June 2018 Archives

#21 summer summit 2018

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We have reached the summit of this year's project, the longest day for 2018. Before I began this year's series my cousin wrote to say she looked forward to seeing how our trip to Tasmania would influence my work. The sky has given me empathy for continents unknown and tasting little bits of a new hemisphere has me thinking about not only the longest day but the shortest day in the same moment. Through travel I gained new vision and inspiration for materials both distant and local. Looking at piles of sand and clay and rock has refreshed my appreciation for what is close to the bone, whether it is available materials or what grows close to our house. The challenge is always how do we reframe our vision and grow new skin.

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the sky a map for continents unknown,
the sky close to the bone, always new skin.
--Peter Cooley, from "Morning Prayer," World Without Finishing: Poems (Carnegie Mellon, 2018)

#20 summer summit 2018

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STARS, SCATTERSTILL. Constellations of people and quiet.

Those nights when nothing catches, nothing also is artless.

I walked for hours in those forests, my legs a canvas of scratches,

trading on the old hopes--we were meant to be lost. But being lost

means not knowing what it means. Inside the meadow is the grass,

rich with darkness. Inside the grass is the wish to be rooted, inside the rain

the wish to dissolve. What you think you live for you may not live for. 

One star goes out. One breath lifts inside a crow inside a field.
--Joanna Klink, from "3 Bewildered Landscapes," Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy (Penguin Poets, 2015)

#19 summer summit 2018

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I can't celebrate a birthday without thinking about my mother and all the things she taught me. Today I sorted through a series of boxes of my pottery that she saved. I don't need to keep them any more but her attention and love of these objects taught me so many great, great lessons. Always have plenty of vases on hand for flowers for the table or for whomever else might need some color. Always fill a bowl with a peach and a vase with a flower. Always pause for a drawing, a photograph, or a poem.

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What I Learned From My Mother
By Julia Kasdorf

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn't know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another's suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

#18 summer summit 2018

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I remember the night before I turned eleven. I was so excited I went to bed at dusk. My family had rented a house for the summer near Georgica Beach in Long Island and there was always a great gang of kids to play with. They were still playing on the lawn outside my window as I tried in vain to go to sleep so I could turn eleven.

That memory was like a vein of honey that tracked through last night's sleep between dusk and the possibility of the future. Last night I dreamt I was in a rowboat. As I pulled the oars I went back in time, one decade at a jump. First I was fifty and our daughter was just graduating from high school. Then I was forty-ish and having been sick I saw the tentative nature of life. At thirty-ish I was learning what it was like to be a mom. At twenty I was painting in the south of France feeling I had met my tribe. The final jump was all the way back to eleven when there was no question about past or future. I could dance and run and paint and make pots and choreograph and swim and paddle and pedal as far into the ocean as I dreamed.

18 summer 2018.jpgDusk: a blade of honey between our shadows, draining.
--Ocean Vuong, from "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous" in Night Sky with Exit Wounds

#17 summer summit 2018

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One of the things I really enjoy about social media and holidays like Father's Day are all the family pictures that friends post. I love to see how we look like our parents or how someone's children take after a grandparent or how photos convey information about changing times. I love the pictures of my parents in kayaks and the memories of  family adventures on the water. Today in honor of Father's Day Warren and I replaced the paddles for the kayak that we take out on the pond. We took a few moments to float and stroked around the perimeter of the pond. The days are still climbing towards summer. We noted the trees that have died, the others that have sprouted, yet each tree speaks the same language of water and roots.

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and still when spring climbed toward summer
you opened once more the curled sleeping fingers
of newborn leaves as though nothing had happened
you and the seasons spoke the same language
and all these years I have looked through your limbs
to the river below and the roofs and the night
and you were the way I saw the world

--from W.S, Merwin, Elegy for a Walnut Tree

#16 summer summit 2018

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The Raspberry Room
by Karin Gottshall

