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.

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Tracks

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

Florilegium

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

 

Paper Dresses

One of my favorite stories from when I was a little girl was how my mother used to “bribe” me to wear a dress to a party or special occasion instead of my favorite orange pants. She promised me that I could put on my orange pants as soon as we got home as long as I wore whatever she wanted me to wear to the party. (Seriously, how DID I fall for that.) The irony is that now I rarely ever wear pants, and nearly always wear dresses. One of my friends once wanted to take a picture of me in every single one of my summer dresses because I seem to have so many of them.

I’ve been experimenting with paper and dresses over the past couple of weeks in anticipation of the upcoming exhibit at PRESS that will feature paper dresses made over the course of the summer. There are three rules to the project.

  1.  The dresses must be made from paper.
  2. They must include typography.
  3. They must explore the tension between freedom and confinement.

But for now, I’m just experimenting, and pulled out some of my favorite paste paper scraps to fold into mini-origami dresses.

Paste paper ready to be folded

Paste paper ready to be folded

I was inspired by a project I made while a grad student in Hedi Kyle’s bookmaking class. She instructed us to choose an origami form and make multiples of them in descending or ascending sizes so they would stack together. I scanned peacock feathers and made this.FoldedPeacocks

I would like my mini-origami paper dresses to some how stack together, but the form doesn’t allow for it to nestle like the peacock shape did. This is my kind of challenge–figuring out how to nestle the dresses to emphasize the change in scale, but to also allow the viewer to see the diverse paste paper patterns–I really like that red one.MiniOrigamiDresses2 It looks like we will be creating an exchange project based on these origami dresses. Keep reading this blog or the PRESS blog to find out!

It all comes together through process

The first show at PRESS this summer features the work of Alke Groppel-Wegener, MCLA Hardman Family grant awardee who spent part of January and May working at PRESS and with MCLA students. Alke mined the tradition of mantras at PRESS to create this inspiring piece:

Alke Groppel-Wegener

Process Doesn’t Get You…by Alke Groppel-Wegener

You can see this and more of Alke’s work during her exhibit at PRESS What’s your Mantra? An Exploration of Academic and Creative Mantras during June and July. Alke not only explored mantras but how they help form and mold one’s identity. Different mantras work for different parts of our lives. To demonstrate this, she carved a linoleum block with a fingerprint. She transformed her prints of the fingerprint through weaving, collage and other manipulation. Through the process of weaving, cutting and collaging, she contemplated the five primary identities she holds, [artist, teacher, researcher, writer, designer] considering them visually.

She invited me to take prints of her fingerprint linocut, to think about the question of identity and transform the prints to represent me. I listed all the ways I identify myself:

| artist | educator | gallery chief | curator | lover | biker | runner | gardener | baker| seamstress | daughter | organizer | writer | auntie| friend | confidant |caretaker|mourner|teacher | researcher | naturalist | communicator |connector | woman | 

How to represent all of these ways I identify? I struggled to make the fingerprints work for me. Ultimately taking water and gesso to them to conceal a good portion of them then layering collage elements plus many little dots and pathways. I look at these five individual pieces that come together to form one larger piece as a conversation between the different parts of myself. I see the birds, dots and pathways my different identities and how I move back and forth between them. Sometimes quite seamlessly, other times with much distress.

Identity Combined by Melanie Mowinski

Identity Combined by Melanie Mowinski

Identity1 Identity2 Identity3 Identity4 Identity5One of the exciting parts of this next exhibit is that the viewer will have the opportunity to take one of the fingerprints and do the same thing. Make sure you come by PRESS beginning June 26th to take part in this creative exchange.

 

Be fascinated more than you fear…

I’m reading Just My Type, by Simon Garfield, a book about fonts. Any type geek will love this book–lots of silly and serious stories about letters we see regularly. A particular paragraph struck me. The author was writing about Zuzana Licko and her partner Rudy VanderLane. The two run the Font/Design House Emigre–and she is the designer behind Mrs. Eaves, definitely one of the more elegant Sans Serif faces. (Mrs. Eaves was named for John Baskerville’s housekeeper who later became his wife. learn more about the typeface history here.)

