Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gearing Up

Many thanks to Shawn, who has lent me both her wheels in a display of trust that is actually a little frightening, and to Tess who also loaned me her wheel - a wheel that she has yet to even use herself.

It takes a village.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Nudge

Faithful readers may remember a time, not so very long ago, when I decided to lift my boot from Finn and Lucy's neck, so to speak, and let them manage their time using computers and other devices with screens. Until that point, I had set pretty strict limits and their cries of being digitally deprived fell like lotus petals on a stone, which is to say I totally ignored them. After much inner and outer debate, I realized that my strict rules were teaching them nothing except that computer time was something precious and perhaps even forbidden in the most delicious way. In other words, my rules were doing exactly the opposite of what they were intended to do. So, off came the ban! Plug in and drop out. Or something like that.

Alas, it was something like that. I fully expected a backlash - days of being totally sucked into their screens. And I got it. How long? Dear god, how long would they sit, eyes glued to a little screen, life passing by unnoticed?

I have tried to be patient and most of the time, I succeed. But yesterday, I just couldn't take it anymore. While our friends returned for another day of helping in the garden that will provide food for their stomachs; friends who have serious health concerns that include and are not limited to stroke and sciatica, while this was happening, a certain someone who shall remain nameless was sitting in his pajamas on the couch essentially watching TV on the computer.

Silently, but mercilessly, I approached him, shut the computer, took it out of his hands, and put it away in a drawer in another room. He was not silent, although I was surprised that his protests were not worse. I think his most cutting remark was along the lines of "You are so annoying."

Fifteen minutes later, he came out of the house, donned some work gloves and, dare I say it, proceeded to work quite happily with the rest of us in the garden. I would go so far as to say he had a good time.

Now here's the really amazing thing. Later in the day, when I went in to start supper, both he and his sister spontaneously and cheerfully decided to dig rocks out of our new potato patch.

I took some photographic evidence lest I wake up the next day and find it was all a dream.

Sometimes it take a nudge to shift to a new state of mind. My radical unschooling friend may disagree, but I still think that sometimes it takes a nudge.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Best Kind of Tired

The past few days, I have woken up with sore hands. Not sore as in "my hands hurt" but sore as in "these hands have been working hard". It is a good kind of sore. I've been diggin' and weedin' and pullin' out weeds and rocks. Lots of weeds. Lots of rocks.

Yesterday a friend offered to help. She and her husband brought over their large tiller to help speed the process of making a bed for potatoes. I am not much for tilling. I suspect it does more damage than good. but when someone offers to help in the garden, I say yes even if it includes machine tilling. The funny thing is, even this large, powerful machine couldn't get through the clumps of black knotweed. It bucked and jumped and ran away. In the end, we did by hand. This experience confirmed for me that, with gardening, it is almost always just as easy, if not easier, to do things by hand than with a machine.

From the height of our porch, it all looks so tiny but it looms large in my mind. For the first time, it feels like I might actually have a real garden that will carry over from year to year. It is a nice feeling. And check out those rocks! Our collection just from yesterday. My, my.

The fog rolled in, bringing cold rain. Temperatures are still well below 70F/20C. Well below. I am hoping they will climb just a bit for the weekend workshop.

Yes, it is happening and happening soon! I am prepping some materials, including these alder twigs. Unfortunately, the timing isn't great for collecting dye stuff from around the yard. I really want to have something that is 100% local, so I am soaking these twigs for a week in hopes that they will ooze out enough colour. Of course, I have other materials but there is something pretty amazing and magical about picking some plants in your yard and making colour with them. C'mon alders! Do your thing!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Summer Evening

First, for commenter E: The technique you suggested is how I first created these beds - using the "lasagna" method. What I discovered is that the most common plant growing in this part of the yard is called Black Knapweed or Hardhead around here - they grow in clumps and are very tenacious. Even my multi-layer lasagna technique was no match - they pushed right up through. This year, I decided I had to actually dig down and get at the root system, at least in this section where I want to garden. The good news is that because of my previous work with lasagna garden, the soil is much more workable than any other part of the yard where the ratio of soil to rock is, shall we say, limited.