It was solid hedge, loops of bramble and thorny  
as it had to be with its berries thick as bumblebees.  
It drew blood just to get there, but I was queen  
of that place, at ten, though the berries shook like fists  
in the wind, daring anyone to come in.  I was trying  
so hard to love this world--real rooms too big and full  
of worry to comfortably inhabit--but believing I was born
to live in that cloistered green bower: the raspberry patch  
in the back acre of my grandparents' orchard.  I was cross-  
stitched and beaded by its fat, dollmaker's needles.  The effort  
of sliding under the heavy, spiked tangles that tore  
my clothes and smeared me with juice was rewarded  
with space, wholly mine, a kind of room out of  
the crush of the bushes with a canopy of raspberry  
dagger-leaves and a syrup of sun and birdsong.  
Hours would pass in the loud buzz of it, blood  
made it mine--the adventure of that red sting singing  
down my calves, the place the scratches brought me to:  
just space enough for a girl to lie down.

#15 summer summit 2018

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Although it had been suggested that we bring a small step ladder none was needed on our cherry picking excursion. We leaned into the shade of the trees to pick our fruit. The view and light all chimed in to  create the chords of a great experience.

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I lean like a ladder and with my face
reach into the second floor of the cherry tree.
I'm inside the bell of colours, it chimes with sunlight.
I polish off the swarthy red berries faster than four magpies.

--Tomas Transtromer

#14 summer summit 2018

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It was one of those days when each thing I did was more beautiful than the next--picking blueberries before breakfast, taking a break after lunch to pick cherries and raspberries at a friend's farm in the north end of the county, and then an outdoor dinner and lingering in a more central section of the county. Even the weekly task of mowing the grass went quickly. We are finally home to pause with the dog and the fireflies. Last winter, when we were in Tasmania our friends (partially joking) asked us not to tell folks at home how beautiful it was. They suggested that when we posted images online we should mark them with the hash tag hideous. So I guess it was one of those hideous days here in Virginia.

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The most beautiful thing in the evening are the fireflies. They arise on all sides in droves of millions. Once I paused while down the creek; I looked westward and gasped with the beauty. As if by some preconceived plan they all flashed simultaneously. It was like some wonderful strain of music. They rivaled the starry night in splendor. Blackness of night accentuates them.
--Charles Burchfield, June 13, 1914

#13 summer summit 2018

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Lovage cut from a friend's garden followed me home with a barge of celery-like fragrance.

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"When we walk in the sun
our shadows are like barges of silence."
--Mark Strand

#12 summer summit 2018

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The summer I was going into fourth grade my parents had rented an unfinished barn in East Hampton, Long Island. I had a bedroom with partial walls that overlooked my dad's studio. My cousin came to visit from Minnesota and for my birthday she gave me a pink diary with a gold lock and key. My father offered to pay me, what seemed like a huge sum of 5 dollars, if I would write in it every day that summer.

And so I began. I wrote down the details of the day and then as the summer wore on I would only write a word for each day, like sun or rain or beach. Then I would make a little drawing as a symbol for the day. I thought I was cheating, substituting pictures for words, and eventually I stopped. I wish I could reach back in time and encourage that 4th grade self to say: this is good; it is something; it is how you record the world; keep going.

I wish instead of seeing it as failure I could have seen it as the seed of an idea that required water and light and protection and general nurturing. There is no right way to keep a journal. I was not a good speller and my handwriting was messy so I would never have guessed that in time I would thrive on writing and the keeping of journals. My journals are like unfinished paintings still waiting for touches of definition. They provide harbors for scribbled vines of vision and memory.  I will let the bumble bee fumble along the pages with the pollen of original thought, syntax, and energy.

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These days between late spring

and early summer are like paintings

already hanging but not yet finished

[...] still waiting for their final touches

and smelling of linseed and turpentine:

everything fresh, the paint still wet,

the taut sky primed with a wash of blue.

The Siberian irises, not yet

unfurling, their buds still tight,

look like paint brushes saturated

with ultramarine; buttercups
spatter the meadow with yellow.

From an arbor of scribbled vines,

blossom-clusters of wisteria

dangle, glistening with last night's rain.

A wood thrush calls in liquid trills

from deep within the background's

mass of pale, soft greens. The air
chills while the sun warms the scene.

