Category Archives: Mammoth Cave Residency

Bridging

It is a season of change and of cocooning and hibernation.  There are bridges to be crossed daily – moving to new things, bridging old projects to new adventures…

From a well made, protective cocoon, given enough time and love, magic can emerge.  Music where there was none before; artful objects that did not exist just months ago.  Opportunities appearing from seemingly thin air…..

One evening last week I attended a Halloween-themed chamber orchestra concert at my son’s school, The School for Creative and Performing Arts.  These talented kids took a break from their day to day rehearsals for the upcoming major musical Brigadoon and managed to put together an evening of entertainment with everything from Michael Jackson’s Thriller to the Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens.  They decorated the theatre with an assortment of goulish bits, and after a last minute rehearsal…..

….it was show time.  Let’s just say, that to begin the festivities, the orchestra teacher/conductor, (an unapologetic creative himself) emerged from a coffin, in full Dracula regalia, as the orchestra pit was  brought to stage level, and the music began.  It was BRILLIANT!!  I am reminded on a daily basis how fortunate we are to have this amazing school in our city.  It is the first of its kind in the US;  a K-12 arts enrichment facility, where the study of the arts is taken as seriously as other academic pursuits. (often times more so!!)

Meanwhile, after months of occasional stitching, and travels down dark avenues of the Unknown, my final quilt project for presentation to Mammoth Cave National Park (affectionately named the MCQuilt) was finally finished and readied for delivery to the fine folks down there.

VOILA!!  The Brea(d)th of History

I am still not entirely sure of what to put in a written statement to support this work now that it has become part of the Mammoth Cave Collection of Interesting Things.  I believe that sometimes works of art come from a gut place, far from the realm of descriptive words, and they need a little time among We Who Use the Spoken Word.  It may be awhile before this quilt is itself wrapped in a blanket of words, but for now I will feed you some tidbits….

While working, I was thinking a lot about the tie between natural and cultural history that is such a part of Mammoth Cave.  Unlike some other parks in our National Park system, MACA is distinctly and directly tied to the people who explored, sought shelter in, and sometimes even died in the cave.  It is rich with history, known to go back as far as 4000 years ago.  Perhaps even beyond.  The shadows and whispers of those who came before are around every bend in the cave.  This cave, much like others, breathes with the breath of the earth, air moving with the changing temperatures and moods of the earth and atmosphere itself.  It can at once shelter artifacts which are preserved indefinitely due to cave conditions, while simultaneously act as Living Cave – creating new and ever changing crystal formations and new, undiscovered caverns.  It is a place deep in mystery, and steeped in legend.

Upon completion, late one evening, I held up this quilt to have an upright, good look at it, and discovered that it glows when lit a bit from behind.  A small and delightful surprise.

We must always seek the light in the darkest places…..

And so, it was time for an autumn road trip…..

My friend Julie from the Jakk’s Magic Beans Workshop took some time out of her busy schedule to join me for the 4 hour trek down into the hills of Kentucky and a lantern lit cave tour underground.  It was, the proverbial 3-hour tour…..

With the help of our guides Rangers Bobby and Linda, we discovered historic graffiti, and listened to the cave speak to us as we quietly walked it’s stony paths.

It has been a year since my month long residency down in the park and it was so wonderful to go back and catch up with friends I now hold dear.  This new layer of community is perhaps the greatest gift from my time there.  Everyone oohed and ahhed at the quilt work.  I felt so honored to present it to them.

All of this ceremonial completion deserved a bit of celebration, which occurred this week with some of my now friends from last year’s Taos trip.

In the past few posts, I have written about my desire to get deeper into image making – drawing and painting.  I want to steep myself in an inner narrative that I have never truly explored beyond it’s crusty surface (with it’s gorgeous, touchable textures – where so much of my Big Work has resided).  Like many artists I know, I keep by my bedside a worn copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves.  It’s the ultimate book of fairy tales.  In this modern world of ours, we don’t often think of the old stories beyond a Disney version of the average princess-in-distress story or some such.  But if you dig just below the surface to the root of those tales, they have much to tell us and Dr. Estes does just that in her fascinating book.  The world of children’s stories, myth, puppetry are where we human beings hide Important Truths which may be too big for knowing just now.  Thankfully, these stories and others, are told on a routine basis, sometimes in bits and pieces, by artists, performers, musicians.  A few of my recent favorites are Rima Staines, whose blog The Hermitage is simply a feast for the senses and an escape into a timeless world of mystery; and Carolyn Ryder Cooley – I am in love with her drawings and installations!  Two other painters with whose work I became acquainted with via the miracle of Twitter are Kathleen Lolley and Lindsey Carr.  I love the colors they use, evoking a time out of place, just through the fog, to an Other. I look forward to exploring more of the work of these artists and more, as I dig into my own work more deeply at the same time.

