Home Sweet…Contact Station?

As of this week I have served as artist in residence at eight different National and State Parks and several National Monuments and other pubilic lands. One of my favorite parts of any residency is actually living in the park. I never know what the accomodations will be like and it is always a surprise. I have stayed in an historic hogan, casita and cottage and several ranch style houses on both the tall grass and short grass prairies.

When I first ran across this residency at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area the accomodations were listed as a bunkhouse on a historic ranch within the confines of the park. Unfortunately, the deadline had already passed and I waited patiently for the next one to roll around. Then in December last year the bunkhouse burned to the ground within a matter of hours, a great loss to the park. The official cause of the fire was listed as electrical, but I have since learned that conspiracy theories abound. A quick call to the park and I was assured that they would find someplace for artists to stay.

Once I was advised that I was selected to serve as AIR this summer, I decided that I was just too close to The Little Bighorn Battlefield, AKA The Battle of Greasy Grass, AKA Custer’s Last Stand to not see it, so I decided to go a day early and visit before heading south to the park. Air BnB has served me well in the past so I booked a room for a night in Billings to accommodate this day trip. The old adage, “you get what you pay for,” soon came into play. Let me say this, my past experience as a social worker making home visits to the mentally ill in Appalachia prepared me well for the stay at this humble abode. While the woman renting me her basement room was quite nice, and the room itself was the cleanest, most well organized room in the entire house and including the front yard, front porch and back yard, it is hard to put into words the filth and general crap present in this house. If unidentifiable, week old food fermenting in the sink and on the stove is any indicator, then perhaps you can use your imagination to fill in the rest. Needless to say I did not take a shower there ( I would have had to remove about a 100 bath toys out of the tub to do so) and was off as soon as it was light enough to make an exit without breaking my neck on all the rubbish.


Relieved and excited to be in the park, I quickly found my new home at The Crooked Creek Contact Station. I am assuming it is called a Contact Station as this is where park personnel first come in contact with the public, and at times, dare I say chase them down to do so.  This is the daytime home to the Law Enforcement Rangers as well as the Invasive Species Rangers. These are the park staff who check each boat entering the park for invasive species like Zebra Mussels before they launch their vessels on the reservoir and share the joy so to speak. Infected boats are power washed with hot, pressurized water before launch. In this fast paced world some entitled captains resent this short delay and attempt to bypass the system causing law enforcement to “encourage” their compliance.

I found my quarters to be quite generous with my own bathroom, shower,  double bed and plenty of room leftover for a makeshift studio. Best of all, it had air conditioning, a real necessity when the temperatures dance around 100 degrees most days at this time of year. I “shared a kitchen” with the rangers which gave me a chuckle as the only food present in the refrigerator when I arrived was a bottle of water and a half gallon of Lime Rickey ice cream, which I later learned had been there for months because it tasted like “Pinesol”and no one would eat it.

Each place I have stayed has quirks and the ones here involved water, appropriate considering the drought conditions existing in the West. First of all, despite the fact that my home was less than a mile from a huge reservoir, none of the water in the park was potable. Dire warnings were posted above every faucet. I made several inquiries as to the cause and was informed that this was due to “the high mineral content,” and indeed the water in the shower smelled like pure sulphor. I also asked if the water was filtered, worrying about Giardiasis and the the response was “Well, there is that.” I never really got a clear answer. Luckily there was plenty of nice, cold drinkable water in a 20 gallon water cooler in the office so I could keep my water bottles filled at all times. But do you have any idea how hard it is to remember to use your water bottle to brush your teeth in the morning when you haven’t had your coffee?

Then there was the quirky plumbing. When I arrived the toilet tank top was lying on the floor which I immediately placed back where it belonged only to learn that it really wouldn’t flush properly with the lid on. It resided on the floor under the sink during the rest of my stay. The sink had it’s own set of issues. After about three days it started dripping, but with a flick of the wrist one could get it to shut off. This became increasingly difficult as the days passed, and one evening about 6 days into my stay it revolted and refused to turn off at all. No matter how I twisted and turned it the water flow vacillated somewhere between a full on waterfall and an extremely aggressive drip. Now having a handyman for a brother, I knew how to turn off the water at it’s source under the sink, but turning the valve in both directions with all my might did absolutely nothing. I was able to get the flow down to an aggressive drip and put a washrag under it to keep from completely losing my mind that night due to the torturous nature of dripping faucets.

