Home again

August 21, 2014

Last week I breathed North Carolina mountain air, wore a sweater at night to ward off the chill and watched large moths and fireflies (or were they fairies?) flit about in the early evening from the second floor porch of the inn where I was staying.

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I was in West Jefferson and visiting the Florence Thomas Art School where we (Janine LeBlanc & I) taught two workshops. One was three full days of explorations in shibori and “dipping” in the indigo dye vat. The second was a 3 hour introductory session on Saturday.

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Both experiences were rewarding and needless to say, a delight. We enjoyed their new location on main street, in Ray’s Hardware. The front display windows were a fun venue for showing off student dye pieces. We did our best to attract the passersby.

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We also stayed at the Meadowsweet Gardens Inn, a bed and breakfast with gardens to capture the imagination – certainly mine. I kept thinking of Beatrix Potter while walking through vine covered arches and exploring the perennials. Breakfasts were also a huge plus (fresh biscuits and zucchini bread…), sustaining for the day ahead.

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As I’d been missing the butterflies in my home garden, it was reassuring to see an abundance of them exploring Debbie’s Phlox. On my return home, I did see a swallowtail sail through my front yard.

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With the completion of these last two workshops, summer teaching is complete. I’m looking forward to an exhibit coming up next month with my Threads group at Meredith College.  A workshop at Pullen Arts Center begins in October as well.

other scenes

August 7, 2014
Rodin garden

Rodin garden – a welcome

Did someone say “Welcome to my world?”  Maybe… a “dip” in that incredibly refreshing environment was needed – a place that took me to another place, even if it was for a moment. I suspect that’s why it’s there.

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The lush bamboo greens, darting blue dragonflies (and a butterfly) hovering above the pink and salmon blooms, floating on a deep blue black reflecting pool brought some relief from the morning’s heat and humidity.

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This week has mostly been devoted to prepping for upcoming workshops in West Jefferson (next week) and tending to some planning for next year. It has felt a bit non-stop, so the museum visit was a welcome break.

Ships in a Stormy Sea off a Coast - Ludholf Backhuysen - circa 1700-1705

Ships in a Stormy Sea off a Coast – Ludholf Backhuysen – circa 1700-1705 (NCMA collection)

A new source of inspiration was the museum library, so made a point of exploring the stacks, then moved on to the galleries where I explored 16th and 17th century painting by the Dutch. That was inspired by a recent book club read, Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton – sometimes challenging because of the vivid and brutally honest descriptions about events, personalities and their actions in the development of those early trade routes, particularly the Dutch & English East India Companies. I learned a good deal, it’s well-written, but more than my imagination needed at times. It doesn’t need saying that all too often history is glossed over or romanticized.  This was not romantic.

an iron trunk also in the NCMA collection

an iron trunk also in the NCMA collection

I’m reading a lot of history these days, following different paths, but it seems to be where the indigo is taking me, on different journeys – herbs, spices, dyes…they have their stories.

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Next week, as I mentioned earlier, Janine LeBlanc and I will be presenting indigo and shibori in the Blue Ridge Mountains for a few days. I’m looking forward to a different landscape – a different scene.

a small piece of summer

July 31, 2014

For the last 7 years, a small part of my summer has consisted of offering workshops for youth at Artspace. It feels like ‘if it isn’t Artspace, it isn’t summer’ – something like that. This year has been no different, except that the students were a little older (between middle and high school) and all girls. It’s been a delight – a quiet delight which I hope means they were just focused.

Intro. to....

Intro. to….

The goal was simply to introduce students to indigo, its “oblique personality” and to the beauty and intrigue of creating pattern in blue and white.

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I’ve enjoyed seeing their progress as they experiment with the different processes. Rather than give them a specific product to complete, it has been more of an encounter and exploration.

arashi plus

Arashi plus – variations around the technique

I approached it this way simply because they are more “advanced” in age and able to handle the challenges. There have probably been some downsides to this, but on the other hand I’m learning about the realities of teaching an ancient craft to these “high-tech” learners.  In this situation I’m also a student.

things missing

July 24, 2014

Something’s been missing in my summer “garden scape” – the glimmer of a swallowtail’s wing. I’ve been looking for them, inviting them with specific plants, expecting them, sure I was just missing their fleeting appearances. I’ve seen hummingbirds and heard the cicadas, but, no butterflies. The day I planted the butterfly weed, a small one paused briefly, but otherwise nothing. It’s been strange not to see any at all. Last week’s article in the paper (and other resources) explained it.

