Author Archives: Melanie

The Advent Collage Calendar begins

My bicycle teaches me things all the time. From the necessity of getting back on after you fall off to the hill is your friend, even if you sometimes have to walk the bike up it.

Advent 12-1-15

Advent 12-1-15

Two quotes about bicycles that inspire me are:

Toleration is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle.  -Helen Keller

Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.  -Susan B. Anthony

Today, as I begin my fourth year of making my own Advent Calendar, I am thinking about all the ways I can find balance, freedom and self-reliance in my life, and to go further into practicing each every single day. And those days that I fall off, to just get back on again and keep at it.

I wish you the same.


Taking the Plunge

One of my favorite quotes from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is

“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. “

This year I’ve done many seemingly impossible, unfathomable things. And because of this, I know I am going to be able to do many more. This past Friday, 20 of us trooped through our woods to an old reservoir. For me and Doug, this is a sacred space. We come here to honor difficult moments in our lives and to celebrate joyous ones. And the day after Thanksgiving? We come to immerse ourselves into the fresh mountain water. I had never done it before. Last year there was at least 12 inches of snow and a layer of ice on the water. The previous year, well, let’s just say my relationship with cold water is worse than my relationship with time. The Plunge

But this year I believed I could do this impossible thing of getting into the cold reservoir water. I had two pretty major surgeries in the past six months (the impossible and unfathomable things) and as a result of making it through them, I often feel pretty powerful. AND, that I can do anything, including getting into cold water. I demonstrated it many times, getting into our unheated pool all the way through the beginning of October. But this is late-November water, with a mucky, icky bottom. (Which is why I am wearing socks.)

We arrive to the edge of the water. All the under 30s, ran in and went under pretty quickly. I tried to go in, but just couldn’t dunk under. (For it to really count, you have to immerse yourself completely.) So I ran out. I tried again, but all the young guys were splashing around, so I ran out again. This time, Doug’s sister said to me, “Melanie, you have come too far. You have to do this. Get back in there and do it.” She was totally right. I had to do this. So back in I went. I joined Doug, his brother-in-law and one of the young men. We joined hands and we said the incantation, “Lord, your seas are so large, and our boats are so small.” They immediately immersed themselves. I needed another, my own private incantation, one I have uttered many times in the past six months. My courage welled inside me and down I went. The Incantation

Truly, I can do seemingly impossible things. Success

Taking the plunge can mean many things, from this literal description, to embarking on those things that seem impossible, but with practice become possible. I write this today, on the first Sunday of Advent, as I begin to prepare for my Advent Collage Calendar practice. Any kind of committed daily practice requires us to plunge into the unknown and to commit. For Advent, every day from December 1-25 I will make a small 5×5 inch collage and post it to my Instagram account and to this blog. You can subscribe to my blog and read the entries that way, or just come by when you feel like it. (Links to Instagram and to subscribe are on the left sidebar.)

Regardless, I hope and challenge you to find something impossible to do today, tomorrow, this week, this year. And the more you do it, you will find that impossible things don’t feel so impossible

Is the past a predictor of the future?

In 2008, I was honored to be chosen to be an artist-in-residence in Denali National Park in Alaska. Denali transformed my understanding of wildness and wilderness. Imagine the state of Massachusetts with only one road, 80 miles in length. (I would love to see Thoreau experience that!) Along that road there are about a dozen official stops: 3-4 visitor centers, 3-4 established campsites and 3-4 park ranger like things, including the cabin where the artist-in-residence stays. That cabin is at the intersection of the East Fork river and the park road, mile 42. This braided river crisscrosses the landscape freely, similar to the grizzly crossing it in the picture below.Alaska_Rock_AGinspired2

The rocks on the riverbed range in color from dull grays to ochres, a spectrum of earth tones calling to be brought together in some kind of Andy Goldsworthy-like construction. I spent one morning gathering a range of colors into a circle. Alaska_Rock_AGinspired1 Alaska_Rock_AGinspired3

The next day, after returning from a day-hike, I was greeted with this letter:

Dear Artist-in-Residence,

Our communication center received a complaint about a large white colored rock ring above the bridge at the East Fork river. In an attempt to preserve the wilderness experience for our visitors we strive to avoid human impacts off the road corridor (i.e. the backcountry). I located the rock ring today and based on its detail and intricate design I thought it might have been created by yourself. As wonderful as it is, it cannot stay. I wanted to give you notice, if in fact it is yours, that it will be removed tomorrow morning. Sorry if this does not pertain to yourself. I hope your stay is wonderful. Please feel free to contact myself or any ranger.

