XOXO CLE

Greetings from Ohio!

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I’m more accustomed to the month or shorter residency and I realized today that I still have more time here than has already gone by. This is a good thing. It’s been nice to have some extra time to settle in and make the requisite bad art before getting to the better stuff.

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Cleveland! Gritty, interesting, diverse, tough, friendly, complicated. As I have mentioned before, this place has a depth and breadth of arts organizations and facilities that I find astonishing. Everyone has been friendly. Everyone has been helpful. Every artist and arts professional I’ve interacted with has been gracious and open. This, my friends,  is not something a person finds everyplace when passing through the world as an artist. I wish it was.

IMG_5156And Zygote Press! It has been such a great relief to be back in a print shop, interacting with and sharing information with other printmakers. I have learned a ton already, new materials, new processes, new approaches – and I am happy to be among my tribe. The shop is huge and generously equipped, lived- in and functional, and I like that they serve a wide variety of different needs that artists and printers have. As I suspected, these folks know how to have a good time in addition to making good art. It’s been such a pleasure. If you haven’t checked in on Zygote, do so.

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Now there was the small matter of the blazing dumpster outside my bedroom window at 2 am on day #3, but that seems far in the rear-view mirror. Interesting reintroduction for Country Mouse to city life. (“Is this normal?”) Gentrification is a distance from this neighborhood, and wandering at night is definitely out, but I like it nonetheless.

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And yes, I was here for the great basketball victory. I did not press up into the crowds lining the parade route though I did walk downtown in the middle of a stream of happy humanity, then quickly beat a retreat before the parade started. It was all quite a thing to behold.

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It has been a very productive stretch of time. My apartment is right above the print shop, and I am taking full advantage of the easy commute. The fact that I needed new work for a show that opens July 8 has lit a good fire – nothing if not deadline-responsive, this artist! – and the pressure made me get down to business right away. I’ve been working on woodcut prints and both larger and small collage pieces. The nice thing about this calendar is that once the show goes up, I have plenty of time to experiment and try some new things with the freedom to fail. I’m looking forward to some  useful disasters.

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Should you happen to be in the area, Zygote is located at 1410 East 30th, and the gallery will have a reception the evening of July 8. I’ll be showing in the good company of Elizabeth Emery and Amy Casey, two Cleveland artists who went to Homer and had residencies at Bunnell Street Arts Center in previous years on the Alaska end of this exchange. Homer artist Michael Walsh’s film that he made here last year will also be screened at the opening. It should be a fun evening.

Aside from working and doing my good diligence in visiting museums and galleries, I’ve been traversing the city on bike and foot, well-fueled by Mitchell’s Ice Cream to my west and Presti’s Bakery to the east. Amazing how many things I can find to do that result in passing these places. I miss home but am enjoying the conveniences, culture, and challenges that I find here – and that’s what I wanted.

Huge thanks to Zygote and the Rasmuson Foundation for making this all possible!

(And, of course, to Brandon who is running the Alaskan compound solo while I luxuriate in the world of indoor plumbing, few chores, and no herd of geriatric dogs. I will owe big.)

 

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I’m waiting for the 3 pm flight out of Port Heiden. Mosaics are done, kids (and for sure, teachers!) are looking forward to their final four days of the school year.

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This has been one of my favorite residencies. I was welcome, well cared for, and really happy in this community. With a small school you have the chance to get a sense of who the students are, can actually learn their names (I hate the “hey you” that has to happen in the larger schools,) and also have the time to really dig in and work. We spent most of every afternoon working as a group on our projects, meaning the kids probably had three times the time and contact that students get in a larger school. They did high quality work and I would expect that there will be more mosaics and prints made at Meshik School in the future. It’s helpful at the end of a long school year to have the novelty of a new face and some new things to do.

