Sunday, March 28, 2010

Swimming with the Stone Fish

After my adventure to the lake last weekend I’ve had fish and fossils floating through my mind. I felt inspired to take out my extensive collection of all things rock: geodes, crinoids, fossils and other random stone treasures. I had a very nice time sorting my collection, since that brings a sense of order to my mind and my work. It’s something like spring housecleaning, except that you don’t need to discover all the places your boys marked up the walls or left scraps of food someplace out of sight. The natural result of such an endeavor was that I decided to launch into a weaving that included various fossils and crinoids. My new Stone Fish piece is taking shape! As I sorted my crinoids based on size I really enjoyed the spectrum of colors. There’s a lot of geology happening in southern Indiana, whether you notice it or not. When it’s all laid out in front of you the range of red, brown and sand tones on the rocks is amazing. It’s kind of like people or flowers I suppose. You can start with the same basic design, but depending on much light they get, and how much rain falls on them, and who their neighbors are, you can see a lot of variation. Anyway, in my world of deciding on composition for a weaving, contrast and comparison took center stage. I pulled out my boxes of yarns in complementing colors for the project. Out came my light brown and sand tones, then my earthy greens and oranges. The stone and the yarn make the ultimate contrast: the old and the new, the inorganic and the organic, and the hard and the soft. To my husband the fisherman, one is more like a sinker and the other more of a dry fly.

With the materials and composition ideas in mind, the weaving process itself is also very Zen-like. The colors flow as they undulate into the background, very much like the layers of soil and rock in the surrounding hills. The crinoids line the layers, but now they’re wired into place instead of being deposited in an organic sea millions of years ago. Cozying up to the yarn probably reminds them of their organic origins long ago. It’s amazing what bubbles up from your subconscious as you weave! To create the stone fish I pulled out some fern fossils that Rudy Turner, a microscopist at Indiana University gave me. The fossil patterns, set on their side, look a lot like a fish skeleton set into a flesh of sandstone. I like that feature for creating the body. I’m still looking for the perfect fish head, though. I spent an hour or so yesterday scouring the Jackson Creek bed for a perfect fossil but I’m afraid I came up empty. The boys chased water striders, minnows and crayfish through the shallows, while avoiding the leeches and garter snake they came across, so it was a good day overall. For the fitting end to the day, my husband carried out my morning wish to have a fish dinner. He brought two frozen Mahi Mahi chunks back to life with a marinade of ginger and balsamic vinegar, plus a little garlic and honey. Very tasty! Thank goodness not every fish is destined to be a fossil.

Until next week…

Martina Celerin

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Week of Tylenol

I had a full and delightful week. This was spring break week in Indiana, so the crew and I packed up and we drove north to see Grandma in Michigan. The first highlight was the rhubarb pie my loving husband made, using the two pounds of rhubarb I packed. Of course nothing ever turns out quite as planned. We didn’t have quite enough rhubarb, so in went an apple and some frozen strawberries. The baker made a slight error and used self-rising flour for the crust and over-filled it with filling. Everything got bigger; the crust rose up and the filling bubbled out. It turned out to be a tasty creation, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a pie. I also never miss a chance to scout out new supply stores, so I visited the Northwoods Outlet store in Pinconning and Larson’s Salvage in Bay City. I found lots of useful stuff but no brass flashing, a key secret ingredient in fern leaves. It also turned out that during our trip the last of the snow melted in Kawkawlin, so on our last day we got into picking up sticks with Grandma. That event signals the exit of winter. One cleans up the worst that Michigan’s snow, ice and wind deal out between Halloween and St. Patrick’s day. I was pretty sore on the drive home, but that’s part of the adventure.

Our return to Indiana was marked by trees beginning to bud and the first daffodils coming out. We left the forests in winter mode, but on the drive back we could see the subtle pinks of budding trees on the horizons and the yellows of willow in the low areas. During the drive I put the last touches on my black salamander with yellow spots and fleshed out my mud salamander. Now he has arms and is ready to crawl around my art studio. The background for the piece is already finished, so he has a home when he’s ready for it. When we pulled up to the big yellow house we were greeted by the iris reticulata, which have a beautiful deep, rich purple and elegant yellow markings. They burst through the carpet of leaves that my loving and well-intentioned husband meant to remove last fall but didn’t. The leaves probably gave that little extra bit of protection that carried them through the last cold spell. That’s one secret to a good marriage: a wise spouse learns to rationalize their partner’s failings as strengths that probably turn out for the best. If you’re smiling too you appreciate what that means.

