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Archive for June, 2010

I was in Oregon, IL (actually housed in Stillman Valley, IL) on my 8th residency with The Fields Project.  A community that celebrates their history of Loredo Taft and his artist colony here in the late 1800’s now celebrates its agriculture and culture connection.

I can thank Anne Lueck Feldhaus for lending her application to me 8 yrs ago for my attempt at the visiting artist experience that has influenced my work in so many ways in as many years.

Ned Bushnell and I after the last soil sample collected.

I was housed with Ned and Lyrah Bushnell at a beautiful family farm, Walnut Creek Farms, in Stillman Valley, IL.  Walnut Creek Farms won the Governor’s Conservation Farm Family of the Year Award in 2004.  Ned grows corn and soybeans with the no till method.  This growing method of farming the commodities has been paying off with healthier soil and life in the field including worms.  It was pure pleasure going into his field and talking soils with him.  His enthusiasm for the process of soil conservation that decreases erosion, keeps unused plant matter in the fields replenishing what the growing has taken, disturbs the top soil less, and is forward thinking in terms of soil health as he works the soil and tilth of his father’s land.

The Oregon Tilth Project, a soil and scent process that I have created,  is why I am here.  I am humbled by the local people I have come to know when they ask “WHAT are you doing this year?”  I seem to have created a sense of curiosity and anticipation for how I might spend my time here and mirror the world that is agriculture in Northern Illinois.

A bit of background:  I read about Laura Parker’s work called “Taste of Place.”  The artist collected soil from area farms, put the soil in a wine glass in a gallery setting, released the aroma with water, and the gallery goers ate produce from that farm and made the connection of soil and food through scent and flavor.  Rarely does my inspiration for art come from other artist’s work.  This is an exception.

Stoneware jars in process.

I have been working on stoneware jars for The Oregon Tilth Project since January.  I collected images relating to farming, tilth, dirt, cultivation methods, and other agricultural images.  I made samples, measurements, shot screens, made prints for the transfer onto clay, all in Tom Lucas’ class Printmaking on Clay.  I spoke with someone from Oregon Tilth at the Family Farmed event this early spring for “permission” to use the name.  A play on names that fits in quite nicely with the theme of the project.  My experiences as a visiting artist with the Fields Project have been varied and wonderful.  Each farm family has been patient, informative, and full of due pride in what they do and are thrilled to share information with the curious.  In no other community could I have pulled off such an event if I had not formed relationships with the host farmers over the years in the environs of Ogle County.

My goal was to get as many decorated jars finished as there were host families and invite them in to the Oregon Tilth Project – A Soil and Scent Gathering or “The Soil Smackdown.”

Farm and Soil collecting videos:

Thanks to Paul Bouzide for still shots and fellow Fields Project Artist Sharron Box for the videos from the competition.  I appreciate you both!

Please note:  This project is supported by a Community Arts Assistance Program grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.”

There were 7 host families along with two other participating farms.  Nine farm families in total.  I spent the week as a visiting artist going to each farm, talking with the farmer about soil, process, crops raised, animals kept, and at times their philosophy and sentiments regarding contemporary agriculture practices.  The statements made were as wonderfully varied as the farmers themselves.  I collected a 3/4 gallon soil sample from the spot of the farmer’s choice, with and/or under the supervision of each farmer.  It was a very wet week so all of the soil samples collected were heavy with rain water.  ATV rides, donuts, event mapping, conservation methods, and so much more were discussed.  I labeled each bag, documented them on each farm with the farmer’s name on an index card, and left the bags open so the soil might breath instead of mold.  By Thursday nite I had collected soil from each farm and was prepared to transfer the soil into the corresponding jars with the help of my husband Paul (while I made myself scarce).

Husband Paul making the samples as consistent as possible.

Potluck Saturday, the traditional day of the gathering of host farmers, artists and sometimes spouses, and other interested and connected individuals who make the Fields Project happen, have a tremendous pot luck dinner.  I asked the farmers to arrive a bit early to join me for the Oregon Tilth Project – aka “The Soil Smackdown. ” The event went much better than I ever dreamed!  Several farmers arrived early (shocking I know) and we ended up having 100% participation.

Some side stories as the competition unfolded:

One farmer took a cup of her soil to her grandson’s little league game to study during the hour or two before the Smackdown.

10 Top Reasons to smell the Dirt was shared by host farmer Joan Pfeiffer.  Her neighbor, Beth Hahn, is a comedienne and offered to create a reprise of “10 top reasons….”  Hilarious!  Here they are on video and in writing:

Wrapped Pfeiffer Centennial Bin - a collaboration with Danny Mansmith 2008

#10  Less expensive than drugs

#9  Good way to block out the manure smell in the air.

#8  Eating the dirt didn’t taste very good.

#7  Once you recognize the smell, you can always find your way home when lost.

#6  All the cool kids are doing it.

#5  The nutrients in the soil are just so additcting.

#4  Sniffing soil is easier than sniffing corn stalks wich tend to get lodged in your nose and draws negative attention to yourself.

#3  After you blow your nose, you can make your own booger-dirt mud-pie

#2 The black residue under your nose is slimming and goes with anything you wear.

