Saturday, August 31, 2013

6. Letchworth Park

Wednesday, and I'm already loosing track of the days by now, was our final field trip and so after our morning session we climbed aboard the bus and headed out.

Letchworth Park, 13,000+ acres on the Genesee River, is the area that the Seneca Nation called the Vale of Three Falls. It was eventually swallowed by the American frontier and logged and slowly bought up into a large parcel and reforested and given to the state as a gift by William Prior Letchworth in 1907.

It is a beautiful forest with a river and falls and this is where we had lunch and spent the afternoon. After lunch, some of us took off down to the Lower falls and the river while others took short strolls or lounged in the Pavilion. There a foot bridge over the river which we went down to and then we walked/strolled upstream on the high bank taking pictures until a few of us were above the falls and waded in the water.

I had brought colored pencils and sketchbook with me but I didn't get them out once. Instead, I took pictures, still getting familiar with my new camera. And once we were above the falls, Amanda and I went wading. It was hot and I scooped up handfuls of water and doused my head. By the time I even thought about finding a comfortable place to sit and maybe sketch, we got the heads up to start back.

It was time to board the bus and we headed to the home of Carol (one of the kitchen volunteers) and Mark for dinner and a pleasant evening. They have a beautiful 30 acre property with a large pond and a beautiful creative home and their own studios for the art work they do.

Carol does these amazing light fixtures out of primarily metal and

Mark plays with dollhouses and miniatures to make political and life statements.

I think that at the end of this day, the group had become.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

5. our first day in the studio

Our second day, after my little escapade in the shower and meditation and breakfast, started as usual with our morning meeting, discussion, reading, and exercise which was very fun.  

image courtesy of Marti Blair

image courtesy of Amanda Taylor

We had to get a length of paper, grab one of many objects, and do 50 drawings of said object in 5 minutes.  I think I got something like 16 or 17 done.  But the purpose of the exercise was to get you looking at the object in many different ways.

image courtesy of Natali Rodrigues

Then we were off for our first visit to the studio for a tour of the facilities and to make out our materials list which I never did and then back to the center for lunch and Catharine's and Karl's artist presentations.

Their presentations done we boarded the bus and went back to the studio for our first day of active work.

Our first task was to make at least 4 – 2” x 2” squares using white, french vanilla, and clear to be used to make the disc which would become a bowl that we would present to the Center as a thank you gift for letting us use their facility.

It'll only take 30 minutes, Karl said.

image courtesy of Amanda Taylor

Several hours later, everyone had their squares assembled on the kiln shelf and it went in for it's first firing.

The only thing I had in mind to work on before I arrived was to learn how to make powder wafers. Powder wafers are very thin fused layers of powder formed into shapes with a stencil. They are usually incorporated into larger fused plates or bowls or plaques. They are very delicate and at the same time, surprisingly strong.

My intent is to use them as themselves, layered and tack fused, to create an image. I had brought electron microscope pictures of butterfly and moth wings which I used to create my wafers. These echoed my gazing into the creek, deeper than the surface. To the naked eye, the wing of a butterfly or moth is a thin and delicate but solid thing. Looking below the surface, we see that the wings are made up of overlapping scales, much like the feathers on a bird.

after firing

I made stencils out of poster board and also 1/16” fiber paper, did some in opals and some in transparents and got them into the kiln.

At the end of our session, we split up into several groups and headed out for dinner.

That night I got my first good night's sleep.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

4. interlude – ellen gets stuck in the shower

So Tuesday morning, the second day, I woke up from a sad dream about my son with tears in my eyes and a headache and I still hadn't gotten a good night's sleep. I had set the alarm so that I would be sure to wake up for the morning meditation and I had 30 minutes to take a shower, get dressed, and get over to the Zendo.

I took some ibuprofen and collected my towel and stuff and padded down the hall to the shower which was a separate little room from the toilet and sink and thoughtlessly locked the door behind me. I got undressed and got my shampoo and washcloth and pulled the shower door open, closed it behind me and proceeded to wash my hair and body.