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In my free time, I walked the beaches, befriended dogs, lived in the school, and enjoyed the general lack of busy-ness that a place like this provides. I was here for the graduation ceremony (class of two!) and potluck afterwards. I had to work to not make a complete pig of myself on the best salmon strips I’ve ever had. Nice fish here, not surprising.

The landscape is wide open and some days the wind and rain howled at a rate that kept me indoors; other days it was all distant mountains and sea. I saw the largest bear and wolf tracks I’ve ever seen.There is not a tree to be found. I am amazed yet again at how diverse this state is in geography, wildlife, and culture. I’d love to come back here someday with a backpack for a different kind of adventure, or to visit the school again and see how these kids grow and change.

Here’s a link to a nice website about Port Heiden: http://www.nativevillageofportheiden.com/

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Assuming all goes as planned, by Monday I’ll be in another small school – different region, culture, landscape, and lifestyle – to help the kids in Tanacross finish out the school year with an art bang.

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I have been treating my website much like I have been treating cleaning the upstairs of our house, namely not looking at it and being afraid of it. This is not really an adequate approach to either problem.

The last four months taught me some lessons about how much is too much. This situation was not planned, and I can’t say conclusively that it won’t happen again, but it was a little nuts. Things began stacking up like dominoes in January and by the middle of February I was breaking out in a cold sweat when I dared to look at the whole picture. I realized quickly both that the only way out of it all was to plow through it, and also that there was nothing to be gained by looking at anything other than what was immediately next on the list.Tabbert_030216_01There was a solo show at the Alaska Humanities Forum in Anchorage, a great place to show work. There was a project with two preschools. There was a wonderful ten day winter residency through National Park Service in Denali Park. Two finalist proposals for 1% projects popped up unexpectedly in the middle of it all (I did not get either job, but damn am I proud of one of my proposals.) There was the bird-in-the-hand 1% project for Kenai Peninsula College to finish for a May installation. There were three weeks of printmaking with Pearl Creek Elementary in Fairbanks. There were grant proposals and exhibition applications to submit. There’s an ongoing collaborative project with scientists and other artists that continues through next February. I did a lot of work that did not land the specific fish I was trying to catch, but none of it was wasted time.

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There was also skijoring, ski classes and good trail exploration. In a generally well behaved winter and spring there was one night of spectacular margarita-related fun. It was mostly work, but not all work.

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Photo by Amanda Byrd

I’m now doing two weeks of teaching in Port Heiden. After this peaceful residency at a very small and remote school I fly home, repack, and drive 200 miles to Tanacross for another week of teaching. Then we head to Kenai to install art. On June 1, I take a deep breath and head to Cleveland for two months at Zygote Press.

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I know we are all supposed to be keeping everything moving forward on all fronts, be ready for all opportunities and be ever vigilant on the electronic scene. This stretch of time felt a bit more like triage, and I pretty quickly realized I had to choose either the making of the art OR the activity around the making of the art. I guess we know which one won.

However, much like the housekeeping, I need to break this side of things down and get it back in order. There will be more from Port Heiden in a couple of days, and some additions and subtractions to the website will be coming soon. It is good to be looking at the last three big things that have to happen before I go to Zygote, the shining light at the end of the tunnel. I can at least begin the online chores. The dust bunnies under the bed may just have to grow until August.

News from now

Clearly I’ve fallen off the blog post wagon; rather than the long recap, I’ll just talk about a few recent events and try to do a better job in the future.

It was a summer of a lot of work, good work, but towards the end it felt a bit like all work and no play. Luckily, a few great fall trips helped even the score.

006 (2)Brandon and I finished the fall chores, got snowed on a bit, and took a much needed vacation. We swung through Iowa briefly to surprise his grandma on her 90th birthday, then continued on to Pittsburgh, picked up some bikes, and rode the combination of the Great Allegheny Passage and the C and O towpath to Washington DC. With short time to complete the ride, we were lucky to find a bike company that would let us rent on one end and drop off at the other.