So, what is the difference between just having a place to stay and a home? Why friends and family of course. More than any other park where I have served as artist in residence the staff made me feel at home, starting with a welcome sign on my door. Ranger Tim turned off my water and called maintainance for me (and no he couldn’t turn the water valve off either…vindication!). He also spent several of his leave days taking me hiking on two of the trails no one in their right mind should do alone and also took me kayaking on the reservoir. Rangers Christy and Virginia took me with them to the Northern part of the park and I got to experience the inner workings of the NPS and meet the Superintendent. Rangers Ben and Kyle checked me in and helped me to set up and take down my presentation. The Law Enforcement Rangers regaled me with their bear and rattlesnake stories and shared all of the gossip about who got ticketed for speeding or attempting to evade the long arm of the law each day.  Did you know that bear traps are baited with cat food or doughnuts?

So despite the quirks, which every home has, I was totally charmed by this place and the people that brought me into their family, watched my back and made sure that I had a marvelous time. I cry every time I leave a park, but this time it was particularly difficult; I had to leave behind new friends and my NPS family. The park staff are applying for a grant to rebuild the old bunkhouse which was located in one of the most scenic and bucolic parts of the park so perhaps one day I will have the opportunity to revisit friends and family.



To Paint a Desert: The Long and Winding Road to Petrified Forest National Park

As Rod Stewart, one of my brother’s favorite musicians would say, “Every picture tells a story don’t it?” With a good dose of Irish ancestry, I have come to realize the importance of a good story, in literature, in art and in life. Here’s one of mine.

With over 50 National Parks and Monuments offering Artist in Residence programs in any given year, how does one go about deciding which opportunities to apply for? What’s not to love about almost any National Park? But if you are going to live there for any length of time and devote yourself to making a piece of art worthy of the experience, for me at least, there needs to be some deeper meaning to the decision aside from the natural beauty of the place.

While mainstream America has a linear view of time, other cultures, especially indigenous or aboriginal cultures tend to view it as circular. I like to think of it as a spiral, so spiraling back across time I can picture my 7-year-old self attending J.W Reason Elementary School in Hilliard, Ohio, a small farming community back in the day. Being one of the many baby boomers overburdening the school system, at the time there was no room in the school building for a library. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t one in the entire town. It took the burg’s founding fathers, or farmers, as the case may be, a few more years to construct one. Instead school children had their literary needs met via The Bookmobile.

Somewhat resembling an overgrown Air Stream trailer, this beast would pull into the circular drive of various schools and set up shop about once a month. Each child was solemnly issued a library card that we were to guard with our very lives or pay the dire, and unknown consequences. When the day arrived for my very first visit, I dutifully and anxiously lined up with the other children for my turn to enter the belly of the beast. Holding onto the railing as if ascending a great mountain, I pulled myself up what seemed like gargantuan steps and entered this holiest of literary places.

Once inside I was in a state of awe just looking at the books of every stripe and color that rose to the very heights. I was immediately faced with a dilemma. Just having learned how to read, the second graders were only permitted to select one book. Now even at that early age I was heartily sick of the Dick and Jane readers we were issued, and really didn’t give a damn about seeing Spot run (already developing a preference for cats, I was somewhat more interested in Puff’s antics however). Thus, selecting just the right book in the allotted amount of time was a difficult but satisfying task. After touching and opening as many tomes as possible, I finally selected my heart’s desire, a book of Native American animal tales about The Painted Desert in Arizona.

