JOURNAL

KIMMY QUILLIN, ARTIST

KIMMY QUILLIN, ARTIST

Kimmy Quillin, Artist, wears the Colorant Unison Jacket, 6-plant Space Knit pants and Colorant Mezzo Crew in Cacao in her studio in Brooklyn, NY.

Indonesian sappanwood (Caesalpinia sappan) is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. It is highly valued for its vibrant red dye, which produces a deep red color that has been used for centuries for textile dyeing, batik printing, and traditional medicine. The process of extracting this dye is a meticulous and time-consuming endeavor. It begins by harvesting mature sappanwood trees and cutting them into small pieces. The pieces are boiled in water to release the dye compounds present in the heartwood. The resulting liquid is strained and concentrated to obtain a rich, red colorant that can be shifted to pinks, oranges and browns depending on what mordant is used.

What are your current motivators and inspiration?
Inspiration is my favorite mood enhancer. Right now I am visiting and revisiting the Ruth Asawa drawings exhibit “Through Line” at the Whitney, as well as Judy Chicago’s “Herstory” at the New Museum. Both of these women worked their tails off throughout their entire lives and created an astonishing amount over many decades. Ruth Asawa is the queen of making the most out of the materials around her. If someone gave her a bouquet of flowers, she meticulously drew them into an exquisite work of art. Through her lines, you can tell the exact weight of a flower head hanging off a spindly stem over the edge of a bouquet. Her drawings are full of all the patience in the universe. And I could watch Judy Chicago’s Atmospheres films for days. Between 1968-1974 she set up technicolored smoke shows in the desert with nude women painted monochrome head to toe. The simple premise of them walking forward or interacting with colored smoking flares in that hot place is so simple but so powerful. Every time I see one it’s like, “Damn, YEAH.”
I am also constantly reading (mostly non-fiction, lots of biographies, sometimes exhibition catalogs) and bringing themes from that learning into my work. I currently have from the library the catalog from Hilma af Klint’s show at the Guggenheim “Paintings for the Future.” Judy Chicago’s autobiography is on deck, and Wassily Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art is also in the queue. I also love anything by N.K. Jemisin.


How did your interest in natural dye come about and how have you incorporated it into your work?
I started paying attention to several artists who work with natural pigments around 2020 including Cara Marie Piazza, Amanda Morales, Wild Pigment Project, and the wealth of info distributed by Seattle-based dye company Botanical Colors. In one of her recent newsletters, natural pigment artist and activist Tilke Elkins asked what might change if more artists worked with natural pigments, how the messages they were inspired to send with their work might change and how the art world as a whole might change. She writes, “As a paint maker, I think a lot about the ways in which people currently use (synthetic) paints, and how their practices would change if they moved to waste-stream-sourced paints instead. How much of what they do now would they be able to do using remediated paint materials? How much would they not be able to do, and how would that change the messages they communicate?” In this phase, I find myself drawn to organic shapes in general and have been particularly drawn to the curves and fold of leaves, pine cones and the human body. 
Since June I have been working mostly with reclaimed/foraged dye materials: avocado, black bean and acorn. I use them to dye canvas which has been cut into premeditated shapes. I assemble these into a desired image by hand stitching them back together. Finally, I stretch it as I would a regular canvas. The result is a pseudo-quilted/appliqued canvas in varying dye shades with its seams and handmade-ness exposed. The depth and variation created by the dye are beautiful beyond what I could create by my hand alone.


What are some projects or upcoming bodies of work you are excited about?   In addition to my own art practice, I am excited about writing and talking about the work of others. I had an inspiring conversation recently with artist Colleen Herman and Olympia gallery owner Ali Rossi while sitting on the gallery floor talking through Colleen’s current show. We discussed the concept for the show’s site-specific presentation, which works came slowly or quickly, the dialogue between different pieces, and stretching artistic boundaries. It inspired me to write an essay about it the next day which you can read on my website. Since then I have been planning to turn this into either a written or audio series where artists talk through their current show. It is a strange, significant moment when your most recent body of work is out of your studio and presented to the public, but you aren’t in the room with it every day. This poignant point of release and all the backstory that lead to it are what I want to be in dialogue about.

www.kimmyquillin.com
@kimmyquillin

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HANNAH VAUGHAN, DESIGNER

Hannah Vaughan, Designer and Craftswoman, wears the Colorant Logan Shirt in her studio in Newburgh, NY.
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Oak Gall (quercus infectoria) aka Oak Apples, occur naturally when certain wasps burrow in Oak tree branches. The female gall wasps secrete a hormone when laying eggs that creates a chemical reaction within the tree, forming small, round growths that are then collected and harvested for medicine, natural dyes, culinary thickeners, as well as tanning leather. The use of Oak Gall ink was predominately used during the Middle Ages penning documents, books and scripture. Oak Galls yield browns, purples, and deep blacks that are highly colorfast on fabrics due to the rich source of natural tannins they contain.

