Monday, November 14, 2011

New Challenge Gordon Press Has Come Home!

Morris's press in his basement.
A few weeks ago my husband and I were attending a social function in Ottawa. Seated at our luncheon table was a delightful artist from Ottawa, Morris Danylewich. During our conversation at lunch, Morris discovered I was a calligrapher, book artist, and letterpress artist. He at once offered me his 8x12 letterpress and type cabinet, if I could get them moved from his basement studio.

We went to look at the press and found it in remarkably good condition, with three brand new rollers. It ran very, very smoothly and was in excellent shape. We had hoped to take it apart ourselves and move it in pieces, but we were unable to remove the main gear.  Thanks to the help of Stephen, from The Ottawa Letterpress Gang, a few days later,  the gear and flywheel were removed. We hired Moore the Mover in Ottawa to move the press out of the basement and onto the bed of our Toyota truck for the trip to Deep River.

My good friend Nora and I drove to Ottawa and back with the press loaded. The next evening we had lads (strong like bull) from Deep River who had offered to help get the press into the basement. They took it off the truck in good order, but trying to move it around the corner on the top of the stairs was too much They placed it outside on a pallet for us to remove parts. We are hoping to have them return this evening to move the parts into the basement.

Nancy with press after parts removed.
My loving husband François helped me to remove parts yesterday according to the directions from Briar Press and Green Dolphin Press, We now have the press in three manageable pieces. Once it is moved into the basement we will reassemble and insert the flywheel, attach the platen, and ink disk, and hopefully the rollers and give it a bit of a turn to make sure all is working properly. Waiting for the lads to come and move the pieces into the basement has been really difficult for me. I seem to have the patience of a gnat.

New Press Room in Grotto Studio.
 I have moved everything around in the Grotto Studio, making room for the new press. I hope to move my composing stone/type cabinet to the left of the Challenge Gordon platen press when it is installed, then have my Vandercook 01 proofing press to the left of the cabinet.  A good friend here, Boni Patterson, had a drip pan made for me to specifications provided by Michael Babcock of Interrobang Letterpress from Boston. I have done a preliminary clean of the gunk on the press but will do a more thorough clean once it is in the Grotto.

New Type Cabinet
Morris also gave me his Hamilton Style Type cabinet, full of wonderful foundry type. My good friends Nora and Madeline went to Ottawa with me before we moved the press to disassemble the cabinet, pack up all the type cases, and bring them home.  Once back in Deep River, good friends Morgan and Severn with their friend Asa came and unloaded all the cases and cabinet parts into the Grotto. The next day my good friend Rhonda came and helped me screw the cabinet back together and put all the type cases in place.

I will be spending a good part of the winter months proofing up each case to be sure I know what I have. In addition to the type, there was a drawer full of Sterling Pins for use with Honeycomb base, many of which will be going to Michael at Interrobang.

I am still quite stunned at the abundance that has been brought into my life. Morris insists that this is not a gift, but rather, that he is passing on the equipment to me to keep letterpress alive. As a printing historian and letterpress artist, rather than a working printer, I find this idea quite warming to my heart. Never in my lifetime would I have been able to afford to purchase all of this  letterpress equipment, type, and cabinet, all at once. It truly is a blessing to have been provided this opportunity. It came out of the blue, was not expected, and is quite precious to my soul to have this happen to me at this time.

Even more precious to me has been the willingness of dear friends here in Deep River who have given of their time and expertise to help me get the equipment home. For me, relationships that were close have deepened with affection and love for my friends and their unselfish giving of their time and talents to help me. As a person of deep and abiding faith, this sharing of talents and giving of time, cements in my soul the belief that living in community with others is one of our most important callings for human beings. I will be forever thankful for the gift of time and support brought to me in these past weeks as we moved the press and equipment into its new home in the Grotto Studio here in Deep River.

As I wait for the lads (strong like bull) to appear and carry my new press into the Grotto, my heart is warm and thankful with the blessings God, in her infinite wisdom, has brought into my soul. The gifts of friendship and shared talents, of creative purpose and living in community, are to be cherished.

I know in the depths of my being, in the core of my heart, that all will be well, and all will be well, and with the grace and wisdom of God in our souls, all will be well.

Lads (strong like bull) carry press down to Grotto
Husband attaches pieces

Crew works to attach lever prior to flywheel

The men who put my press into the "Grotto"!!!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Saturdays With Meghan at The Museum of Printing & In My Studio!!!!

Meghan, MOP Intern, & Nancy on Skype
Every Saturday I enter the Grotto Studio at 10:00 a.m. and through the miracles of technology, I am transported to The Museum of Printing in North Andover, MA!

Before moving to Canada I had created a formal Archives Department for the MOP and had begun the accessioning process for a massive ephemera collection from the family of Edward Frey. This work was continued after I moved by another museum board member, Katey Corrigan. More recently we have had the assistance of Meghan Baily, a graduate student at Simmons,  who is learning the fundamentals of archives work. Each Saturday we connect over Skype. It feels for me as if I am back in the Museum for my Saturday, which is wonderful. I work in the my studio all day and Meghan works on the Frey Correspondence Collection. We chat and it is as if we are working together. I am able to answer questions and make suggestions. Meghan will be working with us on the Frey Collection through the end of this year. We are very thankful for her help and all she brings to this project.

Our end goal is to make all the correspondence and other ephemera from the Frey Collection accessible to scholars who are researching and writing on printing in the United States during the latter 19th and early 20th century. Mr. Frey created a curriculum for printing instruction that later became the foundation for what is known as "Print Ed" in the United States. During my time at GATCI I helped to revise this curriculum for delivery in the Community College System in the US. It is wonderful that the MOP has been gifted with this amazing collection.