Licko is one of the few women type designers, (aside–why is that? no one seems to have a good answer…) In Just My Type she quotes Matthew Carter, that when one is designing a typeface it’s import to “find the fascination greater than the frustration.” Anyone who has designed a typeface from the ground up knows this to be true.

But this could be true for any creative/technical process. What fascinates you more than you fear it?

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Letting go

photo (6)I had to let my beloved mj, michael, michael jackson go on Tuesday. We don’t really know what happened to him. Some awful infection riddled his poor little brain and damaged him beyond repair. We tried all kinds of things, even acupuncture, but it was time. Some of you regular readers of my blog might remember my New Years’ Eve post from Thailand–where we sent off paper lanterns with offerings to the universe, and that moment when Eli said to me, “Melanie, when you are ready you just let go.” He was so matter-of-fact, totally talking about the lantern, but for me, then and now, especially now, I found those words to be incredibly profound. It is possible to just let go when the time comes, and to feel the fear, the grief, the sadness, the relief, the whatever in that action. But ohmygod, how hard it is to do sometimes.

I wasn’t even sure I wanted him, I wanted his brother Oscar, but mj, well, I knew I need to get two cats and he seemed like a good one. It quickly became clear that he was my teammate and Oscar was Doug’s. Here’s my little goodbye letter to him, my honey honey.

mj, honey, do you remember how you would cuddle with me at night, sometimes even nestling yourself in my arm and sleeping with your head on my shoulder? I don’t think too many nights went by without you either sleeping between my legs, on my back or somewhere nestled near my head.

I’d say to you, “c’mon, let’s go” and you would follow me up the stairs and wait for me to get into bed and then you would take your place on my chest while I read until it was time for me to turn over onto my belly and you would then take up your other positions.

Or, do you remember how you’d come into my studio and jump up onto my lap and help me do my work? You liked to do that. I missed you today as I made this collage of you while listening to your namesake serenade me. Sometimes it was a toss up, what did you like more, hunting mice or helping me? ;)

One of your favorite things to do was to perch on people’s shoulders. You could spend hours like that, watching the world from above, rubbing your head against mine or whomever was serving as your perch. You really had us trained!

And how I would torture you with kisses! And how I encouraged everyone to love you that way. You were always so good–so willing to let us hold you and kiss you and pet you. I know I called you a love whore sometimes, but I meant it in the best possible way. You knew how to give love and to be loved. And you were indiscriminate. You loved everyone. You loved being the center of attention. But you also knew how to be cozy and quiet when the time was right.

Do you remember the time you got out on the roof? I still don’t know how you managed that one. You were so sneaky. How you would lurk by the patio door, or the door to Martin’s room, waiting for the right human who didn’t notice you so you could try to get outside. You did one time, didn’t you? I was so distraught. Thank goodness Doug heard you crying outside the window later and rescued you. While that didn’t really deter you from wanting to go outside, you definitely were a little more cautious after that point.

But you got your exercise and your share of hunting right in our home. Thank you for all of those mice you managed to both devour and keep away. You earned your keep for sure!

I know I got mad at you for the countless sweaters of mine that you decided looked better with various holes in them. Oh and all of those headphones, especially new ones that you could find even in the best hiding place. But we figured out how to minimize that, didn’t we! I still had to watch out for you and your sneaky desires to eat clothes, plastic bags, headphones and cardboard boxes–you loved to be tricky!

I loved coming home and seeing you spooning with your brother. You two loved each other so much. He really took on the role of big brother sometimes, keeping you in his arms, cleaning you, loving you.

You had me so trained. It pained me how you would sometimes sit at the door when I went to the other side of the house, or left for work, and you would sit and wait. Just wait for me. Oh how I loved you.

