The sounds of the birds singing joyfully met me as I woke from my dreams. It was 5:30 and as I rose from my bed I felt gratitude for being rid of the severe pain from the last two summers. Stepping outdoors it was a perfect summer morning. Star and Vanilla both looking happy in the coolness that would soon vanish in the sun and become too hot. Flowers everywhere were blooming happily after the many rain showers and the heat. Raspberries and blueberries are quickly ripening.
The virus that had plagued us for a year and a half had loosened its grip and people were feeling free again. And yet, things will never be the same.
I wonder, where did the time go? From when I was in high school doing my artwork and spending my free moments out riding horses, spending lots of time in nature, and enjoying the beach, on to college where I went to Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and majored in printmaking, later on to find it was a great medium in understanding the use of negative space in my batik art. Batik became my new passion, and I loved working with the dyes. I did tie dye as well as batik. I did many paintings and had shows when I was young, only to put it to one side when my husband Richard and I married and had a dairy farm and enjoyed time with the friendly Jerseys, the pastures, and daughter Jaka, who always helped doing all she could from a very young age, and now.
I had so many wonderful moments and of course there was many tragic and sad incidents as we were on the farm, but there was the excitement of seeing things grow and taking care of the land and the animals and coming together as a family to make sure everything got done. I enjoyed having the sun on my face as I would spend time taking the cows to pasture and working on the fences, training the heifers how to navigate the alleys and fencelines for their pasture grazing later in their lives, the sunsets, the early morning dew, the severe snowstorms, rain, hail, thirty below zero. All of those things are etched in my face now that I’m older. And I still love my art. And finally, this year, in the warm months, I do plan to get out and get some batik done, something I could not do the last two summers, and I hope I can stay strong and get a lot of my art done.
I am planning on taking a short vacation from my Etsy shop in July so that I will have more time to get my waxing and dyeing done, and ironing things out. So I hope you will bear with me as I stumble back into my creative space.
As the temps drop and snow builds up I find myself heading to check on, feed, water and clean Star and Vanilla more often than in the nicer weather.
It is beautiful these cold mornings. But Vanilla is now an older llama, approaching 20 years. Star is young and thankfully the cold does not bother her at all.
The past few years the cold has really bothered Vanilla. Besides two blankets and neck wraps, we remodeled his stall and Star’s, too. The shed has been insulated and the front of his stall can be completely closed in wind, heavy snow or rain.
This year though, I went one step further and purchased a battery heated vest.
It took quite a bit to secure and test it, and Vanilla did not like the fussing at all. But I could see the look of comfort come into his eyes with the warmth and he eagerly came forward to eat his warm beet pulp and apple slices with a bit of grain! That makes me happy.
The battery did not heat for long. I got another battery so I can switch them and keep him warm most of the time. When the temps are up to 30 he won’t need the warmth so much, unless it is windy. The temps today started at 10 below zero and topped out at 12 degrees. The warmth in the heated vest helped him a lot.
Vanilla may look a bit strange in this winter outfit, but then I look pretty weird in my Bigfoot outfit, too.
It just seems as if I should be waking up soon, but the dream continues… I never thought this coronavirus would overtake our country and the world. I thought the cases would be caught and isolated and things would go on as they were.
How wrong could I be?
I think back to the gallery shows that I enjoyed and the community that shared the love of art and it has vanished. Artists are in their homes and lucky to be creating art in their own studios.
The opening in January in NorthCountryARTS’ 2nd Gloor Gallery in Glens Falls, New York, that showed the work of fiber artist and friend Kris Gregson Moss and my own Batik paintings was such a great time. I am grateful I had that chance to show my batik this year and mingle with artists I do not often see. Now shops and galleries are closed and I am glad to have my art in my Etsy shop.
I have to confess.
My husband and I are isolating at home with our three cats, Star the pony, and Vanilla the llama. I miss friends and yoga class, the gym, and my sessions with Kate Austin-Avon with her helpful guidance and enthusiasm, but after our days on the farm it is not such a huge adjustment for me and I do get to create my art.