IMG_0244 There has been plenty of bike travel in my life but this trip was ALL roadless – we were on trails for the entire 335 miles – and wow, it will be hard to go back to fighting traffic on future cycling adventures. Pittsburgh definitely deserves more exploration, and I took an extra two days in DC to gorge on art museums. I feel well fed and ready for a winter at my usual distance from Big Culture.

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I’m in a break between two teaching sessions at the wonderful Anne Wien Elementary school here in Fairbanks. I’ll be back next week, ready to wrangle mosaics out of more young artists. It has been a great project. This residency as well as mosaic projects going forward are going to benefit from a $1,000 grant I received from the “Awesome Foundation – Alaska Chapter.” I’m using the money to augment the school supply budget when we need to purchase more of the more expensive colors of glass tiles. Yep, red, yellow, and orange cost 3-4 times as much as the other colors, and now I won’t have to ration them. I love the idea of a no-strings-attached, trust-the-recipient, community based grant program. More information on them here:  http://www.awesomefoundation.org/en/chapters/alaska

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Work in progress by Anne Wien Elementary students

The really big news in my world is that in 2016 I will be heading to Cleveland to work for two months at Zygote Press. The Rasmuson Foundation, a family foundation with the overall mission “to promote a better life for Alaskans” has made a huge difference in the lives of artists in the state over the last ten years in a number of different ways. This is the third year of their artist residency program. Through a pairing of Alaskan and Lower 48 arts organizations, four Alaskans are selected to go out and four artists and writers come up from Outside. I was unbelievable lucky to be selected this round AND I am very fortunate to have a partner organization in the program that is so perfect for a printmaker. In addition, this residency is fully financially supported. To have that much time to work and not worry about how to pay the bills is wonderful. I don’t yet know when I’ll be going, but I suspect it will be in the summer/fall of next year. You can read more about the extensive good work throughout Alaska made possible by the Rasmuson Foundation, in the arts and elsewhere, at their website http://www.rasmuson.org

and about Zygote Press here: http://zygotepress.com

This comes at a great time; I’ve fallen away from printmaking over the last few years. I’ve felt a bit trapped by the medium and didn’t really know what I want to do or say with my prints. It’s been easier just to do other things than fight with it. Finally, this spring, some new ideas showed up in my studio. Now I’m ready.

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I’ll be spending most of the winter working towards a show at the Alaska Humanities Forum in March, as well as on a 1% project for Kenai Peninsula College that I would like to have finished by early summer. I’ll also be doing some more teaching in April and May, in Fairbanks, Tanacross, and if all goes our way in the funding department, Port Heiden.

port-heidenIt’s been a great six months. I’ve felt focused, productive, and supported, and now I’m ready for the dark season. On the home front I’m happy to say that all five members of Team Couch are still going strong. Brothers Pablo and Rothko turned twelve and Pete and Irene turned eleven this summer. (Four year old Dora is still a force of nature.) To still have everybody healthy at this age is more than I could have hoped for. I don’t know how much running the old guys will want to do, but we’ll go as far as they can. Here’s to art, snow, and adventures in the studio and on the trails, and to doing a better job keeping up with this!

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Many pictures, few words

It’s been a great few months. I’m tired, but April, May, and June have shown me the value of treating art like a job. The show at Alaska House in Fairbanks has been met with great enthusiasm and excitement from both locals and travelers. Even the beautiful but definitely strange work found new homes.

On to the photos.

These are linocuts that were collaged on panel, then layered with acrylic media and paint. I had every intention of doing editioned woodcuts for July but got way too involved in these pieces. Perhaps these images would translate well into reduction woodcut prints. I’m thinking about the passage of time in these pieces and the woodcut process has that in spades. They are 18″x24″, quite a lot larger than any other print collage pieces I’ve done in the past. Record of Days 1 Record of Days 2 Record of Days 3Also, I promised better photos of the Palmer project. These were taken by Glenn Aronwits, who patiently photographed through the whole installation and put up with some very reluctant human subjects.  Here’s a tour.IMG_0014

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That’s it for now. The summer is moving quickly and has been filled with heat and smoke, but also some beautiful sunny days, fresh tomatoes, and hopefully some adventures.

