Category Archives: Inspiration

I’ll Take Door #2

Our hotel in Venice

Sometimes you open the wrong door. Or a door leads you the wrong direction. Or the door opens onto another door, and another after that. Or sometimes the door is just locked and you don’t have the key.


I just returned from an amazing trip to Venice, Florence and Rome. It was my first, but it won’t be my last. I have fallen in love with Italy, the doors and windows, the food, the people, the ancient buildings and, oh yes, the art! All of art history, each layer built on the last, just like the buildings of the middle ages built on and over the rubble of the Republic, and the Renaissance rising from there. There’s nothing like walking through the ruins of ancient Rome, or among unfinished Michelangelos emerging from the stone, or standing in an entire room of Botticelli’s to have art history seep into your bones.


Just as travel broadens the mind, it can also give space and perspective on what we are doing at home in the studio. I have been stuck since January on one piece. It’s not working. I know it’s not working but I keep trying to make it work, kind of like trying to force open a locked door without a key. Getting some physical and temporal space away from it was good for me. By taking space I realized that I can just make a change–take away the parts that aren’t working and replace them. I know it’s not rocket science, but sometimes we can’t see those really simple solutions when we are in deep, listening to that evil twin on our shoulder that’s causing us to doubt everything we have ever made and ever will make.


Most times we don’t have to go as far away as Italy to get that perspective. Sometimes a walk in the woods, or dinner with friends, or a trip to the library can have the same effect. Sometimes it’s better to stop fighting the piece that isn’t working, to move on to something that gives back a little easier. Take a day, or a week, or 5 months and a trip abroad like me, and come back when that key slips into your hand. Every lock is a little different.


Fall Cleanup

fall leavesNovember already?

This Fall I started with new energy to work on my house, my garden and my studio. It’s a time of transition with my solo show over and my youngest at college. Summer trips are only photos and memories. And though not much is visible on the outside, the work has been happening on the inside. I’ve made some trips to Goodwill. Filled the recycle bin. Done some pruning and weeding. Made plans to get a new laptop and be more organized with my photos and web presence.  Working on updating my website.

The thing is we are never finished. There are always weeds, piles of paper, a cluttered corner. At some point we have to stop clearing up the past and move into the future. The studio is almost clean. The garden is passable. Website is almost to updated. Here I am working on a new blog post!

It’s time to transition into working in the studio. Along with my continuing plans to tackle that mess in corner, restretch silk screens, update my sample books, and relabel my binders I am going to start making  marks and taking risks by doing some printing.

Here’s a list I made of ideas to try:

Monotypes on paper
on fabric
on fabric collage
stitched paper
with opaque paint
stitching before and after
on felt

Marks inspire marks, materials inspire materials. Here I go!

clutter in the studio

There’s always a cluttered corner

In the Thick of It


I am in the thick of creating new work for a solo show in July, Branching at Foster/White Gallery. Time is ticking away as it inexorably does and I am fighting to stay above panic every day. I just finished three pieces, got them photographed, and wrote my artist statement. It seems early for all this but the gallery needs them to be able to promote the show.

I’ve discovered that the great thing about writing an artist statement so early is that it becomes a mission statement for the work to come. Of course, yesterday I started some new drawings and immediately worried that they didn’t fit my statement. But that’s okay, too. I can revisit it once I get further into the work and add a few lines if needed.

I feel clear on the overall theme though. It is broader for this show than the last two solos I had at Foster/White. Branching refers to trees, yes, but also to the fractal patterns that make up our world: the way a river bed splits, the way our lungs are a mirror image of the trees shape but upside-down, the path of the lightning strike and the neurons in our brains, and the cracks we step over in the sidewalk. Even on the surface of Mars we see branching patterns of ancient river beds. The pattern travels further, into the language of technology and the way we speak of our family trees.

