As I sit here in my RISD studio reflecting on my thoughts as a Maharam STEAM fellow, I can’t help but think about how grateful I was to have the opportunity to return to a familiar location with an intentionality of making art, learning about science and formulating visual communication. Working closely with scientists and non-profits educators elevated my understanding of the place and how to produce an understanding of that place from many different angles.
I have always felt attached to the Colorado Plateau and to a myriad of specific locations within in, especially rivers and canyons, soaring sandstone cliffs, and having the ability to see for hundreds of miles in every direction while simultaneously feeling small and a part of it all. My feelings rival that of any interpersonal relationship I have and yet its always been hard for me to articulate that feeling to others, and articulate those feelings in my own art work. It has always been an “intangible”. It is something I’m still working on, but somehow, over the course of the summer, working in a variety of ways to communicate visually different aspects of the Colorado River watershed and the importance of its existence within the Colorado Plateau and greater Western United States, something shifted. Working with scientists taught me the value of clear and literal visual tools to communicate very specific scientific concepts. Working with youth taught me how to translate complicated scientific ideas and greater topics in conservation into simple bits that resonated with meaning. Creating a specific visual language catered to a certain audience taught me the value of specificity and intention that I have now been able to translate into my own, more metaphorical and emotional art practice.
I am beginning to put together all the pieces.
Images of Final Grand Canyon Food Web for USGS use. (all imagery originally block prints that have been digitized and put together into this food web)
Grand Canyon Aquatic Base Food Web
DETAILS from food web
Flannelmouth Sucker (native fish)
Desert Spiny Lizard
Ultimately, this piecing together of art, science, conservation, and collaboration is, for me, a life long project. This fellowship was a stepping stone on my path to finding the connectedness between the things that I love and to show other people, from all walks of life, that everything is more connected than it may first appear. I wanted to show scientists the importance of art as a visual communication tool, and I began to. I wanted to show youth the importance of connecting with place on many different levels, and I began to. And I wanted to show everyone I met that art and science can work symbiotically to create new things neither one can accomplish on its own. I see this project more as a beginning than as an end, and I hope to work more in this realm as I move forward beyond graduate school and into the next phases of my life.
Below you will find a few images from my most recent body of work, a collection of monotypes created in response to the summer and my connection with Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau. Working with maps as well as personal memories of place, I am weaving together imagery that represents the landscape, the way we abstract the landscape into flat, categorical measurements, and how those measurements and mis-measurements have led us to this tenuous place we occupy today. Water, especially Colorado River water is becoming a more and more precious commodity as western populations continue to grow. There is no easy answer, only the knowledge that we will reach a tipping point, and something will have to give. This is my opportunity to define, through visual means, what this place means to me and how I interact with the political framework surrounding these beloved, endangered landscapes. I couldn’t have made these without my experience this summer and I am glad to have been able to develop such a rich body of work because of it.
The snow is falling and the road to the printing press is about to be closed for the season. YES YES YES it is true. I have found a spot, a roof, a ventilation system and a heating source to house this little offset press. A great success. Bad news, It sits at 10,565 feet and the only road to its door will soon become a ski run only to reopen to 4X4 traffic in May. Back to the good news; there is a free Gondola that takes me right there and they even give out woolen blankets for the cold ride. NO NEED FOR A ROAD! The home of the press, and the soul of our little publication, THE DUMBSAINT, is atop the U S of A’s only public Gondola and may be, and hopefully so, the highest press in the world. Probably not but I will refrain from googling in the off chance my assumption is right. Guilty until proven innocent.
