Saturday, June 24, 2017

Separating from Star

"I have a nasty addiction to brake fluid.  But I can stop any time I want."

That was about the gist of the patter during the silent auction at StarArts week the other night.  When I think about it now, newly arrived home, that corny joke sweetens the bittersweetness of departure.

And we all left this morning.

 Joe, who led the morning stretching class, rode the ferry back to Portsmouth in style:

There was joie de vivre on the ferry back to reality. But the truth is, my week on Star started with a thud when a serious bout of sea sickness sent me to the doctor:

Thanks to a dose of Zofran, a dose of sea air, and a dose of scenery, I'd recovered by the middle of the next morning.

Speaking of scenery, this place has scenery the way Manhattan has traffic:

So many images to carry away!

 Like these :

  •  Joe leading the morning stretching on the porch of the big old Oceanic hotel:

  • The dining room.  I have to admit that every time I walked into that cacophonous space, I felt like the new kid on the first day of school, over and over, looking for a friendly place to sit.  The experience underscored the introvert in me.  Nevertheless, I ended up having many satisfying conversations with the folks at my table even if the initial plunge-in intimidated me.  If I go back to Star, maybe I'll see more familiar faces the more I visit.  That seems to be the way it works with a lot of the other attendees.  Friendships build up over the years.
In fact, this place has quite a following.  There's even a cheer which folks perform as the ferry arrives and as it departs, punctuated by the cry, "You will come back! You will come back! You will come back!"

  • My room:

It was a little bit Spartan, in its own Victorian way, but it had a water view, which is more than I can say for my bedroom at home.

  • The Sons of Poseidon. Where else in the world can you find a singing group called the Sons of Poseidon? That's Peter, on the left, who has a very interesting job in Riverside, California. He interviews actors to play patients for the purposes of medical school training.

  • Lady, who is a black lab, and her owner, Jean, who is blind from birth.  Lady celebrated a birthday during our week, and to celebrate, Jean let her off her harness.
 Lady gave me my dog fix, as I'd left my own two standard poodles at home. I don't just like dogs, I love dogs.
 I bonded with Jean over a discussion of Julia Ward Howe, who was married to the first director of the Perkins Institute for the Blind, the school that Jean attended from kindergarten through high school. I told Jean that according to a new biography by Elaine Showalter, Julia Ward Howe's husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, treated her with tyrannical condescension, for example, forcing her to undergo childbirth without anesthesia  mansplaining to her that "women need discipline: 'The pains of child birth are meant by a beneficent creator to be the means of leading them back to lives of temperance, exercise and reason.'" Jean was very interested to hear all that because the great man was revered at her school.  Take a look at that biography. Samuel Gridley Howe was in love with another man, and Julia Ward Howe wrote a novel about hermaphrodite behavior,

  • The poignancy of the cemetery:

  • The quality of my felting students' art:

I'll never forget the zest with which they created it.  My goodness, those ladies loved felting:

Our sessions only took place from 10 a.m. to noon, but so many of the students spent their off-hours in the classroom, felting away:

Others took their work out to the porch in the afternoon:

It's deeply gratifying to me to be able to share one of my favorite arts and foster a passion for it in others!

I might have taken better photos if I'd taken John Snell's photography class, but of course I couldn't because I was teaching my own class.  I did get to see some of John's work, though, and I want you to see how stunning it is:

  • Conversations.  So many of them.  With Kristin, Pat, Jean, Eileen, Kathy, Ruth Ann, Michele and others.

Shine on, Star!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Silliness on Star Island

So, here on Star Island, where I'm spending the week teaching The Felted Landscape for Star Arts week,, there are lots of other activities going on besides arts.

The other night there was a storytelling hour.  One of the craziest was told by one of a pair of sisters who lived together in an apartment when they were both young and starting out.  One day one of them presented the other with a penis-shaped candle for a gift.  The other, thereupon, finding an abandoned pair of men's underpants in a laundromat, brought it home and made a display of the underpants and the candle on the other sister's bed.  Soon the two developed a running joke of passing the underpants back and forth between them, with stealth in delivery as one of their goals.  The more sneaky the delivery, the better.  The sister who won the prize for the best transfer of the underpants rolled them up into a tight package,  wrapped them in foil, and baked them into a treat she knew her sister loved and craved. a loaf of Irish bread.

