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The end of last year I learned the Saul Alexander Gallery at the Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun Street accepted my exhibition proposal for “Making Community: Street Pulp Artists’ Books.” The exhibition opened Thursday, April 2, 2015 and continues through Wednesday, April 29, 2015. As I finished installing the work I felt a strong sense of celebration and gratitude for this opportunity to share the results – from surveys and in the form of Artists’ Books, with the public.

Participants pulling sheets at the Dart Library. Photo from Leize Gaillard

Participants pulling sheets at the Dart Library. Photo from Leize Gaillard

James Simons Elementary Principal Quenetta White pulls a sheet. Photo from Heschel Falek

James Simons Elementary Principal Quenetta White pulls a sheet. Photo from Heschel Falek

Erin Sutherland paints her fresh sheet at DwellSmart.

Erin Sutherland paints her fresh sheet at DwellSmart.

The Street Pulp project was a community art making opportunity for the people of Charleston. In September and October of 2014, assisted by volunteers from the community, I presented four individual Street Pulp events, each at a different location in the upper peninsula area of Charleston. Two of the events were open to the public and two were private and held at schools. Working outside, in parking lots and playgrounds, participants make sheets of fresh paper containing recycled materials from schools and businesses and decorating it with pigmented pulp in images reflecting their community.

Partners in Street Pulp were involved because of their geographic location in the upper peninsula area of Charleston, involvement in the community, access to potential participants, and underserved audiences. These partners included the John L. Dart Library, 1067 King Street; DwellSmart, 804 Meeting Street; James Simons Elementary School, 741 King Street, and the Charleston Development Academy, 233 Line Street.

The project and exhibition explore the idea of creative placemaking in the upper Peninsula. The transformative process from fiber to pulp to paper and then to the object of artists’ book is an apt analogy for creative placemaking. Fiber does not change its nature, only its form, just as creative placemaking will change the form, but not the nature of the upper peninsula.

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The three artists’ books in the exhibition are comprised of the handmade sheets pulled by the participants during the Street Pulp events. I selected the accordion book structure for the books that include individual sheets made by makers and the artist. I chose this book structure because it evokes the connectivity of community. Similar to each member of the community, each sheet is individual and connected to another in a variety of ways – in the book and in the flesh.

Installed on the walls of the gallery are nine informational panels explaining the Street Pulp project, the process of hand papermaking, and photographs from community papermaking events that included 148 community participants yielding over 150 sheets of paper. After the exhibition, I will give the artists’ books to each of the four participants and one to Enough Pie.

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ENCORE + RECEPTION

An encore presentation of Street Pulp will be held in the Enough Pie booth at Charleston Farmer’s Market on Saturday April 11 from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The market is located at 329 Meeting Street in Marion Square. Community members are invited to come to booth, pull a sheet of paper, and decorate it to reflect their community. I am there as long as the pulp lasts!

After the Farmer’s Market, on Saturday, April 11m you are invited to a reception to celebrate the exhibition in Conference Room B at the Charleston County Public Library (Main Library), from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. I will answer your questions, tell you about the project, and serve some pie and other refreshments. Give me your feedback, too!

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This will be the only planned public viewing of three of the five artists’ books from the Street Pulp project. To see the books after the exhibition closes, you may contact the partners directly.

The Street Pulp project was partially funded by Enough Pie and the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs and the City of North Charleston Cultural Arts Program through their joint administration of the Lowcountry Quarterly Arts Grant Program and the South Carolina Arts Commission which receive support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John and Susan Bennett Memorial Arts Fund of the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina.

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When I pulled my first sheet of pulp from the vat, I was hooked. Like a fish that goes with gusto for the bait at the end of the hook, only to be yanked from the familiar swimming territory, I too was yanked from the familiar confusion of my life into another type of confusion – making, learning a craft, and finding some bliss.

Setting up my garage studio has taken a few days, but now it is set up, the beater is running and I have stood outside pulling pulp from the vats, which will become fresh sheets of handmade paper. I am working on the street in my apartment complex and people with inquiring minds are stopping to ask me what I am doing. My enthusiasm is like someone ready to convert souls with the “gospel of pulp;” the Street Pulp events facades for a revival to (re) ignite creativity and spend energy in making. Making place, making art, simply using a pair of hands to do something new and different.

