Blog

Cleaning Out Storage and a Basket Lesson

I found these little fellows while clearing out the storage area. There is a whole lot of boxes of things that will see the burn pile soon but not these. I will find a good home for them somewhere. These were made in the mid 80s after learning how to do them from a long gone Japanese basket maker named, Theresa Ohno. She was a friend and I believe neighbor of Grace Kabel, also gone, who single-handedly brought back basket making skills to the masses by way of research into techniques, using a material new to the market as an off shoot of the rattan furniture business, and then teaching a few of us who would go on to teach others, who taught others, who taught others….

Grace Kabel wrote many hand produced books and several of us were her testers for how the instructions were written. I often got side tracked and was not a good tester. When we would meet up the next month, I would always show a less than perfect basket with inevitable variations in the materials like some wonky grapevine handle instead of the well-formed and well-instructed handle that was supposed to be there.

Anyway…..here are some other pictures of basket forms done about the same time.

My own variation on Theresa’s sheep and a candlestick. Was I really thinking of putting an open flame into it! Really dumb idea.

Because I was a loom weaver at the same time back then, I made many, many sheep.

Grace also introduced me to this technique. She taught it in the making of handbags with large materials but I only had bits of loom weaving pearled cottons. And always a bit of glitz, beads and a cord so you could wear it around your neck. Dianne Itten and Jane Sauer took this way of working to extreme heights followed by many others. I think its appeal was the individuality it afforded the maker. Lots of material and form choices. There were really no limits.

Hence my manatee.

I am quite sure I did not have “manatee” in mind when I shaped the nose over a cardboard yarn cone, but once pulled off and flattened, I could see it plain as day!

And the small arrow quiver shaped over a wooden spoon handle and a piece titled, “Rainy Nights” complete with shiny rain drops, clouds and a moon above – shaped on the yarn cone again. I actually taught this to students by taking my cones, nylon cords (that were used in the upholstery trade) and of course beads. It makes me smile when I think of all the time it took to make these and then have people ask, “What do you do with it?”

More teaching of small useless things with the materials of loom weaving.

There was not much I did not put a stick on or in. And that led to my taking on the idea of teaching “Basketry on the Loom”. I was obsessed with taking an early loom weaving pattern book, Margarite Davidson’s for sinking sheds and adapting the patterns into basket forms. Some I numbered the spokes with a harness number and wove around the basket as though I was throwing a shuttle back and forth. Each time I came around to the marked beginning, I would change the “shed” to the next pattern shot. Anyway I was asked to write an article on it for a weaving magazine based out in Colorado. Here is the black and white copies that I gave students who signed up for the classes and help make a complete mess in weaving studios.

I also taught coiling over reeds with raffia.

Notice the black and green wool yarn from my loom weaving stash. I never could just do things “right”. And what was I trying to picture on that tall-lidded container? Good grief!

But because someone asked about the sheep and how they were done, I am going to show that one picture at a time.

First the body. Four spokes of a number 1 rattan reed are cut to about 10 to 12 inches crossing two over two in the center for the beginning of the nose of the sheep.

Next a weaver pinched near the center is folded around a set of two spokes and twines around each other set of two for a couple of rows before being twined by singles. Start shaping the face quickly keeping the hands outside of the “basket.” And here I made the spokes of dyed black material and also the weaver for the head part. This is optional.

Weave the fellow in the shape of a sheep by increasing the distance between spokes to form his fat form and finish by poking the spokes inside his body.

Set that part aside and do the two ears.

Pretty simple to see that it is one curved spoke to make two and the one end of the weaver goes down the center of the ear so its other end can weave over and under the three spokes as the ear is shaped.

Feet.

Just two spokes crossing in the center and the weaver’s end making the fifth spoke so you can continue to weave from the bottom up around the odd number necessary to use only one weaver. Sort of like the ears. Make four of these leaving the spokes sticking out.

Now stick the ears in and the legs into the body.

Curls are easy. They are made using wet number 0 rattan reed that has been wrapped and dried around a pencil. Just cut them into small pieces and screw them into the body.

His body spokes have been finished off inside the body at his rear end. It is easy to cover all of this with the curls.

It might take making a few of these before getting the feel of it. Remember to keep all the weaving materials damp so they are pliable.

Now here is close up of the modified sheep I made. You can figure out how it is done just by looking.

Flat reed of 1/4 inch is used to weave the “body” after the head is woven and just loops of reed are used for his legs. His curls are another 1/4 inch weaver curling back and forth as it goes over each individually woven band beneath it.