Then there was the story of the thumb.  This story was about an elderly mother who, with her children's help, went to live in an assisted living place.  The children asked her which of her things from her home she wanted to take with her to her new home, and they gathered and took those things.
But after the mom got to the new place, she continually thought of items she wished she had taken with her.  Her kids would try to track down these precious items in whatever thrift shop they had ended up in.  Sometimes they were forced to resort to E-Bay, in the hope that the mom wouldn't realize that she was only receiving a look-alike, not the real thing. Mostly that worked, until the mom asked for a certain little decorative box.  The kids went back to the thrift store where it had been taken, and the box wasn't to be found.  So they went and asked the mom why the box was so important to her.

The mom said that one Sunday, when all the family except the mom had gone out, she decided to saw some wood.  In the process of sawing the wood, she sawed off her thumb, and it flew off yonder, never to be seen again...until a few months later, that is, when she found her mummified thumb in the wood pile.  She put it in the little box as a memento.  And that's the box that her children couldn't find.  Don't know if they ever did find it.

So that's why, after the story hour had ended, one of the other Star Arts conferees came up and asked me on the sly if I could give her enough wool roving to make a three-dimensional thumb.  She made the thumb--I haven't seen it yet--and deposited it in a decorative box that was for sale here as part of the silent auction.  Heh heh.  We hope the buyer gets the joke when s/he opens that box.

Then there's Eileen Frigon.  When we first met each other, she said, "I'm Eileen. I lean."  She's a wild and crazy lady, a former elementary school teacher, who likes to talk about having to warn her students not to make jokes about her last name.  She told them, "It's 'free-gone.'  When you get out of school, you're free, and you're gone."  She tells lots of stories like that with lots of friggin' craziness.  I love her.  Here she is taking her felting out to the porch of an afternoon.

Then there's the wake-up chorus.  Every morning between 7 and 7:40, a group of women goes around to all the rooms in the hotel and in the outlying cottages, singing a wake up song.  The first morning I was here, they sang "Coffee, coffee, coffee," in harmony, to the tune of "Holy, holy, holy,"  On another morning they sang, "We gather together to call you to breakfast," to the tune of the Thanksgiving song, "We Gather Together."  Then they announce the air temperature, the forecast, the menu for breakfast, and the word for the day.  Today the word was "joy."

Good word for this place.  You know what we do instead of applause, in the chapel, when someone has played a particularly lovely song on the violin or the hammered dulcimer?  Instead of clapping, we rub our hands together.  They sound like a chorus of gently rustling leaves.  Gentle and joyful.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Shining from Star

Wouldn't it be great if you could take a picture of your soul?
Then when your mother wanted to brag about you
she could show people the picture and say,
"That's my daughter, doesn't she have a beautiful soul,
all sparkly and many-colored and flowing all around her?"

Wouldn't it be great if we walked around
surrounded by our souls,
so that they were the first things people saw
instead of the last things?

This was the message this morning delivered from the chapel service on Star Island.

Yes, was my answer, yes and yes.

There's a lot of spirituality here, and maybe that's why I'm beginning to feel I'm in a spiritual home.  So much spirit! So much art!

Like this impromptu sing-along this afternoon on the porch:

And this little performance-sing along by a New York vocal coach who is one of the other instructors, accompanied by one of my co-conferees who happens to play the violin:

 And the people who are so turned on by my felting class.  They love it.  Here's my class:

 Here's some of the students' work.  They're blowing me away!

People love it so much that some of them are doing it outside our 10 am to noon classroom time.  Like this gal who took her felting out to the porch:

 It's so gratifying for me to share his beloved creative exercise from my heart.

The view from the classroom window isn't bad either:

How would you like to teach in a classroom with that kind of view?

How about the other activities?  Geology walk, botany walk, boat rides, social hour, auction, swimming, porch sitting...the list goes on.

I love it all, but especially I love the morning chapel services in the 200 year-old chapel.

One of the songs we sang this morning asked the question,

How could anyone ever tell you
You were anything less than beautiful
How could anyone ever tell you
You were less than whole?

Here on Star, they never would.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My current adventure: a week of teaching on Star Island

I was invited to teach felting on Star Island about three months ago, and I spent the last of those three months planning my lessons, packing three big boxes of felting supplies to send to the island, and worrying.  Sometimes I think that worrying is a necessary prequel to a challenging new adventure. What could go wrong?  The boxes, with all the supplies I needed, could fail to arrive.  Or I could get sick and toss my cookies on the way to the island.

The boxes arrived.

But the cookies did get tossed.