Sincerely, Park Ranger for the Toklat Section

I was impressed with how kind he was. I completely respected the sentiment from where he was coming. So I spent the afternoon hurling rocks back into the wild.

I write about this today, because did this prime me for my reaction to the paper words being removed from the trail last week? My first reaction when I discovered the words missing was that someone removed them because it was disrupting their wilderness experience. My collaborator Holly Wren Spaulding’s reaction was maybe the person who took them down wanted them for their own backyard/woods.

How do our past experiences predict how we will react in the future? Do they prime us? Can we rewire ourselves to not respond a certain way? The first step is recognition, to see the pattern and the link, to acknowledge it and pause before acting. Is it possible to do? What do you think?

Everything is impermanence

CobbleWhat a glorious fall we’ve been having here in the Berkshires. I can’t remember the last time it was this colorful. In honor of this glory, I decided to hang the first installment of the “Here Stands” collaboration that I have been doing with poet Holly Wren Spaulding. 

As I contemplated where to hang the words, I considered a trail near me that leads to the Cheshire Cobbles. This incredible trail leads to an outcropping of rocks from which one can see the entire Greylock Range. I also thought about trails in my own backyard, the only problem with that, is that only I would see it.

So off I set to hang the words on the trail up to the Cobble. My friend Diane came with me, (thank you Diane!) and as we were hanging them I voiced a number of concerns–this is public land, and someone else might think this is trash, or takes away the “wild” experience of the forest, would someone take them down, and how fast? I pushed those thoughts aside and instead thought of this as an experiment, how would it go? How long would they remain? Would they remain?PaperWords_Haiku_1PaperWords_Haiku_AT2PaperWords_Haiku_AT3PaperWords_Haiku_AT4PaperWords_Haiku_AT5PaperWords_Haiku_AT6

I wasn’t able to check on them for 36 hours or so…and when I went back, they were gone. I sighed. I knew this was possible, but I wasn’t prepared for the heartbreak I experienced. Who took them down? What did they think? Did they just throw them in the trash? Why did they take down the words but fail to pick-up the 100 or more tossed bottles and cans at the base of the Cobbles? 

Everything is impermanence.

The spirit of the work is ephemeral. And when this has happened in the past, the same questions and sadness arose. Thankfully, I can make the words again, and I will.


Plant seeds

We all plant seeds, every day, through our actions, our words, our intentions. The seeds always need plenty of sun, water and love from the universe, whether these are literal or metaphorical seeds.

My friend Jackie Sedlock uses the seed metaphor in the pottery she makes in her seedware. The seedware gets its inspiration from many years in the garden with her mother and grandmother. I’m lucky enough to own a couple of the pieces…and recently I have teamed up with her to collaborate on this little mini-print celebrating the seed for her Kickstarter campaign. The image is based on watercolor sketches she made that will be reproduce using polymer plates and the text will be printed with handset letterpress type. It will be printed on heavy cotton paper with a nice embossment. You can get one framed or unframed by supporting her campaign–and while you are checking it out, maybe pledge to get some of her seedware or other things, too! There is only a week left to go, so make your pledge today! Please be the sun, water and love from the universe to help her reach her goal.SeedCard_DraftOne

 Here she is in the PRESS studio making drawings, picking out type and choosing colors.  IMG_4488 IMG_4489 IMG_4492

I am Brave

A few months ago, four to be exact, I had to muster up some serious courage to do something that terrified me. For those who know me well, I don’t make decisions very easily. I labor over the tiniest thing, so much so that I am no longer allowed to choose restaurants when my family gathers. That being aside, this was a bit more serious. So I made myself a little book to help me handle the situation. The power of art never ceases to empower me. Brave 8

This is a double-flag flag book. A book that can be experienced through traditional paging, but has a lovely surprise opening for those not familiar with the structure. One of my favorite moments during this otherwise challenging time was watching the joy in my mother’s eyes when the book just “opened” into its flags of glory.