This was fun. Now off to the burn pile.

Til next time.

Keeping Busy in the Studio

My new Crocs, the only shoes that fit right now but at least both feet are level with each other!

I can now take the stairs one step at a time with one foot on each tread…going down as well as up. Each weekday this week I have been in the gym working on the recumbent bike for one half hour and then doing some upper body work and boxing…..all finished by 6:30 am. It feels good to be back there.

And it feels good to be in the studio. I am using years of sketchbooks to harvest the things that I thought were important during my time there to use in the tiny books of sketches. It is so much fun to go though them and pick images of the little things. Here are some of the covers.

You see that one in the lower left? I made that for one my early trips down under to a basket conference in Tasmania. I bought that fabric because I thought it looked Australian. They did not think it did that much. Funny how we have preconceived notions of what looks just perfect. And I still think it does….mainly because of the colors but the pathway markings as well.

Here are more of those books opened up to show the things I was drawing.

I love that ant nest made up of leaves and the fierce green bottomed ants that made it. That was on the Katherine pages from quite a while ago. There is a William Ricketts page in the upper right. He was a strange one. Here is a picture of the sculpture I like the most of his. I call it Ricketts as Kangaroo. This one is at Pichi Richi in Alice Springs but my sketches in the book here are from his place in the Dandenongs near Melbourne. There are more sketches of Eucalyptus leaves than anything. Such great colors and forms.

Some of the books have quite a bit of writing in them and I got sidetracked reading the thoughts I had at the time. But so far there are six of the fourteen small books finished. When I get them all finished I will figure out how to put them in a container with the pigments coptic bound pages book. And maybe, just maybe it will be the last piece of work about Australia that I do. Hard to say that with so many of the watercolors left unused, but we will see what happens.

My trip for 2019 is pretty much all set now. My rides to various places are set on friends’schedules. Just flight and hotel arrangements to go. Hopefully the classes fill and then I can think about what to pack for students.

And just about an hour ago a South Australian newspaper insert magazine arrived with this picture in it.

These were several of the pieces on exhibit for the Waterhouse Art and Science Exhibition at the South Australian Museum. Thank you Madeleine, that was very thoughtful to send it to me. The awards went to well-deserving pieces…..some very complex.

There is not much else going on here. Art Group met last Sunday. We are such a diverse group of artists. It is always inspiring to see what they are thinking about and how that manifests itself in the work.

I am going to do some sewing next week. Lovely linen shirt fabric is on the way and I am figuring out how to sew that utility zippered carryall for tools. It will be a Chinese puzzle to figure it all out but I feel the urge to just sew something.

Til later.

 

More Tiny Sketchbooks in the Works

I am using my previous sketchbooks done in Australia as the source for these tiny books. It is easy to get lost in the memory of each page. Some of these are from spending time with Barbara Rowe at her condominium in Melbourne. See that teal tea pot there? I sketched this pot every time I stayed with her. The color, the shape and that carved open spout.  She has had it for years and always fixed me tea in it. Another memory of her is that first one on the left. Barbara is an extraordinary master of placing things together. It could be her ikebana training or she is just a natural. Anyway that was the largest green glass pot that held just a couple of stems of grasses. The way the light caught in the glass and colored the things around it and the way the breeze rustled the grasses as it swept gently through from the balcony ten floors up was so beautiful and quiet. I loved staying with her because of the quiet and gentleness of her and her things. One time she took a tangerine and used a bit of hand twisted daylily leaf to tie it up like a gift. Then she placed it on a bit of dried hard green grass she rescued from someone’s mower on the street and placed this arrangement in the center of the table. It was beautiful and that tangerine is sketched onto one of these pages.

And some of these pages are from the garden between Janet DeBoer’s house and Gallery 159 out the back. Janet would be busy writing and organizing the Textile Fibre Forum magazine and I would have the quiet time in this space to pick up leaves and pods to record. I think that is called a shrimp plant that I also found in her yard. The pepper tree branch in the center of the picture is from the ride across Australia in 2001. I treated myself to a first class ticket on the Indian Pacific Railway and because I was a lone traveler, mealtimes found me filling in at tables made up to seat four. Luckily I was placed quite often with three sisters traveling together. When they saw my sketchbook they would pick bits of the bush whenever we stopped to look around. I do not think the peppers are edible but they were so delicate to draw with those lovely flowing little leaves along the thin branches. I had made a special book to take on this train ride for all the things I wanted to write about only, no sketching. I left it on the train and it was lost forever. But the sketchbook from that time brings some of it back. And you can not be down under without seeing and hearing a kookaburra.