It was a little bit choppy out there on the way to Star from the Portsmouth ferry dock.    The ferry that carried me, the Thomas Laighton,  looked like a pretty good, big, stable boat.

Not stable enough for me, though.  When I got to the island after the one hour trip, shivering with cold sweat and trembling with rubber legs, the steps up to the Oceanic Hotel, where I would be staying, looked like Mt. Everest to me.  Can you see them?

I couldn't eat dinner that night, and trembling though I was, I was required to deliver a short speech to the assembled Star Arts attendees, describing the felting workshops I would be leading every morning from 10 to 12.  I managed to do that, then retired to my room, where the tossing of the cookies continued.  I knew I was dehydrated and needed water, but I couldn't keep it down.  My head pounded. I was trembling and scared. Being alone here, I was afraid of what might happen overnight. So I decided I had to go to the island doctor, who wasn't even technically on duty at that time.  She lives in a little house not very far from where I was staying, but I had to be delivered there in a golf cart.

She was so kind.  She said she had worked in the medical unit of a big university for 23 years, and she regularly saw students who were dehydrated from throwing up, especially on weekends.  They needed intravenous rehydration, but I didn't need that, fortunately.  Instead, the doctor gave me two anti-nausea pills, Zofran.  She said they were developed for the nausea of chemotherapy, and for that reason they Then some tylenol for the headache.  After about 45 minutes, the trembling and the head pounding were about 60 percent gone, so the kind doctor walked me back to the Oceanic Hotel, where I was staying.  I slid into sleep and was awakened in the morning by a troop of women, singing in harmony outside my door, to the tune of Holy, Holy, Holy: "Coffee, coffee, coffee...."  and then announcing the temperature, 63 degrees, and the weather, foggy.

After that I knew it was going to be a great day.  And it was.  My empty stomach appreciated the breakfast.  The chapel service after that was peaceful and thoughtful. Afterward I delivered three "Taster's Choice" talks and demos, half an hour each, to give people a chance to decide which arts programs they wanted to take for the week.  What great choices:  Bollywood dancing, for example, music, writing, and photography are a few of the others in addition to mine.

I got a lot of interest.  I think over 20 people are going to take my class, a few of them men.  Here's the room where I'll be teaching:

I don't know who the random guy is.  But I can tell you there are ocean views from all the windows.

Most of my visitors this morning were fascinated by this most user-friendly and tactile of arts. I think we're going to have a good time together every morning from 10 to 12.

And there are a lot of other things to do when the art workshops aren't happening.  A geology walk.  A botany walk.  Stretching.  Chi Gong.  Yoga. Boat rides (I think I'll pass on those this time). Afternoon tea.  A talk called Ghosts and Graveyards.  An auction. A talent show.  Chapel services twice daily.  I'm gonna be so well rounded!

Meanwhile, take a look at this place!  It's over 100 years old  It's such a big rickety old building, I half expect Jack Nicholson to show his deranged face around a corner.
 But it's not scary, it's quaint. In so many ways, it's a throwback to the Victorian era ,when families would come out here and spend the whole summer.  Check out the Victorian-ness of the Pink Parlor.  Because this room is carpeted, I chose it for my pre-surgical physical therapy exercises.

And here's the dining room:
I can tell you it's cacophonous when full.  Echoey.  In fact, this whole place is echoey.  But that's part of its Victorian charm.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Allure of the Isles of Shoals

Why am I writing about the Isles of Shoals?  Because, after hearing for years about these lowlying fogbound rocks, seven miles out to sea off the coasts of Maine and New Hampshire--a time during which, in my imagination, they acquired the allure of mystery, beauty, and tragedy--now I finally get to go to one of them, Star Island, to teach art for a week.

Have you ever heard of them? If you've spent any time on the coast of Maine or New Hampshire, as I have, you'll know them as the place from which the National Weather Service broadcasts its forecasts.  That's how I first heard of them.  Listening to those forecasts coming in on my weather radio from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Isle of Shoals station, , I pictured a chilly place with a bell buoy tolling in the background.

Then I started learning, haphazardly and without specific intention, about the reality of the Isles of Shoals.

First I read The Weight of Water, a haunting novel by Anita Shreve, focusing on a murder that took place among the Isles of Shoals, on Smuttynose Island, in 1873.  That enigmatic story told me that the Isles, barren as they are, are lived in and on, and have been.