For a little context/perspective here are a few floor plans, photos and other reference points for you to definitively know, without question, where THE DUMBSAINT shall be entombed between the towns of Telluride, CO and Mountain Village, CO. For those that demand more precision : (37degrees 55minutes and 51.8 seconds North by 107 degrees 49 minutes and 56.82 seconds West)
THIS IS A SKI MAP WITH BOOM HOT PINK STAR WHERE PRESS AWAITS
THIS IS A TOURIST BROCHURE WITH BOOM HOT PINK STAR WHERE PRESS AWAITS
THIS IS A PHOTO TAKEN FROM TELLURIDE LOOKING UP WITH BOOM HOT PINK STAR OVER PRESS PALACE
FLOOR PLAN OF PRESS PALACE WITH RAINBOW EXPLOSION COMING FROM EXACT POINT WHERE PRESS AWAITS
THIS I WHAT THE PRESS LOOKS LIKE IN THE ROOM WHERE RAINBOW EXPLOSIONS WILL Emanate (sticks and pipes and yard tools will be cleaned out after the first of the year):
THIS IS WHAT THE TRUCK LOOKED LIKE THAT WAS CARRYING THE PRESS FROM CALIFORNIA (rainbow explosion housed behind SAIA door):
AND HERE IS A PICTURE OF THE ASCENSION VIA THE GONDOLA. A path to the promised land free of charge and open to the public and even your pets can ride too.
So now you know the WHERE. Other good news. Picked up a huge paper cutter and a load of free oil based inks from a printing press in Denver (seven hour one way drive) that was going out of business, so now we have color and a way to trim the final product. Other good news … a lovely lovely lovely human being whom graduated from the RISD printmaking department is going to come out in January and put the pieces of the press back together. I had to pull a humpty dumpty to ship the beast out here and now I don’t know if I or the all the king’s men could put this thing back together. Luckily Julia is on the case and will be out here soon with all her knowledge and a snow board or two.
Other updates. We received a local grant for our first publication to come flying off the press in February. I have a collaborator in chief on the project, her name is Katie Klingsporn and she inspires me on many fronts (http://katieklingsporn.com). The town is sooo ready for a little print culture and there is anticipation for our first publication. I am still working with Telluride Arts, the local arts non-profit in Telluride, to establish a large art center in the core of town. Think RISD works or one of AS220’s communal workspaces. We are still in the planning stage of this and working with Artspace (artspace.org) a national nonprofit working towards developing space for the creative process on a community scale.
The Maharam Fellowship is coming to a close and none of this would be possible without the assisting funds contributed by Maharam and the mentorship of Kevin Jankowski over at the RISD career center. Seriously, if anyone is reading this drop what you are doing and go over and pay Kevin a visit right now and ask him just about anything and await a deeply felt response and sense of connection to the wonder in the world! I learned a great great great deal from him and am most grateful for his time and assistance through this process.
Come out to Telluride anytime and visit me, the press and THE DUMBSAINT. Either that or keep checking in with me so you can get on our mailing list to receive a copy of THE DUMBSAINT!!
I must first and foremost apologize for how long it has been since our last post! It has been a little over a month since Lyza and I have returned from our summer abroad in the Philippines, and I have finally been able to process all that we’ve seen and done this summer!
Our final few weeks in the Philippines were, as expected, rather emotional. In between our monofilament woven fabric not being sewable, flash storms dictating our work schedules, and emotional goodbyes, our final weeks felt like they were moving far more rapidly than those prior.
To quickly sum up what happened those final weeks, it must be known that thick monofilament and raffia woven fabrics will not sew!! Our initial plans to work with this fabric, to create a textile directly reflective of the community’s marine-based economic past and raffia-based current situation, proved futile when our handiwork began to fall apart in our hands as we tried to sew this fabric.
Very quickly we had to make decisions and begin new operations. These fabrics would have to remain as purely decorative; they would become scarecrows or wall-hangings. We then decided to collaborate with a local crab trap weaver to develop crab trap and fishing net bags. What began as a few rough sketches to Pandan’s local crap trap maker, Dodong, eventually became a system. We would talk to Dodong about our ideas for the bags, and he would be ready with them the next day. Particularly exciting was when Dodong began presenting us with his own designs, or with bags embellished with coconut husk beads his wife had made. To see this creative spark in him, that in itself was encouragement enough.
All the while during this emotional time, Lyza and I were scrambling to get our diary entries sorted in time to print the book we were working on, “Dye Trying”.
