Friday, October 12, 2007

Touring Studios

Last weekend I went up north to visit my sister and go on a Studio Tour. Great idea, the studio tour. You travel around the countryside, visiting artists' homes and studios to see where and how they work. Local galleries and shops put on their best clothes and invite you in as well.

What I liked best about this tour was the beauty of our surroundings. A few years ago I went to California for the first time and drove the Pacific Coast Highway. It was a breathtaking and unexpectedly moving experience. As I followed Highway 35 south from the Twin Cities I found myself reminded of that experience, especially just outside Maiden Rock, on the eastern shores of Lake Pepin. There were the same winding roads, and stunning vistas, with rolling landscapes, and views of trees clinging to vertical cliffs on the left and a shining expanse of water on the right.

Okay, so the cliffs weren't as tall as the California mountains, and the shining waters were clearly bounded on the other side of the lake, no more than 2 or 3 miles to the west, as opposed to the limitless expanse of water you see when you stand at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. But the feeling you got, of straddling some magical line, between land and water, sky and earth, was definitely echoed in this almost hidden Midwestern landscape.

And the towns (it would be an aggrandizement of monumental proportions to call them cities, and even the word "towns" is, in some cases, quite a stretch) are also reminiscent of a deep history. Small wooden houses, most wearing their century of life with weary dignity, cluster together, and for this weekend, show off their party colors.

We stopped first in Maiden Rock. It was a glorious fall Saturday, if a bit too warm (it eventually reached 90 degrees that day - and in Wisconsin, October is usually more like 50 to 60 degrees, with 70 degrees a welcome departure) and being a Saturday in Wisconsin, there was a farmer's market. Two tables. One with the biggest jar of homemade pickles I've ever seen for $10 and the other with a small selection of late season veggies, like squash and some late tomatoes.

For such a small town (I think the population was around 300) it had an amazing variety of art galleries and shops. We went to two. The first was a little converted house with beautiful contemporary art. Drawings of huge flocks of birds juxtaposed with interesting multimedia stuff. I can't list too much because as we were looking around the owner had to close for a few minutes. So we wandered up the street to a place called Basil's. This old house clings to the sidewalk like a little old lady clutching her purse and as we went in we were bombarded with stuff. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling in paintings of vibrant blue trees against orange skies and villages with jaunty red roofs and multicolored doors. Tables in the center of the room were heaped with leather purses and birdcages, holiday decorations for every holiday, not just the one coming up, costume jewelry antiques and retro boxes, all ready to slide off into your possession. Cabinets lined the walls and the open doors were hung with feather boas and beaded wire strands. As we picked our way through the plethora of stuff the owner cheerfully confessed to us that they'd already had avalanches.

Reluctantly we left. It was 11:30 and we'd only been to three places and only one of those was actually on the art tour. Before leaving town though we stopped at the Hungry Pelican. This was a bakery with some mouthwatering goods, like sour cream and green onion foccacia cooling on a table behind the counter and raspberry cheesecake pie. We had stopped to use the facilities and loved the look of the food, but we reasoned that it was early and the line (10 deep) was a tad too long to get something to eat already, so we moved on, once again passing on the $10 jar of pickles. (One of the drawbacks to a tour like this. You either have to have an impressive bladder or be willing to cajole your way into a bathroom. Another option, which we chose not to exercise, is to pee in the woods.)

Only later did I stop to wonder why a bakery in the middle of Wisconsin was called the Hungry Pelican. More on that later.

The next town was Stockholm. I won't go into detail here. I mean. I could. There's details. But the problem is, I'm blogging, not writing a novel. Here's the skinny. Great art. Great shops. Very cool look. Cooking shop!!! Small campground on the edge of Lake Pepin complete with pelicans. Still at this point (and it's 1:30 now) have only gone to 4 out of 12 proposed sites. Time to pick up the pace so we went on to Pepin.

And ate lunch. Really nice little cafe. Not amazingly good, but certainly better than many MANY a small town cafe, and great Scotcheroos. In Pepin we saw giant bamboo and tissue paper fish made by many people in the community in workshops put on by a local artists, as well as a video about an event they had held earlier in the summer, where they built a Viking ship out of scrap wood on the shore of the lake and then lit it on fire. I began to wonder just how much time these people have on their hands. And, in at least one part of my mind, I had to ask "Why don't they do this where I live?" And don't tell me, I know the answer to that. Because I'm not out there organizing the giant Viking ship burn. Well, not yet at least.

At this point we turned up into the uplands of Wisconsin, and as we wandered through two lane country roads that dipped in and out of steep crop-lined valleys, rising periodically to ride the crests of ridges, we drove past the birth place of Laura Ingalls Wilder without even realizing it until we'd gone completely past. We realized that we could easily come back after our next stop, billed as an artist who does sculpture, so we decided to go forward.

