking such images could have gotten anything worth keeping.  Finally, the other half of the moth was colored under the red lights.  Participants were supposed to color the other half just like they did the first half, but all the crayons had their labels taped over. It was impossible to figure out what colors were used!  (I also got to show the specimen of the white-lined moth.  Believe or not, I found it on the pavement at a gas station on the drive here!  It was meant to be!)

(Above:  The Osceola Trail.)

Since helping with the "Art in the Dark" presentation, I've attended two star-gazing events.  One was held in the same place as "Art in the Dark".  I learned plenty, but last night was even better.  Starting at 7:00 PM, twenty masked people followed another park ranger down a 1.1 mile trail to Stella Lake.  It was beyond beautiful to see Jupiter, Saturn, the Milky Way, the Big Dipper, and all sorts of other constellations and the reflections of stars in the water.  I also saw two satellites and a couple shooting stars.  Great Basin National Park is a certified dark sky area.

(Along the Osceola Trail.)
Today I walked the Osecola Trail.  It is rated "easy" but it is pretty long.  The Park's paper trail listing claims it is 9.2 miles round trip.  The signs at the trailhead indicate that it is 5.1 miles one-way.  My Fitbit clocked 26,034 steps which is supposed to be 11.36 miles in all.  (Okay, I walked ten feet to my van and ten feet from the van back into the house ... but still!)  The landscape changed drastically.  I saw eleven deer, two western flickers, lots of crows and really enjoyed the hike.
(Above:  One of tens-of-thousands of pinecones along the Osceola Trail.)
I took well over one hundred images of burnt bark, pinecones, and even cacti.  The pinecones, in particular, were just beautiful.  They reminded me of blooming roses and I just adore the deep rust color. Everything about today was great ... but ... my feet hurt!
(Above:  My feet after I took off the Walmart hiking boots.)
I bought my hiking boots several years ago at a Walmart in New Mexico.  I'd forgotten to pack proper footwear on that trip.  I will be leaving them here in a dumpster at Great Basin National Park.  I really don't think that much dirt should be getting inside the pair!




Friday, September 18, 2020

Wheeler Peak

These images are not in the order I'd select.  They each took more than five minutes to upload, but I am thankful! This morning my poor, old 3G iPhone managed to connect my laptop to an individual hotspot.  It is frustrating but that is life in a remote location ... Great Basin National Park in northeastern Nevada ... where for two weeks I'm honored to be the park's annual artist-in-residence!

The last time I had an Internet connection, I couldn't upload a photo of the other lake on the Alpine Lake loop trail.  Above is Lake Teresa ... not as big or as visually pretty as Lake Stella but one that shows the significant drought this area has been experiencing. 

I arrived here on Monday in the late morning.  That afternoon, I hiked the Alpine Lake Loop trail and walked .7 miles to a beautiful grove of bristlecone pine trees.  The next day, I decided to take a trail from the lower parking lot directly to the bristlecone pine trees and continue hiking up onto the rock glacier.  The path was mostly loose rocks.  The photo above shows one of the better views.  Often, it took a few moments to contemplate exactly where the path was headed!  I took a video on the path but obviously can't upload it to You Tube at this time.  Why did I take the video?  Well, the sounds of footsteps over these rocks was actually quite melodious.  It reminded me of the movie What's Up Doc? featuring Barbra Streisand, Ryan O'Neill, and Madelaine Kahn.  In that comic film, iconic 70s red plaid Samsonite suitcases get mixed up between various couples including a jewel thief and a music professor (O'Neill) on his way to present his research to an academic music consortium. His suitcase contains rocks and his theory is that the first musical instruments were rocks used by cavemen.  Of course I thought this a silly idea ... but walking over these rocks and hearing what really sounded like musical notes had me laughing the entire trip.

I couldn't take a video yesterday. Why?  Well the loose rock trail to the glacier was simple, easy, clearly marked ... a cakewalk compared to the second half of the trek up Wheeler Peak.  Starting in the trailhead parking lot at an elevation around 10,000, this trail ascends to the highest part of the National Park, the summit of Wheeler Peak at 13,063'.  I went at a snail pace and took plenty of short breaks ... but I MADE IT!  Other hikers passed me going up.  Three young girls passed me going up and then passed me while they started back down but I was still climbing up.  Later, I passed them on my slow descent.  Why?  Well, one of them slipped and hurt her ankle so badly that a search and rescue squad was called.  I passed several of the rescuers on my trip back down and saw the emergency vehicle in the parking lot when I got back to my cargo van.  So ... I was slow ... but I wasn't carried out on a stretcher!  Frankly when looking back at that peak from the parking lot, I couldn't believe I made it myself!