An excerpt from the book:
“wed aug 12 emotional goodbyes
It is our last day in Bohol and we are leaving the loom weavers the same way we came, with meryenda; we are having pancit.
The first goodbye we had to say was to our island staff and boat crew. With a heavy heart we said goodbye to Neneng, Rose, Genaro, Ompong, Botyok, and Metring, and boarded the boat to head toward to Tubigon for the last time.
Upon arriving at the loomweavers co-op where we were greeted by Trina and presented a card of thanks from the co-op. We had our pancit and had to say goodbye to the co-op and those such as Victor, Peter, Ronillo, Stephen, Don-Don, Misael, Amay, Ruth, Carmel, Erning, and Fidel, who had helped us so much.”
Our nine weeks were not nearly enough time. Although our initial plan went awry, it was our second plan, of working with Dodong, that made our initial goals, of connecting with both the fishing community and weaving community a success.
We leave the loomweavers co-op with 10 scarecrows, two wall hangings, 7 backpack prototypes, and the hope that they will continue to explore the ideas we have only begun to explore.
We are not sure whether or not the co-op will decide to further pursue the idea of the fishing net and raffia bags, but we can only plant the seed and hope that it the preparation that went into it will be enough for it to germinate and grow.
The talented and sharp minded people we were fortunate enough to work with in Pandan and Tubigon have us leaving feeling positive. We hope to return to Pandan in a year or so and seeing the fishing net bags worn by the community.
Since returning to the states, Lyza and I have exhibited a book featuring dye recipes, diary entires, and observations published by Hardworking Goodlooking, and exhibited at the New York Art Book Fair at MOMA PS1.
I think I’ve reached a point where it’s going to be hard to tear myself away from my work here. I’ve fallen head over heels for this valley, from peak to plover. Some of my efforts have fallen short of my own expectations. That’s okay though, I don’t necessarily want to be finished here. I’ve found that during the busiest season for the park, it’s extremely difficult to network effectively with the workload the Park rangers have been experiencing. I found myself working on a more independent basis as the Rangers scramble to accommodate the increased traffic.
Access has been a persistent challenge as the road infrastructure is limited. I’ve been trying to reach Medano Lake which, as I see it is one of the most important features of the park. The trouble was that about halfway up the road to get there, your chances of reaching the trailhead dwindle as the road becomes less suitable to vehicles with more conventional clearance. To make matters more difficult, due to all the rain this year, much of the higher portions of the road had been washed out so even rangers were hesitant to head up there. The only people who ventured up there this season were folks with jeeps or high riding SUVs.
In lieu of that, I discovered a handful of other sites to explore. Some had been hiding in plain sight. Miner’s cabins and homesteads are not an uncommon sight in the park. Many have been washed away in years past but there are still a few like the Wellington Homestead, as well as a Cabin perched up near Ptarmigan peak, a false summit just up the mountain from the Visitor’s center. Rangers, often won’t tell you about these locations as it can be dangerous to enter these structures, and the fewer people that go there, the fewer that will be compelled to have a look inside. I also discovered a number of mountain lion caches I felt would make good sites to scan.
I’ve found sort of an observation post in my hourly position at the Great Sand Dunes Oasis that I’ve taken in exchange for a free campsite and supplies in a project that I had expected to be largely solitary outside the Park Visitor’s Center. In the few hours that I work, I meet people visiting, and people who have lived in the Valley their whole life. Some of the most interesting people I’ve met call the Valley their home. Firstly, Patti the owner of the Oasis, is quite possibly one of the most welcoming people I’ve met since being here. In many ways she’s treated me the way a concerned mother might treat a stubborn runaway mutt. That is–with patience, employee priced un-canned food, and a lovely clearing in the mountain piñons to pee all over. Though I might find that the actual store mutt Bella, the half-husky half-coyote pup who has been playing the role of greeter outside the store for almost 15 years now, views Patti’s kindness as just part of her regular rhythms. As far as I understand it Bella started showing up 15 years ago, and after some conversely purebred suspicion, eventually she let Patti rub her belly and has showed up at 7:00 AM every morning since. No-one is quite sure what she does at night, but she’s always ready for work in the morning.