IMG_5698For now, I’ve been drawing lots of pictures of rocks. On my recent trip to Mexico I stayed on a beach where a rocky headland met the sea. This location yielded many hours of contemplation as the waves crashed and receded, and many photographs. My family is amused by my preoccupation with taking close-ups of rocks and ferns, leaves and driftwood. I am drawn by these natural patterns. They feed me and inspire me as much or more than the broad vistas.

When I am back in the studio, I sigh over the photos I took of of blue skies and the sea, and the happy relaxed faces of my family. But it is in the detailed images of rocks and pattern that I find my compositions. Today, tomorrow, and for the next 12 crazy weeks, I will be deep inside these images. I will be chasing and trying to grab onto those ephemeral experiences to fix them onto wooden panel or into a three-d sculpture for everyone to see.


The Great Northern

great northern

Looking down the tunnel, photo by Stefano Catalani

Last week I had the great pleasure of working with Rick Araluce on the finishing touches of his installation, The Great Northern, at MadArt in Seattle. I’ve been a big fan of Rick’s since I saw his installation, Uprising, at Suyama Space. Rick plays with scale to help us really see what surrounds us, usually something plebeian like a stack of pallets in front of an eroded brick wall. Sometimes the works are miniatures and sometimes larger than life, but all are meticulously crafted and just a little bit creepy. He’s a truly gifted artist whose day job as a scenic artist at the Seattle Opera contributes to his ability to create magical deception.


Rick and Lara Ann laying out the ties

So when I found out that Rick was creating a half-size scale replica of the train tunnel that runs under Seattle in the MadArt gallery space, I was determined to lend a hand. A little bit pushy, even. Rick knows my work and that I’m pretty detail-minded myself, so he invited me to come down and help.


Affixing the ties, notice knife for scale

I spent the first day with Lara Ann, a student at Cornish, laying out the rail road ties, sized from 7/16″ to 3-5/8″ wide and then affixing them to the floor. When I returned two days later, Rick had laid the rails, and Lara Ann and I spent the day on our knees packing gravel in between the ties and rails. We gradated it in size from playground sand in the very back of the tunnel to 1/4,” to 3/8,” and finally to 5/8″ to keep the illusion of the forced perspective. I relate to the gestalt of taking care of every detail. Probably no one will ever see some of those details, but they are sure to sense if something is wrong.


playground sand for gravel at the end of the tunnel

It was fun to be down at MadArt, too. I was an artist in the first MadArt project, creating The Act of Becoming as part of The Window Art Project. I got a chance to catch up with Alison Milliman, the Founder and to get to know Tim Detweiler, the Director. The have a great mission, supporting artists creating large-scale installations. I really got more credit from them than I felt I deserved for my contribution, but there’s a lot to be said for showing up at the right time with the right attitude.

I have been so lucky in my work to have fabulous volunteers help me realize my own large-scale projects. It felt good to give back, paying it forward, or backward, or something like that. It was fun to just show up and help Rick, and not have to do the hard work of planning or thinking, but just putting in time and labor. It’s like my long ago days in theater, or working on the Solstice Parade, where everyone does their part to make the whole.


I’ve been working on the railroad.

And really, although the work itself was somewhat grueling, there was plenty of joy in it, too. While I was working in the back of the tunnel, brushing tiny gravel fragments between the ties with a brush, Scott Bennet who designed the sound and lights for the installation and Rick were fine-tuning the sound. Inside the tunnel, hearing the sound of a train approaching from a distance and then retreating over and over again, I experienced a little shift in reality. For a moment, I was a giant in relation to my surroundings, filling the Great Northern before the moment passed, and I was myself again.

And then there was the laughing. Rick is the funniest Guggenheim Fellow I know. Anytime Dude, really.

The Great Northern
Exhibit: January 17th-February 27th, 2016
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 12-6pm (and by appointment)

Welcome to the Laboratory

IMG_5143January always seems like a good time to try new things in the studio. I spent time over the holidays reading Lisa Kerpoe‘s book, Visual Texture on Fabric, published in 2012. In it, Lisa clearly explains and documents using multiple types of water-based resists with various application techniques. I already use a number of water-based resists, but I always enjoys reading books on surface design and pick up a few ideas. Plus, it got me excited to get back into the studio and make some marks.

