Thursday, November 27, 2014

Last minute hoo-ha, no insights

In less than 24hrs, I will be leaving the Grand Canyon after my 3 week residency. The sky is clouded over, for the first time since I've been here. What had been shocking, vibrant blue is now lowering and grey. It is still warm- in the 60's and will be tomorrow too. When I was emailing back and forth with the person in charge of the program she had said that some years they spent Thanksgiving in shorts & tee shirts, other times in full polar gear. There was no predicting what the weather would be, so I packed everything. It ended up that 3/4 of what I packed, I never needed. If I didn't have to drag my suitcase up and down all those flights of stairs, it wouldn't be an issue. Ah well.
Today, I spent my morning at the laundromat. I was surprised that there was anyone else there, but there are many tourists here for whom today has absolutely no cultural resonance, so why not get your clothes clean? Then I went for a hike. I took the shuttle out to the visitor's center/Mather's Point and then walked back to the Ranger Hqtrs to drop something off for my supervisor. I had burned out the tea kettle in the apartment and dropped off the funds to replace it.
The area around the visitor's center was full of people so it was good to get away from that area and just walk and enjoy the majesty of the landscape for one last time. Too many people taking endless selfies. Too many people talking about anything but the Canyon on their cell-phones. Too many whinging children. There is always somewhere to go hike or walk in the Park for an introvert like me- trails that are too far or not paved, away from the main overlooks and points. And since I am an acrophobic introvert to boot, there are enough of these quiet trails on the plateau. But I must say that the constant exposure to these potential plummets has lessened my acrophobia. Still not going to go stand out on the edge but I am not constantly getting the whim-whams anymore.
I had my Thanksgiving meal at the fanciest of the restaurants in the Canyon, some butternut squash soup and eggplant parmesan over polenta. I got a nice seat by a window. and pulled out my kindle to keep me company… but I had forgotten my glasses. I increased the font size drastically- maybe 20 words on the screen- and was able to read with just a little squinting.
Now I am back at the apartment and starting to pack up in earnest. What can I take down to the car? What won't I need tonight? Will I want to do some work? I just don't know. I wrote my Thanksgiving gratitude list yesterday, perhaps I will just meditate on that for a while- after all, I have time.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Better Late

How do you know when something is not working?
How do you know when it has righted itself?
I have a limited time here at the Grand Canyon. My residency is only 3 weeks and almost 2 weeks in I was struggling. I could not get a grip on the immensity that is the Canyon, the depth of time, the depth of the history of this place. I felt sure my puny mind was not equal to the task. I had produced two pieces that left me very unhappy. They were appreciated by those that saw them but to me, they were half-assed, trite efforts. Why had I thought I was up to the challenges?
Then, when I thought that I had made a shambles of my residency, and would have to return home with nothing but some failed pieces as a record of my squandered opportunity; a spark formed somewhere in my mind and slowly forced its way to awareness- an image was appearing of a piece using the starkly beautiful, powerfully geometric black and white patterns of native pottery I had seen at the Museum of Northern Arizona.
It also brought to mind the many fantastically contorted trees that dot the plateau. All in shades of grey, shadow and texture, line and volume.
I cannot deal with the rich reds and ochers, the saturated blue of the sky, the multicolored record of the eons of erosion and deposition as the Colorado River and the winds carved their way down to sea level. Too much color, too much confusion, and also too much of a trope- available printed on a multitude of items in the many gift shops here in the Park. Black, white and grey with hints of underpainted color would be my palette for these new pieces.
So that is what I have done, am doing. The smaller piece was completed quickly and without internal struggle- it created flow. Blessed flow. Creative crack for artists. I finally have done something true to myself and my mission here. Another, more complex piece- inspired by the tree forms- is nearing completion. My world has righted itself and now I feel the press of time. I have to pack up on Thursday, as I give thanks for the abundance in my life. I leave Friday morning early to begin the 4-day drive home. I will while away some of those highway hours sketching in my mind the works I hope to achieve over the winter in my studio.
Do I wish I had reached this place earlier in my time here? Yes, Of course I do. But that isn't the way it happened and I am just very grateful- and relieved- that it happened at all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The View

I have been taking lots of photographs but have not had the time or patience to go through them, adjust for size, etc and then post them. But here is one:

This is the view from one of the windows here at the South Rim. I have a little balcony- actually part of the roof but it is flat, accessible through a large door, and walkable- just off the sitting area of the AiR apartment.

Here is the only montage I have put together so far:
South Rim, near the Bright Angel Trailhead.

I will post my photos after I have returned to NY and have had a chance to go through them- I promise.