My internship supervisor Ranger Chavez, has been welcoming but also honest. He told me that this year has been as busy as the park has every been, it has been as wet as it has every been and staff has been stretched as thin as it has ever been. Ranger Chavez has a warmth and has a balanced level of confidence that I admire in another person. He’s humble enough to be personable, but confident enough to draw the lines that need to be drawn in his line of work. Ranger Chavez is a law enforcement officer. One day I said something related to how some designers say that Architects know nothing about everything, and engineers know everything about nothing. He chuckled, and said,” You know I can relate to that, Park Rangers do a lot of different things, without getting really good at one thing in particular” Some mornings, Ranger Chavez would be down at the Dune Access lot directing traffic. Other days you might find him in the stables tending to the Horses. One day in particular, as I was meeting with him, he got a call over the radio that someone’s father had fainted back at the Sand Dunes Oasis, but their family had been dropped off at the dunes, and I guess we were a little outside of Uber’s jurisdiction or so to speak. Ranger Chavez looked over at me and said, “Okay, let’s take this discussion to the truck.” After locating the family, they hopped in his truck and were there in less than three minutes. I’d driven that stretch many times and had seen my fair share of mule deer crossings, so I was a bit jittery as the needle of his speedometer started flirting with one hundred miles per hour. Upon our arrival, Patti was rather surprised to see me stepping out of the truck as the ambulances and Sheriff’s Deputies started to pull up. After dropping off the family, Ranger Chavez and I continued our discussion as he patrolled the camp grounds. He told me that my work had gotten the attention of the leadership team and that they wanted to hear what I had to say. In the end unfortunately, it seems that the leadership team was extremely busy, however I have been given the opportunity to write a report regarding my work here, my intensions, and in service of stating the case for 3D scanning in the National Parks.
In the park if a visitor finds something unusual that they think the park officials should know about, they’re encouraged to report it to the interpretive staff who will then submit the reports to Resource management. These inquiries are then given to the park Biologist who looks through and evaluates them and tries to find cases that might be of interest or concern. For instance there has been a disease moving through some of the elk herds in the valley and If I had come across elk fresh elk remains, they might be able to sample the remains and determine whether it had been killed by a predator or by the disease. If I could take an accurate scan of a site that might be of interest or concern and be able to show in more detail what it was that I saw, it might be easier for the biologist to evaluate whether or not they needed to investigate further.
Even now, Colorado State has been using LiDar scanners to be able to map the interiors or historical buildings in the valley among other places. Though these serve as digital maps, for me the interesting part comes when you think of it a machinable model and the implications for sculptural thinking regarding found objects. How do found objects function when direct historical and cultural references are a click away? Better yet– what happens when sculptures can be editioned, economically, conceptually, and technically? What if we got high resolution LiDar rigs in the hands of artists?
I was able to experiment in the field with my scanners. One site of interest to me was the Wellington Homestead. For starters it was accessible so it allowed me to time my visits precisely as weather moved in quickly and unexpectedly to be able to minimize the risk of damaging my most vital equipment. Some sites that I had visited were at a much higher elevation, and posed larger risks to my equipment. It also allowed me to visit more frequently. However I had to really avoid entering the structure, as upon my first attempt to scan the interior I found that I could cause damage to the floor of the structure. Another was an area of the park known as Indian Grove. This is where Native Americans would peel the bark off of the Ponderosa Pines to use as medicine and food. I was unsuccessful in most attempts to create complete scans of the trees as lighting and scale proved to be extremely difficult obstacles to overcome using scanners that primarily used light and color to create form. However, my preliminary models were really exciting to see, though they require some repairs to be made.
