Here Stands

I celebrated this year’s equinox installing Here Stands, with friend and collaborator Holly Wren Spaulding. Throughout the long days of walking and hanging abaca fiber paper words, I kept thinking of the English artist Hamish Fulton, an artist whose work I have followed and admired for many years. One of the opening text pieces on his website kept going through my mind as Holly and I walked, stopped, embraced a tree while wrapping it with a word, consulted, admired and stood still.

  • herestands_september2016-6ONLY ART RESULTING


The very last line repeated in my head over and over and over. Our walk was as much of the art as the actual words that will be seen by so many walkers and hikers during the fall foliage season. In many ways, it is the most important part of the work. This quiet exchange that happens with a human being honors the earth. We were blessed with warm weather, blue skies and stillness. A perfect day to walk and be among trees.

Holly and I were doing a little performance in the woods, adorning trees with small poems of words to remind ourselves and others of the sacredness of the earth. The words will stay for the whole month of October, and hopefully longer, becoming marked by the elements as time passes by.

Holly writes about some of the details of her/our experience, from watching a young girl learning to read encounter the words to the discovery of someone who felt like the words needed to come down from the trees.  You can read about that here. 

We were able to do this work thanks in part by a grant from the Cultural Council of Northern Berkshire, a local agency, which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency in partnership with The Trustees of the Reservations.

Here, Stands can be found at the following Trustees sites:

(Applications for cultural council projects for next year are due on October 17, 2016.)




Wayfinding on view through September 25

MCLA GALLERY 51 TO EXTEND ‘WAYFINDING: A solo show by Melanie Mowinski

NORTH ADAMS, MASS. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) will extend the exhibition of Melanie Mowinski’s “Wayfinding” through September 25, 2016. Please come and meet the artist at a reception during  DownStreet Art night on Thursday, August 25th from 5-8 pm.

“Wayfinding” is about trusting the way and understanding the many paths to get to the same destination literally and figuratively. Through installation, letterpress, book arts and collage, artist Melanie Mowinski presents an investigation of the motivations behind the paths taken in life.

While on sabbatical from her position as Associate Professor of Art at MCLA, Mowinski was one of three visiting artists in Venice, Italy at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, served as an artist­in-­residence at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City and traveled to Memphis, Chicago, Clarksdale, Miami and New York City. In each of these cities or towns, she tracked her walks and wayfinding with a combination of data from electronic devices, drawings and writings. This information became the source for many of the drawings and artist books in “Wayfinding.”

Mowinski cultivates experimentation in her artwork alongside traditional bookbinding and art making practices, in addition to repetitive mark­making, which is the hallmark of this exhibition. One of the primary symbols in her artistic iconography is the simple dot that she clusters in two­-dimensional form in drawings and three-­dimensional form in the installation, “What Can Happen in a Year.” The dot represents a myriad of possibilities literally and metaphorically.

“I am continually drawn to the act of repetition as a form of prayer and meditation, whether it is making a mark over and over, creating the same sculptural object, or editioning an artist book, that act of repeating becomes the thing that grounds me in my process and focuses my attention.”

She also gravitates towards one-­of­-a-­kind artist books housed in unusual and traditional enclosures including Please Forgive Me, Parallel and Appetite for Egress, which are part of this exhibition.

Her artist books under the imprint 29 PRESS are in private and public collections like the Crouch Library at Baylor University, The Free Library of Philadelphia, The Ruth Hughes Collection at Oberlin College, Tate Modern Museum of Art in London, and the Love Library at the University of Nebraska­Lincoln.

Mowinski is the 2016 recipient of the Cultural Council Northern Berkshire Individual Artist Grant. CCNB is one of the local branches of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) is the Commonwealth’s public liberal arts college and a campus of the Massachusetts state university system. MCLA promotes excellence in learning and teaching, innovative scholarship, intellectual creativity, public service, applied knowledge, and active and responsible citizenship. MCLA graduates are prepared to be practical problem solvers and engaged, resilient global citizens.