A funny thing happens when you cast a wide wish-net into the Universe.  Ask for fairy tales, old fashioned narrative, and artists who are masters at the interpretation of these tales, any you may just get exactly what you ask for…..

In my last post I hinted that I had a potential work opportunity brewing that would provide me with another tangential avenue upon which to broaden my artistic horizons.  Let me introduce you to Kevin Frisch, of Frisch Marionettes:


 

The word on the street was that Kevin, whom I’ve known as a friend and fellow member of our local puppetry guild, was looking to hire a new puppeteer to help him work his larger shows.  I ignored this at first until my old boss at the Red Cross encouraged me to toss my hat into the ring for consideration.  I visited Kevin and his current fellow puppeteer Tiffany (slated to go back to grad school this winter, hence the search) at their presentation of Hansel and Gretel.  I spent some time with Kevin and a few of his marionettes to see if I had even an ounce of natural marionette manipulating ability.  And after a week or so, was offered the opportunity to begin rehearsing for performances in January 2012.

In this interview, Kevin explains why sometimes, artists and musicians make good puppeteers…

 

And so Peter Page and I will be spending many, many hours together this fall.  Learning to walk and stand without slouching, to run and walk with a distinct bounce in one’s step, and to focus, really focus on exactly what you are supposed to be paying attention to.  (a wee bug on the ground perhaps).  Surely these are good lessons to work on with or without the help of an adorable puppet page.

It is indeed wonderful to be crossing this bridge into an altogether new adventure, to have put to completion a year’s worth of thinking and stitching, and to begin nurturing the parts of my creative self that have been sorely neglected.  As things settle in to this season of hibernation and cocooning, I’ll work at my puppetry skills, and the creation of parts and cases for the beautiful concertinas I have the pleasure to listen to and handle on an almost daily basis. (one day I shall learn a tune or two on the concertina, I believe.)  I’ll enjoy curling up for some doodling and sketching (new art academy sketch-journal class starts next Thursday, there’s still time to sign up!!).  I’ll continue to practice my flute playing and teaching at the Riley School of Irish Music.  And hopefully get my paints out to blend the sorts of colors that now occupy my sleep.

Peace.

 

beau regard

Today I went to the gym for some exercise.  It felt great to get a good solid run in and some stretching too.  I spend so much time bundled up in layers of wool underwear, hats, scarves and down – it was just nice to be all warmed up for an hour.  There is a track at the gym that I like to run around and around…. and around.  Unlike a treadmill, the track provides me with plenty to look at, people to watch and wonder about, and a window well to keep a notebook where I can stash ideas.

Did you ever have one of those play-doh machines when you were a kid?  The one that pushes the play-doh through templates to create cool shapes?  During my visit to Mammoth Cave, the ranger guides would often compare the formation of gypsum crystals to the play-doh machine process.  Depending on the shape of the limestone void, various gypsum shapes would appear.  My own artistic practice has a play-doh machine quality to it.  When I run, ideas and notions seem to seep through my pores, almost as if being pushed out by the effort of a hard run.  This is good and happens more often than not.  I am grateful for it.

Currently I’m developing ideas for a finished Mammoth Cave related work that for now feels just slightly out of reach.  So I’m running and drawing and continuing to view things through what my friend Elizabeth calls, my “artist’s gaze”.  This beau regard (french, loose translation can be beautiful gaze, or beautiful eye) is what artists are known and ideally valued for.  Their unique perspective on the world is why we visit their blogs, purchase their art and music and writing.  It is a rare day that my world is not made more open or brighter because of the work of a fellow artist.