Finished with my shower, I used the squeegee and wiped down the shower and glass door, put the squeegee down and pulled on the shower door sideways to open it and it wouldn't budge.

OK. So I give it another pull. Then again with both hands and it still will not slide open.

Great, I think, I'm stuck naked in the freakin' shower. I give it another try with all the strength I can muster.

Finally I called out 'help' and the woman in the room next to mine happened to be passing by and stopped and called out to me so I told her I was stuck in the shower, that I could not get the door open.

She tries the door and because I had the foresight to lock myself in, she can't get in to help me. So I'm stuck in the shower trying my best to slide it open sideways, five people are freaking out in the corridor (there was just two of us, Abilasha said, when I was relating the story to someone else), and Eryl, one of the caretakers is rounding the corner with the key to unlock the door when in my frustration I slapped the glass of the shower door with the flat of my palm and...

the door swung right open.

Just like the swinging door it was and not like the sliding door I had convinced myself it was when I wanted out.

Never mind, I called out, I got it open.

After assuring everyone that I was fine, that I was out of the shower, and thanking them for their attempts to help me, I dressed and made my way to the Zendo where I engaged in some much needed 'centering'.

When I meet new people, especially people I am going to be spending a lot of time with, I tend to be a little reserved at first, because, as I have learned, I can be a little hard to take sometimes. But after you prove to everyone right off the bat what a freakin' total idiot you can be, I mean, what's the point, right?

So I laughed at myself and related the story later in the day to a few of the women who were feeling...less than enthusiastic at that point. We were, as a group, becoming, and but we hadn't become yet. We did all get well knitted together I think and easily by the mid-point of the week. All us individual threads got picked up and woven into this phenomenal group of women (and the three men in our midst) and artists sharing, with all the vulnerability that goes with that and support, and expertise.

Well. Needless to say, I was relaxed and just me after that.

Whatever that is.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

3. the first day

So, our routine for the week was guided meditation from 7 - 8 AM (voluntary, of course and I'll write more about that later), breakfast from 8 – 9 AM, morning meeting from 9 AM til whatever the schedule was for that day, and then independent work either at the studio, the center, or on a field trip.

The first full day of the residency, Catharine opened with basic information and talked about why we were there and what our responsibilities to ourselves and to each other were which were basically to squeeze as much out of everyone that we could by being pro-active and asking questions (something that she reiterated for the first several days), that the work that we did would be self-directed, and that the goal was to open some new possibilities towards our work. Next, we introduced ourselves, reading our artist statements that we had brought with us, and then Catharine started us off with a reading to mull over and an exercise involving a block of clay.

We weren't to make anything out of it necessarily, but just squoosh it around and take note of whatever thoughts or feelings arose.  We had an hour. I went out and sat on the little footbridge over the creek and just sat there at first, not really thrilled with the exercise and so I just watched the water flow through the creek and eventually tried to create in the clay what I was seeing...the rocks and pebbles, the algae, the flow and ripple of the water, the banks and overhanging foliage.

When the clay started to dry out I did a little sketch on my iPad.  No great words or feelings welled up and so I just thought about how a river or creek seems a simple and single thing until you look past the surface to what is happening underneath.  As it happened, this turned out to be a good analogy for much of the work I did in the studio.

After the exercise, we all reassembled around the table and shared our experience. Some totally got into it.  Others, like me, struggled with it. It was interesting, though, to see how each individual handled the exercise. Most of us just dumped the clay back into the bucket but a few of us used it to illustrate their thought processes.

Later in the afternoon we went on our first field trip to Machpelah Cemetery where we wandered around the grounds taking pictures or making sketches or doing rubbings or nothing at all. 

I found little inspiration there though I always enjoy old cemeteries and mostly spent my time trying to figure out my new camera.

Upon our return, Catharine did her thematic lecture/presentation on the 'Familiar' which I think went above some heads, mine included at times. I've never been one to be all that interested in art history and the intentions of artists and although I enjoyed seeing the pictures of the artists' work that she included, much of what they had to say about their work struck me as things people would say who went through degree programs at art universities. Very few of us there at the residency had done so.