For more information, go to

Special thanks to Nicole LeClair for the photographs in this blog post.

Forgive Me: Getting Ready for Wayfinding

My exhibition Wayfinding opens at MCLA’s Gallery 51 in a smidgen over a month from today. (July 28, 2016)  There are about a half-dozen in progress pieces/artist books that must be completed by the install. Every day I get a little closer to being ready.

Sewing Forgive MeYesterday I stitched together 28 signatures into the book Forgive Me, a book inspired by the Hawaiian forgiveness meditation and ritual Ho’oponopono.  Anyone who has ever navigated the process of forgiveness knows that it can by a difficult path. Ho‘oponopono was introduced to me as a meditation practice where one repeats four phrases over and over. Kinda like the Metta prayer. There are other ways of practicing it too. Read more about that here.

The four phrases are:

I’m sorry.      Please forgive me.     I love you.     Thank you.

Simple, right? Maybe. In finding my way through this thing called life, forgiveness comes up again and again. How do we forgive each other? Ourselves? The many different atrocities in our world? How can we hold a lightness in our heart when so much hatred and anger fills our society? Perhaps Ho‘oponopono and Metta can help. This book repeats those phrases over and over as you read through it, becoming the meditation itself. I’m currently fantasizing about exhibiting it on a table with my pink velvet chair next to it, inviting that meditation.

Greek Sewing diagram, Keith Smith

I printed each of these phrases over and over onto each one of the 28 signatures that were first painted with various inks and gesso resists. Then I bound them together using the Greek Sewing from Keith Smith’s Non-Adhesive Binding Volume III: Exposed Spine Sewings. This is a ridiculously fun binding where one half of the text block is sewn to one cover and the other half to the other cover. Then the two halves are joined using a figure-8 type stitch. The stitching feels a lot like the caterpillar stitch, if you know that one, and just like the caterpillar stitch requires fierce concentration. No chatting on the phone while sewing this book.

Fully open trial Greek Binding I chose this sewing because it can result in a slightly swollen spine, a no-no for many bindings, I want this book to be displayed completely open, and a swollen spine will do that. Here’s what it will look like from above when displayed. This is the mock-up book–loving it already.

The book will be housed in a custom made box using a glorious scrap of hot pink paper backed silk. I have exactly enough of it to do this. As long as I don’t make any errors.  If you want to see the finished book in all its glory AND its box, be sure to put July 28, 2016, 5-7 pm on your calendar. See you DownStreet!IMG_0029


Tree Rubbing Love

I made a tree rubbing yesterday, one of the firsts in a very long time. It’s a rubbing of the word love inscribed into a tree along the Burbank Trail at Olivia’s Overlook in Lenox, MA. I don’t remember how I first found this tree. It’s written in a notebook somewhere, but today is not about that.

Love Rubbing_smallLove is up the hill from another tree that has the word eternity on it. The eternity tree is right on the path, placed in such a way that if you are really paying attention, you can spot it. I haven’t walked this trail in a very long time, and was amazed at how much healing the eternity tree has generated. The word eternity is barely recognizable. If you did not know it existed in the past, you would miss it. I felt a little sad at the end of eternity. The story I made up based on the dates and names carved into at least six of the surrounding trees was that two lovers in the 1970s pledged their love for all eternity. Maybe eternity is just as fragile as we are.

Regardless, Olivia’s Overlook is a lovely place to declare your love. This trail is where Doug and I first hiked together, which is why I was there making the tree rubbing. The rubbing is going to be part of something related to my upcoming marriage (think invite, thank you card, give-aways) While I have made many rubbings of it in the past, I don’t seem to have any record of them either digitally or as an original. (How IS that possible?) So I packed my trusty Stanol crayon and some Rives Lightweight and hit the trail.