One idea from the book was to use objects, flatter is better, under the fabric and then use a brayer to pick up the texture of the object. I use lots of things as stencils and to print with, but I had never thought of using them this way. Lisa demonstrated the technique for applying resist, but I also wanted to try it with thickened dye too, to create related positive and negative marks.


Presist, Elmer’s gel glue, and flour for resist

I used a circular placemat for the texture on my tests. I used three different resists: Presist (which is formulated specifically for fabric), Elmer’s gel glue, and flour paste. The Presist was easy to use, the foam roller picked it up easily from a piece of plexiglass, it went on smoothly, and I could see where I applied it. The glue went on well with the roller but it was impossible to see once it was on the fabric making it more difficult to use. The flour didn’t work with the foam roller at all, it just clumped up on the roller and didn’t transfer. I ended up just spooning it onto the fabric and then using a scraper to smooth it across the fabric to pick up the texture.


applying thickened dye paste over Presist.

After the samples dried, I used thickened dye (dye mixed into a print paste made with sodium alginate and urea) to paint over the resists. I then wrapped them in plastic to batch them overnight. All three turned out really well with varying effects. The Presist was the least strong resist, in that the dye color seeped through it. It probably would have held better if I hadn’t wrapped it in plastic, but I like the effect anyway–I’m not a big fan of white space. The glue held very well, surprising since I couldn’t see where the resist was at all. The flour worked really well, too, with its characteristic crackled marks.

While I had the dye paste made up, I tried laying the fabric over my textured objects and using the foam roller to apply the dye. It was a great success! I really love this new technique. Thanks for the tip, Lisa!


thickened dye applied with a foam roller over the placemat.

It’s a New Year!

The studio, all cleaned and organized and ready for a new year!

The studio, all cleaned and organized and ready for a new year!

It’s the new year, a time to look back and a time to look forward.

2015 was a tough one for me as an artist. I spent most of it stuck, still spinning from the mental exhaustion of my 2014 installation at Burning Man. Every call-for-entries resulted in a NO, and I just couldn’t seem to finish anything. In retrospect, and from talking to friends, I was also processing the transitions of my daughters leaving the nest. My older daughter flew off to college in the Fall of 2014 and my youngest is a Senior this year. It’s a big, this change, and if you are going through it I advise you to be gentle with yourself.

Even though 2015 wasn’t the most productive year from me, there are some highlights.

I taught a lot of Batik Scarf Workshops, this Spring through Side Tour and this Fall on my own. I also continued developing inventory for Whirlwind Hand-Dyes and Accessories. I really enjoy having people in the studio and meeting them at sales. It’s nice to make some money, too. The biggest challenge is still getting the word out. It’s yet another hat to wear.

Francesca working on her scarf inspired by an Indian textile design.

Francesca working on her scarf inspired by an Indian textile design.

Returning to Burning Man this August was a big step in getting back to my more productive self (you can read about that trip in my blog post, Burning Man Revisited). September saw me reenergized with the resolve to just git ‘er done.

I deepened my relationship with the Surface Design Association, both through continuing to write for the Surface Design Journal, and through attending and presenting at Made/Aware, an Intensive at the Arrowmont School of Art and Craft in Tennessee (see October blog posts for more on that adventure). I am now a “staff writer” for the Journal, compiling previews of upcoming exhibitions for a new feature called On Display. SDA provides a terrific way for me to connect with other artists and curators working in fibers both at the national level and through our local group.

Somehow I extracted myself from my navel gazing long enough to finish up seven new pieces in time for a December show at Foster/White Gallery (deadlines really help). That work has led to scheduling a solo show for August 2016! I’m also firming up plans for an installation in the Bellwether Sculpture Exhibition in Bellevue this Summer.