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Approaching potential partners because of their geographic location in the Upper Peninsula, involvement in the community, access to potential participants and underserved audiences, I wanted to work with people who might be looking to be revived and engaged. Enthusiastic and curious, these partners include the John L. Dart Library (Sept 27), DwellSmart, 804 Meeting Street (Oct 11 from 10am to 2pm), James Simons Elementary School, and the Charleston Development Academy. The first two partners are public Street Pulp events; at the schools they are only for their students.

The first event was held Saturday, Sept 27 at the Dart Library. Over forty people came and got their hands wet, some even had some pulp sticking to them as they walked out the door. When I asked one young woman, who was at first only interested in what was going on and didn’t intend to pull a sheet, what she thought, she said, “I kinda like it!” She was smiling the whole time she made her piece using pulp and aquarelle pencils. Another young man made his sheet and then watched his three brothers make their sheets, looking over their shoulders and monitoring their progress.

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Last week, while the sheets from Street Pulp I dried in my fancy dryer box, I decided what needed to be tweaked, and am getting my own, recently acquired Hollander beater ready to rumble. Buying grease, sawhorses, outfitting my little garage with equipment, and bleaching the mildew that is growing on the bottom of the walls consumed my time. I have beat two loads, mopped water up from the drainless garage floor and have two box fans running at all time. Fresh sheets are again drying in my my dryer box and they will join the others to become collaborative artists’ books for the community.

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Don’t miss out on your conversion opportunity at Street Pulp, this Saturday, October 11 in the DwellSmart parking lot, 804 Meeting Street, Charleston from 10am to 2pm. The vats will have some of their pulped recycled paper and two different colors of abaca, maybe more and lots of colors to decorate sheets. Be the community that provides the energy of transformation –  pull sheets from the vats and show us your idea of creativity. I am hoping for a conversion or two as well.

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This project was funded in part by Enough Pie and the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs and the City of North Charleston Cultural Arts Program through their joint administration of the Lowcountry Quarterly Arts Grant Program and the South Carolina Arts Commission which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John And Susan Bennett Memorial Arts Fund of the Coastal Community Foundation of SC.

It was about a year ago I met Enough Pie at the Charleston Regional Arts Alliance OPEN Arts Expo. Under the oaks in the College of Charleston Cistern Yard it still felt like summer, even though it was September. Claire and Chris were helping people, mostly children, throw paint filled balloons at a large standing canvas. They were making community art.

Shortly after I moved to Charleston, I began following Enough Pie on Facebook, signed up for their newsletter, and put them on my “want to get to know you list.” The organization had just started and hosted the first Awakening shortly before I arrived; it was so exciting to be moving to a community that cared about creative placemaking and actually used the word. My interest in place began in the mid to late 1990s when I read “Lure of the Local” by Lucy Lippard, a book about place, memory, and from an art critic’s perspective about where artists work with both in a multi-centered society. Enough Pie’s intent to engage with creative placemaking and guerrilla art appealed to me intellectually and creatively.

Claire, Enough Pie’s Communications Director, gave me the head’s up about a grant making opportunity they were about to release and my wheels began to turn. My degree is in Anthropology and I am an artist making handmade paper, artists’ books, writing poetry, calligraphy, and letterpress – anything paper and graphic. Anthropology is my umbrella of understanding, the eyes through which I view the world. It seemed there was culture and change to understand more deeply and new ways to make art in a collaborative way. Bring it on.

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Like most people, when I connect with something strongly, ideas form quickly, arriving in my mind in a complete state. It was as if I asked the question, “How could papermaking and the upper peninsula go together?” and “boom” put my palm out to catch the idea. This is what fell in: I would take pulp to the streets, include clothing and paper collected from the community, pulped as inclusions in the vat, and show those living and working here how to make handmade paper. Once the paper was dry, I would make an artists’ book, stitching, crocheting, and gluing the sheets of community made paper together. The book would be twelve feet long or longer to represent as many makers as possible. It would stay in the community.

