June 2010 Archives

13a-spiral-bowls.jpgCatherine White Slip Decoration Workshop at Hood College
July 17-18, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
July 17, 6-9 p.m.

The weekend course is an exploration in the vocabulary of  slips applied to clay forms.  The class will be both demonstration and hands-on work.  Saturday and Sunday sessions will be amplified with an evening slide talk of personal work and historical references. Assignments will explore the poetic potential of texture, line, pattern and color variations. The class will weave together the implications of brushwork, additive and subtractive applications, and the interaction of  form, glaze and fire. Assignments will cover experiments with varied techniques.

Bring leather hard plates, bowls and vases plus clay to roll out slabs to experiment on.


ARTS 599 Slip Decoration
July 17-18, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
July 17, 6-9 p.m.
Instructor: Catherine White

Hood College Frederick Maryland

http://www.hood.edu/academics/departments.cfm?pid=departments_ceramicsWorkshops.html

Workshop Fee : $185
1 credit/Graduate Tuition:$360
to register call Karen Taylor at 
301-696-3526

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first tomatoes

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June 29th the first tomatoes were a great treat with lunch.

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summer solstice #21 2010

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Last week Teresa, a painter friend, said to me, "Your work seems very evolutionary." One experience leads to the next piece I told her. This morning some old friends stopped by to see the gallery and we talked of today being the solstice. She commented on the evolution of my pots and this project. I told her it took me a long time of living in the same house to understand how the sun moves seasonally. She looked at me and said, "Do you think that the Druids got Stonehenge right the first time?"  I'd never really contemplated the fact that the Druids refined a long series of stick or stones as precursors to Stonehenge.

At the end of my mother's life we planned to spend three weeks in Maine near my parents. I thought that every day I would take a walk with her and write about our conversations. It would be a twenty-one day project. When I got there and walked with Mom I realized her memory had really deteriorated and the old conversations about family dynamics, politics, and art were history. Instead, I found our walks and talks had to do with what was right in front of us. We looked at how the trees made crosses, the exotic colors of moss, and the bobbing boats. We picked wild flowers and put them in cups.  There was an intense appreciation of the moment. I remember thinking, it's not ever going to get any better than this.

On my five o'clock dog walk today I paused on the dock to watch the kingfishers swoop over the pond and make sudden splashes. The day seemed like it could go on forever. It was the polar opposite of my winter evening dog walks when I raced outside to see the last flare of  light. At either end of the spectrum I am driven to place some mark on paper, clay, or film.

 
21-leek.jpg Akiko Busch's mother died of a brain tumor and near the end of her life she lost the ability to assign words to thoughts.
"You could call this an episode of clarity. Certainly it was that to her, because for a moment a golden slip cover had restored all the precision and lucidity of language that were dear to her; on account of it she had recovered her voice. It was a moment of clarity for me as well, because I understood then that frivolity is not necessarily trite or foolish or petty; rather it is about the way essential information often comes to us, unpredictably, through play. I also understood that there are times when frivolity can intersect precisely and perfectly with a sense of of purpose. This can happen most effortlessly most gracefully when a sense of purpose elsewhere in your life seems either to be absent or irrelevant.
Since that time-- and probably in one way or another because of it-- I have made my work to write about design, about spoons and slipcovers, hats and houses. Sometimes the objects are called 'artifacts of the physical world.' I call them things, because so far as I understand it, design is about people and things. You could say that I write about design because I am fascinated by the relationships people forge with things and by the inevitability of how we engage in play with our material possessions. In my mother's case, she did it because the loss of speech made her relationships with other people unbearable. So she turned to the chaise and its golden slipcover, and for a moment on the telephone she was herself again."
The Uncommon Life of Common Objects, p. 155 

summer solstice #20 2010

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The apricot on my plate is not local, but it was so beautiful I couldn't resist the photograph. Zoe tells me that our blueberry bushes have spoiled her so she can't eat grocery store berries anymore. For dinner we picked broccoli from the garden; it is a much more intense green when cooked than any thing I ever buy from the grocery. An evening swim cooled our bodies and slowed us down so we could take the time to watch the clouds shape-shift and mark how far the sun has moved at sunset.

