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The books I have worked on over the past few months have in common the topic of multiculturalism, but each book focuses on different aspects of the topic. Friends is a light hearted look at a group of girls from different cultures enjoying a day outdoors. A Prayer for Justice and Peace is based on the imagery I made to participate in the Raise Your Voice mural project at the Hickory Museum of Art. That project responded to the recent protests on racial injustice. The Big Questionaddresses the irony with regard to why people easily accept differences in appearance among animals but not among other human beings.
These pieces were made using a variety of media including, but not limited to: relief printing, drypoint, embroidery, and collage to name a few. I often get ideas for books in my mind but it may take months before the ideas take form physically. And even when I think I know how I am going to go about making the images and constructing the piece, it often changes during the course of the process. Figuring all this out and seeing how it turns out, for me, is the fun of making art.
Letterboxing is one of those odd past times that when you discover it, you can’t believe it has been going on all this time right under your nose. I learned of it from an old customer while I was set up at an art show in a park. The best website to learn about letterboxing is here, but a quick explanation would be “a scavenger hunt where each party exchanges rubber stamp imprints”.
After that customer told me about letterboxing, I looked it up when I got home and saw that there was a box hidden at the very park where the art show was. So I took one of my rubber stamps and a notebook and printed out the clues and the next morning after I set up my booth I grabbed my friend Claudia and we searched for the box. It took us only a short time to find it. Instant success, I was hooked!!!!
I have letterboxed off and on over the years and spoke about it with my friendAlice who also heard of it but never embarked on it. So we finally set out to letterbox together. Recently, somebody planted a whole pile in the areas near where we live. Alice and I like to walk so she recommended two that were within a few miles of each other and offered sidewalks so we could safely get there.
The first was a graveyard that is part of Davidson College and the occupants of that cemetery were associated with the college in some capacity. Alice filled me in on some of the local history and we found our box which was called Alpha and Omega. All letterboxes have a theme. This appropriately used the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet to symbolize the beginning and end of life. The photo above shows an imprint of the stamp made by the person who planted this box that contains the letters Alpha and Omega. This person is a magnificent carver and also planted and carved the stamp for the next box.
I was pretty excited about our next stop because I have heard about the Homeless Jesusstatue but never saw it. It was one of those things I was going to get around to. So that was the day. We arrived at the church and first viewed the Homeless Jesus who was right out front. Now according to Alice, the statue caused quite a bit of controversy when it was first placed but now is accepted among the community at large. What is very nice is that a space is left at the end of the bench so if you want, you sit next to the sculpture. I did not do that but think I will go back in the future to do that. I enjoy finding quiet places to sit and contemplate and this would be one of those places. Apparently there are several of these sculptures so maybe there is one near your community.
So at first I thought the clues to this box were too easy because it gave you exact directions: “Turn right on the path and the box is hidden in the bush at the end of the building.” Sounded easy enough until you get to the end of the building and see lots of bushes. Eventually, we found it and exchanged stamps and signed the box log book. If you return to the photo with the Alpha Omega imprint, you can also see the stamp for this box which is the face of Jesus.
So that was our adventure Letterboxing! Happy that so many new ones have been planted.
One of the things I mentioned in my last post was a trip to the James F. Matthews Center for Biodiversity to pick up specimens that needed to be mounted. Many of you have expressed interest in this task so I figured I would document and discuss some of the process.
Mounting for me at home is fairly easy since I have a studio space. Above you see the basic set up: the plant, a tub of slightly watered down glue, some brushes, a small bowl of water, and to the right a piece of paper on cardboard. To my left out of view is a box of a few handy tools such as small scissors, tweezers, linen tape, some tissues, and a stiff brush for cleaning up dirt. And, of course, the essential radio. Now I know that my artist friends are going to ask what type of glue? We use Ph neutral PVA made by Lineco.
So here is the first specimen. Opening the paper up is like opening a gift because I never know what is going to be inside. This is a grass and, as you can see, there are several pieces here and they will not all fit on the paper so decisions have to be made. The most important part of any specimen is the flowers and fruit so I will choose the piece that has the most of those structures. There are also lots of root clumps so it will be important to show that. All the specimens contain the stems and some leaves.