Nudges have been coming from various directions for some time for me to get some work made to sell on Etsy.  I have been dragging my heals, as is my nature. Somehow I haven’t felt cool enough, or productive enough, or…. I don’t know.  I have just avoided it.  But when my dear friend (and French medievalist) Anna made the play on my name as beau regard, it occurred to me that maybe I could make a go of it on the Etsy site with a cool name like that.  (insert a chuckle here at my sheer silliness.)  So we’ll see where it goes.  I’d love to get back to the wax table once I improve the venting in my studio.  Above are collages wrapped up for an artist trade thing I participated in this week.  They are pretty packages.  Things that might work nicely in the Etsy realm.  Baby steps.  The dip of a toe into this new realm.  This all will hopefully coincide with some updates on my website which is such a wonderful extension of my artist self.  I will, as always, keep y’all posted.

Meantime, I am trying to insert little glimpses of magic into my daily life.  I picked up these sweet flower faery lites at High Street here in town.  With our trip south over the holiday, we had used a honeysuckle branch with colored lights as a makeshift Christmas tree.  It was time for the color lights to go away until next year, but I really like the lights-on-a-stick idea… these should take us into spring time….

Sanctuary

Hibernation.  There is really no better way to describe my recent state.  With caramel colored dogs littering the warm concrete kitchen floor, I have been sewing and making soup.  I am hoping this homey trend continues as we have been delivered an early winter season!

However, Last weekend I ventured out to a 2 day Bereavement Quilt Workshop with improvisational quilt artist Sherri Lynn Wood.  The experience was intense and therapeutic and I learned loads of basic quilting techniques which I will be putting to good use in the coming months. (Up to now, I have been a self taught quilter.) Hopefully Sherri will have photos of some of what our group accomplished during our time together posted soon on her blog.  I highly recommend visiting her site. It’s chock full of amazing imagery, ideas and inspiration – in the quilty world and beyond!

Somehow, in the midst of that weekend workshop, I managed to carve out a few hours to switch gears and join my friend and business partner Adam from Drawing Down the Vision to deliver a pro-bono workshop to teen aged volunteers participating in the Leadership Development Program at the American Red Cross. We had a great time introducing them to the idea of gathering ideas through the process of drawing.

Needless to say, this was an exhausting couple of days and I have been battling a nasty cold ever since.  I suppose I am a physical processor at heart – hence the hibernation….

Yesterday in the mail I was delighted to receive a holiday card from my friend Jerry Bransford, a guide at Mammoth Cave National Park.  Included were some photos from Jerry’s ongoing research into his family history in the park and a cool copy of a ‘guide card’ that Jerry’s great uncle Mat would have given to tourists during his tenure as a Mammoth Cave guide.  History is alive and well at Mammoth Cave and that continues to be the major thing that inspires me about the park.

Our area was dealt a lovely snow storm the other night which shut the city down for the day.  This meant the gift of a snow day for my daughter’s birthday which was a treat for everyone!  But it also meant that my final meeting with my Keeping A Sketchbook Journal class was canceled.  With the Christmas holiday season upon us, the Art Academy closes for the winter break and I am not sure if we will have a chance to make up the class.  Coming to the end of my own recent sketchbook volume, it is time to begin a new book so I spent my snowy day transforming the covers of two new books which I will fill this winter.  I am always filled with a renewed sense of artful purpose when I personalize a new sketchbook.  It’s a magical process full of promise. The black book below (still in process) will be my typical, day to day book, found always at my side collecting thoughts, quotes, sketches etc…. the cover design is reminiscent of the balanced stacks of pebbles I have around the house.

I also got a second little book as well this time around.  First of all I could not resist it’s fetching size and the lovely linen cover material as well as it’s watercolor paper.  I am not sure what will find it’s way into this particular book.  I have had the desire to make more illustrative imagery lately.  Maybe children’s books.  Maybe beyond. I am not sure. Lynda Barry, in her NPR interview about her recent book, Picture This, spoke about her desire to ‘draw cute little animals’ in the aftermath of 911.  In the midst of all of the grief and chaos, the only thing she could bring herself to do was to draw these cute little animals.  And that it was healing for her.  I was really inspired by this notion.  There has always been a side of myself that wants to draw and paint cute little animals.  (case in point, my dog drawings!)  My plan is to allow the space for these little drawings in the coming new year and see what comes of them.  Hopefully some joy and simplicity.  Hopefully the capacity to just play a bit.  These are things I am consciously injecting into my life.

