Thursday, December 25, 2008

Disc Dance

Tah-dah! (...the sound of horns and an exciting beat...) Finally, the long-awaited (by me) images of my Disc Dance installation! It was created as the centerpiece of an exhibit called Transformations (actually, it now seems to be called SmartART), a collaboration of four mid-size science and environmental museums, including The Ecotarium in Worcester, Massachusetts; ECHO at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont; Musée de la nature et des sciences, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada; and The Children’s Museum of Maine in Portland.

It’s just been installed at the Ecotarium, and will travel around to the other three museums over the course of the next few years. After that, it will go into a rental pool for ten years, and then will revert to me. Thanks to Betsy Loring, the Ecotarium’s Manager of Exhibits and Collections, for taking the photographs of the completed piece (seen below). You can see more images of work in the exhibition here.

I thought it would be fun to take you on a quick trip to see how this project developed over the past year. Here’s the idea I came up with after a period of consultation and back-and-forth with folks from the participating museums. The idea was to make plexiglass buttons of various sizes (as I’ve been doing with painted tin disks) and hold them in a grid on the top of the installation. Light would cast the colors on people walking below.

I discovered when I actually created some pieces out of colored plexi and lit them, that light doesn’t really work that way. You have to be VERY close to it to have the light cast a discrete shape that can be perceived as a circle. Very shortly, the light just starts to make a vaguely-colored puddle. Plus, Mr. Gravity makes the grid s-a-g, and all it takes is one person jumping up to grab it to make all hell break loose (you’ve got to think about that sort of thing in a place where there are thousands of visitors a month). So, I realized that the image area needed to be on the sides, not the top. Here’s what I was working with in my studio, mocking things up on scaffolding, trying to see how everything would work at that scale (It turned out in the end that scaffolding was a good thing to build the piece with).

I still wanted light to be cast on the people inside the installation, so I modified a disco ball; here is a shot of it in the studio.

And here’s the final piece at the Ecotarium. You can see the lights and disco ball on top. I owe huge thanks and appreciation to the professionals at the Ecotarium who mounted the lights and built the frames that hold the artwork, as well as the whole standing structure.

Here’s how it looks inside the installation. There are three layers of plexi in the cases. The inside two layers have circles in different sizes and colors made with transparent vinyl film. The outer layer of plexi is a translucent white. When you’re inside, you see the circles overlapping in three layers, and their projections on the inside of the white “screen.”

Outside, you see the light projected from the inside, as a softer, flattened image.

Pretty cool, huh?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Busy, Busy, Busy

Studio Place Arts has been selling my work like hotcakes – in the last month they’ve sold four button fish, four hanging birds, and two Herald Angels. Every time I put something in, it flies off the shelves! Whoopee! I just took in something new – Noisemakers! They use the little clay bits I’ve been making the last few weeks, and they make a great sound when shaken. The perfect item for New Year’s Eve, Purim, or something for your next gig as a percussionist.

I’m also continuing work on a piece for an upcoming SPA exhibit called Picture That Poem. I need to finish painting the text on boards that will be affixed to the sides of the sculpture (you can see the first row in the image below). The poem is called Reincarnation, and is by my mother, Sandy McKinney:

The part that arrives at heaven's chop-shop
doesn't leave much to work with, but you're
one of the lucky ones. Reliable sources
advise that Y2K came with amnesty for all
previous karma, so you'll only have to pay
for the one you messed up last time.

Things are a bit crowded at the moment,
what with a big backlog before the millennial gift,
but just hang in there. Don't make waves and you
can look forward to a safe and improved return.

I’ll post a picture when it’s finished. And maybe some detail shots.

The real reason I made the clay pieces (seen in the noisemakers above) was to use on more figures from the Disarmament series. Here’s the latest finished piece, and then a piece in progress. These are two of the ones that will be suspended, as I mentioned in a recent post.

The circular clay embellishments on the following figure have two different colors of clay. I didn’t make enough in the first load (not knowing what I might be using them for...), but I’ve now got enough new ones ready to go into the kiln to finish encrusting it. Stay tuned.

