I hope you have gotten through these difficult times, and that you are finding your bearings and strength for what lies ahead– a changed world for sure. This post is to alert you that all future Earthinform blog posts will be from a new address. They will be generated from my revised website at earthinform.com. By going to this link you can subscribe anew by entering your email. Thank you for again for following, and hope to continue on this journey together.
February 22 2021*
It seems like forever that I’ve been working on my latest series, “Shaman Ladders”. Two years ago I started the maquettes in wood, then I worked them up to a larger scale. When I was satisfied with the scale and form in wood, I drove them over to the Mystic River Foundry to be cast in aluminum. There they were at the mercy of foundry time, which has its own slow process. Because the sculptures can’t be cast in one piece they looked like puzzle pieces when I brought them back to the studio. Then I had to reassemble them and weld them together. Finally I’m on the patina stage, adding the color. I think my creative timeline is getting comparable to elephants, it takes almost two years for a baby elephant to mature in the womb and drop out into the world. At least my process has speeded up to only two years, my last series “Forest Dialogue” took four years to be made.
So I’m eager to say “enough”, and get Shaman Ladders out into the world. The series will debut as part of a solo show this summer at the Lyman Allyn Museum entitled “Forest Dreaming”. The exhibit will feature new and selected sculptures, paintings, and eco-projects from over the last two decades, all based on the forest. The show runs from June to October of 2021. More on other programming soon.
And maybe, maybe, we might be able to see each other there.
- If you follow this blog online it will be shifting over to my updated website, earthinform.com.
This past month I’ve been working in paper mache– I call it my therapeutic diversion for the pandemic. Studio time begins by immersing my hands in a vat of glue solution and papering my flock of chickens. Yes. chickens, funny chickens. Other deadlines loom, like finishing up wood and aluminum sculptures in preparation for a solo show in 2021. But I was losing my focus. So I needed to do these, they are my therapy. They are allowing me to get refocused and back to the “serious work”.
I did a similar chicken series a decade ago, I called them my “Cuban Chickens”. That flock was part of my traveling art installation, “Cuba Journal”. The multimedia installation was my response to the first trip back to Cuba after 40 years. I was born there and my family fled the revolution in 1962. In 2002 I returned to bicycle around the island for three weeks.
The “Cuba Journal” exhibition was dominated by a large paper mache puppet of Castro. He was illuminated such that his shadow filled much of the space. There were other wooden sculptures, paintings, and a flock of paper chickens under his shadow. That show traveled throughout the United States for four years, it went to museums, universities, and galleries. My hope was that Castro’s reign, five decades and counting, might end during that time. Then I would burn that puppet as an effigy when he died. That was a fanciful idea, it would be a cathartic, artistic gesture, releasing my family and so many families from his shadow.
But reality is never so neat as art. Both my parents died before he did. Castro finally died in December 2016, but within weeks Donald Trump was installed as president of the United States. My gut response was that I was not free of dictators in my life. So I put off burning Castro.
After four hellish years under Trump and on the eve of Biden’s inauguration, I’m back to making chickens. Why? Because we’ve been living under the shadow of a president who in other countries would be called a dictator. And like all of his other authoritarian cronies, he’s refusing to leave office. I’m making them because in order to survive the gravitas and dangers of the moment I need to bring up joy, I need to laugh. I need to keep my mental health and immune system from crashing.
My funny chickens are doing that. Dipping my hands in the glue solution for paper mache, whether it’s flour and water, or glue and water, is a really messy business. I get fully engaged and momentarily forget whatever worries are buzzing around my head. The simple, repetitive process of building up the layers of small paper strips is meditative. My mind wanders to more joyful times. I remember being a young mother making piñatas with our two children for their birthdays. What grand messes we would make and what fun we had making sharks, rats, and surreal creatures. I think we finally stopped at age twelve. I also remember being a young artist and making large scale public piñatas for special events. Some of those events almost caused riots. The breaking of a piñata has a violence to it which you can only control with small numbers.
Paper mache is an ancient medium, Though it has a french name which means “chewed paper” it actually originated in China. China is where paper was invented. Examples have been found that date back to the Han Dynasty, BC 200. The Chinese figured out how to build up thin layers then lacquer them to make all kinds of sculptural forms. They even made helmets with it. I don’t know that I would trust going into war with a paper mache helmet. But then some of my pinatas became impenetrable with layers of glue medium and two by fours were needed to break them.