Sequim and Ozette

Sequim and Ozette

Looking ahead to 2016:

Solo show in August at Foster/White Gallery. I’m drawing, planning, looking at images, testing out new surface design techniques, and actively thinking about composition and color for a new body of work.

A week-long trip to the southern tip of the Baja Pennisula in Mexico in February for inspiration, relaxation, and dose of sunshine. Some family trips in the work, too, perhaps Washington, DC and a wedding in California in October.

More teaching (see Workshops page for information on upcoming Intensives).

Expanding Whirlwind Hand-Dyes with the help of my former intern and delightful studio assistant, Arissa, to an on-line store and more in-person sales.

Continuing working with the fabulous Marci Rae McDade at the Surface Design Journal.

And most importantly, getting out of my own way and creating more art!

New wheeled fabric organizer for easy access.

New wheeled fabric organizer for easy access.

Making = Transformation

in the studio

in the studio

Yeast. Flour. Water. Salt. These simple ingredients are all we need to make bread, a staple for feeding millions, these plus time, energy, and intention.

A couple of weeks ago my nephew spent a few days with us while his mom was at a conference. He’s a good kid but has his challenges, too smart, too sensitive, only child, tough divorce, and thirteen-years-old. We recently attended his Bar Mitzvah where he was truly exceptional, leading the service with his beautiful singing voice.

“Do you want to help me make flat bread for dinner?”

This young man was a different person without his mom around, easy-going and open to new experiences. He was amused when I explained how the yeast eats the starch and farts out gas to make the bread rise. Score one for Aunt Cameron with the fart jokes.

work in progress

work in progress

He measured the ingredients then combined them with the 100 strokes specified in the recipe. He could see and feel the strands of gluten begin to  form. I turned it out onto the counter and pulled the floury mess together with a few quick kneads before I turned it back over to him. Kneading and adding flour, he could feel the dough become alive and elastic in his hands. He gave it a few affectionate pats before we covered it with a towel and set it aside in a warm spot to rise.

It’s always a pleasure to uncover the bread and see that the yeast have worked their magic and it was an extra treat to witness my nephew discover this for himself. It had doubled in size and was nicely rounding the towel above the top of the bowl. Punching it down, he could hear it squeak and feel its life in his hands. Bread is important not only for sustenance, but is an important symbol in Judaism. We bless the bread on Shabbat. We tell the story of Passover, when the Jews had to flee Egypt so quickly they didn’t have time to let the bread rise. Now he had his own experience to add meaning to the rituals.

Forming the loaves, smelling their mouth-watering aroma while baking, and then finally tasting the loaves he had made, was a little miracle. Transforming these simple ingredients with time and intention created a bridge between us, family that is separated by many miles, and eating together was the gift we shared.

The gift he gave me was a reminder that all making is creating a transformation, whether making bread or art. Bringing together simple ingredients, adding time and intention, to create something new is a gift. And sometimes, when we are lucky, the reminder of the value of this daily practice comes from a 13-year-old boy.

work in progress

work in progress

Made/Aware SDA Intensive

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

From October 8th to 11th I attended Made/Aware, the Surface Design Association Intensive at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Over the course of four days, twelve time slots were filled with over 20 presentation options to hear from makers and curators working in socially engaged practices with textiles. In between these sessions was a reception for Materialities, SDA’s 1st International Juried Members Exhibition (selected images are shown in this post), shared meals, conversations in the hallways, and the opportunity to spend time with the thoughtfully curated exhibition. Intensive was an appropriate title for the experience.

From Materialities, Ori-Kume #45, Susan Cavanaugh, Cloth, stitched and dyed, 2014,

Ori-Kume #45, Susan Cavanaugh, Cloth, stitched and dyed, 2014

As a presenter myself of 10x20x20: Socially Engaged Work by SDA Members, a pecha kucha-style panel (see previous blog post for more information), I really enjoyed feeling a part of the whole. It was a delight to meet the members of the panel in person. Each of them had shared such personal work that it was a pleasure to connect with them.