During the seven hours I took to hike Wheeler Peak, I saw eighteen deer!  There were at least three bucks and two fawns.  By the end of the day, my Fitbit clocked over 36,000 steps.  I'm a bit sunburned despite the fact that the temperatures were in the sixties.  (According to the gauge in my cargo van, it was fifty-six degrees in the 10,000' parking lot when I started. It was sixty-six when I ended.  It was 80 degrees back in the provided housing which is at about 7000'.)  I really didn't feel the sun burning me ... perhaps because the wind was often howling and trying to blow me over!  I'm proud that I made it!  It was amazing ... and the views were tremendous.  Little Teresa lake looked like a dot.  The sky was big and wide but already starting to become hazy as smoke from fires in Washington, Oregon, and California headed this way.  I'm glad I made the hike yesterday.  I doubt I could make it if smoke was also an issue!

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Learning new tricks in a remote setting

(Above: Fellow SAQA professional level member Vicki Conley and me visiting in the provided art residency housing at Great Basin National Park)

The Internet is a wonderful thing when it works! Here at Great Basin National Park, my access isn’t extremely limited, but after struggling to post my first blog entry, I was rewarded with an email from another SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associate) member who just happened to be camping in the Park. We talked about residencies, art quilts, and the life of working professional artist. It was great!

(Above: My cargo van outside the residency house)

Since then, I haven’t been able to use my iPhone hotspot for more than a minute or two. Perhaps this is Verizon’s way of convincing me that I need to upgrade my 3G device! LOL!

So, I’m trying to learn how to use my poor phone to blog directly. Below are images from inside the house!


Great Basin Art residency begins

(Above:  Stella Lake along the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail at Great Basin National Park in northern Utah.)
Steve and I visited Great Basin over a year ago.  We intended to hike the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail and take a one-way mile walk off it to see the grove of bristlecone pines.  That didn't happen. In early June the snow hasn't melted enough for access.  Even the end of the scenic road was closed!  What we experienced was spectacular though, and I shot lots of inspirational images, even a few of brislecone pines.  But, I was itching to return and hike those trails.  Well, I applied for this art residency and got it!  Due to COVID-19, my two-weeks was postponed from summer to fall ... but at elevations hovering around 10,000 feet, summer temperatures would still have been hot.  September is PERFECT.  I walked nine miles the first day and eight yesterday.  I shots hundreds of images, mostly close-up shots of the amazingly textural surface of the bristlecone pines.  My residency proposal calls for me to spend time observing the colors and textures here in the park and to create a stitched piece for the permanent collection.  Bristlecone pines are at the top of my list! 

(Above:  One of the bristlecone pine trees ... not a detail shot, just an image to show the variety of surfaces and natural colors.)
Some of these amazing trees are four thousand years old.  They've adapted to the harsh environment by growing very, very slowly ... and in ways to survive all sorts of weather. The wood is resistant to decay.  Even dead, the timber can stand for more than another thousand years.  During my first two hikes, I saw a large, grouse-like bird and a young deer.  I got photos but didn't get one of the long-earred wild hare.
(Above:  A deer ... behind the only man-made object along the trail.  This was a very small, fenced place around some sort of water pump/gauge.  The rest of the hikes were pure nature in every direction.)
The trail to the bristlecone pine grove continues up the mountain, over a rock glacier and with views to the never-melting snow in the crevices of Wheeler Peak.  I hiked this trail on my second day.

 (Above: Lake Teresa.)
Part of this art residency is a public component. With COVID-19 social distancing and other guidelines, this aspect had to be creative.  As a result, I'm helping with the park's 11th annual Astronomy Festival, September 17 - 19.  On the first night, I'll assist with "Art in the Dark".  Limited to twenty people (with reservations ... and sold out!), people will have an opportunity to color half of a night-flying, native white-lined sphinx moth in light and the other half in the darkness of a "red light".  Because humans don't see color in darkness, it will be next to impossible to know which crayon is which.  (The labels have already been covered.)  

