Mama Me

Storm a’brewing

Two years ago, I brewed some organic dyes, froze some ice and picked up my camera again after many years of creative quietude.  What caused this sudden surge of the artist within?  That’s an easy one to answer:

 My mom, aka Maia, Mama, and even sometimes George (weird teenage phase for me!).

My mom’s last big road trip to see the solar eclipse in Sun Valley, Idaho, with my daughter and brother, Devon and Tony, August 21, 2017.

My mom’s last big road trip to see the solar eclipse in Sun Valley, Idaho, with my daughter and brother, Devon and Tony, August 21, 2017.

As I sat by her bedside watching her peaceful final breaths last week, I reflected on my mom’s legacy – the gifts she gave me.  The list is remarkably long, and no surprise that it includes two hugely important parts of my essence…

 Travel and art.

 

The art of travel

To say I have a travel addiction is an understatement.  Just this year, six months in, flights have zipped me to New York City, Amsterdam, Iceland, Mexico, most major cities in California and the tropical paradise of Maui.  Next week, Peru will be the first new country added to the list in many years.  Topping out close to 70 countries now, that seat in the Traveler’s Century Club might very well welcome this traveling artist one day.

Traveling artists in their element: Jan and Byrdie on a plane to Ketchikan, Alaska, April 2015.

Traveling artists in their element: Jan and Byrdie on a plane to Ketchikan, Alaska, April 2015.

The thing is, I’ve been traveling my whole life.  I was the weird kid in grade school that spent her summers 3000 miles away exploring the high desert plateau of central Idaho while most just headed to the local pool.  Two cross country trips before I could drive seemed like a right instead of a badge.  At 15, I helped plan our first European tour, and left my mom and brother as they headed home so I could soak up the sun with a French family on the Riviera.  How about three weeks driving around Alaska as a high school graduation trip? Yes please!

What is the common denominator in all of this?  My mom, of course.  It may have been my job to hold the map and find our way, but she was always willing to get us lost.

Got our gear in case we get lost in the Misty Fjords in Alaska, April 2015.

Got our gear in case we get lost in the Misty Fjords in Alaska, April 2015.

 

Rain buckets

Bucket lists that involve travel seem to light a spark in me.  An invitation by my mom to join her on a life-long wish to sail the Inside Passage of Alaska was easy to accept.  So, in April of 2015, we boarded a small vessel in search of wild solitude together.

Sea kayaking with my mom and Uncruise - best way to see the Inside Passage!

Sea kayaking with my mom and Uncruise - best way to see the Inside Passage!

At a young 78, my mom was my adventure partner in sea kayaking, boulder hiking and glacier exploring. The weather may have been nasty, but the laughs we had along the way were the memories of a lifetime.

Waking up deep in Tracy Arm Fjord and watching ice calve at North Sawyer Glacier was a visual explosion.

Waking up deep in Tracy Arm Fjord and watching ice calve at North Sawyer Glacier was a visual explosion.

She was also my bunk mate in our 100 square foot cabin for one week at sea.  There, in small quarter living, I discovered the illness that would eventually take my mom on her own wild journey:

 Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

 

Alz & Crafts

Research suggests that creativity is not impacted by dementia in the ways it devastates so many other aspects of the mind.  Luckily, beyond her scientific intellect, my mom had an artistic side.  Trust me…she was crafty in every sense of the word, and she did it all:

  • quilting

  • sewing

  • weaving

  • knitting

  • baking

  • painting

As her care partner, and creative crazy in my own right, I sought out opportunity where we could continue artistic expression after her diagnosis.  Where certain crafts became exceedingly difficult because of measured calculations, painting traveled unscathed through the dementia vortex.

One wonderful dementia friendly program we were lucky enough to experience was the here:now creative engagement class at the Frye Museum in Seattle.  For six weeks, we were treated to interactive gallery conversations and studio time to stretch our minds and fingers.

One of many paintings my mom created while fighting dementia, Frye Art Museum, 2016.

One of many paintings my mom created while fighting dementia, Frye Art Museum, 2016.

