Monday, March 29, 2010

Mosaic Conference and Studio Update

Last week, Anouk and I flew to Chicago to attend the 10th Annual Society of American Mosaic Artist Conference.  My mom, who lives in Michigan, drove to meet us so that we could spend some time together between my conference activities.  I skipped all of the workshops, partly out of financial necessity, and also to spend more time with my mom.  We hadn't seen each other in about 3 years!  We enjoyed walking in Millennium Park and a trip to the American Girl Store, which was the highlight for Anouk.

The highlight for me was the mini-salon and silent auction, where I presenteed the piece pictured above, titled "Melting."  After seeing the other absolutely outstanding mosaic art included, I had lost some confidence.  However, the piece was very well received and sold after 11 bids.  I reached Nirvana when I saw the incoming SAMA president, the esteemed Shug Jones, writing a bid.  I was floating!

I was inspired by presentations by amazing mosaic artists and the stunning accompanying mosaic exhibit at the Smith Museum of Stained Glass at the Navy Pier.  I made a few new friends from Colorado, Montreal and Turkey.  Over 400 artists attended this year's conference, from 14 different countries, and the sense of comeraderie was profound.   SAMA artists are generous about sharing techniques and information, which results in very high standards of artistic integrity and quality.  Every year, the artists push the envelope a bit further, and mosaic is becoming highly regarded throughout the art world.  I feel so lucky to have discovered this medium just at the beginning of a mosaic renaissance, and to be acquainted with so many outstanding artists in the field. 

This past year, I began to look carefully at my own work, and to take it more seriously.  At the age of 40, I am questioning how I wish to pursue my work during the next decade.  I have increasingly mixed feelings about creating functional and small mosaic pieces for recycled art festivals where I typically earn about $4-10/hour for my painstaking work.  I collect salvaged materials, custom cut each piece and file the edges so that people can safely handle the items, and there are always a number of pieces that are not good enough, or that get damaged.  Then I haul all of it, plus the displays, down to Oregon.  I spend a day carrying heavy stuff, killing my back, setting up.  And then, contrary to my natural introversion, I force myself to talk to strangers for a day or two, and to listen to them say to each other that they could make the same thing, or buy something similar for much less at Walmart.  At my last sale, I wound up right next to a very nice woman who had hundreds of small, simple mosaics done on picture frames for as little as $13.  I felt like the fair-trade import store when Cost Plus moves in next door.

At the same time, I love the recycled art movement, and these fairs offer us a chance to take a little family trip and for me to get out of my hermitage now and then.  I would just like to see the standards raised for recycled art in the same way they have been for mosaic, for all artists to ask for and receive a liveable wage, and for more mutual support instead of competition.  But then, I'm learning these lessons after 10 years working in mosaic, and 7 years as a full-time artist.

In the meantime, here's what is on my schedule at the moment: Next week, I'll be installing the final stage of the Olympia Pediatrics entryway.  You will be able to find me on scaffolding over the doors on clear days, until it is finished.  I will be teaching a glass-on-glass mosaic workshop on April 3rd at Hexen Glass in Olympia.  On April 9th, I'll install a backsplash in Portland that features a forest meadow with sun rays shining through.  Soon after that, I will begin work on a public art project for the Federal Way Senior Center/Food Bank, which is a 2.5' x 4' exterior panel featuring figures working together in a garden framed by flowers, veggies and mountains.  Between these, I am facilitating a 3' x 5' mosaic with students from Choice High School that will be installed at a Mason County park, and I hope to complete a 100 s.f. mosaic at Anouk's school with the students.  I am also making more individual pieces for galleries and the next Cracked Pots fair in July.  I'm busy!

Spring has sprung!

This is our new hive body, purchased from Steamboat Lil's, near Olympia, WA.  Mike bought it from Lil directly, unassembled, and spent Sunday gluing and nailing it together.  I will be painting the exterior this week.  We originally planned to use a top-bar hive, which is much less expensive and easy to build, but a beekeeper explained to us in detail why this would be a huge mistake for first-time beekeepers.  I am terrible at retaining information, but here is what I do remember:  When you remove the honey from your top-bar hive, you have to remove all of the infrastructure that they built, and they need to start all over.  Their energy goes into building a storage facility, rather than producing honey, which greatly limits honey supply and drains the bees.  We have decided to put off using that method until we feel fairly competent keeping bees, and have more hives.  For now, we will have only one, which is not ideal.

Turkey update: Tom became even more aggressive after my last post, attacking Mike viciously, clawing him through his jeans.  I emailed a couple of heritage turkey breeders for advice, and I was told that we need to cull that tom right away.  Right after that, our female turkey began to nest and lay eggs.  Now, when I enter the coop, I carry a long pole that I keep pointed in his direction.  I feel like I'm using a lance to defend myself against a very silly foe.  We have ordered some baby turkeys, but we will also let our pair breed and see what happens.  But Mr. Tom will likely end up in the freezer by summer.

Mike has all of the raised beds prepared for planting, and I put potatoes in the ground on March 16th.  This week, Anouk has spring break so we'll be planting peas, carrots, turnips, beets and greens.  Nicer weather means she is playing outside more, allowing Mike and I to work in the garden and studio much more than we can during winter.  She builds fairy houses, collects worms, and we are turning her sandbox into a raised bed garden just for her.

Anouk and I were in Chicago last week, and while we were away, Mike took up all of the remaining lawn in our front and back yards.  His plan is to till it all up, level it out, and re-seed it with a more maintenance-free grass/herb mix.  We are hoping to switch to a manual lawn mower this year, which is timely, since our gas mower has died.