Recently I was able to produce my first 3D print for the park staff, via Shapeways. For me this was a big victory. I was able to hold a series of informal critiques with staff members to criticize the form that I produced from a functional standpoint. I had created a track swatch, similar to the track casts that the interpretive staff often times will have ordered in. I was able to scan every track that they had in the park and scan a number of ground surfaces which means it’s easy to create an impression in pretty much any scannable surface in the park and print it out as though it had been casted that way. The sample I had sent out was a Mountain Lion print placed on a gravel surface. I was really happy with the detail retention from the file to the print. Things I didn’t expect, like the flexibility of the plastic in some thin areas, the slightly overpowering bleached color of the plastic, and the subtle appearance of the National Parks badge on the back, were quickly pointed out to me by the Rangers. The swatch was designed to be sturdy, and light weight so that it could be packed away without having to be concerned about damage.
The next iteration, to be printed in a full series of tracks will be sleeker, and more rigid. In the mean time, this version demonstrated the ability to print offsite, which one ranger pointed out was very much like the way the National Parks sign makers shops service national park region. Great Sand Dunes is a part of the Rocky Mountain Region, and their sign shop is near Rocky Mountain National Park. They can put in requests there for signs to standardize their signage. My thinking is perhaps to approach the Rocky Mountain Region much the way that RISD has approached the development of the Co-Works lab, in making it a collaborative space for all the parks in the Rocky Mountain Region to be able to experiment with 3D media to be able to more effectively speak to the public. What if the National Parks could take on the responsibilities of constantly reinventing their visitors center messages to fit the realities faced by their resource managers on a season to season basis?
The Parks I’ve learned, take great care in crafting their image relative to their visitors expectations and safety. For instance, I took pictures in the Nature Conservancy land waiting to be absorbed into the park of the large bison herds there. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the bison there have a small percentage of cattle genes in them, so by the resource management team, technically they are a non-native species, which poses problems in terms of deciding wether or not they would stay in the park once its absorbed. Consequently, even when the rangers go out into the nature conservancy, any pictures of the bison may not be used to represent the park online until they finalize a conservation plan to keep visitors from expecting the park to hold bison. As it was explained to me, with any animal reintroductions have to be pursued carefully. Park officials have to make sure that there is a healthy predator prey relationship. Introducing too many predators before a certain population of prey is ready to support itself and handle any losses there may be can cause imbalances to delicate park ecosystems that would be hard to recover from. Additionally, visitors may be compelled to visit the Bison on their own terms, which is a risky bit of business to say the least.
When I started staying up in the campgrounds, I quickly learned that I was not the only Oasis employee staying in the campgrounds. I’d started to notice a lifted white Chevy around the grounds. At first I assumed it was just a regular visitor staying at the campground. I would come to learn that it was Dan, Patti’s nephew who’s avante garde approach to bear encounters, guided by his description of Black Bears as ‘sissies’, entailed a swift, emergency punch to the nose. “Have you ever been punched in the nose?” he asked with wide pale blue eyes, before going on to explain how much it makes you not want to maul somebody. Dan is in charge of doing any kind of repairs or maintenance, and builds furniture from wood he’ll mill, dry, and plane himself (almost exclusively with a chainsaw). One morning Im told Dan woke up to some unwelcome visitors in his camp. He proceeded to get upand fend off three Coy-dogs who persisted until they got bopped on the nose with a shovel wielded by an agitated half-awake leathery man with a ‘punch-first’ approach to black bears.
Dan explained to me that he makes part of his living collecting elk and deer sheds, which he is then able to sell by the pound for hundreds of dollars per pair. He said sometimes he likes to use them for furniture and when he finds a particularly nice set, he’ll keep them. What I found particularly interesting about Dan was the way that he approaches making. To him it’s necessary, and it’s as much about finding as it is about creation. It seems as likely to him that a piece of wood has already decided what it will be before he can even think about ripping the starter-pulley on his chainsaw.