Turning the ship

A little over a year ago I had the opportunity to participate in a professional development workshop put on by Creative Capital sponsored by the Alaska State Council on the Arts. It was a big, useful, inspiring weekend. I have by no means managed to put all of their ideas into practice, but it was a rare chance to stop and identify both problems and successes and consider making some changes.

It’s taken most of that year to clear my way through the commitments that were already standing before the workshop took place. No change seems to happen particularly quickly, but I’m doing a far better job of managing my time, saying “no” to a lot of distractions, and setting things up for better blocks of working time.

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It takes some discipline to ignore what other people think you should be doing with your time. Some of their ideas are born out of the vague nature of what working for yourself looks like to others (“but you ARE free then, right?”) combined with the DIY imperative of living in Fairbanks that I think I’ve talked about before (“what do you mean you don’t have a garden?”) It can be hard to explain how in order to do something well sometimes you have to cut out a lot of possibly valuable things that there is just not time for. I’m doing much better at this. As I thought through what I really needed to move forward I realized it was fairly simple – first, more time for more work.

The last two months have been focused and productive. I finished up the panels that have been occupying the upstairs of my studio, and we installed at Valley Pathways in Palmer a couple of weeks ago. I will have better pictures soon, but here’s a snapshot of them going up on the wall.

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No matter how many times you do this there are a few sleepless nights of running through logistics in your mind – equipment rented? Insurance paperwork in? Everybody clear on times to show up? Artwork packed safely for transportation? Hotel reservations correct? Photographer? Luckily the stars aligned, or I worried enough, and it went like clockwork.

March, Eldorado Creek

Once the big pieces were on the wall, it was time to finish getting ready for my show at Alaska House. Intricate Nature opens tomorrow, and it looks great in the gallery. The last week of preparation was spent in a fog of cold medicine and alternating between working and crawling up to my studio couch for naps. This makes for an interesting perspective on a body of work, for sure. (Of course choosing to make the largest piece in the show during that week may not have been what the doctor ordered.)

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This show presents a challenge for me as it is not just June, as the card would indicate, but continues on into July with a substantial addition (replacement, we hope!) of work for the second month. Not off the hook yet. I plan to spend this month making prints, something I have neglected badly in the last year.

Another temporary change in strategy for the time being is to not travel much for a little while. I’ve spent the last few years chasing residencies and traveling a lot through teaching work, and though all of these experiences have been valuable I suddenly just really want to stay home. I know this will pass, but I figure it’s the easiest and most economical desire to gratify. Time to get organized, enjoy the aging pets, work on the house and yard, and save up for the next adventure.

Progress and frustration

March and early April are always my favorite time in Fairbanks. I never do any work in the schools in March, and I have fairly successfully ignored all but the most pressing computer work in order to prioritize taking advantage of the long warm days. It’s hard to sum it up – between the excitement of the Iditarod starting in Fairbanks this year, ski races, skijoring with the dogs, and general enjoyment of good weather and moderate temperatures it has been a lovely late winter.

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Dora, my small but mighty main motor

In the studio, I’m focused on two main projects right now. First, a set of five 7×2.5 foot carved and painted panels for Pathways High in Palmer is well underway. I’m on track to have them finished by the end of April and installed in May. Because of the size of the panels and my relatively tight workspace, I won’t have good images of the pieces for a while. They are a set of variations on views of ice – sea ice, stream ice, lake ice – and expansions of ideas I’ve been working with for some time. It is both challenging and exciting to work big.

003 (2)Panels 1 and 5, before color

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Finished and unfinished details

Clearly there is still a bit of work to be done, but I have the time and the all-important selection of audiobooks at the ready. I am also moving forward towards on my new project for Kenai Peninsula College, but this one is taking a bit of time on the committee end. I’m hoping to have more clarity soon.