On the farm, we rarely went away and our routine became a ritual of caring for our animals day in and day out. We had a dairy farm and cows to milk twice a day. There was almost a monastic element to it with the bare necessities for ourselves.
Clothing was worn to shreds and got covered with poop. Trips to anywhere were rare and Dick and I occasionally visited farm machinery repair shops for parts and maybe one or two times a month I made a trip to the grocery store. I liked to clean up before going, but still remember the day I had no choice but to go as-is and a little boy remarked to his mom, “Something stinks” — and it was me!
Jaka was a little girl when we married and she wanted to help from the first. She saw us working and always contributed what she could. We had so many good times with her. She learned to care for animals and showed her own Jersey calves and cows and later helped with harvests. Now she is a grown woman and has given us three beautiful grandchildren, but they live near Boston and are isolating as well, l so we have not seen them.
I feel a connection to people in the ages past, and the struggles humanity has gone through are so many. The past is full of violence, plagues, oppression and unspeakable things have rained down on humans and animals. Our problems with the virus are not new to the world, but they are to us. We have not seen anything like this before.
We will rise again. All must sacrifice for now and we can go back to the earth, respect it, and hopefully, we can grow some of our own food. It reminds me of the Victory Gardens of old. I feel sadness for those who can not do this. So many are suffering tremendously.
So I go out to care for my animals, make our supper from scratch, plant more seeds for our small garden, and take in all the beauty around me. It feels like a trip back in time for me…
Every morning I get out early to take care of Star and Vanilla. Soaked beet pulp and grain is fed to Vanilla and Timothy pellets with a wisp of grain to Star with a few apples or carrots and some whole peanuts… (She likes them and there is no sugar.)
I like the peanuts too! Ha ha.
Then I bring out warm water after bringing in the icy buckets… After that, I pull out and fluff up the hay in the feeder for easy eating.
Then there is cleaning. I get out my old faithful manure fork and loosen the manure from the frozen ground. Placing what I can get in the winter manure pile off to the side. A shovel follows as I collect the round horse poops that like to be chased about before falling into the shovel to top off the pile. The pile sits to one side and steams on cold/cool mornings as it decomposes to create new earth.
Cleaning up manure keeps me humble. It is a ritual of caring that I have done for a good 55 years; Yes, I am getting older but still take on the cleanup as a quiet meditation… Bedding is added as needed and I head on to my day with the satisfaction of clean, well-fed, happy animals…
I walked down the long hallway. It was freezing, and it smelled bad. It was the way to the outhouse in the first school I ever went to up in Maine. We lived as far north as you could go before coming to the mountainous forests between Maine and Canada and our town was tiny. The school was a one-room schoolhouse, and it had five grades in it. There was no Kindergarten, and I started there in first grade. No one ever asked to go to the bathroom unless they really had to go. The teacher was wonderful. It was after this time that education decided it was healthy to have schoolrooms with many grades in it and have children taught, partly by each other, older children teaching younger children and sharing the whole learning process, but at that time it was very unusual, and I think at this time, 2020, it’s also unusual.
Because I grew up in Maine in a tiny town, I never got to see many people before I went to school. I had all the people I needed: My mom and dad, my aunt and uncle, who shared a business that was a restaurant, guesthouse, and farm, and I also had my brother and sister there with me at home. I didn’t think I needed anything else, and I rarely got out to socialize or see other children before I went to school. I was the oldest, so I went into the class separate and shaking at the prospect of being left at a school away from my family and the comfort of home. I was a true wallflower. It didn’t take me long before I kept asking to go home and not getting to go home that I developed a habit of saying I didn’t feel well, and sometimes I did get to go home when I did that. My poor parents had quite a project with me. As time went on, I stalled going to school as much as I could, and I would pretend to be sick, and sometimes it worked.
