Some years ago, my family gathered at a ranch in the Flint Hills to spend a weekend and to celebrate my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.Â As a native Kansas from south central Kansas, I’ve always felt at home in open country and the Flint Hills are that and more, representing a spare and exceptional beauty that is unique to its place.
At night, when we walked outside to experience the Flint Hills night, we saw the stars like we’ve never seen them before and the wondrously speckled expanse of light that is the Milky Way.
That moment inspired several mosaics, among them Night in the Flint Hills, a new commission for the design firm Spellman Brady and Company in St. Louis, Missouri for a hospital in Onaga, Kansas. The Piece is 22″ x 22″.
Nearly Spring is complete! It is a seven-foot mosaic mural installed on New Yearâ€™s Day at the Free State Brewery in downtown Lawrence, Kansas.Â The mosaic was a wonderful project and I am writing to give thanks to all of the people who were in one way or another a part of its creation.
Foremost I want to thank Chuck Magerl, proprietor of the Free State Brewery. He was wonderfully supportive throughout this project. He invited me to discuss the possibility of creating a mosaic for a particular spot in the brewery. Our first meeting was in December of 2012 and, while I was hesitant to take on a large-scale mural and had never even used mortar before, I left the meeting excited about the possibility and hoped to get the job.
The ideas for the mosaic grew out of several conversations with Chuck that meandered through broad topics, among them birds, water, and the Lawrence areaâ€™s landscape. These themes became core elements in the mosaic. Once we finished the design work I worked intensively on the mosaic for about five months. Chuck provided a place for me to work at the Free Stateâ€™s eastside brewery, and also hosted an open house there so that friends and brewery patrons could see the mosaic’s development. Thousands-of-tiles-cut-from-ceramic-plates-and-adhered-to-panels later, I am grateful to Chuck for trusting me with the project and for his kindness, generosity, encouragement and help throughout the entire process.
A number of people greatly helped, too. Conrad Snider, a ceramic artist and friend in Newton, Kansas, provided extensive and detailed advice on everything from concrete board, mortar, and grout to how to build sturdy panels that would hold heavy tiles and yet be light enough to move and install.
Todd Pederson and Jim Lewis of Independent Woodcraft in Lawrence built panels for the mosaic that would fit exactly right in that stairwell spot. Todd and Jim also installed the finished panels with what struck me as remarkable ease.
Brit Kring of Kringâ€™s Interiors in Lawrence contributed tiles for the mosaic and in his good-natured way, advice on mortar, grout, and how best to use them in a somewhat unorthodox application. Jana Flory of Krings Interiors also provided information and assistance.
When I first moved into my brewery-studio I felt like an interloper in this industrial setting. But the folks who run the brewery and the brewers and bottlers who work there were friendly and welcoming and soon I felt at home. They helped me in ways large and small with things like holding the door open while I hauled stuff in, raising my work tables onto blocks so that I could work standing up, tidying the place for the open house, designing and building a brace for the largest of my panels so that it would travel in the van safely, and on. So thank you Steve Bradt, Brad Scott, Eric McClelland, Lucas Hachmeister, Matt Luna,Â TJ Campsey,Â Rick Berger-Munson, Luke Otter, Patrick Raasch, Steve Rold and anyone else from the crew who might have assisted with the mosaic even without me knowing it.
Thanks to you friends for your conversations with me about the mosaic and for your support (especially Sara Stalling who got the first peek at my design ideas and Lokelani Braisted who sent all kinds of interesting mosaic process information my way), for your social media â€œlikes,â€ comments, and encouragement, and for attending the mosaic process open house and making it a fun and successful event.
Thanks to Catherine Bolton, Nicholai Jost-Epp, Kathi and Randy Masten, Kristi Neufeld, Kamala Platt, Christy Dersch Schneider and David Schneider for giving me ceramic dishes, pottery, glass, porcelain shards and other special things to incorporate into the mosaic. In addition, Eric McClelland gave me a mussel shell and access to the Breweryâ€™s hardware drawer for me to pick out a few small things to include, and TJ Campsey gave me a bottle with the Free Stateâ€™s Prairie Falcon beer logo on it — so be sure to look for that little glass piece.