Making paper from fiber or plant material is a transformative process. The molecular structure is changed, but its essence remains the same. For example, the plant is called abaca when it looks like a banana plant, a bale of partially processed sheets, pup in the vat (or on the street), or a dried sheet of paper. It may look different, but its essence and name is still abaca. The same applies to a child growing to adulthood and to a community going through a renaissance or destruction. So, things can change, but their essence remains the same – the thing is, we really don’t know what the true essence of things is most of the time.

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In the Street Pulp events, we, as a community of Charleston dwellers, could come together, purposely transform something, with everyone working individually and collectively, involved with a part of the process, adding their color and texture, and then recognize what we had created with our hands and hearts. It excited me and it excited Enough Pie because they decided to fund the project and allow me to implement it as I envisioned it, with enough funds to pay for the materials and some of my time, a great support to working artists.

Claire and Chris delivered the good news in March 2014. Now it was up to me, with their help, to connect with the “community” and find out who was game to make Street Pulp, get their hands wet, and participate in art and community. Over the next few months I’ll be posting about Street Pulp events. I hope you will follow along and see who does get their hands wet. Maybe it will be you.

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Today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March on Washington. I was 5 years old and do not remember the black and white television coverage, newspaper headlines, or radio stories from the event. Perhaps I was preparing for my first day of first grade and still innocent of the world, its haters, and the inequity yet to be seen. In my small town, we seemed to grow from the same set of roots, with equal access to resources, and little or no social stratification.

To honor the non-violent philosophy MLK embraced, I share a poem –  a fragment of a profound experience and insight about violence. On the eve of yet another crisis in world politics, which could potentially escalate to more violence, it seems fitting to first look within.

Observation

Leaving my “helping others” job, I drive by a Catholic Community Center and see three young boys against the chain link fence.  One is observing.  One is pounding the crap out of another, his right arm, in the form of an “L,” swinging high and plowing into the other’s stomach.   Cars drive by.  Not believing what I am seeing, I stop my car, in the middle of the lane to judge the situation. Of course, the one doing the beating is wrong….right?   A large black pickup comes up behind me and lays on the horn, when he realizes I am stopped.  WHAT THE FUCK!   Don’t you see what is going on here!  I start driving again as the beater runs away.  Quickly, the black pickup passes me on the right and shares the American Mudra – the bird – out his window.  Caught.  In an endless and pervasive cycle of violence that begets violence that begets violence that begets violence. 

Kris Westerson, Nov 25, 2012

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Cornelia Parker, Mass (Colder, Darker Matter), 1997

Taken at the Phoenix Art Museum

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Even though she doesn’t have opposable thumbs, I wonder if my cat, Torti, is a secret bookbinder. She spends most of her time by my workbench and even though she is sleeping, it seems she knows how long projects take and what materials are needed to complete them. She validates my artistic and design choices when she lies on the paper I have selected for a project. It is as if she knows the process of making a book. And since I have been working on my business plan, she has taken to assisting in that process, too.

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When I took my first class in book binding it felt like I had done it before.  Awakened was a muscle memory of sewing paper, folding signatures, gluing, and pressing. The more I learn, the more it feels like buried memories awaken. There are many skills to perfect to have a well-crafted product it might take this life and more to become exceptionally proficient.   

This rest of this week, bench time is dedicated to completing a limp paper case binding for a commission of an edition of eight books. The project has personal connections and a great deal of time invested, and it is entering the home stretch. Two columns of stitched books are standing on my bench, ready for their lining, end bands, and covers. 

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I designed the book, worked with the author (my father) to edit the text, created images, beat the fiber, pulled the sheets, and printed from polymer plates on a Vandercook letterpress.  Through this process I have not only become a better artist, but have come to understand and have respect for one of my father’s loves – farming and the tractors he used to farm.

The paper smells like wheat from the inclusion in the abaca pulp and smelling it awakens my memory of growing up on a farm in Minnesota, close to the Canadian and North Dakota borders. Even though I did not drive any of the tractors or have any interest in being a farmer, as I look back the experience was the beginning of my lifelong obsession with weather and landscape. This project helped me realize it also was the beginning of my passion for making things and a love of the artistic process.   