#433 Local Journey: Dawn, Day, Dusk (detail), Janice Lessman-Moss, Linen, paper core, digital jacquard, hand-woven TC2, shifted ikat weft, 2014

#433 Local Journey: Dawn, Day, Dusk (detail), Janice Lessman-Moss, Linen, paper core, digital jacquard, hand-woven TC2, shifted ikat weft, 2014

Namita Gupta Wiggers, curator of Materialities, opened the Intensive. She spoke of her curatorial process for the exhibition. Over 2000 artworks were entered by over 500 artists for the 91 artists in the catalog and 51 in the exhibition. I was disappointed when I got my rejection notice but once I saw the show I understood that my work didn’t fit. (It helped that there were many of us there, including leaders and mentors, who didn’t get in either.) Namita spoke of her investigating question, “What do textiles/fibers and their associated processes offer artists that cannot be achieved in other media?” The textile works she chose referenced the essential building block of the media, the grid. She also selected those works that then broke the grid and those that address other surfaces than the wall. All of these pieces illustrated the very “materiality” of textiles. Two video pieces illustrated both making, and unmaking, of garments imbued with culture and tradition. Work made with traditional fibers was shown alongside textiles in 2- and 3-dimensions created with metals, fishing net, clothing, paper, feathers, and even a mop. Techniques included weaving, embroidery, sewing, felting, dyeing, painting, and photography, all with a direct connection to the hand.

SDA has published a beautiful catalog of Materialities that includes artist statements, essays, and illustrations of all the works. It’s a valuable survey of some of what is happening internationally in fibers. I enjoyed looking at the work with the other artists, often trying to puzzle out how it was made. We fiber people are curious sorts, I think a result of the process-driven investigations that are inherent in our practices. I wonder if there are any other media that are as broad in materials and technique as fibers?

Materialities, Letters from Broadway, Judith Plotner, Fiber/Mixed Media, 2014

Materialities, Letters from Broadway, Judith Plotner, Fiber/Mixed Media, 2014

Friday morning began with a moving and motivating talk by Mary Fisher, artist and HIV/AIDS activist, whose passion for art and activism are intertwined. She rejects the idea of being a victim of disease, stating that illness is just a part of life like motherhood or caring for the elderly. She drew a comparison between the bravery of living with disease to that required to be an artist and encouraged us to look beyond self-interest and self-promotion and use, “what is holy in us to help others.”

Materialities, The Impossible Dream is the Gateway to Self-Love, Ruth Miller, Hand-stitched embroidery, wool on jute cotton fabric, 2013

Materialities, The Impossible Dream is the Gateway to Self-Love (detail), Ruth Miller, Hand-stitched embroidery, wool on jute cotton fabric, 2013

Fisher’s talk became a touchstone for the Intensive, giving attendees a way in, a way of seeing themselves in solutions. She spoke of her current work developing the 100 Good Deed Bracelet which both supports small business for women in Africa and encourages people to anonymously go out of their way to help others. It may seem odd, but I thought of Burning Man and how the ethos of gifting is one of the 10 Principles of the event. Although perceived by many to be a hedonistic party in the desert (it is that, too), it was founded to be a model of a different society where a gift is a helping hand as often as a consumable object.

Friday afternoon’s session was co-led by Namita and Rowland Ricketts, a professor at Indiana University. In this session they took us out of the passive role of sitting and listening and into an active role, writing, responding, and moving in a meditative silent exercise. Although I think it would have been more successful in a smaller gathering, I appreciated the chance to step literally outside of the box. The participants seemed willing participants and for me, the writing was a fertile beginning to a longer writing about personal process.

Materialities, Variance 1, Mary Babcock, Reclaimed gillnets, nautical maps, deep sea leader line, 2011

Materialities, Variance 1, Mary Babcock, Reclaimed gillnets, nautical maps, deep sea leader line, 2011

Other speakers included Laura Sansone talking about the Textile Lab, a project where she and her students bring natural fibers and dyeing to their local Farmer’s Market and introduce the community to processing and dyeing wool with the plant materials found there at the market. Carole Frances Lung, aka Frau Fiber, talked of her radical performative actions designed to educate people about where their clothing comes from and the our unsustainable system of “Fast Fashion.” Rowland Ricketts took us along on his personal journey and fascination with indigo.