But why would I want to be away? I had my mom and dad and aunt and uncle there working at home, setting an example. Why should people go away to work? Why shouldn’t I be with them? Why couldn’t I do a creative thing at home? At that time my creative things were of course play. I played with tiny animals. I made fences out of sticks and I pretended to be a horse and I would pound around on my hands and knees for hours. I don’t know how my knees ever survived. But I just didn’t see why I had to go away. And I think this probably stayed with me for my whole life. Because when I got married, I married a farmer and had cows and got to stay home and work with fences and horses. And I also worked on my artwork, and I could do that at home. My uncle had also loved farming, and he had a Guernsey cow and calf that he milked each day and cared for. He loved working with gardens and vegetables and I used to play in his line of broccoli and hide under it and think he didn’t notice me and I would eat the broccoli heads. He was very patient with a pest like me. He also believed in organic farming, one of the early subscribers.
We used to ride around the farm in an ancient truck, even at that time. We called it the Big Bang because of the way it crashed when it went over the smallest bump, but we had lots of fun with it. It carried picnics off into the back of the farm by the blueberry bushes and the whole family would go back with friends to enjoy picnics. We really enjoyed those days.
I really hated school. And I really did get sick. Toward the last quarter of the school year, with rheumatic fever, and had to be out for a while. And it was decided that I would stay back a year and start again when my sister was ready to enter school. That made things better for me when she was at school with me. But after two years, our family decided to move. Their business in this remote area, as might be expected, did not turn out to be profitable. We moved to New Hampshire – West Thornton, up near Mount Washington, an even colder place than we lived in Maine, with many of the winter nights being 40 below zero.
There was a nice school. It was a regional school because all the towns were so small that they needed to band together to have a more modern school for children to attend. And it didn’t bother me too much, but I had a very hard time making friends. A year or so after this we moved to New Jersey, where my mom and dad bought a business. They had a deli. And that was a real culture shock for me. Instead of the open fields and the woodlands, there were stores of all kinds, traffic, pavement, noise, people everywhere. And the schools were really not as nice as what I was used to.
When we moved to New Jersey, my aunt and uncle moved to another place in Maine, and I also felt badly about being separated from them.
Then I really hated school. The school buses, to me, looked like big yellow monsters that gobbled children up and took them away, and I always tried to miss the bus if I possibly could. During this time we moved several times as my parents also fixed houses and they sold them and we’d move not far and we’d buy another place and have to start in another school and I just did not adjust. I actually felt very depressed, as I look back.
But I knew my family loved me, and I had my brother and sister and got along all right. I don’t think either of them hated school as much as I did.
My brother was quite a bit younger than my sister and I. I remember thinking he looked like an angel when he came home from the hospital with his white hair and his little pink face. I always adored him. He didn’t seem to have as much trouble as I did. I guess he was younger and more adaptable to everything. Also he took it more in stride than I did. Maybe I was just spoiled because I was the oldest one. I was extremely thin when I was little. I looked like all bone. And I loved to run when I was outside, almost constantly. My sister was much heavier and quieter, and less athletic than I was, and I can remember being at school and when there were certain physical things to do like running or working in the gym, that it was easy for me and difficult for her. I was the sister that could do the athletics. I could jump high and run fast, and she couldn’t. She was more patient, and sometimes I wondered how she put up with me.
I really don’t know how to wrap this up. When I got to be twelve, I had my tonsils out and I also had a sickness and I needed extra care at the time. My parents were working every day so I went and lived with my aunt and uncle as I recuperated. They lived in Massachusetts in Mattapoisett. I felt guilty leaving my family to go live with them, but I loved it. And Mattapoisett was right on the ocean, near Cape Cod, and it had lots of open spaces. And the school was friendlier. And I adjusted much better to my studies.
It was about a year later and I had not gone back to New Jersey that my mom and dad, with my brother and sister, decided to move to Mattapoisett as well, and my aunt and uncle, mom and dad, bought a house together, and we all got back to living there the way we did in Maine. My uncle, however, had become a teacher, and he taught school. My mom and dad had the store and they continued to work on houses. It was there that I finished high school and became a good student and actually liked my studies. I was able to get my first horse, Justa Dream, which you can read about in my blog. And my sister had a horse as well.
