4.2.12 - 4.7.12
I have been living here in the Park at Lees Ferry now just a little over a week & am feeling settled in. The Glen Canyon area is rich in beauty, history, & controversy… the beauty of the desert surrounding Lake Powell; the history of early exploration by both the Spanish & Americans; the history of Native peoples both ancient & contemporary who call this land home; the history of early western travel, transportation, & mining; the controversial damming of the Colorado River in the 1960s to form Lake Powell. After the dam was completed, it took 10 years to fill Glen Canyon & many of its “feeder” canyons to create the vast lake which comprises a major portion of the area maintained by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
The house where I am living (& which I share with another Park employee) sits on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River about 15 river miles below the dam. If you were traveling on the river & continued past here, you would flow first through Marble Canyon & then enter the Grand Canyon from the east. To the northeast upriver I can see Lees Ferry & the boat ramp where river trips launch from; directly east across the river are the slanted cliffs known as Lee’s Backbone where early travelers on horses, in wagons, & on foot accessed the ferry run by John Lee to cross the river; to the southwest is the view towards the Marble Canyon area & Lees Ferry campground perched on a little hill; to the west is the east face of the Vermilion Cliffs.
Dennis was with me during my first five days here. On the first full day we drove to Page, the nearest city almost an hour away, to meet with my Ranger, Michelle H., & plan my time here. I am considered a Park Volunteer & must fulfill 120 hours of work. In my case, as the Artist-in-Park, work consists of anything related to my pursuit of art-- including hiking, sightseeing, sketching, painting, weaving-- along with doing at least one public program 1 hour in length & roving at large in my volunteer uniform shirt in the hopes of having interactions with visitors. I am largely autonomous & can plan & record my own time. Michelle & I scheduled two structured programs that will last 3 hours each at the Park’s two lower lake Interpretive Centers—Navajo Bridge (at the Navajo Bridge) & the Carl Hayden Visitor Center (at the Lake Powell Dam). During these programs I will demonstrate tapestry weaving using my student Shannock & visitors will be encouraged to try weaving on a sampler warp on my smaller Mirrix loom. Michelle gave me many suggestions as to where to spend the remainder of my time… I can simply hike, take my portable watercolors out & about, or set up a surprise plein air weaving studio with the two looms. In addition, I can also hop a ride upriver with a Park employee to hike to petroglyphs accessible only by river, & I will go for a boat ride uplake one day with Michelle & other Park personnel to visit Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the world’s largest natural stone arch. It is as tall as the Statue of Liberty & is a sacred area located on Navajo Nation lands.
The rest of last week Dennis & explored my new habitat so I could start to plan my artistic adventures. I also wanted to meet the Park employees at the two Visitor Centers who would be helping me set up for my programs, & I had to find a subject for my demo tapestry. Here at Lees Ferry there are several nice hikes not very far away; there are a couple more along the way to & at the Park’s Wahweap unit (on the lake near Page).
Our first hike was the River Trail, which starts at the Lees Ferry historic site & meanders upriver along the Colorado for about a mile. To be near water again, seeing it, hearing it, smelling it, was wonderful. Lees Ferry was established in 1873. The remnants of the buildings at the ferry site, which were cobbled together out of chunks of the same sandstone that the surrounding cliffs are composed of, were interesting to explore, reminding us that life used to much harder than it is now in the 21st century. We are mere marshmallows compared to the people who lived then! The ferry, actually a rude barge of sorts, was the only location to cross the Colorado for hundreds of miles… the sheer, deep canyon walls made it impossible elsewhere. Here, because the cliffs relented just a bit, travelers were able to scramble down a hardscrabble of rock to get to the river’s edge & the ferry. Once here, they hoped to survive the ferry crossing itself.
Now the biggest danger at the ferry site seems to be if you happen to be an unlucky lizard who crosses paths with a hungry snake…
The rest of the day, we tooled around the Lees Ferry area, scouting out possible sites where I could do some future impromptu sketching, painting, & weaving with the hopes of encountering Park visitors. At Navajo Bridge, as I looked upriver, I realized that view was what I wanted to interpret as a tapestry for my demo work. I had my camera, but part of my hope for this residency was to continue my quest to loosen the rigid realism in my work. The only other thing I had with me was my planner & a mechanical pencil, so I did a rough sketch & made simple notes about the colors I was observing. The original Navajo Bridge, from where I was sketching, was built to replace Lees Ferry in 1929. A more modern bridge was built just downriver to replace it in 1995. Now the original bridge, on the left in the photo below, is open only to pedestrians as a viewing area.