Materialities, Transformation, Joyce Watkins King, Acrylic and stockings on cradled board, 2014

Materialities, Transformation, Joyce Watkins King, Acrylic and stockings on cradled board, 2014

Ann Morton led a breakout session on socially engaged art. Her work with the homeless population of Phoenix, Arizona is both accessible and conceptual. She avoids the taint of the “do-gooder” by observation and listening, understanding and speaking to homeless individuals and their experience, while creating installations that are undeniably art. After her presentation, Ann led a successful group conversation about the difference between “socially engaged practices” and “social work.” It was highly participatory and good to hear the opinions of those in the room.

10x20x20 was Saturday afternoon and was a huge success. All ten presenters did a fantastic job and received a well-deserved standing O. I loved hearing their stories after all the time I had spent looking at their images. It was a huge pleasure (and relief) that it fulfilled all of the hopes I had for it, connecting members and allowing for deeper conversations. I received many compliments on putting it together and was asked by the Board to repeat the panel at future conferences.

Materialities, Self Portrait (detail), Howard Ptaszek, Cyanotype on mop, and yarn, 2014

Materialities, Self Portrait (detail), Howard Ptaszek, Cyanotype on mop, and yarn, 2014

The weekend’s sessions were closed by Charlotte Kwon of Maiwa Handprints, a Canadian company that works with native artisans in India to produce hand-made textiles for the western market. Her work in India has supported the resurgence of native craft and use of natural dyes. Her presentation was very inspiring. The scope of what she has supported is enormous. Through Maiwa, her vision and determination has bridged gaps between western and eastern culture and provided income to native populations that has allowed these unique arts to survive in the modern world.

Overall, the excellent programming and the intimate setting of this Intensive made it well worthwhile to fly across the country for a long weekend. Personally, I would have enjoyed broadening the topic beyond natural dyeing to include ways to use synthetic dyes in a more environmentally responsible way. There is more to reforming the global fashion industry than boiling up carrot tops and many of the presenters spoke to the fact that their practices are not scaleable to a larger industry, at least not yet.

meeting my doppelganger!

meeting my doppelganger!

But I truly enjoyed it and hope that SDA continues to present these smaller, more focused Intensives. As I wrote on my Facebook page on Saturday night after a couple of margaritas with new friends, “I’ve had such an amazing and thought-provoking time at the Surface Design Assoc. Intensive at Arrowmont in Tennessee. If you are an artist working in textile materials then these are your people.” After time to digest this full feast of inspiration, and fully sober, I would say the same thing.

10x20x20: Socially Engaged Work by SDA Members

leavesIt started, like many things, with an email.

Last Spring I sent a message to a few key people at the Surface Design Association about the upcoming Intensive at Arrowmont School of Art and Craft, Made/Aware. I explained that my priority in attending conferences was to meet others who work with similar materials, to network (which is not a dirty word) with people outside this far northwest corner of the country. I suggested that it would be interesting to have a session of the Intensive be a Pecha Kucha-style panel of SDA Members talking about their work as a way of breaking the ice. I even offered, in said email, to help organize the session. To my surprise, I heard back from Diane Sandelin, then Director of the organization, the same day that, Yes!, they loved the idea and would I coordinate it?

So here I am, six months later, with my bags packed and ready to head to the airport to fly to Tennessee to moderate 10x20x20 where 10 artists will present their work to the 200 SDA Members at the Made/Aware. I was thrilled that Marci Rae McDade came on board to help out. She has so many skills and is so easy to work with that it has been a pleasure. Lynn Luukinen totally had my back on the technical end of the project (not my forte) and everyone at SDA has been supportive at every step.