Piercing signatures
This week has also brought me back into the studio to bind more copies of my artist's book edition, The Abecedarium for the Makers of Artist's Books.  All the signatures have been gathered and I am in the process of using my piercing cradle to make holes for sewing the signatures together. I have made several cardboard sewing cradles over the years and find it quite handy to have one almost the exact size of the signatures I am piercing. Here I am working on piercing signatures on my main work table.
Piercing cradle with signature and piercing guide

I create a piercing guide, measuring equidistant from the Head and Tail ends, and also measure carefully from the center to allow room for the tapes. The guide is then marked and placed over the signature in the piercing cradle for piercing. Most often one does not need to use tapes and a sewing frame for this small size of a book. I have decided to use one as this edition has dimensional elements to each page, and I would like to be certain I keep all the signatures in alignment as I sew. For me, this is easier to do when sewing on tapes on a sewing frame.

This week has also brought me a great gift in the mail. A good friend was in China recently and was able to obtain for me a number of Chinese "chops", stamps with specific characters. He also procured for me a lovely set of Chinese watercolour brushes and also Chinese Calligraphy brushes, as well as a stand! I have not done any hand Chinese calligraphy in many years. It was about 25 years ago that all my calligraphy brushes were packed in a box that fell off a truck during my family's move to Washington, Illinois. Those brushes had been a gift from one of my teachers, and my parents, and I never replaced them. I have a fascination for Chinese character construction and Calligraphy and have used Chinese "chops" in my calligraphic broadsides for years. Earlier this year my husband purchased The Chinese Calligraphy Bible for me. I am looking forward to using these brushes as I learn the characters again!

Each week as I return to the Grotto to work, my creative verve continues to expand. I find that with each breath I take, with each stroke I make, and with each book I bind, my heart soars with incredible abandon. I am so very thankful to be able to remain connected with The Museum of Printing folks, even though I am so very far away. I am also continually thankful for my studio space, all the supplies and materials that seem to find their way to me just as I need them. Most of all, I am thankful for the grace of God which permeates each creative action I take in my life. God has called me to be at this place, at this time, and to do these things, of this I am certain.

I am also certain that if we open our hearts to God's infinite wisdom and grace, her power and joy,  and all the love being showered down upon us, all will be well, and all will be well, with the peace of God, all will be well.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Unique Artist's Book Edition: The Abecedarium is finally being finished!

ABECEDARIUM- "L is for.." opening
Over the past week I have been finishing the assembling and starting the  binding of my "Abecedarium For The Makers of Artist's Books," an edition I printed and began to assemble in 2009. It was put on hold twice at the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010 for health reasons. Then just when I was getting back to the binding process, we discovered we were moving back to Canada. Into a box the entire project went until after the move. I had no idea it would take me a year to get unpacked and the house settled. It was one year ago this past week that we moved to Deep River!

"P is for..." opening with pocket samples of parchment
"M is for...." and colophon 
I thought it would be an appropriate time to take up the Abecedarium project and complete it. over the past week I have sorted out all the signature leaves, put them in order, and tipped in all the illustrative, non-collage letterpress prints on the verso of each leaf. In addition to these images or objects, I have added gold sealing wax and alphabet letter seals to the appropriate page underneath the image or sample.

Each of the recto leaves contain letterpress definitions and collage prints of individual letters. The collage prints of each individual letter were made by inking the type form with three different colors of ink and printing the page three times while the ink was still tacky. When the collage prints were dry, I trimmed them all to size and tipped them into the recto leaves one at a time. These were all printed at my studio in Cambridge. On my website I have a slide show of the assembly of the "proof copy" of this edition along with a short video of the making of the letterpress collage prints.

Letter "N" collage letterpres
I hope to bind 6 copies of the edition each week for the next 4 weeks. During the process of printing the collage prints, I also took photographs of my letterpress form in the press for each letter of the alphabet. I envision creating a larger poster to advertise the edition with an A-Z design, using both the image of the type form for the collage prints and an also an image of the collage prints contained in the book. When I have the final edition numbered, sewn, and bound, I will take a new set of slides and post them here. It has been an arduous process,  to design, print, assemble, and bind this edition, but is has also been a great deal of fun!

"JOB 22:28" unique artist's book
In addition to working on the fairly large Abecedarium project, I also began to design and create a series of "unique" artist's books with Biblical texts. The book covers are made from pine, sanded and stained with tongue oil. The hinges and clasp are brass. The text has been completed  in hand calligraphy on arches 140# cold press stock. The verso is designed with Japanese rice paper and Chinese "chops" for stamping designs. I envision these artist's books as objects for meditation and prayer.

I have been blessed this past week with amazing concentrations of studio time. My creative verve and energy levels have been soaring. I think it has a great deal to do with the changing of the seasons. I love the changes in nature and especially love that I can pay attention to them here in the Grotto Studio in Deep River. Our trees all around the house have leaves turning the most amazing colors and the squirrels and chipmunks are scurrying about to gather and store nuts for the winter.

I too have been scurrying to get things arranged in the studio, materials and supplies organized, slate prepared for cutting, and project lists in order.  The Fall and Winter seasons are ones in which I can burrow into my studio nest, wrap myself up in my press, my papers, and inks, and make books and broadsides to my heart's content. As always, I am thankful that God, in her infinite wisdom, has brought me to this place in my journey. My path is clear, my feet are firmly on creative ground, and my heart soars like a hawk.