The next day, we drove over to the Page area, intent on visiting several places: Horseshoe Bend, the Carl Hayden Visitor Center which overlooks the dam, & Hanging Gardens.
Horseshoe Bend is a fabulous geological feature that is an easy hike through red dunes from the highway. Here, over eons, the Colorado has eaten away at the softer layers of rock & part of its downriver area is curling back to meet its upriver area… this is known as an “oxbow” & in time (geological, that is), the two areas will join & form a new path for the river to take. The oxbow curve will dry up, leaving the giant pedestal of rock in its center to stand isolated from the surrounding cliffs. I have seen many photos of Horseshoe Bend, but they do not compare to the breathless & indescribable experience of seeing it in person.
It is a deadly beauty, though, one that makes my palms sweat & heart quiver even as I type this from the safety of the couch. The cliffs are towering & sheer… if you look closely above at the photo of Dennis taking a photo, you can see two little white specks in the middle of the river. Those are boats with several fisherman aboard. Over the years, visitors have tragically ended their lives here, either accidentally through careless behaviors or purposefully. Navajo Bridge shares the same infamy. I am very cautious when visiting sites such as this, but when I see people taking dangerous chances, I usually have to leave the area because it makes me extremely anxious. In the photo below, you can see Dennis in the foreground well back from the edge, but the gentleman in the background has climbed onto an exposed rock pedestal, flirting with disaster. The only way to see or photograph the entire oxbow is to perch on the edge, risking either tripping on the corrugated sandstone or having it crumble from underneath you, pitching you into the abyss. I prefer my version below…
I couldn’t even bear to peek over the edge here, I just stuck my hands with camera over the edge & hoped for the best. Whew, I am feeling nervous just writing this!
Next we visited the Visitor Center at the dam, where I met Cindy A., the Interpretive Ranger working there who helped me plan where to set up for my program. The building is perched above the dam, looking down on the river side of it… there is a long, curved indoor viewing area overlooking the dam with lots of natural light where I will set up my looms. Afterwards, just a short distance downriver from the Visitor Center, we took the hike to the Hanging Gardens, a short trek over slickrock to an overhanging cliff alcove whose spring fed walls & ceiling support a hanging garden of maidenhair ferns & other plants. Conditions must be just right for this natural phenomenon to occur… enough water, but not too much, some shade, but not too much, some sunlight, but not too much. It is a fragile mini-oasis tucked away in the dry, baked, sandblasted slickrock desert that surrounds it.
As if this day was not already jammed with visual & visceral experiences enough, on our return home that evening while crossing Navajo Bridge we spied condors roosting in the cliff’s nooks & crannies next to the bridge. We excitedly made plans to return in the morning in the hopes of seeing the condors before they took flight. We did, & hit the condor jackpot…
And as you can see we were successful!!! There was a mixed group of juvenile & adult condors, six in total. Juveniles have dark heads & lack the white feathers on the underside of their wings. They slowly start to develop adult coloration at about age 7. Condors, demonstrated in the photo of condor #54 in wing sunning posture above, need warm wings & warm updrafts to take flight for the day. Just like us, they need to loosen up before exercising. Thanks to an overcast, chilly morning, we were able to observe them & take photos for nearly 2 hours while I shook with excitement, cold, & fear. Luckily, most were under the traffic bridge at first & so were observable from the pedestrian bridge. Even from the sturdiness of the bridge it was hard for me to look downwards, either over or through the railing. When they began to fly back & forth from bridge to bridge & different areas on the cliffs seeking the best sunning spots, I was able to see their magnificent nearly 10 foot wingspan in action. The two photos below demonstrate the bridge’s height:
First a photo of condor #J3 sitting on a ledge quite high above the river, taken without zoom (the little black speck is the condor)…
Then zoomed in to the max that my little digital could muster…
Condor #54 was my star, remaining on the bridge girders for the longest time, easily viewed & photographed until finally gliding under the pedestrian bridge & to a cliff ledge. I took video of the flight with my camera, but have been unable to figure out how to place it in this blog post at this time, unfortunately.
During Dennis’ last day here, he went off on his own to hike about & explore the immediate area around the house & I worked on getting my “studio” in place, began warping looms, & started a teaching sampler on the smaller Mirrix.
Later, we visited the nearby Paria Riffle beach, which is just downriver from where the house is located. It is the confluence of the Paria River, which flows out of Paria Canyon, & the Colorado River. The Paria’s milky silty waters mix with the emerald of the Colorado, causing the water to become the color of polished jade.
Saturday, Dennis left to return home. I stayed in the studio all day, focused on finishing warping & created a watercolor study of my Navajo Bridge sketch to weave as my demo tapestry.
