04 April 2014

Another Season Begins

The Edge of Spring, Oil on Linen, 24x30
It's hard to believe River Sojourn began two years ago, the days drawing and painting in the field and studio already fading into memory, Nancy's work of scheduling with venues, coordinating with film makers, marketing, and communication wrapping up at last. The paintings are currently on exhibit at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum (through May 11) and at the National Eagle Center (through June), beginning their 2-year journey throughout the region. The studio is clean and organized for the first time in months. New brushes and paints are ordered to replace the ones worn to a frazzle or squeezed out to flattened, empty tubes.   
 Project Manager, Nancy North, and I are delighted to share the work and converse about the Blufflands with so many people. It is what it is all about - caring about the land, sharing the beauty and diversity of our home with one another, thinking about what is important for now and for future generations. We have learned more about our home, about the Driftless Area, what is precious, even rare.  We have met folks that we treasure for their perspectives, talents, and willingness to share their lives and lands, to work hard for what they believe in. It has been a good journey!
Now, a new season begins  I am not hanging up my field hat, but will continue to observe, draw, and paint throughout the Blufflands, to go back to places I want to revisit, to explore the places I didn't get to. I want to spend more time in the furthest reaches of the Driftless, and create paintings that still float in my head. I plan to spend a lot of time on the Mississippi River, via kayak and pontoon boat, and hang out with the water lilies and dragon flies.  New paintings will be incorporated into the touring exhibit so it remains fresh and exciting! It's kind of how I feel right now -  excited, ready to burst into the spring. Stay tuned!

28 February 2014

River Sojourn - the Video!

Years ago, I faced a TV news interviewer to talk about a forest that was about to be destroyed. I was like a deer caught in a car headlights; I actually fled into the forest. I absolutely could not do it.
Everything has changed. KSMQ Public Television's award-winning creative team has just produced a half-hour film featuring my adventures into the Upper Mississippi River blufflands. From the start, it was fascinating to be with this team. They were inquisitive, professional, and fun to be around. I was thrilled to lead them into the heart of the Driftless Area. We hiked up bluffs to river overlooks, navigated narrow paths (with bulky camera equipment!) to hidden rock shelters, and sat around the kitchen tables of landowners who have chosen to protect their land forever. I found deep commitment from everyone around me. The resulting video captures the heart and spirit of the land and its people. It tells my story of creating a body of work to share the diversity and beauty of this region with others, the process of creating paintings from nature, and brings attention to regional conservation land trusts whose staff work with interested individuals to preserve the natural landscape.
O.k. I admit to still being camera shy, but this is a story much bigger than me. It is about the place we live, the need to think about what we value most and want to leave for the future, and the spirit of nature to touch us all. Thank you KSMQ Public TV!  


23 November 2013

A Study on the Easel

Suddenly winter is here, only 13 chilly degrees this morning!  But it is cozy in the studio, with the wood stove burning, Peter Ostroushko on Pandora radio, dogs and the kitten at my feet (underfoot, really). 

It is time to pull all the field adventures into final paintings. This is a 9x12 study (in progress) of the Upper Iowa River. I spent days on this river; sitting with the eagles and vultures high above the water, canoeing with Ken.  I love working this way -  spending hours in the field, observing the environment around me, and now putting it all together in the studio. When I am out there, I often feel overwhelmed with possibilities.  However, when I open my sketchbook, the memories flood back to the present, but time has helped distill what resonates, what is essential about a place. This small study may be a model for a larger painting - we'll see! 

27 October 2013

Barn Bluff, and thoughts of HD Thoreau

 So much is happening right now with late season sojourns! Yesterday, I spent the day on Barn Bluff at Red Wing, MN.  It's an impressive bluff along the Mississippi River; the town of Red Wing comes to an abrupt halt at its base. A hike up is rewarded by great views and paths through a magnificent prairie. This time of year the plants are dry and brown, but a careful look reveals lovely patches of bronze, pink, red and gold.  It's a steep bluff, with sheer drop-offs and some of the biggest bur oaks I have seen anywhere.  The winds were blowing about 25mph, and I found keeping my tripod and paintbox upright a challenge. It was an invigorating experience, with bald eagles flying, the prairie grasses rustling in the wind, and the distant hills changing colors with the blowing clouds!

My introduction to the bluff came via Nancy Berlin, a botanist who lives in Red Wing.  We first met for coffee to discuss Henry David Thoreau's journey  west in 1861, when he traveled to MN in hopes of improving his health. He hiked the bluff, recording species he found there. Nancy handed me his species list, discovered in his unpublished journals, an almost unbelievable opportunity to see a glimpse into one of my favorite writers. He was a good botanist, carrying a plant press and botanical guides everywhere he traveled. Thoreau inspires my painting in many ways, but I'll save that story for another day. 