I had been able to do my artwork and concentrated on that in school and in my free time when I wasn’t riding my horse or taking care of him. And I got into art school. And you know a lot of the rest after that, which you can also read about in my blog.
This batik was created starting with a black piece of fabric and after drawing on lines of wax from the tjanting and brush painted areas to save the black. It went through discharge dyeing and many more dyebaths to achieve the soft earth tones.
This batik shows an open landscape with patterns from the tjanting and two crows, friends in the wide open view.
I have this piece in my show that is currently up at NorthCountryARTS’ 2nd Floor Gallery located at 42 Ridge Street, running now through February 14. The original is for sale, and it is also available as a cutting board, mousepad and in small and large limited edition prints of “Crows Find Each Other” on Etsy. Click here to browse.
I finished my batik, Morning Light on the Night Shadows, last August after Matthew Rogowicz from WMHT was here to do a video of me working on my batik art.This batik shows a playful frolicking horse galloping in the field and I like to think of the hills behind my house and the way the sun gradually casts its brightness over it. Such a contrast of the dark shadows and the brilliant light of the sun as it hits the grasses. I decided to try something new with this batik.
I love the texture and three-dimensional effects of the wax on the fabric. I did begin it with the immersion dyeing over my wax painting process, and it was built up through many stages of wax and dye, but rather than ironing it out, I started to polish dark dye into the batik itself where the wax crevices remained, doing a little bit of wax etching to enhance that. The batik did end up in a very dark blue final bath, and then after rinsing and rechecking how well the rubbing in of the dye went, I decided to leave the wax on it, that this in itself was something that made the batik so special.
Time will tell how well this process will hold up, but I hope you enjoy looking at the wax as much as I do, with all the stages there. And if we don’t like it after some years go by, the wax can always be ironed out.
My dad’s words came to me quickly after I slid down an embankment late this fall and managed to catch myself on a thin fence wire which wrenched my collar bone, shoulder, back and neck. It was a thin and sharp jolt, and as I climbed down the embankment to the ground, my dad’s words came to me: Why didn’t you watch what you were doing? How many times had he said that to me, and I still don’t do it.
I can hear my dad’s words from when I was a child up in Maine. He wasn’t big for sympathy at that time. He’d say, “If you had watched what you were doing, this probably wouldn’t have happened.” Later he would become a great sympathetic dad and I love him so much. He’s been gone for quite a few years now. But he just couldn’t understand how people could get themselves into such crazy situations and get hurt.
At any rate, I was out for a walk and going to meet Monika when I took a shortcut, I thought, down an embankment, thinking back to my younger days on skis where I would slide sideways down a hill and just be able to grip the edge of the bank and stop when I pleased. This didn’t work out that way. It was quite painful, but my legs are fine, my lower back is fine, and I was able to spend a little time walking with Monika, but found I could not even put a shirt or a jacket on over my head, or take one off, for quite a while.
Back to Tylenol.
I’ve limited myself this year quite a few times, with the incident in the spring where I flew off of Star and it took me months to recover from that, and this slowed me down from my fall shows. I did not go to the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, I did not attend the ASA Landscapes for Landsake exhibit, and Bedlam Farm did not hold their open house, one of my favorite events, either.
But I kept on with my batik art, very slowly doing everything as I couldn’t do anything fast. I could not even put a halter on Star for a while, and she wondered what in the world was wrong with me, but still enjoyed the food and treats I gave her.
I am better now, and back to delivering my artwork to shops, and as the season for shipping things on Etsy is ready to close, if you waited too long, then you would still have a tiny bit of time to visit these shops listed on my website. They have so many beautiful things and have worked so hard to have shops where people can come and find a great selection of gifts.
I thank everybody for supporting me this past year and I really love the letters of appreciation that so many have sent me this past year.
He remained strong until after my cow, Steppin Up, his good friend passed. Strong and showing off when Star, My pretty pony mare arrived and very cantankerous, but then last winter he was sick and cold and I added a blanket to help him stay warm, with help, as he did not like the attention.
This summer his coat grew quite a bit but he is older, his coat grows more slowly and with the early November cold I gave him a coat again.
I came out Sunday morning and poor Vanilla had gotten cast (Cast is when an animal gets stuck down in a position with legs slightly above the head and can not get up } outside his stall where it was cold wet and windy. Poor guy could not get up.
With a halter I could get him back on his sternum and he burped a lot and started to chew his cud all the while shivering like crazy. His neck wrap and blanket were wet and I took it off and added a house blanket.
Monika showed up with a fleece saddle pad that really helps keep his neck warm. He got a steroid shot and then neighbors came over to help get him on his feet. He was very wobbly and we got him in his stall out of the wind. A bit later I went out and put his blue coat on with a warm new liner in it. He had his water, hay and grain and I shut the door so he could not stagger outside and fall when I was off at the Valley Artisan Market in Cambridge, NY for my afternoon shift surrounded by beautiful art. When I got home I saw the face of a warm and happy llama.
He is up and about but does get cold after being outdoors. He can and does come in often and lies down which helps him warm up. I like to get out mid day with some apple slices for him and peanuts for Star and check that all is well.
Thursday forecasts below zero weather here. More will be done to help Vanilla’s neck stay warm. His shed and Star’s has gotten extra plywood to seal the wind out and thick insulation under the eves of the roof. It is almost cozy in there. Cozy to Star at least.
Cross your fingers for my good llama Vanilla. May the sun shine and spring come early this year…
Back in the day, I did a batik demo at Bedlam Farm at their Fall Open House. People often ask me if I give classes, and I usually groan and say no, please, go to my website and look at my tutorials. I have so much on there. Maybe I have too much information and it gets complicated, but I also have batik made easy as well, and if you take the tutorials one at a time, you will find answers to your questions. However, several years back, I did do a demo at the Bedlam Farm Open House.
First, I loaded up my car with the necessary utensils. I had my electric frying pan with the paraffin and beeswax melted in it, in its hardened form.
I had lots of newspaper to protect the tables. I had plain newsprint to iron the wax out with. My ancient iron came along with me, and I had my dyes.
My dyes that I did not want to try and mix at the Open House because it is a very detailed process. It takes a lot of time, and it’s not very interesting to watch me do it. So I mixed my dyes up ahead and I had many buckets of dyes: Yellow, blue, green, and red.
I drove to Bedlam Farm over the back hills of Hebron, winding, hilly, and I safely got my dye buckets there… Except for one.
The bucket of red had tipped in the car on one of the steeper hills and I had the back of my car sloshing with red dye. It looked like someone had been murdered and I had put the body back in my car, or murdered them in my car, and some of the dye remains to this day in my poor old Subaru Impreza.
It took a good amount of time getting unloaded and Maria and Jon were a big help in getting me set up. I had a little tent to demonstrate my batik in, in case of rain, and it sprinkled a tiny bit that day but not enough to bother me. The wind was blowing, and a good number of people came to watch. They were very patient, and I did okay painting the wax on my fabric and then putting different batik in the dye buckets.
I had plain fabric that I waxed for the first time, and I had several pieces that had gone through dye baths that I painted wax on and they went through later stages of dyeing after the earlier stages. I did iron out several batik when I was there, and people politely enjoyed my demonstration and laughed, but after my whole experience, I decided that demonstrating and giving classes was not for me! So time consuming, so many materials, and the accident in my car – yikes!
The other thing about giving classes is that I tend to make things more complicated than is helpful for people to learn… Just ask my husband. But the other factor is that once anyone applies the wax and puts their fabric in to the dye bath, they cannot proceed with anything else until it is dry. The batik drying process cannot be sped up by adding heat, as it would likely destroy the image of the wax.
So I kind of put classes on hold and hope that interested people will go to my website and look at my tutorials.
Please feel free to ask me questions. I have had all kinds of questions, and I do answer my mail, though it may take me a few days to get back to you. I hope you understand.