So, you're in the middle of nowhere. The last town you drove through had a population of 4. You turn at the instigation of a small orange sign and start driving down a gravel road that goes on, up and down over hills for a few miles, until you pull into a farm house driveway where you are greeted by an enormous stone sculpture, in progress. We were delighted to find that this charming artist, Stanton Sears, was also, along with his wife, Andrea Mykelbust, responsible for bringing in the artists who orchestrated the big Viking ship burn. Sears is the creator of some stunning public art that is both architectural and oddly organic. I put their website on the list. Check it out.

After this, we went back to where Laura Ingalls Wilder was born. The thing is, they had this cabin there, and there's nothing that says that this isn't the original cabin, until you walk in and realize that there's never been a fire in the fireplace or furniture on the floors. It's a little disappointing. Kind of like realizing that those tantalizing desserts on display in the restaurant are really fakes. I mean, you still get the gist but the perfection is false.

After this we really headed into the sticks, winding down gravel roads to ramshackle houses charming decorated as only artists can, to see pottery, painting and prints. We fell in love with most of the work and all of the sites. Cooing as much over artfully planted gardens, found art sculpture and the fall of sunlight through poplar trees as we we did over hand carved figurative sculptures (Dave Ekdahl at Nopointink also on the list), stone rattles (Nancy Liedl) and landscape painted tiles (Margy Balwierz, also at Nopointink) , we wandered until even we were too tired to do anything more than turn the car north again and head home.

And that was just the first day.

Monday, September 24, 2007

More to do with Books

So this morning I was procrastinating, because I have a head cold and WAY too much homework, and I found this great blog, A Fanciful Twist. I put it on the Cool Links list down in the lower left corner there.

This woman, and I'm embarrassed to say I didn't get her name although I liked her photos very much, uses sheet music and vintage dictionaries in her art. She made a dress out of dictionary pages for one of her small figures. See? SEE? Pretty soon we'll be taking care of that excess book problem. If more people would just get busy. Pretty soon we'll be able to justify 50% of the population not reading a book!

Gotta go, I actually do have homework to attend to. Thanks to those of you who have communicated back to me. I had pretty much resigned myself that I was, in a very technologically sophisticated way, talking to myself, although not in that sort of mumbling way I do when I'm driving and I get lost or traffic is bad. I was okay with talking to myself. I was! But then I got an encouraging e-mail from Tom and a nice comment from June and I had no idea how great that would be.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Reading Books

A few Sundays ago I heard on Sunday Morning that 1 in 4 people did not read a book last year. One quarter of us didn't read a book. Okay, so I know the deal with statistics. They can really mean anything. Maybe those people only read magazines, or newspapers. Maybe they couldn't read (a horrifying thought, although, to be fair, some of our non-readers are under the age of 5 or so, and can most likely be excused on that basis.) Or maybe they, like a young woman I overheard years ago on a college campus, know how to read, but just don't want to. None of those options seem that great though.

You've probably guessed that I'm one of the rest of us who did read a book. In fact, I probably picked up the slack for several hundred of the non-book readers. I love books and if faced with a stack of them, will at the very least glance through them, if not actually read several. Almost against my will, I found myself at this summer's book free-for-nobody, the release party of the last Harry Potter book and stayed up until 3am to buy a book I could have gotten up and purchased the same morning at 8am with no waiting.

If desperate I'll read ten year old Good Housekeeping magazines. Cover to cover. I find that I do have limits though, although you wouldn't know that if you'd seen me dozing on the floor of the local Borders at 1am. This summer I found myself in the emergency room waiting area, my elderly father-in-law having needed an emergency visit. The waiting room was okay. The temperature wasn't stifling, the light was natural and the chairs weren't plastic, but they had about six magazines, and two of those were Car & Driver, one was a children's magazine, and the others were ancient Parent magazines. Apparently, all appearances to the contrary, I won't read absolutely anything. I draw the line at smoking cessation pamphlets and Car & Driver. Good for me.

The nature of a visit to the emergency room is that you aren't usually expecting to go to one, so I hadn't exactly come prepared to spend more than four hours in a room with 15 strangers, 25 chairs, a TV tuned to NASCAR, apparently permanently, and six magazines. Where were all the Women's Days and Good Housekeepings with the recipes torn out? Where were the Highlights? Where were the Better Homes and Gardens, the Wisconsin Women and the dry but serviceable Health magazines?