When I look at the work we produced together, I am equally envious and proud of my mom’s obviously superior skill of representational painting. Even fun quick portraits of each other captured the ease with which she used the brush.

Blind contour paintings we made of each other at the Frye Museum in 2016. Guess which one is me?

Blind contour paintings we made of each other at the Frye Museum in 2016. Guess which one is me?

Having said that, I suppose I can see why 3D might be more up my alley.

My attempt at channeling the inner byrd in my creativity, Frye Museum, 2016.

My attempt at channeling the inner byrd in my creativity, Frye Museum, 2016.

My mom’s attempt…

My mom’s attempt…

However, one could say my mom’s creativity of building a duck-billed platypus as an interpretation of Alexander Max Koester’s Moulting Ducks was genius beyond compare.

Needless to say, each piece now holds a very special place in my own art gallery - the one right next to my heart.

 

Mamma Mia

Growing up as a traveling artist, I can thank my mom for paving the way, providing encouragement, opportunity and a blue-print for following one’s passion.  These same two slices of our shared soul provided much needed therapy for both of us while we walked the path of dementia.  Cruel as this disease is, it will never touch the creative experiences, on the road and in the studio, that have become the foundation of who we became as artists.

The last mixed media collaboration I created with my mom, Jan Willms, 2016. Love it!

The last mixed media collaboration I created with my mom, Jan Willms, 2016. Love it!

As I create my next installation, with colors I extract from Mother Earth, it will be dedicated in loving memory of Jan Willms, my mom, the woman who showed me a world of wonder.

I love you, Mama...

 

 

 

 

Not too frail to fail

On the rise

Bubble bread is a buttery ball of doughy goodness that bakes in our oven every holiday season.  Although I don’t recall when or where it melted its way into our family’s feast, my children have gobbled it up every Thanksgiving since they could rip it from the loaf.

The famous Bubble Bread in all of it’s risen glory!

The famous Bubble Bread in all of it’s risen glory!


As much as this seasonal treat brings smiles and happy tummies, bubble bread has a history of being an epic failure in my kitchen.

Rise yeast, rise!  This mantra screams in my head as I hold my breath waiting for the single-celled fungi to wake up and eat the sugar I’ve lovingly fed it.  I’ve learned to have several packets of yeast in the wings after too many holiday attempts left me scrambling to find a grocery store that was miraculously open on Thanksgiving or Christmas.  No longer a problem in today’s commercial world, I still feel a tiny nervous pang every time the yeast hits the tepid milk.

Baking is truly an artform, and frankly, I have struggled with it my whole life.  Here’s the thing, though:  without every failed attempt, and the push to try, try again, there would be no tradition of bubble bread in our family.  Honestly, it is the process of kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down and rolling tiny morsels of yum that keeps me coming back, even when the yeast decides to take its own holiday.

Dough of the installation kind, organic and placed on a beach in Maui, June 2018. No yeast required.

Dough of the installation kind, organic and placed on a beach in Maui, June 2018. No yeast required.

Basically, bubble bread is exactly how my art practice tastes.  It is the product of failed attempts that has allowed me the humility to stumble, the courage to get back up and the sweet reward at the end of a winding road of discovery.

 I think it’s time I share some of my failed ingredients.  Move over yeast!

There is an egg in bubble bread, but frankly, there should be no eggs in installation! Maui, June 2018.

There is an egg in bubble bread, but frankly, there should be no eggs in installation! Maui, June 2018.

Mounds of trouble

Reflecting on the past year, I am not only grateful for some incredible creative opportunities that have bubbled up, but also thankful for all of the bumps along the way.  And, let me tell you, there have been more than a few.

Torturing a Bird of Paradise for the sake of art….if you can call it that! San Diego, CA, April 2018.

Torturing a Bird of Paradise for the sake of art….if you can call it that! San Diego, CA, April 2018.

To read the definition of failure, you often see it referred to as the ‘opposite of success’.  But, if you dig a bit further, failure can be described as simply a condition of not meeting an intended objective (thanks, Wikipedia!).  Sounds pretty benign to me, and it is predicated on the assumption that there is a goal, which in my book means you got your ‘stuff’ together.

