This sprawling American Century Plant (Agava americana) was a favorite from a recent visit to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh.
In the month of February, Lou and I traveled northeast to the Adirondacks for a winter get-away. On our last day in the Lake Placid area, we drove to Keene along NY-73, which runs parallel to Cascade Brooke and Upper and Lower Cascade Lakes. Driving through this narrow pass, the dramatic rock faces caught the late afternoon sun and highlighted the numerous trees that have made this spot their home.
This month I was part of the Cube Art Project in Lincoln, Nebraska. A total of 23 artists and 31 digital projects were selected for this biannual competition and screened on a large format, three-dimensional outdoor monitor (the Cube) located in the Railyard (pictured below). The selected works will be on rotation for the year.
Two of my videos are being screened as part of this revolving display of digital works, including a new piece I created specifically for this unique space and format, Pine Tree Slide, as well as Glacial Lake, a piece I’ve previously screened at the Icebox Project Space in Philadelphia and at the SUNY Cortland Dowd Gallery.
As the source material for Pine Tree Slide, I used some of my photographs of ferns arranged to look like pine trees. I had initially composed these photos for a different purpose but ultimately hadn’t used them for anything. The images sat around until recently when I started to work with them again. As a moving image, the contours of the ferns overlap to reveal or conceal the underlying image creating a kaleidoscope effect.
The day after Thanksgiving, we returned to Johnson’s Santas’ Forest in Franklinville to select a tree for the family home. It was a bright, clear day, and the late afternoon sun was positioned just above the tall pines lining the perimeter of the tree farm.
Photos from our 2016 tree farm trip can be found here.
Along the Rim Trail at Robert H. Treman State Park, this tree has become a record keeper. One carving dates back to 1968, marking almost 50 years (maybe more) of hikers who stopped to etch their initials here.
I watched the phenomenon of the solar eclipse with my good friend Shea Hembrey under a row of katsura trees at the Cornell Botanical Gardens. Years ago, Shea had told me about the camera obscura effect that occurs during an eclipse. It was a hard concept for me to grasp until I had the chance to witness it for myself. The light that filters through the openings between leaves acts like a pinhole camera and projects the image of the eclipse onto the ground. Slowly, almost imperceptibility, the shadows had shifted and crescent shapes of light dotted the pavement all around us.
Rows of potted mums at a greenhouse in Milo, NY.
I recently discovered the Liberty Hyde Bailey Conservatory Greenhouse on Cornell’s campus that opens its doors to visitors during the weekdays from late morning to mid-afternoon. With the rebuild of the conservatory in 2014, the space was designed with an impressive computerized system for controlling temperature, humidity and light. It houses more than 650 species of plants that thrive in temperate climates. The conservatory has a Palm House and an adjoining Student House that is loaded with a variety of potted succulents, mosses, orchids, delicate ornamentals and carnivorous plants.
This may become my new favorite spot to visit on lunch breaks. I’ll be sure to return during the Ithaca winters to take in some tropical air.
This past weekend I traveled to Concord, Massachusetts, to install a site-specific installation for the Art Ramble 2017: Slow Eyes, Solace & Site, an exhibition in honor of Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday. The site of the installation, within the Hapgood Wright Town Forest, sits in close proximity to Walden Pond. The show is hosted by the Umbrella Community Arts Center and curated by Jenn Houle.
Having never seen the forest before, my project proposal was based on assumptions of what I might find when I arrived there. The concept of my installation piece entitled, Drift, was loosely based off of a print I had made earlier this year, Pine Needle Polka Dot. I wanted to do something similar in form within the landscape. I planned to collect plant material from the forest floor, possibly pine needles if available, and arrange them into piles that would sit onto a contrasting color. With the inherent impermanence of the work, I planned to have a photographic reference on site for viewers to experience the piece as it had once existed.
After arriving in Concord on Saturday afternoon, I walked the trails of the forest and looked for contrasting colors to create my work. Many of the paths were covered with dried, orange pine needles. My location within the forest was a clearing just off the path that was densely covered in orange needles. I also noticed that the freshly fallen branches from the white pine trees still had green needles. I collected these branches and began removing the needles for the installation.
There was one small hitch in my original plan. The fallen branches had needles that were about 3 to 4 inches in length. They didn’t fit the 2 inch diameter tubes and template I had designed in anticipation for the installation. I soon realized I would need to add another step in my process and trim them down to smaller sizes, to about 1 inch. I spent a good part of the following morning on Sunday trimming pine needles over my morning coffee.
I took the trimmed pine needles back to the forest were I organized them into repeating circular piles onto the contrasting orange needles below. With the feeling that it might downpour at any moment, I photographed the progress as I worked. A few times I felt raindrops but the storm held off. I was able to install 123 piles and covered an area approximately 2 feet by 8 feet with the quantity of green needles I had trimmed earlier in the day.
Back at my computer, I sorted through the images. Part of my consideration in planning for the piece was to have a booklet that would hold images, so I had brought a mobile lab along with me in my car which included a laptop, printer and laminator. On my last day in Concord, I printed the booklet as a reference for viewers. The booklet sits in a box I had constructed ahead of the installation, designed to look like a trail map box (special thanks to Chris Oliver for the box-building assistance).
