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Two Plus – a series of box works I’ve been working on for several years, on view at Spark Gallery, North Annex, in Denver, Colorado January 30 – February 23 2014.
I work from the premise that an object is anything we can talk or think about (including intangibles such as emotions, beliefs, fears). More than one of any object creates a minimum of one relationship or connection; the more objects, the more connections. For me, examining the nature of objects involves considering how they are related to both their properties, and their connections with other objects.
I have taken on as my task the creation of connections between objects and the subsequent examination of the relationships between objects.
This task is a time consuming, painstaking process of achieving balance and accord with the disparate palette of colors, shapes and associations a varied object selection creates. The time spent selecting, caressing, arranging and perhaps fixing in place objects is time well spent as, in the words of the French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari,
“A life that makes the greatest number of connections to other things and alters itself in the process is a life lived to its fullest.”
For the Two Plus series, I’ve been working with objects that relate specifically to a characteristic embodied by either a particular individual, or to a time/place in my history that was governed in part by a specific characteristic. Thus the objects selected have either a direct link or strong associative link to these particular characteristics. The series as a whole has developed into an examination personalities both real and imagined.
This year I have been able to exhibit this multi-faceted body of work in two stellar locations. In June/July 2014 the Lovely and Amazing books were displayed at 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland, Oregon and this fall the boxes and 3-D collages in the series will be exhibited at Niza Knoll gallery in Denver.
Lovely and Amazing, begun in 2006, is a tribute to Ruth Wheeler, beloved biology teacher, naturalist, youth advocate and feminist who lived and worked in north Denver for 70 years. Ruth found the natural world a place of endless delight. She left behind a collection of biological specimens, notes and photographs which I have incorporated into a series of three-dimensional collages, boxes and book works.
Ruth was my great-aunt, and, because she raised my father, her role in our family life was much as a grandmother’s might be. She was educated, reverent, passionate and endlessly curious. Unlike anyone else I have ever known, Ruth was an important figure in my childhood. Visits to her house might include walking her ferret around the block on a leash, trying to coax the giant snapping turtles to do more than lie around in the big wash tub in the back yard or agitating the miniature alligators that lived in the basement utility sink.
My favorite visits were those that included feeding the snakes from the stock of white mice that Ruth raised for that purpose. There was a kinkajou living in the basement. He had a peculiar odor but I nonetheless loved creeping down to the basement at night to watch his nocturnal pacing, his protruding eyes luminous in the dark.
Born in 1899, Ruth lived, lucid, independent and strong, well into her 99th year. Although other family members moved in and out of that house over the years, it was always Ruth’s house in my mind. This rotating roster of inhabitants seemed always to perch around the edges of the real inhabitants of the house, Ruth’s collections of creatures. Not pets, these birds, mammals, reptiles were collected, cared for and eventually preserved.
During her final decade, I stayed with her on my visits to Denver. I spent afternoons recording her as she told and re-told tales of her life. Concerned about what would happen to her collections, Ruth started gifting me with a variety of biological specimens. As I boxed up her various collections (things such as insect specimens, snakeskin’s in old jelly jars, stuffed birds on sticks, owl pellets, taxidermied small rodents, fossils and preserved plants) she told me stories. She told me about the ornithologist who taught her a down and dirty method of preserving birds and other small creatures and about the day she was called home from school when one of her king bull snakes escaped its cage and was coiled in the bathtub, my great-grandmother trying to retrieve it with a spatula.
Later, when readying her house for sale, I retrieved and stored many of the letters, photographs, family heirlooms she, along with other family members, had left behind. Seven years passed before I began incorporating these objects into my own studio work. I relish the days I spend in the studio working on this project, thinking of Ruth with a smile.
Testudines is the order of reptile more commonly known as turtles, tortoises and terrapins. In addition to it being a great word (I have a fondness for multi-syllabic words with hard consonants in the middle), it is representative of a creature I was fascinated by as a child . I love this picture of me watching a snapping turtle in my aunt’s back yard.
Turtles appear in my dreams often; I rejoice when they do as I then wake refreshed and excited to face the day.
Testudines are some of the most ancient reptiles alive. The ones my aunt kept in the back yard for a time were most likely snapping turtles, big, slow and a little big scary because of the hissing sound they made. They seemed to spend more time napping then snapping and feeding them was not nearly as exciting as feeding the snakes was.
I’ve been working on an assemblage with specimens from Ruth’s archives – Testudines Box. This box assemblage is the 3rd I’ve made using hardwood boxes that measure 12x6x7, two of the four corners curved rather than square.The two previous are Lepideptura Box and Bird Box.