After more than an hour and a half of withdrawal, I left the emergency room to search the rest of the hospital. It was Sunday, and nobody goes to the hospital on Sunday (at least not anybody other than the 15 people accompanying the emergency room guests) so I had the halls to myself. Finally, about 4 sitting areas later, I found the mother lode. A cache of Architectural Digests and Home and Garden (to which Better Homes and Gardens aspires but does compare) in the surgery waiting room. And better yet, my competition was one woman, knitting and watching NASCAR.

I picked up a handful, as casually as I could, almost cringing at the thought of being caught liberating better quality magazines, and carried them down to the ER waiting room, stopping only to pay an exorbitant amount for a Diet Coke and a Snickers from a vending machine (because nobody eats in a hospital on Sunday either - well - I take that back - I could have chosen from several very well wrapped but distinctly tired looking sandwiches, apples that screamed to be released from their misery or some cereal in a covered bowl. The Snickers I knew would be exactly what I expected, the other items would certainly fail to live up to even my lowest expectations.)

Wouldn't you know it? Shortly after returning with my stolen stash, I was released from Waiting Room Hell, for a short time, and was then faced with a new dilemma. Did I leave my treasure on the tables for others to share? This was certainly more democratic and a certain justification for having stolen them in the first place. In fact, I remember feeling distinctly noble, like I was bringing good decorating to the masses. But I also knew that as soon as I left them they were fair game, and when I came back they might very well be clutched in some other hapless soul's thirsty grip. What to do. What to do.

Finally I did the only thing I was capable of doing. I put down the ones I'd already looked at, reluctantly, and tucked the one I hadn't read yet in my bag, promising myself that I'd come back and give it to the room when I returned, but rationalizing that I really had to keep something against another possible long spell in WRH. Of course, you know what happened. That night, at home, I pulled the poor magazine, boldly emblazoned with one of those bright orange "Waiting Room Copy" stickers, out of my bag, and realized that I am the reason there are no decent magazines in hospital emergency room waiting rooms.

Of course, by now, you're probably wondering what the hell this has to do with art. I mean, I did promise I'd talk about art. And this is probably wandering dangerously close to "hairball" territory, but I do have an art related theme to inject here.

As I was saying, after I heard the dismal 25% non book reading statistic, I thought, well, what do we do with all the books? I mean, we write them, we publish them, we try to sell them, we put them in libraries, and 25% of the people (and I suspect this is a growing number) don't read them. What then, do we do with all those books?

And being an artist, I began to think about some potential uses. Of course, immediately I thought about the standards (in my house at least) of coasters, end tables and presses for bills that have been soaked in water. But those really aren't that creative, they're just natural progressions. Glenn uses them for a combination sleep aid/alarm clock. He goes to bed, opens his book to read, falls asleep after three pages and then wakes up again when he drops the book on his face. This is a pretty versatile system, because it works just about anywhere, including the couch, an easy chair or the car (passenger seat of course.)

A local bookstore uses them for wallpaper, and I've seen advertisements for hardcover books sold by the yard for people who have libraries with empty shelves and no time to buy books they actually plan to read to put on them.

Still, this doesn't enter the world of art just yet. One group that has made the leap are the altered book artists. They use books as the canvas for their painting and collage efforts and end up with beautiful pieces. To see some of that go to or or just google "altered books".

And just as I was really getting into thinking about what one could do with books, build a shed, insulate your basement, make flip-flops, I ran across the latest Mary Engelbreight's Home Companion (Oct/Nov 07) with an article on folding the pages of a book to make an oddly beautiful paper sculpture. Now we're getting somewhere!

So anyway, I'm going to work on some of my book ideas and post them here.

PS: This one has nothing to do with books: I just like it. I'm working on a series of photographs of Wisconsin's capital building as reflected in the windows and reflective surfaces of the buildings around it. I took this one yesterday. I like how clean and huge the reflection is. I tried for a more complete shot of the building but would have had to stand in the middle of the pretty busy six lane East Washington Ave. and I am not crazy.

Friday, September 7, 2007


I never actually read Watership Down. Glenn, my husband, did. But I use two concepts from that book all the time.

"Tharn" which means frozen. You know when you see those bunnies in the yard, and they know you're there, and you can just tell they'd like to break like hell for the shrubbery, but they sit there, really still, hoping that you won't notice that they're sitting there? That's "tharn."

Second word/concept "hrar", meaning more than three, or way too many to keep track of.

Well, this week I spent a significant amount of time tharn because I had hrar things to do. Having a lot to do is a good thing. It keeps you busy and motivated and many people thrive on being overburdened. But sometimes it just makes you tharn.

I'm putting together an art project with my sisters so I'll post about that soon.