Aha! My raison d’être for applying to Petrified Forest National Park and The Painted Desert. In my research for this artist in residence program I was able to locate just the book I needed, Hopi Animal Stories, compiled and edited by Ekkehart Malotki a language professor at Northern Arizona University. A grown up version of my very first library book, complete with liner notes and a cadre of tales collected from traditional Hopi “story rememberers” on Second and Third Mesa in Hopiland! So not only did I have a reason to immerse myself in this special park, I had a ready made project, interpreting one of the animals tales in textiles. As I sat perched on the park’s Rim Trail, I swear in the distance I could see an image from that second grade book, a coyote and rabbit side by side,  berets worn with rakish abandon, giant brushes hoisted in the air, painting the desert with a palette of colors stolen from the Easter Bunny. Now there’s a story.


You Don’t Always Get What you Want, but if You Try Sometime, you Just might get what you need Part 2

imageGenealogically speaking, I am a Heinz 57 with Swiss, German, and Irish ancestors. Then there was my English grandmother who lived in a house my Dad built for her right next door. She hailed from Yorkshire. There is an English saying, “Thou can always tell a Yorkshireman, but thou can’t tell him much.” So you can see that with this particular genetic soup, I come by my stubborn streak honestly. My mother called it being bull-headed, I prefer to call it persistence. Being such a persistent person, when I was unable to travel to Alaska, I immediately made another attempt to find a way out West.

A Google search produced a second opportunity for an artist residency, this time in Montana at a BLM site. Oh Yeah! And this one honored Lewis and Clark, The Corps of Discovery, Sacagawea and her infant son Pompey. This adventure included a 4 day, all-expense-paid canoe trip that followed their exact route through this particular stretch of the Missouri river, including their well documented camp sites. Hell yes!!

As a kid my family camped nearly every weekend spring through fall at a state park near Chillicothe, Ohio that boasted a small but idyllic lake. One day when I was about fourteen my Dad disappeared from the campsite in his truck cryptically saying he was going for a ride. About 4 hours later he reappeared with a 14 foot, bright red fiberglass canoe perched in the back of the truck. We now had a new pastime that enthralled us for years. From that day forth nearly all of our extended family and friends also purchased canoes and every weekend we camped and canoed. So it seemed that this particular opportunity was custom-made for a history lovin’ gal that can paddle her own canoe and quilt too. I wrote a mean proposal and waited.

On the appointed day I received a very kind rejection email. Wow! I thought I had that one in the bag, but it is not possible to know the circumstances of why you were not selected and cannot take such rejections personally. I waited to see who had been selected. For some reason I had a feeling that the friends group sponsoring the residency already had someone in mind. A few days later another google search turned up the candidate, a well-known Montana artist that lived about 50 miles away. Easily understood.

Fast forward to three weeks ago. Remember the US Fish and Wildlife Service employee in charge of the cancelled Alaska residency? Out of the blue she contacted me and asked if I would be interested in flying out to Washington State to be a featured artist at The Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery’s Annual Salmon Festival? Furthermore, would I be willing to make a piece for them to be featured at the festival, then to be hung at the hatchery at the end of the festival, and, oh, by the way they would be loaning it out to various museums in the area. In addition, would I be willing to develop an art project for the many school children visiting this educational festival? Uhhhhh. Let me think… hell, yes!

The staff asked for a piece that would celebrate the importance of salmon to the Native Peoples of The Colville Nation living along The Columbia River and it’s tributaries, specifically the Wenatchee tribe who just last year obtained fishing rights in the river their people have inhabited for hundreds, if not thousands of years. More research produced a collection of Native legends compiled by The Colville Federation of Tribes, one of which featured a story about how Coyote brought Salmon to the Colville people. So I proposed a piece that illustrated this particular story. Staff at the hatchery have been instrumental in obtaining the blessing of tribal elders and locating a historic photographic image for my use. A second image was located at The University of Washington and luckily I was able to obtain permission to use that image as well. So far, the top is done and quilting is ready to begin. I believe I will meet my mid-September deadline.

Leavenworth Washington is located in the stunningly beautiful Cascade Mountains, a part of the world I have never visited. It has some fantastic hiking opportunities and bears! Guess I’ll get my adrenaline fix after all. So it just goes to show… you might not always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you might just get what you need.