Thanks to Mike's dedicated, ongoing efforts on weekends all through winter, the garden is relatively weed-free and waiting for the busy work of planting to begin.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Romancing the Turkey

In case you haven't been following my story, we began raising turkeys 3 years ago.  The first year, we raised 3 domestic breed turkeys, which are bred to grow so large that they cannot procreate, fly, or even carry their own weight after reaching full size.  Our expert farmer friends, Paul & Kirsten, came over and butchered them in our driveway in exchange for the largest.  That turkey was so huge, they had to saw it in half to fit it in their oven.

Last year, we ordered heritage turkeys, which can fly, live full lives without their legs breaking under their own weight, and are capable of procreation.  However, heritage birds are so rare now that the mating instinct is a bit fuzzy, from what I understand.  Since almost all turkeys are bred through artificial insemination, there is little information about turkey mating, and even the turkeys could use some sex ed courses.

We butchered (that is, Paul and Kirsten did) five turkeys in November, leaving a tom and two hens in hopes of seeing them hatch a slough of babies this spring.  Having read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (highly recommended!) I have been watching for any signs of sexual maturity similar to those she describes in her book.  (We lost one hen to a raccoon attack.)

I've mentioned recently that Tom is acting like a Vegas showgirl, strutting around with his feathers all fluffy, rattling his wings to make a noise like a gentle motor.  He chases me whenever I turn away from him, then shies away when I turn back toward him.  I felt terrible when I learned that he scared the bejeesus out of our young housesitter last weekend.  But, despite months of turkey machismo, I have not seen an egg or any attempts by Tom to get jiggy with his woman.

Until this morning!  She has been approaching me for a couple of days as if she believes I am a potential suitor, sitting down next to me and bowing her head.  I used to sit and pet my turkeys when they did this, but I have since learned that it is mating behavior.  Still, today, I couldn't resist giving her a little pet on the back, which triggered an immediate reaction from Tom.  I thought he was going to attack me!  He ran over, making all kinds of noise, and proved that he could do for her what I never can.  Afterward, he looked like he wasn't sure what had just happened, but she appeared refreshed and satisfied.

From what I have read, even if the turkeys are mating, egg fertilization is tricky.  So, I'm not expecting this to result in hatching chickens right off the bat, but it is a very promising step in the right direction.  We are about to order a shipment of turkeys again, but I hope that, in future years, we will feel confident in our turkeys' ability to hatch and raise their own young.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Early Spring on the farm and in the studio

Practicing my booth set-up on our front porch helps me to assemble and arrange my space when I get to the actual sale, without finding that I am missing necessities.

This was supposed to be a crazy-busy week of preparations for the Cracked Pots Ungarden Recycled Art Fair coming up on Saturday, March 6th at The Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, OR.  A few mosaics are yet unfinished in the studio, waiting for coats of paint on the frames or grout touch-ups.  However, Anouk became sick with a flu this week and was home for three days, requiring my full attention.  I had to focus on what I could accomplish in the house, including bookkeeping, cleaning, and sewing projects.  Mike has been away at a conference, so I didn't even have nights to catch up.  I had to let go of my expectations and just accept that I would be short a couple of the larger, more expensive items I hoped to sell. 

Here it is Thursday and I leave tomorrow, so it is too late to finish in time to pack the work.  It will have to wait for the next show, or I will submit it to a gallery, which means I pay the gallery 50% if it sells.

In the meantime, I have one commission waiting for installation, a small one nearly completed, a sheet of wedi on my easel with the design drawn on for a backsplash, and I'm expecting a deposit for a small public art project that will be complete at the end of April.  I am a little bit overwhelmed.

The garden is waiting to be tilled and for planting to begin.  I am hoping to get out there next week, finally.  I have planted some greens and peas in my kitchen garden, since it is right outside the back door.  Rhubarb, chives and leeks are coming back strong on their own, as are all of the berries throughout the garden.

Our chickens are laying again!  In fact, we are getting 4-5 eggs each day from only 6 birds, which is a much better ratio than last year.  We really missed the full nutrition of fresh eggs over the past 2 months. One of our first projects will be to divide half of the chicken yard and enclose it with chicken wire, including the top.  The chickens will then have access to an outdoor area where they will be safe from raccoons during the winter and when we are not home.  Most of the time, we will allow them to free range as usual.

We had a remarkably mild winter, very much in contrast with the rest of the country.  We have been enjoying an early spring,which we expect to pay for this summer, as a drought is anticipated.  There was not enough snowfall in the mountains to provide adequate water supply through summer, so we are preparing to conserve water in coming months.  I wish we had rain barrels - something to put into future plans.

Our big, new thing this spring will be the addition of bees to the farm.  We ordered one hive, which we will pick up in Eugene in April.  In the meantime, we will need to invest about $200-300 in a hive structure and equipment.  We've been told that it is important to have more than one hive, but one is as much as we can afford right now.

Mr. Tom (turkey) has been displaying nonstop macho behavior lately.  He fluffs himself up and struts around his mate all day, shimmying to beat the band.  He is intimidated by me, and sidles away when I approach him, but as soon as I turn my back, he runs at me, pretending to chase me off.  Sometimes I humiliate him by picking him up and holding him, just for fun.  I can't wait to see if they can successfully mate and hatch some turkey chicks.  So far, no turkey eggs.

It is another gorgeous day out there and I have a lot of catching up to do on this one day I have to myself before a busy weekend.  Off I go to try to sell my recyled art to the masses, wondering as always if this is the best use of my time and creativity.  The fact is, though it would probably make more financial sense for me to be at work in the studio on commissions and higher-quality art panels, I enjoy the opportunity to leave home for the weekend and participate in something.  We get to take a small trip as a family, stay in a hotel, swim in the pool, hear some live music, and see all of the fantastic work that the other resourceful artists bring to the show.  Last year, I broke even after travel expenses.  This year, I hope to get paid.