This morning I went out into the garden to take some snaps of the snow among the shapes and beauty of the sleeping plants.  The dogs romped around the yard searching for now elusive yard smells.  It’s been too long since I have centered myself by drawing my dogs and their antics.  Maybe it’s time to get back to center…

“joy before the journey’s end”

Entering into my final week here, I have really seen and done a lot!  My mom came down to visit on Saturday and we did all things Floyd Collins related (see my last post!) much to her delight.  Floyd’s sad story has captivated her imagination since she was a child.  I was only too happy to indulge!

On Sunday, I was faced with a day alone and decided to get out of the park a bit and take in some of what lies beyond the boundaries of Mammoth Cave.  I settled on Diamond Caverns due to their historic relationship to mammoth and because it wasn’t too far afield.  It is a lovely little cave filled with all sorts of formations you won’t find in the majority of Mammoth.  It is most definitely worth a visit.  I was incredibly inspired by surface textures and all of nature’s sculptures.

Diamond Caverns is located in Park City which itself is filled with all sorts of Kentucky cave related history.  One such historic hot-spot is Bell’s Tavern.  Now in ruins, it was once the last stop before the final rough trudge into the wilderness where Mammoth Cave was located.

Mammoth Cave is one big ol’ long cave.  It has awesome geologically and ecologically relevant stuff that could keep scientists busy forever.  But to quote my new friend Joy Lyons who heads up the rangers in charge of interpretation, it’s the history that makes Mammoth Cave special in the long run.  That history is everywhere.  From the way you could tell where the homesteads had been on my hike to the Big White Pine by virtue of what trees had been planted and where, to Bell’s Tavern, to my adventure today to Pensaco.

Here’s the back story.  In 1842, physician John Croghan decided too try an experiment inside Mammoth Cave based upon observations he had made of people working inside of the cave.  These workers, mainly slaves, seemed so robust for all of their time spent underground.  The temperature and humidity was very stable in the cave.  These notions led Dr. Croghan to believe that he could potentially cure Tuberculosis in his patients and set about finding willing participants for an extended stay underground in Mammoth Cave.  To put it plainly, the experiment was a huge failure.  Some patients died while in the cave, others eventually left to try and find relief for their ailments in other circumstances.  The stories of these patients became part of the history that makes Mammoth Cave the American gem that it is.  Some of the nameless are buried here in the park.  Who were they?  Mostly, we do not know.

We are left with some clues though.  A few of the patients left behind letters to loved ones about their experiences and journals of their time here.  One such man was Oliver Hazard Perry Anderson.  OHP for short.  OHP was the one patient cave historians seemed to know the most about and were therefore delighted when his great-great grandson arrived with some old journals to share.  Today I had the honor and privilege to go on a specially guided cave tour, off the normal tourist route, with OHP’s family to walk in his footsteps and locate his signatures inside the cave and where he is believed to have lived.

Below are some pictures from our trip.

We walked in via the regular historic entrance, one of my favorite places in the park, and through now familiar landmarks such as “The Church” where services were often held inside the cave on warm days.  A little bit further on, we encountered the stone tuberculosis huts where Dr. Croghan had his office and patients took meals.

The Anderson’s began looking for clues.  The rangers had been in a few days earlier and located some of the evidence of OHP having been in certain areas of the cave.  Soon, we were upon the first signature.

After the first signature, we turned off of the main trail onto Pensaco Avenue which is no longer traveled by tourists.

Using flashlights and lanterns we admired wonderful canyons and tube passages.

We found evidence of old tours from before Mammoth Cave was a national park.

We even spotted some bats here and there.

There is plenty of what is called ‘historical graffiti’ in the cave.  (Rangers like to say ‘now it’s called a felony’).  One name that came up a lot among the signatures was that of Alfred who was apparently a very lively slave guide who from all accounts was a good deal of fun to be around.  I’d like to have met him.

We found a Bransford signature as well.  These folks all knew each other and knew the cave well.

Often times there were so many signatures that I was surprised any sense was ever made of them.