Stay tuned, I will post again on my next hour long journey into town in seek of a wi-fi connection (saved by the public library!)
4.8.12 – 4.15.12
This week was marked by writing, weaving, interactions, & unsettled weather. My first week was so jam packed that I was not able to finish writing about it until the middle of my second… my intent was to write in the evenings, but almost every full day was followed by the desire to sit in my new backyard & stare at the cliffs with a relaxing libation in hand & think deep thoughts… or not. Sometimes it is just enough to be in the moment & take in the beauty of the place. To allow the body to stop its motion & the brain to stop rattling those thoughts around. If you have something mesmerizing to gaze upon, doing that becomes pretty effortless.
Last Sunday (April 8th) turned out to be my last “real” hike of the week, in Cathedral Wash. In the Southwest, washes are eroded drainages coming from higher elevations that are dry most of the year, but run with water during & after storms. They are beautiful & dangerous. The beauty comes from the patterns, textures, & forms caused by the rushing water & the scouring debris it carries along—sand, pebbles, rocks, boulders, sticks—& the riparian areas that are sometimes formed along the banks of or in the washes. Riparian areas support plants, trees, birds, & other animals that depend on water to survive, but the wash has to have the physical features so these areas can exist. If the wash is too rocky & steep, most life will be scoured right out of it, including human. A wash hike becomes deadly if the hiker is unaware of an approaching storm… it may be sunny & mild where the hiker is walking in the wash, but if there is a storm on top of the mesa or mountain where the wash begins, a flash flood wall of water containing all of the aforementioned debris can come hurtling along in a matter of minutes, carrying away everything in its path. Hikers caught in flash floods rarely survive because either the walls of the wash are too steep to climb out, or the flood is so rapid there is no time to react.
Lower Cathedral Wash is not on the hiking map for Lees Ferry because it is actually in Grand Canyon National Park, not in Glen Canyon National Park. An interesting mix of government entities occurs here where I am living—on the north side of Colorado River is Glen Canyon NRA, on the south side is the Navajo Nation; the river itself & a tiny sliver of land running along its north bank is Grand Canyon National Park. I hiked down Lower Cathedral Wash first, the wash being divided into Upper & Lower where it crosses through a huge man-made culvert under the Lees Ferry road.
The Lower Wash reaches the Colorado River, but I was only able to hike down it for less than a half mile. This part of the wash is very narrow, with steep drop offs known as “pourovers” where the water flows over drop offs, sometimes forming plunge pools where it strikes the lower rock surface below. In some places even the sand has been scoured away, leaving bare, pale stone that looks like a well worn bar of soap & chocolate walls of sandstone undercut into ledges by the grinding floods. I reached a point where the wash became very narrow, & there were two slick, steep pourovers to negotiate. Their pools were filled with water, so still & glassy that they resembled mercury, reflecting stone & sky. The only way around would be to scramble over high ledges that slanted toward the bottom of the wash, & since the wash turned south here, whatever obstacles were around that corner remained hidden.
I turned around, started to hike back out & when I reached a point where the wash became wider, climbed up to find a perch & do a small watercolor…
Back in March, specifically with this residency in mind, I took a three day watercolor class from Tucson artist Kath Macaulay to learn her “Pocket Sketchbook” technique. She has developed a portable method for producing watercolors on the fly using a marker pen that reacts with water & a field watercolor paint set (which I already had) on 4” x 6” sketchbook pads. It all fits neatly into a waistpack she designed that also has two nifty pockets for film canisters that carry water for painting.
As suggested by Kath, replacing the tiny brush that comes in the field kit with a nice #6 DaVinci travel brush made a huge difference in my painting experience. Since the waistpack is roomy enough to carry a few more small items, I also outfitted myself with #4 & #10 brushes. It was by far the most inspiring & useful non-tapestry workshop I have taken in quite some time & is exactly what I needed to continue my quest to produce less controlled works. If she happens to be coming to teach near you, don’t miss it!
After I finished my little painting, I crossed the road to hike Upper Cathedral Wash. This part of the wash has a completely different character than the lower wash, & I was sorry that my energy gave out before I could hike it all the way to the base of the Vermilion Cliffs. Here the wash is broad & flat where it reaches the road, the Vermilions towering in glowing splendor above.
The elevation rises gradually, & as I climbed the wash narrowed & became more gorge-like. Sheer chocolate sandstone cliffs reaching upwards to a blue bowl of sky traded sides of the wash constantly with smaller sandy eroded cliffs encrusted with sandstone rocks & pebbles in earthen rainbow colors.