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Details of studio work

The other project is a summer of art shows. Yolande Fejes of the Alaska House Art Gallery and I are celebrating well over a dozen years of working together with a show that will run through June and July, with a substantial change in work between the two months. In August, I’ll have work at the beautiful Tonglen Lake Lodge just south of Denali National Park. I’ll be showing with longtime Denali Park photographer Tom Walker.  http://tonglenlake.com/events/performances/121016

I have found that my best way to get ready for exhibits is to work and work, and not worry about what goes where until near the end. Rather than starting with a thesis and then making the work to fit, it seems to go much better for me to let things roll during the process and then edit rather than trying to push the art in one direction. (This does not make for brilliant grant applications, but we all have to work in our own way.) I’ll have more and better images as we get closer to June. Things are moving in a more abstract and pattern-based direction at the moment.

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So that’s progress.

As for frustration, last week was one of the most dispiriting weeks I’ve experienced as an artist in Alaska. The consequences of our oil-based economy are becoming painfully evident. Few people are unaffected by budget cuts at the state level. There was an attempt to repeal the 1% for art mandate, which thankfully has failed, at least for now. Although it was heartening to see the quick mobilization of the art community, it was equally disheartening to see how fast a 40 year old program could potentially be dismantled by uninformed legislators. The possible consequences of the budget crisis in education in Alaska is sobering – and, of course, the first teachers in the line of fire are always the art and music educators. We’ll see what happens, but I am tired of watching my friends and colleagues who do this essential work spend every spring worried for their jobs. The assumption that these classes are frosting or not career builders is contradicted by the huge number of professionals working in the arts who come out of Alaska schools. I googled everyone I could think of from my years of school orchestra and it was amazing to see how many have solid careers in music. I am sure this has only continued far past my student years and that it holds true for all areas of the arts. If we want a diversified economy, we have to educate our students in a diverse manner. Of course, this has a class aspect as well – when the arts leave the public schools, only the students whose families have the time, the extra money, the transportation, and the knowledge of where to look for opportunities will have access to the arts. This might make me angrier than any other part of the problem.

On that note, back to the studio.

Delta Junction!

I spent the first half of February working with the elementary school in Delta Junction, a community 100 miles south of Fairbanks. It’s a place I pass through frequently – the road forks in Delta and either takes you to the Alcan, or you can continue down the Richardson to Valdez, Chitina, or Glennallen. I’ve made many stops at the IGA in Delta Junction to peruse the unique selection of Russian food items or to wolf a buffalo burger at the drive-in on the way home from a fishing trip, but I’ve never actually spent any time there.

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Their school is unique in that at present it only has kindergarten through third grade, with significantly larger numbers of students on the young end. I really had to think through my approach to the “little little” kids. You can’t fake it with that many. Being forced to really pay attention to how I structured these classes will help me in the future.

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We started with drawings, moved on to cut paper or sticker mosaics, and then began work on large glass tile mosaics based on their drawings. As always, the hardest part of my job was selecting the images to work with.

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There was some smashing of plates by kindergarteners

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enthusiastic making of mosaics by teachers and staff

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The students were motivated and focused, a hard task considering there were many days during my residency when the temperature dropped below the -20 cutoff for outdoor recess. It’s hard not to build up steam when you can’t go outside.

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When I was finished, I drove home along the river in the twilight thinking about driving this same stretch of road nearly 15 years ago. I’d traveled up from Montana with my truck weighted down with a 700 pound letterpress along with most of the rest of my worldly possessions. It was a very uncertain time in all sorts of ways. I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right choice, or if there were right choices, or if I’d been crazy to consider moving back to Alaska to try to be an artist. There wasn’t a clear landing point aside from a summer job, and lots of questions that had to yet to be answered. There’s a lot of time between Montana and Alaska to think about these things when you’re traveling alone. After many long days and nights of worry, I saw this view of the river and the mountains and something shifted. I can say now that although it hasn’t been direct, or necessarily easy, it was the right choice and I’m so glad to have taken the risk.