The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns and then Melbourne and the work of John Davis seen in the most amazing exhibition of his life in art. All those fish made with muslin, sticks and asphalt. The catalog from that show is right up there with the one from Lee Bontecou’s retrospective in Chicago. Both heavy on earth tones. Both keeping you transfixed in place while you just look in wonder and appreciation that an artist can and did do this.

I wish there was more work like this. So much today is “showy”, colorful, and about being beautiful. It seems the materials used is what the work is about. And we can all look at it and say, “lovely”. And that is all there is to say.

We were having a talk the other day in the studio about this. If someone who makes lovely arrangements of Japanese bits and pieces into collages and then teaches a workshop in doing collage, I would guess that the students would bring to class all their bits and pieces similar to what the instructor uses.  And with a couple reminders from the instructor on good design basics, they would end up with pieces all looking alike. There would be bits of exposed Japanese writing, some beige paper, corrugated card board is often used, a bit of that rich dark red, but not too much, maybe an old piece of wood or an old paint brush, a smear of gesso, something tied down with raffia, you get the idea. And yes, some stitching somewhere.

But if just one person was different. What if the only thing she had that she loved and wanted to use was old plastic bread bag closures in various colors. They are not particularly pretty, so making something beautiful or “lovely” might be out of the question. But to me they seem so much more powerful because she has them for a reason. Some of them have expiration dates on them. Her work becomes about time, expiration, “daily bread” and says something about her as an artist. These little bits of plastic seem so much more powerful and important than the placing of pretty objects. And the work becomes quite likely unforgettable.

And once you see them in an artwork, you do not forget. I still remember a student in my class a good fifteen years ago whose husband told her earlier that month that he did not love her and was leaving after over forty years. He told her this after she had fixed his breakfast. She went to the kitchen and took off the bread bag closure that had that date on it. She used it in a book about her family life.

Anyway the conclusion of the discussion is that some of us look for meaning that simply is not there. Some do work that is just fun to make with pretty materials. And some of us can’t even pick up a bit of anything without the meaning being there first.

Okay enough. My foot is out of the boot. I am in crocs and art group is tomorrow.

Til later.

 

Australia Pigments Book Getting Companions

I like this arrangement for the table. It started a couple of weeks ago for the art group dinner. Each small pot got some mountain laurel. Now I am on to whatever I can pick in the garden. This morning yarrow and whatever this little maroon and golden bloom is, and just a bit of mint for green. It is nice to have them spaced along the center of the table instead of one larger bouquet.

The last of the coreopsis is in there as well.

And I decided to make the folios for another book of small illustrations about Australia. The edges of them were sanded to make them compatible with the pigments book by absorbing more of the watercolors from down under. I made over one hundred of them. Then I scored and folded each one at the spine. I learned to fold in both directions to make the creases work better for opening.

Then after just putting images on a page or two, I got out the Australian Bird Book. It was given to me by a book dealer in Asheville several years ago. She told me, “No one else will want it.” I loved her generosity and I love this book.

Originally I thought that the pages would all be coptic stitched together like the pigments one. But after doing the drawings/paintings on all four sides of each folio, I thought the fun of these is to be able to turn the pages. That would be impossible with a long string of folios.

So I decided to make fourteen (one for each trip to Australia) separate books of eight folios each.

Naturally the first page of book one is a Eucalyptus branch and leaves. Here are some of the illustrations on pages in between the leaves and the hopping away kangaroo.

A couple of pages for the basket makers and a nod to why I was first hired to teach there in 1997.

And of course the cane toad.

I am also learning or at least trying to learn not to put each illustration in the middle of the page. It makes the book more active.

And I must say that it feels lovely and intimate in the hands. This is going to be a fun project for me to work on. And once eight folios are finished, just thread those needles and stitch them up. No covers necessary as I want the feeling of things spotted along the way in my travels down under.

And here it is tucked in next to the pigments book. When the fourteen small illustrated books are finished I think they would look good in a box just tumbling around the soft undulating pigments book.

Both pieces are very inviting to the hand. Both make me feel like I am there.

In the meantime the only parts of the novella Kind Gestures to put on the website are the final chapter and epilogue. By Friday I think it will all be there. Then if I am not escaping to Australia, I can go back to Oliver, North Carolina and see how the “girls” are doing. For now I am taking my distances where I find them.

Til next time.