So what is a Pecha Kucha-style presentation? Pecha Kucha means “chit chat” in Japanese. The format was developed by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham Architecture in Tokyo in 2003. It is a simple, yet concise format in which each presenter shows 20 images for 20 seconds each, speaking while the visuals advance automatically. There are now Pecha Kucha Nights in 800 cities around the world.

Putting this together has been a good stretch for me. Developing the call for entries, creating a rubrik for the jurying process, choosing the artists, and then pulling together all of the technical aspects (giant Powerpoint file), and writing short bios for each artist has really expanded my skill set.

And Saturday should be payback for all that went into it. I’m very excited to hear these artists talk about their work. My focus in choosing the presenters was to show the greatest variety in both working with materials and techniques and how they are translating those into work with socially engaged practices. Half of the presenters will be talking about how they work in community, and the other half will speak about how their artwork addresses vital issues of today. Presenters are quilters, embroiderers, knitters, weavers, chemists, and ceramicists.

Mary Fran Brandenberger will open the program with Silk Creations, a project which teaches women on the edge of homelessness to paint silk scarves, not only to develop their creative skills but also learn managing inventory, marketing, sales, teaching and mentoring other women in the program. We will close with Lexie Abra Johnson, a recent graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, suggesting through her interactive installation work, “Let’s All Be Nice to Each Other.”

Here is the full list of presenters:
Silk Creations, Mary Fran Brandenberger
Color Inside Out, Peggy Cox
Mistaken Point, Kelly Bruton
Reflections on an Ordinary Life, Roz Ritter
Njabini Wool Crafters in Kenya, Janice Knausenberger
Vantage Point, Maggy Hiltner
The Legacy of Nellie Save, Nancy Crasco
Knitting the News & Other Stories, Adrienne Sloane
The Empty Bowls Project 25 Years, Lisa Blackburn and John Hartom
Let’s All Be Nice to Each Other, Lexie Abra Johnson

All of this, along with thoughtful programming of Made/Aware from leaders in the field working in environmental and socially responsible manners, presented at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in October. I’ve never been to Tennessee and I’m going to be there during leaf season!

My hopes are that this panel, 10x20x20: Socially Engaged Work by SDA Members, provides a way for the people at the Intensive to get to know each other. I hope that it opens doors for connections between attendees and makes “networking” as simple as friends starting the middle of a long conversation.

Burning Man Revisited

The road leading to Burning Man

The road leading to Burning Man

This year’s trip to the Black Rock Desert was very different for me than last year’s. In 2014 I co-created Playastan Crossroads, an art installation, for Burning Man. The project was ambitious, heartfelt, and a mountain of hard work for our crew. Unlike my other trips to the playa, I was a working artist. I was Cameron Anne Mason, tied to my default persona, and although it was a deeply satisfying experience, it wasn’t that much fun.

This time I came to play. Like many other people at Burning Man, I have a “playa name,” Trixie LaRue. Trixie is a bit of a flirt, a little bit mischevious, but willing to go deep when the time is right. It’s fun to be someone different for that week away from responsibility and expectations.

Trixie at the trash fence

Trixie at the trash fence

This year’s Burning Man was dustier and windier than usual (though not as dusty as 2008). And it was COLD. Several days it didn’t get above 70 degrees and it was in the 30s at night. It was a year to stay close to camp, to connect with others who are moved to come to this beautiful and desolate place for its alternative culture. John Curley wrote a lovely post on the Burning Man blog, And that’s that, that summed the intimate feeling of this year’s Festival.

My yearly sojourns to the Black Rock Desert have followed an arc of self-awareness. The first year blew the doors off my mind. It helped me realize how many preconceptions we live with. It helped me get out of my own way on the journey to being my whole self. (10 Principles of Burning Man). Since that first year my husband has come with me and we have learned new ways of being a couple. Years four through six, were the RV years, much more comfortable and much more fun, but I missed the lessons learned through hardship. For me, Burning Man shouldn’t be just a vacation. My seventh burn I made Playastan Crossroads and we celebrated our 20th Wedding Anniversary by renewing our vows there with our playa family.