I had woken up that morning dreaming.  It was not my typical anxiety dream and I won't bore you with the details but it was definitely about the week ahead of me with mostly total strangers and, as we talked later in the group about the 'imposter syndrome' that even accomplished artists suffer from, I realized there might have been some of that element in the dream as well.  I had been greeted upon my arrival with at least two of the participants praising my work and how glad they were to meet me and how excited they were that I was going to be a participant.

By the end of the day that first day, I had had three nights in a row of poor sleep, I was transitioning from my quiet and solitary life in the country to a loud and boisterous group in a building where the acoustics weren't that great (lots of echo) and was trying to ward off a headache so when dinner plans were being made, I declined to accompany them, preferring to stay at the Center and have leftovers from lunch for my dinner with an eye to going to bed early.

As it turned out a couple others also stayed behind as well and so it became my first opportunity to get to know a few of the participants. And I didn't get to bed early at all.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

2. Chapin Mill Retreat Center

Before I delve into the experimenting and learning we did at the studio, I thought I would tell you about Chapin Mill Retreat Center where we resided, had our morning meetings, and our meals.

Long before the 135 acre retreat center was built, before even the grist mill was built on the lake fed stream, it was an area revered by the first nations. To the Iroquois tribes 'the place of clear running water' was a sacred meeting place where conflict and bloodshed were forbidden.

The grist mill was built in 1811 and Ralph Chapin, chairman and treasurer of Chapin Manufacturing in Batavia, New York, a company founded by his grandfather in 1884, eventually acquired the property. Chapin, a buddhist and charter member of the Rochester Zen Center, donated the property to the Zen Center in 1996.

The property itself is rolling wooded hills interspersed with meadows. There is a small spring fed lake that feeds a live creek. There are several hiking trails but our days were so full that none of us had the time to take more than a short stroll around the area where the Center is.

It's a beautiful building with wood floors, white walls, and wood beams; serene and minimal. Windows and doors to the outside are spacious and open (with screens). When you first enter the foyer, a residence wing is on the right and another shorter wing is straight ahead, the left handed wall of which opened into the inner courtyard.


To the left is a long corridor, one side of which has sliding glass doors that open to the inner courtyard, that takes you past the 'mud room' (which is open and a part of the foyer), the piano room for comfortable sitting and companionship and leads you into the dining hall, an open and airy space with access to the kitchen and pantries. At this end there is another short residence corridor that parallels the other, also opening into the courtyard.

So, the building is built around this lovely gravel, grass, and paving stone courtyard with two Japanese maples, two sides of which are residential, one side is the front corridor and across from that is the fourth solid wall around the courtyard with deep covered porches on all four inner sides. There are two doors in the not glass wall that open into the corridor and across that, into the Zendo. The Zendo is the main meditation room.

It is built in two levels and sometimes the lower level is underground like a basement and is referred to as such. My room was one of the basement rooms (we shared bathrooms) and while I was below ground level, the land sloped past my room so I had a full size window. 

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Monday, August 26, 2013

1. she's baaaaack

Didja miss me?

I'm slowly slipping back into what passes for the real world around here. I've not only been gone physically, I've been gone mentally. And off-line almost completely.

As much time as I spend on-line on FB or reading blogs or writing my own blog or researching images for artwork, I thought I would have withdrawal. But as it turned out, I liked being unplugged.

Not that they didn't have wifi at the retreat center or at the studio, though I could never get connected at the studio and after the first day, I didn't even try...too busy. I would check my mail once a day at night after everyone had settled down in their rooms. I even logged onto FB once or twice at first and realized almost immediately that I had absolutely no interest in any of the things I usually pay attention to.

My hot button issues had been getting oppressive lately. It's depressing to have to focus so constantly on the negative things you want to change but how do you stay informed and active for change otherwise?

I would sit on the steps and gaze at the night sky and try to release some of the energy that was being generated so I could get to sleep. We had a waxing moon when we all arrived, it came to full about the middle of the week and waned from there on rising an hour later each night so by the end of the week we had a pretty good star field.

There was a cartoon going around that went something like this: two people are walking and one says to the other...'my wish to stay informed is at odds with my wish to stay sane'.