Monday, September 3, 2007

How I Spent my Summer Vacation

I started back to school last week, after having the summer off. In my world, having the summer off means I only have to be a mom and work, I don't have to be a mom, work and go to school. In fact, Glenn, my husband is going back to school as well. And in one of his classes, he got the classic "What I Did Over My Summer Vacation" assignment. So he went through my photo file to find some examples to use in his project. And as he went through them, I found myself watching over his shoulder, looking at them again, looking at them through his eyes.

A little background here. On January 1 of this year, I started what is probably one of the biggest projects I've ever done, not including raising children or getting a degree. I decided, after a few months of owning a digital camera, to embark on what they call a 365 project, meaning that I proposed to take at least one picture every day for a year. As of today I am almost exactly 66% of the way through this project and have accumulated well over 3000 photos. In all honesty, I've missed three days of that 240 some days but I'm not going to get too fussed about that because I had really good excuses, for all but one of those days. That one day I was just really tired.

I am not a photographer. I mean, I am a photographer, in that I take photos, but I'm not one of those people that obsesses about, or even really understands things like F-stop. I own a middle of the road point-and-shoot that I really like, and I'm constantly doing things like trying to take a close up of a flower with the "landscape" function on. In fact, until we bought this camera, if photos were seconds, my body of work would cover about a minute and a half. And that's for my entire life. Some 44 years. As part of my degree, last semester I took an Intro to Digital Photography class where I learned that I really have a lot to learn. Especially about tripods. But I am an enthusiastic amateur.

All of this explanation is not to excuse my work. I'm pretty proud of a lot of my photos. Some days I get so many pics I like that it's hard to choose one to represent the day. Other days it seems like I bail, taking utter drivel, only to come back later as I'm reviewing them and find something that I like, at least enough to be able to choose one for the day.

I've learned a great deal from this project. I always knew the world was a pretty amazing place, but now I look at it even more closely, noticing things that I might not have seen before.

I've come to appreciate the beauty of deconstruction, because it adds interest to the scene...
I've learned more about composition than I ever thought possible, mainly by being disappointed in my own, but also by taking many shots of one subject, looking for just the right composition...

I've begun to notice the sky much more than I ever did in the past (and being an artist, I really do notice a lot already...)
I appreciate the vitality of movement...
the grace and beauty of pattern...
and the secrets of detail...
I love to find great reflections...
I've learned that children often have a grace that goes unnoticed...
I've discovered the beauty of the golden hour...
and that polar bears laugh...

And mainly I've discovered how much I love to take pictures. How important it has become to me. Will I keep taking a picture every day after this project is over? I find that unlikely. But I will continue to bring my camera with me, ready for that one picture...

And of course, to be ready for the assignment about what I did over my Summer Vacation.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

First Blog

Hi. My name is Jackie. Having fussed with the idea of starting a blog for several days, probably weeks, I finally decided to just do it. So here I am. Writing a blog.

My intentions: As I am an artist, the primary intention, what you will most likely read about here, is to write about my work and what I'm developing. This is something I do not do easily. It is about as easy for me to verbalize what I'm doing and why as it is for ducks to explain how they do that cool wings spread out splooshy water landing thing.

Secondary intentions include a way to show my work, finding a community of like-minded people also trying to figure out how to land in the water without getting their heads wet, and journaling my work. I've found that when I write about my artistic intentions I have a better chance of realizing them.

In general, I don't much care for those blogs where you find yourself reading about how their cat threw up a hairball last night at three a.m. so they're pretty tired so they're just going to post about not much (my apologies to anyone reading this who sees that statement as unbelievably judgemental on my part.) I'm hoping I don't end up sounding like that. And, since blogging is pretty new to me and I have no idea who, if anyone, will even read this thing, I would like to be very funny, artistic and wonderful for you, my invisible audience, but will probably end up talking about hairballs. Ack.

My self: I'm married to a great guy who's a writer and editor and one of the funniest men I've ever met. I've got two sons, both of whom are also funny and charming and although very creative, are seemingly without an artistic bone in their bodies, although the oldest makes a mean balloon animal and the youngest is quite a tale spinner.

Currently, nearly 20 years after getting a college degree I did virtually nothing with, I am going back to tech school to get a degree in Graphic Design. Despite the fact that I took many art classes in college I did not actually acquire an art degree and, frankly, wouldn't have known what to do with one if I had. Artistically I am largely self taught. I mainly do mosaics and collage, some painting and lots more photography. More on that later. In the past I have also done one-of-a-kind dolls and quilting and will generally try any art project once.

So that's it. Well, that's not all of it. "It" would require more than the 200'ish words here, although it seems like, at times, not much more. I'm going to publish now and then go take some pictures, because it's a gorgeous late summer Sunday in the Midwest. Talk to you later, and next time I'll bring pictures.