But eventually, we came to signature number 2 by OHP, written Dec. 23, 1842.  It’s two days before Christmas and he must have been missing his wife and three kids at home.  But he was in the cave to try to improve his health.  Maybe he joined a cave tour that day with Stephen Bishop or another guide.  OHP may have been ill, but it seems that when he felt up to it, he was quite an adventurer, content to live well away from the smoky and crowded TB hospital area where the other patients were.  This particular signature had an emotional effect on our entire group as we pondered what it must have been like to be Mr. Anderson.

We eventually came to the end of Pensaco Avenue and a third signature by OHP.  There may be more in the cave but they have not been identified as of yet.  One thing I love about Mammoth Cave is that the discoveries and research just keep happening, and there is always something interesting to discover.

History is a funny thing.  So much of it is taught via books or videos and, at least in my school days, it all seemed so far removed from our modern human experience.  A friend of mine is a history teacher and he has been utilizing a series of books called “you wouldn’t want to be…” Recently his use of these books was called into question due to a parent’s (not a student’s, mind you) difficulty with how ‘real’ these books make certain historical scenarios for kids.  To me, the more real, the better.  If we can humanize historical figures, whether they are distant relatives or the people who shaped our world today, then perhaps we can walk this world as kinder, wiser human beings.  I wish all teachers would use the ‘You wouldn’t want to be’ series.

I’m pretty certain you wouldn’t want to be a tuberculosis patient living in Mammoth Cave in the 1800’s.  It must have been terribly lonely and difficult.  But hope springs eternal in the human spirit and I found myself genuinely intrigued by Oliver Hazard Perry Anderson.  It was an honor to meet his offspring and accompany them on this journey back in time.

finding the rhythm

It’s week three here at Mammoth Cave.  Depending upon what’s up at home, I may have less than a week left of my residency.  Since my last post, things have been a little hectic.  I was made to move into a smaller apartment due to a mold issue brewing at the other place I was staying.  There is less ‘studio’ type space and much less personal space.  The notion of privacy and creature comforts that are integral to art making in a residency scenario have been somewhat limited by all of this, but I am rolling with it as best I can.

By day I spend as much time outside as possible drawing and exploring.  By night I catch up on writing and embroidery or watch a movie with my roommate.  This week we watched Last of the Mohicans which was wonderful on many fronts.  I have had the theme song, a jig, now rolling around as a soundtrack in my head as I’ve hiked, adding an element of magic to my explorations.  I looked up Daniel Day-Lewis, the actor playing the lead and read about his intense practice of full character commitment for any work he makes.  I found this fascinating.  Here’s a quote:

I needed, and I still need, to create a particular environment, I need to find the right kind of silence or light or noise.  Whatever is necessary – and it is always different.  I know it sounds a little fussy and a little ridiculous, but finding your own rhythm is one of the most important things you can discover about yourself….. So it’s not without a sense of gratitude that I work.  but I couldn’t do this work at all unless I did it in my own rhythm.”

This notion of finding one’s own rhythm really resonates with me and I think by and large I have managed to find it at times during my stay here.  The trick will be to tap into this same rhythm upon my return to the real world outside.  We’ll see how it goes.  For now, I have been drawing and exploring a lot, which I will share with you here…..

Above is a sketchbook page from outside a little cave called Dixon Cave.  It is a hibernatory cave for the endangered Indiana Bat.  Little caves litter the countryside in this area.  Back in the day, a cave explorer named Floyd Collins managed to get stuck in one such little cave searching for a new entrance into Mammoth Cave.  After a highly publicized rescue attempt, Floyd sadly died in what is known as Sand Cave.  It’s a captivating story that people are still interested in today.  I went to visit his eventual resting place and did a little sketch of him.

Technically the park’s Artist-In-Residence works under the umbrella of Science and Resource Management.  This little fella keeps a watch on anyone entering the SRM building.  Today I had the amazing opportunity to follow some scientist/ tree type people out into the field for a visit to a Kentucky State Champion tree called Red Buck Ester’s Tree (or Big White Pine for short).

Below is a baby American Chestnut tree that we happened upon.  The trees all died due to the blight but their roots did not and so they continue to try sending shoots up to give it a go.  They never make it.  But maybe, someday they will.  Maybe a cure for the blight that took them all down could be found and within a few hundred years, the chestnut could make a comeback.  Maybe.