Working in paper mache also makes me think of one of my favorite artists, Peter Schumann, the creator and genius behind Bread and Puppet Theater. Schumann’s material for his theatrical dramas has always been paper mache. I’ve read that his glue elixer includes beer. The large scale collaborative puppet dramas are always focused on mythic stories and on the injustices in the world. His first dramas and protest parades were about the Vietnam War. A few years ago I was able to see him in action on his farm in the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont. He was wearing overalls and a frumpy hat and tending a large earth oven where many many loaves of bread were baking. After the wonderful performance in the natural outdoor amphitheater, our crowd of 300 or more people was offered homemade bread. Bread has always been broken and served after each Bread and Puppet performance– bread to bring us together, bread to bring joy, bread to remind us to share, bread to take us beyond politics.
My paper mache process is not grand like Schumann’s but it is bringing me joy and to the people who are buying them. And something else has also begun to happen. As I clean up after my sessions I’ve started to use the leftover glue and paper to make another paper form, a flat, long, skinny form. It is now ten feet and still growing. It is a red tie.
Yes, you guessed it. My second effigy for the second dictator in my life is coming to life without much serious thought or effort. And this January 20th I will light the match under it. Castro’s effigy can wait a little longer. The last dictator hired, first fired.
This past week I had the pleasure of an in-person studio visit by Jennifer McGregor, the director of Arts, Education and Programs at Wave Hill in New York. I have the outdoor piece “Forest Dialogue” installed at Wave Hill. Later in the week we did an interview together on Zoom which was broadcast live on Facebook and live on their Wave HIll website. Though I missed the wonderful dialogues of real events and the new people I meet afterwards I was pleased that this kind of online event can be seen by many more people, anywhere at any time. The interview is now archived so you can also take a look at your leisure.
I’m putting many miles on my bike these days and on Memorial Day I rode along the shore road to visit the sculpture park which is on South Kingston Land Trust land. In the park is installed one of my poetry boxes and I wanted to see how it was faring- it’s been up for at least 4 years. The journal for the public was full, so I was pleased. The quote that I had selected comes from George Eliot, from her book Middlemarch, it seems very pertinent right now- also makes me want to reread Middlemarch.
“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.
I mention the older poetry box because these new times has demanded a redesign of the Poetry of the Wild project. That means no big knobs to touch and no public journal. I won’t give you a glimpse quite yet or else there would be no surprise. The results of my experiments will go up at the end of June in Jamestown, Rhode Island as part of the Outdoor Art Experience. It will be very much an outing with walking as an essential part of it. Later in June another sculpture of mine will be part of summer outings when they reopen at Wave Hill Cultural Center in NY along the beautiful Hudson river. More on that soon. In the meantime stay safe and enjoy your outings whatever form they take.
In this new reality when we’re dreaming and desperate for magical escape routes, I now know why I’ve continued to work on this series entitled “Shaman Ladders”. For two years I’ve been struggling to give them form, they’ve clung to walls like ivy or shot up from the ground like uber pea plants. I’ve made large drawings, maquettes in wood and also cast some in aluminum. I think I’ve finally got a handle on their sculptural forms after struggling to work with tendrils of wood that only become strong in twos. Now I have to work on their color. They are intended to be seen and shown, to be part of indoor and outdoor spaces, and to encourage imaginative journeys. But its still too early to talk dates and specifics yet, the world is still in suspension. In the meantime I’ll go back to the studio because I have work to do. Please stay safe- until we can meet again, in whatever form that may be in the future.
Feb 28th last day of the Earth Dialogues, two person exhibit, Narrows Art Center, Fall River, Ma.
April 11, Reception at Wave Hill, Public Garden and Cultural Center on the Hudson River. My Forest Dialogue series will be installed outdoors with drawings and paintings in Glyndoor House, runs through October.
May 18- 28th Print Residency in Spain at ArtPrint Residence, excited to be going back to do wood cuts for upcoming exhibitions.
Dec 10 2019
I’ve been refreshing older pieces and working on a suite of small sculptural wall pieces for a show in January. 2020. The scale in sculpture doesn’t make it any less demanding then large work, these new works are taking forever to resolve. I stress as I scratch off each day in this short month of December.
Excerpts from sketchbook entries
They must stand alone and work as a quartet
Each section and form must be distinct
Continue to be playful
color like jazz
form like jazz
shadow is their harvest
Think about how they start and how they end
Today I’m delivering the sculpture “Enlightenment” to the Rhode Island State House for the exhibition, “ReSeeding the City/ Ethnobotany in the Urban,”. The compelling show curated by Judith Champa Tolnick as part of the Providence Biennale, features artists whose works address the entwined lives of humans, plants, and other life forms. The exhibit runs through Nov 27th.
The exhibition opens with a one day public forum on October 26th, at Brown University, both forum and exhibit are free and open to the public. Please join us or come by the State House, to learn more and register for the forum click here