Ohio’s Sacred Earth or You Don’t Always Get What You Want but if You Try Sometime You Just Might Get What You Need, Part 1..

017It’s no secret that I love the art of travel and I have figured out how to combine my love of art with travel by serving as artist in residence at various National and State Parks and other public lands. Now I can tell the story of my most recent attempt at adventure. Last Christmas one of my art friends sent me an application for The Voices in the Wilderness residency and told me I should apply. Flattered, I quickly did some investigating and learned that the program embedded artists in the Alaskan Wilderness, and I do mean embed. Artists were invited to apply to 10 different wilderness locations where they would accompany a ranger or US Fishery and Wildlife employee into the outback. Artists would be sleeping in a tent, hiking through Alaska and finding inpiration to make art, no comfy cabins here.

I spent the month of January lost in research about Alaska and devising a proposal that I hoped would land me the opportunity to really test my metal and kick up the ol’ adrenalin a notch or two. What a relief to find out there are no rattlesnakes in Alaska (see previous blogs regarding this particular reptile)! No snakes in the whole darn state to be exact. Huh. This was quickly replaced with concern that more people are killed by moose and plane crashes every year than those who meet their maker by snake bite in the whole rest of the country. Then there are the bears, both Black and Brown. For those of you needing to know, Brown Bears are genetically identical to Grizzlies, they are just a bit smaller and….brown. Have I mentioned the mosquitos? Before proceeding much further I consulted with my own personal wilderness expert, my brother Bruce. He gave me a brief tutorial on the finer points of bear barrels and the treatment of clothing with permethrin to ward off skeeters.

February saw the mailing of fat application packets to two carefully chosen wilderness sites and then the long wait for a response. Well, not so long after all. Within three weeks I received a very excited call from one of the sites. We talked at length about my proposal and the details of the potential trip. I would be flying into Anchorage then a pilot would retrieve me in a small float plane and fly me into the wilderness for a two-week stay. Here I would be accompanied by a 70-year-old, gun-toting volunteer whose job would be to keep me from getting lost and to shoot any bears with more than a passing interest in art and artists. To aid in this endeavor I would be provided with a battery operated electric fence to surround my tent, and myself should I choose to sit and sketch or photograph. Bear barrels would be provided as well as three different communication devices including a Satellite phone. Hey! Isn’t that what those embedded war correspondents use in the Middle East? So what was I actually worried about? None of that stuff. I was filled with anxiety regarding, shall we say, the finer points of personal hygiene in the backwoods with no running water or toilets and a total stranger in tow. A third week in Alaska would involve working with Native Alaskan youth on an art project at Culture Camp where Native arts like hunting, fishing and berry picking are combined with science and archaeology in an effort to keep the Native culture alive. Intriguing.

As it turned o014ut I need not have worried. A week later I received a call advising me that the person in charge of the program was accepting a job in another state and that the program would not be going forward this year as there was no one else capable of organizing it on such short notice. Because well…people could actually die out there unless the logistics were done properly. I saw their point. The second venue I applied to did not receive funding from the feds this year, so done and done. This goes to illustrate the fact that often when we are rejected it is not personal in any way. Many times our seeming rejection actually has nothing to do with us, but often artists in particular view such so called rejection as judgement about themselves or their work, making them afraid to take chances in future that might afford them amazing experiences. By the way, if you have been following the news lately, it seems half the state of Alaska has been on fire this summer, and with no roads, fire fighting is an extreme and very serious vocation. Be careful what you ask for.


And….never underestimate the wonders to be found in your own back yard. Part of what I enjoy about travel is the indigenous art found in the areas I visit. Mesa Verde has the stunning Black on White pottery, Agate Fossil Beds, Sioux beadwork and ledger art, etc, etc. Ohio has the Mound Builders, the Hopewell Culture to be exact. I studied them in school, but this summer I have immersed myself in the beauty of their art and the new historical theory gained with advances in science and archaeology.

