Half the Sky–a book object

When Paper Dresses incubating, I began folding origami paper dresses. I used the pattern designed by Alison Reisel (Who coincidently happened to be in North Adams for the Paper Dresses opening! Isn’t that amazing! We were so delighted to thank her for her brilliant design!)

I kept folding them and folding them. Using all kinds of colored paste papers that I have made over the years. I knew I wanted to do something with them that made them into a “book”.

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The book object is a box of origami dresses with different quotes ranging from text from the 19th Amendment and Title IX to statements and tweets from current events related to violence against women and children and how the NFL has handled it. This piece was directly inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book Half the Sky and upcoming visit to MCLA as well as email conversations with Kristen Leslie, one of my former professors from when I was at Yale University.

As I folded each of the dresses and hand wrote the text on the back of them, I meditated on how far we have come as women and how far it is to go. That violence happens to women young and old, here and abroad.  I am continually reminded that my bubble that includes strong leadership by women is not the norm in most of the world. For change to happen, we need to look beyond our own bubbles and strive to make a difference. This piece is as a much a reminder to myself as it is a call to you, the viewer, to find a way to foster a better global world for women.

Want to do more? The following four steps are from Kristof and WuDunn’s book, Half the Sky:

  1. Go to www.globalgiving.org or www.kiva.org and open an account. Both sites are people-to-people (P2P), meaning that they link you directly to a person in need.
  2. Sponsor a girl or a woman through Plan International, Women for Women International, World Vision, or American Jewish World Service.
  3. Sign up for email updates on www.womensenews.org or www.worldpulse.com
  4. Join the CARE Action Network at www.can.are.org


It’s Time to Let Go

The Paper Dresses opening at PRESS proved to be a magical evening.

If you were unable to make it, one of the highlights of the night was the  “happening/performance” starring two dresses by Diane Sullivan and my Let Go dress.

Big thanks to my MCLA colleague in theatre Laura Standley and three of her students, Courtney McLaren, Crysta Cheverie, and Kelsey McGonigle. They created an evening to remember. Please enjoy this slide show of the performance. Imagine the first few songs of the Amelie soundtrack and you might just be able to picture how the happening happened. Another big thanks to summer BHIP intern Nicole LeClair for taking these pictures!

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The performance began with all three young women walking into the gallery at various speeds and intensities, moving backward and forward and in and around people and artwork. After about 5-10 minutes of this, Courtney, who was wearing the Let Go dress stopped. Crysta and Kelsey then began inviting people to come and tear off the part of the let go strips written with various statements. Sometimes it was very easy to tear off the strips, at other times quite difficult. Once torn, they were to be left to the floor. Gone, having been let go. This went on for a few minutes then the young women returned to the starting movement before taking up positions in the window where they moved slowly for a little while until they were released.

This dress evolved out my interest in what other people hold onto. Over 250 people contributed statements over the course of the summer. The top “thing” that people hold onto, according to this very informal poll, is fear. I shared this with my father and he reminded me of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I wonder what our world would be like if we all let go of fear.

During the opening, the various “let go” statements were torn off the dress and left to the world, as a reminder of how sometimes we need someone to help us let go, as well as that it is sometimes just really hard to let go…

Origami Paper Dress Exchange

One of the more amazing parts of the Paper Dress exhibit opening at PRESS on Thursday, September 25th, includes an origami paper dress exchange. A friend of mine summed up what a printmaking exchange is really nicely for those who are not printmakers–it’s like a cookie exchange. You make your “cookie” and then you get other “cookies” from everyone else who participated. In this case, our “cookies” are paper dresses. Amazing. Gorgeous. Origami. Paper Dresses. Twelve artists participated in the exchange from a recent MCLA grad to a friend who lives all the way in Australia and many artists in between. Here is a preview of the dresses and the container that I designed for them today. I haven’t made a box or an enclosure for something in awhile.

Many variations existed in my head. But I ended up with this one largely because the depth the dresses created really warranted something sturdier than just a paper portfolio or envelope.

The enclosure is a simple cased slipcase. It is covered in red and brown buckram and adorned with yet another paper dress made from paste papers that I made to match the buckram.image_5image_3 image_2 image_1


Here were the guidelines that I designed for the exchange:

  • Paper Dress Exchange: Using the paper dress origami pattern, design a dress that explores the tension between freedom and confinement.
  • Accepted Media: Any traditional printmaking process: Relief, Intaglio, Lithography, Serigraphy/Silkscreen, Collagraph, Letterpress, etc.
  • Paper Size: Can range from 6-10 inch square paper.
  • Edition: 15 somewhat identical dresses. The dress should somehow reflect the work you create as an artist. While each of them CAN vary, there needs to be some kind of repeating element that is evident in each of the dresses.

During the run of the Paper Dresses exhibit we will have an activity station where you, too, can make a paper origami dress. We will also have paper dresses that you can cut out and decorate yourself if origami isn’t your cup of tea. You can try making your own origami dresses at home. We used this pattern. It is an intermediate folding pattern.