20-apricot.jpg"We live in a world which we are increasingly distanced from the natural rhythm of things. Our diet usually has little to do with what foods are in season; when days are short, we simply turn on the lights earlier; and while our travels may be inconvenienced by climate certainly they are not governed by it. I can't help but wonder, then if the appeal of swimming simply has to do with the reaffirmation of the body in a simple rhythm."   Nine Ways to Cross a River, Akiko Busch, page 52

summer solstice #19 2010

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Today went by in such a rush that I forgot to take a photo. (Today's image is from earlier in the month.) I had lots of visitors to the gallery, dinner on the porch and two birthday cakes! In the dusk we walked down to the pond feeling like it was truly a summer evening.  Zoe and I lay on the dock looking at the sky when a great blue heron flew over us barely ten feet away. Its slow flapping wings brought an index of memories of  summer evening to mind. Memories in full moon light or swimming in pitch black flashed before my eyes.The trees lit up with fireflies as if they were Christmas lights.  I have to breathe deep and remember it doesn't get much better than this.

19-honeysuckle.jpg "I think of that index of the unknown that we all carry with us. I haven't the faintest idea bout what kind of lives my sons will lead, though as with most parents, that often seems like the thing that matters most. Nor do I have any idea about how my own life will play out or where, though at fifty-two, that information suddenly seems more important to me than it has before. And I think of all the mysteries of intention and desire that keep us wondering about even those people we know best." Nine Ways to Cross a River, Akiko Busch, page 194

summer solstice #18 2010

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new pots, new backgrounds.

18-peas.jpgWe have been working hard getting ready for small contours.


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summer solstice #17 2010

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On mother's day I decided it was time to get my tomatoes in the ground. The first step however, was to pull up the towering forest of dill. I cut the dill into bunches, collected ten older vases and gave the bouquets to ten women as my random act of kindness. I always love the volunteer plants that come up by seed. I usually move them to garden beds so the paths stay clear. But by the end of the summer navigating my paths holds no straight lines and it more resembles following the ox bows of a lazy river. The dill forest has been restricted drastically, but it still towers in parts of the garden and it waved beautiful like a yellow flag in today's June breezes.

17-dill.jpg"It seems clear now, in that way that the unexpected can sometimes take hold of intent, thwarting and subverting it, that following the path of the river is as important as crossing it. A river can connect every bit as effectively as it divides."  Just Beneath the Surface, Akiko Busch

summer solstice #16 2010

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My mom always asked questions. As a teenager I thought they were dumb questions and the sound made me want to stick my head in my shirt as if I was a turtle and could retreat form the world. We would buy fruit and she would always ask where are these apples from or where were those strawberries grown, she would ask where the fish was caught. It was as if  by knowing how far her food had come she could vicariously travel as well. Now that there is a whole awareness of eating locally and knowing where your food comes from I realize my mom was way ahead of her times.


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Mom had a thing for sunsets she loved to see the sunset and she would rush dinner of delay it so that we could find a place to see the sunset. I remember one thanksgiving she visited us towards the end of her life and each evening we would go for a walk just before sunset and on the way back to the house the we were just below the crest of the hill and the geese flew into land on the pond and they were just above our heads. It was as if we could reach up and touch their webbed feet and the muscles of their flapping wings was overpowering. We both stopped and could not find words to describe the feeling. I turned to her and said I am so glad you experienced that that is one of the indescribable moments of living on this hilly terrain near a pond. It was the sound and feel of flapping. The strength of wings and the recognition of what energy it must take for those geese to fly. Tonight as we lingered after sunset it was fire flies and a crescent moon that kept us company.