The summer started off innocently enough with a visit with my cousin to Serpent Mound for a Summer Solstice Supper created with turkey and the three sisters, beans, corn and squash, then a lecture by Dr. Brad Lepper, which turned out to be mostly about the amazing artwork created right here in Ohio. Well, that sent me on a quest and my summer has been consumed with visiting Hopewell Sites. So far I have visited Hopewell Culture National Park, Seip Mound, Spruce Hill, Fort Hill and The Ohio Historical Society to view this unique symbolic and spiritual art which is so skillfully executed, it is much more sophisticated than the Mesa Verde pottery. In my spare time I have also read Dr. Lepper’s book, Ohio Archaeology. Left on my To Do list is a visit to Flint Ridge only about 20 miles away and a source of the colorful flint used to make atlatyl spearheads, arrow heads, knives and other stone implements since the time of the Paleo-Indians, and Tarlton Cross only a 20 inute drive from home. I have had a wonderfully interesting summer so far and in just a few weeks I will be leaving to visit my son in Munich and my best friend in Wales with a side trip to Amsterdam. So if you try sometimes, you just might get what you need (and without being burned to a crisp in the Wilderness.)

Cape Romain or Cape Fear?


As a textile artist I take a lot of photographs for reference purposes and sometimes even use them printed on fabric in my work. I really enjoy taking pictures and even bought a new digital camera last year which I am still learning how to use, however, I don’t really consider myself to be a photographer. That being said, I think this photo is one of the best I have ever taken, but I almost missed the opportunity. Here is the story.

107I love South Carolina, Charleston especially, and the last time I was there  I purchased a note card for a friend.  The front featured a stunning photograph of a tree rising from the ocean! I was so taken with the image that I asked the sales clerk where it was taken, then promptly forgot all about it. When I got home the cat managed to leave a few teeth marks on the edge of the card so it never got sent. The end. Or so I thought.

Fast forward to last week when I was serving as Artist in Residence at Poinsett State Park about 90 minutes from Charleston. I was having a great time, but it was so rainy that I spent at least two full days in my “studio” on the screened in porch attached to my cabin. Huge windows on three sides opened the space up to the woods in their full spring glory, but after two days inside I needed a change.

Deciding that a boat excursion into the Low Country might just be the ticket, I started a google search and low and behold, images very like the one on the card appeared on the Bulls Island Ferry site. I quickly checked the weather forecast and Saturday was predicted to be the only sunny day of the week with a high of 86 degrees. Perfect. I booked it.

The next day the forecast was changed to partially sunny and 80 degrees. It rained again all night Friday and I awoke to more rain at 6 AM Saturday morning. I was too afraid to look at the forecast again as I packed my lunch and gathered rain gear into my day pack. I really didn’t want to go but forced myself to get into the car. I did not want to lose my $40 deposit by not showing up, but I thought if I was extra pathetic and begged once I arrived, perhaps they would let me cancel due to the poor weather. Then I would treat myself to a smashing lunch in trendy Charleston instead.

It rained for two hours straight as I drove from my cabin to Awendaw, a little north of Charleston. I am always advocating for finding the courage to overcome fear, persevere, accept challenges and learn, but I tell you my courage was wavering as much as my windshield wipers during that rainy drive. Bulls Island is a barrier island and part of the Cape Romain Federal Nature Preserve, once a safe harbor for pirates. It is uninhabited, loaded with alligators, snakes, bobcat and a myriad of birds including Eagles and Osprey. At one time Red Wolves were re-introduced there, did they actually get all of them when they were moved to a sanctuary on the mainland? At the north end of the island lies Boneyard Beach where I was hoping to see trees “growing” in the sea.

Oh, how our minds always envision the worst possible outcome and play tricks on us, keeping us frozen in our same old way of being. All during that rainy journey I pictured myself all alone and lost on the windy, rainy, 5,000 acre island with no way back until the boat captain returned hours later to pick me up. Sounded dismal and scary in my imagination.