Lastly, I would like to thank my family. My parents, father-in-law, and brother never failed to ask me about how things were going on the mosaic and always expressed their excitement about it. And to my husband Chuck and son Nicholai, thanks for all your support and for picking up the slack especially after school, and for keeping me laughing during a few tough times — you two are the best.
UPDATE: Please see Dave Loewenstein’s blog about the recent comings and goings of murals in Lawrence, KS, including murals by Stan Herd at the former Tellers Restaurant, KT Walsh at the Poehler Building, and me at the Free State Brewery.
I am excited that a mosaic of mine will be on the cover of the forthcoming book To the Stars Through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices.Â The book will be available sometime in December, so stay tuned!
This collection of 150 poems, each one written as part of a collaborative whole, was edited by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Kansas Poet Laureate 2009-13.
To the Stars Through Difficulties takes the form of a renga, a collaborative poem in which each participant writes in response to the one or two parts of the poem that came before. Each portion of the poem has been highlighted throughout the year (2012) on the blog 150 Kansas Poems.
(To the Stars Through Difficulties was edited by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg; cover design by Leah Sewell; cover art by Lora Jost; interior design by Denise Low-Weso, Kansas Poet Laureate 2007-2009; poems by 150 writers who have a unique relationship to Kansas — its landscape and culture.)
For the first time I am participating in The Sketchbook Project,Â an annual project wherein thousands of people from across the world make a sketchbook to be included in a traveling exhibit of artist books, coordinated by the Brooklyn Art Library, a branch of the Art House Co-op based in Brooklyn, NY.
Participants pay a fee to the library for inclusion and are then mailed a small sketchbook to use during the year prior to the project’s ending date which this year is January 15, 2013.Â An additional fee allows participants to have their books digitized and included in an on-line display. Sketchbooks are the main attraction for this project, but all kinds of handmade books are welcome as long as they conform to a few basic guidelines.
I am planning to use this book as a way to loosen up a bit with my drawing.Â I anticipate that it will be a place where I will work more personally and spontaneously than I usually do, and yet in a way that is refined enough for me to feel comfortable with its public display.Â I plan to doodle, ramble and play, and to explore themes thatÂ I am working on in my daily art making process but that are not worked out yet. In my first spread I drew over a newspaper article that I glued down.Â The article is about the new healthcare law that was recently upheld by the Supreme Court yet still condemned by my state’s governor. I’m interested in making relationships and connections between personal experiences and the bigger world of politics and culture as seen through the media, particularly my daily newspaper, and especially during this year’s presidential campaign.
Lately I’ve been investigating ideas towards a theme for a show at Marty Olson’s “Do’s Deluxe” in Lawrence, in November. The process is like making a collage; images and ideas come from almost everywhere as I respond to experiences, memories, and the world around me.
At the core of this exploration, though, is the feeling that I along with many others are standing on a precipice â€“ or facing an impending storm. The storm is literal (wildfires, massive thunderstorms, and blinding heat) and a metaphor too — how the rage of intolerance, war, corporate power, anti-science extremism and climate change threaten our neighborhoods, environment, civil rights, voting rights, human rights.
But the change that is in the air is also seasonal and sensual and filled with preparation. While we teeter on a precipice in a worrisome sort of waiting game with many people not responding quickly enough, some people are feeling the weight and see the risks and the hard times ahead. Some will roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done even though it will be hard to turn things around. They’ll try.
People know what to do with a storm. Memories of my mom and dad canning peaches in the heat of summer for the winter ahead come to mind. I think of the transition to fall’s bitter-sweetness and time passing, when wood is stacked in preparation for the looming winter. But more than that, people come together in the storms of winter and through their collective work and actions actually become the spring.