I did have one job to do when we got home. We’ve had a raccoon that defeated the last home security system we installed. He found a way to burrow between two layers of wire mesh that weren’t well connected over the soffit on the east end of the attic. There’s nothing more upsetting to a good night’s sleep than hearing a raccoon creak his way into your house, slide down the trusses over your bed, rearrange your insulation and plunk down for a good day’s sleep right above you. Did I mention that this happens at 5 a.m.? If you’re lucky you get to hear him go out around 11, too, although his egress is slightly less offensive. I’m sure they have food and sex on their minds so they’re eager to get out. Anyway, after more serious but failed attempts to capture him in a live trap outside (thanks for the extra trap, Cappi!) we decided to be a little more devious. We waited until he was outside, then before he could settle back in for his morning snooze I climbed into the attic. I was armed with hammer, nails, wire mesh, wire snippers, flashlight and a mask. It’s always a bit of a stretch and shimmy to get through the small hole into the attic, then an uncomfortable crawl on hands and knees using the trusses spaced every foot or so. I cut up my mesh to fit the opening then started nailing it up with every nail I had. The work was especially challenging because I couldn’t make full swings with the hammer, so each try included a hit on the nail and a hit on the preceding truss on the backswing. After an hour of that I was ready to get back to the light and clean air, desperately hoping that we hadn’t trapped the critter inside. So far so good—no scratching last night, and no thumping around this morning. The bad news is that I’m paying for it now—all my hammering muscles are screaming out to me, so it’s back for more Tylenol.

Yesterday was a beautiful day, sunny and seventy, which means a perfect day for collecting. I went along on a family fishing trip to lake Monroe. The crew was looking for crappies, which they found along with a small bass, but I was looking for a stone fish head and tail for a weaving. Well, not actually stone fossils, but good enough replicas to capture my imagination. Stone elements make a nice contrast with the fibers in the weaving, and I like including collected fossils and rocks in pieces. I found what I was looking for and I found the beautiful bones of a small mammal. They were bleached white from the freeze/thaw cycles of winter and the water and sunshine of spring. The cleaning process was probably enhanced a bit by a few little critters along the way. Despite their appearance, I need to find just the right compositional idea for a piece to include them because my loving spouse cringes every time I mention using bones. It’ll just be our little secret when I put them in and we’ll see if he notices.

Finally, the real headache of the week is just coming on. It’s that time of year when I have to sift through all my business records to come up with the numbers for my tax forms. Oh joy. At the same time I downloaded the forms I need to become a citizen, which is a big step for me. I now know that not every American has a gun, and that Bloomington is a wonderful oasis for an artist like me. Plus, I’ll get to vote! Watch out world!

Until next week…

Martina Celerin

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chameleon Conga and Salamander Salsa

My life and art seem to revolve around my friends in Bloomington, Indiana. I live in a community rich in resources of all kinds that help me flourish, and I’ve come to deeply appreciate what I have. For example, this was ‘chameleon week’ for me, courtesy of one of my benefactors, the Monroe County Public Library. I went to the kids section to find picture books with big, brightly colored images of my quarry. I found a treasure trove of books to help me on my way, including a picture of a nice pardalis chameleon. To create its body, I searched through my materials only to find that some evil spell-casting wood sprite had transformed a ball of my fleece into a parsnip. Oh wait—that was me! The parsnip didn’t fit into my veggie piece, so I transformed the parsnip into the body of a chameleon. I keep everything I make, since you never know when something important will turnip. Sorry, my kids are into bad jokes right now and I couldn’t resist. I also pulled out all my green fleeces that I dyed last year and a dark brown natural fleece that fit in nicely and set to work. I put the last touches on it while listening to the proceedings of the Fourth Street Art Festival committee meeting, surrounded by local artists and craftspeople who are all committed to the success of the local art scene. As you can see in the picture, I then let the chameleon run around my art studio and inspect my yarns before she settled down among her home ferns. I hope somebody likes her as much as I do.

