Welcome to MissouriBendStudio!

This is an online journal of my artistic investigations and a way to communicate about my work, ideas, quandries and queries! I welcome comments and conversation and do hope you enjoy these musings. My artwork is available in my shop MissouriBendStudio on Etsy.com or on my website.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Notes From The Field: Rainy Day Blues

Well, like much of the Midwest it seems, we have had another day of bleak skies and soaking rain. I'm sure the trees and flowering plants love all the the moisture, but the humans I know are anxious for sunshine and warmth. We two-leggeds are ready to get on with our spring activities like gardening, taking brisk walks and relaxing on the deck....our time will come soon, I'm sure.

Such dreary weather calls for a delightful visit to the library! Amid my errands today, I stopped by the public library to exchange books, some of them half-read and abandoned. I don't like giving up on books, but sometimes half way through, I admit that I find the writing lackluster and that I'm just plodding through. I know some people who will plug away and finish any book once started, but I'm not one of them. I do admit to being a bit disappointed in myself for my lack of that bit of stick-to-it character, but I love reading so much that it doesn't seem worth it to waste my time on something that doesn't engage me. I suppose it's related to that "clean plate club" thing many of us grew up with. You eat whatever is on your plate, whether you like it or not. I didn't grow up in such a home, so I take my library books back half read and when I don't enjoy what I'm eating, I leave food on my plate. 

But, this also means that when I don't finish a book I don't get the small pleasure of listing the title and author in my little green book that contains a running log of books read since 2009. I suppose I could win this one too, by starting another list of "books unfinished",  but I'd be afraid such a list would be longer than the one containing books read beginning to end. I do always check out far more books than I can get read in the time I have them, but find myself picking up all manner of things, especially from the new book shelf, that catch my eye. From the stack above, I'll probably dip into each of them a bit and stick with one....for awhile anyway. Maybe if it's good enough, I'll be enthralled and transported and the memory of it will be noted in my little green book with the title, author and the date the last page was turned.

Today I also photographed the last suite of pieces from the Art of Wonder series, as I plan to add them to my Etsy shop in the coming days. I'll share them here now....no.1 through 9 of the The Art of Wonder, Suite 3. This suite has some of my favorite pieces from the whole series, so it's nice for me to see them again in the light of day, so to speak. All are mixed media drawings dipped in beeswax.

Enjoy the rest of your week....see you soon!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Entries from the Commonplace Book

Found these entries from a couple of years ago in my commonplace book. From History of the Rain, by Niall Williams, a novel which I dearly loved:

Besides the river there are two things you never forget, that the moment you look at a river, that moment has already passed, and that everything is on its way to somewhere else.

and this

Each family functions in their own way, by rules reinvented daily. The strangeness of each of us is somehow accommodated so that there can be such a thing as a family and we can all live for some time at least in the same house. Normal is what you know....nothing in your family is unusual.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Notes From the Field / April 21, 2016

Greetings....from the southeast corner of South Dakota! I've been in the studio and out of the studio, tending to this thing or that. Wanted to share a couple of things from my recent wanderings and discoveries. But before I do that, just a heads up that I'm in the midst of updating my long-neglected website. It looks a bit more spiffy and is getting updated with the latest work. If you'd like to check it out...have a look-see here!

The other day, since it was such a nice day, I took a drive a bit north out of town to pay the water bill in person (remember this is rural South Dakota). On the way, I had occasion to pass Spirit Mound, which is pictured above, a site located about 6 miles north of Vermillion, rising slightly above the surrounding farmland. Now, I realize this little nob of a tiny hill doesn't look like much, but it's actually quite a historic site! In order to get you in the right frame of mind to contemplate its place in history, I'll present another view below, which I was able to create with the tools I recently discovered on my new phone....oh my, it's telephoning abilities are the least of its charms!

On August 25th of 1804, Lewis and Clark climbed Spirit Mound, which actually is steeper than it looks when you get close to it.  This was quite the daring act, as they had heard from the native peoples in the area that it was inhabited by "Little People" who were "deavals" with very large heads and thus a place avoided by the local native populations. Lewis and Clark had fairly recently set out on their expedition up the Missouri River, starting in St. Louis. As most of my readers know, I live right on the Missouri River myself (stay tuned for more photos), but due to the damming of the river and the fact that it was once a wild and moving one, the river is not actually running in the same location today as it did in 1804. So, while I like to think that Lewis and Clark and their bank of explorers were hanging out on my land, they may have been a couple of miles away. Anyway, the one thing we know for certain, having recorded it in their journals, is that they were at Spirit Mound on August 25th of 1804. There are none here now, but imagine that wide open prairie pictured above teeming with bison and elk roaming wild and free as far as the eye could see. With the westward expansion and the many settlers coming here (even though it is still sparsely populated) in the mid-1800s, the area became used for grazing and  farmland for generations after generation. But in recent years, due to the renewed interest in its history and years of lobbying, the Spirit Mound Trust was formed and the site was designated as a park, with ongoing restoration to return the area to native prairie. You can read more about Spirit Mound here!

