Tag Archives: mammoth cave national park


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.



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.