All of these figures need to have a skirt. I've used metal, hacksaw blades, clay, beach fibers, and nails for the other ones, but I don't know about this one. Anybody got a suggestion about what materials I might use?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter in my Heart

I did more work on the Disarmed pieces (see my December 6 post, "Disarmament") yesterday at the studio, and figured out that it would be neat to suspend some of them from the ceiling so they didn’t have to be mounted on stands, but would still stand upright. One of them actually takes little mincing steps when dangled so its feet just barely touch the floor. I intended to take some photos of them for the blog today, but when I headed out in the snow this morning I fell on the ice and banged my right leg. So I stayed home and did paperwork and decided to put up a quickie on the blog. I'll take pictures at the studio tomorrow.

When the snow is on the ground and the sky is grey, it is truly bleak, even up in the garden. I think about growing older every day and the inevitability of death. John Hanna, a Barre stone sculptor and a wonderful man, died on Friday, December 12. I went to his funeral yesterday. There will be a retrospective exhibit of his work at SPA from January 10 - 16, 2009, with a reception from 2-4 on Saturday, January 10.

I’m thinking about doing a piece that involves doors, maybe combining with the Disarmed pieces for an installation: “The Disarmed Approach the Event Horizon.” I guess that's what death is -- getting sucked into the big Black Hole. I’m imagining a beautiful old door with little doors (and openings) cut into it. You could look at it from either side. There would be small people in the small doorways. And the disarmed all around, on the floor and on pedestals.

People don’t seem terribly inclined to respond to my questions, but under the circumstances I can hardly keep from asking this one: What are we here for? What do you make of the fact that our art lasts longer than we do? Is this great or terrible?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Second Tuesday

This post is about making connections with other people in the art world -- which is kind of what this blog is all about! Along that line, I'm delighted to see that people are responding and/or participating in the comments section (right below this post, guys -- easy to do! Exercise for the little grey cells as well as the fingers!). Also, housekeeping-wise, I'm reminding folks that I keep an email list of people who want to be informed about new posts. I am trying to post once a week, though sometimes I get lazy or over-excited. The email I send out gives you a taste of what's on the blog, but is a special little communication all on its own. Short, really. You can email me to ask to be put on the list. Go to my website, and click on Contact.

Here's a photo of the people in my Art Group at my studio this past Tuesday. We meet on the second Tuesday of each month, discussing and sharing our own work and ongoing issues in the arts. Sometimes we come to my studio in the winter or in mud season, since it’s in town and not on a back road, where most of us live. We were a small group this month – left to right, Alex Bottinelli, Liz Nelson, Lynn Newcomb (who told us she just got a Pollock-Krasner Fellowship!), and Maggie Neale. Five other members of the group were absent for various reasons.

I’ve been meeting with this group for over ten years. I started when I still had my studio in St. Johnsbury (maybe in 1996?). The members of the group have changed a bit over the years, though it has actually stayed remarkably stable. We’re all women. We’ve invited men to come, but we never found any who were interested. The most valuable thing to me about the group is that it gives me a historical look at other people’s work, seeing the trajectory of their practice, how things have changed or remained the same. And each of these people is also a witness to how my work has morphed, and what has engaged me over the years.

Making art is a curious thing to do, and having others who have the same proclivity is comfortable and creates a bit of community in a profession that is quite solitary. The visual arts (unlike theater, music, and dance) are not practiced ensemble, but singly, one by one.

I gave Liz one of the painted political lawn signs I’d made for an outdoor installation in Johnson this summer. She took it home and has been doing her own installation project with it – putting it in various outdoor locations around her house and then photographing it. Here’s one she took at night with a flash.

So what would you like to talk about? What do you do that creates community, fellowship, fellow-feeling, fellow-traveling? Do you get enough, too much?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Around and Around

I’ve been working with Izuri Mizutani, an artist in Japan, to put together two exhibits of Japanese and Vermont artists in 2010 (In Nagoya, Japan and Burlington and Barre, Vermont) to connect with the tenth anniversary of the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity.

I’m very excited to do some new work for this exhibit in my Circular Statements body of work (see below for a previous piece, Targets, and a detail of another piece, to show how the disks cast shadows). I’m so excited that I went to the studio today (Sunday) to work, and now I’m posting two days in a row. I’ll give you a bit of a break after this, I promise.