Speaking of the Missouri River and discovery...I made my own the other day! We had some interesting storm clouds forming across the river in Nebraska, which my husband snapped with my camera.

I'm not usually one for gimmicks, and though I still consider these little tricks quite gimmicky, I was seduced by the possibilities of transforming a mundane shot into something a bit more interesting.

I am strictly an amateur photographer, which is no doubt quite evident in the photographs of my artwork, but I can see that with a more serious intent and a bit of study and experimentation, one could use these new tools, available on any phone these days, to create something that transcends the mundane and gimmicky. 

Then, with another tap of a button, I realized one could draw or write on the digital photo....oh wow, more possibilities open up! Of course, I've just attuned myself to this digital realm and not sure whether I will explore more closely or not, as it is rather far afield from my comfort zone. And of course, I must have a physical object, so without having a tangible print on paper, I kind of lose interest. Perhaps though, I will see if I can transcend the tricks and see what happens. Thanks for joining me in my field explorations! 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Flow in the Studio and a Commonplace Book Entry

When I recently found my commonplace book, the one I began keeping years ago and then neglected for probably at least a decade, it was stuffed with a few newspaper clippings and torn bits of paper with entries on them. I picked this one up off the floor where it had fallen and found the short quote from the artist Carrie Mae Weems suited my sentiments perfectly....still, after all these years. I wish I'd said this, but I'm glad she did:

"I want to make things that are beautiful, seductive, formally challenging and culturally meaningful." -- Carrie Mae Weems

I've gotten behind on my plan of ending each week with a studio update posting, so this should get us caught up. Above are a few more pieces from the second suite of mixed media drawings from the Art of Wonder Series. As you may remember from earlier posts, there are 3 suites of 9 drawings each....27 in all. I'm slowly adding them to my Etsy shop, so you can find these there, if you like, by following the links. 

But, as far as an up-to-date update, the works below are from a new series that started late last week almost of their own accord. I'd been working on some pieces that I'd thought of in my head and tried to execute and things weren't going so well, which is the usual way with me. Working that way, from a preconceived idea, is always a bad idea and comes to nothing but frustration. I felt nothing for them--they were clearly forced and I was just plain trying too hard to make something work. So, I called myself back from the field, so to speak, and went back to my beloved Japanese paper. I grabbed a few pens and began making dots. As I worked mindlessly, I realized within minutes that I was completely happy, the chatter in my head....all that second guessing, had stopped. I began to wonder as I watched the piece unfold....what can be said with a dot...or a series of dots?

After the first one felt finished, I realized it was like a map, which made me happy because I've always loved maps and have wanted to make map-like works. You've not seen any from me, because once again, if I try to make a map of sorts, it just doesn't work. The secret for me is not to "try" to do anything, if that makes sense. Once I understood the map-ness of these pieces (there are six by now), I tried to think of a suitable title for what was clearly a series in formation, but I came to understand that these pieces were a kind of record of the experience of flow....not thinking, just the act of making and letting my hand move where it chose. And so, I guess they have to be known as "flow charts."  I'm curious to see how the series will evolve....as long as the flow lasts! I'll share more later in the week.

Hope you have a fine week...creative and inspirational! Cheers!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Notes From The Field

Mid-week greetings. Meet some of my studio mates! These little guys hang out on my desk and watch my every move. I can't say why I love them so, but I do. I'm not sure where they even came from, but there they are, constant companions as I work. For this portrait, I actually moved them, along with their favorite rocks to a bit of open space on a shelf. My studio is filled with such tiny objects collected over the years, the origins of which I can often barely recall. Yet, all of it is part of my daily landscape, the material world I wrap around myself like a cloak. 

Along with all of my reluctance to let go of these bits--the ephemera, the memories kept visible, the stories told in objects, the dailiness of it all--is an equally strong desire for a studio space of crisp white walls, empty save for a single white table and chair, windows filling the room with the changing light according to day and season, from stormy and brooding to sunny and carefree. There are those days when I appear to work in the studio gazed upon by the plastic sheep and the clutter, but am really inhabiting the spare and elegant room of my mind....the one filled with space and light and nothingness.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Recent Entries From The Commonplace Book

Hello.....welcome to a new week of spring! The focus of my Monday posts will be sharing some passages I've recorded in my commonplace book from recent reading. My post from April 4th was an introduction to the idea of the commonplace book and a bit about my rediscovery of the one I started decades ago, if you are not familiar with the commonplace book.