Later I learned that they were even a popular resort in the 19th century, with the Oceanic Hotel operating on Star Island, the Mid-Ocean House on Smuttynose, and Appledore House on Appledore.  Appledore House, presided over by Celia Thaxter,  daughter of a light keeper, attracted luminaries including Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sarah Orne Jewett, William Morris Hunt, and Childe Hassam.

As I gardener, I learned that Hassam, one of my favorite American Impressionists, had painted Thaxter's stunning garden on Appledore.

In fact, Hassam's paintings, and Thaxter's writing, have been published together in a slipcase volume called An Island Garden, which I was lucky enough to receive as a gift from my friend Laurel.

Thaxter's gardens have been restored as part of the University of New Hampshire's Shoals Marine Laboratory, and people who plan ahead and make reservations can still visit them. 

I also heard about Appledore from my friend Andy, who visits that island at least once a year.  Andy is an HR professional who is also a birder, and the Isles of Shoals are the focus of her bird-banding trips.

Then, when I started going to a Unitarian church, the Unitarian Society of Hartford,, I learned about Star Island.  I heard people talking about the island as a beloved destination for family visits.  The Oceanic Hotel is still standing there,

and in the spring and summer seasons, it's the site of themed conferences and personal retreats administered by the Star Island Corporation, which is affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ  In administering these programs, the Star Island Corporation seeks to create an environment that "frees all who come to renew spiritually, explore matters of consequence, and gain knowledge about the world as it might ideally be."

Still, I'd never been there, to Star or any of the other Isles of Shoals, when the story of a life-changing experience on Star Island made a profound impression on me.  The story came from one of my co-congregants at the Unitarian Society of Hartford, Karl Peters, a Professor Emeritus of Religion at Rollins College, in Winter Park, Florida, speaking from the pulpit.   Peters describes this transformative experience in his book, Spiritual Transformation:  Science, Religion, and Human Becoming, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006, but that day he told the story at a Sunday service.

Peters said that he had been on Star Island attending a session of the Institute of Religion in and Age of Science, when he experienced what he calls a "thin place"--"a Celtic Christian metaphor for coming in contact with the sacred, which is present all around and in and through us, but which often is hidden from us."

Thin places can also be places of worship, Peters said. One of his most memorable worship experiences took place in a small stone chapel located on the highest point of Star island.  "Each night on Star Island," Peters writes, " the conference day closes with a simple candlelight service. Conferees carry candle lanterns from the porch of the hotel up the path to the chapel. Once inside they hang the lanterns on sconces, bathing the chapel in its only source of light. It’s a beautiful setting.

"One time in the early 1970s the Star Island chapel became for me a thin place. The conference had been a wonderful week of exciting ideas and meaningful conversations. I felt good as I walked up the path to the chapel in silence, carrying my lantern. Ahead of me I noticed that some were looking north at the sky. When I turned, I saw the most magnificent display of northern lights I had ever seen. In the chapel I sat in the back corner. As was customary in those days at our religion and science conference, the Friday night candlelight was a Jewish Shabbat service, conducted by Rabbi Jerome Molino and his wife Rhoda Molino from Danbury, CT. The service was all in Hebrew. I did not understand a word. But as I sat in this candle-lit stone chapel, listing to the sacred sounds of the service, something came over me. I can’t describe it. The whole week, the aurora borealis, the chapel all came together in an absolutely thrilling way. I sat there in silence, tingling, emotionally moved to tears at the beauty of what I felt. Today, I would say that I was experiencing a thin place."

Peters' words never left me.  They, and the lonely words from the National Weather Service, The Weight of Water, Celia Thaxter's garden, and my friend Andy's birding, all gave the Isles of Shoals a sharp allure in my imagination.

And now  I get to go there.  I've been invited, by the Star Island Corporation, to teach at Star Arts Week this year from June 17 to 24.  I'll be teaching The Felted Landscape, and I'm thrilled to be seeing the grand old Oceanic Hotel and the stone chapel.  I'm told there will even be a trip to Appledore Island to see Thaxter's garden some time during the week.

I'm excited.  And I'm going to read The Weight of Water again.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Floating Lessons

Sometimes the only way I learn things is the hard way.  That's been my experience as my art quilts transition into a gallery environment, where presentation standards are different, and new to me.  My latest adventure is with the floating frame.  You might say I needed floating lessons.