To combat what I call ‘analysis paralysis’ when working with such a wealth of materials, I tend to develop a set of parameters for each series. For these boxes the parameters are:
1) specimen(s) from Ruth’s collection
2) photograph(s) of the lovely and amazing young women Ruth photographed
3) magnifying lens(es)
4) reproduction(s) of Ruth’s handwriting from her journals or teaching lessons
5) reproduction(s) of published materials used in her teaching
Testudines Box includes the shell of a Red Slider turtle along with the skull and jawbone of another Red Slider (this placed in a wooden box and magnified).
These artifacts are arranged in front of a color scan reproduction of the same turtle shell overlaid with mica.
The interior box walls are lined with a repetition of an Emily Dickinson poem written out by Ruth in her journal, the exterior walls with instructions for digging out a laying of turtle eggs from one of Ruth’s many nature education books, an encyclopedia entry and images of turtle anatomy from various published nature studies.
Today I learn that the song of the Creeper is weak, colorless and sibilant. That it consists of 4-8 notes, generally beginning with a long high-pitched note, followed by two short lower-pitched ones. The remaining notes vary somewhat, but are often a repitition of the first notes.
A common call note is a long, high-pitched “shreeeeee” with a rolling r-sound throughout. The bird also calls a rather faint ‘tsit’ over and over. These latter notes maya be heard at any season.
I also learn that the bird is easily identified by its habit have creeping continually up the rough bark of a tree in a spiral, then flying to the base of another tree to begin again.
I read nesting notes written by a W. C. Bradbury in 1918 (thanks to the folks at internetarchive.org) describing a foray in Gilpin County while on a White-tailed Ptarmigan and Brown-Capped Rosy Finch nest seeking mission. Their trip had the happy result of taking the first set of eggs of the Rocky Mountain Creeper taken in Colorado.
Armed with the vision of a small brown bird diving at the base of tree trunks, I begin to build an environment for the Creeper on a stick I have in my collection. I decide on a small shadow box.
I can’t decide which side of my creeper I want all to see, a mirror box helps resolve that questions.
I am charmed by Bradbury’s 1918 anecdote so decide to include it in the box.
Conveying the feeling of lightness that birds so well express, is one thing I strive for.
Here we go – all assembled, but hard to photograph with so many layers of reflective surfaces.
I finished this book in 2011 as part of that year’s Book A Week project. I’m posting about it now because it is currently on view in the Bound and Unbound II exhibit at the University of South Dakota. My book is in great company in this exhibit – so many much admired book artists also have work in the show.
It is one of but a handful of altered books I’ve worked on, this one starting with Indian Floral Patterns, from Series I of the Victoria and Albert Colour Books.
I’ve also altered a second in the V&A Series – Tile Paintings from Series II.
For Indian Floral Patterns I cut 3 round holes through the front cover and all of the pages. In the recesses formed by the holes rest four bone beads hand-carved in India. The beads are protected when the book is closed with mica laminated in between the first end page and first few pages of the text block. Circular paper cut outs in a range of sizes, picturing the same floral patterns depicted in the book, have been collaged onto the individual pages, obliterating the text.
The book is housed in a custom clamshell box and is available for purchase here.
Each year the Morgan Conservatory in Cleveland, Ohio, sponsors a fundraising event called the Snail Mail Paper Trail. Artists are sent two sheets of handmade paper, made at the Morgan, and asked to create an artwork from one or both of the sheets. The artworks are then auctioned at the October Gala. I’ve been participating since 2009 (see Snail) and Yearning for Morgan.
My two sheets of paper (one sheet each of white and dark gray cotton abaca blend) arrived at the studio on the same day I opened a set of Julie Chen and Barbara Tetenbaum’s Ideation Deck
(if you don’t know about this wonderful tool for book related projects, you should . . . click here). I dealt the following cards, eliminating the paper category:
layout: in the form of a diagram, chart, or map
technique: high-tech (letterpress, offset, printmaking, etc
text: collaborate with writer or poet
structure: innovative (tunnel book, magic wallet, carousel, flag book, etc.
dissonant, traditional or historical, sculptural, impressionistic, poetic
The result is Bliss – an accordion fold book using a quote from Portia Masterson’s Bicycling Bliss.
Bliss is an enduring form of contentment derived from being fully present and practicing simplicity, moderation, self-nurture, reflection & conscious breathing.
Granted the structure isn’t particularly innovative; I had originally thought this would be a tunnel book but had to redesign because the cut paper pages were too delicate.
After designing the pages in Adobe Illustrator,
the pages were lasercut
and mounted between two translucent sheets of Japanese kozo paper, folded up as an accordion and cased in to a hard cover. Only one edge is attached, so the accordion will unfold to display the entire quote.
The book will be auctioned off at this years’ Annual Benefit and Silent Auction: Opposites Attract on October 5. There will be nearly 200 works from local, national and international artists; its worth a trip to Cleveland!