When I make a tree rubbing (set type, ride my mountain bike, make little dots) I drop into Mihály Csíkszentmihályi‘s concept of flow nearly immediately. There is nothing like this single-minded focused attention. And even though I am out of practice, it happened: I dropped into that fabulous state of focus while coaxing the nuances of the rubbing out of the paper.

Flow is one of those things that you don’t share with someone else. It is one of the perks of cultivating solitude in your life. This reminds me of a quote I just read by Louise Bourgeois

Solitude, a rest from responsibilities, and peace of mind, will do you more good than the atmosphere of the studio and the conversations which, generally speaking, are a waste of time.

In many ways this quote defines what my life has been like for the past five months. I lamented at one point that there weren’t enough people at my residencies, and struggled with loneliness more times than I care to admit during my travels in Italy. My dear friend Andrea pointed out that if there had been more people, maybe I wouldn’t have made as much progress, which is exactly Bourgeois’ point. I have made friends with that loneliness now, and the stillness that I crave and give myself regularly at this point. Stillness can be being alone with a piece of paper, a stanol crayon and a tree in the middle of the woods; traditional meditation/prayer, walking alone or countless other things. Being still in the mind and heart can happen even when the body is moving. 

Can one be still and dance and be filled with laughter? I think so. Do you?


Running to Iowa

I spent a good part of the past four weeks at an artist residency in Nebraska City, right on the Missouri river across from Iowa. The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts (KHN) was my host– and a damn good one. If you are looking for a residency with very little outside distractions, comfortable accommodations and an excellent letterpress studio, this is the place for you. This was my second time at KHN–so I arrived knowing full well that there really are no distractions.  Very quickly you realize that the only thing to do is go to your studio, so you do, and that’s when the magic happens.

Studio progress

Studio progress

Many people wondered what a residency in Nebraska must be like after six-weeks in Venice. My response is PERFECT. I needed some place where I could work and process all that I have experienced in the past few months. (Did I mention that in the past 20 weeks, I have spent only 24 days in my own bed? That’s a lot to process.) I gave myself permission to do whatever I wanted, to follow my whims and to not be concerned about making anything worthy of my upcoming exhibit, Wayfinding at MCLA’s Gallery 51.

KHN Drawings 20165What fun! I started making these great drawings that pick-up on some elements of the artist books that I created in Venice. And the best part–they WILL be part of the exhibit. I need to make seven small ones (18×48 inches), finish the large one (4×8 feet) and make a second large one (4×4 feet). AND, I have to make 300 three-dimensional dots. Notice the common element…lots of little dots. Lots of them. Endless dots. I dream about them. They are all I want to make right now. Thankfully. I don’t know why, but I love  them.

The exhibit opens July 28th at 5 pm. MCLA’s Gallery 51, big thanks to them and to the Massachusetts Cultural Council that awarded me an independent artist grant to do this work.

KHN Drawings 201612 KHN Drawings 201611KHN Drawings 20161



So why is the post called Running to Iowa?

Nebraska City is about two miles from the Iowa border–which is at the center of the Missouri river reachable via an interstate bridge. The thought of running to Iowa captivated me the first time I was here, but I was too chicken to do it. I ran to the bridge a couple of times at my regular weekday time, but by 7:45 am the semi-trucks were already out in full force.  I determined that Sunday at 7 am might have the least amount of semi-truck traffic for me to run on the barely two foot brim of the bridge. And I was right. It was the last thing I did in Nebraska before beginning my return back to Massachusetts.

The large drawing is about running to Iowa–about all those things we obsess about, that we try to reach over and over again but our fear gets in the way and prevents us, until one day it doesn’t. This drawing is dedicated to all of us who overcome those little and big fears that keep us from our dreams, however small or large.KHN Drawings 20168

Paper Words for Nebraska City’s Arbor Day

Seven years ago I arrived in Nebraska City in August for an artist residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. I wanted to be in Nebraska City because it is THE city in which Arbor Day began, in 1872 by J. Sterling Morton. Over a million trees were planted that first year, and because of its success, the day was celebrated the next year and the next and spread to other states and territories. It’s not a federal holiday, but every state now observes it. The actual date varies depending on the state and its planting zone. Many states, including Nebraska honor it on the last Friday of April.