All will be well, and all will be well, and with God's grace and creative wisdom, all will be well.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Creative Verve & Random Thoughts for a Fall Studio Day!

The Collage Collaborative, Round 3, version A
Over the past two weeks I have been working on several projects in the studio, including my latest contribution to the projects within The Collage Collaborative, an international group of artists who work on collage projects together. One person begins a collage, and then it it sent on to others in the group for additions, before it comes back home to live with the person who started it. These projects have elicited wonderful creative interaction in the group!

This collage was started by Allen from the Philippines. This round, each artist created 3 identical collages and they were sent on to  3 different groups of 4 people for contributions. I was the final person to work on this collage. My additions included the tape with 'Palm of my Hand', the colored earth hands in the upper right, the little objects in the larger colored hands, the watch face, and the music across the bottom. For me this collage is all about dancing to the rhythm of life while holding the joy of creation in the palm of your hand. The eye hanging from the bone tail on the skeleton is like a pendulum, swinging back and forth to the beat of the music, keeping us all in time with our souls.

This was a great project to work on with our group. If you are interested in seeing the rest of the collage art as well as the mail art envelopes, check out the Face Book site for The Collage Collaborative:The Artist. Albums have been posted with all the different versions of these collages. As each project is presented and completed, I find my creative verve soaring in the studio!

Believe & Dance unique artist's book textblock
During the summer I began to make some small "artist's books" using stamp impressions and added elements. The one shown here will be titled "Believe & Dance". I have finished adding the text and elements, including my Chinese "chops", feathers, bits of lace, and vintage postage stamps. This is a unique artist's book. I have yet to select the fabric for the book cloth for the cover, but hope to have it bound soon.

I have a foil stamping machine and hope to create a stamped title and spine for this book. It is a book full of sparkle and whimsy!

I also worked on perfecting my creative techniques for small wooden book covers for unique journals. My little Dremel tools come in very handy for cutting, shaping, and polishing the wood pieces. In this example, I have diverted from my original ideas and sewn the covers directly to the text block. Still working on this idea.  I learned on this sample that I need to use my Dremel tool with a larger bit so that I have bigger holes for the sewing. I am also interested in creating books on wood veneer  with wooden book covers.

Nancy teaching Calligraphy in 1981
 In going through some old photos this past summer, I came across this photo from when I was an instructor at Clinton Community College in Iowa. Here I am demonstrating brush writing for my Calligraphy II course. I am 8 months pregnant with my oldest, Emily, in this photo! It is hard to believe that it is 30 years since I  taught calligraphy courses with over 40 people in each class!. I am working with the brush again regularly, and feel my "Catich" creative soul stirring more and more.

Cleaning paint off of blackboard slate
Each time I cut down a piece of slate, and begin to clean it for cutting an inscription, I am brought back to those early days with Father Catich. We worked daily in learning not only to make letters with pen and brush, but how to layout a text quote for an inscription and how to cut letters into slate.  This was my first love in the studio, given over so many years ago when the day-to-day waking dream took over my life. Now I am able to take the time to contemplate the creative verve that drives me and I plan to spend a great deal of time cutting letters into slate!

 This past week when walking down our back laneway, I spotted a pile of FREE items left over from a garage sale held by our neighbors. In that pile was a BIONAIRE dual filter air cleaner. It has carbon and ionic filters, and according to the website, will remove all the VOC's that come from my press inks and solvents from the air in the studio. It works perfectly and new filters are available locally. I have needed one of these machines but they were out of my price range. Now, thanks to my angels, I will be able to print in the grotto over the winter!

As I work away in the grotto studio today on Parkdale Avenue in Deep River, I am reminded of all the amazing blessings in my life. I have an exceptional international group of artists to work with in the Collage Collaborative as well as immensely talented artists here in our new hometown. I am blessed with wonderful equipment and supplies, a large studio space in my home, and a new studio building under construction at our cottage. My creative verve continues to soar, and my soul cries out with jubilation each time I work on a new project. I thank God for all that has been given to me and for all that I am able to give back to my world in the name of the most high.

All will be well, and all will be well, and with the creative peace of God in her infinite wisdom, all will be well.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Collage Collaborative & Creative Verve

This is a collage started by Gigi from my Collage Collaborative Group. Each member of the group begins a collage and then it is sent on to 3-4 other members to make additions, and then it comes home to live with the originator. Each of us makes a few additions along the way, leaving room for others to add items as well.

Creating as a group to complete a project is wonderful for the creative "verve" in all of us. As we work to make our own additions to each collage, we take into consideration the story being woven by both the originator and also each of the contributors.

This group was started by an amazing assemblage artist from Ohio, Nikki Soppelsa. If you have a chance visit her website through the link I have provided on this page. You will not be disappointed!

This collage came to me with the monarch butterfly in front of a beautiful sky. I have added the frog, the earth being held in the palm of two hands, and a butterfly held by the frog. As I worked on the images to add to this collage I thought about the hundreds of frogs and toads we saw at the cottage this summer, and that scientists tell us these are a sign of a healthy ecosystem. I chose the image of the earth being held in the palm of human hands because humanity is responsible for the balance or imbalance in our ecosystem and we must be attentive to it each and every day. Monarchs travel great distances and see a good deal of our earth in their migrations. They are a wonderful indicator to us all of both the delicacy and the strength of our natural world. 

In working on this collage my heart soared like a hawk with creative verve. Images flashed in my mind as I searched for the correct size and design I wanted to include in this collage. It has been a wonderful gift to be able to complete it. As it moves through the group and has additions made by two more artists, I will post the results here.