May these days remain unfinished

a while longer, with no artist

jostling his way in

to apply some final flourish

or a coat of varnish that will

only darken. Let the bumblebee

fumble among the blossoms.

Jeffrey Harrison, from "Vanishing Days," Southern Review (vol. 54, no. 2, Spring 2018)

#11 summer summit 2018

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After being slightly frustrated by putting metal handles on teapots, I took a long break wandering through a wet garden center, a friend's garden, and my own irregular rows. I needed distance on my efforts, so I enjoyed assessing the ways our gardens have taken off, investigating what the deer have been eating, and enjoying the unplanted surprises like the volunteer squash.

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Brian Eno in describing his process of making music says:
One is making a kind of music in the way that one might make a garden. One is carefully constructing seeds, or finding seeds, carefully planting them and then letting them have their life. And that life isn't necessarily exactly what you'd envisaged for them. It's characteristic of the kind of work that I do that I'm really not aware of how the final result is going to look or sound. So in fact, I'm deliberately constructing systems that will put me in the same position as any other member of the audience. I want to be surprised by it as well. And indeed, I often am.

#10 summer summit 2018

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No blue in the sky today but somehow it's as if the rich color in the garden plants and fields beyond is an accident dependent on the grey sky and dark clouds. The red mustard greens are bolting.  After last night's storm they have lost their grand stature and are either flattened or askew.

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"The part I do remember: that the blue of the sky depends on the darkness of empty space behind it. As one optics journal puts it, "The color of any planetary atmosphere viewed against the black of space and illuminated by a sunlike star will also be blue." In which case blue is something of an ecstatic accident produced by void and fire."
--Maggie Nelson, in Bluets

#9 summer summit 2018

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You see, the artist lives by perception. So that what we make, is what we feel. The making of something is not just construction. It's all about feeling.
--  Agnes Martin

#8 summer summit 2018

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Today I looked to see if I have any ripe blueberries, but no. I checked the peas, which I am disappointed by this year. I decided to try some new varieties and I don't like them as much as my old standbys. As I wandered I noticed the first daylilies are blooming. The orange jumped out with the June energy that this month is all about. I picked one flower and walked to the studio meditating on my mother and her habit of picking single flowers for fear of damaging the plant and how she wanted to save more blossoms for the future. I put the flower head in a small cup--like she might have--next to  a recent poem cup which, in turn, is based on a rough draft of a poem that she wrote.

When I work on the poem cups I often use one of my Mom's poems as a jumping off point. The poem becomes my lens of attention. I draw/write the lines, my mind focused on the words, but without any judgment of good or bad because it is printed backwards. Appearing inverted I don't worry about legibility or spelling. The intention is balanced with an attention to the specificity of the verse. This focus allows me to learn something about the interactive mark of the hand, the expression of the material, and the lens of attention.

08 summer 2018.jpgEntering the Kingdom   [by Mary Oliver]

The crows see me.

They stretch their glossy necks

In the tallest branches

Of green trees. I am
Possibly dangerous, I am

Entering the kingdom.

The dream of my life
Is to lie down by a slow river

And stare at the light in the trees-
To learn something by being nothing

A little while but the rich

Lens of attention.

But the crows puff their feathers and cry

Between me and the sun,

And I should go now.

They know me for what I am.

No dreamer,

No eater of leaves.

#7 summer summit 2018

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I have been patiently awaiting the first sight of fireflies this June. The other night the first one appeared on my window screen. As a kid I associated summer with the ocean, fireflies and going barefoot. After school was over my mother could not wait to get out of the city so we packed up our VW van and decamped for eastern Long Island for long days of child-like time for both the kids and the adults.

My memory of those days is like an animal energy. I was ocean and firefly and I could leave behind all remembrances of tests and spelling. I had no idea what kohlrabi was or that there was more than one species of firefly. One of my best friend's family bought a house that had previously been a kohlrabi farm. Every time I plant, cook, or take a photo of it I can't help but think of their house. I visualize how they slowly, with a lovely sensibility transformed the farm into a cottage and an artist's studio. I have magical, childlike associations of what a summer night should be.