"Akiko Busch, who was a visiting writer at Haystack during our second session, July 14-27,2009, writes about uncertainty and how it manifests itself in our art making, our lives, and in nature. While she touches on what is increasingly the spirit of our time, it's not a pessimist'sview. Not knowing exactly where we are going leaves us in a place of discovery. We are alive and embarking on a journey".-Stuart Kestenbaum

summer solstice #15 2010

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The shed that holds our gas kiln is a multi-use space. It's where we mix clay or set out the pots when stacking the kiln. In-between any task it becomes the spot where cardboard boxes and packing materials accumulate. Today was a day of shifting tides. The clay mixer got put away; the trough we use to mix the dry materials becomes a table.  The floor is swept, all surfaces cleared, and it feels like a low tide where a sandy beach has been exposed. Clean up is not a favorite part of the creative process but a productive one. I find tools that have been missing, test tiles from the last firing. My mother always used to send me postcards when she was cleaning. She would find images of pots she thought I'd like or quotes she found inspirational. The repetition of cleaning is part of an imprecise cycle. The tiles are gathered and put in a box out of sight with the knowledge that with time my perspective on their value will shift.
 
15-coneflower.jpg"Nor is the tide itself really much to count on. Repetition is rarely the exact science we imagine. The mathematics of the tide are imprecise, its rise and fall influenced by the angle of the sea bed, the depth of a channel or width of the bay at its mouth. It's good to be reminded of this--that every time we think we can measure the world, know its shape or how it moves, some new dimension is presented to us to throw our calculations off." The Ecology of Uncertainty, Akiko Busch

summer solstice #14 2010

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So much of what I do as a potter and a parent has to do with looking into the future. If I use a particular clay mixed with another slip combined with the heat of the kiln what will happen. If we make this choice then what? If I say that, what will the reaction be... If I plant this seed... I tell Zoe knowledge builds on experience and trying new things. When she was in middle school she would say but I don't know how to do such and such and I would remind her no one expects you to know how to do it, you just have to give it a try, we all have to start someplace. When I touch the blank page in a partially filled notebook I feel like I am touching the future. When I fill an unfired kiln it is a collaboration of art and science, of the known and unknown.


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"So much of what I do as a writer and as a parent has to do with understanding why things are as they are. Why was this building sited this way? Why does the page look the way it does? Why did you say that? And why did you stay up until two in the morning when you had an exam the following day? Why didn't you tell me how you felt? It is by necessity that I, along with most of us, expend time and energy on learning how things have come to be. Or not. Information is knowledge, I tell my sons. Lean whatever you can. Gather the facts. Find the reasons behind things, and then you will understand them. This is all important and true, I know, and yet Einstein said that the 'most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.' to find myself now at the edge of a river with unfathomable origins brought a certain thrill. I am happy to be reminded of the realm of the inexplicable."  Nine Ways to Cross a River (pp 183-84), Akiko Busch

summer solstice #13 2010

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13-leek.jpg"There is an argument to be made for doubt, for hesitation, for some practice of inquisition that cannot be answered instantaneously. Graciousness to the unknown is a keystone to Buddhist practice; implicit in the acceptance of the unknown is the ability to inhabit the present moment. Or being present for openness. In her meditation on the subject, Pema Chodron writes, 'We can bring ourselves back to the spiritual path countless times every day simply by exercising our willingness to rest in the uncertainty of the present moment--over and over again.' Which is also a way of saying that uncertainty doesn't belong to any particular precinct; it doesn't inhabit any established place in our lives, any single book, week, relationship, meal, trip, time, experience, thought, feeling. Rather, it is everywhere, like the fog, like the moss, like the current." The Ecology of Uncertainty, Akiko Busch

summer solstice #12 2010

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In choosing photos for the web I find that horizontal ones tend to work better because of the dimensions of screens. but every once in a while I can't resist a tall narrow photograph. It acts kind of like a waterfall for the viewing experience.