I spent a great deal of time this weekend unpacking my "travel studio supplies" from when we were at the cottage. It feels good to be settled back into the grotto studio in our basement again. In the coming weeks I will be preparing two slates for inscription cutting as well as continuing to line pages for my manuscript Book of Common Prayer-Morning Prayer artist's book. I have three more signatures to line and then I will be ready to begin the lettering process of the work. I also have several blank journal books punched and ready to bind. The sewing frames are set up and ready to use, and my binding needles are sharpened.

As I prepare for the change in the season, I am reminded of the subtle changes that take place in my studio work as I shift from cottage creative space to the grotto here at home. It takes me several days to once again find balance and peace in this wonderful creative space where I will spend the majority of my time over the cool fall days and the months of white winter that is fast approaching. My studio is my nest, and it is here that I will bring forth the eggs of my creations and warm them, nurturing them, until they crack out of their shell and begin a life of their own.

Being aware of the changes in the natural world around me and reveling in the remarkable grace of nature as it moves through the seasons heightens my creative verve. I am continually aware of the presence of God in our world and the subtleties and strength illustrated by the creative way in which spirit moves through the seasons. We humans need to not only be aware of those changes, but also respect them and be more attuned to the impact we have on this glorious earth as we move through our lives.

As I prepare for the production of new work, with an eye towards the grace of God's world around me in the changing seasons, my heart it certain that All will be well, and All will be well, and with the grace and wisdom of God in our natural world, All will be well.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Studio Progress & Wooden Book Covers

View of the back of the studio.
 My husband has been very busy building me a new art studio at our lake house in Quebec these past few weeks! As you can see by the photos here, the rafters are in for the roof. All the windows and skylights are "roughed in" now, except for the gable ends. He will be working on those this week. He is planing on being able to "sheathe" the exterior, including the roof, this week, and then start to put the shingles on and close up the structure for the winter.
View of the front of the studio, facing the lake.

We most likely will not be able to get the skylights and windows installed until next summer. We also still need to get an exterior screen door.

I am so very thrilled with how this is all coming together! I also love the fact that I got all the windows FREE on Craig's list a few years ago in Cambridge. They are brand new, in the package, vinyl replacement windows!!!!

Working on drilling wooden bookcovers, Tobie is watching!
While François is busy building, and coming back to himself in the open air, I am working on wooden book covers for small books. This is a silly photo-François picked Tobie up and put her on the workbench while I was drilling!

I am loving my Dremel tools a lot this summer! The drill press is marvelous for drilling exactly placed holes for Coptic book binding using these panels. When I have the books complete I will post more photos.

Being able to be at our Lake House for 4 weeks is such a blessing. The weather has been beautiful, the peace and quiet amazing. I have fully recovered from shingles and am thankful to no longer be falling asleep at the drop of a hat! Surrounded by nature, with chipmunks, loons, moths, butterflies, humming birds and even a fox visiting us almost nightly has been amazing! The abundance of the natural world around us heals our bodies as well as our souls.

Each morning when I wake and watch the glory of sun kiss the lake surface and surrounding trees, I am reminded on how thankful I am to God for all the abundance in our lives. My heart soars like a hawk when I feel the breeze come through the trees and my creative verve is well nourished by the peace and quiet of God's creation around us each and every day.

All will be well, and all will be well, and with the beauty and grace of God's wisdom of creation, all will be well.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Art Studio at the Cottage!!!!

We have been at our Cottage for the past week. François has been working away at the new studio. Over the first few days he completed the tongue and groove flooring and then began to build the walls for the Studio. He builds the walls out of 2 x 6 x 8 studs.  I got all the new vinyl windows of various sizes FREE on Craig's List 4 years ago. Each of the windows is new, in their original packaging. 
We are very fortunate in that our cottage neighbor, Bill, stopped by to consult about window placement in each wall. Bill heads up a Construction Program for the Carleton Place School System. He leads a team of students in the construction of cottages that are then moved off site after completion. We were so pleased to have his help!

Once the wall is constructed on the floor base, it has to be raised into position gradually. I helped François with this process. We screwed in supports to hold the wall in place, and the added blocks under the supports as he lifted it. I was quite worried about all of this, but we went slow, took are time, and it all worked beautifully.

This is nearly the final bracing of the wall before we set it into place. As it is lifted higher, the wall is lighter and easier to move. We had  brace at the opposite side to prevent the wall from falling off the floor.

Here the wall is in place, braced, and the base screwed into place awaiting the remaining walls to be constructed. This wall, facing the lake, will have three windows, one really large one, and two medium sized ones. I will have a built in workspace just below the two windows on the left of this wall.

Here you can see my husband François working on the second wall. He hopes to finish all the walls and have them in place by this Friday. I will continue to post photo updates in the coming weeks, as time allows.

 While François is working on the new studio, I have been on our cottage second floor (still yet to have the walls finished) working in my "studio corner" on various projects. Our golden retriever, Tobie, is constantly checking out the worktable to see if I have left any crumbs behind from my snacks!

 I am working on a series of small books. The images and texts are created from random rubber stamps loaned to me by by good friend here, Boni Jawarski. I am adding items to the surface of the page, including lace, ribbon, and feathers.

Each of the books will be bound in wooden covers. Each book is constructed of single folio signatures, hand sewn and adhered to the wooden book covers with waxed double twined linen thread. The theme for this series of books is "Believe" and is all about faith-hope-and love.

