Author Archives: Melanie

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.

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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

waxing my third eye, Venice edition

waxing my third eye SG0As part of my residency at the Scuola, I am honored with a solo show in their gallery. I thought it would be towards the end of my residency, but I discovered five days after arrived, that it needed to happen, well, right away, to open today January 20th, with the install on the 18th. (I arrived on January 7…I’ll let you do the math.)

Thankfully I brought with me a few prints, an artist book, and an idea/vision. And then the past week I’ve been in the studio all day making little red “balls”, setting and printing type, stitching and constructing. And I finished last night! Here’s the statement:

Waxing My Third Eye presents experiments on paper and artist books involving pressure printing, painting and stitching on paper, and handset letterpress type by American artist Melanie Mowinski. In meditation, the third eye becomes the focus point between the two actual eyes. There are some people who believe that the third eye is a partially dormant pineal gland between the two hemispheres of the brain. Others look at it as the place of connection with the actual pineal gland that resides near the center of the brain tucked in a groove where the two halves of the thalamus join.  Regardless, when focusing on this point during meditation one can access what Descartes believed to be “the principal seat of the soul and place in which all our thoughts are formed.” Attention to this inner eye allows the meditator to connect to one’s internal and external world as witness with an eye to acceptance of the impermanence of life. The work in this exhibit evolved from explorations of using this focus point to alleviate pain and anxiety that Mowinski experienced as she muddled through a year of surgeries due to breast cancer. (If this is new to you, click on this link for a wee bit of back story.waxing my third eye SG3 waxing my third eye SG4 waxing my third eye SG5

My vision of the exhibit is that you start with I am Brave, which I began making to help prepare me for the mastectomy. Then you move through the red yarn and little red dots, which are often part of my work, and symbolize struggle, loss, and calm through meditation. As Kiki Smith says “I think there’s a spiritual power in repetition, a devotional quality, like saying rosaries.”waxing my third eye SG6 waxing my third eye SG7 waxing my third eye SG8

 

Next comes a series of small compositions, 5×5 inches, some with letterpress text, most with stitched additions like dots and pathways. waxing my third eye SG11 waxing my third eye SG12 waxing my third eye SG13 waxing my third eye SG14 waxing my third eye SG15 waxing my third eye SG16

This transitions abruptly to a different color palette, into the first work I created after the mastectomy while at Wells this summer. And finally, a new book made just this week which represents that it’s time to move forward.

waxing my third eye SG17 waxing my third eye SG18 waxing my third eye SG19

In gathering all of this together, sitting with it for the past two weeks, I feel like I can let it go and move forward. This will always be part of me, but will not define me.

In retrospect, the pressure became a gift. It forced me to make the work I’ve been struggling to make for the past six months and reminded me of Parkinson’s Law: work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. I’m certain that had I not had this deadline thrown upon me, the work would have stretched over my entire time here in Venice. Now the exhibit is done, and I can get on with other ideas that are bubbling!

Big thank you to those who helped make this exhibit possible:

  • Matilda and Lorenzo at Scuola for inviting me to come for a residency for six-weeks.
  • Hyemi, Scuola resident coordinator for her help installing, and her vision. This young women made compositional connections with some of the smaller pieces as she installed it resulting in links I couldn’t see because I was so steeped in the making.
  • Deirdre Kelly, Scuola exhibition coordinator for her help installing and the insight for layout.
  • Nina Molin, who came up with the title during an hysterical conversation about hair removal a couple of weeks after the mastectomy
  • Doctor Lockhart, for pushing me to sort through the remaining emotional, spiritual and psychological residue from losing a breast.
  • And always, to Douglas Molin, who lights my life daily, whether we are near or far from each other. I am so grateful for your support and unending belief in and love for me.

 

Venezia

I am in Venice.IMG_2018

I arrived yesterday, after spending a couple of great days with my sister, her husband and my favorite nieces and one of my favorite nephews in Munich.IMG_0243

I am here on a fellowship at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica. I came with the goal of using their letterpress equipment and all kinds of fun stories have come to me around the printing of Joseph Brodsky’s Watermark by Peter Koch at Scuola. Before I arrived an acquaintance of mine told me a bit about the story behind Koch’s printing of it, involving floating a Vandercook #4 down the Grand Canal to Scuola so he could print it there. Once I arrived, another resident told me about it again. This is the press I will be using. It feels like there is all kinds of good and crazy juju with this press, for the Watermark printing was quite an ordeal, or so I have heard. I am looking forward to seeing proofs of it…I’m hoping it’s in the Scuola archives. We shall see.  And I had an LOL moment. This is the typecase layout:IMG_0245

Whoa, that is NOT a California Job Case. Of course not, I’m in Italy!

Everyone I have met in the past 30 hours has cautioned me about the letterpress equipment. That it’s totally a mess. I was prepared for a real nightmare, imagining some of what I cleaned and what my incredible interns cleaned over the years. (Thank you Carrie, Adriana, Sarah, Marli.) I investigated and determined it needs some love and attention, but that they have what I need to do something.  Who knows what that means!