But miraculously, within 10 minutes of arrival at the dock it stopped raining, and although I was the first one to arrive, shortly thereafter about 35 other people showed up. In short, it was an amazing day and one I will never forget. Although I never saw another soul once we arrived, I took comfort in the fact that they were there. And most importantly, I captured the beauty of the place in this amazing image. Upon reflection, the photograph would have been much inferior with the bright sunlight originally forecast. So take courage me hardies and be amazing.

2014 The Year of the Snake

Contrary to the Chinese Zodiac, for me, 2014 was more like the Year of the Snake than the Year of the Horse. I should have had a hint of what was to come when in 2013 I just missed a close encounter with a rattlesnake while serving as Artist in Residence at Mesa Verde National Park. Chatting with fellow backcountry trekkers,  I learned that one of their party nearly stepped on one the day before. I had considered going on this adventure, but decided that my body needed some time to adjust to the altitude and dry heat of the American Southwest, so I had spent the morning safely ensconced at the park’s museum instead.

My very first herpetological contact occurred while growing up on a farm in Central Ohio. Ohio has three species of venomous snakes, the Eastern Diamondback or Timber Rattler, the Copperhead and the Pygmy Rattlesnake, but none live in the central part of the state. Early 18th century settlers noted the strong smell of snakes, something like cucumbers, along the limestone banks of the Ohio River, present day site of Columbus, Ohio, my home town. They were long gone by the time I came along. Instead, our farm was populated by the ubiquitous Garter Snake, who rummaged around the leaf mold in the lilac bushes and sun bathed in close proximity to the farm’s outbuildings.

Although they are harmless, I was always somewhat anxious about their presence as my brother and his friends loved to chase me around the yard in attempt to put one down the back of my shirt while I screamed bloody murder. Now while many a farmer and his wife utilized the blade of a hoe to rid their farm of these critters, that was not the case at our place. My Dad was an environmentalist before there was even a name for it. We were taught to protect and respect all God’s creatures. With his dry wit and country sensibility, he advised my brother and I that “without snakes we’d all be up to our asses in rats and mice.”

Now fast forward to 2014. I like to spend my Sundays hiking in the local nature preserves. It is both peaceful and invigorating and places me in close proximity to our Creator. This year on the very first hike of the season,  I noticed a tiny garter snake warming himself in the sun while lounging on some greenery about chest high and a foot away. While innocous, he gave me a start. The next week at different preserve, I nearly stepped on a “stick.” See below.

imageThis little cutie, a Black Rat snake I believe, had just shed his skin and would not budge. He kindly allowed me to take his photo and go along my way. The following week at the same preserve I was fascinated by a long black “lightening strike” on the side of a very tall tree. Closer inspection however, revealed another Black Rat snake about 10 to 12 feet long who was working his way up the tree, mostly likely for a tasty meal of bird’s eggs.

The saga continued later in the summer when I traveled west for an artist residency at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska. Upon arrival, the first thing I noticed was the presence of signs advising visitors to use caution while hiking, as this was the habitat of the Prairie Rattlesnake. In an apparent attempt to soften the message, the signs included very cute and non-threatening images of the critters. This Disney-esque image was severely challenged upon entering the Visitor Center, where a stuffed rattler, forever frozen in a strike pose, rested on the counter in a glass case. Attached was a warning to use extreme caution while on the trails. You can imagine I did, to the point that I was reluctant to walk in the grass…. anywhere, as similar warnings were posted darn near everywhere I went whether in Nebraska, South Dakota, or Wyoming. Apparently this part of America is snake heaven. On one of my last days in the park I met this little guy.

imageRemembering my Dad’s warning about rats and mice, which I might add are carriers of both the plague and Hanta Virus, I gave him a wide berth, took his photo and moved on. At the time I posted this on Facebook, the “ick factor” was pretty high among my readers. Several suggested I obtain a good pair of cowboy boots as this was why they were invented in the first place. I can take good advice when given. Who knew style and safety could be rolled into a pair of foot gear? 2014, Year of the Snake has come to a close. Bring it on 2015, the Year of the Sheep, I could use a rest!


