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...

 

 

 

 

3's company

Three me please

Three is a magic number.  From the micro (protons, neutrons and electrons) to the cosmic (planets, stars and galaxies), nature bundles it’s wonders in three.  I suppose it is no surprise, then, that humans do exactly the same within their world:

  • Storytelling and the trilogy

  • Religion and the trinity

  • Art and the tryptych

Our brains are hard-wired to seek out patterns and relationships, and we are drawn to clusters of three as the simplest way to connect thoughts.  We see it used in speech-writing, classroom learning and comedy skits.  Simply put: three rules.

So, perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that I too have a trifecta of sorts, at least as it relates to my creative world.  Today, it seems these three elements are intertwined more than I had imagined:

  •  My job

  • My travel

  • My installation

Mung bean installation on Maui will melt with the rising tide, Kaanapali Beach, April 2019.

Mung bean installation on Maui will melt with the rising tide, Kaanapali Beach, April 2019.

Triangulation

To be a full-time working artist is a dream of mine.  My guess is it’s the dream of most creatives, and unlike popular myth, it is completely attainable.  However, most of us have had other jobs to support ourselves at one point or another, and sadly, many feel ashamed of this.

Not me.  The work that has sustained me and my family for decades is not art-related, but it is the foundation that I stand on, and it has taken me around the globe.  Through this travel, I became so deeply inspired by the landscapes I roamed, my installation practice was reignited.  Now, my installation is sprouting new opportunity for work, but this time in the art world.

The perfect art world, high above the clouds on Haleakalā, deserves an abaca swirl installation, April 2019.

The perfect art world, high above the clouds on Haleakalā, deserves an abaca swirl installation, April 2019.

See how that rolls?  Job—>travel—>installation—>job - and the power of three is born.

 

USD 3.3M

I had an exceptionally good sales year in 2018, as did many of my colleagues.  As a gift to our team, my company hosted our annual sales meeting in Maui this year.  As a bonus, a few extra days to explore the island and an invitation for our loved ones to join was extended.

My guy, Chris, and yours truly, finding amazing new vistas in West Maui.

My guy, Chris, and yours truly, finding amazing new vistas in West Maui.

Mahalo, Opticon, bon voyage, and aloha installation!

Funny enough, this trip was my third visit to Maui, and it’s said, the 3rd time’s the charm.

 

No small trifle

One very delightful piece of this voyage was a treasure hunt I hosted for all the creative travel enthusiasts I had to leave behind.  The beauty of our digital world allowed me to stay engaged while installing almost 3000 miles from home.  Working remotely never felt so connected.

In the midst of meetings and Power Point presentations, I managed to sneak away for six installations over six days.   With a virtual family of travelers in tow, I shared a map of Maui and posted visual clues on social media about each piece.  Nothing like playing a game at work!

Vertical stack of paper pulp bricks painted with earth pigments and installed in drift wood.

Vertical stack of paper pulp bricks painted with earth pigments and installed in drift wood.

So, what was the real treasure in this hunt?   The amazing community I’m so lucky to have found along the way!

 

Triple threat

As rewarding as this trip was, installation always has it’s difficulties.  Add work and children to the mix, plus a healthy dose of wind, and new challenges were bound to bubble up:

Challenge 1:  Business meetings always spill into the evening, and the sun sets relatively quickly the closer you are to the equator.  How do you photograph an installation in the dark?

Threaded orbs installed on a banyan tree with the glow of darkness, Lahaina, April 2019.

Threaded orbs installed on a banyan tree with the glow of darkness, Lahaina, April 2019.

Same orbs but with a flash of delight! Which one do you prefer?

Same orbs but with a flash of delight! Which one do you prefer?

Challenge 2:  Teenagers have slightly less patience when it comes to tagging along on an installation trek.  How quickly can you find a site before your child gets bored?

My son, Mason, chillin’ at 10,000 feet, while I was a few hundred feet higher installing. Thanks for waiting!

My son, Mason, chillin’ at 10,000 feet, while I was a few hundred feet higher installing. Thanks for waiting!

Challenge 3:  Maui is in the middle of the ocean, so it is very windyHow do you keep paper pulp from blowing away?

Wind whipping is one of the many dangers of installation at 10000 feet.

Wind whipping is one of the many dangers of installation at 10000 feet.

3, 2, 1…

Three has been a lucky number in my life (just look at those amazing three people I call my kids!).  So, I won’t dismiss the power of 3 and the critical part my job plays in today’s creative triangle.  Without it, I would not have traveled to Maui’s paradise to create yet another set of installations, trying fresh materials and finding new beaches of inspiration.

Wheat pasted paper rolls embedded in a rocky beach in West Maui, April 2019.

Wheat pasted paper rolls embedded in a rocky beach in West Maui, April 2019.

So, as a typical human being, I suppose I also look for patterns and relationships in the world around me.  While pondering the impact of my day job on my creative practice, a few more connections popped up, which I leave for you to chew on:

  •  Without the 3 primary colors, we would have no rainbow

  • Without the 3 legs of a tripod, a camera would struggle to capture the aurora borealis,

    and perhaps most importantly…

  • Without AAA’s TripTik, we would all be lost.