R-Evolution by Marco Cochrane

R-Evolution by Marco Cochrane

This year, my eighth, was not without self-growth along with all the fun I was having. First, I finally realized that there is simply no way to see or experience it all. Of course, that fact is obvious to anyone who’s been there, but this year I finally felt at peace with it. I took my opportunities to get out and see art when the weather cleared, but was happy to stay in camp when it was ugly out. I laughed hard, shared stories and formed closer bonds with our amazing camp family from all over California, Seattle, Texas, Boston, and beyond.

The other thing I realized is that I really don’t like being out at night that much. It’s not just because I’m tired, I’m cold, I’m not a great bicyclist, I’m not doing drugs, although all those things are true. It’s because all the lights, and loud music, and people zooming around me are too over-stimulating for me. I did have some good times on the playa after dark, but I really prefer the days.

A peak experience this year was riding alone across the city from where I was visiting a friend’s camp all the way across from our camp at 3:00 and Illusion as the wind and dust were rising. After eight years, I know how to be radically self-reliant. With my goggles and bandanna to protect me from the fine alkaline dust, I rode straight across the playa, keeping my bearings as the white outs blew through, following the lamplighter’s posts along the Promenades. And as I rode along I felt the powerful among the elements and shouted, “I’m not afraid of Burning Man!”

That, and seeing a flaming piano launched by a trebuchet.

glassesThe questions people ask me about Burning Man are fed by the media’s perception of the event. “Did you get bitten up by bugs? Did you get rained out? Is the city being taken over by the rich? Did you see Katy Perry? Susan Sarandon? Anyone famous?”

To which I answer: The Bugopolypse was over by the time we got there. Rain was last year.

As far as the wealth and how it divides the event, Black Rock City is a city that, in many ways, is like any other: There are the haves and the have-nots. I compare a trip to Burning Man to a trip to Europe. Rich travelers travel first-class, stay in fancy hotels, eat at four-star restaurants, ride in taxis. Poor students save up for tickets, travel with their backpacks, eat baguettes in the park, take the Metro, and depend on the kindness of strangers. It’s the same in Black Rock City. Any judgement on the value of one experience over the other is just that, judgement.

And yes, I saw famous people, but no one those asking would recognize. Every morning I saw Lucky Eric, famous for gifting not just coffee, but a choice of cold brew, french press, or espresso with heavy cream. Izzle, who is famous for creating one of the best, low-tech gray water systems on the playa while looking stunning in a little red dress, pearls and a hard hat. And there’s Famous, friend, Ranger, member of DPW who’s still there doing DeCon, and who I suspect is his fullest, best self at Burning Man. These are the people who raise my home away from home, Camp 11:11, from the dust. Camp 11:11 hosts the friendliest bar on the playa, a kick-ass art car, and delicious family suppers every night. It’s the Shvitz Carleton.

art carEver since last year’s Burning Man it has been hard for me to move beyond Playastan Crossroads. I put so much of myself into the project that I was drawn dry of inspiration, far beyond what I had experienced before. It was disconcerting that Playastan still had hold of me, that I hadn’t felt a sense of completion, even a year later.

When we hit the road toward this year’s festival my excitement built and something began to shift. As my husband and I  drove south, we talked about past experiences, the campmates we couldn’t wait to see, read the descriptions of this year’s art installations and scheduled events both profound and silly. I began to feel a lightness taking over the heaviness that had been with me since 2014.

That night, lying in bed in our cute little trailer just north of Alturas, California I was unable to sleep. I found myself designing my next Burning Man installation in my head. Less ambitious in design, but still meaningful, it will be a place both open and intimate. It  will provide shelter, shade and a sense of place for those travelers who pass their last week of Summer filled with wonder at beauty of community.

Hybycozo - Deep Thought

Hybycozo – Deep Thought