Just outside of the campgrounds Patti rents out a house to a man named Juan. Juan is in his sixties, and is extremely friendly. Juan invited me to go out with him fishing one weekend in some of the reservoirs to the south. I had chatted with Juan a few times before, he’s a Vietnam War Veteran, and as our discussions started to move towards Vietnam, I told him that my father was drafted in Vietnam, but never spoke too much about his experience. Juan explained to me how he felt when he and other veterans returned from over-seas. He said they were called baby-killers, and had excrement thrown at them. He told me that out here he’s made friends with a few other Vietnam veterans who live in the valley but they’ve become reclusive and withdrawn from society out of the rejection they felt from their own peers. A sentiment I recognized in my father’s story as well.
Juan worked for a solar electric company. His job keeps him on the road.that keeps him on the road during the week but he tells me that he’s in love with this valley, the empty spaces and the people as much as those things might seem in conflict with one another. The days he and I fished together, he proudly showed me the two pieces of land he had bought upon his arrival. One was at the base of One of the more prominent peaks in the valley, he hadn’t lived there for a while, but his RV was still parked there, with a chain-link fence surrounding it. A pile of rocks he had collected from old gold mine outcroppings that had little bright orange crystals. He took great satisfaction in the idea that one day he would pass this land on to his Grandchildren.
The second tract, was up on a small plateau near one of his fishing spots. It seems he has no intensions to build anything on the land. He said that he was more satisfied by the idea that somewhere in the world there was a place that was all his, a place to belong. He shared with me his love for collecting rocks, and showed me a petrified log that had been in his family for an undetermined amount of time along with some rocks that contained pockets of orange crystals, and green turquoise. He is extremely generous– after we returned from fishing, we had both caught one Rainbow Trout each, and he insisted that I take his as he already had dinner planned for himself. “Fajitas.” he said. It probably the best dinner I’ve had since being here. He was also shocked that I had never eaten Elk meat and proceeded to insist that I take a hunk of elk that his close friend had shot this year. He says it’s better than venison, and I am pleased to report that this is true.
I’ve found that a great way to talk to and get to know some of the local folks is to do what they all seem to do regularly. That is, search for and find objects hidden in the landscape. They have their own kind of a material culture that is refreshing to me, it’s not a throw away culture, its a culture of finding, and looking. The most valuable things that many of these people have couldn’t be bought in a store, the core essence of the value that they apply to their findings are the stories that accompany the discovery. Without the story, they may as well be mere tourist trinkets.
Dan said something to me that came to mind the more I thought about these ideas. We were jawing back and fourth about our cars. He had offered to let me use his welding equipment so I could fix my exhaust pipe as it had broken into two separate pieces while I was out galavanting on a primitive road with my Subaru. He said, ”The good thing about fixing your exhaust is that next time something breaks you’ll know that ain’t it.”. He then chuckled a bit to himself and then pointed over at his chevy and said,”They say it takes about six err-seven years for your bodies cells to completely replace themselves, and I had that truck darn near 15 years, so you do the math.”
There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to ride that truck until there was nothing left to fix. He wasn’t concerned about what it was going to be worth upon resale, only if it would survive it’s next trip up to Blanca Peak. Value to him is relative to whether or not he can get to where he wants to go, rather than some abstract concept of material worth.
Patti often times had a very motherly quality to her. During lunch breaks often times she would see me with my gigantic water bottle, and a plate of fish from the kitchen and would smile warmly and remark, “you’re eating fish, that’s good for you AND you’re drinking water. Good boy.” Which at first threw me through a loop a little because I hadn’t been referred to as a ‘boy’ since the sixth grade, as I my head poked up above six feet, but I found some humor in it. Patti seemed to think of her staff as a family in the most literal terms imaginable.
The last week of my project, I was eating breakfast in the restaurant and she sat down and asked if I had heard the ‘frog story’. I said no. She explained that the Native Americans that lived in the Valley for centuries had legends passed on from their ancestors who lived through a period in the Valley where the Valley floor was wet. As they saw it dry up, they said that it left behind thousands of frog spirits. The spirits would sometimes follow visitors from the valley and compel them to come back. She would later give me a small frog figure carved from stone. It’s a frog carved from Green Turquoise. She said it would follow me around until I came back.