Saturday, 25 June 2016

sorry, but it seems i'm beyond help.

correspondence sometimes comes in drifts, like snow

there's the seasonal influx of requests for assistance with school studies.
i try to respond kindly, even when the questions seem silly.

"why do you do art?" is a frequent flyer.
sometimes it is temping to write "because i am otherwise unemployable"
though it's pretty close to the truth.

i don't mind answering a well thought-out selection of questions, but only if you can't find the answers by googling.

towards the end of the northern college year there's generally a bunch of emails from people who would like to come and stay to "assist me in the studio" in return for one-on-one teaching.
a working holiday in the sunny south.

from my point of view this means i would be fully responsible for a person i have never met before, providing meals, a bed, entertainment and transport so that i can explain to them exactly how i want a bundle put together, or a dress stitched, or?

it's far less stressful just to do the work myself. besides, i enjoy what i do. i love the spontaneity that is possible when i am alone (well, with only canine and feline company) wielding scissors and needles and dancing in the leaflitter that carpets the floor of my studio.

and perhaps it is a psychological disability but i feel utter and overwhelming claustrophobia at the mere thought of having to share a month or more of days (and evenings) with another adult whom i may not have actually met prior to their arrival.

in recent years i have been finding increasingly beautiful areas in which to hold workshops and as a consequence the volume of inquiries from people wanting to take a gratis class in return for stoking the fires and gathering plant matter has escalated. i could have filled the upcoming class at Scott's Head entirely with such volunteers :: which could have been hilarious...
a dozen people all stoking the fire and gathering leaves, which would probably look like a splendid pagan ritual but won't pay the electricity bill.

there have been suggestions that i should increase workshop fees so that i can offer scholarship places. i don't see how that would be at all fair to paying participants. it's not going to happen.

and then there are the truly cheeky requests from people who live close to a workshop location and "just want to drop in for a day to see what it's all about". hmm.

some tell me they left well-paid positions in order to pursue their dream career. i applaud their bravery but that is their choice, and not my responsibility. i was an unemployed sole parent (of three) at the time that i returned to plant dyeing. it took me over fifteen years to achieve financial independence and be solely supported by this work. i suppose it's just as well i didn't have a comfy job because i'm not that brave and i might have clung to it and my life would have turned out awfully dull as a result.

but the long and the short of it is, please don't ask me if you can come and stay with me so that i can feed you and house you and teach you everything i know.

because the answer will be

thank you so much for your kind offer, 
but i regret i cannot accept.

on the other hand, if you sign up for a workshop, i will do my best to share my knowledge and skills. because that's my job. and my life. and i love doing it.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

being put in my place

I had a hilarious experience this morning...
Accosted by a man with a puppymill designer dog. 
The sort of person who is the reason there's a warning on the curling wand...for external use only. 

He angrily demanded to know what I was doing...just after I had deposited a small handful of boiled plant matter under a bush, in the obviously misguided belief that organic matter is nutritious and helps prevent evaporation. 

He insisted I pick it up, as he doesn't approve of such stuff and prefers the pine bark chips. It appears he is the self-constituted warden of the Greenwich steps...
I swallowed any possible acrid response, smiled sweetly, picked up the offending matter and wished him a pleasant day. (Though it was very tempting to tell him that the phenols in the pine bark actively inhibit plant growth.) 

I understand that it could be overwhelming if every person in the city tucked all their green waste into public gardens...but these were leaves that had literally been gathered from the surrounding streets. 
Who knows what corners they may have blown into if I hadn't picked them up. 

I moved on, whereupon he followed me around the district at twenty paces, watching as I cleaned the sidewalks of more leaf litter. I did an extra round just to give him a bit more exercise. 

Clearly he needed the endorphins.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

in Odessa

sounds like the title to a novel set in the cold war, doesn't it?
(you might want a cup of tea or a gin, this post is about as long as a novel)

sometime late in 2014 or early in 2015 (i forget exactly when)
i received an enquiry through my contact page
asking whether i would be interested in having a solo exhibition
at the Ellen Noel Art Museum, Odessa, Texas

i thought about it for twenty seconds and answered "yes, please" 

but whenever i mentioned the plan to others, 
in response to a "what are you doing next?" question, 
i'd get some very strange answers
such as
"i was born there but left as soon as i could"
"there aren't any trees"

which was a bit off-putting.

so i'm here to tell you that my Odessa adventure was absolutely fabulous. 
i met some of the kindest people i have ever encountered there, 
was warmly welcomed
given free reign (and every support) to create my installation
liked it so much that i have promised to go back.
they have a replica Stonehenge 
(not created as a tourist trap but with a really good backstory)
and there ARE trees.
also the most glorious collection of mid-century modern architecture
(which just happens to be my favourite architectural period) 