Week II


Our story continues.
Sunday was a day in Flagstaff, a very pleasant small city a little over an hour south of the Park. I had a number of errands to run- which I did. One of them included a stop at a craft store to buy some feathers. What? haven't I found lots of feathers lying around the Park for me to incorporate into my work? No, I haven't and if I did I couldn't use them anyway as per Park rules. I assume any feathers that are molted (too late for that) or shed in any other way are either blown away- it is always windy here- or they are gathered by other wildlife. It is a hardscrabble life for both plants and animals- any source of additional warmth, protein or fat will be quickly found and used. So, I am using dyed chicken feathers to stand in for crow/raven, etc. Such is life.
I went to the Museum of Northern Arizona and thoroughly enjoyed their exhibits of both Geology and Ethnography. I saw a lot of glorious, ancient black & white pottery- designs that will show up in later works of mine. I am puzzled by the notion that every design painted on a pot has to have some deep, complex, spiritual meaning. Why is it somehow derogatory that a craftsperson might have created a design that he/she just took delight in making? It was done just to be pretty. Or different than all those designs the other potters were making. It also stereotypes the makers as some sort of perpetual holy people who just happen to have clay on their hands. Living in this area had to be tough, sometimes you just need a little beauty to soften the edges a bit.
I drove back from Flagstaff in the dark, made myself some supper and settled in for the night.
Monday was one of those days when nothing gets done easily or smoothly. Not a day for the record books. Ah well.
Yesterday, I got a good walk in the late morning. From the South Kaibab Trailhead to the Visitor's Center, where I got the shuttle back to the Village. I had thought I might try part of the South Kaibab Trail but once I got there I realized I wasn't up for it, so I walked the Rim Trail. I like the combination of the intimate landscape of the rim on one side and the jaw-dropping and precipitous grandeur of the canyon on the other. And it is easier on my wonky hip. A part of the landscape I walked through showed signs of recent fire and sure enough, it was the result of a proscribed burn in 2004 that went wrong due to a unforeseen windstorm that blew up out of nothing in seconds and swept the blaze over a huge area stopped only by the rim itself. The landscape is much more open and dominated by forbs- the wildlife have benefited by this. As they say, it is an ill wind that blows no one some good. (Wags may insert pun about oboes here.)
I came back to the apartment and got some work done in the studio. I have been documenting my process while I worked on this piece. I am giving a talk about my work on Thursday evening and this will be part of it. Here is the finished piece.


Last evening I went to hear a talk about the animal/plant relationships in the park. It was enjoyable in and of itself and I got to see where I will be speaking on Thursday.
Today some friends from Poland Seminary High School via Sedona will come up for the afternoon. I am tidying up the apartment, working on my talk, and catching up on some correspondence and research.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Residency Begins