Some car & house sized boulders looked so perfectly perched to come crashing down at any second, they made me really consider whether to hike along the inside or the outside edge of the trail, hoping that the laws of physics & gravity would save me from being pulverized if they decided to tumble loose just as I was passing.
The striations & patterns in the earthy sandstones were sensuous & begged to be touched. I knew I would have to return & hike here again.
Monday was spent starting my demo tapestry of the watercolor study I did of the upriver view of the Colorado river from Navajo Bridge, which I will call upriver. I am using a complementary color scheme & a simple palette to make the weaving less complicated. I am hoping to be able to finish this small piece so I can do another above it on the same warp.
The following day, I went to stroll around Lonely Dell, a little historic homestead at the mouth of Paria Canyon (upriver from where I am living) that was inhabited by the different families who operated Lees Ferry over the decades. The original stone buildings & wooden cabins are scattered about behind an orchard of fruit trees, an orchard made possible only because the settlers created a stone-lined irrigation ditch to divert water from the Paria River.
A small cemetery beyond the buildings contains the lonely graves & headstones of the adults & children who scraped out a living here. I hiked only a little ways up into Paria Canyon because this happened to be one of the days during the week when temps reached 90. Hiking further up (which I had done on a previous trip here several years ago with Dennis) requires crossing the milky Paria River in several places through very mucky silt. Although the Paria is more similar in size to a stream, the banks are steep in many places & there are areas of quicksand along its flow.
For the remainder of the hot day, I retreated back to the cool house to do more weaving & blog writing.
Midweek I journeyed the hour it takes to reach the town of Page to access the library’s wi-fi for uploading my blog post entry about my first week & to visit the grocery store. A big weather change began blowing in, with very high wind gusts… on my way home I passed the parking area for the Horseshoe Bend overlook hike & saw it was very full of cars. Just the thought of people perched on the sandstone ledges looking into the void in these high winds made my skin prickle!
On Thursday, I decided I was ready for a “test run” demo, so I loaded my Rover with looms & yarn to drive to the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center, just 10 minutes away. Sarah C., the employee working at the Center that day, was glad to lend a hand to unload my gear & happy to have the company.
I ended up staying at the Center for most of the day since the weather continued to deteriorate, & I was enjoying the contact with visitors. I had a few willing subjects try their hand weaving at the teaching loom, all children who have no inhibitions when it comes to art. The adults I asked reacted as if I had offered them a glass of battery acid to drink! Alas, I don’t have photos of the children at the loom because their parents didn’t let them linger long, they had a schedule to maintain, so most kids were only able to weave a couple of passes before they were whisked away. I was focused on helping them weave correctly & enjoy the experience, which I felt was more important than using precious time to snap pictures. I think I will get more time to take photos when I do the demo at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center in Page because it is very large with interactive displays where visitors tend to linger much longer. The Navajo Bridge Center is a small souvenir & bookstore where people stop briefly to walk out on the bridge, get info & maps, shop for a few trinkets, & use the restroom before heading out into Lees Ferry, up to Utah, or over to Page.
Friday was again spent inside, this time finishing the edges & back of the tapestry I had started weaving during my Grand Canyon artist residency, widforss wizards, so I could display it during my demos. But, the weather also played a hand in my burrowing inside the studio—more ferocious wind storms & dust made it wise to avoid being out in the open.
Saturday was my first “official” program at Navajo Bridge. “Official” in that it was publicized by the Park with flyers posted around the area announcing the times & locations. They also made fabulous laminated poster that I attach to my loom with magnets (you can see how I did this in the photo of my demo setup above) so visitors will feel welcome to approach me while I am weaving.
Sarah was working there again & was delighted to lend a hand & have the company. Although I was only scheduled for 3 hours, I decided again to stay for the whole day, it was so enjoyable to interact with visitors. Our conversations ranged from explanations about tapestry in general, to the differences & similarities between contemporary & Navajo weaving, where people were from, where they were headed, whether they were fiber artists or artists of any medium themselves. Surprisingly on this day I had two adults who felt free enough to try their hand weaving at the teaching loom & it was fun to see how quickly they became absorbed by it, almost having to will themselves to stop & continue on to wherever their journey was taking them that day.
The weather again also made it an easy decision to continue my demo longer than advertised… temps, while hitting 90 just two days before, barely hit 50; rain, snow, & wind came & went. Visitors coming in reported heavy snow to the south in Flagstaff & the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Ah, the always unpredictable delights of spring in the desert! On both days that I spent here doing demos, condors were frequently soaring quite low over the bridge; so surprising to feel that I have gone from a having a dearth of condors in my life to having them seemingly coming out of the woodwork (um… stonework?)! I have been able to simply enjoy taking in their beauty & grace instead of feeling that I must scramble for a camera.