I am now in Nebraska City at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts (KHN) as a resident again, fulfilling a dream that began during that first residency to install my Paper Word project for Nebraska City’s Arbor Day celebration. In honor of that, fellow resident Erin Malone and KHN Program Director Amanda Smith (Thank you!) helped me install paper words at the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure. The words will also be on trees in front of the county courthouse and city hall.

At the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure, we hung a haiku-inspired text written by Holly Wren Spaulding that is part of our collaboration Here, Stands, a variation of my paper word project down in the valley along the wood chip trail.

Other words, the “empowering words” as I call them, are along the upper trails. Here are some pics of us installing the work.

Here’s a summary of the inspiration for this: Here, Stands is a collaboration between poet Holly Wren Spaulding and artist Melanie Mowinski that brings brief, image-driven poems to public spaces. Mowinski takes Wren’s words and her own and makes them into handmade paper words that are tied around trees. The spare, haiku-inspired texts bring attention to the many functions of the forest (utilitarian, emotional, spiritual, aesthetic). The project serves to engage passers-by with reflections having to do with humans’ relationship to the environment. Inspiration includes the forest monks of Southeast Asia who “ordain” trees by wrapping them in sacred monk’s robes in an ongoing effort to save endangered forests from industrial logging. Our project enrobes the trees in poems, another way of bringing awareness to their virtues, both sacred & mundane.

The project comments on and invites conversation about some of the challenges faced by society, including our growing disassociation from our natural world and lack of awareness about the role it plays in sustaining life. The poems and words chosen and created for this project point to, and ennoble the trees and other features of our landscape that clean the air, filter our water, hold our soil in place and provide safe-haven from the elements.

Artists Books: Made in Venice

My time in Venice was ridiculously generative. I embodied the cliche inspiration flowing through me like a turned-on faucet towards the end of my stay. A faucet that has continued to stream ideas and projects faster than I can keep up. My ideas often found themselves in the form of a book structure. My intentions for Venice included copious amounts of letterpress printing, but for some reason my practice continued to steer clear of that medium. Instead I played with the materials that I love: painted papers, gesso, collage-like practices, text and the transformation of prints/papers discarded by others.

Wayfinding 3 webWayfinding Star: This book is the inspiration for my solo exhibition Wayfinding at MCLA’s Gallery 51 opening this summer on July 28th. Wayfinding Star documents departure from latitude 42.562 / longitude -73.1629 (Cheshire, MA where I live) to latitude 45.4343 / longitude 12.3388 (Venice, Italy where I spent winter 2016). Each line in the middle layer represents latitude and longitude lines, Wayfinding 1 webdemonstrating the closeness in latitude but distance in longitude. The text on the front layer recounts experiences navigating in Venice as I lost and found my way, always listening for the toll of church bells, the back layer of the book. The eight-point star references the compass rose and the many geometrical patterns centered on the number eight encountered throughout Venice.

Parallel Pathways reveals my discovery that there was often more than one way to get somewhere, if you were willing to be present to being lost and unattached to time. Parallel to this discovery, I noticed that somewhere in the past centuries, the Madonna has become unnoticed, a piece of art history for many and a point of prayer for few. This juxtaposition between time, journey, art history and prayer captivated my attention through the form of this storage book holding elements of the journey of Venice.


We Are Not Ephemeral webIn We Are Not Ephemeral I continued my need to follow the weather while in Venice by watching the tide charts. During my first ten days I experienced acqua alta a couple of times—nothing too impressive, but enough to warrant rubber boots in a few places. This books considers the ebb and flow of relationships and the desire for them to not be ephemeral. It’s a simple accordion book made from pressure printing, dry point, handset type and a hand-stitched pathway.