It was great fun to do the research to find the right moth, a high resolution image in the public domain, and create a line drawing from it. I did this over a month ago. Unbelievably while driving here, I found a dead (not squished) one on a gas station’s pavement. I’ve also stitched Ursa Major (a bear) and a fiber vessel using glow-in-the dark thread. So, I’m ready for the presentation!


Monday, September 14, 2020

Great Basin National Park ... an art residency!

Earlier today, I arrived at Great Basin National Park for my two-week art residency.  I'm excited.  Having been to this remote location once when snow cover prevented any hiking, I was anxious to unpack and get moving.  The provided housing is splendid.  I moved in quickly and went directly to the Alpine Lakes loop, a 2.7 mile trek through gorgeous aspen trees and past picturesque Stella and Teresa Lakes.  I couldn't help myself but to detour in a grove of ancient bristlecone trees. In all, I put in over 20,000 steps ... that's nine miles!  Yet, the bristlecones were well worth it! These hardy trees date to times before Christ and manage to stand tall even after a millennium past their own deaths.  Standing so near them is magical, mystical, beyond words, beyond my comprehension. I am in awe.  Of course, night fell.  This gave me time to set up an Internet hotspot.  It works.  The connection creeps along like a snail, like dial-up service.  I don't know if I can successfully blog from here in the way I envisioned, but I'll try to periodically post "something" from this spectacular place.  I'm here for two weeks.  It is going to be great ... even without connection to the outside world.  Nature really doesn't care about cyber-anything! LOL!

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Mandala IV

(Above:  Mandala IV.  32 1/2" x 32 1/2" as a square; 46" x 46" as a diamond. Corner of a vintage quilt covered with pale blue tulle and embellished with parts of clocks and a piano, textile mill spindles, screw eyes, safety pins, buttons, sewing machine bobbins, corner brackets, brass knob plates, keys, antique Christmas tree clip-on candle holders, doilies, and lamp fixtures.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

The fourth mandala is now finished and there will be no others this size ... at least not resulting from this particular vintage quilt.  The quilt was cut into four, nine-patch corners; three, four-patch pieces, and seven individual blocks.  I will finish all of them ... but after returning from Great Basin National Park in northern Nevada.

 (Above:  Ernie assisting at the start of this mandala.)

Months ago, I was selected as this year's artist-in-residency for Great Basin National Park.  The two-week opportunity was postponed twice due to COVID-19.  (This was not due to the virus in the area.  Being so remote, the number of positive cases in the county were very, very low.  Yet, the park wisely followed social distancing guidelines and this resulted in a lack of housing ... until now!)  I leave on Friday. I'm driving and will arrive there on Monday morning!  I'm excited!

Before leaving, I was keen to finish the last, large mandala.  With help from Ernie, our new kitten, work proceeded very, very well.  The first thing to get stitched down were twelve, blue stained, wooden textile mill spindles surrounding a circular metal ring that was once part of a lamp.  In the center, I placed a clock part.

 (Above:  Detail of Mandala IV.)

Ever since putting a clock face on Mandala III, I've been planning on using more clock parts.  An entire day was spent disassembling two boxes of clock gears but most of the parts weren't particularly usable on a rather flat surface.  I needed to grind away projections on one side of each one.

 (Above:  Grinding away the projections on one side of the clock gears.)

Fortunately I have a few, local artist friends who work in very different media ... including John Sharpe who lent me a grinder last weekend.  It took an entire afternoon to grind away one side of all my clock parts.  (I first used my bolt cutter to shorten all these protruding obstacles.)  It was really fun to do this and I think owning a grinder is in my future!
 (Above:  Detail of Mandala IV.)

More than loaning me his grinder, John also had a box of piano parts he was saving for me.  The box had only the felt covered hammers, hammer shanks and flanges from probably two different pianos.  Many pieces, especially the shanks, were broken.  The box was also filthy but I had great fun saving the hammers and some of the flanges.

 (Above:  Ernie inspecting the felt covered piano hammers being hand washed in the sink.)