Whenever I need courage, and I do right now, I look at this book. You can see it right here.

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Watch it a few times, let the words sink in. You are brave, you can let go, just trust. We all can do it.


Waxing My Third Eye

In January, I traveled to Miami and was able to experience a Wynwood Arts District Second Saturday Art Walk. It was amazing to see the crowds, the seemingly endless number of galleries to visit, countless restaurants, the football-field sized food truck court and to be one of the “older” people in attendance.

At one of the galleries, I discovered the work of John Buck.

John Buck, Fact and Fiction, Color Woodblock, 1997

John Buck, Fact and Fiction, Color Woodblock, 1997


















John Buck is both a sculptor and a printmaker. He works with two interrelated bodies of work: carved wood, assemblage and bronze sculptures, and large, multicolored woodblock prints in collaboration with master printmaker Bud Shark. Using a pen, a nail or his fingernail, Buck incises the wood planks that form the base and background of his prints with images and symbols drawn from the daily news, from his own sculpture and from nature. Embedded in this active visual field is a large, carved image, often a figure, but he has also depicted a jar full of fireflies, an eagle, or a subtly colored moth. The relationship between these two elements first engages the viewer in an appreciation of the beauty of the graphic quality in the print and then begins a conversation about our world and our place in it. (Biographic information from Shark’s Ink website.)

I stood in front of Fact and Fiction for what seemed like hours. When Doug and his daughter Cassidy eventually found me,  said, it looks like work that you make. They were responding to the way Buck uses the outline form of the figure, which I use in many of my collages and daily drawings, as well as in some of my printmaking. For example the Solid Sound Seven:

Melanie Mowinski, Solid Sound Seven, June 2011

Melanie Mowinski, Solid Sound Seven, June 2011

And now more recently, this series of seven prints recently completed while at the Wells Summer Book Arts Institute.

Melanie Mowinski, Waxing My Third Eye, letterpress, collage, colored pencil, 2015

Melanie Mowinski, Waxing My Third Eye, letterpress, collage, colored pencil, 2015

I’m calling this series Waxing My Third Eye. I love the sensation of having that space between my eyebrows, the third eye, waxed. There’s something about it that frees up energy in my body. I invite you to meditate on this series and consider all the different ways that women “remove” and “add” things from/to their bodies. From waxing to pregnancy to surgeries and all kinds of other things.

This series of prints utilized some of the incredible letterpress cuts in the Wells collection plus using pressure print matrixes on figure forms.



Wells Summer Book Arts Institute

This July, I had the honor of teaching a week-long intensive workshop on pressure printing at the Wells Summer Book Arts Institute. It was an intimate class, with only three students + me, the instructor, and four Vandercooks at our fingertips. (Plus three more in another room, had there been more students.) My students are all practicing artists, and were open to trying out all kinds of different things–it was truly an incredible time for all of us.

Because the class was so small we were able to really dig in and experiment with pressure printing. We started with the basics and moved to include color layering and the achievement of texture and depth through multiple passes through the press. Each student found an element to the process that really resonated with them, from using a hot glue gun to “draw” matrixes to experimenting with cutouts and paper thickness to create the appropriate amount of textures. And ultimately, taking the work and making books, paper quilts and other things.

What I am working on now…collaboration with Holly Wren Spaulding

This is a reblog of Holly Wren’s post. Read the original here.

More and more I want to move poetry off the page and into public space, especially if it can interrupt the visual environment for a moment of reflection, beauty, or reaction. I’ve been studying examples of what I’ve come to call “visual poems” as I think about how I can merge my poetry with a lifelong interest in visual art and the environment. Lately, I’m working on a project with a new friend that we hope to complete and install in July or August 2015.