After supper, a break from the garden and a walk on the beach in the brilliant evening sunshine. In this just-post-solstice time, the sun stays bright until well into the night.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Slow Labour, Good Results

We arrived in Gillams to temperatures around 45F/7C, grey skies and gusting winds. It was a bit of shock after sweating it out in New York the previous weeks. It seemed amazing that the leaves were nearly out on the trees and flowers were blooming. The cycle of nature will continue ceaselessly despite a refusal to advance into summer on the part of the weather, or so it seems.

Then the sun came out yesterday afternoon. I tossed my To-Do list for the dyeing/spinning workshop aside and dove into my garden. Well, first I had to find my garden.

Here is a bed that I have reclaimed from the weeds. Doesn't look like much? Check out the other three beds and then get back to me.

Over the winter, I put down plastic over the beds and, for as long as the weather permitted, I dumped our kitchen compost under the plastic. When we left in March, I peeked under the plastic and nothing had decomposed - it looked exactly like it did the day I put it there. This has changed. Everything is beautifully decomposed and the soil is gorgeous, or it is gorgeous once the weeds are pulled. As you can see, the weeds won't be stopped by flimsy plastic. It is slow work but it is good work.

I have been reading Gardening at the Dragon's Gate by Wendy Johnson. She was the head gardener at Green Gulch for three decades and she has a lot to share about living with your garden - getting your hands dirty in the soil and in your life. Her chapter on compost is incredible. I feel newly inspired to be more systematic about my composting and quite humbled before this miracle of life and death. It is a beautiful book and I highly recommend it.

Of course, she is gardening in California, which is a far cry from Newfoundland. We will never have vast fields of diverse vegetables and fruits. Her point, however, is that the gardener needs to become intimate with the soil, with the garden. Instead of fighting reality and bemoaning the fact that we will never, ever grow a watermelon in Newfoundland, we need to embrace what we have and embrace it completely.

It is the only way to garden.

Chives with strawberries in bloom behind.

A little visitor to the strawberry patch.

Reclaiming the yard is a process. A slow process.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Day on the Water

Despite the gale warnings, the ferry was on schedule.

The view of North Sydney Harbour from our cabin window. Looks calm enough. We booked a cabin even for the day crossing - I fully took advantage of having a place to lay my weary head and slept for most of the journey. Thank you Gravol!

A weak attempt to capture the waves, which were, as predicted, about 3-4 meters. The ferry, being much larger, mostly shimmied and swayed but occasionally slammed. Have I mentioned? Thank you, Gravol!

The most beautiful sight - the barren rocks of Port aux Basques come into view. I saw that Hannah shared my sense of relief. It isn't so much about simply getting off the boat because being on the boat is never as terrible as I imagine it will be and always ends up being, dare I say it, fun. No, there is just something about being back on the island. It definitely makes me wonder why I ever left.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Well-Worn Path

The path between Sunnyside and Gillams is pretty well-worn at this point. We are making this south to north version of the trip for something on the order of the twelfth time, making this our twenty-fourth or -fifth ferry crossing. You would think I would treat it like old hat by now but I don't. Obviously I must love the exquisite torture of checking the marine forecast ixty-zillion times, making myself sick to my stomach worrying about wind speeds and wave height and on and on.

Funny, however, that this time I have not been worrying at all. It's late June! The weather will be fabulous!

See how magical thinking works. Because I wasn't using my mind power to keep the winds down by worrying them to death, the forecast is actually horrible: gale force winds and four meter waves. On the plus side, I am so tired from driving the past two days that I don't even care anymore.

A few pictorial highlights:

The famous Mel's Tea Room in Sackville, NB. We always try to plan it so we can have lunch there. The food is actually pretty bad but the atmosphere is wonderful. The sign outside completely tells the story of what you will find inside.