NPS Artist Residencies, No Walk in the Park

Nope, they are oh, so much more…life changing in fact. While serving as a National Park Service Artist in Residence at several parks over the past year I have lived in a hogan, climbed three stories up the face of a cliff on a ladder, hiked the back country after hours, had a close encounter with a Prairie Rattler, survived the ague and had a private viewing of priceless artifacts locked away in our national treasure chest. I will always cherish these amazing memories but there is more.

If you want to learn American History, you will not learn it in public school. There we learned to memorize a lot of dates and were spoon fed a sanitized version of our history as seen through the eyes of the dominant culture. If you want to experience the real history of our country, get out and see it first hand. The preliminary research I undertake prior to each trip ads a great depth of meaning to the parks, the hikes and museum collections. While in the National Parks I like to ponder the thought that I am literally breathing in the molecules of the historical events that came before my presence on these sacred grounds. But there is still more…

The people. On each trip I met wonderful people willing to share their interests, talents and cultures with me. The park staff have been so welcoming and supportive. Ranger Lil allowed me to lay on her office floor for two hours when I became ill and maintenance man Bill gave me a ride back to my park housing and acted as a firearms consultant on one of my quilts. Ranger Alvis threw me a going away party. Interns Marley and Nick generously shared their park home and horror movie collection. Ranger Fred showed me behind the scenes of The Cook Collection and the head Ranger at Mesa Verde spent a half hour of his time personally re-programming my walkie talkie so I would be safe in the back country. The children of The Indian Cultural Center, Lincoln, Nebraska allowed me to lead them in a  group art project. Stuart Proud Eagle Grant generously shared his veneration of Crazy Horse  and thoughts on Red Cloud.


Ruth, 26×17, 2014, Homestead National Monument of America

Serving as an Artist in Residence for the NPS is really so much more than a hike in the woods. It is a gift that keeps on giving. I come home invigorated, head spinning with new ideas, ready to spend many pleasurable hours in the studio making art inspired by America’s Best Idea. And thanks to Stuart Grant, I am now immersed in research on Crazy Horse and thinking about my application for next years adventure.

Hey, I Can’t Sleep Out Here – Creative Insomnia

I have not had a good night’s rest in two weeks. Having room mates is not helping, you would not believe how many times you think you have to go to the bathroom until you fear you will wake the entire house with the flush of a toilet. Or how hungry you can get when you can’t raid the refrigerator at midnight because you are bound to drop a gallon of milk in the dark.

Then there are the odd sounds. When I did an artist residency in South Carolina it was the humidity and swamp critters sounding more like Amazonia than The Low Country that kept me awake. When in Mesa Verde National Park it was hooting owls and howling coyotes. At Agate Fossil Beds more coyotes and visions of rattlesnakes dancing in my head.

There is something about travel and a new environment that really stimulates creativity. The real reason I can’t get to sleep is that I am up all night processing the events of the day and designing new projects in my head. I have taken to writing them down, so I have an idea list that keeps me working for months when I get home. I actually came up with the idea for this blog last night about 2:00 AM after three trips to the bathroom, reading the first 100 pages of My Antonia, writing in my journal and checking out my Nebraska gazetteer for interesting local points of interest. You would think I would be exhausted, but no, it is my 20 something room mates who are perpetually worn out.

Anyway, I am grateful for the influx of new ideas that travel provides. That is actually the point of these residencies, and the loss of a little sleep is a small price to pay. There will be plenty of time to sleep when I get home, not to mention the luxury of using the lavatory at will.

Pistol Packin’ Mama

I’ve only ever shot a gun one time. Being three years older than my brother, I think my Dad thought he would hurry up the possibility of having a hunting buddy by a few years, so he planned to teach me how to hunt. I was going to have my own shotgun, just the right size for a 10 year old, a real hunting license to go on a super cool hunting jacket with a great big zippered pocket in the back to carry home all those pheasants, rabbits and squirrels I was gonna shoot. Never mind the thought of bloody effluent running down my pants leg as they drained on my march home. Eeeeewww! So along came the day I had been waiting for. I learned how to put the shotgun shells in and with an admonishment from my Dad to “hold her steady,” I let her rip and the kick back promptly knocked me on my ass. The end.