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SINGULARITY  [by Marie Howe]

          (after Stephen Hawking)

Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity

we once were?

so compact nobody

needed a bed, or food or money --

nobody hiding in the school bathroom

or home alone

pulling open the drawer

where the pills are kept.

For every atom belonging to me as good

Belongs to you.

There was no   Nature.    No
them.   No tests

to determine if the elephant

grieves her calf    or if

the coral reef feels pain.    Trashed

oceans don't speak English or Farsi or French;

would that we could wake up   to what we were

-- when we were ocean    and before that

to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and
rock was

liquid and stars were space and space was not

at all -- nothing

before we came to believe humans were so important

before this awful loneliness.

Can molecules recall it?

what once was?    before anything happened?

No I, no We, no one. No was

No verb      no noun

only a tiny tiny dot brimming with

is is is is is

All   everything   home

#6 summer summit 2018

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In the summertime I keep a journal that is based on stringing beads. I draw a loose line down the side of my page and then make five or six circles on the line like beads on a thread. I write down an observation, an experience, or a line overheard and make small drawings based on the day. I just try to keep it simple and specific. I work from what's in front of me, not what I think I see but what I am really seeing. The drawing and lists create their own reality.

Making a drawing is like touching the experience. It becomes a documentation of time. I trust the intelligence of the hand over the thought. The lists transitions from home-body daily habits into vacationland patterns--new sequences into the colors of island, ocean fog and water reflections. The beads might reflect that on arrival the boat was there but the motor was kaput. Or while the house is proudly standing, the refrigerator is warm.

I document the moonrise and collect sea rounded bricks. The focus on trees and the spaces beyond the limbs are fodder for images. So the water through the trees goes on the inventory. I may record the kind of fish we saw pulled off a boat at the lobsterman's co-op, where we swam at what tide or the handfuls of flowers we collected on our morning wander.

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Brush marks are put down, accepted like a child's random pattern of beads on a string. The pages of color and patterns capturing sequential walks on the rocks amass themselves into a necklace. Perceptually slowed down, I notice snail trails on the rocks at my high tide swimming refuge, the subtle colors of sunrise through the bedside window. The list goes on--dock, water, cup, rock, swim, stump, shingle, repeat and repeat.

Edward Hopper said if he could say it in words there would be no reason to paint. If I knew what I was going to get out of my trip each year I wouldn't have to go. If I knew where the pages might take me, why fill them. The vistas are so scenic that painting the view feels like a cliché. So instead I turn to crushing shells, sumac leaves and sand. Weeds and mud became my muse.

It's as if the upper right hand corner of any given page might hold the light and direction for my mind. Through the inscriptions on the page I find the trees and discover direction inside the blue sky of the afternoon. The page itself creates a moment of quiet after the bustle of the day and before we have a thought about dinner. The moment of pause, the ability to translate seaweed into calligraphy--these are the indecipherable flashes, the inspirational moments. I thread the shift of light into the next shift of the wind's direction. These beads touch my mind, straighten my spine and connect the space between the boats. The gap between breathes, the distance between home and island all disappear.

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"Life is a train of moods like a string of beads and as we pass through them they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in it's focus," wrote Emerson. To find oneself trapped in any one bead, no matter what its hue, can be deadly.
--Maggie Nelson, Bluets

#5 summer summit 2018

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Here in Virginia this is the week of dill. If you have recently come by our house you were either given some to take home or have been served some at a meal. The taste of fresh dill is a color all its own that I wasn't fully attuned to until I began to garden in Virginia.

I not only associate color with taste but with place. Virginia is green as dill and mint and garlicscapes. Color is also carried in memory. Our recent trip to Tasmania has been carried home in shades and variations of ochres, fat yellowish sands and pink granites.

When I am in Maine I use a lot of blue paint because the ocean is so dominant. The sky is the balance to the water. I try to find other colors in the ocean and sky but the blues always sneak in. I use lots of cerulean and ultramarine these days. This month I pulled out a few of last summer's paintings and painted back into them with my ochers. I took the blue and I submerged it in yellow ochre and some North Carolina Okaweeme red. I liked what happened. These paintings began on burlap coated with plaster and then acrylic paint was added on top. They are fragile but still a bit textile-like. Today while photographing I dropped one which cracked and crumbled it in places.  So I sanded it down a bit and then did a new coat of paint. I then turned it over, added an acrylic medium binder plus a layer of my red clay paint. Perhaps a prayer to the gods of color, "please hold this fragile piece together." I loved the surface I got. It's surprising sometimes how I work looking at one thing but then it's what's on the flipside that's the important discovery.