Packed in among the spinning wheels and guitars.

Finn gets the special seat, designated for the snack-hander-backer. He fulfills his duty well.

The strange and wonderful radio tower thingies that loom on the landscape just before entering Nova Scotia. The signage at the gate leading up to them doesn't really answer all the questions these things give rise to. Atlantic Canadian friends, can you explain?

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Blank, 1978.
Photograph copyright: Richard Serra. Photo credit: Gianfranco Gorgoni.

One of the places on our must-see list with Hannah was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Finn and Lucy were very excited to show her all their favourite places in the Museum. They were so excited, in fact, that they told me to buzz off so they could show Hannah around themselves without my interference. Suddenly I had the opportunity to wander around the Museum without needing to compromise about what I looked at with the tastes of two highly opinionated teenagers (or nearly teenagers). I tried to hide my glee as we set a time to reconnoitre and ran off to see the exhibition of Richard Serra drawings - an exhibition that they would never have let me see in the way I wanted to see it.

The Serra drawings exhibition is quite near the Alexander McQueen exhibition; both are in the contemporary art wing. The Alexander McQueen exhibition had a line that nearly circled the interior of the museum, with waits of about two hours. The Richard Serra exhibition was blissfully empty, except for a few lost tourists who would rush through the galleries saying things like, "What? Another one? They are all black!" I guess the lesson here is that wild fashion has it all over minimalist drawings. But I think we knew that, right?

My own feelings about Richard Serra's work are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, I find it so arrogant and macho that I want to hate it and dismiss him as, well, arrogant and macho. On the other hand, the work is so damn moving and speaks to me very physically about what it means to be a human being. (Shaking fist in the air) Why must you make me put tiresome qualifications on my dislike of you, Richard Serra?

When I was working as a public art administrator, the book, The Titled Arc Controversy was required reading. Since part of my motivation to work in public art was a desire to bring art out of museums and galleries and make it accessible to everyone on the street, I wanted to dislike Tilted Arc. There was something so bold about the piece. It was a kind of in-your-face, go f**k yourself gesture that was exactly the opposite of what I thought I was advocating. But I remember experiencing the piece several times before it was removed in 1989. It was amazing and powerful and beautiful in ways that were both grand and subtle. I find it hard to believe that anyone could stand near it and not feel something. When I read about Serra's reaction, it was equally bold and powerful and subtle and smart. I stood (and stand) firmly on the side that thinks it was wrong to remove it.

But the drawings. The drawings are not all equals in my opinion. My personal favourites were the ones done on linen, large rectangles mostly, with black oil stick covering every inch of their surface. The piece, Blank, show in the photograph above that I took from the Met website, is in the exhibition. I stood in the middle of the space created by the two drawings and took their presence in via my peripheral vision. There was a perfect point at which to do this actually, which makes me wonder if it was what the artist intended.

The experience was powerful. Again and again, I was deeply affected by the drawings - how they made me feel and how they made me see. They got me thinking about making new work, work of a nature that isn't really what I might call "my thing". That experience was powerful too.

So my dance with Richard Serra continues, even as I still would never put him on my Top 10 Favourites list. Maybe I need to make a little room for him there. Still, I shudder to write that - it feels so wrong. And yet...

PS. When I met up with the group again (at the Temple of Dendur), I asked Hannah how she liked the Met. Her answer, "If I don't get out of here, I am going to die." I think it was a little overwhelming for her.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Eat Local

Our Sunnyside neighbor has a red currant bush that is very prolific. Last year I asked him if I could harvest the currants and make jelly if I shared the resulting jars with him. He looked at me with some doubt in his eyes but agreed. The currants were harvested and frozen but no jelly was produced.

This year, as the little berries began to form, he asked me if I wanted them, this time with a laugh as if to say "yah, that jelly sure was good last year."

He and his wife are away at the moment but when they return...