My idea is to do paintings of different species (plants and animals) on disks that will be mounted in a wire grid, like the pieces above. Here are some of them that I particularly like.

Questions? Hmm, I went to a women’s potluck last night at Irina Markova’s house. She told stories about her father and asked others to say something about their fathers. This is a good idea! I’m inviting you to tell a story about a time when your father shared an art experience with you.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


No arms. But stuff on the torso, body core, corps, corpse…

These are all pieces I've finished in the past week. I wonder what the stuff on the chest is. The surfaces suggest micrographs of pollen (scroll down about a third of the page) or diatoms (scroll down two-thirds of the page). Maybe that's because I continue to be interested in how humans are part of the continuum of life on the planet.

Those aren't arms. It's milk squirting out like pearls.

I want to let you know that I put up my 2002 stop-action animation film, The March of the Teapots, on YouTube. As soon as I figure out how to break up the Circular Statements video that Gail Schwartz made into three smaller segments, I’ll put that up too.

The question for this post comes from here. How would you encapsulate your life story, your philosophy, your achievements, or your insights in six words? I might say (partly taken from a poem by my mother):

Leap before you look! Bonzai! Hurrah!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Working the blog

I’ve been doing this blog for about a month now, and asking myself what I’m after. One thing for sure is that, in addition to sharing with folks I already know, I’m hoping to get my work out into the big world outside Vermont. To make a career in the fine arts, you’ve somehow got to get a slingshot that will propel you over the border.

Since I don’t have a counter on my site, I actually don’t have any idea how many people visit and what they think. I’ve said it’s like leaving your house open and going away for a few hours. When you get home, even if nothing has been moved or changed, you don’t know whether anybody’s been there while you’ve been gone. Sometimes people stop by your house and leave a note saying they’re sorry they missed you. (Or, heaven forfend, a note saying you had invited them for dinner and where the hell are you!) Here on the blog, only a few people have left comments in the comment section at the bottom of each post, though quite a few people have told me in person that they’ve visited and mentioned things they’ve seen here. Even my daughter sent me a comment by email instead of commenting on the blog, but she gave me permission to print her comment:

This blog is the best idea you have ever had. Seriously. It may take a while for it to spread around, but I'm pretty positive that this is going to get you noticed. And even if it doesn't, it's just so wonderful to allow a peek behind the curtain of art, not to demystify (because the mystery is still there: how does she think of these things?!) but to invite everyone to participate and invest instead of just being consumers.

I never thought before about how what is pretty much Standard Operating Procedure to me can be a peek behind the curtain to others. That’s wonderful! Later, she suggested that I ask some questions instead of just holding forth, which seems like a good idea. So after I tell you about last week’s frankly commercial (though heartfelt) effort to make a few bucks, I’ll do that.

I’ve been making ornaments at this season for the last 4-5 years, and this year I decided to go back to simple, inexpensive ones. Someone suggested last week that I make ornaments commemorating the big political victory this year, and it came to me that I DO feel good about the country and the direction I hope it’s moving in, so here’s the outcome (They’re $2 each, and have an optional, commemorative "08" sticker that you can affix to the center of the ornament. You can buy them at Studio Place Arts through the end of December.):

Tah Dah! And here are the questions: What do you think about patriotism? What does it mean to you? Is being a partisan for your country like being egocentric about yourself? What are the good (and bad) things about having aspirations and ambitions for yourself (and/or your country)? Don’t like those questions? Write some of your own!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Home again, home again, marketing’s done

Here's a partial installation shot of the Rolling Boil exhibit at the Lazy Pear Gallery in Montpelier, September 23 - November 16, 2008.

Another art lifecycle event this week: picking up and bringing back work after the conclusion of an exhibit. Making the work, loading it up and taking it somewhere, packing it up and bringing it back. Breathe in, breathe out. Jiggity-jig, jiggity-jog. A familiar ritual.

The Lazy Pear Gallery kept about a quarter of the work by volume to add to my other work on display at the gallery. There were two large pieces that came back, The Wall and Raising the Dead, as well as Rendition Vehicle. Rob, who owns the gallery (along with his wife Mary Jo), is a lovely guy. He always helps with the transportation. We packed the big work into Rob’s truck and the smaller pieces into my car and made the return trip to Barre, into the elevator, up to the third floor, and into the studio. It took about four hours with packing, transporting, and putting the work away.

