Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wyoming Dispatch: Gratitude and Healing

For Thanksgiving, we Jentel residents were left to ourselves, so we decided to group-chef it up. Above, from left to right, are Jennifer, Zach, April and Dan in our amazing, spacious kitchen. Below is Mark with the turkey.

In some of the paperwork that I was sent before arrival, Jentel warns their kitchen has only the basics, and specialized cooking equipment would need to be brought by the residents. I'm not sure what they define by "basics," as our kitchen has everything from food processors to woks, an outdoor grill, as well as what I'd consider the "basics," such as bowls, knives, forks, saucepans, etc.

Just before dinner, some neighbors stopped by for a visit:

Just before we sat down for our meal, we were treated to one of the reasons - pictured above - why people come to the high desert country of Wyoming.

Since the holiday, I've been steadily carving, carving, carving blocks. While carving, I've been listening to a series of podcasts I downloaded from NPR's On Being series, which I highly recommend. Today I listened to an interview with Ernie Lapointe, who is Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake)'s great-grandson.

I had spent a moment on Thanksgiving morning considering everything I was grateful for, but then found my thoughts drifting to the mythology of Thanksgiving. I am glad that in such a consumer-driven culture that is the United States, that we have a nonreligious day for reflection and and gratitude (I'll leave aside how this all goes out the window on the following Black Friday for now). In the mythology, it is about different peoples - the Pilgrim Colonists and the Wampanoag - coming together to give thanks and share a meal. When children re-enact the event, the Pilgrims wear their goofy hats and shoes with buckles, and the Indians - they are not usually taught which Indians - wear feathered headdresses and "war paint," despite not being the traditions of the Northeastern Native Americans. What is never addressed are the massacres and epidemics following said event that served to wipe out a large portion of the indigenous population.

Sitting in Wyoming, listening to Lapointe discuss his great-grandfather (who admittedly is from later in history and not New England), I found myself reflecting on my current proximity to history, bloodshed and disenfranchisement. The Bozeman trail ran right through this area.  Fort Phil Kearney and the Fetterman massacre happened less than ten miles from here. Both Rock Springs - site of the Rock Springs massacre, and the Heart Mountain Relocation Center are about a day's drive. Sitting Bull himself was born north of here in what is now Montana.

The interview went on to share how the Lakota see Sitting Bull and some of their current activities, now that they are allowed to practice their traditions. It's from 2010, so it did not touch on current issues such as foster care and taking children away from the reservations. But it did go into how the Lakota see Sitting Bull as less a warrior than a healer. Following this, it went on to describe how the Lakota have been doing a ceremony for many years now, which involves some songs of Sitting Bull's, in which they incorporate descendants of George Custer and his troops, and through the ceremony, they become family. (If I am misunderstanding this, anyone is welcome to correct me in the comments. In fact, please do). This ceremony incorporates Sitting Bull's legacy of healing into the future of the Lakota and addressing the history of the region.

Listening to these words just after Thanksgiving in Wyoming, I couldn't help but feel humbled. But as I listened, my thoughts ranged over the high desert landscape, and I found myself reflecting on my walk through the 1000 Acres a few days ago. Is this legacy of healing imbued in the landscape itself? I'm finding this idea coming up in the prints I'm working on now, and wonder if its possible.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Still for Sale - Hurricane Irene print!

Please excuse this post interruption in our regularly scheduled programing - I just wanted to remind readers today on Black Friday that might want to consider purchasing handmade items from artisans rather than big chains or corporations - I'm still offering this print for sale in my Etsy shop! Sales will help my in-laws who are still recovering from Hurricane Irene. And for the ecologically minded, this print is on handmade paper recycled from used clothing. A win-win-win situation!

This print has already been purchased by the Special Collections of the Newark Public Library and the Free Library of Philadelphia, as well as few good friends. To those who have already purchased one, thank you! And Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wyoming Dispatch: A Day in Sheridan

Today was our weekly trip to Sheridan for errands and groceries. To begin the day, we were in downtown Sheridan for any errands that might need to be run. I used the time to visit King's Saddlery, which has an incredible museum of western tack and tools in a building behind the store. It's also where they make rope and tool leather. When you first walk in, you encounter some of their collection of taxidermied animals, including the giraffe above.

King's also makes and sells their own rope. Apparently, cowfolk will practice roping on benches, chairs, probably the taxidermy, and maybe even sometimes people in the store while they are trying to find a rope they like, though I did not witness this.

Behind the ropes are the leather sewing machines:

My favorite part was the Don King (but not that Don King) Tool Collection upstairs.  An amazing collection of tools for leather tooling and saddlery.

And of course, saddles galore!

They make their own rope in the basement on these machines. The fiber - in this case, nylon, is stretched as single strands on this machine which runs on a track. It spins the fiber first into three separate strands, and then spins those three into one rope. 

There are piles of already-made ropes lying around, waiting to be waxed and stretched.

We returned to Jentel for a late lunch that's left me sleepy. I'm now in my studio, settling down to work, battling the urge to curl up on the bed (the studios have beds, not as nice as those in our bedrooms, but yes, we are spoiled) and nap the afternoon away.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wyoming Dispatch: 1000 Acres

Today the temperature climbed into the thirties, which is almost balmy by Wyoming winter standards. Since it looked like we have a chance of another storm at the end of this week, I took the opportunity to go for a long ramble in the 1000 Acres.

The 1000 Acres are a property that butts up against Jentel. Jentel does not have any ownership of the land, but Resident Artists have permission, as long as they do not cross any fence lines in the property, to wander about within it. I'd hiked the steep-hilled edge of it on my second day here with April and Dan, which had us laughing and talking as we went along. Today I wanted solitude, to fill myself with the silence and the panorama.

