Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The First of May

I am delighted when people wear plants, and I am delighted when I get to turn a calendar page. Thus today is particularly fine, seeing as how it is May Day and a good excuse to put on a wreath of flowers.

I made one from felt for my granddaughter, Heidi, and although I am not sure she will be wearing it today, I like to think she will -- somewhere in New Jersey, perhaps in a garden, with sun on her shoulders.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


In my experience, making a book is a slow and oddly tense undertaking. For my current project based on the first chapter of Margaret Fuller's Summer on the Lakes in 1843, the initial challenge was accurately transcribing the original text, including checking on antique spellings such as visiters and choak. Because I am not using imposition software to organize the folios of words and image, I have to depend upon myself to make sure everything is in the right order and right-side-up. As any proofreader knows, this is a challenge when you are really, really familiar with the text. 

When the twenty-two folios of this book, five folded pages each, were assembled, I was ready to sew them together. You might imagine this to be peaceful, meditative process, but hanging on to the ever-tall stack of pages while wielding the needle and waxed thread, not tying myself in knots, is no easy task.

Gluing up the sewn book block brings stability and a growing sense of bookiness to the whole thing. As of this morning, the body is secure, the end bands tight and straight, and Ms. Fuller's heady description of Niagara Falls is ready for a spine.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Heightened Sensibility

 For a few years I have been circling gingerly around a book project suggested by Priscilla Juvelis, the astute owner of  Priscilla Juvelis Rare Books in Kennebunkport. She thought that the writings of Margaret Fuller -- author, editor, journalist, literary critic, educator, Transcendentalist, and women’s rights advocate -- would resonate with me and with the themes I bring to my book object work. Priscilla was right, and I am intrigued by this Margaret Fuller -- trail-blazing, intellectual, and highly, deeply sensitive.

Her book Summer on the Lakes in 1843 is packed with observations about the journey she made from the cultured atmosphere of Cambridge and Concord to the wilds of Buffalo, Chicago, and Milwaukee. It is, however, her nearly fevered experience of Niagara Falls that asked to be transcribed, translated, and re-imagined in my studio.

I have had my own love affair with Niagara Falls, and Margaret Fuller's response is entirely understandable to me. The phenomenon of the place nearly undoes her sensibilities:

"My nerves, too much braced up by such an atmosphere, do not well bear the continual stress of sight and sound. For here there is no escape from the weight of a perpetual creation; all other forms and motions come and go, the tide rises and recedes, the wind, at its mightiest,moves in gales and gusts, but here is really an incessant, an indefatigable motion. Awake or asleep, there is no escape, still this rushing round you and through you. It is in this way I have most felt the grandeur---somewhat eternal, if not infinite."

So now I have gathered my own easily excited nerves and have embarked on a book of only one chapter -- Niagara, June 10, 1843. Her words are illustrated and, I hope, illuminated by my digital composites of rocks and water. The book will be dense with paper, thread, transparency, and rhythm. The structure that will house it is still in my mind --- sparkling, fluid, heavy, blue, and vivid.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Past in My Hands

My studio days are full of interest as I help a friend with a mounting and framing project. She is the custodian of memorabilia belonging to one of the American soldiers who was on Okinawa in 1946. The collection of personal objects, military medals, and photographs fairly hums with voices from the past.

I lived on Okinawa in the late 1960's when the Ryukyu Islands were still under United States military command, and it is compelling to see the same regalia on the dancers, the same landscape, and the same tomb entrances we sought out, interested in the island's culture, decades after the battle for Okinawa.

How different the perspective of this young G.I. who notes on the back of one photograph that these are the people he was fighting against only weeks before. In the collection is a Japanese flag, the Rising Sun hand-stitched on a tan field that is, most curiously, painted with an image of Mount Fuji, a torii, and the words "Okinawa." What can be the story of this remarkable piece of cloth?

Handling these objects and helping to preserve them is a moving experience, resonating with vivid history and private lives. It is just the kind of thing that makes a studio life so rich.

Friday, December 14, 2012


When I am not in the studio, I work for a really big retail store. One of my jobs is putting stuff on the shelves. The other is picking up after people when they decide that they really don't want to purchase something. This second assignment is tremendously interesting. For example: here I am, going along, efficiently plumping up spa towels, when all of a sudden I find an Angry Birds sippy cup, tucked discretely behind a stack of Muddy Azure Luxury Bath Sheets. And look over there, behind the Down-Alternative Pillows! A manly-sized bag of beef jerky.

Because there is no designated dumping bin in the store to stash the things you realize you don't need, can't afford, or never should have picked up in the first place, you have to do something with your tube of Peppermint-flavored Pringles Potato Chips. I understand. You could trek back to the Healthy Snack Section, or you could make better use of your time and put it somewhere where it would eventually be found and returned to its proper home.

I am endlessly intrigued by this unchoosing process. As shoppers, we have a sense that there must be cameras or people watching us and that unloading the item that has lost its allure will probably be observed. Right? Wrong. I have yet to see the stashing of an orphan product, When I find one, I do like to think about the shopper's strategy: 

1) Putting this thing here is not really not too far from where I got it. 
2) It's kind of the same shape and sort of the same color as the stuff already here.
3) Someone in the diaper aisle may just happen to need romantic pillar candles.
4) I really have to get out of this store. Sorry. 

It's okay. Really.  When you have to discard a sweater in the pickle section, don't feel bad. You have entertained me.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My Powerful and Sweet Dragon

I am lucky to have Louise. She has been my friend since we met in sixth grade and discovered that there could be -- if the stars are right -- someone else who is just like you. Sure, I know that it is wonderful and challenging to encounter and to love people who are total mysteries to your mind and heart, but you can't beat having a friend like Louise

She is not a simple person, although her way of living is careful and orderly. She is utterly brilliant, but her way of being in the world is respectful, inquisitive, and admiring. Louise has a potter's gesture that reveals itself when she is making tea or making up the guest room. She knows just about all there is to know about Asian ceramics but is always on the prowl for new ideas and other ways of looking at things.

For her birthday, for the new year, and to mark our long and important friendship, Louise sent me a  beautiful Vietnamese robe. She and I will wear these dragons on our spines, together, simultaneously, and forever.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

All I Want for Christmas is a Goat

It is interesting to me that these days the main actors in Christmas traditions are human or at least as human-like as angels and elves can be. Perhaps this anthromorphing has something to with the Age of Reason,  the Industrial Age, or man's supposed mastery over  the planet. Who knows? In contrast, old Scandinavian traditions designated a goat as the driving force of Christmas. This animal, the Julebukk, was the mythic descendent of Thor's companion. In rowdy Viking ceremonies, the divine and fearsome goat was portrayed by a man who would customarily die and be born again.

The early Nordic Christians raised the stakes and viewed the goat as a sort of welcome devil who would appear in times of wild celebration. The Church was not pleased, thank you very much, and forbade the Christmas Goat which, when not acting out, had turned to supervising Christmas preparations and giving gifts.  Eventually the active role of the Julebukk faded, to be replaced by the Julenissen, the Christmas Troll.

You had to watch out for the Julenissen as well. If  you did not provide it with a Christmas Eve bowl of rømmegrøt, a porridge made of sour cream, whole milk, wheat flour, butter and salt, it would retaliate by killing all your cattle. Norwegians take things very seriously.

When I spent a Christmas in Norway, we set a straw Julebukk next to the chimney to guard the rømmegrøt, and -- sure enough -- everything turned out fine. So tonight, as Christmas Evening comes to us, I wish you friendly visitations and much joy.