The week ended with a day that started sunny, but which later became thick with more howling winds & dust. After attending to laundry & housekeeping chores during the morning, in the early afternoon I drove the 10 minutes into the tiny community of Marble Canyon to get gas & hopefully visit artisan Allison Leigh Schmidt’s Marble Canyon Metalworks jewelry studio tucked into a tiny former service station next to Marble Canyon Lodge.
Allison doesn’t keep this little sales studio open all day, as passing traffic & visitors are spare & sporadic on Highway 89A…
Instead, she leaves a note on the door with her phone number so you can call her to come open it up. The building also does not have space for her metal working studio, which is located at her nearby home. I have yearned to come back ever since I stopped in & bought a pair of earrings from her on my way home from my Grand Canyon residency. As I parked in front, Allison just happened to be strolling over from Marble Canyon Lodge where she had been busy painting a wall mural. Her jewelry is an exquisite mix of mixed metals & semiprecious stones; she specializes in earrings, allowing & encouraging buyers to buy mismatched pairs. I fell in love with 6 different single earrings, so bought them as 3 mismatched pairs—the possibilities for combining them will be endless! I also ordered a necklace that I just couldn’t live without to be made in a choker length.
Visiting with Allison as you select & try on different pieces is like a visit with someone you’ve known for a long time… her dry wit & infectious laugh quickly put you at ease. Buying directly from an artist instead of, as Allison puts it—“from a robot”—is a meaningful experience & you will usually pay much less for something that is much more than said robot merchandise.
As I drove back to the house, the winds were beginning to pick up & a giant cloud of weather & dust loomed over the Vermilion Cliffs, beginning its descent towards the river.
I tucked away into my makeshift studio & out of the sandblast for the rest of the day, working on upriver. My goal is to finish it during this upcoming week & have another underway before my next scheduled program on Saturday at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center. Stay tuned to see if I was successful!
4.16.12 – 4.22.12
The beginning of this week & the end of last was marked by quiet solitude because the other occupant of the house is only here every other week. Alone with only my own activities & thoughts, I have been connecting with the rhythm of this place, which for me is probably a much different experience than what it is for the many visitors who come to stay in the nearby campground for only a few nights or for the Park employees—law enforcement rangers & maintenance personnel—who reside in this tiny community of 6 dwellings. I am not surrounded by other campers, nor do I have to rise at a specific time to begin working a long shift. I awaken on my own, early enough to beat the sun before he rises over the cliffs, greeted by a baritone chorus of great horned owls & the insistent chatter of a western kingbird who favors a tree outside my window.
I sit outside whenever the weather permits, bundled against the chilly morning while sipping a mug of piñon coffee, accompanied by the rush of the river below & the warbling tangle of house finch song above, breathing in the sweet fragrance of the clover grass in the backyard, watching the sun begin to burnish the surrounding cliffs, a whisper of breeze tickling the leaves of the trees. I can almost feel the cliffs breathing, waiting for the day to begin. In the evenings, I gaze over the river which flows copper with the carmine reflection of cliffs glowing in the sunset. This is what an artist residency is all about… gaining a sense of the place & defining what the layers of meaning are for yourself. Exploring how they affect your perception & your creativity. Having a good chunk of time without other distractions to do so.
On Monday, I was finally able to return to hike in Upper Cathedral Wash, eager to discover what I might see at the end of the trail, which is the head of the wash where it originates from the base of the Vermilion Cliffs. I was not disappointed… a tumble of multi-hued boulders & rocks, carved cliffs, & the layered evidence of the previous oceanic life that existed here accompanied me to the massive base of the cliff.
More car sized boulders awaited just the right moment to crash down, yet seemed so perfectly balanced as to remain in place for at least another century or so.
I hiked in solitude, never seeing another person, the only sounds the crunching of my feet over sand & gravel, serenades from the black throated sparrows who flitted back & forth between blooming bunches of Prince’s Plume & the lower cliff tops, & the “swoosh, swoosh, swoosh” of a raven’s wings as it flew by.
After about an hour of hiking—my hour most likely measuring distance a bit differently than the “seek & conquer” kind of hiker as I am a “seek & wonder” kind of hiker—I was greeted at the base of the cliffs by the sight of a fantastic series of sculpted pourovers in the cliff face marking the spot where the storm waters cascade down somewhere from the top. The entire cliff face is not visible here because the cliffs are ruggedly stepped back, not smooth vertical walls, but what I was viewing was massive enough to give just an inkling of an idea of the sheer mass of the Vermilions.