I am using trim pieces from our cottage paneling projects for the covers. I am blessed to have a wonderful set of Dremel tools which allow me to shape the edges and drill nice, neat holes to accept the binding threads. I learned about this binding process from an older issue of Bound and Lettered. You can click the link I have provided to learn about this wonderful publication available from John Neal Booksellers.

As I prepare to return to the cottage after doing our laundry here, cutting the grass, watering our plants, and other "home chores" that needed tending, I am reminded of all the years we had to drive 10-12 hours to get to our Lake House Cottage. I am thankful for the brief 1.5 hour trip I have ahead of me today to return to our piece of heaven on hearth. However, I am missing all our dear friends in Cambridge and our parish family there. With all the blessings we have received with this move, the pain of separation is still very fresh in my heart.

My creative verve continues to soar, and I thank God for all the grace and blessings that have been bestowed upon me. My cup runneth over!

All will be well, and all will be well, and with the grace, strength, love, and glory of God in her infinite wisdom, all will be well.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Shingles and Studio Time

It has been quite a while since I had time to make an entry here. It seems the month of June flew by. Towards the end of the month I was diagnosed with a nasty case of shingles and have been placed on bed-rest, so to speak, with plenty of medications including anti-viral and pain meds.  I am not going to detail what I have been going through with my own journey with shingles here. If you are interested in more information, here is a great blog about the journey of a shingles patient:

Let me just add one thought. If you are over 50, had chicken pox as a child, but have never had shingles, see your family doctor about getting the vaccine developed to prevent shingles. It is well worth the expense to avoid the pain.

During the month of June I was working in the studio making Anglican Prayer Beads.  Anglican Prayer Beads are a relatively new form of prayer, blending the Orthodox Jesus Prayer Rope and the Roman Catholic Rosary. The thirty-three bead design was created by the Rev. Lynn Bauman in the mid-1980s, through the prayerful exploration and discovery of a contemplative prayer group.


I have been involved in making sets of Anglican Prayer Beads for ten years now. If you are interested in more detailed instructions on how these beads are use in prayer, please see see The King of Peace website. 

Prior to coming down with shngles, I had set up my dremel tools and was preparing to make wooden book covers for some manuscript books I have designed. I use the dremel tools to drill holes in the spine and covers for binding the books. These projects will be on hold until I can be active in the studio again. It was wonderful to find all my dremel tool parts, including the workstation and router handle, when we unpacked some boxes in the garage.

During the month of June I continued to have my good friends Rhonda and Nora over to the house for lessons in Watercolour Drawing and Painting.  Since we arrived in Deep River I had several dreams about both of them painting watercolours and making greeting cards. Both claimed to have no artistic ability whatsoever, but finally agreed to come and have a few lessons. It has been great fun and I will miss them during my recovery time in the next few weeks.

As I am recovering from this nasty bout of shingles, it is very difficult to rest and not work in the studio, or the garden. However, I realize if I do not rest and follow doctors orders, I could end up with some serious and long term nerve damage and pain issues, so I am going to rest and catch up on my reading. I also have a pile of magazines to go through to cut out images for future collage work, so between the reading and magazines, I should be able to keep myself resting.

One very important thing this illness has brought to me is how thankful I am for my health and the ability to work in my studio. We take things for granted sometimes-like being able to run up and down stairs, or spend hours in one position making art. When that ability is taken from you for a short period of time, you begin to count your blessings during prayer with added intensity. I don't like being sedentary, either physically or intellectually, however, I do see God's wisdom in slowing me down for a bit. I need to pay more attention to my overall physical well being, getting better regular exercise, as well as rest, and my nutrition also needs a look in as well. Maintaining our physical bodies is important if we are going to nurture out spirit and creative verve as we age. This bout with shingles has brought all of this to the front of my thinking process, so to speak.

As I rest and reflect, and work on getting well, I will continue to sketch out more artist's book projects for the coming months. I will continue to share with you when I can my progress on both my recovery, and my studio work.

All will be well, and all will be well, and with the grace and wisdom of God, all will be well.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Eagles Do Not Flock-You find them one at a time!

Father Edward Catich 1906 – April 14, 1979
Father Edward Michael Catich was an eagle in every sense of the word. He had a sharp eye and whit, a dedication to his faith and service to God. He was a priest, artist, and scholar. During the last year of his life on earth, I was fortunate to be enrolled in his studio art program at St. Ambrose University. Father Catich took me under his wing. Not only was he my teacher, but he was also my priest and my friend at a time when I desperately needed both.

In 1976 after graduating from Mt. St. Clare College with an Associate of Arts degree I was awarded a significant scholarship to St. Ambrose to study calligraphy and studio art with Father Catich. I was afraid to start the program in the fall, so I sought permission to delay my scholarship and moved to New York City to be a mother's helper for a family.

In addition to working for a family, I had also decided I wanted to study with Paul Freeman from the Society of Scribes. I had only three lessons with Paul, who was wonderfully kind, when he asked me quietly, "What the hell are you doing in New York, so far away from your family, when you live 45 minutes away from the old man of the brush, Catich?" His wife was there with us that day-they were so nice to me. She served us tea and cookies. The three of us talked at length about my fears of "not making the grade." Paul convinced me to return to Iowa and pick up my scholarship. It was not until I had known Father Catich for about 4 months that he told me he had received a concerned call from Paul the year before about a young Iowa red-head who was lost in New York and coming home soon to study with him. I was very touched.