Here is the piece I decided should be mounted. It shows a good clump of roots, three flowering/fruiting structures, and leaves and stems. I put it on the paper to make sure it fits and then I will need to brush the dirt off the paper and remove the dirt from the roots. It is very important when deciding the place and position of the plant to remember that other things will be put on the paper such as the scientific label, accessioning number, and other information needed for the database. So space is needed in the lower right and left corners and the upper left corner because that is where this information will be placed.
Above you will see a stiff brush that was used to brush the dry mud off the specimen’s root clump. There were also some lovely flowering/fruiting structures on the other plants not selected so I cut off two of those and made a side pouch which will also be mounted with the plant. If possible, it is always good to include some additional flowering/fruit structures in a protective pouch because, especially in this type of specimen, they can fall off the mounted specimen if not careful. I have circled the roots and additional structures in red so they stand out easily against the busy newspaper background.
Glue is applied carefully to the larger parts of the specimen and then carefully laid on the paper. The paper used is also a very particular paper especially made for this purpose. It is an archival paper measuring 11.5″ x 16.5 inches.
Above is the finished specimen. Notice the pouch off to the side and the scientific label. The label always goes on the bottom right and contains information such as the name of the plant, where it was collected, a description of the surroundings, the date, and who collected the specimen.
Sometimes I get very lucky and a specimen is pretty much ready just the way it was pressed like this Sambucus. These flowers are very delicate and, if you look for the red circles, you will see some flowers have fallen off. I will collect these and make a pouch for them as was done with the grass.
Here is the mounted Sambucus. I marked the pouch with a red x (not really, just in this presentation) and there is also a red arrow pointing to something that I call a bridge though I am sure there is a more technical name. These are made out of archival linen tape. You cut pieces very thinly then wet them ever so slightly with water (this is one of the functions of the small bowl of water with the small brush. The other function is to clean up excess glue that may have gotten on the plant in the process of mounting it). The bridge is to anchor a part of the plant that will not stick to the paper with the glue, such as a woody stem. If you look at the leaf above the pouch you will see that it looks lighter. That is because this is the other side of the leaf. When mounting, you want to try to show both sides so it is always a good idea to turn one leaf over if none have naturally positioned themselves that way.
The last thing to show is what happens after the plant is mounted. It is covered with wax paper and small weights, which are actually pieces of hardware. Weights are placed to make sure the plant stays put while the glue sets. The plants sit out for a least a day then will be accessioned into the collection.
Like most people, I have lost track of how long we have been living an altered life style. But last week I had what almost resembled what I would have considered a normal week at one point. So I will recap it here as a reminder that, with adjustments and care, we can sort of move forward a bit.
Monday – I installed my piece Prayer for Justice and Peace on the Raise Your Voice community mural at the Hickory Museum of Art. The mural is a 75 foot long, 9 feet high piece of canvas installed in the museum’s main gallery. They invited people to submit their ideas on social justice. They graciously accepted my proposal but I choose to work on my section at home on a large sheet of paper (6 feet x 3 feet) and then mount it on the canvas when it was complete. So on Monday, I went to install my section. It was a wonderful experience and I felt very safe the way they arranged for every person participating to be there at different times. Of course I wore a mask as did the gallery manger. The other pieces installed were extremely powerful but museum policy is that I can only share my own work at this time. When the museum photographs the project, then I will be able to share their links. (Note – since this post was written a time lapsed version of Phase 2 of the mural installation is now available here)
Tuesday – Tomato harvest day. At 6:45 a.m. I headed over to my friend’s “garden” which consists of 350 tomato plants and an odd assortment of okra, cucumber, and who knows what else that he decided to plant this year. After all, he is cutting back (so he says). Now this is a man who spent his entire life farming. He is now 92 and growing things is what keeps him going so his daughter and I talked him into planting a few tomato plants this year. Of course this was before we knew about a pandemic and our idea of a few plants was maybe 50 tomato plants and a few other odds and ends. Well so much for plans. In his mind, what he planted is scaled back from whatever he did at another point in his life. Everything is relative.