The seasons are like history repeating itself with a comforting regularity. I can hope for a more reasonable day because more reasonable days have come. Public schools, social services, healthcare and the arts have enjoyed broad public support, even in Kansas.Â And a conservative supreme court (however cynically) can surprise us by upholding the healthcare law.Â Maybe it is too much to hope.Â But isn’t that a good role for an artist?
Foreboding and illumination. Churning and solace. Despair and reverie. Images as they develop in my mind and find their way into my sketchbooks, drawings, mosaics, and collages, are about storms real and political.Â But more than that they are about the feeling that comes before the storm; the stillness, the headwind, the first clinks of hail. This work is about seeking the “better angels of our nature” and finding the comforting reverberations of possibility.
Here are two new mosaics that I made, that will be on display and are for sale at the Strecker-Nelson Gallery in Manhattan, Kansas, from early November through December, 2011.
Each Mosaic, Winter Tree and From the Dark, includes many hours of work. I first created the basic concept and design for each, and then shaped the ceramic pieces to fit where I wanted them to go. The images change as I proceed, and I design each piece anew as each element is placed and new relationships are formed. I find the process to be a bit like putting together a puzzle that evolves as the creative process unfolds.
I made both mosaics from ceramic dishes that I found over time, mostly from thrift stores. Sometimes friends give me the remains of beloved dishes that were dropped or met some other dark fate, and I incorporate these, too. I stockpile dishes of particular colors that inspire me or that I know I’ll need eventually, especially black and white.
Each piece was inspired in part by the impending winter.Â I wanted to create a stark winter beauty in the piece Winter Tree.Â I have been thinking about the arch that appears in this piece for a long time.Â It is a personal symbol for everything that is here within, a bit like a rainbow but matter of fact and without the emotion.Â The other mosaic, From the Dark, is about illumination — the light that carries one through the dark — a dark winter or a dark time. The carrier of the light in this piece for me connotes fragility, yet the medium renders these papers boats rather solid.Â The boats were interesting shapes for me to work with.
The Strecker-Nelson Gallery is located at 406 1/2 Poyntz Avenue, Manahattan, KS.Â Hours are Monday – Saturday, 10 am – 6 pm. Phone the gallery at 785-537-2099.
Everyone is invited to the opening reception for the exhibit Going / Home / Coming on August 13, 6 – 9 pm, at the Lawrence Percolator in Lawrence, KS. The artists whose work will be shown explore the theme of “home” with the following in mind: When do you become aware of home? In what situations do you not feel at home? How does the idea of home change over time?
My piece in the exhibit includes an anecdote from my childhood about growing up as a Democrat in a Republican state — my home state of Kansas. I made the piece by applying and scratching off various inks on a clayboard surface. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing and reading this quirky little piece.
The Lawrence Percolator is located in the alley between 9th and 10th streets and behind the Lawrence Arts Center on New Hampshire St. The exhibit runs August 13 – September 11, 2011, and is open on Saturdays and Sundays from noon â€“ 6 pm, and on the Final Friday of each month from 5 â€“ 8 pm.
Come see my clayboard drawings in a three-person exhibit called Scratch, Sprinkle, Cut, at the Carnegie Cultural Center in Ottawa, KS. The exhibit features the black-and-white art of Azyz Sharafy (sandtoning), Angela Pickman (cut paper), and me (clayboard).
The Carnegie Cultural Center is at 5th and Main in Ottawa, KS. The exhibit runs August 5 – September 30, 2011, and the hours are Wednesday – Friday, noon – 5 pm, and by appointment on Saturdays. The exhibit reception is open to all on Friday, August 19, 5:30 – 7:30 pm.
I will offer a two-hour Scratchboard Workshop at the Carnegie on Saturday, August 27, from 10 am – noon. The cost is $20. Call to pre-register at 785-242-8478.