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 Earlier in the week: daily rain kept activity indoors preparing for next week’s class at Artspace – cutting fabric into workable pieces and pressing out the wrinkles. That aspect is mostly complete and I think I’m nearly ready for the week. There hasn’t been time to make or work further on other pieces.

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However, a few months ago I was asked to work up a piece… kanji in shibori on indigo. That is also nearly finished – just the casings at the top and bottom. The characters, 尺八 (shakuhachi) are about the bamboo reed instrument.

It also brings to mind a memory – the komuso who occasionally stopped by our house in Kagoshima. They stood outside our gate or stepped just inside the yard, playing their haunting melodies and soliciting for the local temple. They never spoke, just appeared mysteriously, played and left without a word.  Did anyone give them a few coins?  That’s the part that’s missing.

summer works

July 17, 2014

This month, more than the others, so far, seems to be the peak month for “projects”. At least it feels like the month for completing some of the more significant ones for events ahead.
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Christine best described here some aspects of one I’ve been participating in since spring.  I mentioned it earlier, and as far as I know, my part is finally complete and turned in (last weekend). I can only say that I’m grateful for the experience, the ability to participate and learn from it – gifts from Cheryl. I also look forward to seeing it in its final form.

Kumo-banner

As I mentioned in my last entry, I was (and still am) working to complete a series of large banners. They’ve been my focus over this week and I’m working on the last one today. The size (roughly 55” x 144” (4 yds.) is definitely outside of my usual and there were some challenges.

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Those challenges are also why I take on projects like this.   I ask myself a lot of “why” and “how” questions – nothing like tickling the brain.  Also, this month and next are matsuri (festival) months – these are the colors and patterns that speak of summer – found in yukata – worn at matsuri.  It’s the season for this kind of work.

buffeted

Then, there are the results, seeing them on my clothesline, being carried on the wind like a kite – if there’s a good wind. There was, this week, with thunderstorms on the edge, threatening.

more than….

July 10, 2014

Over the holiday, visits to both the farmer’s market and art museum were refreshing. Hurricane Arthur’s rain bands surprisingly downed a few trees in the area, but later also brought lower temps and less humidity for a few days – a suggestion of autumn in summer’s heat.

Sunflowers at the market

Sunflowers at the market

always the heron

always the heron

This week and beyond though, the focus is on completing ‘that’ piece that I think of as ensō. It needed stretching over a surface and fastened securely.

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The linen I dyed earlier has finally been stretched over a frame and layers of batting and cotton. The silk, the final layer, is in process of being stitched to that canvas. I don’t want to rush this.  That’s been most of this week’s work – most.

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However, a few other things are in process as well – a series of banners. I ‘jumped’ into this first one probably more quickly than I should have. I followed my usual process, but there were some unexpected aspects that cropped up. It couldn’t be resolved in this piece, but did manage to work around it with some satisfaction. My dad used to say “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

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reflecting on color

July 3, 2014

This week has felt more like holiday or pre-holiday…something like that. While I have been occupied with preparing for other upcoming workshops and activities, there’s still been a lightness. The sense of “work” hasn’t been there.

week's pieces

red, white & blues

The first prep involves getting ready for the youth Artspace class which I’ve been teaching for more than 5 years now. It has always involved the younger (rising 3rd – 5th grades) group. Last year I decided to “promote” myself to an older set (it’s OK to do this), and will be working with rising 7th-10th grades. At the moment I’m gathering materials (cloth, thread, needles, tools, etc.) and re-thinking the “lesson” approaches. This class takes place at the end of the month.

discovery

discovery

Shortly after Artspace, in mid-August, Janine LeBlanc and I will make our way to West Jefferson, NC for a several days workshop at Florence Thomas Art School. We found our last experience there to be exhilarating (enthusiastic students), refreshing and just a lot of fun. If, dear reader, you are interested in participating, please see the description on my “Workshops” page.

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With the heat, of course, the dye doesn’t like being neglected. I do my best to do “something” just to keep it content. I’ve been wanting to repeat working with red, white and blue patterning again. Fortunately, I had a red and white scarf from previous dye work.  All I needed to do was add that blue element.

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As I watched the colors emerge and change, I couldn’t help but reflect on their symbolism, their history, and the peoples involved in the making of these blues in particular.   There are many and it goes deep.

 

 

All in tune

June 26, 2014

A dripping June sets all in tune. (proverb)
雨の多い6月は、作物を定着させる。(ことわざ)
Ame no ooi roku gatsu wa, sakubutsu o teichaku saseru. (kotowaza)

Over last weekend we officially stepped into the next season. The cicadas say so with their loud mi—mi—miii- and so far, the persimmons are growing plumper by the week. They are not quite golf ball size yet.