As an artist, each one of us knows the complexity of translating vision to action, from mind to hand to paper (or substrate of your choice).  Most of my creative musings are never realized in a final piece, and what I’ve discovered is what I see in my head and heart is only a tiny sliver of the artistic puzzle.  I have to try every piece out, move them around, see if something links together, and use every ‘failure’ as guidance for the next step.

 

Note to self

One year ago, I decided to throw a few of those puzzle pieces around.  To be exact, I chucked a bunch of ice across the elfin land of Iceland.  My intended objective was somewhat fuzzy, but I knew it was time to see what that gnawing creative vision was all about.  Let’s just say the first pitch was a curve ball.

The very first documented installation attempt, rough at best, Blue Lagoon, Iceland, Nov 2017.

The very first documented installation attempt, rough at best, Blue Lagoon, Iceland, Nov 2017.

But what specifically did I learn from that icy first day?

  • It’s cold, wet and windy so pack the right clothes, and don’t forget to wear them.

  • Not all installation locations are equal, so be prepared to lie face down in snow, dirt, mud, and sand, or better yet, look for placement at eye level!

  • It’s okay to feel scared, stupid and foolish because you are stumbling (and most likely slipping and falling) into the unknown.


First attempt saved by trial and error, contemplation, experimentation and the incredible arctic light of the autumn sun in Iceland, Nov 2017. Lava rocks and lichen certainly didn’t hurt.

First attempt saved by trial and error, contemplation, experimentation and the incredible arctic light of the autumn sun in Iceland, Nov 2017. Lava rocks and lichen certainly didn’t hurt.

 

The perfect storm

One of the warped puzzle pieces of social media is that I can choose to create a façade of perfection.  No need to show the 17 attempts to capture one decent photograph of an installation gone sideways or the stack of rejection letters from galleries, grants and publications.

Trust me, the heap is huge on this artist’s studio table.  However, without crawling through each one of those failures, I would not have pushed through to secure my first international gallery installation in Mexico next year. If at first you don’t succeed

Cactus garden at Fabrica la Aurora in San Miguel de Allende where I will have a large scale installation in March, 2019. Hope to see you there!

Cactus garden at Fabrica la Aurora in San Miguel de Allende where I will have a large scale installation in March, 2019. Hope to see you there!

We should celebrate it all, the good, the bad and the ugly, and wear each one proudly like a badge of honor for all to see.

 

Tangled webs

In the spring of 2018, I applied to an artist residency on a local farm in a big leap of faith to honor a newly revealed intention so proudly displayed on my first vision board.  My proposal was to gather natural materials from the farm and create woven installations throughout the property.

A tree on the Mary Olson Farm as a potential installation site, Auburn, WA. Little did I know that lichen would play a starring role in my next residency attempt.

A tree on the Mary Olson Farm as a potential installation site, Auburn, WA. Little did I know that lichen would play a starring role in my next residency attempt.

Although I landed in the Top 10, I was not selected for the next round of interviews because there was no history of weaving in my background.  The ‘rejection’ did not keep me from requesting feedback which I would not have otherwise received.

Nope, it was this critique that allowed me to strengthen my next residency proposal:  forage natural materials from the wild land of Iceland to make natural dyes for installation. 

Testing pigment extraction from  Evernia prunastri , a lichen foraged from a fallen tree in my neighborhood. If successful, might have deep purple dye in 2 months.

Testing pigment extraction from Evernia prunastri, a lichen foraged from a fallen tree in my neighborhood. If successful, might have deep purple dye in 2 months.

Guess where I will be in February?  Hello Westfjords, Iceland….

The long and wild drive to the Westfjords, Iceland, Nov 2017. It ain’t a road for the faint of heart!

The long and wild drive to the Westfjords, Iceland, Nov 2017. It ain’t a road for the faint of heart!