Oh how I loved you. Thank you michael, mj, for everything. You taught me a different kind of love, a love I didn’t know before. Thank you for all we shared these past few years. Your life was way too short, way to brief. I loved you. I love you.

Tree Portraits

In 2005 I made my first tree rubbing at Windgrove in Tasmania.

Since then I have made countless large and small rubbings. Many find their way into books that I call Tree Portraits. I typically gather 4-6 Tree Portrait booklets into a collection that is housed in a clamshell box and is accompanied by a Field Guide to Tree Portraits. Over the years I have created about a dozen of these collections. Many gather trees from all over the world. But some focus in on particular places. Pictured here are images from the Nebraska City Tree Portraits (where Arbor Day was founded by J. Sterling Morton) and the Greylock Tree Portraits. Greylock is the tallest mountain in Massachusetts. I made these while hiking to the summit of Greylock in June 2010.

To learn more about my tree project go here.

 

Mount Greylock

Mount Greylock

Mount Greylock Tree Portraits and Field Guide

Mount Greylock Tree Portraits and Field Guide

Nebraska Trees

Nebraska Trees

Nebraska Trees

Nebraska Trees

Detail Nebraska Trees

Detail Nebraska Trees

The Scrap Bag Challenge

April is always a busy month for me. It’s pretty much the last month of the school year–so that means advising for the fall, senior art show, getting ready for graduation, etc. etc. I also have the following:

  • Three major print projects to complete right now–two of which are due by April 30th.
  • A very sick cat that I am trying to keep alive
  • Fulbright Application
  • Planning/finalizing the PRESS schedule of exhibits for the summer

So what do I do? I volunteer to partake in Crispina’s Scrap Box Challenge. Seriously. I am nuts. What is a Scrap Box Challenge? Here’s what Crispina said in her invite:

Here's my box of scraps from Crispina's Studio

Here’s my box of scraps from Crispina’s Studio

Let me inspire you to marvelousness.

I’ll send you a bag of fabric scrap from the studio.
You turn that bag of scrap into something marvelous! You can use any technique you’d like. Take pictures and post your progress here on Facebook.
Send images of your finished work to me by April 15 and be featured in my first ever virtual Earthday Art/Craft Show at www.crispina.com

 

My initial goal was to make one thing from all of my scraps–preferably something functional. When I unpacked them I realized that was not going to happen. I have random sweater scraps as well as some brown wool strips from an old shirt. I fused and sewed the brown strips back together to make this fab skirt.

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And now I have all of these scraps remaining.Scrap Parallel18 I’ve gotta do something with them by April 15th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know I want to make little bird sculptures. I’ve been wanting to do that for ages. And I’m also going to make some pillow covers or “quilt drawings/collages”, I think, thanks to inspiration from artist Karen Anne Glick. Karen lives in Carlisle, PA. I am discovering her because she is also part of the Scrap Bag Challenge. I wish she lived closer. She seems to be doing some similar things with her art practice as I do. I would love to chat with her. Check out her quilted drawings. She worked to make one of these a day in 2012 and then wrote something to go along with them. Sounds a lot like my mantra cards, right? She’s my new favorite artist.

Anyways. Follow the Scrap Bag Challenge on Facebook to see what others are doing.  And maybe I’ll post a few more creations later in the week.

 

RISK failure

Do you ever drag your feet when approaching a really big project? I am currently doing this. I have three big projects on my plate right now, and for whatever reason, I can’t seem to make any actual progress with them. Am I afraid of failure?

In times like this, I often turn to my friend Rilke, who wrote this to Countess Margot  Sizzo-Noris-Crouy on April 12, 1923:

The person who has not, in a moment of firm resolve, accepted–yes even rejoiced in–what has struck him with terror–he has never taken possession of the full, ineffable power of our existence. He withdraws to the edge; when things play out, he will be neither alive nor dead. We must discover the unity of dread and bliss, two faces of the same divinity (indeed, they reveal themselves as a single face that presents itself differently according to the way in which we see it.)

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