AND the water, though undrinkable, is miraculous in the dyepot.
the water in the puddles is useful too. 
i marinated a piece in it, prior to dyeing (using local colour)

during my stay i also guided a group of young people taking their first steps into natural dyeing, through the Teen Art Residency program, a splendid initiative of the Museum's education section

though we only had five half-day sessions we made string, dyed samples, stitched (by hand) hoodies from pre-loved t-shirts, printed paper, cut an apron from a shirt and even dyed Easter eggs, though obviously that feast didn't fall last week

and then we worked together to install their exhibition

and here are a few more snaps of mine

a big and heartfelt thank you to 

Daniel Zies :: Curator
Annie Stanley :: Education and Outreach Coordinator

 Edgar and Eric at
for their generous donations of eucalyptus for the exhibition
and "green waste" for the residency

and to everyone who so kindly welcomed me.
i loved every minute i was there. 

and i'll be back.


coincidentally, as i was composing this post, a missile wandered in from Maya Stein
(at which point i should also say thank you, Christi, for introducing me to her!)

at the entrance

I've never believed what they say about strangers. I have walked into
a Nebraska town so many miles from home and been fed ambrosia salad,
offered a place to sleep. In Centennial, Arizona, they asked me to read poetry,
opened a bottle of wine to toast my arrival. There was a living room in Houston
where a woman I'd never met shared a difficult secret, and her eyes softened
in the telling. There are doors we insist, despite the risk, on keeping open, and doors
we insist, despite the risk, on walking through, and I don't want to imagine a world
where the houses stay shuttered and silent, and the front stairs splinter, and the bell
goes rusty from disuse. So there is no other choice but to clamber up, point our heart
at the entrance, press the buzzer, and wait for who will come to let us in.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Once upon a time there was a polar bear

Well, more or less. 
I had the great good fortune to be able to buy a wool+cashmere coat for $1. A friend spotted it first. Luckily she is built on compact lines. 

Instead it was my size (i.e. comfortable)
It made me look like a lost polar bear. 
And I wish I had taken a picture of it before I took out the horrible shoulder pads and bundled it into the dyepot. 

At least I had the sense to shoot the bundle. 

It's been a rather fabulous present to myself. Every part is delicious (to me, anyway). 

But as they say in the classics
...the devil is in the detail. 
I'd say the true delight is in the detail. 

Even the lining, though synthetic, turned out nicely. 

The cost was made in Uruguay. I wonder if that's a sign?

Friday, 27 May 2016

a dream come true


i have wanted to stay on a houseboat in Sausalito ever since the first time i came to the Bay Area. i know the retired pirate in Swallows and Amazons lived on a lake
and i do love lakes
but i seriously love places with tides (which is why the Tay River also has a corner of my heart)

so when i discovered the Yellow Ferry i was delighted.

here was a chance to spend time living on the water
with the space to invite people to come and share in the poetics of the place

sometimes an event is so much worth the doing that it doesn't matter that it doesn't return a profit. it came out even and that was fine (and good for the local economy!)

and happily (at almost the last minute) i had the thought to ask Chef Violette to join us, meaning i didn't have to rise at the crack of dawn to begin prep...and also that the food was far better than anything i could have offered. she flew in on my frequent flyer points, bless her heart. cooked fabulous abundances of vegetarian gluten free food and served us utterly sensational desserts at afternoon tea time (with different ice-creams every day, all beaten by hand)

 (above) lentils, polenta, crispy baked kale leaves, and a rich tomato sauce
(below) shortbread icecream , ginger snaps, caramelized pineapple, fragrant rice pudding and blueberries
three brown feet

bundles (looking a bit like the seals that lolled on rafts just a little ways from the boat)
and of course i adore paeonies

Friday, 29 April 2016

here and there and everywhere

it's funny how the zeitgeist thing goes.

scanning the interpixies to see "who is doing what" these days reveals that 


is the current favourite workshop flavour.


i think it's always been mine.

i have fond memories of my wonderful class teacher at Shelford Girls School in grade 5, who sent us outside to randomly choose a foot square patch of ground and then
after we had made our choice
explained that we were to study it closely
map it
draw it
write about it
count the insects walking across it
imagine ourselves to be their size
see the grass as a forest
make rubbings of it with pencil and paper

i'm pretty sure that Mrs Pownall has long gone to the dogs above
but i don't think i will ever forget her

the classroom was always filled with flowers and seeds 
and bones and other assorted found things

a couple of years later my love of language was nurtured by the redoubtable Mrs Williams, a flame-haired and passionate Scot who read us poetry and made history come alive.

my father instilled in me a love of maps and wandering
while my mother had me drawing plants almost from when i could hold a pencil

 i have been trying to remember the first time i offered a class that brought all these things together and i think it must have been 'mapping country' at the Kapiti Summer School of 2009
which evolved in various ways, stepping sideways into fieldwork
and eventually blossoming as being (t)here or being t(here)
it works either way.

 similar workshop titles are sprouting around the whirled
"where is here" and "you are here" are two that i found this morning
both with subtitles about mapping place

for me it's less about mapping, these days
and more the practice of
paying attention to where we are
finding beauty in sometimes surprising places
considering the poetics of place, even in the parking lot
and each time i offer this class
whether it's in the heart of a city
or deep in a wilderness
or somew(here) in between
i find my life wonderfully enriched by the people who join me.

T H A N K    Y O U

all of you who have been on the journey with me.
i'm so grateful that you give me work.

work that i love.