Home again, home again, jiggity jig

It was a gorgeous final day here in the park.  I am heading home tomorrow morning.  Today I presented a small quilt work to the park as a first installment of promised work.  Below are some snap shots of the work along with some thoughts on how it came to be.

In a part of the cave called Gothic Avenue, there is a drawing on the ceiling, very different from the usual “historical graffiti” that riddles the area.  I was quite taken with this image and wondered why it was created.  Why a head and not a name?

Below it my finished quilt piece, about 18″ or so across.  There is the head from Gothic Avenue and some ‘zig-zag’ imagery that is also found in the cave and carbon dated to be attributed to prehistoric visitors to the cave.  Some of the material for this quilt was found at second hand shops in the local area and then dyed or over-dyed with the walnuts I found in the park.

I’ll put my ‘formal’ statement below at the end of this post.  I felt the need for it to have a statement accompanying it as time goes on, as I do not know how or if it will be shown and I want it to be well represented.

After dropping the quilt off to its new home, I went on one last hike with ‘the tree guys’ looking for white poplar trees which are on the list of Undesirables.  It was a lovely day for a hike and we located an American Chestnut tree they have been keeping an eye on.  So far it seems healthy and is about 9″ across at the truck.  That’s a good size for a tree that was wiped out by the blight.  It was good to see.  Hope springs eternal as they say.

Tonight I will go and pay one last visit to the Historic Entrance to Mammoth Cave, one of my favorite spots in the park.  (Thanks Mom and Sue for this snap shot of me there!)  And I’ll say goodnight to my bats out by the park buses and the coyotes that sometimes howl at night.  It has been a magical time here full of amazing sights to see and insights to be discovered.  I am excited to get centered back in my own space and see what work unfolds after this incredible opportunity.  See y’all back in the ‘Nati!

Compass Quilt

Small work presented to Mammoth Cave National Park

By Amy Bogard, Artist-in-Residence, October, 2010

Having only a month to take in the vast array of fascinating topics, imagery, history and experiences that Mammoth Cave National Park has to offer, much of my residency has been spent simply trying to soak up as much as possible via cave tours, hikes and conversations with staff, rangers, scientists and folks in the Cave City area.  I took thousands of photos, sketched whenever possible and journaled my experiences and impressions of being here.

That said, much of my fine art work is process oriented.  Often I am more interested in how something is made, and the integrity with which it was created, than necessarily the finished product.  It was important to me to create a small bit of work while living and working here in the park.  Early in my stay I went on the Echo River Spring hike led by Ranger Dave Spence.  There I learned that I could collect and process walnuts if I was industrious enough to do so.  I did so and began dyeing some fabrics and old doilies that I had purchased at the Caveland Antique Mall in Cave City.

Taking as many tours as possible while here in the park enabled me to hear various stories and history as interpreted by all of the multi-talented guides.  I scribbled notes in the dark during tour stops as much as I could and wrote what I could remember, and what impressed me most later in my journal.  Early on a couple of stories resonated with me that relate to this work.  One was of Stephen Bishop being asked to try and sketch out a map of the cave from memory.  Apparently, he did just that.  When the map was put to the test by a cartographer, Bishop’s map was found to be nearly spot on with regard to positions of pathways and distances between points.  It seemed Mr. Bishop was gifted with an internal compass.

Later in Mammoth Cave history, German cartographer Max Kaemper asked for permission to do a formal assessment of known cave passageways.  He was only permitted to do so if the final document would bear no measurements or compass points that would lead to controversy for the owners of land above ground.

As I contemplated all of the information that I had been exposed to in my first couple of weeks here, I felt overwhelmed; not sure where to go or what to do beyond the gathering of notes and processing of walnuts.  I had no bearing as to what direction to head or where to go from here – so I looked to my notes and my sketchbook where I had been captivated by images made by cave goers both prehistoric and pre-national park.

Using the ‘zig-zag’ motif from Early American Indians and ‘the head drawing’ found in Gothic Avenue, I created a compass of sorts.  It is created out of material I brought with me from home (including some I ‘weathered’ in my garden) as well as the walnut-dyed, ‘found’ fabrics I got in Cave City.  In the body of the figure, I have embroidered a heart.  There is a Native American notion about direction which states there are 7 – North, South, East, and West, along with above and below, which I felt is fitting to being here at Mammoth Cave where everything is above or below.  The 7th and perhaps most important direction of all is one that I believe Stephen Bishop possessed.  It is one’s center.  Your heart.  I have struggled a bit to find my center, my own internal compass, while here as Artist in Residence and the exercise of attempting to do so has been life changing and valuable.

Please accept this fabric ‘sketch’ of my first impressions of being here at Mammoth Cave National Park.  I am eager and excited to interpret the rest of my findings in a larger more formalized work at a later date.

Thank you so much to all of the people who made this experience such a rich and rewarding one for me.

“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.


*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.

technical difficulties

The other day I met someone who actually reads my blog posts.  Someone I didn’t even know!  And I was so inspired.  I decided that I would try to blog more regularly while down in Mammoth Cave to collect my thoughts in an organized way and share what’s happening down here at residency.  This evening I made a nice post with an update on last weekend’s culminatory art activities and a bit of an introduction to my temporary life here at Mammoth.

Alas when it came time to post, no pictures would show up.  Maybe it’s this ancient laptop.  Maybe it’s me and my ability to stop technology in its tracks.  I don’t know.  But I have the post saved.  And I’ll keep making more posts and get them published when I can.

For now, just know that I have arrived at my residency time at Mammoth Cave National Park.  Things are going well here and I am overwhelmed with information and imagery.  I am happy to be here and missing friends and family at home all at the same time.  It’s good.  I’ll keep you posted.