I have not posted a full blog entry since I arrived at the Grand Canyon on Sunday afternoon, so a bit of catching up is in order.
I arrived at the Canyon and the Verkamp's Visitor Center, where I am being housed in an apartment on the top floor. The ranger who is in charge of the program, in an interim assignment after the founder of the program, the estimable Rene Westerbrook, moved on to another assignment in Portland, Oregon, was out of town so not here to greet me. I was handed a key, told where I could park and that was that. Welcome! I was nervous about the whole undertaking and nothing had happened so far to calm my anxieties. And when I get anxious, my automatic reaction is to get angry at every little thing. Fortunately, I know how this is and was largely able to set my feelings of petty grievance aside and get on with unloading the car and distributing my stuff around the apartment.
I spent the rest of day walking around the rim (but not too close to the edge) and trying to take in my situation. Alternating thoughts of "What the Hell am I doing here?" and "Thank you for bringing me here." I made myself some supper, read some of the materials/details left in a binder for AiRs, and went to bed. I was- and still am a bit ahead of my time as my body is just now catching up to the time zone change; so I hit the hay at 8:30pm (10:30pm my body was insisting.)
I did have some moments- of course I had some moments, I was still in petty grievance mode. I can hear everything that goes on below me in the visitor's center and that includes the flute music on a loop that plays all day… It got dark outside and the flute music did not quit, I heard no more visitors downstairs and the music did not quit. I had a horrible feeling that the music was not going to be turned off at night. Then, blessedly, at 7:45 the music stopped. There were the noises of the shop being closed down for the night and then silence. The moon had risen by then and the whole canyon- did I say I am living right on the rim and have a spectacular view of the canyon out of my windows, well I do- was limned in silver and shadow.
The next morning, I woke up early- body still on eastern time- and puttered around, fixed breakfast, totally missed reading my NYTimes while eating my oatmeal. (And no, reading it online is not the same at all and eats up a ton of data- which is very dear here, so I am foregoing that pleasure until I get home.) Also, no NPR! (Streaming not an option.)  No TV other than DVDs- thanks to my brother, Chris's extensive DVD collection and the local library for the loan of a lot of DVDs. I am more of a media junkie than I had thought and am going somewhat cold-turkey.
Walked to the local market and got some supplies- I must say cooking for myself is a treat after so many meals eaten in restaurants while on the road. Finding meals that fit my dietary restrictions was a challenge on the road. For the return trip I will be better prepared.
Took another walk around the rim, unpacked art supplies, trying to stave off feelings of purposelessness and being lost with gratefulness and trust that all would be revealed sooner or later. Started on a piece, blindly but I just had to work. Woke in the middle of the night with the moon still riding high and bright and got dressed and went for a walk in the moonlight. I stayed on the rim, and was not alone, several others were out marveling at the night landscape.
Another day, started to work in the workroom- the lighting is abysmal so tried to jury-rig some decent lights. Walked the upper portion of the Bright Angel Trail- no railings- about a mile drop to certain death- but I managed it and even enjoyed it a bit. I find the scale of the Canyon so daunting, my work and preferred view tend to be more intimate, the Canyon is almost incomprehensible to me. Later that evening, I attended an evening of performance as part of the Native American Heritage Month program. Flute playing (!!!!!) and Apache dancing were on the program. The dancing and the regalia were fascinating and inspiring.
On Wednesday, I finally got to meet the ranger in charge of the AiR program, SuZan Pearce. A great relief- someone to help me figure out what I was doing there, set up the 3 public programs I am obligated to provide, introduce me to Park staff relevant to my residency. I had finished the piece I had started- inspired by the night sky over the canyon- so I took it along to the meeting as a way to explain my techniques. She had set up a meeting with Jan Balsom who has the unenviable task of keeping us AiRs from tromping on cultural toes and I had already used some language in an email to her that sent up some red flags. She gently reminded me that the history of the native tribes was not mine to tell or interpret- and that some of the motifs I might see and want to incorporate might be proprietary- and that I should run my ideas for future works by her office to make sure I was not going to transgress. For instance, in the piece I had just completed, I depicted a Hopi maiden floating above a moonlit canyon strewing stars in her wake. If I had put the figure of the maiden in the canyon, that would have been offensive to the Hopi- women of childbearing years never go below the rim of the canyon. Dodged that one- purely out of ignorance but gratefully.
In a way, however, I found the talk and the learning curve frees me up a bit. I was afraid I was going to be restricted by the cultural needs of the native tribes. Now, as long as I stay in my own head- inspired by the culture, but not attempting to be part of it- I should be okay. I still need to run things past Jan, though, just to make sure. I can live- and work- with that.
Yesterday, I met the rest of the Interperative staff rangers- the AiR program runs under their auspices. I met the Park Librarian and got a tour of the Park library. I will be spending some time there going through rare books of the history of the Canyon, ethnography reports, etc. Walked, was interviewed by the editor of the Canyon newspaper, and met up with a good friend from back home for a bit. I started a new piece based on my own reflections on some of the native flora yet inspired by local art forms. It was a lovely day- I feel like I am getting the hang of this process.
That brings us to today. I sent an image of the what I am working on to Jan for vetting. I don't do sketches per se. I use a set of figure templates and just riff on them. I have an image in my head and  a set of ideas I want to convey, but beyond that, it is largely all process. I cut out the blank figure pieces, I arrange and rearrange them, finding the correct gesture, the correct center of gravity, the colors and patterns that fit and then go from there, adjusting as I go. Then I do the background, mount the figures and there we are. So, if what I have done so far does not pass muster, I will adjust if I can, redo what I must, or put the offending piece aside. We shall see.
Later this evening I am attending the opening event of a workshop on archeology in this cultural landscape. Tomorrow I will go with the group to a dig and to the Desert View Tower. One of the perks of the residency is that I get invited to and can audit any program or event here in the Park.
Onward.
"Canyon Dreams: Starbringer," Bricolage, 24"x20", 2014

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Denver to Sedona

I don't think I have words to describe the drive from Denver, where I stayed with a friend from high school; to Albuquerque; and then to Sedona, where I stayed with another friend from highschool. The hard, plain-spoken poetry of the Nebraska plains gives way to the Homeric epics of the southwestern landscape. Every kind of geology was evidenced. Mesas, red rocks, plateaux, ridges, chimney rocks, extinct volcanos, snow-capped mountains, canyons. The colors of the landscapes ranged from bleached, pale golds to brasses, bronzes, coppers and dark iron. If you stuck the earth, it would probably ring like a bell. Rocks tinted with the murrey signal of Manganese. Soft sage greens to astonishing bright turquoises against the pink dirt. No, the gold dirt. No, the white sandstone.
I met up with my friend in Flagstaff, and then we drove on to Sedona through the Oak Creek Canyon. That drive in itself was a religious experience. I expect that my head will explode when I get to the Grand Canyon.

The Tiny Terrors of Roy, NM

I had stopped in a little hardscrabble crossroads in Roy, NM to use the bathroom in the hamlet's sole business, a gas station/convenience store. There I found out that Hades was missing its guard dog, the three-headed Cerebrus. That is if Cerebrus had split itself into 3 tiny but fierce Chihuahuas. Their sole focus being harassing any one who dared to set foot in Roy. Guy on bicycle? Chase him for 100 yards, barking ferociously. Guy on motorcycle? Surround it and bark ferociously. Woman in Subaru who desperately needs to pee? Block the door to the loo, barking ferociously.
I stepped over the dogs and into the lavatory, I did my business to a nonstop chorus of barking. Got into my car with the barking unabated. Left Roy, NM with my escort following in my wake. Eat my dust you little buggers, eat my dust.