Egress Web 1An Appetite for Egress was the first book I made in Venice. The structure uses Hedi Kyle’s storage book but with thin binder’s board instead of cardstock. This material creates solid pages that clatter as you page through the book in a way reminiscent of foot-falls. The text evolved from reflections on Joseph Brodsky’s Watermark related to time, water and how so much of walking in Venice is about leaving the past behind.

I am continually grateful to the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica for inviting me to come to Venice, as well as to the Massachusetts Cultural Council whose Northern Berkshire County branch honored me with this year’s Individual Artist Grant which helped fund the trip. I am also grateful to MCLA for awarding me my sabbatical as well as a small professional development that also contributed to the funding of the trip.


Lessons of Venice

Three weeks ago I boarded the Alilaguna to the airport and said goodbye to Venice. A lifetime seems to have passed in that short time as I struggle to find my rhythm again in my life in the western Massachusetts countryside. I keep trying to stay true to the “Lessons of Venice” because they apply to every moment of living, whether in Venice, the Berkshires, the Bronx or elsewhere.

  1. There is so much joy surrounding me at all times. When I choose to passionately connect to the present moment it nearly electrifies me.
  2. Wilderness is a mindset. It’s as much in the mind as it is in the place. It surrounds us.
  3. Relax into being lost. When you can be open to that feeling, amazing things can happen.
  4. This one is borrowed from Corita Kent: Be happy, it’s lighter than you think.
  5. Laugh, don’t take it on.
  6. There’s always more than one way. It may take a couple of wrong turns, but when the path gets too crowded, take the parallel or unknown one. You may like it better, and sometimes, it’s actually quicker.
  7. Always listen to that inner longing, even if it wants you to do something that seems scary.
  8. Seven weeks is too long to be away from Doug.

During my time in Venice I actively worked to be grateful as much as possible for this opportunity and to pause in gratitude for my life, my family and friends and what I was learning and doing in Venice. These pictures represent some of the highlights–including people that I met and work that I created.

I’ll be working on the ideas generated in Venice that build on past writings and work related to the role of walking in creative practice at my next residency. I leave for a four-week residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in the beginning of April. In July, I will exhibit this work at MCLA’s Gallery 51 in a solo exhibition entitled Wayfinding. Save the date–it opens July 28th.

My trip to Venice was supported in part by the 2016 Individual Artist Grant from the Northern Berkshire Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

Carnevale, or how Venice and Alaska are alike

Carnevale12When you arrive in Venice or Denali National Park in Alaska, it’s a “Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore,” kind of a moment. Everything you know about being in the world shifts slightly. Granted, some of the dangers one encounters in Denali National Park are unlikely in Venice (i.e. being eaten by a grizzly bear) what is true to both though, especially during Carnevale, is how humans love to look at the “other.” Whether the other consists of caribou, grizzlies and wolves, or men and women in lavishly designed costumes, the impulse for the observer to photograph, stare, document and savor exists in both.

Mellie in the mirrorIn Denali National Park, the people transporting busses stop for significant animal sightings and all the humans snap pictures, comment, and go ooh and ahh.

In Venice, photographers of all levels cluster and shoot when costumed people appear. Early morning sunrise in San Marco brings out the more serious shooters, with their tripods, flood lights, flash umbrellas, and the like. These pictures are a mix of some that I took and some that my sister took. (She and my nieces where here during the first weekend of Carnevale. Look for the pictures of us making our own masks!)

The other similarity between Venice and Alaska is the relationship to wilderness. The more I think about Thoreau and his study of wilderness, and especially his phrase “In Wilderness is the preservation of the world”, the more I believe it is about cultivating a state of mind versus an experience in a particular place. When I was in Denali, Doug and I talked extensively about this, and decided that wilderness is about being present to the unpredictability of life, the knowledge that while we think we are in control, a grizzly bear could appear out of nowhere, just like a person decked out in 17th century finery in Venice emerges from around a corner. This ability to remain alert, to maintain a wilderness mindset, cultivating a welcome acceptance of the unexpected, good and bad, this is one of many “Lessons of Venice.”

Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins, which means Carnevale has been happening here in Venice for the past ten days, with all kinds of revelry and costumed people. I must admit, I will be grateful for Thursday when the crowds will have gone and the quiet of the Venice winter returns. But grateful for having had this experience of seeing the city transformed by revelry and little moments like what just happened–moments that are impossible to photography, but will remain with me long after I leave here. In both instances, the photographs don’t even begin to capture the magic of each moment. Hopefully my drawings tomorrow will…

  • …a groups of five LED lit white-clothed people just walked through my campo. They were like little snowballs of white light. Perfect. Glorious.
  • And another moment, today on my way to yoga there were three people, I think men, in lovely period costumes with elements of nature. A moss and flower covered staff and massive amounts of peacock feathers coming out of their masks. It was so pretty and they were moving gracefully through the crowd at the base of the Rialto while some string instruments serenade them.

Truly a magical moment. 

Navigating Venice

I have a really great sense of direction and an understanding of where I am in space. I often think about my location from an aerial perspective, especially when I am some place new. When I close my eyes, the map of my location appears in my mind’s eye, allowing me to settle into my new environment and find my way. I make all kinds of journeys this way, traversing up and down streets, mountainsides and pathways.

Venice challenges every fiber of the above statement. Typically if my instinct tells me to turn right (destra) or left (sinistra), in Venice, it’s likely the other way. Often what looks straight on a map is really a number of small turns to the left and right, so when zoomed out, appears to be a straight line. NavigatingVenice1 NavigatingVenice3 NavigatingVenice2There are all kinds of signs throughout the city, golden ochre signs with names of bridges, or landmarks or destinations to help the lost soul navigate. Venice is good for lost souls, it forces you to trust all kinds of things you would normally not trust or do. For example,

  • If your supreme map reading skills tell you to turn right at the third street, turn right, even if it looks like that street is a dead end alley.
  • If your every instinct tells you to turn left, but you see a sign that says you should go in the opposite direction, follow the sign. (Unless, of course, you want an adventure. )
  • Don’t be afraid when you find yourself alone, at night, in a dark alley. Every road is a dark alley. Trust it. Going through it might lead you to the most amazing view, path or destination. Venice is one of the safest cities around.
  • You know that feeling of mild panic when you realize you are lost? Let it become your friend, if you can be with it, it will open up all kinds of things for you.
  • When you become a certain age, keep an extra pair of reading glasses in your coat pocket. Reading a map of Venice is nearly impossible anyways, and at night, without glasses, you are doomed.
  • NavigatingVenice9If you see a bright light down a street you haven’t taken before, go towards it. You never know what you may find. And you will be surprised. Sometimes those “detours” actually are faster ways to get to your actual destination, or at the very least just as scenic.
  • There are many, many, many ways to get to the same destination. Some are direct, others are tranquil. Some avoid obstacles, like acqua alta when it happens or the evening rush hour. And others are well, just variety and keep your mind alert for new things.

NavigatingVenice6Many times signs for Scuola di San Rocco has helped me find my way back to one of the main thoroughfares when I am just wanting to get home from some place at night and not looking for a wander or an adventure.Every time that happens, I think of my friend Robin whose maiden name is Roch–and ever since I’ve started traveling I’ve gone to Roch and Rocco churches and have said a prayer for her. This trip there have been many of those…that sign saves me a couple of times a week! These ways of wandering in Venice spin around in my head and my sketchbook, with the hope of becoming something in the next few weeks. I’m nearly at my half-way point in Venice, and it’s time to get serious about what I want to accomplish here. More about that soon! NavigatingVenice7