To enter the 1000 Acres, a person must climb over the contraption above. Having grown up in a rural area, I'd never seen the like of it, but I'm told they are common in places like Ireland. I can't help wondering if it is a solution to (possibly citified) people who forget to latch the gate after they go through it?

Looking past the contraption is the path up the hill. It will take a wanderer into a an exploration of a wide unpeopled, but non uninhabited, space.

My ramble turned into a three hour jaunt that left me breathless and exhilarated.  One of the things I love about being here is I haven't needed my inhaler - the air is so clear, and I can breathe without any issues.

Before leaving, I'd spoken with Robert on the phone, and as always, ended our conversation a bit frustrated and worried (not with him) that his medical condition remains unchanged. This nagging worry stayed with me as I wandered, thinking about him in pain leaves me wishing I was with him, and always worried that something will happen and I won't be there. I know that I have friends who are there for him, but part of me will always worry about him until he's all better.

I couldn't help thinking how much Robert would love being here, seeing this.  Somehow, as I walked, such thoughts led me to the idea of memories, and how wouldn't it be amazing if we could give them to each other? Right now, all I can share is the story, but I can't share the fullness of the silence, the feel of the air on my skin, the entire immensity of the landscape and how close the sky feels. Gifting a memory would be also gifting an experience, would that be as fulfilling as having the experience yourself? 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wyoming Dispatch: First Print

It seems the roads are finally cleared, after three days of being snowed in. Last night, the temperature dropped to 8 below - c-c-c-cold!!! I'm so grateful that Jentel has such an amazing central heating system. We felt the cold, but not terribly. Of course, I was wearing two layers of long underwear under my regular clothes, so maybe that had something to do with it.

Yesterday I broke out my carving tools and carved the block above. It's based on some of my bovine neighbors here. The print is below.

It's simple, but I like to think that it is deceptively so. The cows are printed on abaca-cornhusk paper. Corn is the basis for our food system. Steer calves, like those my neighbors will drop in the spring, will be transported to a CAFO in someplace like Salinas, Kansas, where they will be fed corn until they bulk up enough for slaughter. 

The corn they are fed has been fertilized heavily with petroleum-based chemicals. It may or may not have also been sprayed with pesticides, or it may have been Bt corn, or both. So through the combination of the paper and print, this piece abbreviates a food system structure that is contributing to global warming, our continued petroleum dependency, and human health issues (not to mention animal cruelty).

On an end note, two days ago, I found a little surprise in my desk drawer. Postcards from past residents of my studio! They contain advice such as,"Make friends with the bugs, the studios have a lot of them," and "Take a least one hike in the thousand acres, you might see a porcupine sitting in a tree," and "You won't leave here the same person - so I hope you weren't too attached to your old self," and "Pay attention - but not too much - and liquor is as important as food."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wyoming Dispatch: Snowfall

A few nights ago, the Jentel crew went for a night out in Buffalo, at the historic Occidental Hotel. It was their weekly bluegrass night. It was a good night to go, as early the following morning Wyoming was hit with another snowstorm, and we residents are now physically cut off from civilization.

The snow, stillness, and silence are a gift, not only in beautifying the landscape, but providing a setting that allows focus. I have begun carving some blocks today. 

Right now, these are some of our only neighbors. Certainly the only clearly visible ones, we also have deer (both white-tailed and mule), elk, bald eagles, golden eagles, magpies, porcupines, cats, and others I'm sure.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wyoming Dispatch: Arrival

This week I arrived in Wyoming as an Artist-In-Residence at Jentel. The day before I landed, Wyoming had its first snowfall. Jentel is located just outside of Sheridan, near the Big Horn Mountains, which can be seen in the photo above. Below is the building that houses the artists' and writers' sleeping quarters. The studios buildings are behind it. 

The residence was designed by the founder of Jentel specifically for this program. Cathedral ceilings, artwork, and only one right angle in the entire building give it a open, but rambling feel. Below is our living room and dining area.

The stairs from the living room lead up to the media center and library. I really like the odd shapes of the wood on the staircase.

Below, the front entry to the residence:

Our magnificent kitchen. 

My bed! Very plush. 

And my studio - here you can see Blanche, my studio mate.

And here is one of the property supervisors, with the slightly obvious name of "Gray Kitty." She makes the rounds and keeps everyone in line.

I'll post more again soon, but the internet connection here is extremely slow, so uploading photos takes a while. Check back soon!

Monday, November 7, 2011

November 2011 Update

With November's arrival, I'm on the verge of leaving for Wyoming for a month at the Jentel Arts Residency Program. I'm still kind of in shock that it's really happening. I'm hoping to spend a month making prints, as it has been a while since I just made prints without them being part of some greater, more complicated project. Though I'm sure I'll find a way to make things more complicated when I get there.

In other news, I was recently invited to write a piece for Felt and Wire on my papermaking practice. I'm also looking forward to being part of two parallel exhibitions this winter after my return from Wyoming, one at SOMArts and one at the San Francisco Center for the Book, both curated by Hanna Regrev and focusing on artists responding to the work of John Cage.

Book Bombs has also released it's sixth zine, Horizontalidad, available in both print and PDF versions. This zine is a response to the Occupy movement, and the print version was printed at both the Crane Paper Factory and Melanie Mowinski's Press: Letterpress As A Public Art Project, both in Massachusetts. Out of all our zines so far, I'm proudest of this one. Not just because it's our most recent, but because I felt that we tied our concept into a larger, greater whole, speaking to the moment of now, but tying it to other movements and philosophies.

Finally, I'm still selling this piece on Etsy to raise funds for Robert's parents to rebuild their lives after Hurricane Irene. The print has been purchased by the Special Collections of the Newark Public Library and the Free Library of Philadelphia, as well as a few individuals, but there are still some left!