One $350 piece sold during the exhibit, the turtle on wheels (see above, on the blog’s banner). It’s not uncommon, here in Vermont, to sell nothing during the run of an exhibit, so it’s interesting to think and talk about how art is priced and sold. Many people, when asking about a piece, want to know how long it took to make it, as though an hourly wage for the making (say, even a lawyer’s impressive hourly, $50 - $300, which seems extremely generous) would make sense.

In fact, it helps to think about the larger context of each individual piece to understand the business part of art. So, for example, I worked on this Rolling Boil body of work for two months and paid rent and insurance on the studio during that time. The materials were pretty much free, I’ll grant you! For this one exhibit, I spent about six hours just in packing and carting the work. Rob printed and mailed cards, hosted an opening reception and an artist talk, and kept his gallery open. He made $175 and I made $175.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Back to Business

Thanks to everybody who signed up as Followers and for email notification about new posts for this blog. I appreciate that people are interested!

The last week or so I’ve been mostly involved in helping put up the SPA Members Show and getting my work out for holiday shows at SPA and AVA in Lebanon, NH (thanks to Cindy Blakeslee for transporting the work down there!). Also, I update the SPA website, so that’s taken some time, with taking photos and changing all the pages. Navigate to the Gallery pages and click on Current to see the Members Show. And come on over to the Opening Reception on Saturday, November 22 from 4-6 PM!

On the first day of the show, Tuesday, SPA sold two of my pieces (amazing and wonderful!). One was a wooden head made with a very cool piece of firewood that had been pecked by woodpeckers to create a mouth-like aperture. I made the eyes with buttons, and it had a bird perched on the top. Alas, I didn’t take a picture of it, so it’s gone into the great out-there. But this brings up the reality that once something you make actually SELLS, you are highly-motivated to make another, similar piece. So that’s what I did. I didn’t have wood that was as unusual as the first one, but here’s Woodland Spirit/Sprite (whatever) number 2. You can see I am using some of the leftovers from the clay/hair pieces I talked about in my last post:

Another thing I had to do was to CLEAN THE STUDIO because the Opening Reception for the Members Show is on Saturday and there will be lots of people coming through. It was a horrible mess. I put things away and swept and mopped the floor. Woo woo! Here are photos of the fabulous result.

And here’s what it still looks like on my workbench, behind the magic screen. I’m going in today, and I’ll hoe it out.

Monday, November 17, 2008


How many times do I have to learn that you don’t know what’s supposed to happen until it happens? What I mean is, I keep on saying that I’M not the one making the work and calling the shots, it’s the MUSE, or whatever it is that wants to make art happen in the world. My job is to get my ego out of the way and let that force operate.

Case in point: I came into the studio this morning bringing materials I had stored in my barn and grabbed when I came in from jogging -- some fibers I had collected on the beach a few years ago, four wonderful stubby little easychair legs, some animals I’d made for an installation at the Firehouse in Burlington over ten years ago, and a wedge-shaped hunk of wood. I knew that I was going to make some Dogs! I had made some clay “hair” last week that Georgia Landau fired in her kiln. She’s straight out finishing work for the Vermont Handcrafters show this coming weekend, so it was really good of her to squeeze my stuff in.

So immediately I started work on the first dog. I used one of the old animals, cut the legs down, put some ears on, and started affixing the “hair”. It didn’t seem quite right, but I persevered. Got the top all covered with the clay pieces, and ... and... I took it down to Georgia’s studio and asked, “What’s this?” “A sheep,” says she. Sure enough, it was a sheep. I painted the legs black and accepted it as a sheep. Where does that fit into the Circus? Got me.

When I don't have any idea what I'm doing, I rummage through my materials (junk in my studio). I found a figure I had started a while back and abandoned. I remembered about making Sentinels. I thought it might stand on tall legs like the Bondage piece. Its old-nail arms were spread wide. I added a headdress, and knew it wanted to have wings, so I used some of the long “hair” pieces. It was an angel! A Herald Angel (as in Hark the Herald Angels Sing...)!