While out on today’s hike I learned to use a compass.  I had a notion of how they work from kayaking but had never really tried it, what with all the numbers and the way they spin around and all, it’s a dyslexic nightmare.  But today the simplicity of it finally clicked and I used the compass to bushwhack our way back to the truck.

I have had a desperately poor sense of direction while here at the park, artistically speaking.  But little by little, I have managed to find my way to people who can take me to interesting places and tell me interesting things.  There is a Native American notion of direction that counts 7 major directions: north, south, east, west, or course, along with above and below.  The 7th direction is that of your center, your heart.  Before I left, a good friend gave me a card that said, ‘follow your heart. it knows the way’.  I think this is true.

Illuminator

*first off, a quick but thoroughly sincere note of thanks to my smart and patient husband who fixed the blog clog that had things backed up here recently.  without his support, my online presence would surely suffer.*

Everyday here at Mammoth Cave, I meet someone interesting.  Every ranger, scientist, ticket sales person, visiting guest, (everyone!) has a story to tell – some connection to this cave and the land around it.

Jerry Bransford is just one of those people.  Ranger Jerry’s great great grandfather, Mat Bransford, was a leased slave here at Mammoth Cave back in the 1800’s.  Mat, along with his brother Nick and another slave, Stephen Bishop were responsible for exploring many miles of the cave and for safely guiding wealthy tourists through the seemingly endless labyrinth.

Although these men were slaves, their lives were somewhat different from many slave’s lives at the time.  They became educated by their wealthy patrons, many from the north and not supportive of slavery.  They were able to make a little bit of money through tips for signing patron names on the cave walls.

When slavery ended, these men opted to stay on as valued employees of the cave’s owners.  After all, they were the only ones who knew the cave’s secrets and could be trusted to guide tourists.  Time passed and eventually the area was established as our country’s 26th national park in the late 1930’s.  When this happened, Bransford and Bishop descendants were informed that their services would no longer be needed upon the opening of the new park, due to their race.  Thus ended a cave legacy that had lasted for generations.

For many years, this story went underground.  Occasionally Bishop’s name would be mentioned by guides, but very seldom any of the Bransford’s.  It seemed time had forgotten them.  That by race alone, their contributions to the exploration and development of the cave became invisible.  Joy Lyons, now chief of program services at Mammoth Cave, researched many of the forgotten names in her early years as a seasonal guide.  She eventually tracked down Jerry Bransford in nearby Glasgow, KY and encouraged him to become a guide himself in 2002, thus bridging the gap since his great Uncle Louis had given his final tour in 1939.

Jerry now puts a face on that portion of history of Mammoth Cave.  Guides now speak openly about the contributions former slaves made to the cave.  But when Jerry speaks of the future, he wonders if this story will continue to be told once he himself has retired from guiding.  He is concerned that his family’s Mammoth Cave legacy could be forgotten once again.  I sincerely hope this is not true.  I am captivated by Jerry’s story and that of guides, both black and white who continue to shed light on the dark passageways and history of this amazing place.

One of the things guides do on a cave tour is something they call the “lights out” exercise when all the lights are turned off for a few seconds to give visitors an idea of what total darkness looks and feels like.  This is one of my favorite parts of the tour.  After a few moments, the ranger will light a match or a lighter and the darkness is penetrated.  With that one source of light, we could, in theory, find our way out of the cave should the lights fail.

The other night while on the Star Chamber tour, Ranger Bobby lit his lighter and said “It doesn’t take much light to overcome total darkness.”  I believe this, both literally in the darkness of the cave, but also metaphorically.  I believe that due to Joy Lyons’ research, and Jerry Bransford’s commitment to his family’s legacy, a light has been shown on a dark time in history.  Perhaps, thanks to this small bit of illumination, a compelling bit of Mammoth History will never again see total darkness.

Art Happens

So I have been here at Mammoth Cave just a few days and in that time I have taken 3 cave tours and a guided hike where I got to know some of the rangers who work here and know all about the park.  I also have explored the park on my bike and am generally getting the lay of the land.  When I am moving around and bouncing from place to place, I am pretty content.  However, when I am at my little house here, I don’t exactly know what to do with myself.  I have never been left to my own devices in such a way ever in my life. Ever.  It’s at once blissful and terrifying.  Art (capital A) seems extremely daunting, even though I am jotting down ideas as they come.  So I am starting small.  Little sketches, little experiments.  I found a wild turkey feather on the ground and made a little drawing of it.