Scuola’s type faces are a bit “dirty,” to use a letterpress term, (meaning the cases are mixed up by size and font), not too terribly, and very little cuts/forms. But what they do have fits into an every constant challenge of mine: time. I can’t WAIT to use these cuts.

I spent today, my first day, culling through my writings and readings, reviewing what I underlined and garnering it together with the hope of finding connecting threads. (Thank you Holly Wren Spaulding for the perfect blog post about just this today!) So far the circle seems tie it all together. No surprise there.

This was of course after a nice little run through San Marco and out to the Giardini, then a walk to an art supply store and finally arrival at Scuola. On the way home from Scuola, (which is on Cannaregio and my apartment is on San Marco) I stopped at Chiesa di Santo Stefano. My friend Marianne (brilliant pop-up and animation artist) inspired me to do what she did when she spent time in Venice, to visit a different church every day. So far I’m two for two! Wish me luck.

I’m here through February 20th, provided I don’t get too homesick. If you happen to be coming through, do let me know. I would love to do a cicchetti crawl with someone!

Begin again

Ah, here it is, the start of a new year. I am grateful to say goodbye to 2015, and delighted to welcome the opportunities of 2016. One of my end-of-the-year rituals involves cutting the flowers from one of my house plants, which I think is a type of lily. (If you know the name, can you please tell me in the comments?!) Doug and I hike with them to our reservoir and toss them into the current, offering them to the earth along with various prayers of gratitude for the past year and hopes for the new year.photo (25)

During December 2015, I participated in a weekly reflective activity designed by Kate Matsudaira, a technology executive and startup founder, who has been on the quest for the perfect notebook for more than 10 years. The SPARK notebook and organizing system celebrates the fun and beauty of organization and reaching one’s goals thanks to that organization. This is my first year using it, as I too, am on the search for the perfect notebook. Kate’s has many many attributes that I like, and I look forward to reporting how it helps me stay organized this next year.

But what I have really enjoyed are the four weeks of reflection she provided on her blog to help one examine that past year, and anticipate the upcoming year. She organized them by

  • Week #1Starting the new year with a bang!
  • Week #2 The Key to your Future
  • Week #3 Picking your 2016 Theme
  • Week#4 Making your goals your reality

I completed all of these worksheets and am fine-tuning my goals. I already have a number of commitments, which makes achieving these goals easier. But then there are the back burner goals that I want to move to the front burner. I’m hoping this system will help me make some progress in that arena.

I also close out my calendar of the year and begin afresh with a stark, white grid, ready for the new year. 2015 won’t be posted until late February when I return from my travels abroad. Scanning attempts were thwarted by bizarre technical difficulties. But you can look at past calendars here.

Until then, I wish you the best as you begin anew, and that you find whatever system that works for you to help you reach your goals.photo (26)

 

Advent Day 25: Merry Christmas

When I am able to celebrate Christmas with my parents, which I am this year, it also means I become an honorary member of their choir for the night. Thankfully I have many years of chorale practice under my belt, and can still sight read music. Put me next to a strong soprano and I can keep up remarkably well. We closed the service with the one of my favorite Christmas carols: Joy to the World. The line “Let every heart prepare him room,” speaks volumes to me, especially when considering Thomas Merton’s words that I shared yesterday. I know some of you who read this blog are not religious–but regardless of your creed, to me “him” is light and love. How do we prepare our hearts for light and love to come and then go out back into the world?

If you have been reading my Advent entries this year, you know that I have had a challenging year, and am still navigating my way through the health challenges presented to me. It strikes me that opening our hearts to light and love is not a prescription, or a one-size fits all kind of event. But an everyday practice. Today’s celebration is not about the conspicuous consumption of material goods, it’s “making room for light and love” in our hearts. It’s easy to hide those “dark nights of the soul.” Light makes them clearer, love helps let them go.

Today I wish you a very joyful, love-filled and healthy Christmas. May your hearts be filled with light and love today and everyday through this next year. One Size Does Not Fit All

 

Advent Day 24: Dream

Today’s words come from Thomas Merton’s essay, “The Time of No Room” from 1965. It’s included in his books Raids on the Unspeakable, as well as A Thomas Merton Reader.

In “The Time of No Room” Thomas Merton reflects: “Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it—because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it—his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world.”

It’s a short essay, and still relevant and timely today. 1965/2015. So many parallels. My Christmas dream centers in on the work that we all must still do to create a world where everyone feels like they belong, regardless of race, creed, gender, class or other label.Advent Day 24

This is my Christmas Eve meditation as I drive the 521.4 miles from Cheshire, MA to Hudson, OH for Christmas. Where is my place in this world? How do I use my gifts to make it better? Let us dream together how we can make a home for everyone, including ourselves in this demented world of ours.