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'In graphic design, the word "river" refers to the white space between words that sometimes connects in a rippling vertical pattern down the printed page. Such a river is to be avoided because it can interrupt the flow of text in an irregular pattern and distract the reader's eye from the horizontal progression of the printed words. But just as it may be a distraction, that space between words also confirms their meaning. If a river can both separate and connect on the printed page, it is capable of doing this all the more in the natural world." Just beneath the surface Akiko Busch

summer solstice #11 2010

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Warren came in from mowing the other day and sighed saying "nature is winning." This is how it often feels in June.

11grass-cocoon.jpg"We say things, we make things, we do things. And so much of what we say and make and do demands knowledge--an intimacy with material, the acquisition of skills, the ten thousand hours of doing a single thing until you know every shape a word, a cup, a blade, a chair can take, an understanding of texture and shape and tendency, knowing what will happen to things when you touch them and when you don't, what happens when you leave it rough or polish it until it shines, understanding the passage of time and the difference between a minute and an hour and a week and a year and what all of those will do to a length of wood or a piece of paper or the sound of a sentence. Knowledge, practice, repetition, familiarity, how to bend or shape an iron rod, a clay slab, a paragraph--our lives and work depend on this." The Ecology of Uncertainty, Akiko Busch

summer solstice #10 2010

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A year ago now I was just finishing up the wet work phase for the wood kiln. We had an afternoon thunderstorm so I quit to go to the house and watch the rain and clouds blow through. I drew a group of bottles on a window sill to focus my attention on the next batch of small vases for the back of the kiln some of which are pictured below.
 
This morning I have finished making things for the glaze kiln and after a session of weeding and picking flowers, Zoe returned from a run and headed to the pond. With the dog in tow I grabbed my towel and followed her inspiration. The pond was refreshingly cool and floating with eyes at water level I looked at the trees and sky like a water particle or a thought slipping from past to present swims, stroking on to future possible swims.

10-bottles.jpg"Maybe it is simply because the body is about 70 percent water, but swimming in a river confers a sense of intimacy with the natural world that isn't easy to come by. And if you feel you own a little piece of this river, there is also something in the way the real estate of the water slips through your hands that persuades you that the river owns a bit of you as well. It is a fluid exchange. Intimacy with the river, like other kinds of intimacy, is laced with ambiguity, with questions of ownership elusive and variable. And it becomes an easy thing to imagine yourself a particle in the river's continuity, so easy, in fact, that you begin to see things the way the river might see them. And you see, then, how that continuity can be reassuring. You somehow go through life to a certain point always thinking that even if you can't exactly start over, at least you can fix things or change them and that all the missteps and wrong directions can be corrected and that it is never too late. Later you may find yourself believing that is no longer true. I looked up the river and down it. Its flow was certain, its direction unchangeable, but still it could take on the day's nuances of light, the vagaries of the shifting tide." Just Beneath the Surface, Akiko Busch

summer solstice #9 2010

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In 1982 when I first brought pots to the restaurant Omen as examples Mikio, the owner, had said to me, "I need large plates and bowls." I said, "Great, I love to make platters and big bowls."  I brought things Mikio thought looked like bathtubs. I have learned that large is a relative term and in Japanese cuisine there is room for many tiny dishes. A large plate is 8-10 inches. Earlier in the year we sent pots for a photo shoot for a cookbook that Elizabeth Andoh is writing.  I searched my shelves for small interesting things for plating her recipes. The challenge sparked my interest in the beauty of small contours--the interaction of food and small pot.

9-peas.jpg"Craft is about the transformation of substance; it is about the possibility
of one thing becoming another and about accepting ambiguity. And if uncertainty is a liability in the age of information, in the world of craft, it is a material reality, an opportunity, a chance." --Akiko Busch, The Ecology of Uncertainty

summer solstice #8 2010

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Last summer when I planted my lettuce I had a dream of planting my red and green lettuces like a painting. I carefully laid them out and tucked them in, then watered and went away for the weekend. On our return the deer had hopped the fence and pulled them all out. This year with a new fence the probability of the deer hopping the fence was small. I alternated the reds and greens with great expectations of beautiful ground cover and salads. When my intern was here I caught myself constantly replying--when she asked what I was doing--that I was trying a new version of an old idea. I had never quite done it this way. I would stop and show her the old object and the new variation and say it's a bit of an experiment. I aim for an idea and then try to be accepting of the result my hand provides.