Thursday, June 16, 2011


First bus ride, first airplane ride, first time traveling alone, first time having a passport, first time at an aquarium, first New York hotdog from a cart, first museum visit, first time using chop sticks, first time eating carrot soup, first Thai food, first subway ride, first sandy beach, first time (really) swimming in the ocean, first time seeing the Statue of Liberty, first time going over a really, really big bridge...

What's in store for us today?

Monday, June 13, 2011


Although we are busy with Hannah visiting and with our preparations to head back to Gillams, I have been feeling like I am poised and just about ready to leap into a very busy time. If my proposal to the Craft Biennale in Korea is accepted, it will mean that I immediately have to set to work at full speed. And did I mention that there will be a participatory element? Full details to come, if it all pans out. If this all works out (notice all the "if's"! No chickens will be counted before hatching!), I will be begging for your assistance! Fingers crossed - you know how I do love to beg.

Of course this opportunity popped into my inbox just as I had assumed all my winter proposals had come up empty and it was time to re-focus for a while. I had decided that I would attempt to learn to make traditional kimono. From my experiences making small repairs to the kimono of my teacher and some of the other monastics, I have become fascinated with the construction of them. They are quite unlike any western-made garment I have seen. There also seems to be a need to have someone in the sangha who possesses this skill since everyone is wearing kimono that are almost see-through from wear and tear. It is taking the whole "patch robed monk" thing a little too far perhaps.

I started researching and, recently, I asked one of the monastics to be my guinea pig and suffer with me through all the mistakes and wrong turns. She agreed and I thought I had my summer project.

I photographed some of the seams so I could see them while in Newfoundland, away from kimono-wearing monastics.

Now it appears possible that I might have two summer projects. In any case, after two months having no idea what the next hour might bring, let alone the next day or week or month, it feels good to have a small sense of purpose and direction.

Fingers crossed.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tick, Tick, Tick...

Lucy and I are getting ready to go pick up her friend, Hannah, from Newark Airport. Hannah bravely agreed to visit us here for the next ten days or so, all by herself. It will be her first time off the island of Newfoundland, her first airplane ride (and first ferry ride on the return), and her first experience of a city larger than 150,000 people. I think it is going to be really interesting.

Hannah's visit also reminds me that we only have about ten more days before we head back to Gillams. The clock is much to do!

One of the things to be done this weekend is prepare a proposal to the Cheongju Craft Biennale in Cheongju, Korea. They have invited me to create a site-specific project as part of that event there this fall.

La la la....five la la....1500 la la

The clock is ticking.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

39 Ceramic Versions

Last night I went with some friends to see WAR (Women Art Revolution),a film by Lynn Hershman Leeson. It isn't a great film in the sense that it is a bit all over the place visually and in the storyline, but it is a great film in that it presents intimate, first hand interviews with the most important artists from the Feminist art movement, most of them filmed in the filmmaker's living room. In fact, one thing that becomes clear is that a lot of the feminist movement, art and otherwise, happened in living rooms with just a handful of people deciding they have had enough. We should remember that.

(photo of Suzanne Lacy in her film, "Where Meat Comes From", 1976.)

One of my companions who is herself something of a Feminist mover and shaker of the Third Wave variety, thought the movie emphasized too much the early works made by women who got fed up being fed an art history that pretended that women didn't even exist. She is right that it somewhat glosses over what came afterwards - work that injects more humour into the message and explores the issues with less dogma and more complexity. Personally, I was totally digging everything about the early work last night, including how it was so serious and ernest. I even was loving its dated-ness, but especially the way the artists knew they were changing something just by getting together, meeting and talking without any male presence to validate the experience.

It feels very innocent now but also sincere and wonderful and angry (and rightly so). Even Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party, a piece that I have turned my nose up at more than once, found a new place in my heart when I saw footage taken from 1990 in the House of Representatives with various representatives (all male, all white) explaining why they wanted to pass a bill (a bill!) that would forbid The Dinner Party from being shown in a government-funded art institution in Washington DC.