The bottom image shows the back of the figure. It has striped legs and dots under the wings, and it flies. It is a very odd piece, like an alien insect. It needs something coming out of its mouth, like music.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


I am really enjoying the metaphor of the three-ring circus for my new work. All those different acts taking place simultaneously implies the world stage, with all the different hot spots, alliances, and diverse cultures, each confined to its own ring, seemingly apart, but really embedded in the same event.

It's funny how when you're on to a new direction, everything seems to be related. I look at my Rolling Boil pieces (above, on the banner) and think Circus Train!

I would especially like to make some dog acts, to be called Dogs of Peace.

Back in 2003 we had an evening of Peep Shows at Studio Place Arts during one of our annual Galas. The several dozen peep shows were on all kinds of funny topics, set up in cardboard boxes with a slit in the front for peeping through (see top image), and mounted in voting booths that we borrowed from the City of Barre. Lucinda Mason sat inside one of the booths and read love poems. Andrea Stander and I collaborated on a peep show called Dogs of War. She made the small clay Pups for Peace. Time to make a commitment to those little guys.

It would also be fun to make a circus band (Who calls the tune?!), a ringmaster (Decider or Collaborator?), and some Hoochie-Koochie dancers (a little erotic flavor always helps).

Friday, November 14, 2008

The whole world's a circus

I've been playing with some old pieces that I made at the Vermont Studio Center about ten years ago, during the War in Kosovo. The little wooden figures (12-14" high) were part of something I made called Ethnic Encampments, where groups made of the same materials were huddled together under the control of bad guys who looked kind of like Transformers (the toy). They are coming back in the context of the Circus. Each of the rings (thank you Axel Stohlberg for giving me the rings) has a drama unfolding in it, and the war context of the original pieces still seems to inform their activities.

Are these guys helping these women or not? Rescuing or raping? I don't know. In the center ring some kind of blessing seems to be happening. On the right the figures always make me think of middle eastern guys because of their headgear and beards. I don't know if I'll make a displayable piece out of these things, or just keep re-arranging them in the studio.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happiness is not a bad thing

A friend recently told me about an upcoming exhibit at the American Visionary Arts Museum (AVAM) called Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, which, of course, rang my political bell. The first thing that came into my mind was Death, Bondage (see below, in previous post) and the Happiness of Pursuit. So I said to myself, "Come on, you said you were going to lighten up."

Although I thought it might be kind of hard to make something cheerful about death and bondage, there were possibilities in The Happiness of Pursuit. So here it is, and actually it does make me smile.

I found the little tricycle at Recycle North in Burlington, Vermont. It's about 6 inches high and appears to be handmade (by someone else's hand, though). What a great find in a store for recycled housewares. It's pulling a tiny swan. Happiness! Not a bad thing.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Here's what I'm thinking about

I am feeling more hopeful about the future, but there are still lots of problems to solve and we need to stay awake and vigilant. I'm thinking of a new series of standing figures called Sentinels. This is the first one (above), Bondage. It's made out of wood; the white things on the chest, possibly a kind of armor, are the tips of pork ribs I got from a pot of posole my mother made me. The arms are mostly chicken bones, the skirt is a bunch of old hacksaw blades, the head is the bowl of a clay pipe. It's standing on very long legs made of steel rods, welded to a steel base (that you can't see). I guess we're not out of the woods yet.

To put this work in context, I've made lots of different kinds of standing figures over the years, like Oracles, three of which are seen at right as a part of an exhibit I had called Gene Pool at 215 College Gallery in Burlington, VT about a year ago -- October 12 - November 4, 2007. This was, I think, one of the best exhibits I've ever mounted, and one of the first that was (in terms of my intent) about a political/social issue -- in this case, race and gender. The wooden trencher in front of the figures is the Gene Pool, with lots of buttons representing people, MOST of which are brown and black. Only a few are white. Who would have imagined then that we'd have a president-elect who's African-American? Hurrah!

The other early Political exhibit was my first solo show at the Lazy Pear, March 15 - May 14, 2007, titled Curious Lifeforms, including These two pieces, Homage to Cindy Sheehan (left) and Mother Earth (right).