Don’t worry -  I got you covered on the last one.  If you’d like your own copy of the Maui treasure map, click, click, clickLet me know what treasures you find in the comments below…

Kisses - Margaret

2D or not 2D - that is the question?

To flip is to flop

One pair of flip flops is all this artist needs.  If I didn’t love the polar north so much, my toes would always be exposed in the only shoes in my closet.  One pair, no choice, no problem.

Flip flops were made for installation! Placing a few colorful sticks on a dock in Union, Washington.

Flip flops were made for installation! Placing a few colorful sticks on a dock in Union, Washington.

Asked to choose between chocolate or vanilla, the bean made of cocoa would win, even though chocolate chip ice cream would be the obvious solution.  One flavor, no choice, no worries.

Canine or feline?  That’s easy – woof.  One pet, dirty house, ugh.

Meet Callie - resident studio dog, lover of eggs and cheese, and one giant fur ball!

Meet Callie - resident studio dog, lover of eggs and cheese, and one giant fur ball!

Having choice is one thing, but having to choose is quite another.  As much as I like to believe in the power of choice, I also recognize that I prefer fewer options, thus making the selection process quick and easy.

So, in a world where there are endless possibilities, why are we asked to pick a favorite, to choose one instead of the other?

I ask this because in the world of art specifically, I can’t choose, and quite frankly, I don’t want to.  It’s the one area where I want to try everything (ok – maybe not realistic figure drawing!), and for once, the more options I have, the more my creativity can thrive.

Stack Shack in all of it’s macro glory! A rainbow of organic dye in Þingeyri, Iceland, February 2019.

Stack Shack in all of it’s macro glory! A rainbow of organic dye in Þingeyri, Iceland, February 2019.

2D+3D=5D. Now that is math I can get behind!

 

Tik Tok

Wait…there is one more area where I long for a ‘sky’s the limit’ kind of choice:  Travel!

No surprises there.  When Chris asked where he could take me for my 50th birthday, the list of options, places high on my bucket list, was lengthy.  In the end, the choice, Lofoten, Norway, wasn’t difficult because I still have so many amazing landscapes to discover.  There is time and it will never be too late.

Chris and yours truly leaning into the wind on our way to Lofoten, October 2018.

Chris and yours truly leaning into the wind on our way to Lofoten, October 2018.

And these words perfectly describe how I feel about my creative journey.  Yes, it appears my passion has led me to installation, filled with all kinds of delicious sculptural material to build, but the photographer in my DNA is itching to compose a still life of my creations.  Not sure what the painter in me thinks about all this craziness, but she’s okay to fling some color around in the meantime.  There is time.


Resident artist

Even with the wanderlust and countless corners of the globe to explore, I seem to choose Iceland again and again, just like those worn out Havaianas.  This time (February 2019 to be exact), however, I decided to return to that enchanting island near the Arctic Circle to explore my love of the fifth dimension.

Shot Glass installation on the beach of Þingeyri, Westfjords, Iceland, February 2019.

Shot Glass installation on the beach of Þingeyri, Westfjords, Iceland, February 2019.

For my first artist residency, I proposed to dive deep into extracting organic dye from the land and sea of Þingeyri, Iceland in the Westfjords.  With these colors from nature, I would experiment across mediums, and one might even accuse me of stepping into the craft side of the arts’ universe:  Dyeing fabrics, installing the frozen liquid across the village and pouring it on paper to see how seaweed, lichen, cabbage and kale would soak into washi.  Is she a cook or a seamstress?  A forager or a printmaker?  What is this artist crafting now?!?

My warehouse studio at the Westfjords Residency. Cold, but oh so spacious!

My warehouse studio at the Westfjords Residency. Cold, but oh so spacious!

Passion…

 

Palette perfection

Ten days in a remote fjord in the middle of winter was the perfect setting for limited choices.  It was exactly the wildly windy silence I sought to focus exclusively on creative expansion.  Choosing only four organic substances for extraction also felt comfortably restricted.  My reward in the sparseness was a beautifully abundant color palette only Mother Nature could create.

Seaweed, lichen, cabbage and kale - oh my! Organic dye in all it’s natural wonder.

Seaweed, lichen, cabbage and kale - oh my! Organic dye in all it’s natural wonder.

From simplicity came the complexity I seek in my art practice, a choice I may never have made on my own.

Any doubt lingering in my mind about a need to choose just one discipline continues to dissipate.  What my Icelandic residency gave me was not only a deeper understanding of organic dye, but a sharpened curiosity of how I might use it’s subtle beauty across varied platforms.  Iceland also gave me some amazing artwork!

Building a body of mixed media work from the   Iceland   series. Organically dyed fabric on canvas, 12x12 inches.

Building a body of mixed media work from the Iceland series. Organically dyed fabric on canvas, 12x12 inches.

Letting it slide

One pair of snow boots is all it takes to keep this artist’s toes toasty in the Arctic chill.  Four times over eight years, no change, all good.

One pair of boots and a bucket of ice. What more does an artist need?

One pair of boots and a bucket of ice. What more does an artist need?

In February, I also brought a pair of slides to Iceland, my winter version of flip flops.  As we made our quick exit to beat the blizzard winds threatening to strand us another day in the Westfjords, I accidentally left my slides behind.

Note to self:  I only need one pair of shoes wherever this journey takes me.

Kisses - Byrdie