Two respected sources affiliated with two Connecticut art galleries have suggested that I present my work differently by using something called a floating frame.  I'd never heard of a floating frame, but the folks at Jerry's Artarama showed me a couple of kinds.  I think I found what the ladies had in mind.  So I took one of my seascapes, which had been mounted on stretcher bars covered with burlap which had been handpainted blue (to give it a weatherbeaten nautical effect), took it off the burlap, and mounted it in a floating frame.  Here are before and after shots:

Eastham Low Tide, mounted on handpainted burlap fastened to stretcher bars.

The woman at the gallery where I presented this piece had a visceral aversion to the burlap and said that it wouldn't be acceptable in her gallery.  Who knew?  Well, I do, now.

So I took the burlap off the stretcher bars, took the piece off the burlap, and took the binding off the piece. Once I had it down to  its unbound self, I straightened the edges and sewed borders of black canvas on the horizontal and then the vertical sides.  The canvas border was then fastened around a purchased canvas and the whole encased in a floater frame.  Thus:

What do you think of this?  I think it's lost some of its quiltiness--it's touchable texture--but gained in painterliness.

The next one, Low Tide First Encounter Beach II,  was juried into a show at a Connecticut gallery in the summer of 2016, but when the gallery manager saw it, she sent me back to the drawing board, pointing out that the natural-color canvas on which the piece was mounted was dirty, and that the binding around parts of the quilt was crooked.

I took it off the canvas, took the binding off it, straightened the edges, added borders of black canvas around the edges, and mounted it in a floater frame.

What do you think?  Has the presentation improved?  You would have had to see it in person, I suppose, to appreciate the difference, but I understand what the gallery manager was saying, and I think it's an improvement.  

But I'd be happy to hear from my quilting friends out there about this procedure as applied to your own work.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Speed Bumps on the Road to Gallery Readiness

I'm passionate enough about my fiber art to seek recognition and a wider audience for it.  That's why I enter my work into juried shows.

In the past few months, I've had my work accepted into shows at two Connecticut galleries, which was thrilling for me.

But both galleries sent me back to the drawing board on my presentation.  Now mind you, I'm not quarreling with their judgment or conclusions.  I'm just telling you what they said.  Because I'm learning how fiber art, viewed in some quarters as an "applied" art, makes the transition to settings usually associated with "fine" art. 

In one case, a juried show at a gallery, I had to take the pieces off the stretcher bars and remount them in a way that appeared cleaner and more finished.  In another case, a gallery show in which I was an invited artist, I was asked to swap out an entire piece and replace it with one that was mounted better.  This time, the rejected piece, Eastham Low Tide, a whole cloth quilt showing a tidal landscape, had a surround of hand painted burlap.  Because the painting on the burlap was uneven, and because the burlap itself had a close association with craft, I was asked to replace this piece with something else.

I have to tell you that Eastham Low Tide has already been accepted into two juried shows, both of them sponsored by local nonprofit art leagues.  I imagine that proprietary art galleries, even art galleries that are co-ops, need to be more exacting about the art they accept because profit is more of a priority for them.  Am I right?

Eastham Low Tide (2015)

I gave the gallery several choices with which to replace Eastham Low Tide, and they chose Foggy Coast because its mounting was superior:  background was a muted neutral color and was not blotchy.

Foggy Coast (2014)
 They also approved of the mounting on the piece below, which is called Penwood Overlook, Fall.  The mounting of this piece has a finished appearance, and the corduroy, despite its utilitarian origin as a home decorator fabric, actually enhances the piece.

For future reference, this gallery is recommending floating frames, and I'm looking into that.  With a floating frame, the idea, if I understand it correctly, is that I would mount a piece on a canvas or on stretcher bars that are exactly its same size.  No surround, just the piece itself, mounted on bars.  (I guess I would have to apply a modest, invisible facing to achieve this goal).

 Then THAT piece would be inserted into another frame that gives it a floating appearance.  Here are a couple of examples.

I think that's the idea.  So, I'm looking into what it's going to take to mount my images in this way. I'm going to start with three--if I can, because these pieces are not standard sizes--and see what happens.

If this is what it takes to make the transition to a fine-art setting, I'm going to give it a try.  But I have to admit that this type of presentation would be prohibitive for my larger quilts, which are free-hanging and not mounted on stretcher bars.  This one, for example, is 40 x 40:

What would it take to put this in a floating frame?  Why should I?  Are the art gallery standards inappropriate for art quilts and fiber arts in general?  And the larger question:  am I willing to make this change in order to allow my work to make the transition to proprietary venues where it will be accepted as "fine" art? 

Have you other fiber artists ever thought about this?  What do you think?