Well, I figure that if I can make chameleons out of turnips, I can turn amphibians into salsa. More precisely, I’m now off making six salamanders to dance together in my next piece, ‘Salamander Salsa’. I picked up a few colorful books from, you guessed it, the Monroe County Public Library. The variety of colors palates for salamanders is truly amazing. I’ve completed the first dancer, a spotted salamander, which is a rich, rich black color with yellow spots. Now I’m working on a mud salamander, whose name fails to capture its beautiful bright red color with tiny black spots. They always seem to be standing on sphagnum moss beds so I’ll have to whip up some moss for this piece too. This project will take a little time to bring together, since my three-dimensional animals always take more effort than I imagined.

The other big event on my calendar this week was the DBI (Downtown Bloomington Inc) annual awards ceremony. It was well attended, and I got to chitty chatty with lots of downtown business people. It’s so nice to see how cohesive and well-supported the downtown community is. This is a community that wisely values the vitality of its downtown, which is succeeding where other downtowns are failing in this tough economic market. I’ve benefitted from a number of downtown businesses showing my art over the years, with big thanks to places such as the Wandering Turtle, By Hand Gallery, Bloomingfoods and the Bloomington Bagel Company. I feel like I’m part of a vibrant community, and I like that feeling. Bloomington feels like home.

Until next week,

Martina Celerin

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Can you patch me through?

My highlight this week was the Heritage Quilt Show. I was recovering from a particularly nasty bout of the flu that my younger son generously shared with me. My best art buds were either out of town or unavailable, so I headed over to the Bloomington Convention Center all by myself. I quickly got lost in my own thoughts as I enjoyed the pieces, until I ran into Monika Bonner. Monika is a fellow Spinners and Weaver’s Guild member, and she had on an extremely cool jacket. The latest trend in the quilting world is to repurpose an old sweatshirt by patch quilting pieces onto it to make a jacket. I snapped a couple of pictures and caught up on the latest news, but as soon as I wandered along I ran into a woman wearing another sweatshirt jacket that was embellished with lace. Wow! Then my brain started to work—hmmmm, there must be a way to use that technique in one of my pieces. I think I broke a couple of cogs off the main gear wondering about that, all the while enjoying some fabulous quilts that were on display. This isn’t your grandmother’s quilting!

The rest of my artistic energy, left over from getting better, was directed at my latest weaving. I’m working on a fern-based piece that features a panther chameleon. I finished wrapping the leaflets, which I described a little last week and created the fern fronds. I arranged the fronds in the weaving with just a little opening for my new friend, Ms. Chameleon. I had a lot of fun this week choosing the species of cameleon pardalis (little lion) from among several I found in library books. I admit that I’m forever fascinated by what I can learn. Give me a library book and I’ll find something cool, and the chameleon books were a rich source for new ideas. I learned that the Malagasy people of Madagascar have a charming expression that involves chameleons. They say that wise men are like chameleons: they have one eye in the future and one eye in the past. That sounds a little like motherhood, although often both eyes are in the back of my head to make sure my kids don’t injure each other or burn down the house. That also reminds me what I learned about reading the color of chameleons. For my Ms. C. there is a spectrum from green (calm and peaceful) to tan (sleepy) to yellow (surrender) to black (angry) to black with lots of orange spots (pregnant) to black with stripes (really angry). I know a few women who seem to progress through the same sequence of emotions as they enter parenthood; next time I’ll have to sneak a peek at their back and belly when I think events are heating up. Anyway, for my chameleon, the colors are going to be fun to do, as will the curly tail that looks like an emerging fiddlehead on a fern. It’s as much fun as a fiber artist can have in the winter!

On the bright side, the weatherman says we’re clear to have a week above freezing and some clear sunny weather. It’s time to break out the bicycles and spray paint and get ready for spring! The eranthus and snowdrops are up, the crocuses are ready to burst, and the first tulip leaves are peeking up through the ground. I can’t wait!

Until next week…

Martina Celerin