When I arrived at St. Ambrose in May of 1978 to meet Father and discuss school, he looked at my calligraphy work and told me it was midwest nothing, but that we could fix that in time, and not to worry. He told me I would need some books to study over the summer and he would get them for me. He proceeded to one of the back/side walls of his large studio and started to climb the metal shelving and pull down some books from the top. I was terrified the entire shelf was going to come down on him!  He handed me The Trajan Inscription in Rome, The Origin of the Serif, and Reed, Pen & Brush Alphabets. I explained that I did not have any money to pay him for the books right then.  He said, "Not to worry, we will just make a record." He walked to the studio door and wrote my name, the book titles, and the amount on the door. He told me I could pay him when I had the money.  Father told me to go home and study and practice, and he would see me in the fall.

It was not until after his death, when I was helping to clean the studio and to catalog all of his books, that I discovered that these very same shelves were bolted to the cement walls of the studio!

Father Catich was an amazing artist. He could draw letters and buildings upside down to stun both the lecture hall audience and the students he was trying to teach in the classroom. But he was always first, and foremost, a priest. His deep faith and belief that Christ should always be kept amongst us in our hearts was never more present that in his depictions of Christ in "everyday dress" which caused him great difficulties with the powers that be in the Catholic Church.

Below is a quote from the River Cities Reader, 2004:

From the Catich Digital Archives
"For instance, at the same time his iconic image of a black Christ on the knee of a Latina Mary was displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Time magazine was reporting on Catich’s notoriety as an anti-traditionalist. Catich was quoted as saying, “We must fashion a Christ who will be no stranger to our time. ... I do not think it vulgar to suggest we give Christ a shave and a haircut.” The Vatican was less than enthralled with Catich’s crusade to portray “Christ in a T-shirt” and issued him a monitum – a warning from the Pope." 

Father Catich was able to translate the stories of the Bible into everyday language. This interpretation of the Biblical stories helped us to see how they related to our own stories in present day, and how those stories could help us to be better daughters, sons, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends to those around us.

Father also believed that understanding the Bible within the context of present day events would help us to be better artists and craftspersons as well. He is quoted as saying, "I suggest, therefore, that a basic principle of religious art is that we must express religious truths in contemporary terms...Christ should be portrayed as a member of our household and our city, a person of our land and our language." He expected us to not only be able to make letters with some skill, but to be able to represent our world around us, interpreting the Biblical narrative with modern day visual vocabulary, using pencil, watercolor brush, and pen.

At the time of his death he had been planning another trip to Europe for the Summer of 1979.  He was taking his "3 girls" with  him, Maureen Long, Amy Nielsen, and me, to help with the creating of glass for a stained glass window in Cologne and also to make more rubbings of the Trajan Inscription in Rome. He was convinced that the pollution was eroding the inscription even more than when he had made his second set of rubbings in preparation for the cast he made for Donnelley Publishing in the 1960's. (click on the previous phrase to see the cast) He also wanted each of us to have our own rubbing of the inscription.

Father Catich's Leica
The last day I saw him, Maundy Thursday, 1979, we had class in the morning and then I was to leave to return to my hometown, Clinton, to pick up my husband and travel to a conference in Kansas with him on Easter weekend.  I kept forgetting items at the school-my negative notebook in the darkroom, my watercolor board in the studio. I ended up going back to the college 4 or more times that day. Each time I had wonderful long conversations with Father. He kept trying to give me money to pay for our plane tickets to Europe-we were getting them from my travel agent in Clinton. That day he also gave me his Leica camera. He wanted me to practice on my trip that weekend as he had asked me to be the official photographer for our journey to Rome. We talked about faith issues that day, about my family, and my hopes for teaching someday. The last moments I saw him he was standing next to John Schmits in his first floor office, talking, while John painted.

Returning from the trip to Kansas we arrived in Ames, Iowa at a relative's home to hear the phone ringing. It was for me. In the days before cell phones were common, we had been out of touch for the entire weekend. My mother was calling to inform me that Father had been found dead in his studio on Saturday morning by his apprentice, and our good friend. Paul Herrera. The next few days were a blur. The immense grief that we all felt was overpowering as we prepared ourselves for the funeral. The vigil in the chapel at St. Ambrose and the funeral the next day were difficult and exhausting for us all. At each step of the way we were reminded that Father Catich was our teacher, but he was first a priest and a servant of Christ and the church.

Over the years I have tried to understand why my time with Father Catich, this relatively short period of time in my life, changed me so profoundly. It has only been in the last few years that I realized it was due to the transformative nature of prayer in our lives. Father reminded me often of the need for prayer in my life. For me, making art work, either calligraphy pieces, watercolors, or artist's books,  are a form of prayer. I feel compelled to tell my faith story in the objects I create and to share the process of making, which are my prayers, with those whom I come in contact with on the journey.

Maureen Long and Paul Herrera, 1979 St. Ambrose
Recently I have been able to reconnect with  my good friend from those days, Paul Herrera. He has started a website, Catfish Art Group, and is completing work on a biography of Father Catich. As Father's apprentice at the time of his death, and the person who found him in his studio, Paul is the only person who can tell this incredible story of Father Catich's life, his faith, and his dedication to his creative soul.

Paul is also starting a lecture series about Father and is giving one this weekend in Minnesota for the Colleagues of Calligraphy group in Minneapolis. It is his plan to continue to tell Father's story whenever and wherever he can.

Father Catich died 32 years ago this Thursday, April 14. In some ways he is more alive to me now than he has ever been. As I work in my studio making letters, preparing stone for cutting, and making artist's books, I am reminded of his dedication to prayer as a central portion of both his spiritual and creative life. He admonished us all in his last will and testament about prayer, using the words of Tennyson:

"I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within Himself make pure! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of..."
Pray for my Soul!