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Admit that you have stood in front of a little pile of powdered ultramarine pigment in a glass cup at a museum and felt a stinging desire. But to do what? Liberate it? Purchase it? Ingest it? . . . You might want to reach out and disturb the pile of pigment, for example, first staining your fingers with it, then staining the world. You might want to dilute it and swim in it, you might want to rouge your nipples with it, you might want to paint a virgin's robe with it. But still you wouldn't be accessing the blue of it. Not exactly."
― Maggie Nelson, Bluets

#4 summer summit 2018

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As a potter blue is a cliché.  So, more often than one would expect, people asked me, "oh that's nice but could you make it in blue."  Generally I say no. But every once in a while, if there is a good poetic reason I'll make blue things. Once Omen-Azen the restaurant in NYC wanted to serve a white fish that was cut so thin it was translucent. They wanted a dark rich glaze that would contrast with the sashimi, the color visible and transformed as seen through the fish. In that dark, warm colored restaurant the blue I came up with was transcendent. A painter friend saw those plates and wanted a set because he had a whole series of blue paintings of nudes. He was working off a poem that a friend had written and the only line I remember is "this blue is not a suitcase."

Later I made my friend tiles for his kitchen in Sag Harbor. He asked me to work from his paintings. I suggested that he make the drawings on the tiles. But he said, no, I want you to work from my paintings like a jazz musician might play a jazz standard bringing their own twist to the lyrics, melody and rhythm.  So I came up with a technique of making cobalt carbon paper which I used to draw over Xeroxes of his paintings as if I were listening to a narrative of densely quilted blue paintings. When we installed the project I loved that his favorite tiles were the ones that were the most abstract and transformed by the process.

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"The way Rilke describes colours--their intercourse within a painting, a single colour's evolution through history--that's how one might also describe words: their interaction and interplay within a poem, a single word's history from one age to another, punctuated by contributions of individual authors. His eyes trained by Cézanne, Rilke reaches out to language for words that would express the nuances of colour, and the biography of blue spills out into the realm of language: a barely-blue, a blue dove-gray, a densely quilted blue, an ancient Egyptian shadow-blue, a waxy blue, a self-contained blue, a wet dark blue, a listening blue, a thunderstorm blue, a bourgeois cotton blue, a light cloudy bluishness, a juicy blue, and, in van Gogh's landscapes, full of revolt, Blue, Blue, Blue.
Elena Maslova-Levin, "Rainer Maria Rilke on Colour and Self-Awareness"

#3 summer summit 2018

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Our day took us through the back roads of Virginia's rolling hills. The lush fields of tall grasses were flattened by days of rain, the streams and ponds swollen to overflowing, branches trembling with drips. Even the light seemed wet. It was as if every leaf was infused with more green. With each new shower each hill found a new shade of silence.

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Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly.
--Pablo Neruda

#2 summer summit 2018

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I love the season of peonies, for their color, smell and their fragile nature. This spring we have had so much rain many have ended up with their blossoms in the wet field. I have been gifted with bouquets of the most tender singles and gathered armfuls of pink and white which I have kept going in the cool basement. I don't want to leave behind their fragrance and the way the blossoms swallow the light.

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                                    I want to leave
                                    no one behind.
To keep
& be kept.
                                   The way a field
                                   turns its secrets
into peonies.
                                   The way light
                                   keeps its shadow
by swallowing it.

Ocean Vuong, from "Into the Breach," Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) 

#1 summer summit

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The first of June has arrived. At this time -- on the cusp of summer -- I pivot to focus upon the lengthening hours of daylight leading up to the summit, the longest day of the year on the 21st. These images use my pottery and with allusions to use focus upon the natural world within which we are embedded.

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