Tag Archives: mammoth cave


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.

A new sketchbook begins… and other news

It’s summer.  A new more relaxed schedule involving mostly running kids from here to there in between making art.  I love summer for this.  Ever since my Art Academy class ended in the spring, I have been looking forward to sinking my teeth (and pens and paints) into my new re-purposed sketch-journal that I made with book maker Cody Calhoun.  I finally got into it over the weekend while on a trip to Detroit for a feis (an Irish Dance competition… tis the season right now).  The paper we used to fill the journals is perfection for what I like to do which is write and watercolor.  I am in love.  And feeling productive.  It’s a refreshing breath of fresh air.

There is nothing like a road trip to wake up the senses.  This is especially the case when traveling from one distinct landscape to another very different one.  As we traveled north toward Michigan, the land leveled out and we saw all sorts of tall grasses which were growing in the marshy ground leading up to the lakes.  Some of this grass is apparently invasive but I don’t know enough about it to know the difference.  To an artist’s eye, it just seemed like a nice place for some red winged black birds to perch and swing in the breeze.

Meanwhile, some feisanna are longer than others…. I had some time to sketch while we waited for competitions to start….

I love pines silhouetted against a dusky sky…..

It feels great to be drawing on a daily basis again.  Intellectually I know that drawing everyday is good for me personally and professionally from all of the work with Drawing Down the Vision.  Why I seem to lose my way and get bogged down by life at times forgetting the subtle power of my sketchbook…. I may never know.  Must have something to do with being a human bean.

But enough about the sketchbook for a minute.  Here’s the news…. a few months ago, in the midst of my work on the ArtWorks mural, I applied for a residency at Mammoth Cave National Park on the off chance that I might have the privilege of spending a month there making art and teaching people how to “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” with a sketchbook and pen.  Today I got the call from them that my application was chosen based on my portfolio and proposal for work I’d like to do there.  I am honored and humbled and tremendously excited to go explore the caves and work with the folks who work at Mammoth Cave all year round.

What a cool thing to look forward to…. I’ll keep you posted.  (I simply cannot stop grinning.)    🙂