"I do not want to see 39 ceramic versions of women's vaginal areas!" one of them sputtered (to big laughs in the theatre, I have to add). His comment left me wondering about male vaginal areas, but I digress.

One of the most alarming scenes in the movie, for me, however was taken much more recently. In 2006, the filmmaker stood outside the Whitney Museum on Madision Avenue and asked museum-goers to name three women artists. No one could.

Clearly there is work still to be done. The filmmaker has set up a website that is intended to be an archive of women's art - women are invited to upload their projects there. I haven't given it more than a quick look but you can check it out.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Small Miracles

By all rights, these should have fallen apart at each and every stage of their creation. But they didn't.

Take Heed, 2011

Yes, 2011. Both are porcelain with blue wash and clear glaze.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Slanting Sunlight and the Private Parts of Cephalopods

On Saturday I had the pleasure of teaching a lovely group of young women how to spin on a spindle. Eager, interested and very anxious to learn this skill - what else could one ask for?

Flowers, as it turns out.

Since I was offering my instruction for love not money, they generously arrived with a giant floral arrangement and delicious snacks. Could there be a more perfect group of teenagers? I think not. And they didn't even know that I am slightly obsessed with ikebana. I thought it was probably best not to tell them that I would pull apart the arrangement as soon as they left. It looked a bit overstuffed in a very American way to my newly-trained eyes. Now I have loads of material to work with for the next week or so. Pure delight!

I wouldn't bother you with yet more photos of flowers except that the light this morning was stunning and I couldn't resist a few shots.

Who isn't a sucker for slanting sunlight on petals?

Lest you think I will be taking photos of kittens and puppies next, let me share with you a photo I took last week when F&L and I went to Mitsuwa for the gourmet food festival.

Snicker, snicker. That sign (and the food) kept us in good humour for the whole afternoon.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Gone Bamboo

Yesterday an email popped into my inbox. It was the fourth such email in about a month or so - "While we did not select your project to be funded, we want to thank you for..."

The kind decline.

As an artist for over two decades, I am very well familiar with the kind decline. Also the abrupt decline, the silence that means a decline, and the rude rejection. It is part of the deal and it rarely needs to be taken personally, if ever. Indeed, most of the places where I was applying were choosing something like 60 projects out of 4,000 applicants. Seriously. You would have to be even more delusional than I am to believe that there was any specific personal message in not beating those odds.

And yet. And yet, there is still a sting, a little moment of ouch. Yesterday, to get the fourth in a row of said emails and to get it in the middle of a time when I am seriously and deeply considering how art will occupy my life in the coming years, well, I have to admit, I wallowed in that sting for a bit.

After a good dose of "nobody wuvs me", I decided the right and proper medicine would be to go out in the backyard and dig up the bamboo that has been taunting me for the past couple of years. Eradicate was my watch word!

Surely the combination of sweat, dirt and hard labour would dispel any lingering notions of self-pity.

(This picture is included only to sort of illustrate how bamboo growing inside of my compost bin caused the top to lift off completely. I begin to suspect that bamboo is possessed of some other worldly spirit...)

Unless, of course, the bamboo itself were to cause a sense of deep despair and hopelessness. But that couldn't happen. Right?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


The almost-summer light yesterday morning was seductive.

These climbing roses are old enough to have a delicious scent that is especially in evidence in the morning and evening.

No need to do anything but stand there and breathe.

Funny, little columbines...they have grown up in the cracks in our concrete patch where the clothesline resides. I don't see any of their cousins in our neighbor's yards, so I am not sure where the seeds blew in from.

The raspberries have bounced back after being decimated by a misinformed gardener. They seem extra lively this year.

Wild roses, also blown in from who-knows-where have taken up residence near the back. They tend to be a bit too aggressive for my taste - also too prickly! I will trim them back heavily once their cute blossoms fade. They look eager to please but I am not so sure they are on the up and up.

Our peas begin to reach for the sky....