Cultivate patience with yourself when folding it for the first time. The neckline is particularly challenging. But with practice and perseverance you will do it!

Inspiration for Paper Dresses

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden introduced first in 1990 while chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and was then signed into law on September 13, 1994 by President Clinton. One of the ways of acknowledging this important anniversary in the wake of the Ray Rice awfulness is through a “book object” that I am making to exhibit at Paper Dresses. 

The “book object” is a large clamshell box that holds 40 paper origami dresses. Each dress will be stenciled with a line of text from various fact sheets about domestic violence, magazine and newspaper articles, tweets and selections from Half the Sky, an incredible book by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. You’ll have to come to the exhibit to see it. I’ll be posting some of the dresses with their text in the next week or so as the exhibit becomes even closer.



In addition to this book object, on September 25th when the exhibit Paper Dresses opens at PRESS, the exhibit will showcase other work that uses the dress as the common form that links women around the world together.

The exhibit will feature an incredible print exchange that had women from the Berkshires, Australia, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Pennsylvania printing and folding paper into lovely little origami dresses. There will be wearable paper dresses that directly explore the idea of freedom and confinement through typography and paper, as well as two-dimensional drawings and prints related to what it means to be a woman right here right now.

Remember Women hold up half the sky, Chinese Proverb.


13 Blackbirds

A number of months ago, maybe even a year ago, my friend Karen shared Wallace Stevens’ poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. The poem sat in my To File folder on my desk for ages. I would come across it from time to time as I filed other papers, thinking, this would be great for a project one day. 

During the 2013 Fall semester I taught Book Arts at MCLA. It’s one of my favorite classes to teach, especially when we make plunder books. Plunder Books are a Hedi Kyle invention. They involve the following rules:

Bring in three items to donate to the class. Consider what kind of items you are bringing. THINK: Something for pages, something for binding, something for covers. These can be individual items, but collections are great too! (For example, a pack of coffee filters for pages, or a bunch of discarded CDs.)

Numbers are drawn and in that order each person goes around and chooses an item. We keep going around until all items are claimed.  You may or may not end up with the items you contributed. Then the fun begins!

Assignment:  With the three items you have chosen, construct a book.

  1. You must use the three items
  2. You may add glue or string to help with the binding.
  3. You may add text if you wish.

I chose empty tea envelopes, poker chips, cardstock and then I got a bonus item, some clear plastic.  I added string and text and 13 blackbirds to create this:13 Blackbirds MOWINSKI

I had just enough materials to make 13 pockets that were mounted to the clear plastic accordion style. When I made the book I had NO IDEA that the Wallace Stevens text would become part of it. The time came for me to go through the To File folder, which dove-tailed nicely with the plunder book project.

I drilled holes into the poker chips and wrote one of Stevens’ stanza’s onto each of the chips with the number written out on the other side. I drew blackbirds moving through the stages of flight on each of the pages.

One the book was finished, I made the box you see in this picture to house it.

Paper Dresses

At the end of September, Paper Dresses opens at PRESS. It is a project that I initiated with a diverse group of women from North Adams, New Hampshire, Philadelphia, Hartford, Australia, other parts of the Berkshires and New York State. The assignment? To create a paper dress that explores the tension between freedom and confinement. Each artist is creating a print or a wearable paper dress that incorporates typography. We are also making origami paper dresses that we will be exchanging with each other as well as selling at the September opening.

Melanie's origami paper dress exchange

Melanie’s origami paper dress exchange

The design for me dress originally started out as my idea for my actual sized paper dress. Or a variation of it. But after many hours of pondering what I wanted to make–I envisioned the dress as a print–using layers of sandragraph, pressure prints, polymer plates and type to create this lovely little creation. I wanted the birds to be somewhat engulfed in the background to represent their need to get free and rise up into the unknown.

The text is a verse of Rumi’s, something I randomly opened to while browsing A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings during my friend Karen’s fabulous Vibrant Visionary Collage workshop (which–btw–she’s teaching a weekend version of it in December).

After setting the text in 8-point type I now know it by heart.

People just want you to be happy
Stop serving them your pain
If you could untie your wings (of jealousy, envy, lust, fear…etc.)
And free your soul
You and everyone around you would fly up like doves


Beach Combing

Assuming the squat position over a pile of stones and shells instantly takes me back to memories of rocky Atlantic beaches in the Caribbean.
I could spend hours in that position hunting for shells of a particular size and shape. But right now I am near Crescent Beach in Portland, Maine atop fibrous rocks that splinter like wood and seem closer to giant petrified logs than coastal shale.
My low-position has me eyeing for splinter stones, worn smooth but still more spike-like than I’ve ever seen in New England–reminding me of another Caribbean memory–choosing a beach by the kind of shell or stone gathering I wanted to do.
The challenge I set for myself now is how to transform these forms into drawings, little abstractions of memory and moment.