With each breath I take, with each stroke I make, I continue to pray for his soul, with grace and thanksgiving, that he touched my life so completely. Each day in my studio when I sit in his chair (given to me after his death) and look at his photo above my table, I am reminded that God's power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

We need only open our hearts and our minds to God each and every day, and with the grace of God, all will be well, and all will be well, and with the peace of God, all will be well.

To learn more about Father Catich, please check out the Catich Digital Archives, St. Ambrose University, Davenport, Iowa.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Collage Collaborative and Inspiration

Original Collage made by Wendy, USA

As many of you know, I am participating in an international collage group called The Collage Collaborative. In this group one person will begin a collage and then mail it on to the next person, who makes additions, and then mails it on to 4-5 other people for their contributions. When everyone has added something, the collage is mailed back to the person who started it off on its journey.

The image to the left is the first collage mailed to me here in Deep River. It came from Wendy in Idaho.  Each collage we work on is 5" x 7" in size. Each part of the image is adhered to the substrate with either PVA glue or acrylic gel medium.

Each artist will make their own statement about the collage through the additions they make. The overall theme of the collage may go through several versions.

My additions-off to Bobbie in Oregon
Here you can see the additions I have made to the collage. I added a vintage photograph of a steam ship from a travel book about South Africa that dates from the early 20th century. The colored images of the dragon fly, and butterflies came from a greeting card in my morgue box.

In creating my additions to this collage I consciously tried to work within the bounding box of the table that creates the frame for the image, while at the same time nipping "outside the box" with the dragonfly.

Many of the collage images I work with for my artist's book illustrations play with the idea of inside and outside of the box and the thin-ness of this distance, both physical distance and emotional or spiritual distance.

Working with this incredibly talented and giving group of international artists on this collaborative endeavor is serving to fuel my creative spirit. We have not met together physically, but are linked through the magic of technology and the internet.  Still,  I find the discussions we are all having on the Facebook chat page, as well as the individual emails and notes I am receiving from people, are helping to create a supportive, vigorous creative community. As I wrestle with creative concepts on the studio desk these days, I find myself reaching out to this group of people more and more to share ideas and discuss projects. It has been an incredible gift to my creative verve to be a part of this group. We are finding that our visual vocabularies are being welcomed, shared and expanded with each other. I feel with each breath we take and each stroke we make, as a group, that our creative bonds are stretching the limits of the intangible into the tangible for studio production.

Many years ago, "back in the day," as my daughter Kris would say, I was part of another creative group that was linked at first not by technology, but by shared space within a classroom.  I was blessed to be a student at St. Ambrose University and to study with the late Father Edward Michael Catich, a world renowned calligrapher, liturgical artist, stained glass maker, and teacher. Father Catich touched my life directly. Besides being my teacher, he was my priest and he was my friend when I needed both quite desperately.  I studied with him during the last year of his life and was blessed to be in an artistic community that was both inspiring and demanding. Not since those days have I felt the give and take of creative collaboration and inspiration that I am experiencing now being part of The Collage Collaborative.

It is this creative verve, this energy flow, that drives me to the grotto studio each morning. Always at the heart of my prayers is this text:

God be in my head and in my understanding.
God be in my eyes and in my looking.
God be in my mouth and in my speaking.
God be in my heart and in my thinking.
God be at my end and at my departing.

Working again with such an amazing, close knit, creative group such as The Collage Collaborative reminds me of the strength that comes from living within community, sharing within community, and creating within community. Inspiration is born from finding community and opening your heart to the possibilities presented to you as you live within it.

All will be well, and all will be well, and with the creative joy and grace of God, all will be well.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Studio Visitors to Cheer Me!

Nora Waddell and Boni Jaworski

Today I was blessed with visitors to the grotto studio. Nora Waddell, good friend from St. Barnabas Church, our faith community, brought an artist who is a good friend of hers, Boni Jaworski, a long time Deep River resident. Boni is a watercolor artist, among all her other interests, and a member of the Valley Artisans Cooperative here in  Deep  River. Both were fascinated with my press and small collection of type and other art equipment and supplies. It was wonderful to share the studio with them!

As I came back to the studio I was able to add more elements to my Almost a Nun artist's book and to get out one of my wooden bookcovers to begin planing the layout of the page for the manuscript leaf that will be held inside.

Almost a Nun

Wooden folio bookcover
Folio Inside

The inside embellishments for Almost  a Nun are coming along slowly-I find that I have more to include than I have space for in the book, so tomorrow will be all about "less is more"!!! I made the wooden bookcover last summer at the cottage. It has brass mini piano hinges and a brass clasp, both from Lee Valley Tools. The inside folio is Arches 300 pound watercolor paper. I coated the wooden cover with 3 coats of tongue oil, let it dry in the sun for a couple of days, and then closed it with the paper inside. I was hoping to have some of the tongue oil seep into the folio for a specific aging effect to the paper and it has worked. I hope tomorrow to add the text and illumination to this folio and finish attaching the folio to the cover. This wooden folio book will end up with it's own marbled paper box for safekeeping.

I spent most of late yesterday afternoon and last night updating my blog/website and my online shop. Pages have been added here for gallery and book arts items as well as information about commission work. It feels wonderful to have my pages here fuller with more representations of my work to share with others.

Having visitors today to the grotto was wonderful. Nora and Boni's energy for my studio, my work, and my creative verve were so inspiring! Being able to share my story with these two wonderful souls helped to bring many ideas to the forefront that have been bubbling just under the surface of my conscious mind these past months. Being able to share creative ideas, information about materials and supplies, and our own life stories was amazing.