Wednesday – I had a Zoom meeting with artist friends from the Plastic Club, an historic artist club from my old home town. We were going over the details of a program I will be presenting. I am still of the opinion that, on the whole, more good things are coming out of this goofy situation than bad things. Lots of new ideas, ways of approaching things that I think will be useful when this is far behind us. But what is most interesting about this Zoom meeting is that not only have I connected with many people I have not seen in quite awhile but have managed to make new artist friends. Wonderful!
Thursday – not really memorable. I seem to recall being aggravated by something that I now cannot remember so that goes to show it was not worth being aggravated over to begin with. Note taken for future.
Friday – I had an appointment to go to the herbarium where I volunteer in order to pick up work to bring home. Right before everything shut down, the herbarium was given an enormous amount of collected plant specimens that needed mounting. Having the plants sit around waiting to be mounted is not a great thing so these arrangements were made. I was not allowed in the building so the staff brought everything out to my car. It was really wonderful to see “the gang” at the herbarium – Lenny, Stefanie, and Dr. Jim Matthews, who the herbarium is named after. The herbarium is one of my earliest social encounters in North Carolina and will always hold a dear place in my heart. I have posted other articles on collecting specimens that you may have read. The only mishap out of this was that the glue we use spilled on the floor of the back of my car. Oh well!
Saturday – we steamed cleaned the carpets. I am not fond of our carpets but since we live in an apartment I have little choice. After we had done the entire apartment we realized the plug was faulty. Of course, I still worried over this after-the-fact event. Anyway, the carpet is greatly improved and we have decided to hire someone in the future.
Sunday – Today we had an earthquake. Like I said, it was almost a normal week.
Cats on the brain. Here are a few new block prints. Some of these I did in early spring and the astronomy one I finished this week. I waited to put them up here and on Etsy until I found a post office I didn’t mind going to!
This spring I sort of binge watched Mad Men. I had no intention of binge watching it but Netflix was cancelling it as of mid June. Man Men isn’t an easy show to binge watch because it is filled with nuanced behavior and speech. It is also kind of dark but I managed to watch about 1.5 per night.
Since I had seen the series before, I figured I would add a bit of fun to my viewing schedule by giving myself a task. I decided I would count how many “encounters” Don Draper had with women over the course of the entire series which explains the title of this blog post. It was critical to pinpoint the exact indiscretion I was tracking in the title to this post since Don seemed to engage in so many.
Don is married to Betty Draper
Midge, the graphic artist
Rachael Menken, the department store owner
Don is married to Betty Draper
Bobbie Barrett, manager and wife of a well known comedian
Joy, a young girl in California living a jet set version of a vagabond life
Don is married to Betty Draper
Shelly, an airline stewardess (that was the job title then). You only saw her once but you got the idea they squeezed each other in during layovers
Suzanne Farrell, Don’s daughter’s teacher.
Don is now divorced from is wife, Betty, so he makes up for any lost opportunities
A prostitute he sees regularly, name not mentioned
Allison, his secretary
A woman from an ad agency, a one night thing
Doris, another one night thing
Bethany, a friend of Jane who is Roger’s wife
Dr. Faye Miller, a psychological consultant under contract with Don’s firm
Meagan Calvet, his secretary
Don is now married to Meagan, his former secretary. He actually behaves himself for this whole season.
Don is married to Megan.
Sylvia Rosen, his neighbor downstairs
Betty (Draper) Francis, his former wife
Don is now separated and eventually divorced from Meagan
My tenth birthday fell on Passover. I was raised as an Italian Catholic but a friend of mine was Jewish and her family invited me to their Seder that year. I was not sure what that was but my father, who was very big on experiencing other cultures, insisted I attend. So I did. Though it was a traditional Seder as far as the prayers and the main meal, at the end they bought out a birthday cake for me. I did not understand until much later why my parents found that to be so amusing.
Because I grew up in a large city, there were always enclaves of different racial and ethic groups close by and in attendance at my school . Oddly, it was when we moved to a suburban area that I experienced the most diversity as far as close neighbors. The majority of the families living on our block were either African American, Jewish, or Italian.
