What is a mistake, actually?

The reception last night was a mad success! Thank you so much to friends who showed up, especially friends who came in from a distance. Thank you also to strangers who came in as a part of Northampton’s Arts Night Out and left lovely comments and asked fascinating questions.

My favorite question of the night was “what if you make a mistake?” and I am ashamed to say I just laughed. When the querent and I walked over to one of the bigger abstract river pieces, we looked for something that might be a mistake. What I was trying to tell them is that when there is no detailed plan, there is a lot of room for things to happen, and very few of those things are mistakes in the usual sense of the word, that is, an imperfection that forces the maker to undo or reject the piece. There is so much thread, and so much motion in most of my work, that even in places where I see my own hesitations, they are not readily visible in the work as a whole. Which means the hesitations, snarling thread and weird edges are not things that render the whole piece somehow incorrect – they are the things that make the piece individual and handmade, and ultimately make it art.

It is a completely legitimate question, and I think a common one asked of artists, and makers in general, but I think it misses the point of art, and of making things.

Full of incident

Yesterday Cathy and I installed the exhibit at Northampton Center for the Arts which was both easier and harder than expected. I absolutely could not have done it without help (Cathy, I owe you much, much chocolate) – the combination of blank walls and high ceilings meant I needed help ,measuring and reaching. But also, I had chosen to bring a handful of smaller works along, and hanging those guys was very, um, time-consuming. BUT! It worked, and it looks amazing, and here, have a poster:

And if you’re local, come to the reception. If you’re not local, come for a visit and lunch, and I can give you a personal tour. This offer good only through the month of March, because after that, I take to the sea!

Today I spoke with Sea Education Association about scheduling my trip with them as Resident Artist this spring. I’m going onna BOAT!! I am SO PLEASED! I’ll be sailing on SSV Corwith Cramer, a ship named after one of the founders of SEA, and someone my parents were friends with.

And to round out the things that are happening, the living room is getting painted before the (reupholstered) couch returns home next week.

I mean, that last is strictly personal info, but everything all together feels like a lot, you know?

seasons, inventory

Some of the new little boxed landscapes and seascapes I am working on. I have a trunk show coming up at Sawmill River Arts Gallery on February 25th, so I’m working on these little guys right now. These rivers have fall colors going on, with more showing winter, spring and summer colors. They are 2×4 inches (50x100mm). The islands and coastlines are mostly summery, they are 3 inches (75mm) square, all cozy in their little boxes.

The coastlines are all pieces of Maine, simplified. The rivers are short sections of the northern Connecticut River, even as they are also things that all rivers do in areas with little slope. I am ridiculously fond of them!

Looks like home

More new pieces – these are Monhegan Island, off the coast of Maine. There are a small number of year-rounders, making the island community work through the wild winter weather. In summer, the island teems with visitors: tourists flock to see the scenery, artists come to paint, and birders come to see migratory birds on their way further north. We’ve been out almost every summer for a week or so, to catch up with family and friends. It is not a very big island, but it is dense with scenery.

Photography by Stephen Petegorsky, again!


I have been struggling to photograph my most recent work. It has layers of plexiglass, and everything reflects (when it doesn’t have fingerprints, dust or bits of thread on it) and capturing the depths of the work is hard.

This one is Monomoy Island, south of Chatham, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In 1979 a winter storm broke through the center of it, and I was so stunned by the idea of change in the environment I’ve paid attention to what the coastline there looked like ever since. Landsat imagery has given us a historical record for the last nearly-fifty years, so I pulled twelve images that showed the most dramatic shifts of the coastline, and used those to draw in the coastlines. The lines are stitched onto a fabric collage where fabric color indicates ocean depth. Then the fabric is sliced along contour lines, and draped over a cardboard elevation model, with plexiglass layers representing ocean at each depth. The top plexiglass layer is sea level, even with the modern coastline.

This piece is Cranes Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts, on the coast north of Boston. This highlights the marsh and island ecosystem that exists behind the barrier beach.

These are going to a professional photographer who will have the right tools and knowledge to get pictures. Thank you Steven Petegorsky for having the the chops to accomplish this.

developing ideas

I’ve been evolving ideas about form? I have in my head a vision; of a coastline, and the way the topography holds water and the tide goes in and out across it, and of rivers and the way they migrate across their floodplains – I want to show that. I’ve made a series of layered works, experimenting with cutting and layering stitched fabric over and under layers of plexiglass representing water.

Rivers look like this:

All the layers get cut on the laser cutter, so that the shapes all fit together perfectly. There is the layer of stitched fabric on thick interfacing, a layer of taskboard to raise the fabric higher than the plexiglass, and the layer of plexiglass. I can rest the plexiglass on box, or I can put the cutout river section of the stitching under the plexiglass, so the continuity of the landscape is clear.

Coastlines are a trickier undertaking:

Coastlines go down into the water, and rise up out of the water, so there are more layers of taskboard that need to overlap in the right places and the fabric and stitching have to be in the right places, and the layers of plexiglass have to fit the cutout shapes of the taskboard… it feels like a lot of parts to keep track of. And these are fairly simple examples.

I am working up to larger pieces with more layers, and working with real geography too.

changing your point of view

Anyone walking over the bike path bridge this afternoon found a pair of humans with a lot of neon green parachute cord and a neon pink water proof case with a phone in it, giggling madly. My friend Matt (new to blogging, doing some interesting things with card stock construction) and I tied my phone in a pink water proof case and tossed it dropped it carefully off the bridge as close to the river as we could. We got it down near the ice, and near some open water off a different section of the bridge, and even right into the water in one place (it was dark. And not at all clear what we were looking at).

We made a couple videos too, but they have a lot of extraneous motion and are hard to parse. Also they take for.ev.er to upload.

Seeing the underside of the bridge, seeing the river up close, seeing the ice, and the surface – all those made me think about the river a little differently. Which means I can make some new art based on a different point of view.

Time passes

days have rhythms
of rise and (shine or not) 
of sun and light and lunch
and the slow tumble of the afternoon to evening
slouching more deeply into the couch, then
staggering upstairs to bed

Weeks have a rhythm imposed by expectation? Experience?
on Sunday we do nothing, as aggressively as possible
and then the work week drags its way across our desks
with increasing delight (or relief) to Friday
when we wonder where the week went? again? 

months do not have rhythms, except to think 
Oh, February already? and then
what? July? in the next breath
but I can find no internal rhythm to a September, 
or March, or any other month -
although sometimes a great yellow moon 
comes shouting through the window
into the living room in the dusk

years have a rhythm 
of daylight and darkness, 
of warmth and cold
of green and gold and purple gray and back 
around to the clear green haze of spring
and mud underfoot, and new things starting
burgeoning, pressing forth

The rest are all imposed? invented? by humans, 
the decades and centuries
the generations, 
eras and epochs

still earth keeps track
day by day
year on year
a vast clock, spinning 
through time and space

Which is to say, I have been doing things, useful things even, and simply not writing about it.

Happy solstice – the days are getting longer in the Northern Hemisphere. Thank you for keeping the sunlight for us, in the Southern Hemisphere.