It once again reminded me how important it is to share our stories with one another. Reaching into our personal 'story archive' of our world to share both our visual and spiritual vocabularies, enriches the experience of living in community with others. This type of interaction is essential for artists as they tell their story through their work, using their own visual vocabulary, to bring their souls into the world. My own creative verve vibrates and my aura is filled with joy when guests come and listen to my stories, and share their own. My work process, with each breath I take and each stroke I make, incorporates these experiences and helps to bridge the thin-ness between dream and reality, between the path and the journey, between this world and the next, .

All will be well, and all will be well, and with the joy and peace of God, all will be well!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fly Me To The Moon

Fly Me To The Moon Collage
My creative verve has returned with great joy!
I have begun making the collages necessary for my next artist's book edition, "Creation". This is the first of 7 collages that I hope will be made over the next two weeks. Each of these collages will be scanned and printed to serve as illustrations in the small edition of 7 copies of the book.

These collages are 9" x7". Each illustrative element comes from my print "morgue" of samples. The page is assembled using semi-gloss gel medium and PVA glue on an acid free board.

I have yet to decide how to add the 2-3 lines of text per page, but am leaning towards letterpress.

Over the past year I have been working to finish my first artist's book edition,  The Abecedarium for the Makers of Artist's Books. I have posted a link on my page to the slide show of the images for this edition. I need to gather signatures and begin to bind this edition soon.

In addition to working on these projects, I have a blank book on the sewing frame today, and am finishing work on Almost A Nun, my unique artist's book.  I can work between all these projects as glue and glazes dry.

I am missing items for the Abecedarium edition,  and need to start going through all the tubs to find them. Moving has stressed my organization in the studio to the max. I am hoping to spend part of the day organizing all the materials storage in the grotto in between gluing and glazing. I have been frustrated as of late not having exact places for everything, so cleaning the closets and going through plastic tubs will help me order my world a bit.

My daughter Kristin Mortensen (an artist) is always telling me that my organizing of all my materials is part of my work process. She is continually telling me to stop organizing the stuff and make art! I find, however, that in order to organize the composition in the piece I am working on, I must organize the materials, equipment, and objects around me in my studio space. A place for everything, and everything in its' place, as my mother used to say.

More and more, as I work in the studio daily and I become absorbed with my work, I realize that I have dreamed it all many times over. Each morning I come to the studio and dutifully write my "Morning Pages" (Julia Cameron-The Artist's Way- would be so proud of me!) and complete my morning prayers. I open my heart and soul to God and listen for what messages the angels bring to me. As I pray, I become conscious of the dreams from the night before and how they relate to my creative process. The THIN-NESS between this world and the next, the dream and the reality, becomes ever more present with each breath I take and each stroke I make.

Each studio day also brings a great appreciation for the abundance in our lives-our faith community, the wonderful home we own, and the wonderful peacefulness that surrounds us living in Deep River, so close to the Ottawa River and our beloved cottage. The scales of modernity continue to fall from me and my soul relishes the peace of having this wonderful studio and all the materials and equipment to work with here in the grotto.

All will be well, and all will be well, and with the grace and glory of God in her heaven, all will be well.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Music In Me

The Music In Me Collage, Stage 1, front
This image represents my first work with a new international collage group, The Collage Collaborative, organized by my friend Nikki Soppelsa, from Ohio. Each person begins a collage, and then it is mailed to the next person on the list. Usually 4-5 people work on one collage. The work cycles through the list and eventually comes home to live with the person who started it. I am fascinated with this entire process and thrilled to have been invited to participate.

This is my first, "The Music In Me". It includes images from a 19th century original music score I found in a box of old music that came to me through the "Free" tab on Craig's List in Cambridge last summer, and Victorian Music Covers.  I found an old photo of my Great Aunt Minni and have included it here.

This particular great aunt, my father's mother's older sister, fell in love with a doctor's son and they became engaged. Her engagement present was a diamond ring that came from "the old country" and a bed that came to Iowa in a Conestoga Wagon. The marriage never took place as the young man took the "Inter Urban" train to Davenport, Iowa and met a Dance Hall girl. He fell in love with  her, and ran off to San Francisco. Aunt Minni kept the ring and the bed, which both came to me when I married. My grandmother used to tell me the story when I was in middle school, warning me about the dangers of boy friends!

What I remember most about my great aunt Minni was that she loved music. She was always humming when I was a small girl. We would go to great aunt Emily's farm in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, and her sister, Minni, would be there for the weekend, helping to make bread, lemonade, and angel food cake. She would walk with my sister and I and our grandmother, Clara, down to the creek and watch us wade in the water. She died when I was only 6 years old, but I will always remember her music.

Due to my hearing issues I don't sing all that well, but I always carry the music in me from those summer days with my grandmother and her sisters.

Participating in this collage group is exactly what I need at this juncture in my creative space. We are still surrounded by snow, and cold temperatures, but at least we have marvelous sunshine this morning. Beams of wonderful warm light are streaming into the grotto as I work this morning. It makes me think of my friend Nikki, and all the people in The Collage Collaborative-they too are like beams of light, sending their emails and sharing their own creative process with me electronically. Amazing what technology has done to connect artists and creative types internationally!

Each person who emails or posts, or sends photos of what they are working on is like a note in a symphony that is being written with each breath we take, each stroke we make. I will carry this music in me, just as I do the music of my grandmother and her sisters.

All will be well, and all will be well, and with the grace and light of God in our souls, all will be well.