I've been doing a fair amount of reading lately and such wonderful books (non-fiction) that I have been filling the pages in my commonplace book at a pretty rapid clip. Today, I'd like to share some of the inspiration I got from reading and seeing the work of Edmund de Waal, a British artist and author that you may have heard of by now. Some years ago he wrote a memoir The Hare With Amber Eyes, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

photo courtesy of Hazlitt.net

I was anxious to read his new book, The White Road, which focuses on a search for the history of porcelain. De Waal is a beautiful writer and speaks of himself as a potter who writes, rather than a writer who makes pots, but I find both his writing and his work breathtaking. While I was glued to The White Road, I began reading the monograph on Edmund de Waal and his work, both of which kept me reaching for my commonplace book to make notes. Rather than making simple individual pots, the works are transformative installations of multiples, often by the hundreds. If I have a chance to see his work in this country, I will certainly make a concerted effort to do it.

De Waal's writing speaks to me, to my own artistic practice and his work, well...it fills me with longing, which I've come to realize is the highest complement I can give. I think the deepest reaches of our being are beyond language and when I see work or read language that strikes that chord of deep longing, I know I am in love.

Here are just a couple of passages I've noted in my commonplace book from the monograph, Edmund de Waal:

I make porcelain. I make objects out of porcelain. I sit at my wheel It is low and I am tall. I hunch. There is a ziggurat of balls of porcelain clay to my left, a waiting pile of ware boards to my right, a small bucket of water, a sponge, a knife, and a bamboo rib shaped like a hand axe in front of me. I have a cloth in my lap to wipe my hands. There is music. I pick up a ball and throw it into the centre of the wheel. Today, like yesterday and like tomorrow, I am making nothing grander than a cylinder. Barely a vessel, more a sketch of a pot, an inside and a straight profile, the merest impression of my hand and then my impressed seal. All those iterative movements of art, wrist and hand, time after time after time. I am making a series of volumes, contained spaces: each vessel is a breath, and I am counting time.

I turn, and there are my boards of porcelain vessels, still damp. They gleam softly. And then I ask myself, which story shall I tell? What is tellable and what is untellable. What do I pick up and where do I put it down?

....and a few pages later....

...Why not start with objects and make a room in which to hold them, a space where the light comes through porcelain, hold them in the air like thoughts or clouds? A shelf is an open line, just as a vitrine is a kind of page. A shelf can act as a pair of brackets, objects can sit like the 'five stanzas stalled in brackets', to borrow Anne Carson's phrase of a poem of Paul Celan's. 

Where shall I put this jar? Above you in the attic where your most treasured and problematic objects are consigned? Below you in a vitrine sunk into the ground, so that it is chanced upon? It matters, because where you find things in the world, how near you are to them, if you can touch them or not, is as much a part of the language of objects as their colour, their use.

If you've not seen the poetic ceramic installations of Edmund de Waal, nor read any of his writing, I urge you to seek him out. You will be lifted up...and out...and returned to yourself richer for the experience. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Notes From the Field

I am fascinated by the first few chapters this book which I mentioned in my last post, Writing on the Wall, by Tom Standage. While my curiosity was first piqued by the article on commonplace books on the author's website (the discussion of which I will run across further in the book, no doubt), I find this book is, not surprisingly, about the history of writing, communication and the book itself as well as the relationships to the social media culture today. As many of the long-time readers of this blog will know, I am fascinated by the book and by the written word, as the running thread that connects us to our history, but also the book as physical object and container. Much of my work is based on the rhythms set up by words on a page, the pattern evoking a conjured past and homage to the written word. 

My commonplace book pages are now making up for lost time, as I have been filling them of late with passages from various books, including this one. I read today about the role of writing in the Greco-Roman world, about how letters (as in correspondence) were copied by scribes and were shared freely and widely...they were the social media of the day. Before the codex, the book form as we know it today, writing was done on scrolls and eventually papyrus. There was a very limited circulation, not surprisingly, because everything had to be copied by hand. The scribes were often slaves, but held a very special knowledge and their work was highly valued. 

I'm curious to find out more about the changing role of the scribe in history. Often when I spend  time making my "pseudo-writing" of my drawings, creating the pattern of a written text, I think of myself as a scribe copying some lost text, passing the knowledge along, saving it for the unknowable future. 