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During the project the trusty beater in the studio I was using broke and I had to use another less familiar one to beat the fiber. Materials had to be increased from original projections and the entire project took so much longer than I anticipated. My experience was déjà vu, emulating the text in the book –  the part where my father wrote about never ending tractor repair and the challenges of machinery and time.

When we were young my uncle put a “No Vacancy” sign above the shop door because my siblings and I were always underfoot watching them repair, build, or modify for the equipment. In the house, we watched my mother sew, quilt, paint, wallpaper, or bake. Everyone was making things and there was a strong creative energy everywhere. 

Finding paper, books, and letterpress was, for me, like finding home. This project for my father, has allowed me to see my upbringing in a new way and understand how similar it is to my present livelihood. I am grateful for his role in the “making,” which I had believed came primarily from my mother. It seems my destiny would be that I would make things. It took me a little while to figure it out, but now I am coming full circle to begin again and to build new authentic work. Just like the love my father had for his craft.

 

 

 

 

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Before I left San Antonio, a wise friend asked me what I was going to miss. At the time I was so intent on packing and moving it was difficult to imagine myself in the future looking at the past and missing anything. My answer included things like “knowing how to get places;” “favorite eateries like Green and Bird Bakery;” “my friends;” “the familiar. The month of May became a series of goodbye lunches, conversations, well wishes, last times, and opportunities to wake up.  Strong emotions arose and even those who normally eschew public displays of emotion found themselves hugging and crying as we said goodbye and drove away.

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The toughest goodbye by far was to a place – my place of refuge in the Picante Paper Book Arts Studio at the Southwest School of Art. My heart found its expression in the warm and humid safety of those walls. Every time I walked in the door I would breath deeply and be rewarded with a mixture of wet fiber and pungent ink. My thoughts on the day of farewell were of gratitude for the place, the people connected to it, and the container of creativity they make.

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My move to Charleston began Tuesday, June 11 when I packed the remainder of my belongings, including a protesting Torti ensconced in her carrier, into the Prius and drove east into the sun. The drive was uneventful. Some rain in Houston, overnight in Baton Rouge, Atlanta, and suddenly I was here, to the place I been talking and dreaming about for three months. In one week and a day I drove a thousand miles, found a place to live, and moved in. Boom!

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Then I heard the voice of the same wise friend reminding me about the “stress of a new address.” (What? Stress?) How it didn’t matter if you really wanted something, were excited and positive, the stress would still be there. She had suggested I take it easy on myself.

Unpacking and placing my belongings took a week. Gluing the furniture damaged in the sloppily packed truck and waiting for the bookshelves to arrive took another few days. Just like everyone else who moves, obtaining a driver’s license, car plates, address updates, utilities, voter registration, library card, post office box, and forwarding mail, were accomplished quickly. Some surprises – like paying personal property tax – but mostly looking things up online and then accomplishing them, checking them off the list. Using Siri to find my way around at first and then practicing getting to the grocery store and coffee shop without her assistance, gradually enlarging my circle of exploration.

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Then I got really, really tired. Exhausted. All the pushing and Boom! of the last six months finally caught me. My thoughts turned to doubting the process and thinking I should have already “arrived.” Where I was, and still am, is in the liminal, in the state betwixt and between, after one action and before next action, at the threshold. In the middle of the ritual, the point everyone must walk through to get to the other side, between the usual ways my identity, time or community had been and the new way it was going to be.

Opportunity like this has a way of slowing one down to allow questions to arise. As my wise friend said it was a good time to relax and not to push too hard.  So, the questions came. What next? Business plan? Get my website done? Get downtown and meet people? Set up appointments? Watch the cat sleep in the sun and establish her new routine? Watch a movie?

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For the last few weeks my priority has been to get my creative work online and to become a social networking maven. Really. Having only paid half-assed attention to social media over the past few years, there was a learning curve and many days spent either standing or sitting in front of the computer trying to figure out how to set things up. Well, first to figure out what was the purpose of each social media expression? Did I need everything? How would I use them? How was I going to get an Etsy shop open? What is all this hash tagging?  As I worked, I imagined my young social media savvy friends being really impressed with my prowess. We’ll see.