After a brief rest on a handy lounge spot the size of a giant’s hand…
I started to hike back out, stopping for awhile to do a field watercolor of angular chocolate cliffs juxtaposed with airy wands of vibrant yellow-green Prince’s Plume.
That evening, determined to do a little stargazing now that the skies had become very clear & the full moon had waned, I stepped outside. I had become intrigued with the morning view from my bedroom window that looks out to the southwest towards part of the Johnson Point formation & the Vermilion Cliffs; I wanted to see what it looked just as night fell.
As soon as I made it outside to stand in front of my bedroom windows, something quite large swooped in front of my face. I suddenly became aware that I was surrounded by diving, tumbling, & flapping forms—bats! I don’t know my bats very well, but I could tell there were two species, one small & one large, & my ears told me they were quite close since I could very distinctly hear the flapping of their fleshy wings. I quickly realized that my glowing bedroom light was providing the bats quite a feast with the insects it was attracting! Although I am not afraid of bats & I know they have such good sonar that they rarely run into things, I decided to forego stargazing just in case one was having an off night & slapped into the side of my head. I really didn’t want to take the chance of letting out a scream in the dark while living in a community full of armed law enforcement rangers!
The following evening my stargazing efforts were successful; I set up my chair outside as dusk fell & made sure all house lights were off. A few bats were tumbling about, but nothing like the previous evening’s swarm. Just as a few stars began to appear, I went to check the view out front that I had been seeing from my window & was enchanted by the sight of the constellation Orion hanging in the neon blue sky over the silhouette of the cliffs. I decided that this would be the subject of my next tapestry if I could manage to finish upriver in time. I returned to my chair in the backyard & wrapped up in a blanket, listening to the river’s rush & watching the stars slowly appear by the hundreds, shimmering like diamonds in the velvet ocean of sky.
The next few days were spent journaling for my blog & weaving. I was determined to finish upriver so I could begin & hopefully finish the new tapestry before my residency ends. By late Thursday afternoon, upriver was completed & I had begun weaving the bottom header in the empty warp above it for the new tapestry.
With upriver, I was experimenting with creating the illusion of depth in a flat surface & trying to continue to develop my work in the direction of abstract realism. I want to create works that are not so abstract as to be unrecognizable, but which are not carbon copies of the scene, object, or image I am trying to represent. Photographs can capture statically beautiful images, but photographs cannot capture what one sees & feels in the soul or mind. They are cold reproductions of what is real. I have come to feel that while weaving directly from & rigidly reproducing a photographic image takes much skill both in technique & material selection, it does not express what I felt about a scene, object, or image that inspired me to interpret it to begin with. There has to be more than just copying. I think upriver is my most abstracted effort yet & I am pleased with it.
After spending a couple of days squirreled away inside the studio, it was time to get out again. Upper Cathedral Wash was calling me to return for an early morning hike, to seek out & capture an image of a wondrous offering I had observed during my last hike…
Upon my return, I was ready to spend the afternoon in the studio again; the days here are heating up as they do when May approaches the desert. Temps have been reaching high 80s & low 90s, which can feel even hotter at higher elevations or when surrounded by cliffs that soak in & radiate the heat back out like a solar oven. I completed a simple watercolor of the view outside my bedroom, which had started as just a rough sketch of the landforms’ outlines I quickly did on a previous evening as dusk fell. This little painting is the study for the next tapestry, vermilion sky.
Saturday was completely filled by the activities surrounding my scheduled program at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center. Many people, children (& Rangers!) were enchanted by the looms, the completed tapestries I displayed, & the act of weaving itself. I was set up in front of the giant curved observation windows that overlook the face of the Glen Canyon Dam, which offered wonderful natural lighting, an amazing view of the dam, & a constant flow of visitors.
Ranger Cindy, a quilt artist in her ”spare time”, quickly became comfortable enough on the teaching loom to introduce young visitors to weaving…
Sunday--Earth Day—a hike was definitely in order! During my other two hikes into Upper Cathedral Wash, I had noticed that the wash split into two branches & both times I had hiked up the right one. Today I took the left branch. This one turned out to be the wild sister—longer, narrower, less sand, & more boulders to clamber over & around. Even more fantastic evidence of the forces of water, erosion, & messages left by a forgotten sea.
The reward for the harder hike came when I reached a cavernous natural amphitheatre, too large to photograph in its entirety, at the base of the Vermilion Cliffs. It appeared as though it had been chiseled out of the cliff face; a water carved slot towered above that would produce a breathtaking stream of water during storm runoff.