Another link I found fascinating was the description of these early texts and the early books as a river of text.  The Romans didn't use punctuation, paragraphs or spaces between words (something we take for granted, no doubt), so early "published" books, even in scroll form, were described as a river of text and required a fair amount of practice in order to make sense of the writing. I love that metaphor of the river. It strikes home with me as I have been making drawings that echo the flow of water.  For me, the current of the river represents a layered understanding....it is the Missouri River that I see every day from my window, but it is also the ongoing flow of history, the written word carried by the current down through the ages.

The Art of Wonder, Suite 2 no.1

The Art of Wonder, Suite 2 no.2

The Art of Wonder, Suite 2 no.3

The pieces above are the first pieces from the second suite of drawings from the Art of Wonder series. Maybe you can see the flow of the river that forms the underlying pattern....oh, and there in no.3....the dots create the pattern and rhythm of words on a page. It shows up all the time in my work.

I am intrigued with the social media nature of earlier history and the parallels drawn with our own culture. Yet, I do worry that in this digital age we rely less and less on the written word to document our lives. What is it we are leaving behind that will give the future historians the full picture of the lives we lived in the early decades of the 21st century? As amazing as it is, the digital world is entirely too intangible....much is lost. Plato expressed essentially the same thing in his distrust of the written word over the oral communication that was then prevalent. He thought people would forget how to remember and too much would be lost. There are always gains as well as losses. 

I'll be listing the drawings, including the ones above, from the second suite of drawings in the Art of Wonder in my Etsy shop in the next couple of days...stay tuned! 

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Commonplace Book

Over a decade ago, I learned about the lovely notion of keeping a commonplace book. This was a practice, particularly prevalent in early modern Europe, as a way to compile knowledge, a kind of scrapbook where one would collect quotations, readings, recipes, proverbs, prayers, etc. There is a brief overview here, if you are not familiar with the commonplace book. I began keeping one at the time, but didn't keep it up, although for years I have written down significant passages from books I've read....in all manner of other notebooks, on scrap pieces of paper etc.....none of which I can put my hands on, of course!

Now that I have more time to read, I am more serious about it and am reading books that have a significan number of passages I want to record....so I dug out that commonplace book I began years ago and have been adding to the pages in the last days.

Of course, I reread the first passages I had recorded and it took me back to a book that made a huge impact on me and on the threads that run through my artwork, Disappearance: A Map-A Meditation on Death and Loss in the High Latitudes / by Sheila Nickerson. I recorded this passage, in which I discovered the notion of the cairn....a rich visual image and metaphor for life's journey. Here is the passage I recorded back in 1998:

As the Franklin searchers spread out over the frozen, wind-carved spaces of the Arctic, they looked not only for ships and men, but for cairns, rock piles in which explorers placed records of their journeys. Here in these cairns--or buried ten feet true north of them, to protect the contents from intruders--might be found information critical to the search: projected route and condition of the party, as well as previous routes, discoveries, accomplishments, and problems. This was the flight plan, the press release, the health report, the newspaper, the broadcast, the mail delivery system of Arctic exploration. Though random, it was critical, sometimes meaning the difference between a lost party's being found and saved or not. 

Well. I still have that book on my shelves and it is still high up on my list of remembered books. I have written up numerous pages just in the last few days from another fascinating book I am reading and it does feel good to be keeping a commonplace book once again. In my quick perusal of information for this post, I found a lot of great photos with a Google search and came across a blog post from Tom Standage who wrote the book, Writing on the Wall, about the history of our human communication in terms of "social media". There is documentation contained in the book about the commonplace book and how they were, along with diaries, often shared publicly.  We are social creatures and always have been, it's just that the terms of engagement have changed. Anyway, I'm quite anxious to read this book and am momentarily off to head into town to the public library to check it out. I encourage you to read that post by Tom Standage, as it quite fascinating...at least to me!

Have a great week ahead....enjoy the spring weather....if you have it to enjoy!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Studio Update

Greetings on the first day of April! Just touching base with a Friday report on the goings on in the studio. Since I have quite a bit of backlog of work from my show to share with you and to list in my shop, I've decided to spend some time making some "slow work". I've returned to the handmade paper (the stack of it my husband made many moons ago). Slow drawing, slow thinking, letting the work emerge and take new directions if it likes. Attached are a couple photos below.

There is no sizing in the paper (it's made from recycled cast off prints) and it's curling, so I've now sprayed the back lightly with water and have the sheets under weight. We'll see where this piece goes....hopefully will take me someplace I've not been before!

These are some of the found text altarpieces that are awaiting their turn at the camera for a proper portrait....I listed the first one, Words Spoken, on Etsy yesterday.

Do hope you have a fine weekend. We are off to Sioux Falls for an opening reception, so hope to have a fun evening. I'll see you on Monday with another new blog feature. Hoping to meet you here on Monday, Wednesday and Friday....if I can keep up such a schedule!