Many of the felt covered piano hammers didn't make it through the hand washing but lots did.  Sixteen went onto the mandala.  The flanges (wooden pieces with a single drop screw) were stitched beside the antique Christmas tree clip-on candle holders.  Frankly, putting candles on a Christmas tree seems rather dangerous to me ... far better to use them on a mandala!

 (Above:  Detail of Mandala IV.)

This is also the first time I used any other textiles on a mandala.  I happened to find eight small, stiffened doilies that worked perfectly with circles of screw eyes surrounding sewing machine bobbins.  In all four corners are mainsprings from vintage mantel clocks.  These had to be cleaned too (with mineral spirits).  There's oil in the barrel holding these mainsprings.  Finding and preparing the objects for these mandalas has been an adventure in itself.

 (Above:  Ernie continuing his inspection of the stitching.)

The other adventure is trying to stitch with Ernie!  He is starting to learn that chasing the thread isn't helpful!

Monday, September 07, 2020

Three Birds Flew Into a Window (and I Mourned), a mini art quilt

(Above:  Three Birds Flew into the Window [and I Mourned], 12" x 12" mini art quilt featuring three dead waxwings posed on a bed of ivy.  Click on either image to enlarge.)

It's been nearly a decade since these three cedar waxwings flew into the large, floor-to-ceiling window of a small print shop.  The print shop was part of the same large warehouse in which my studio was located.  It was shocking to come across dead birds on the concrete sidewalk.  It was worst that it happened several times that week.  At least seven or eight birds died ... apparently having dipped their beaks in early fermenting local berries and getting too drunk to fly right.  Such a shame!  Such beautiful little creatures!  Such a reminder of the dangers in the world, the dangers of traveling while intoxicated, and how precious life really is.

(Above:  Reverse side of the mini art quilt.)

I posed the dead birds on a nearby bed of ivy.  My artistic mentor, Stephen Chesley (whose studio was also there), took one and gently used it to make several gyotaku-like ink prints on delicate rice paper.  Ordinarily, fish are used for this form of printmaking but a cedar waxwing actually works too.  The resulting images captured movement and the mystery of flight.  I should have made one too (or at least talked Stephen out of one he made!) but didn't.  These many years later, I remain stilled by the memory of that day, those dead birds, and the need to "do something" to make sense of nature colliding with a man-made obstruction.  Finally, I've used the photo I took for another mini art quilt, another reminder that every day should not be wasted.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Mandala III

(Above:  Mandala III. 46" x 46".  Vintage quilt covered in pale blue tulle and embellished with two clock faces, screw eyes, buttons, beer caps, safety pins, sewing machine bobbins, bullet shell casings, wooden clothespins, keys, drapery weights, scissors, buttons, fountain pen nibs, tiny ceramic insulators, and brass knob plates.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

I've been having a wonderful time creating these mandalas.  Each one forces me to comb through my stash of small found objects, generally searching for four or eight or sixteen "somethings".  I have plenty of things I wish I could use, but not the multiples needed. 

 (Above:  Mandala III, detail.)

After finishing Mandala II with its set of plastic president figurines, I decided that the best "follow up" would be beer caps.  It just seemed fitting, and I have quite a collection of beer caps.  Even though I'm generally looking for multiples of the same item, one ring of different, colorful beer caps worked out very well.  No two are alike.  I gently hammered a hole in each one using an awl.

 (Above:  Box of clock parts.)

For the center, I decided to look for an interesting clock face.  This lead to an entire weekend dismantling two boxes of old clock parts.  I got them at auction.  I found two clock faces for this mandala ...

 (Above:  The parts I saved from the box of clock parts.)

... and now have an entire drawer of clock parts for future projects!

Some of the other things I added were shell casings.  Each one was put into a vise so that I could drill a hole in the back.  There is no glue used to attach any of the bits and pieces.  Everything is stitched in place using #5 perle cotton ... except the fountain pen nibs.  For those, I've used a beading needle and sewing thread.  The tiny slots on these vintage items are otherwise too small.

I've already stapled the last corner of the vintage quilt to a stretcher bar.  It will be the last from this quilt that will be 46" x 46" diagonally.  Yet, there was more of the quilt.  I will have three pieces that have only four original quilt blocks and seven that will be small, single blocks.