There are lots of projects and exhibits in the hopper right now. I’ll write more about what’s coming up next week. It’s going to be a big spring and summer around here.

Two kinds of January

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I’m writing now from the more familiar kind of January; the wood-stove hugging, reluctant car, frosty dog kind. Though it’s been a very mild winter in Fairbanks we did dip into the freezer this week with a more typical January spell of -40. The cold days are the prettiest, and after a couple of weeks in Kodiak I think I’ll still take the cold over the rain.

I’ve been working on a number of projects lately and though there’s little to show, I have been busy. I’m a finalist for a 1% project in Kenai and that process has been taking up quite a bit of my time. For once I began work on the proposal as soon as I learned I was in the running – doesn’t sound like much of a revelation, but it sure has made things easier. I’ve been through this enough to know that thinking my submission is strong is no promise of success, but I feel good about what I’m handing in. Once the deadline passes I’ll post some images of what I’m working on. It’s been nice to have the time to think and revise. Remind me of this.

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I recently returned from a two week visit to Kodiak to work with the high school art classes there. I helped with logistics around a really large sculptural project they have taken on (though my help was largely of the “hmm, I think we’d better wait and think this through”) type. It will all work out fine; they have set an ambitious task for themselves and just need to get the piece set on site before it gets heavy and complicated. In a nutshell, this large armature (obscured by cardboard templates at the moment)

???????????????????????????????will get covered with cement and concrete board, and then the mosaic work they started last school year will be applied. KHS art teacher Bonnie Dillard and her students have done a huge amount of work. It’ll all come together, but it’s better done outside, on site, where the finished product doesn’t have to move again. This bench will be huge and beautiful.

???????????????????????????????The high school had just moved the bulk of their academic classes into a section of the remodeled high school the day before I arrived. It was fun to see the new facility, and nice to see the art room moved from the windowless basement into a bright airy space. Bonnie is an inspiring artist and teacher. I always learn from watching people who are effective at communicating with students. I spent some time working on some pieces of my own while I was there,and it was particularly enjoyable to see students I’d met last year and look at the ways their art and ideas had developed over time.

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detail of one of three pieces I worked on while at KHS

Kodiak was, for the most part, very warm and very wet. Most of the days were well into the 40’s, gardeners were still harvesting kale and cabbages from their gardens, and I limited my nighttime runs to town as the warm temperatures did not convince me that the bears were asleep. Needless to say, green grass and light jackets do not fit my usual idea of January in Alaska. I had to keep reminding myself that yes, I was in the same state. What a difference two hours by air makes.

022 (2)I had some time on the weekends to explore, and to my great delight the skies cleared up the second weekend I was there. In addition to the intrepid boogie boarder pictured above

007I followed a herd of hairy cattle along the road,

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saw the infamous Kodiak Launch Complex for myself (seemed VERY quiet, read more here: http://www.adn.com/article/20140826/failed-rocket-launch-setback-us-hypersonic-weapon-program-kodiak-launch-complex)

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and generally enjoyed exploring, photographing, and drawing from this very different landscape.

Kodiak has become one of my favorite places in the state, and I’m already scheming how to get back there.

Next week I head to Delta Junction, a community about a hundred miles from Fairbanks. I’ll be spending two weeks working with their k-3 students on mosaic murals, and then I’m done with teaching for this school year. I’ve learned so much from the Artist in the Schools program about the different communities and regions within this state. In addition, every time I spend time in a school I come away with increased respect for the hard work and often unacknowledged dedication of our public school teachers, staff, and administrators.

More from the students of Delta Junction! And then more from my studio. I find January a difficult month to get much done, but summer shows and the Pathways High School project demand attention. Productivity returns with the sun, I think.