Next to my computer is a pile of notes with user names and passwords for each site and other notes with questions to answer about how to do things on the sites.  I Google the question, find a forum, watch a YouTube video and then do it. The method is successful and today the Etsy shop is open and the website is ready to go. Pinterest, Linkedin, and Twitter are up but not quite to my liking, so I will do more work on them. The Square Marketplace is half started and Constant Contact is on the horizon.

Instead of a comprehensive end game, they are a start and I am reading about how to use them all, incorporate them into a marketing plan, and reach the realm of digital maven. They are not product, but process, the act of moving through the liminal to whatever is on the other side of the ritual of moving city.

Winding through this regroup, retreat, and reemergence generates more thoughts than I can possibly pay attention to, so I try not to. My practice is to return to the moment, the one where I am trying to figure out how to make a widget or if I need a widget or what the hell a widget is instead of dwelling on missing Bird Bakery with Melanie or Green with Beck, Allan, and Linda. When I embrace the liminal, say out loud I am tired, and open to the energy everything expands and I can see a flash of what might be on the other side.

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No obstacles impeded the last leg of my journey back to current home base.  Smooth roads, (except for Louisiana), moving traffic (except for Louisiana), sunny skies, and plentiful scenery were the order of the day.  When I arrived at the outskirts of San Antonio, my thought was, “Already?” 

 

Moving between 70 and 75 miles an hour doesn’t give one enough time to act on Henri Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment, that one instant full of movement captured for by camera.  Mind can catalog those images instantly and thanks to the Voice Memos app on my iPhone, I can to. 

 

Flashes From the Road

 

Burnt umber cows grazing under stacked bright red Wendy’s and Big Mac bill boards

Pickups pulling crashed pickups with white letters “IN TOW” spray painted on the back

Two men, in camouflage, walking back to their pickup and trailer with a red plastic gas container

Bare-chested man and tank topped woman,  each on one side of the cement barrier, walking facing traffic on the right hand side of the interstate

Elderly couple, in their bronze “drive your living room sofa Buick” stopped on the shoulder.  She walking towards to trunk, her white hair and red cardigan beaming, he furtively checking the rearview mirror

Pickup and trailer loaded with sky blue port-a-potties, one tilted at a 45% angel in the bed of the pickup, three others strapped together riding on the trailer

Hawks sitting on trees, top of poles and on the triangular cut outs of a green alligator on a sign advertising an alligator garden attraction

Clouds resembling reclining human vertebrae float in the sky

Blackbirds flying and roosting as one on leafless trees; move to the right, back to tree, again and again

Grey and white clouds look like a Viewmaster stereoscope scene

Double height billboards advertising casinos on nine tenths of the space and providing gambling problem 800 numbers on the remaining one tenth

Highway patrol strategically positioned behind an overpass

Dead tires in the round, and left in blown out fragments unraveled and splayed across the pavement

Turtle tenaciously lumbering across the road, makes it through the right lane and half the left land, before it is nicked by the black SUV behind me.  It flies through the air. 

Rhythm and whoosh, moving the air molecules, the Prius flies, too

 

Earlier in the day a mix of R&B and singer/songwriter tunes fell on my ears, and fifty-five miles out of San Antonio the soundtrack becomes The Guess Who’s Greatest Hits.  In a reflective mood, yet reveling in the energy of a successful relocation recon tour, for me there is nothing quite like 70s rock, played REALLY loud to express a heightened sense of joy, fear, hope, apprehension, and love rolled altogether.  The miles flew and yes, I sang at the top of my lungs, right along with Burton Cummings:

 

“(No time left for you)
On my way to better things
(No time left for you)
I found myself some wings
(No time left for you)
Distant roads are callin’ me
(No time left for you)
You-da-un-da-un-da-un-da-un-da”

 

Arriving at my apartment, my cat Tortie, the “Princess” acts like I have not been gone for two weeks thanks to a friend who stayed with her.  I hope she is ready for relocation, sometime in the next few months.  I know I am. 

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