‘Here Stands’ is a text-based installation for a public place with trees; a collaboration between printmaker and letterpress artist Melanie Mowinskiand myself, acting as poet and creative director.

About the project:

stand is a contiguous area that contains a number of trees. ‘Here Stands’ is an outdoor poem and a poetic declaration: trees that stand for something.

Poem fragment by Lorine Niedecker

In this large scale public work, my brief, haiku inspired texts will bring attention to the many functions of trees (emotional, spiritual, aesthetic,utilitarian), while Melanie’s handmade paper letters, assembled into chains of words, will encircle the tree trunks creating a ephemeral poemin situ.

Inspiration for this project includes the forest monks of Southeast Asia who “ordain” trees by wrapping them in orange monk’s robes and pronouncing them sacred as they endeavor to save their forests from industrial logging.

Buddhist monks ordaining trees in Thailand to awaken moral conscience of loggers

In her essay “The Ordination of a Tree: The Buddhist Ecology Movement in Thailand,” Susan M. Darlington writes  “A major aim of Buddhism is to relieve suffering, the root causes of which are greed, ignorance, and hatred. The monks see the destruction of the forests, pollution of the air and water, and other environmental problems as ultimately caused by people acting through these evils, motivated by economic gain and the material benefits of development, industrialization, and consumerism. As monks, they believe it is their duty to take action against these evils.‚”

We’re also inspired by the poetic‚”billboards‚” of Scottish artist Robert Montgomery which indict consumer capitalism and inspire new perspectives on urban space.

Robert Montgomery, from the Recycled Sunlight series.

As artists, we use our skills and materials to invite conversation and comment on some of the challenges faced by our society and our environment, including our growing disassociation from the natural world, lack of sympathy for the role Nature plays in sustaining our quality of life, even as we lose it, and of course the increasing impacts of resource extraction on the health of the whole ecosystem.

By presenting this work, we hope to encourage reflection and conversation about the presence of trees in our landscape, as well as a greater appreciation for how they clean our air, filter our water, hold our soil in place and provide respite from the impervious surfaces and ugliness of urbanization.

Art by Melanie Mowinski

Paper words in Knoxville by Melanie Mowinski

We’re seeking funding to support this project. Join us forE.A.T.:Crowdfunding for Creatives on May 14th at Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton as we pitch the project to a live audience of potential funders. There will be food by award winning Galaxy Restaurant, beverages from Fort Hill Brewery, and the fine company of some of the most creative people currently working in the Pioneer Valley. Get in touch if you would like more information: hollywren (at) gmail (dot) com.

You may also send donations of any size to us at:

Holly Wren Spaulding

P.O. Box 187

Williamsburg, MA 01096

Memo: “Here Stands”

We are so grateful for your support!

Excerpt from a poem by Holly Wren Spaulding, from the collection 'Pilgrim,' (Alice Greene & Co., 2014).

Paper words in Tazmania, by Melanie Mowinski.


K is for Kathleen

I print at PRESS, not as much as I would like, and when I do I am immediately reminded of how healing setting type is for me. 

Apparently my mom has been wanting some personalized stationary, in honor of Mother’s Day, I created these cards on local Crane Paper. (Scroll to end of post to see lock up or click here.)photo (1)

My mom, while she thinks she struggles with being patient, is really one of the most patient people ever. She patiently waits as I make big and little decisions, however agonizing it is for everyone involved. At least she does this now, after years of practice. She calls me when I get “lost” while shopping and then patiently waits for me to return. As hard as it is for her, she is patient with my decisions, finding her way to acceptance…even if that means we don’t have a real conversation or connection until that acceptance is finally absorbed into the body. Sometimes that’s on my end, sometimes on her end. I still need her. I know that she can’t do the magical thinking thing and 100% make everything better, but just knowing she is there often helps at least some kind of relief come.

Thanks Mom, enjoy the cards, I love you. Happy Mother’s