Kaki Canopy

Kaki Canopy

Most of the previous week went into preparing for a much anticipated workshop at the NC Museum of Art as well as continued over dyeing on a length of linen. The piece is still on pause at the moment, but the workshop took place over the weekend.

in the studio

in the studio

Needless to say, it was a delight and that was due to the very game participants who were eager to “swim” or immerse in the blue. I told my mother they were “up to their elbows.” That’s almost no exaggeration.

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early in the process, so things look pretty neat

My goal was to give them as full an overview of the subject matter as time allowed. They had 2 full days to manipulate cloth pieces by binding, clamping, stitching and pole wrapping. By the second day, each student, it seems, found favorite areas of focus and pursued those approaches.

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arashi was a winner

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While this was a ‘full experience’ with students being given a variety of tools (never enough) to at least suggest the variety of possibilities in this kind of pattern making, my thoughts run to simplifying things. How to do more with less? Or simply with less and accomplish the same?  Summer has more challenges ahead.

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In my last entry I mentioned an exercise or sample piece in process. It was finally completed in class and dyed, but had to dry it at home. It’s a thing that wanted trying – good for the fingers, the brain, simply good practice – makiage (stitched & bound) shibori.  From start to finish, it took a week to take it this far. The next step is a mystery.

in summer’s heat already

June 19, 2014

Working in the heat is a foregone conclusion. It’s what I look forward to after winter’s chill. Indigo prefers the warmer environment and I enjoy working outdoors. Generally it’s quiet, there’s birdsong and insect cry. There’s also the light.

value

When the cloth pieces are in natural light I get a better sense of color and its value. It’s about color here, definitely, but it’s also the depth of it. I’ve added more indigo this week, but I’m wondering if it’s enough. I’ll give the vat a rest and a refresh for a few days and add a few more layers. At some point this has to stop. It’ll be an arbitrary decision.

progress

This week’s piece is still in progress, but it’s nearing the end. It’ll acquire the needed color at this weekend’s workshop. It’s an exercise, practice in technique, experimentation, something I’ve wanted to try for a while. While working on it last night though, I wondered about taking the idea in different directions. This was after my encounter with Shonibare’s work, the new installation on the museum grounds.

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Yesterday’s stroll in the heat was well worth the effort. I’ve been considering connections between pieces in our museum collection and the workshop – are there any and if so, which ones?.   To answer that, yes, there are a few that relate in regard to indigo. This is something else however, and I wonder how this weekend’s participants will respond? I look forward to a discussion.

*about Yinka Shonibare and this piece:
“None of us have isolated identities anymore, and that’s a factor of globalization ultimately. I suppose I’m a direct product of that. The fabrics I use look like they could be just African, because they are used a lot there. But what you see on the surface is not really what you always get. The fabric has a complicated history in its trade routes: it was originally designed as an Indonesian fabric, produced by the Dutch, and the British sold it into the African market. It’s a perfect metaphor for multilayered identities.”

 

 

sunny with thunder

June 13, 2014

Actually, it finally manifests in a soaking storm. Even though, it has been possible to put a few things in the vat and on the line. Today was not the case though.

As my son is home for a brief visit, we headed to the museum to see Estampas de la raza /Prints for the People. This was my second visit and could be back for more as there is so much to be considered from a cultural and historical perspective, just for starters.

My son mentioned Artemio Rodriguez, so I paid attention to his work this time around and later looked through a book containing nothing but his prints – strong and thought provoking.  We also viewed Raúl Colón’s enchanting illustrations which also presented some of the same ideas, similar perspectives, but a different approach.

linen in indigo

linen in indigo

Through the week, though, the focus has been on dyeing the above piece of linen that will serve as a canvas for a piece I think of as an “ensō.”  The dominant motif is circular.  It’s of Gunma silk that has had the sericin removed. At this point it needs to be stretched over the linen.

detail view - not so deep, but it's a reflective dyestuff

detail view – not so deep, but it’s a reflective dyestuff

Reaching that depth of hue has really been the “chase” this week. The above photo shows it much lighter than it really is. Still, the process may be continuing into next week.

手で・te de ・by hand

手で・te de ・by hand

May’s first event, Herbfest, sparked an older idea I return to from time to time – exploring aspects of my “other” language.

Coming up next week, I’ll be spending an evening with Twisted Threads presenting a discussion and encounter with indigo (and shibori).  Then over the weekend, time will be spent in a studio at the NC Museum of Art presenting a 2 day workshop on the same topic.


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