Learning By HeartI first became acquainted with Corita Kent shortly after graduating from college with a Bachelor’s in Art Education and a K-12 art-teaching certificate. Someone gave me her book book Learning By Heart as a graduation present. I didn’t really understand her impact in the art world at that time. But I did understand the impact her way of teaching and inspiring young people as portrayed in this book and I wanted to be just like her. I would dip into the book from time to time for ideas and inspiration.

I came across her work again in 2009 while visiting Los Angeles. I visited the Cathedral Our Lady of the Angels and was delighted to see an exhibit of her serigraphs and watercolors. Upon my return out came the book and a review of all things Corita. Including her rules:



















I try to abide by these, especially #7 and #9. But lately I’ve been thinking of another thing she said. “There is no art. We do everything as best we can.” She began saying this after extensive research of Indonesian and other Southeast Asian country languages where there is no word for art. There is create, make, design, draw. But no art. (I haven’t fact-checked that.)

But it reminds me of something that Nate Padavick said to my students once. “Make everything you do the best thing you’ve ever done.”

I kept thinking about all of this when I got the chance to see Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent at the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art. The show was originally organized by the Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs, just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away from me, but I missed it there. Luckily, I was able to see the show while visiting my family. And it did not disappoint.

The highlight was a Cleveland-only viewing of the Beatitudes Banner that she made for the 1964 Worlds Fair. It is owned by the United Church of Christ National Offices which are located in Cleveland and features quotations from Pope John XXIII and President John F. Kennedy. Read more about this amazing piece here.

My mom reading all the quotes on the Beatitudes piece.

My mom reading all the quotes on the Beatitudes piece.


Spending time with the Beatitudes work as well as watching all the primary footage of Corita giving talks and working with her students highlighted the viewing of this show. But, I also brought my nieces and nephew with me. They immediately went to the activity that greeted us in the entry way. Perhaps one day I will write a critical review of the exhibit. Stay tuned.

The nieces and nephew hard at work

The nieces and nephew hard at work

Me with my one of my niece's Stefanie and my nephew AJ.

Me with my one of my niece’s Stefanie and my nephew AJ.

Sample prayer-flag/calls to action

Sample prayer-flag/calls to action

Stamps/Carvings to use on one's creation

Stamps/Carvings to use on one’s creation



Detail Tracks_webSometimes I feel split in two, walking between dense and more dense thoughts, wonderings, and desires. Picking paths along established tracks, and then venturing into other footsteps, like those of the animals in my backyard. The porcupine, bear, and coyotes guard the ridge of glacial erratics–they disappear into the massive rocks, where do they go? I sometimes wish I could vanish in a similar way…but into my den of making.

The above image is from Tracks, a series of fifteen 13×13 inch square compositions. Each piece is part of a larger tree rubbing that I transformed through the addition of little painted dots and tracks with ink. My favorite five come together to form a much larger piece. Each of them are individually framed and they currently are on exhibit at Pioneer Spine&Sport in Lenox, MA. Tracks_web


When I came across this word recently, I experienced a minor moment of deja-vu. It somehow seemed familiar, but I wasn’t quite sure until I examined its origins. Maria Popova, who author’s Brain Pickings Weekly wrote about it a couple of years ago in a great post chronicling Vintage Social Media from years ago. She identifies Twitter as modern-day florilegium. I know it, though, from my days of studying theology.

The quick definition? A collection of other people’s writings–like a common place book.

Florilegium itself comes from the Latin flos (flower) and legere (to gather). Flower gathering! But how I know the word is that it was used to describe extracts from early Christian authors and others that were combined into a single tomb.

Mowinski Florilegium

Mowinski Florilegium

Here is a stack of mine. I’ve been keeping these books since the mid-1980s. One reflects a period of time when I was reading Dakota, Thomas Moore, Thomas Merton and Paulo Freire. Another is pure late-teenage mix of angst and hope. Right now, one of them combines text on the left with a collage on the right–this one holds a random compilation. I have another that is more theological based and one that contains commentary on creative practice/pedagogy. Do you keep a florilegium? Tell me how in the comments below.

Here are two entries from the most recent one. I’ve included the quote for you below the picture. The creation of these collages sometimes finds its way into my own going morning daily practice. I limit myself to less than ten pieces of paper for the collages…although I can add pen to them, like in this one below.

Text from MARCH by Geraldine Brooks

Text from MARCH by Geraldine Brooks

I do not ask your absolution. I simply ask you to see that there is only one thing to do when we fail, and that is to get up, and go on with the life that is set in front of us, and try to do the good of which our hands are capable for the people who come in our way. That, at least, has been my path.    ~Mrs. March to Mr. March, p268 in March, by Geraldine Brooks

Text from The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Text from The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.

Because–is it drilled into us constantly, from childhood on, an unquestioned platitude in the culture–? From William Blake to Lady Gaga, from Rousseau to Rumi to Tosca to Mr. Rodgers, its a curiously uniform message, accepted from high to low: when in doubt, what to do? Ho do we know what’s right for us? Every shrink, every career counselor, every Disney princess knows the answer: “Be yourself.”  “Follow your hear.”

Only here’s what I really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed by a heart that can’t be trusted–?

p. 761, The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt