O Crow, O Fox

O Body incantation bowl, with added crow in center of cancer cell/cage
Somehow the crow and the fox have become a part
of this incantation bowl narrative. The playful, witty, yet
vulnerable aspects of these animals lend well to these
incantations against fears. Also, the folklore and other
symbolic associations with these animals add to the


New bowl in-progress, Against Want

Lack that devours
(sewing pattern paper, tempera paint)

Sketchy & loose, growing visual metaphor

How do you transform word to visual metaphor?
There is always the risk of being too literal, too
medical illustration-like. Yet, I have to start
somewhere and my sketchy lines are beginning
to sow the seeds.

Sketchy and loose, here is a start to what will
be the illustrated centers of many bowls based on  
Litany, another of LouAnn Muhm's textural
incantation poems loaded with metaphor.
I shared these sketches with my students
recently, since they are working on illustrating
metaphors from song lyrics.

from our husks

reveal what is fulcrum


Smudgy Orbs Across the Room

A lot of new adjustments lately. 

First, the glasses. I now know I have been in denial for
20 years about needing glasses for distance. It turns out
that trees are not just quivering green globs, and my family
members' faces aren't smudgy talking orbs across the room!
What else have I missed? The intensity of color and texture
at every turn is amazing, and a little dizzying as I adjust.

In my defense, my close-up vision is excellent and I don't
miss much detail of anything close (my daughters' sweet
faces before we hug, my husband's recent stint with beard-
edness), but it turns out that even an arms-length is getting
harder to see. According to Twyla Tharp, everyone has a
focal length, "All of us find comfort in seeing the world either
from a great distance, at arm's length, or in close-up." Of
course, focal length is metaphoric to Tharp, but this has me
wondering if this may mark a shift in my own art work.

Other dizzying shifts. A month ago, we moved into our new
house a day before I moved into my new Art classroom.
Spaces have shifted, systems disrupted. What? When did I
become so inflexible? From age 17 to 27, I was nomadic--
many jobs at a time, moving often. I used to be better at
change--resilient. But also, I was perpetually unsettled.

All of this moving has created more space for art making.
This is great news for making sculpture, which takes up so
much room and can not be rolled out of the way or pushed
flat against a wall. So, it is finally time to get back to making
the bowls!

The first of many reimagined incantation bowls, O Body, O Incarnation,
inscribed with an incantation against cancer written by LouAnn Shepard Muhm.
In 2010, I was educated about the large numbers of ancient 
Babylonian incantation bowls, 6th-8th Century CE, that have 
been unearthed in Iraq since the 1990s. Although there are some 
variations, most ancient incantation bowls are shallow bisqueware 
forms with a simplified character painted in the center and an 
incantation against a particular fear inscribed starting along the rim 
and spiraling toward the illustration. Each bowl and its incantation 
was created for a specific family’s plea for assurances against fears 
and was buried upside down, under the threshold of the family’s 
home to ward off the fears.


The Naming

My current project is a collaboration with poet LouAnn
Shepard Muhm. Last week, we agreed on a name for this
project, Reassurances: Incantation Bowls Reimagined.
Below is the first 'prototype' bowl.

Detail of O Body, O Incarnation Bowl
(reassurance against cancer)
sewing pattern paper, epoxy resin, wire, paint pen
Why is it that once named a project seems more official?
More possible? Yet, the naming can not happen too soon
in the process. For me, that can be too limiting, too soon.

Maybe this is one reason why it freaks me out a little when
pregnant mothers name their unborn babies so soon and talk
to and about them with that name. I will look around and
wonder, "Who is this Henry she keeps talking about? He
sounds important. Oh right, the unborn baby." Too limiting,
too soon? Don't you want to see the child first? Of course,
the process of knowing and then naming happens through
more than just seeing. People tell me there are other senses
beyond seeing. Being visual, I can't really hear them...

So, back to the name, Reassurances: Incantation Bowls
Reimagined. We were ready to give this baby a name,
and we have some bowls and poems to show for it.
Here is what the title means to me, so far.

  • Resassurances: comfort, removal of some doubt or fear
  • Incantations: a rhythmic and thought-provoking poem
  • Bowls: a concave vessel form, more difficult to create than you may think
  • Reimagined: reinterpretation of an ancient art form, to form a new conception

Sneak peak at a bowl in-progress

Sewing pattern paper, epoxy-resin, paint pen, wire


Second Winds

Have been working toward many second winds
lately, especially since it has finally been over
40 degrees and I have started to run again. Is
there any better feeling than a second wind when
running? Well, besides eating the second bowl
of icecream after running. Who would have thought
that Jack Sparrow (you know, the pirate) would
be a good running companion? When I don't feel
like running, or doing housework, or grading
student work lately, I think about this:
"The problem is not the problem. The
problem is your attitude about the problem."
Captain Jack Sparrow

Getting a second wind is exhilarating, but not
always predictable. Teaching, parenting, and
building a house require second, third, and fourth
winds. They will come, usually not as soon I
want, but isn't that what makes them so

Feeling a bit of a second wind with my art lately
too. The work More or Less, below, was sent
off today to be in the permanent collection of
Finlandia University Art Gallery in Hancock,
Michigan. It will be in a group exhibit this June
during FinnFest USA 2013.


Asking for Help. Step 3: know who to ask

A month ago I had a few posts about
asking for help, soon after the revelation
that I am asking-for-help-impaired.

Step 1: admit it, everyone needs help
Step 2: realize that asking is connecting
Step 3: practice asking for both small & big things
(Expect and respect that some people will decline,
nothing personal. Also, remember how you like
to help others. Most people don't mind and often
are honored.)

Improving involves both learning to ask
many people for the small things, because
you just never know, and knowing who to
ask for the big, important things. Still
working on asking many people and not
worrying so much about bothering them.
But not just anyone can assist me on a big
project like my current one, and I found
her! Meet Trish.

Trish is helping me create a few bowl
forms out of sewing pattern paper, mod
podge, gel medium, etc. When done I will
inscribe the poems of LouAnn Shepard
Muhm on the inside of them. Read more
about our incantation bowl collaboration
here and on LouAnn's site here.

Trish jumped right in and is keeping me
company too, since my tolerance for
repetition is incredibly low.


That feeling of Asymmetry

It has been two months since the surgery that
removed half of my thyroid and a tumor. I am
feeling grateful... and asymmetrical. Not sure
how to explain this asymmetrical feeling, but
it must be a sense of knowing something that
was once there is now gone. I know, I know.
I am still healing, be patient.

Asymmetry (2013), 9"x12" on paper
NYC subway, Scissors, thyroid region drawing,
My running path near home in green
(Made during a Commit2Create online class
with Kari Maxwell, karimaxwell.blogspot.com)
Normally, I am grateful for more daylight and have
a hard time tolerating the complaints about weather
from other Minnesotans this time of year; it is their
attitudes that make this time of year more unbearable.
But these historic low temperatures and snowfalls are
creating another sense of asymmetry. There are
supposed to be glimpses of Spring by now. I know it
should be there, and expect mud when I step down.
Where are the budding leaves and light-weight
jackets? When the green grass attempts to grow
lately, another 3" of snow will cover and suffocate it.
I know, I know. Patience, young Skywalker, patience.
Reaching (2013), 9x7"
felt, embroidery thread, acrylic paint
(Made during a Commit2Create online class
with Kari Maxwell, karimaxwell.blogspot.com)
When I explain asymmetrical balance to my
students, I say, "To achieve it you can not depend
on a symmetrical, predictable system. It is hard to
define when an asymmetrical work is done, except
that it feels balanced and complete...You aren't
done yet. Persist, but try to enjoy the process
without forcing it."

Like most of life, this feeling of asymmetry
requires tolerance of uncertainty. Healing and the
weather are unpredictable, asymmetrical. While
doctors have statistics and weathermen have fore-
casts, artists and teachers know better. We have
the present, and will be slogging through the mud
and wishing for Summer soon enough.


After 5 years, "i am water" is home

After its five year tour through 14 states, I unpacked 
my 2-panel, painted collage i am water last night. Is 
it possible to be envious of a well-traveled artwork? 
I did accompany this work to New York during my
2007 solo exhibit at the SOHO20 Gallery in
Chelsea, but since then it has been touring with the
group exhibit The Veil:Visible & Invisible
Spaces to college campuses all over the United

In 2010, I got to view the veil exhibit when it was
at California State Dominguez Hills near L.A.,
just before it was taken down. During that 2010
trip, I repaired the fragile sewing pattern paper
edges of the work, so it could endure three more
years of travel. It held up well since then, much to
my relief and that of the curator, Jennifer Heath.

Unrolling the 2-panel painted collage last night, above.
It is still in great condition, despite being mainly
made of sewing pattern paper.

Me and the poet, LouAnn Shepard Muhm
Just after this 2007 exhibit at Finlandia University
in Hancock, Michigan, i am water
began its five year journey.
i am water has the words of my poet
friend, LouAnn Shepard Muhm, block
printed upon it. The two panels read
like this:

i am smoke                   when i can be
more often i am water 
in the shape of               my container

The Veil: Visible and Invisible Spaces press release:
The Veil: Visible and Invisible Spaces is an exhibition,
curated by Jennifer Heath, of thirty-six works of art,
each of which considers The Veil, its many manifestations
and interpretations and puts veils and veiling into context.

Visible and Invisible Spaces intends to engage received
wisdom about the veil - particularly current clich├ęs and
stereotypes about Islamic practices - and to reflect on
the great ubiquity, importance and profundity of the
veil throughout human history and imagination. Visible
and Invisible Spaces asks artists to investigate the veil in
its broadest contexts. The exhibition will be divided into
three categories to be interpreted widely: The Sacred
Veil, The Sensuous Veil , and The Sociopolitical Veil.
Visible and Invisible Spaces, however, is not a
documentary exhibition.


5 Years Later

I received a large package via Fed Ex yesterday.
Mini-Ambiotic, the sculpture that has been traveling
since 2008 in the group exhibit Reimagining
Distaff Toolkit, is home. The works of Betye and
Alison Saar were also in this exhibit, two artists I

Mini-Ambiotic in its crate, arrived safely
home after 5 years of touring. The
sculpture is made out of sewing pattern
paper, wire, beeswax, and a vintage
children's ironing board.
The press release for the exhibit:
Each work of art in Reimagining the Distaff Toolkit
features a tool that was important for women's domestic
labor from the 18th century through World War II. The
artists have placed objects such as a dressmaker’s
figure, pots, pans, baskets, rolling pins, darning eggs
and rug-beaters at the center of their works. One
piece incorporates a 19th-century distaff, which was
used to hold wool during spinning. Over time, the
word "distaff" came to refer to matters and objects
relevant to the domestic or women’s sphere, and then,
to women, generally.

Reimagining the Distaff Toolkit is curated by Dr.
Rickie Solinger, historian, curator and author. The
approximately thirty-five pieces of art in this exhibition
are on loan from contemporary artists representing
all geographic regions of the country.

Five years ago, before I sent out
Mini-Ambiotic, I took this photo of
my daughters next to it. They
have changed and grown so much
since then.
I really didn't have a '5 Year Plan' five years
ago, but as soon as this package arrived I had
a flood of sentimental gratitude. Five years ago
was about the time I stopped making so many
plans, started this blog, and, perhaps, really
started embracing the present.


Asking for Help. Step two: watch this video

"Through the very act of asking people, I connected with
 them. And when you connect with them, people want to 
help you. It’s kind of counterintuitive for a lot of artists--
they don't want to ask for things. It’s not easy to ask…
Asking makes you vulnerable... The perfect tools aren't 
going to help us if we can't face each other and 
give and receive fearlessly, but more important, 
to ask without shame." Amanda Palmer

There is more here from her TED presentation:


Difficulties asking for help? Step one: admit it.

How did she do that? Mrs. Besonen you have 
yoda drawing hands. I wave my magic (yet creepy)
hand and respond, "Patience, young Skywalker,
patience." I am an art teacher; I help people deal
with insecurities and uncertainty.
Coiled, Oil Painting Study
created when demonstrating
to my High School Painting students
Yes, I help people for a living, but I have to admit
I am horrible at asking for help. And that, I have
decided, is not a good example to my own daughters
or my students. When a recent surgery left me flat on
my back, dehydrated, in pain and whimpering like
a baby, it hit me. Even when I am in this state, I 
still don't want to ask for help. That is messed up,
and probably based on some lingering perfectionism
and a weird desire for people to read my mind and
help without being asked.

If being laid up and watching American Pickers on
the History channel has taught me anything, JUST
ASK. “People ask, ‘How did you get that?’
I asked.” Mike Wolfe, American Picker.

Here are some links to recent research about
what I call asking-for-help-impaired.


Embracing Change and Chance

Last Thursday, the surgeon explained that the
tumor-free right side of my thyroid hasn't been
functioning well and is declining fast. He said that
with the new thyroid medication, the right side of
the thyroid will slowly shrivel up and not function
at all.

Flashback. July 2003, I wrap fresh pears in copper
wire, repeatedly pierce them with a pencil point,
and then place them in the hot summer sun on a
studio roof at the Minneapolis College of Art and
Design. It takes only a few days, and the pears are
shriveled and transformed. (A few weeks later I find
out that I am expecting our second child.)
Wrapped Pear,2003, aka Thyroid Lobe in a Cage


In 2003 I wrote, "Exposing the copper wire
wrapped pears to the forces of nature proved to
be a visceral process of embracing change and
chance... Later, when I had these on display, it
was interesting how people would first cringe,
then move closer with curiosity."

I realize now that the sun-dried pear remains
have an eerie similarity to the texture and form
of a thyroid lobe, especially one in the early
process of shriveling up.

Gratefully Benign, and other incision hits

The diagnosis is benign! Unlike a year ago, I am more
apt to believe it since my entire left thyroid lobe and
the walnut-sized tumor that had made its home in the
left thyroid are gone. Always the skeptic, I wish I could
have seen what they removed. Yet, since I almost fainted
when I saw my neck incision in the mirror, it is best to
believe them. Once the pain subsides and thyroid levels
are in check, I am going to be just fine--taking this
time to rest, heal and be gratefully benign.

A totally unexpected response to all of this has been
flashbacks of February 2001, when our first daughter
was born. The parallels to my c-section 12 years ago are
uncanny: the wide horizontal incision, followed by the
inevitable scarring, the pain when using surrounding
muscles, doctors telling me how easy the recovery
should be--pffffft, my irrational rants in the recovery
room (those nurses have stories), Dan by my side helping
me walk, returning home to a yard piled with snow,
feeling grateful...  This time though, our oldest daughter
 is 12, our youngest is 8 and they are helping take care
of me.


Pre-surgery sketch & fun facts

Blind contour drawing of a thryoid, January, 2013

I am a week away from having at least half of my thyroid
removed. Possibly the entire thing, depending what is
found in the somewhat large tumor.

Thyroids are odd glands. Some 'fun' thyroid facts:
  • The word thyroid is derived from the Greek word for shield, thureos. The Greeks and Romans originally used the word thureos for oblong-shaped doors. Since their shields were shaped like these doors, shields were also called thureos.
  • I did not read anything about actual doors being used as shields, but I have a story imagined about cartoon-y Greeks protecting themselves by tearing off their back doors and rushing toward bewildered intruders. 
  • The thyroid is composed of two oblong tear-drop forms connected by an isthmus, which all curve around the throat, just under the larynx. The form of the thyroid is usually referred to as 'amorphous', since it is difficult to describe and a little differently shaped for everyone. FYI, I like the word amorphous, except in the case of biopsy results.
  • Like many glands, the thyroid is controlled remotely. The hormones released by the thyroid are controlled by the pituitary gland, and the pituitary gland is controlled by the hypothamulus. Seems inefficient.


Hearing Your Own Pulse

Last night I spent a lot of time on http://www.racart.org/ ,
Rural America Contemporary Art online magazine,
gallery and blog. I have been following RACA since its
beginning. It was born in Mankato, Minnesota just last
fall and has gained great ground in a short time with the
simple tagline "making nowhere into somewhere" and
highlighting quality art and writing rooted in rural
America. This is all so encouraging to me and many
other artists that live and work in rural settings. With
online connections at our fingertips and fields and
woods in our front and backyards, has there ever been
 a better time to be rural?
RACA inspired me to write this bio:
I am a rural artist. I grew up on a sheep farm in North-
Central Minnesota, left rural life for ten years and
returned fifteen years ago when my suburban boyfriend
(now husband) proposed and then shocked me by
wanting to live in the middle of nowhere Minnesota,
yet in the center of everything I truly need.

I teach art to brilliant middle and high schoolers in a

small school, about 40 students per grade level. I am
a mom to two creative young girls, and that suburban
boy has transformed into quite a renaissance man. I
make art in the back of my classroom, in our century-
old farmhouse kitchen, outside in the summer, and
sometimes in the winter, when suffering from light
deprivation, I drag my work into the woods, suspend it
from trees and document how the elements deteriorate
it, as I slowly come back to life.
What many urban and suburbanites might not
understand is that despite my complaints of Target
being over 50 miles away or my embarrassment over
our perpetually dirt-road-crusted car, we really did
choose this rural life. We are not stuck here, peering
into the glass ball and wishing to be hip urban artists,
although we love to visit our urban friends. We choose
this life of being less particular about some things,
and more patient about others.

Having once belonged to an artists' cooperative in
Chelsea, Manhattan and flying to New York a couple
times a year, I had my ear on the pulse of the art world.
It was a great experience, but when I stepped away
from that artist cooperative six years ago, I began to
more clearly hear my own pulse and voice. Perhaps it
comes with age no matter where you are, but truly
listening to my own pulse means that I am no longer 
drowning it out with the static of constantly seeking far-
away muses. I know what I am missing out on, and it
can wait so that I don’t have to miss out on nearby
subtleties--the everyday, heart-twinging beauty that
quietly begs to be heard.