18 September 2013

The Rock Shelter

From my sketchbook: conte, pastel, and walnut ink drawing
The rock shelter is well-hidden on the steep east-facing bluff, just below the oak savanna. The landowners led me there, along a narrow path overhung with shrubs and tree branches.  It was afternoon, and the shelter was in shadow, seeming deep and mysterious as I learned that archaeologists had found evidence of use to at least 3,000 years ago. I can’t describe what it felt to stand there, thinking about the people who used this shelter as a place of survival.

I went back on my own a few days later, this time in the morning when I knew the  light would filter in through the forest. I sat quietly amidst the soft crumbling rock and dirt and old leaves from the surrounding forest, even stretching out on the soft floor. The shelter was beautiful, composed of organically shaped dolomites with a low-hung ceiling, and colors ranging from black and grey to tans and reds. The morning light scattered patches of bright white on the shelter’s roughly formed wall.  Mostly, however, I thought about the past, and the people that huddled here for warmth from the wind and cold, from the driving rains and snows. Perhaps animal skins hung across the entrance, and a fire burned through the long nights. What did they feel and think? We’ll never know, but being there, and absorbing the moments with a deep intensity, served to merge the present with the past for a bit, if only in my imagination.

29 August 2013

Exploring Rivers of the Driftless

My husband, Ken, and I talk a lot about rivers. It's a natural for us - Ken is a river ecologist and I did research on aquatic plants of the Mississippi River back in my botanist days.  Now that I am exploring the rivers and streams in the Driftless Land, I decided it was just as important to be on a river as well as sketch from the bank. Really, how could I paint without the experience of knowing how a river flows, twists and turns, sparkles in the angled light of morning? So we headed off to the Kickapoo in SW Wisconsin.  It's a river that takes you in against its high banks and towering rock walls, dark and secret in places, dripping with ferns and liverworts, and bright along other stretches, with bur cucumber vines draping the banks. It's a river that doesn't mind going here, then there: it's narrow, but crooked as they get. The canoeing is pretty easy, but you have to be aware of what's ahead to keep from running into one of the many snags. Not long ago, this river almost became a huge reservoir. Many of us are grateful to still have the river, crooked as it is. As Leopold said: perhaps our grandsons, having never seen a wild river, will never miss the chance to set a canoe in singing waters . . . glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. — (Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac).

25 July 2013

From Ridges to Ravines

It's an exciting time to be exploring the Driftless Area!  My sketchbooks are filling up with drawings of places, plants, and clouds. The days fly by! 
I am discovering new corners of the Driftless to paint, thanks to Myrna Buri and Marcy West. Myrna has a conservation easement on one of the most spectacular lands of the region - the  landmark Twin Bluffs at Nelson, WI.  Last week she gave me a fun tour via her big pick-up truck - restored prairie ridge tops, wooded ravines, and the bluff prairie and great bur oaks overlooking the river valley. Delightful and informative, Myrna even provided me with a great cup of coffee, and a lovely, varnished "snake stick" to use for our hike onto the prairie overlook.  It was great to connect with her - she grew up at Nelson, roaming the valleys and hills all her life. Tales of the past added the perfect dimension to the present beauty. Her love and knowledge of this place was a joy to experience.;I am hoping to hang out with her another day when I go back there to sketch.

Earlier this week I headed down to the Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge, WI.  The Reserve comprises 8,569 acres in Vernon County, WI. The Kickapoo River winds through the Reserve, bounded by high scenic hills, bluffs, and rock outcroppings reaching several hundred feet above the valley floor.  Executive Director Marcy West showed me some sites I was especially interested in exploring: deep white pine and hemlock woods and ravines and grand old oak trees. She admitted it was difficult to just show me a few spots - the Reserve would take years of exploration to really know well. 

 I spent an afternoon in an enchanting white pine and hemlock forest, fascinated by the deep ravines, the river below, and quiet beauty of this habitat. An added bonus was a nearby rock shelter, one of the over 400 archaeological sites within the area. The photograph below does not come close to showing the forest, but hopefully my paintings will express the deep hidden beauty of these conifer sites.  BTW, hemlocks are northern species - here they occur as rare and isolated stands. Being alone with the trees was magical - was that sound the wind through the boughs, or ancient murmurs from the past?

Later, I headed up to another bluff prairie - how lucky can I be to sit amongst the prairie coneflowers overlooking the Mississippi River?  This is Sugar Creek Bluff, a Mississippi Valley Conservancy land at Ferryville WI with a trailhead to park and a well-marked path leading out to the views. 
 I'll spend the next couple days sorting through the drawings, working out compositions, and developing paintings. Next week I'll be back in Vernon and Crawford Counties WI for a week of more adventures!