You may remember that I signed up to participate in a week long residency/retreat to address The Familiar with an eye to trying to approach my work from an unfamiliar direction.

I might have easily let this unique opportunity pass me by but I was in a position to be able to take advantage of it and lucky enough to have two people who kept following up with me while I worked my way through my reluctance to travel.


We spent Saturday night in the city and got up at 4:45 AM to get me to the airport for my early morning flight. I arrived in Rochester early afternoon and Lance of Oatka School of Glass, one of the studio owners sponsoring the residency, picked me up at the airport. We fetched two other earlier arrivals from the grocery store and headed to the center to be greeted by Catharine Newell, our lovely and accomplished leader.

I did a post about Catharine's work here.

The residency/retreat (and I include the retreat because it was very much that as well) was being held at the Chapin Mill Retreat Center, which is a Zen Buddhist meditation center outside Batavia NY which is where Oatka School Of Glass is located. This turned out to be a stroke of genius, I think, as it allowed the participants to coalesce into a really wonderful group, all residing in this extraordinary facility for the week.

This was a group of 15 women artists who have an interest in glass as a material but not limited to that in their personal work, our facilitator, our hosts, and the volunteers in the kitchen and studio that really made it all possible.

Our first day was all about arrivals and getting our room assignments and linens and settling in and introducing ourselves to everyone as they arrived and assembled and exploring the grounds as time allowed and our first dinner together. The fare was vegetarian, no smoking or alcohol allowed inside.

As it turned out, no one shared a room so my diligence in securing earplugs for any and all was all for naught.

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Friday, August 16, 2013


It took me three days to write my presentation and to select and prepare the images for the slide show. I also finally got photo albums of the etched glass and pate de verre prepared and categorized and uploaded to my iPad. I recently upgraded my operating system and all my previous albums disappeared.

Just as well as I had uploaded the two main folders for both types of work and had about 10 versions of every single item in those folders. Very confusing and unorganized and hard to find the one image I'm trying to show someone. Now I must import pictures to iPhoto and create my albums there and then I can upload them to the iPad. Before, I only had to select the folders on my hard drive.

I've also assembled the few things I am taking with for 'familiar and experimental' studio ingredients. Basically what I'm taking is pencils, erasure, colored pencils, sketchbook. Beyond that, I'm stumped although I think if I have time I'll go get a packet of origami paper.

Today, I packed. But first I had to wait for the laundry to get done. I tried to ferret out all my dirty clothes because it was going to take just about all my clothes, at least the ones I wear and am comfortable in and not outright rags, though I am bringing one of those.

The problem is, I've forgotten what I wear for low 60s˚ - low 80s˚ so I need a selection.

And I want to bring my small feather pillow. That's the hardest thing for me, sleeping away from home, not having the right pillow.

And I only want to take one bag and not check it so I'm limited in size.

After my first try, when I had got everything in, I realized I hadn't packed any shoes.

I might want shoes. And they take up a lot of space.

I have a shoulder bag I'll be carrying too and before I knew it I had 5 pairs of shoes selected.

OK, that seems a little excessive especially for someone who goes barefoot all the time. They want us to bring a dedicated pair of shoes to wear inside the center so we don't track dirt in so that's 1. I need a pair of shoes with good support for hiking and working in the glass studio so that's 2. I need a pair of sandals so that's 3 minimum.

Second try, I remembered that this bag has a small extension built in so I unzipped that, put everything in including the pillow, and zipped the bag closed. Then I sat on it til I could zip the extension closed.

So I guess I'm ready to go.

I was out surveying the yard as I am wont to do, seeing how everything was at the end of the day when I spied this:

This is my desert rose that I have had at least six years. A friend gave me it as a rooted cutting when I admired hers. It has grown well, is a beautiful specimen of a plant. It has never bloomed. Everyone I know who has a desert rose, bigger, smaller, fewer branches; theirs bloom.

So now it appears that mine is finally going to reward me with a flower and I won't be here to see it.

There was a time when I might have asked the universe, 'why?'

But we all know the answer to that question now, don't we...

the curse