I collected some walnuts in the park (which I found out is permitted at this particular National Park) and processed them into a dye bath….

and I put some paper bits in to see what would happen.  I was pleased.

I have also spent some time chatting up the scientists who work to keep the park natural and healthy.  I visited a freshwater mussel growing facility and talked to a guy whose job it is to know all things invasive… and keep them out.  And so I did a little embroidery.

All of these are just little sketches.  Little ways of getting my feet wet and greasing the skids for more work.  Today was the first time I actually could sit still long enough to get any real work done.  Hopefully that trend continues!

What Artists do

Greetings from Mammoth Cave National Park!  I will be living and working here for the next 3 and a half weeks or so and hopefully updating you as to what I am discovering along the way.  Today is only my 2nd full day and already I am brimming with ideas!

It is an interesting thing, to leave home, travel, and experience a new place – especially on a longer term, such as this month long residency.  For me, even on vacation, it takes awhile to really sink into a place.  And with everything that has been happening at home recently, a good chunk of my soul is still back there, wrapped up in quilts and words of solace, beautiful glass and steel… and more words.  So first, let me fill you in on last weekend’s quilt show and sculpture dedication…..

These two events were put back to back so that family and friends from out of town could attend them.  It was so wonderful to see all of these folks and that we could be together during this emotion filled time.  It was tremendously moving to be such a part of both events and by the end of the weekend, I for one felt like a wrung out wash cloth.  I know I was not the only one.

Art work is often accompanied by words to help viewers interpret what they see.  I’d like to share some of these words with you here.

There were many breathtaking quilts on the walls at the YWCA but one of my favorites is this work of Lisa’s, May She Be Strong Whatever Comes. I have learned what little I know about pictorial quilt making from Lisa and am simply in awe of this recently finished work.

If you are in the Cincinnati area at all in the next few months, I urge you to stop by and see all of the quilted works on display in this show.  So many stitches.  So much power.  So much love.

Our next event that weekend in the culminatory art realm (alas, we had a wedding and a Bar Mitzvah to attend this same weekend!!) was the dedication of Jessie Henson’s stunning Stardust (You Were Only Waiting For This Moment To Be Free). There were poems read that stirred the heart, and music played, and songs sung.  It was so beautiful.  Like the artwork.  Like our dear friend Esme.  A couple of things were said that have stuck with me.  Jessie spoke about her intentions for the work and ended her speech with “You are all so necessary, you are all so loved”.  Esme was someone who never tired of reminding everyone she met of this very fact.

Lisa also spoke about the very beginning of the process that would bring this work of art into being.  She said something to the effect of “we just decided to do what artists do.”  Meaning, we would make art.  I think the last 18 months have been a lot about doing what artists do, simply to stay on top of some really tough stuff.  And I have been thinking that the timing of my residency here at Mammoth Cave is asking me to keep doing that.  To do what I do.  Grief and it’s unpredictable emotional tentacles don’t go away – especially just because some art work gets completed. But I know I am not the only artist in my amazing village of fellow artists who is going to keep working to keep trying to make sense of things.

So that leads me to the here and now.  I have been asked a lot over the past few days what it is I “do” and what my plans are for the work that will happen as a result of this gift of a residency.  I am not really sure.  I am in quilt mode lately so naturally, that is where my brain is.  I have some ideas.  Having taken a couple of cave tours though and seen the amazing surfaces underground created by gypsum (calcium sulfate), I felt like I was looking at wax paintings.  So we shall see.  I have only just gotten my feet wet so far and there is much to come.  I will share what I can with you here while still carving out time to make a few drawings and figure out some broad avenues to research.  The trouble with Mammoth Cave is that it’s mammoth.  So big.  So much.  Of everything!

Did I mention it’s hard to draw in the dark?  While standing?

Tomorrow I am off to see some freshwater mussels in the process of growing at a research facility and I am trying to track down the guy everybody keeps telling me I need to talk to in order to see things I want to see. (I hear he took a film crew down into the cave with kayaks today.  I am hoping this will happen again!!)

But for now, I am off to embroider a bug.  I’ll keep you posted.