And the number one reason to sniff dirt….

Because wrapping a bin takes too long!!!!!

9 farmers waiting for the Soil Smackdown to begin

Other stories….

Gary and Judy Bocker perusing the soils.

During the contest, A farming couple absolutely certain that they guessed their soil… in two different jars, and both were wrong!

Each farmer asked to gently place their hand on the jar that they felt was theirs… with some good natured slapping going on as the competition progressed.

Farmers taking long sniffs, nose first, into the jars as pictured.

A farmer’s wife so incredibly excited that she found her soil that she could not contain herself and then promptly called her husband who was working in the hay field, after she was correct in her soil choice.

And the moment you have all been waiting for….

4 of 9 farmer participants could recognize the scent and texture of their soil. The rest were not pleased.

A big thanks to the following participants:

Gary and Judy Bocker, Polo

Ned and Lyrah Bushnell,  Stillman Valley

Larry and Aneda Ebert,  Ashton

We provided oats as an olfactory cleanser between soils.

Sue Jacobson,  Byron

Joanne Juriga,  Mt. Morris

Ron and Karen Larson,  Mt. Morris

Mike and Joan Pfeiffer,  Ashton

Bob and Sherrie Piros,   Chana

The contest continues....

Barb Samsel,  Oregon

Here are some images and short videos from before and during the event.  I also showed the jars at the Fields Project Art Festival the following day with many people appreciating the project and smelling and feeling the soil themselves to compare.

Successful soil smellers are announced. Congratulations to Joan Pfeiffer (far L) and Lyrah Bushnell (far R) 1 of 4 farmers able to recognize their soil.

All participating farms got a mini for participating.

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Grain of Truth Taking Stock of the relics of Chicago’s

era as the world’s stacker of Wheat

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Take me Back: An Exploration of Water, local Clay, and Time

During the Artposium Wade in the Water, I planted corn in the center of the piece with Corn Sister Carol Ozaki (pictured third from left).  Pictured too are Carol's husband Ron and Ed Berg.

Corn Sweet (se) Luscious Zea mays var rugosa

During the Artposium Wade in the Water, I planted corn in the center of the piece with Corn Sister Carol Ozaki (pictured third from left below).  Pictured too are Carol’s husband Ron-L and Ed Berg-second from R.
We planted Corn Sweet (se) Luscious Zea mays var rugosa.
“Luscious is a bicolor corn that matures in 75 days – an advantage in areas with a shorter growing season.  Flavorful 8″ ears with 16-18 rows of very tender kernels.  Great fresh but can also be canned or frozen.”
Botanical Interests, Inc.  660 Compton St. Broomfield, CO  80020.
Visitors to the piece during the Artposium

Included are images from John and Ann Graham dated May 28, 2010.  I will say little but include those taken in the last 48 hours by my Art Buddies Ed and Paul Berg.  Wade in the Water indeed.

Images from May 28th. No corn sprouts yet.

Wonderful image from John and Ann Graham

Paula and Ed biked over to the piece.

Take Me Back... getting taken back.

The Arkansas and spring snow melt.

Special thanks to Ed and Paul Berg and John and Ann Graham for sending updated images.

We will see about images and status over the next week or so.

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I have been home for a full week.  I am still in awe of the green. My garden is a rain forest compared to the environs of Colorado.  My perennials look gorgeous; the pond plants are robust with our goldfish thrilled that it is soon to be summer;  The Girls (our urban hens) clearly have enjoyed the spring salad that the yard can bring; the Witchhazel looks lovely and our heirloom rose was in full bloom;  It is raining now in fact… all over the laundry I have hanging outside.

My piece went along quite nicely along the banks of the Arkansas River.  I finished in good time to work on some mixed media works  back at the shared space.  I had many visitors on my last day and early evening of work on site.  Sue Keys, local artist visited along with Michelle Gapp, the owner of the property I am working.  What a treat!  I have greatly enjoyed working on my own out there with nothing but birds wondering what I am doing.  I was keenly aware of the rare plane above my head (may two the entire time).  Most heavenly really.  I know that I am noise sensitive but having no planes above my head was a huge bonus.

When I finished, about 6:30p I rec’d a phone call from fellow artists (C.Maxx Stevens and Hyeon Jung Kim) and a local guy, Shannon.  They had visited earlier and I was thirsty, winding down, and out of water.  They said “Wait there!  We have water for you!”  They arrived before sunset and they generously brought an entire Mexican food-t0-go along with beer, and we dined on the banks of the river as the sun went down.  I finally took my work shoes off (no shoveling dirt anymore) and ran my toes in the cool, cool water.  It was a grand way to celebrate the (mostly) completed work.

Here are some images from both visits that day…

More images, thoughts, and links to come.

Sue Keyes and Michelle Gapp visit my site

Hyeon on top of Shannon's truck to get a good vantage. C. Maxx on the ground.

Shannon removed his shoes immediately. Delightful.

Shannon or Hyeon took this image for me from on top of the truck.

Our sunset picnic on the Arkansas in the shadow of Mt. Shavano

Sunset on Take Me Back: An exploration of water, local clay, and time

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