Hattie JonesSo meet Miss Hattie Jones, a single woman homesteader and the focus of my project here at Homestead National Monument of America in eastern Nebraska. Doesn’t she look demure? I think she looks like she should be sipping tea in a Boston Parlor, but in actuality, she was a single woman homesteader from Nebraska. She and her best friend set off alone to homestead in the wilds of North Dakota, which meant that she could earn a free 160 acres of land if she proved up, this meant to live on and improve the land for a period of 5 years. What with blizzards, drought, grasshoppers and rattlesnakes this was not quite the bargain it initially seemed. One night some drifter, rabble-rouser or just plain drunk knocked on her door and refused to leave. Frightened, but determined, she gave him fair warning to leave or she would shoot. He didn’t, so she let rip with the shotgun she kept behind the door. History does not record whether she was knocked on her ass, but she did blow a hole through the door. Too frightened to look outside in the dark, when she opened what was left of the door in the morning, there was no interloper in sight, a bloody trail perhaps, but no actual body. Encouraged by this state of affairs she did prove up, got married and had 6 children. I bet her husband was never given to drink.

On the Lone Prairie

I may be on the prairie, but it is anything but lonely! So far today I have seen 5 deer, one Great Blue Heron, one pheasant and several chubby red-colored squirrels, and tons of birds and insects. The mosquitoes were quite friendly tonight as well. And did I mention I have two twenty something roommates? Boy, it’s been a long time since I’ve had one of those! There is one gal and one guy, both are doing internships before they enter grad school. They are extremely nice and friendly. I noticed one give the other the eye when he was about to swear, little do they know I can swear like a sailor with little provocation. I am guessing that they are having the greater adjustment, sort of like unexpectedly having to live with your mother. They were shocked when I asked them where I could put my groceries, as apparently Ramen noodles, Budweiser, various flavors of wine and vodka make up the four food groups here. I should note that I have not seen either of them open a bottle since I arrived. Perhaps they should offer me one and that fear might be allayed also.

Unlike my previous gig out at Agate Fossil Beds NM in Western Nebraska, this place has lots of water, trees and corn and bean fields. The town of Beatrice, that’s Bee-A-Trice if you please, is only 4 miles away. I could walk to town if I had to. It has 3 grocery stores and more gas stations than you can shake a stick at, making it highly unlikely that I will need to walk to town.

What it is missing, however, is rattlesnakes. I cannot say that I am disappointed in the carefree manner in which I can now walk, and in the grass no less. There are two visitors centers here. One is the Education Center which is just across the parking lot from my park housing, where lots of special events are held during the course of a year.

This is the beginning of Prairie Week. Isn’t every week out here Prairie Week? The park system is holding writing workshops for local school kids at the moment. Nebraska is known for the excellence and quantity of the authors and poets it has produced. That makes a lot of sense to me. I imagine the folks out here get a lot of writing practice due to the severity of the Nebraskan winters, as it is just too darn cold to do much else. I am excited to actually be participating in a photography workshop on Thursday. I have never had a class in photography so I am hoping to have a great time learning how to photograph the prairie. The other, newer, park building is the Heritage Center. The architect designed it in the shape of a plowshare, the instrument used by homesteaders to transform the prairie into farmland, then eventually into a dustbowl and with much labor from the National Park Service over the last 75 years, back to prairie again. I think you will agree it makes quite a statement as it rises out of the tall prairie grasses like Big Blue Stem.

I will be making presentations and giving demonstrations in both buildings on numerous occasions during my stay. Each Artist in Residence is required to make one formal presentation about their work. I agreed to set up and work on my quilt tops at The Heritage Center for the next two days. Once the staff saw how easy that was, they asked me to do another gig on Saturday. For me, this one is a little more intimidating. 100 Native American children are coming down from an Indian School in Lincoln, Nebraska. They represent many of the indigenous tribes that were forcibly removed from the Great Plains by the American government. I hope I can do justice to the task, but I have a feeling I will be learning a whole lot more from them than they will learn from me.