 

Over-cooked

Two weeks ago, my daughter Zsofi made bubble bread twice for the holiday, and only once, did I mess around with the yeast.  Maybe I stirred it too vigorously or it was that ‘back-up’ pack from last year, but it just didn’t rise to its doughy potential.

Reaching into my bag of tricks, lessons learned from every botched job of yore, I placed it into the microwave above the toasty-warm oven working overtime to cook our Thanksgiving feast.  No…I did not turn the microwave on…but left the dough, knowing maybe, just maybe, the ambient heat would give the yeast the gentle nudge it needed to rise.

Guess what?  Success.

Tell me about your recipe for success?  The box below needs a new trick or two!

Fifty is nifty

Hash taggin’

Slinging slang in 1860, thespians may have created a clever way to shorten the word magnificent.  Leave it to artists to mix things up even back in the olden days.  The fact that this artist is using the word nifty in 2018, however, might be an indicator of age as opposed to creativity.  My kids will certainly attest to that.

However, nifty is a perfect word to consider as I approach a half century of living and loving on this amazing earth of ours.  The magical number of 50 has been swirling in my mind lately, and I have to say, I’ve lived a pretty magnificent life:

·      More than 50 countries have been stamped in my passport

·      50 new creative ideas have popped up in my head this year alone

·      I just traveled 50 hours to secure my 1st gallery-hosted international installation!

Pretty nifty stuff.

Traveling the globe is where inspiration is cultivated.

Traveling the globe is where inspiration is cultivated.

So, why not write about 50 things that happened in those 50 hours as a memorable way to welcome in 50?  Sounds excessive maybe, but when you stop and truly reflect, you can find magnificence in as little as 50 seconds of time.


High Five

It is said that we can only remember about five things in our short-term memory.  As a tactile learner, the five fingers of one hand becomes a useful tool to help remember those things.  Therefore, instead of taxing the brain with a long list of 50, let’s break it down into 5 bite-sized chunks of 10:

1.     Planes, trains and automobiles

2.     Techno Logic

3.     Color therapy at 6000 feet

4.     The factory of dawn

5.     Words of wisdom

 

Should we start with the thumb or the pinkie

Planes, trains and automobiles

Having 50 years of wanderlust tugging me around, I’m no stranger to the bumps of travel.  During this whirlwind trip, however, I easily had 10 sweet moments (two hands are better than one!) in the land of transportation:

1.     Caught six flights to/from Mexico and was on time to each of my meetings

2.     Enjoyed a free upgrade to first class on AeroMexico’s flight to Guadalajara

AeroMexico Chicken.jpg

3.     Sipped tortilla soup thanks to TAR’s 150 peso food voucher for a 4 hour flight delay

4.     Found Ignacio, my taxi driver, even though the sign he held said ‘Ana’

5.     Listened to Mexican love songs for 3 hours by Ignacio’s side

6.     Treated like royalty in the Priority Pass lounge in Queretaro

7.     Marveled at a lightning bolt display from my plane window

No, this is not my photo, but I swear this is exactly what the storm looked like!

No, this is not my photo, but I swear this is exactly what the storm looked like!

8.     Spent 185 pesos for a 2 minute cab ride to eat 3 tacos for 45 pesos

9.     Zipped through immigration for the first time with my Global Entry card

10.   Grabbed my bag as it tumbled FIRST from the luggage carousel belt

 

Techno Logic

Switching off your airplane mode as the wheels touch down means you know that travel technology is a blessing and a curse.  One week shy of 50, I still remember the days with nothing but a coin for a payphone while on the road.  No coins needed this past week with these 10 minor miracles of telecommunications:

 1.    Connected to free wifi at four out of five international airports (wake up LAX!)

2.     Gazed at Thor fighting to protect the Infinity Stones on not one, but two flights

3.     Received the good news of my free upgrade to first class on my Delta app

4.     Wrote and designed my very first opt-in at 36,000 feet

5.     Finished uploading photo images in my website shop to launch on my birthday

One of many installation photos that will be available to buy on my website shop October 1st.

One of many installation photos that will be available to buy on my website shop October 1st.

