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In a normal year, the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award™ gold winners would get to share the stories behind the publication of their wonderful books in person at the awards ceremony. But as we all know, 2020 has been anything but normal. The in-person award ceremony had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 health crisis and moved to the 4-night “Shelter-In-Place” IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award Ceremony Viewing Parties online. During the May 7 virtual awards, the IBPA announced the results of the Poetry category:
‘Release, the cover art of Homespun Mercies, was selected for the nationally juried show Vote: A Centennial Celebration where it was awarded the Spirit of the Suffragists Award.
Due to COVID 19, the exhibition closed early. But the organizers of the event and Loveland Museum created this virtual tour.
On February 10, 2020, Dart Frog Books hosted a reading at the historic Strand Bookstore in New York City. The evening included readings by three of Dart Frog’s Indie authors as well as a spirited Q & A. Thank you for the great video!
DJ unveiled the trailer for Homespun Mercies before her recent reading at the Strand, the “undisputed king of New York City’s independent bookstores.” The trailer was a collaboration between the author and Christopher Tallman of Cogo Design Studio.
Inspiration for art comes from unexpected sources. I’ve long since given up on directing the flow of my work. It has become much more fun—and freeing—to relinquish control to the creative gods and let them have a little fun.
In 2018, I enrolled in a three-week January intensive at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colorado. Preparing for the first day, I poured over countless images, photographs, and miscellaneous artifacts. I was certain not knowing what I would create or how I would create it was certain to result in abject failure.
The workshop, led by artist Kate Leonard, challenged this mindset. Artists with as much experience as Leonard appear accustomed to—and comfortable with—the free flow of ideas and trial and error (everything that messes with my organized self). She wasn’t opposed to becoming waylaid, but instead urged us not to view challenges as an insurmountable detour to ‘perfecting’ one’s art.
It was during this class I took Leonards’ advice and looked at materials differently. Instead of pouring over files of images and ‘making them work,’ I found a single image and let that speak which led to the next image/idea, and so on.
I searched through photo albums, plastic bins, and a 1912 scrapbook my father had inherited from my great aunt Josephine (Johnson) Wetter. Aunt Jo hailed from Illinois, later attending college there, and became a teacher and suffragette. Interesting what we don’t know about family when we’re young and don’t know enough to ask. I had looked through her memorabilia before but now it seemed part of a much larger story.
I admit I’m a sucker for vintage birthday cards, travel brochures, yellowed napkins and coasters from restaurants that have long since closed, or airline promotional material showing passengers sitting down to a three-course meal or enjoying a drink at the in-flight bar. I discovered my Aunt Jo was a collector, much like me. She saved tidbits from high school, college, and later Valentines from her students. Tattered envelopes bearing the words Dear Miss Johnson stirred my own memories of decorated shoe boxes and homemade cards created for teachers and classmates. These love notes were stunning. Some with pop up inserts, others delicate lace, but all with the penmanship of elementary school pupils.
How long had it been since these notes had seen the light of day? How long had it been since Aunt Jo placed them in her “hope chest” for her keepsakes, so important as to be preserved for others to one day see? I asked myself these imponderables as I repaired and made transfers to preserve these precious images.
I prepared the 4×4 gesso boards with Eastern paper to give the worn Valentines consistency and the look of vintage; then worked to restore the vibrancy of these one-of-a-kind treasures. Modern day cards are nothing compared to these gems. And after several failed attempts, I preserved an original envelope (made difficult by its fragile state and adhesives that made it discolor). These seemed the perfect remembrance of my dear aunt and an important part of her life story…. now mine.
Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.
I used to think my writing and art held little translatable value to others. But I have found that people have a fascination with collage (I know I do), and can create their own dialogue with the piece based on personal experience. When I first met with Deborah Keenan, former Hamline professor, revered poet, and master collage artist, we talked about her work, the process, and her relationship to her collages. I was intent on doing an independent study during my final semester in the hope of incorporating images into my forthcoming chapbook. She suggested I sit down with my collection of poems, not just glance over but ‘be’ with the words, get to know the imagery and intention, and use it to inspire the art I hoped to create. I secretly thought, “How hard can this be? You look through magazines, pick out a few images, and away you go.” I should have known by her Buddha-like smile that she knew I had much to learn about this process. It didn’t take long.
“Late at Night My Mind Goes Walking” (featured in my previous blog), is a perfect example. Deborah said to pick out images that spoke to me. Don’t overthink it. Act on instinct. Let your mind and imagination go. I sat down with a stack of magazines and did what Deborah suggested, only to find that the images I had selected were in stark contrast to the story my poem conveyed. ‘Too pretty, too golden,’was my initial reaction. How could it be? I followed the suggested steps, and yet the collage fell short. Ah, here’s what Deborah was talking about. While the images were certainly beautiful, I was faced with the same challenge I’ve experienced in writing poetry; the tendency to ‘wrap things up with a bow’ in an attempt to keep the reader (and myself) from having to go ‘there.’ I admit it. Pain, vulnerability, and putting it all out there are necessary if the reader or viewer is to have meaningful engagement with the work. So I circled back to Deborah’s suggestions, revisiting the poem and literally closing my eyes to imagine myself walking late at night in unfamiliar surroundings. What did it look like? Was I, or anyone else in the images? How did it make me feel? What tone/texture/colors/themes were essential to making it ‘real?’
The next time I sat down to work on the collage, I set aside the original ‘pretty’ images and allowed my mind to go to darker places; to the thoughts and feelings suppressed during this difficult period, those that captured the essence of how I ACTUALLY felt versus the face we all put on when trying to be brave. What appeared on the story board came as a complete surprise yet perfectly captured the voice in which the poem had been written.
Each time I study this collage, I come away with new insights; decisions which weren’t deliberate or even conscious at the time but gave me insight into the nature of my struggle.
One of my favorite things to do now is to get feedback from those I trust as to their experience with the piece. While there are certainly common threads, each person I’ve talked to interacts with it in their own way, and that’s my goal as an artist. The relationship between creator and viewer is a special bond. When someone finds a connection with my work, it makes the process even more worthwhile.
Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.
— Henry Ward Beecher