So I knew first hand that being among others unlike me racially or ethnically enabled me to see things from other points of view and helped me to be very accepting of others. It was not until much later that I also began to think of diversity in terms of geographic culture or in relation to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Enter my friend Claudia who is from Tennessee. I met Claudia doing art fairs and at that time she had been a resident of the North for many years. Not all that long ago in the grand scheme of all the years I have known Claudia, I asked her how she landed North. College was what bought Claudia North and among the many reasons she was accepted at her college was “diversity”. I never thought of someone from the South as “diverse” in the sense of my definition of the word. But then I moved to the South.
Assumptions – Front Cover
Assumptions, artist book addressing geographic food preferences
Here, I have met many wonderful Southern people. And yes, they are different from me in many ways and it has enriched my life tremendously. Ok how are they different? Here are just a few: food, general mannerisms, figures of speech, humor, influence of faith, etc. Not long ago, my friend Alice revealed to me that she is originally from the town where My Cousin Vinny was filmed. I was overjoyed because I absolutely LOVE that movie as it reminds me of several of my relatives. We decided that at some point, we will have a Vinny party and observe and explain the various cultural nuances of the movie to one another.
On a very different level but still related very much to point of view, last night I watched an interview with Melinda Gates. I am paraphrasing this story but basically she was explaining that it was very difficult for some groups of people and women to get business funding from venture capitalists and gave a very interesting example involving an African American woman who wanted to start a hair braiding business. Because the VC’s were men who had little interest in hair, they asked their wives if they thought it was a good investment. Because the wives were not African American and did not understand the culture of hair in the African American community, they said they did not think it was a good idea. I believe the woman eventually got funding and was wildly successful, however, it shows how unawareness and an unwillingness to learn of a facet of someone’s culture can be a detriment to everyone involved.
In the past few years, my life has been enriched even more because people of different racial and ethic origins are now related to me by blood. This has had a profound effect on my thinking because now my world has been expanded to consider issues concerning places around the entire globe.
My title to this post is How to Enrich your Life. While it may not be easy to learn about someone different from you by traveling , moving, or acquiring new relatives there are so many other ways a person can. There are books, documentaries, organizations with an internet presence, different houses of worship, and meetings in your community that would welcome visitors. So I guess what I am trying to get at here is that the more we reach out to people who are not like us, the richer our lives will be and hopefully we will be better people for the effort.
Note: you can read more about the piece pictured above titled The Other by clicking here.
When I used to walk around my old neighborhood looking for sidewalk weeds, one that I came upon often was Carolina Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense) and Eastern Black Nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum). These plants, though pretty, are considered nasty weeds by many gardeners and home owners. Adding aid to that general consensus are the facts that they are also prickly to touch and poisonous. Anyway, I always thought they were very pretty flowers and spent a great deal of time studying the flower’s star shape and how the color of the stamens and pistils contrasted nicely with the petals and how they protruded added more interest to the overall flower shape.
Fast forward a few years and I found myself working as a farm hand in North Carolina helping to farm, mainly, tomatoes. When you tend to approximately 2,000 tomato plants you kind of get familiar with them. One day I noticed that the flowers of the tomato plants had a very familiar look.
I saw the same star shape as the nightshades plants mentioned above and the same type of protrusion of the stamens and pistils. Because there were several waste fields around where I farmed, it was not difficult to pluck and few flowers from each plant and compare them up close to one another. When I went home, I looked in my field guides and learned that Tomatoes are also in the genus Solanum. As the summer went on and I watched some of the other crops flower and fruit, I saw a few other versions of this same flower on plants like potatoes and bell peppers. My point is this: observation is a far better tool than calling something up on a smart phone, which you will probably forget two seconds later. This is why drawing is also a valuable exercise to really learn what something looks like. So put away your smart phone. Use your eyes, nose, and ears and maybe even a pencil and pad of paper to learn about nature in a truly meaningful and unforgettable way.
Below are the photos above with a few others views so you can see a side by side comparison.
Swarthmore College Library is presenting Hyper Local: New Works in the Swarthmore College Libraries Collection. I am honored to be part of this collection and exhibition. Because of the current health situation, this exhibition is available online. Click here to view the 24 books included.