6.     Located Ignacio using my Airbnb app, not the sign he held in his hand

7.     Saw every wrong turn Ignacio took on Google Maps before he did

8.     Gratefully accepted both of Ignacio’s USB slots to charge my phones on the road

9.     Recorded a live announcement on Instagram in the halls of Fabrica la Aurora

Live and kicking my announcement at Fabrica la Aurora, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Live and kicking my announcement at Fabrica la Aurora, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

10.  Created a hot spot with my Blackberry when there was no wifi (LAX…sigh)

Color theory at 6000 feet

If my thumb and pointer finger are all about travel within 50 hours, the last three fingers on my hand celebrate the artistic side of the journey.  To realize my dream of a large scale international installation in my 50th year is a thrill.  To have this event in San Miguel de Allende in the heart of the Mexican plateau is a visual treat that can be summed up in 10 colors:

 

1.     Coral spires of the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel

2.     Adobe tiles of weathered cantera stones

3.     Burnt orange of the stucco facades

My next door neighbor in San Miguel de Allende.

My next door neighbor in San Miguel de Allende.

4.     Mahogany carved doors of courtyard entrances

5.     Ochre washes of high garden walls

6.     Fuchsia blooms of the bougainvillea vines

Glitter infused adhesive domes installed in a bougainvillea in San Miguel de Allende.

Glitter infused adhesive domes installed in a bougainvillea in San Miguel de Allende.

7.     Amethyst flowers of the jacaranda trees

8.     Taupe cobblestone of the winding streets

9.     Parakeet green of the spiny cacti

10.  Azure blue of the clear skies above

50 shades of color around every corner in San Miguel de Allende.

50 shades of color around every corner in San Miguel de Allende.

The factory of dawn

To travel 2600 miles across the continent to an altitude of 6200 feet, one should expect to be dazzled by more than just the vivid colors of San Miguel de Allende.  Known as a creative haven, it is an incredible honor to have my first show at Manuk Galeria and on the grounds of Fabrica la Aurora.  I would travel this distance 50 times over to have 10 glorious moments like these:

 

1.     Met for two hours with the owner of Manuk Galeria to discuss details of my show

2.     Presented physical and printed samples of creative ideas for the space

3.     Admired the work of 5 other wonderful artists represented by the galle62

The artist/owner of Manuk, Lourdes Rivera, is a lovely woman with an open heart.

The artist/owner of Manuk, Lourdes Rivera, is a lovely woman with an open heart.

4.     Shared stories of our creative lives as two female artists on opposite sides of 50

5.     Walked the grounds of Fabrica la Aurora to select outdoor areas for installation

One of many cactus gardens that will house my installation work in March 2019.

One of many cactus gardens that will house my installation work in March 2019.

6.     Introduced to the director and exchanged ideas for the outdoor space

7.     Discussed logistics and strategies for shipping artwork internationally

8.    Chatted with several artists who have working studios in the area

An old textile factory turned design center for creatives of all types.

An old textile factory turned design center for creatives of all types.

9.     Watched an artist working on a piece he anticipates will take him a year to complete

10.  Stumbled into Ana Thiel’s open studio and unlocked a window to my glass future

In February 2018, I discovered the Manuk Galeria and the work of Ana Thiel, a Mexican glass artist whose work holds the aesthetic of my heart. I met Ana in her studio last week - lucky stars!

In February 2018, I discovered the Manuk Galeria and the work of Ana Thiel, a Mexican glass artist whose work holds the aesthetic of my heart. I met Ana in her studio last week - lucky stars!

Words of wisdom

Seamless travel, technology triumphs, a kaleidoscope of colors and an artist’s dream all wrapped up in 50 short hours is something to cherish.  In those quiet moments in between, I found myself thinking about 10 simple words that will usher me gracefully into my next half century. I am:

 

1.     Grateful

2.     Aligned

3.     Creative

4.     Excited

5.     Inspired

6.     Lucky

7.     Focused

8.     Balanced

9.     Alive

10.  Young

 

Hello 50.  Damn glad to meet you…


How about meeting me in the comments below? It would be a birthday wish come true!