After marveling at the scale of the space & my own smallness in comparison, I was preparing to hike out when a hummingbird buzzed past me… it seemed to disappear into the cliff face, but in a moment buzzed back out again & down the wash. Suddenly, I spied the day’s treasure—a wee little nest the hummingbird was constructing on a delicate ledge, protected by tons of cliff above.
As I hiked out the day burned brightly, & I was accompanied for a short while by a rock wren. He flew from boulder top to boulder top as I hiked, taking advantage of every moment to serenade his suddenly available audience with his bright song.
The afternoon was spent at the loom, getting vermilion night underway & contemplating what I should consider doing during my last week in residency. Already scheduled is an uplake trip to Rainbow Bridge with my Ranger, Michelle H.; Michelle also has invited me to stay in residence a few days longer to do another program at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center next weekend for Junior Ranger Day, an event Glen Canyon NRA has planned for National Park Week. During National Park Week, admission is free to enter all National Parks, so if you live near one, get out there!
4.23.12 - 4.30.12
The final week in residence. My cognitive time was spent reflecting on the many experiences I enjoyed & mentally preparing for my return home. I was surprised by my productivity & feel very satisfied with having completed a number of watercolors along with two tapestries. This is a first for me as I usually have difficulty feeling settled enough to focus & allow my creativity to flourish or to express it tangibly when I am not in my own studio.
My weaving time during the last week was spent finishing vermilion night so that I could cut it off the loom before making the journey home. While designing this second little tapestry, I realized it forms a harmonious dichotomy with upriver, a comparison of day & night, fluidity & solidity, vibrancy & solemnity. Below, vermilion night nearing completion.
While weaving vermilion night, I was again experimenting with creating the illusion of depth, only this time without the use of a vanishing point. Instead, subtle color gradations & texture as the cliff forms receded were utilized—the foreground cliff was woven in basket weave (over 2, under 2 instead of the regular weave of over 1, under 1) with a chunky weft bundle that included 2 strands of a fine bouclé yarn.
Where this foreground cliff splits into two “tower” forms near its top, I dropped half of the yarns from the weft bundle & changed to regular weave for the left tower with the intent to make it appear further away than the right tower. It was intriguing to see that these seemingly simple methods resulted in a visual impact quite different from & much more effective than weaving with shading techniques would have been. These two tapestries will be woven again in a larger format to be hung as a diptych for my Artist-in-Park donation to Glen Canyon NRA. The Interpretive Ranger crew I have been working with were thrilled with this news; even though the Park would probably be quite happy to accept these smaller works as is, they will be much stronger compositions as larger pieces. I am especially relishing the anticipation of reweaving upriver with shiny fibers for the river; reweaving vermilion night in a larger format will be very exciting as I may decide to incorporate further use of texture.
One last hike in Upper Cathedral Wash to marvel at more geologic magic…
Two more “at large” demos, one each at the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center & the Carl Hayden Visitor Center. My worries of getting out of shape after a month away from the gym were mollified a bit with the lugging back & forth of the student Shannock loom. I think the thing weighs in at around 50 pounds or so; hauling it up & down the concrete stairs of the house & loading it into the Rover required a bit of muscle flexing! I am planning to finish off the little sampler woven by visitors & Park employees by mounting it on a linen covered stretcher frame to be sent to the Park for display.
It is my understanding that not only am I the first tapestry weaver to do artist residencies in our National Park system, I am the first artist in the Glen Canyon NRA AiP Program to provide a hands on experience for visitors during my demonstrations. The reactions of the children & adults who tried their hand at weaving were very compelling, as were the conversations I had with many people regarding the history of tapestry weaving as well as the differences & similarities between tapestry & Navajo weaving. I seem to have become an unofficial ambassador for tapestry weaving who happens to wear hiking boots & hang out in National Parks.
Two highlights this week were a trip to Rainbow Bridge National Monument with some of the Interpretive Ranger crew & an upriver boat ride from Lees Ferry to the base of the Glen Canyon Dam.
The visit to Rainbow Bridge is relatively easy now due to the presence of the lake. After a two hour boat ride uplake, a very short hike gets you there. Prior to the lake’s existence, one either had to travel by boat three days downriver from another location to the mouth of the canyon & then hike into the canyon seven miles, or complete an arduous journey that was difficult for even horses to manage overland through the Navajo Reservation for several days to reach it. Rainbow Bridge is a natural, massive sandstone bridge; at the time of this writing it is believed to be the largest in the world, nearly the height of the Statue of Liberty. It is sacred to at least five Native American Nations & has been visited by some noted figures in history—Teddy Roosevelt & Zane Grey among them. Visitors are strongly encouraged to respect cultural beliefs when visiting the site.