8-lettuce-bowl.jpg"But uncertainty can just as easily be infused with hope, expectation, and probability; it is about being receptive; it contains its own archives of anticipation. It brings us to a state of possibility. Ceramists confront this every day." Akiko Busch, The Ecology of Uncertainty

summer solstice #7 2010

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I have been amazed this season by the onion family of plants. My leeks that survived the winter have put on a great show. I am intrigued with the difference between the plants in my garden and my neighbor's. We bought our seedlings on the same day from the same place, but the differences of soil, light and planting time have played a huge part in their development. It makes me think that when I try to make a pot the same way a year later or twenty years later it will always be a new version.

7-leek-full-flower.jpg"Nor is the tide itself really much to count on. Repetition is rarely the exact science we imagine. The mathematics of the tide are imprecise, its rise and fall influenced by the angle of the sea bed, the depth of a channel or width of the bay at its mouth. It's good to be reminded of this--that every time we think we can measure the world, know its shape or how it moves, some new dimension is presented to us to throw our calculations off."--Akiko Busch, The Ecology of Uncertainty

summer solstice #6 2010

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When the daylilies begin to bloom I always think of my mother because she loved them so much. She died in 2005 in Maine during her summer stay on Heron Island.  My father, my brothers, our spouses, and our children sprinkled her ashes in the Damariscotta River in front of their cottage. My father decided that we should pick every daylily in the garden and let them float in the water with the ashes. It was a foggy, rough evening when we set out. We were uncertain if it was too much for our odd flotilla of a Boston Whaler, a skiff, and a surf board. We had every bloom in pitchers, buckets, and handfuls as we cast them into the water with ashes and tears.

6-daylilly.jpgAt dawn the next day, I walked the hightide mark on the west shore certain I would find one of the flowers washed up in the flotsam and jetsam. But walking the length of the island, I was disappointed that they had all been washed out to sea with the tide. I walked slowly back to my father's house down the central path and decided that the emptiness I felt at not finding a lily to press in my journal echoed the hole in my heart left my the loss of my mother. When I came down the moss covered path to the garden much to my surprise the garden was blooming with a whole new batch of lilies perhaps saluting to the spirit of my mother.

"All too often we associate uncertainty with risk, but there is a world of difference between them. While loss may be implicit in risk, uncertainty is simply a state of limited knowledge. It comes with being human to know that uncertainty attends not simply the stock market and weather, but what we do, what we say, when we say it, what we think, how we feel. It's the kinetic energy in the air before a thunderstorm, the sky full and crackling, the atmosphere infused with expectancy. 'Nature hates calculators; her methods are saltatory and impulsive.' Emerson wrote in his essay 'Experience,' reminding us continually of the value of those forces that are random, volatile, erratic." The Ecology of Uncertainty, Akiko Busch

summer solstice #5 2010

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One of my recurring fears is that I keep trying to do the same thing over and over again when I am in search of a new answer. In my studio I repeat small tasks in the cycle of a firing. I continually have to clear surfaces, I wipe up my wheel even though it will soon get re-covered in slip and trimmings. When I am making pots there are so many complex variations in clay consistency, wheel speed, the touch of the hand, memory of the idea that it's impossible to make the same pot over again. Moving pots from the table to a shelf is a tactile moment that is full of reminders of form and heft and sensation that cannot be recorded in words.

5-fleabane.jpg"Albert Einstein famously proposed that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. Oh, really? I doubt the professor ever did much around the house; if he had, he would have known the opposite is true. Domestic life is all about doing things over and over in the same way, with every hope and intention that you'll get the same result, and knowing in your heart of hearts how easily you could get a very different one.

