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.)




During March, Marianne R. Petit (website and tumblr) and I collaborated on a project for MCLA’s Museum Studies Class that curates and puts together an exhibit at Gallery 51. We began discussing the work at the end of February, began a collaborative Tumblr page on March 2 and then began to create artist books. Our goal? Completed books by the opening: March 27.

The Tumblr page served as our conversation/correspondence. Marianne lives in Shanghai, China, I live in Cheshire, MA, USA. So our collaboration needed to be virtual. We each posted a picture everyday from March 2-27. Each picture was to be in response to something that the other posted. As we began the blog, we also began to craft our own individual artist books. Books that would in the end derive inspiration from the Tumblr page.

Initially, we utilized Julie Chen and Barbara Tetenbaum’s Artist Book Ideation Deck to get us started.

Marianne got the following cards: Text: Abstract Non-Verbal Gibberish | Color: Muted or Pastel | Image: Self-Generated | Layout: Based on a historic example | Structure: Innovative  | Paper: Pretreated | Technique: Use a technique that is unfamiliar to you | Adjectives: optimistic, gigantic, whimsical, sculptural, futuristic.

Here’s Marianne’s book–check out our tumblr site for more pics, process, etc..Scrap Parallel03

I got the following cards: Text: Process or erasure | Color: Favorite | Image: Extracted from a single image| Layout: Based on a historic example | Structure: Innovative  | Paper: neutral | Technique: High-tech | Adjectives: opposing/contrasting, mystical spiritual, impressionistic, complicated/confusing, formal

What did I make with these constraints?  My book is a double-sided flagbook/accordion book (innovative)—with opposing/contrasting pages and can displayed opened to reveal all the pages.

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When thinking of a historic example, I thought of one of my adjectives, mystical/spiritual and turned to the layouts of illuminated manuscripts and page layout canons from the medieval period. It’s quite a formal and somewhat complicated layout, some of my adjectives.

The text stems from me hand-writing every single one of our blog entries. Marianne’s are on the left, mine are on the right. Once they are written, I am redacting the text through the process of “erasure” by scribbling over most words thereby revealing a new text. Scrap Parallel06

My image is extracted from a bird image that I discovered earlier in the month, it moves back and forth between the two sides of the book. There are pathways and little dots that create an impressionistic sense and will hopefully confuse the reader a bit. Two more of my adjectives.

I used Crane 100% cotton paper—Marianne and I agreed to source paper locally. My paper is neutral in the sense that it is not pre-treated, printed, painted or otherwise. Of course, I did add something extra–a dyed-tyvek spine. And I used my favorite color–a bright, near fuchsia pink. More as a challenge–one of my friend’s recently commented on the fact that you don’t see pink in much art. So not only is pink part of this book, I intend to make a clamshell box that uses bright pink silk book cloth that I made a couple of years ago. Wait until you see that! At some point I will post the clamshell box along with a video that will allow you to “read” the book and experience from the closed to the open state. Only the open state is posted here.

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My technique was supposed to be high-tech. Well, it’s high tech compared to the time of the layout. I used the Ames lettering guide to draft my text lines/layout. I also used a guillotine to trim the book and instead of glue, I used double-sided tape to adhere the pages to the spine. While none of these are considered high-tech right now, at some point they were.

It’s on view at Gallery 51 through April 20th. Hope you get a chance to see it.


Be willing to go back to the basics

Zen Buddhists call this Shoshin, meaning beginner’s mind. It’s easy to forget how to do this when one becomes an “expert” at what they do. This particular card developed from a conversation during an open house at MCLA for prospective students. One student inquired about whether she could skip the intro classes because she felt like she was an advanced student and wanted to jump into the “real” classes. She’s clearly excited about learning and desires to be the best she can possibly be–but maybe not quite ready to go back to the basics. IMG_2764

This card is also for me. I sometimes get caught up in the planning and control of a project–unable to play and experiment. I want to be willing to try something new, to go back to the basics, to review, to reframe my understanding of something, to be open to doing something differently. This relates to my process as an artist, and as a teacher. What about you?

What can you be open to?

It’s your ride

I continue to make weekly teaching mantra cards. Phrases that remind and inspire me to be a better teacher. Make every student your favorite came directly from my Peace Corps friend Jeff Dodson. It fits right in with Make every class you teach your favorite and Make every class you take your favorite. It’s such a great mindset. We can all find goodness, however small or large in everyone we meet. Some are easy. Some are more challenging. IMG_2761

It’s your ride evolved directly out of the morning spin classes I’ve been taking to get me through this never-ending winter. I keep fantasizing about my bicycle, and riding outdoors. Spinning is VERY different, yet does get me in the saddle. One of my teachers emphasizes It’s your ride–you can make it as hard or as easy as you would like. You can push yourself to work to exhaustion or take it easy. I see this as more of a life mantra than a teaching mantra. How am I going to ride through my life–how can I make a difference? How hard do I want to work? What’s important? It’s my ride…


Happy 75th Birthday Dad!

My Dad is 75 today.

He was born at midnight and the doctor’s gave my grandmother the option for him to be born on 3-9-39 or 3-10-39. She chose 10–she thought that the round number was more auspicious. But my father, who loves numbers, and perhaps this is why–often wonders about that 39 39 paring. So this piece of artwork was created for him with the ideas of numbers in mind.Scan0001

There are 75 yellow squares, one of his favorite colors. Each square has a word. The words came from various family and friends who responded to this post on Facebook and an email that my mother sent out to all of their friends. As I write this I realize that the word magnanimous never made it onto the collage–maybe I’ll try to squeeze it in somewhere, because really, there’s that one for good luck, right and why not a word like magnanimous.

Along with these seventy-five squares and some other things, my siblings and I gave him $75 to spend at the casino, where he will be celebrating his big day. We were all excited about him putting $75 worth of quarters into the machines, until our mother enlightened us that they don’t have quarter slots anymore. And that my father likes to play the $5 slot machines–not as many chances, but maybe the winnings are bigger? So, if you are reading this, wish my Dad some luck today that he wins big in honor of his big day!

Happy Birthday Dad! Here’s to you and all these words that bring you to mind for me, for our family and our friends. I love you.

Meeting Gloria Steinem

Gloria. G-L-O-R-I-A.

Gloria Steinem spoke at MCLA this week as part of the Ruth Proud Charitable Trust Public Policy Lecture. It’s been on my calendar to attend since early September 2013.

She spoke about the importance of letting go of labels, gender equality, the end to violence, connecting in person in our technological times and the continued need to organize and act for social justice. She laughed, smiled with ease and gave the impression that I too, could do “this.” “This” meaning the great work of one’s life–for everyone that will be different. Yet, next to the importance of being together with others, my big take-away was that there is still much to do for all peoples of the world. And that each of us can find our niche where we make a difference, but that we must do it and we must do it together.IMG_2765















A complete bonus and absolute surprise came when I was invited a few hours before to a very small reception before her talk. It was a great opportunity for me to connect with a number of faculty and other people at MCLA that I don’t normally see. In some ways, I’m not sure which was more important for me–connecting with these other women, or hearing Gloria speak. It all comes together in her words–Because we were here today, hopefully each of us will have a better tomorrow.

And, I did get to meet her briefly–and give her one of our PRESS calendars–based on our popular monthly mantra cards that feature inspiring quotes from notable women. I hope she liked it.