Over the course of the installation, the green will fade and the forces of wind and rain will erase the pattern. The piles will scatter and return to a state of randomly dispersed matter. Drift is a reflection on the passage of time and the pressures of nature that will inevitably eradicate the work.
The exhibition opens on June 1st and will run through September.
One of the great delights of making artwork are the occasional happy accidents. It’s not often, but sometimes a few disparate things will align, and I’ll get an unanticipated outcome that I’m excited about. It can surface in the midst of working in my studio when I have no particular expectation in mind. This is what happened with this piece I recently made, Pine Needle Polka Dot.
Earlier in the winter, I had collected some pine branches for a project I was working on. Predictably, the branches dried out and all the pine needles fell off. Around this time I was recording audio for an unrelated video project, and I was experimenting with the sound that the pine needles made sliding across paper and falling onto different surfaces. Among my varied sound tests, I dropped the pine needles down a cardboard tube. There was nothing particularly interesting about the sound. Ready to move on, I picked up the tube and there it was; my happy accident. It was a circular pile of pine needles. I was looking for a sound, but instead I got what would become the image for a print.
It’s moments like this that remind me how much I enjoy the time spent in my studio looking for something I can’t yet define. From pine needles to cardboard tubes, studios are the places that small and unexpected things can happen.
As I worked, I began to see that I could control the scatter of the pine needles by adjusting the distance of the tube in relation to the surface. Who knew? Who would think to look? The only way I’ve ever been able to create artwork is to get curious about something. It can be something as inconsequential as pine needles down a cardboard tube. I love the mystery of making.
Out of this happy accident, a happy piece was made. I had fun with this work, and it lead me to think about doing this process as a larger installation. I’m pleased to announce that I’ll soon have the unique opportunity to do just that. This summer I’ll be creating a site-specific installation in the Hapgood Wright Town Forest in Massachusetts. This exhibition is in honor of the 200th birthday of Henry David Thoreau and is entitled, Slow Eyes, Solace & Site. I’ll be writing more about the installation in the coming months, so check back!
In the words of Thoreau (and also the encompassing statement for the exhibition), “We must look a long time before we can see.”
I rescued an avocado tree from our compost pile where I found it growing from a discarded pit. At the time it was no more than 6” tall. Over the past couple years, this little tree has grown to a height of about 30”, biding its time during the colder months in a pot by the window.
It has large, oblong leaves that are very expressive. When it’s happily enjoying the warmth and sunlight, it fans out its leaves. When it’s cold or needs water, it quickly deflates.
In this brief moment of winter sunlight, the avocado tree stands resilient, looking forward to sunnier days ahead when it can head back outside and stretch out.
Crows clustered together along the tree branches on a wintery late afternoon in Ithaca.
Along Interstate 86 from Allegany to Ellicottville, NY, the surrounding hills were looking spectacular with a new coat of white from the recent snowfall. It’s no wonder these hills are nicknamed the Enchanted Mountains.
A post-Thanksgiving tradition when I'm home visiting family includes going to a local Christmas tree farm to pick out a pine for the house. This year we went to Johnson’s Santas’ Forest in Franklinville, NY.
I’ve always found it enjoyable to walk around the strait rows of triangularly trimmed trees searching for the one that will be part of our house for the coming month.
It was a wet day and we sloshed around the grounds looking for a Concolor tree, similar to what we had last year. There was a limited selection of this particular type, so we scouted some other varieties nearby and settled on a Canaan Fir with a wide base that was a good height for our ceilings.
I did feel a pang of sadness as we carried away our selected tree, leaving a stump in its place, but I’m glad there’s a market for Christmas trees that encourages people to plant so many varieties of pines in the first place.
It never fails to be a surprise bringing the tree inside the house. It looks relatively small in the field among the other trees, but it becomes an enormous presence once it's part of the living room.
Happy tree season everyone!
The beginning of October was Cider Week in the Finger Lakes region. On the last days of the week-long list of events, Lou and I visited two locations on the map nearest to us; the Finger Lakes Cider House at Good Life Farm and Redbyrd Orchard. We tasted some local hard ciders and wandered around the farm properties. Both of these spots are no more than about five miles from our house in either direction. We have so many agriculturally-minded folks around us– it’s inspiring to discover new and amazing things people are doing just up the road. I have enormous admiration for those who make a career out of growing things.
On a Sunday afternoon this September, Lou and I visited Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua, NY. The 50-acre estate has an aura of aging grandeur. Among the gardens and greenhouses, you can catch a glimpse back to 100 years ago when it must have been spectacular. After having changed hands a few times in it’s history, the estate is now managed by New York State as a historic park. It’s a fun place to wonder about and marvel at amount of labor that went into the landscaping, greenhouses and other architectural details, not to mention all of the upkeep it must of required in it’s heyday. I credit the people who have worked to preserve the estate and keep the the grounds maintained after it had fallen into disrepair over the years. It's no small task considering the size and complexity of the project. It is still a vibrant, fascinating place to visit with a slightly haphazard and forgotten feel about it.