Family life is the heartland of the unknown, and it only takes a moment for the plates to shatter, the crystal to crack, the bed to become unmade; the landscape can become foreign terrain in an instant, the familiar unrecognizable in a heartbeat. And if one is to be found doing something so ordinary as setting the table or folding the linen, it is only because such habits are nothing but an effort to establish bedrock for the seismic changes that so easily can follow." --The drudgery of chores, and the comfort by Akiko Busch in The New York Times, May 18, 2008

summer solstice #4 2010

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This morning I walked my dog and my neighbor's dog through her field. I engaged in a bit of that old saying, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. The open fields beckoned, the varied plants in her garden invited me in and I swiped a few flowers for my photos and table.

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"What I particularly appreciate about the journey of words that Akiko Busch takes us on, is that while there may be uncertainty, there is also certainty. She is a writer who moves fluidly between concepts and between the natural world and the one we have made. Because she has mastered her material--language, that is--the reader can follow her investigations
and trust her as a guide. We can move back and forth between skill and mystery, with one informing the other. That is, I believe, the place where art is made." --Stuart Kestenbaum's introduction to Akiko Busch's The Ecology of Uncertainty

summer solstice #3 2010

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In the garden I have been planting pumpkin seeds, saved from last year's Cinderella pumpkins. I loved the lobed carriage shape so much I let it decompose slowly in a slab outside the studio. When I hacked the dessicated, shrunken object apart to get at the seeds I was unsure they would really sprout. But now that those first green shoots are emerging I am infused with a great sense of hope and possibility.

3-pumkin-seed-drip.jpgIn the studio I have had a high school senior as an intern for the last three weeks. Today is her last day. Yesterday she seriously approached the application of layers of slip on her bowls and cups. Her grandparents have bought many of my pots over the years, so it's as if she is a native speaker in the language of my pottery. She knows which drips she likes; what finger rings appeal. She applied her layers of slip deep in the state of uncertainty as to how these coats will transform in the heat of the kiln, but receptive to the expression and possibility of the art of the drip.

 "But uncertainty can just as easily be infused with hope, expectation, and probability; it is about being receptive; it contains its own archives of anticipation. It brings us to a state of possibility."--Akiko Busch, The Ecology of Uncertainty

summer solstice #2 2010

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Last week after my daughter had been home from college for a week she began to  strip the collage of high school images from her cabinets. She had collaged layers of photos, quotes, and drawings;  a secret code of who she truly was or reminders of what she wanted to be. As the images came down, recycled into notebooks or trashed, she let aspects of fashion and  personal history shift in a search of simplicity. She is looking for a cleaner surface, one that she can leave behind without fear of what the layers and erasures might say.

2-chunk-vase-with-leek.jpgI once had a visitor tell me that my work looked like it spoke a secret code. I was intrigued and tried to say that I was speaking the language of pottery. My pottery dialect is a mix of historical knowledge, material sense, experience of the modern world, experiments with dreams and a desire to eloquently simplify.

"Studio craftspeople often find themselves working at an intricate intersection of conceptual content, material skill and an appreciation for ambiguity. Which is why this seems to be the time for those engaged with craft to show how their work is, in fact, a process of facing, rather than avoiding, complexity." --The Cult of Simplicity,  Akiko Busch

summer solstice #1 2010

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June begins with sun and heat as I start to photograph and write. Embarking on this series of twenty-one images, I have a sense of direction and a definition of boundaries, but also an allowance to take advantage of the uncertainties that occur as I move between the natural world and the one I am imagining.

1-leek-flower.jpgLast June, when I planted needle-sized leek seedlings, I never thought they would survive the winter snows and bloom with such robust exuberance.

 "It is not unusual to begin something--a book, a painting, a pot, a walk, a recipe, a relationship,a marriage, any enterprise of the mind or heart--in a state of uncertainty. But I wonder now if something like uncertainty isn't also a good place to end up."
--The Ecology of Uncertainty by Akiko Busch