My last day in residence began with an upriver boat ride courtesy of Ray Skeet, a GCNRA employee who has been working for the Park Service for decades & who is an accomplished artist in his own right. About ten years ago, Dennis & I took a six day Colorado River trip downriver from Lees Ferry, but the upriver environment is very different from the volatile & extreme nature of the Colorado downriver where it enters first Marble & then the Grand Canyon. Between the dam & Lees Ferry, the river is very placid without rapids because the elevation does not drop quickly. There are campsites for boaters & paddlers who make the leisurely trip from dam to ferry, & the river is studded with fly fisherman. There are towering cliffs, magnificent in their red ochre massiveness & adorned with delicate hanging gardens of maidenhair fern where water from the lake is invading the rock layers & seeping out to the river; the Colorado dammed, yet still seeking to flow despite man’s concrete interferences.
I had a river’s eye view of the Horseshoe Bend formation, which appeared surprisingly small seen from this vantage point. Viewing it from the cliffs above allows you to see the formation in its entirety; the river view is extremely encapsulated & deceiving. Even though it is really hard to grasp the size of the geological formations & judge distance in this voluminous environment, as I looked up to see the cliffs I got a really good idea of the scale when I saw the pinhead sized dot of the red jacket worn by a person peering over the edge from the overlook above (shudder!).
There are two areas along the river where visitors can see stunningly beautiful petroglyphs; unfortunately they have at times born the brunt of the careless & selfish acts of those who think vandalizing sites such as these is a “cool” part of their vacation. One such numbskull in particular found out that a felony offense when you get caught doing senseless & disrespectful things such as this just might add a little unexpected expense to one’s vacation. Petroglyphs are so lovely & mysterious, generating many deep thoughts & questions… there is really no need for additions, but there should be respect & reverence. After all, how would we feel if another race of people showed up & started carving their initials onto our own historical buildings, public art, or gravestones?
The Descending Sheep panel has images of bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, & motifs that have not yet been identified…
The Bullet Panel has compelling figures & more sheep. It actually has an official name that I cannot recall, but you can guess, unfortunately, why it is called this & even more unfortunately it has received far more desecrating vandalism than the Descending Sheep panel…
At the foot of the dam, the Carl Hayden Visitor Center hangs from its perch on the cliff’s edge. A giant controversy still exists over the damming of the Colorado… as lake levels drop & silt piles up behind the dam, many are clamoring for the dam to be removed. My personal feeling is a wish that the dam had never been built, but it was a different era, with different mores & values. The building of the dam became a powerful lesson to carefully examine what might be lost in the rush to build, conquer, control, & exploit, a lesson which should perhaps be revisited; it symbolizes the beginning of the environmental movement as we know it today. Will the Colorado ever run free again? Only time will tell.
An awareness has come to me during my Glen Canyon residency that the time I have spent working on the condor tapestry has greatly improved my weaving skills, both basic & complex. I have reached another level, which I really can’t explain, but I can definitely feel & see. A surprise, since I thought perhaps I would stagnate a bit working on one large tapestry for so long. A transition is forming, somewhere beneath & beyond. I think it will surface more fully once I have completed Grand Journey, delivered her to the North Rim, & begin my next commission—the two tapestries I will weave for Glen Canyon NRA. But for now, my condor is calling me to return to her.
Another important realization is that my soul needs to be fed regularly with time spent in nature; this is something I have sensed even as a child, but which sometimes gets forgotten or pushed aside amidst the busyness of life. I think this is true for all people on some level, not just artists or nature lovers. It is important to go outside, to look at green growing things, to see mountains embossing the sky, to hear wind & water rushing, to see expanses of ocean, plain, or sky stretching to the horizon, to feel the sun, to taste the rain, to inhale the fragrance of plants & earth, to see creatures flapping, soaring, running, crawling, swimming. To remember that we exist on a living, breathing, evolving planet.
Although some of us may be fortunate enough to experience these things simply by stepping outside, more & more people are living in urban areas & do not have ready access to the nurturing effects of nature. We are extremely fortunate to have protected areas in the US where wildness remains for any who wish to experience it—as of this writing 58 National Parks, 101 National Monuments, 42 National Recreation Areas, 155 National Forests, & 20 National Grasslands, not to mention the scores of state forests & parks, county & city parks that abound across the country. Wherever you may live, think about finding one of these places near you & do what you can to help keep it intact & protected, either by visiting, buying a pass, or becoming a member of an organization that helps protect or manage it… get out there!