Tell us a bit about your childhood and how it influences your work today.
I grew up in Los Angeles, California.  Like most kids in LA, I spent a lot of time in a car; tent and car camping in the desert and in the front seat in traffic on the many LA freeways. Unlike most kids, my dad was an artist, and my mom, a bookbinder, so I learned how to use my hands and build things at a young age. Helping build our house (read: helping demo the old house with a sledgehammer), helping my mom in the bindery, and learning to stick weld- my childhood led me to be curious, adventurous, and not afraid to get my hands dirty, but I also just spent a lot of time in the car observing.

I would stare out the car window studying the fast moving landscape, freeway overpasses, the LA river- fully molded in concrete, or the eerie Mordor-esque fiery petroleum refineries in Long Beach. My work is deeply influenced by this fast moving view of the landscape and the marks that we as humans have made on the surface of the earth. I am often working on translating these marks or remnants of human industriousness into household objects; translating petroleum tanks into lighting fixtures, or crushed scrap metal into side tables. In grad school, I became infatuated with the endless acres of car pick apart yards outside of Detroit, Michigan- I think they reminded me of the 12 lane traffic jams of my youth. The infrastructure and power lines that lead to heavy manufacturing in Gary, Indiana also mirrored the Long Beach refineries.
My childhood taught me to keep looking out the window and to swing a sledgehammer with careless abandon.

How do you source materials and what are the preferred materials you use?
All of my designs come from material experimentation. It usually takes the form of an encounter with a found material. Sometimes only the idea and original prototype is made from the found material, and other times the design is always made with recycled materials. I’m a bit of a material magpie- always looking and collecting pieces or images of materials that inspire, ignite, or simply speak to me.

Because I work with found materials I spend a lot of time in scrap yards, pick apart yards, dumpsters, and on construction sites. I go hunting in recycling yards all over the country for interesting sheet metal that I can make the pieces from. I’m often looking for pieces that already have character to them, be it the specific pressed texture of a washing machine,  interesting hole patterns from metal shelving, pressed and formed texture from car parts, or a really good color. I’m always on the look out for a specific bright orange red color.

I treat my little Subaru Impreza like a pick-up truck, rolling huge logs into the back, stacking tailgates and bails of found materials. I always have ratchet straps on hand and have built my own roof rack from wooden dowels and pool noodles in case I have to pick up something larger than can fit in the back of my ‘truck’.

Describe a specific project/ piece that you hold dear from origin to completion.
While in grad school outside of Detroit, Michigan, I saw a big pile of rusty, bent in half, cnc railings leaning against a dumpster waiting to be scrapped. The pieces had very rough, chewed up edges covered with metal slag and rust. They were all bent in a rough upside down ‘U-shape’ and leaned up against the dumpster. In the process of being stacked, some of the pieces had fallen over sideways creating a ‘greater than’ > shape. In my mind immediately- It was a chair! I saw the upside down u shape as the back and the ‘greater than’ > shape as the seat the pieces would alternate and create a chair.

After getting permission (a step I have found to be important sometimes),  I saved the metal from the dumpster and jumped on and pried the material with a vice until I had two distinct curves that made up the back and seat respectively. I left the carved out edges of the material, while softening the sharp edges so it could be comfortable and not dangerous. It became the original Bent prototype.

In order to make the piece reproducible, because I have yet to come across the same material in my explorations- I took a paper pattern of the original chair curves and built two jigs to match the specific curves of the back and seat. Now, when I make new Bent chairs I take new 2” steel bar material, heat it up in my metal ‘through forge’- basically a round tube open on both sides with very hot flames shooting down from propane burners-  and bend them around the homemade jigs. The back and seat pieces are then stacked and very carefully tig welded from underneath so the welds are invisible. The piece becomes a conversation about line. The chair that appeared in the pile of trash has now become a reproducible design object.

Who has been most influential to you professionally?
I have always admired the work and studio practice of contemporary designer, Max Lamb. I think we are both inherently ‘scrappy’ using whatever tools and resources around us to inspire and create. I remember learning that he started his Nanocrystalline Copper Furniture series in his apartment kitchen sink, and watched videos of him casting pewter side tables on the beach with a stick and hot plate. I identify closely with that scrappy ingenuity.  Both of our studio practices have an element of performance. I love his ability to jump between very different materials and techniques, never being bound by what people think he makes. It’s a lesson that I try to hold very close to my heart.  You have to let the work and material lead you, instead of trying to chase what you think people want to buy. I think a lot of designers pigeon hole themselves to a specific material or technique and lose the love of making and experimentation. For both of us, experimentation with a specific material leads the design process.

More directly, my dear friend, mentor, and one-time boss, Vivian Beer taught me how to actually work professionally as an artist. Seeing and working with someone who is running their own small design studio is the best education you can ever have. She was first my teacher for a two month long metal furniture class at Penland School of Craft in North Carolina and immediately afterwards called me up and hired me as her assistant in New Hampshire. I’ve worked with and alongside her for more than ten years. We’ve built concrete and metal furniture, large scale public artwork that wraps around buildings and spent months in the desert in an RV together. She is also incredibly scrappy (a favorite trait of mine) and has shown me how driven you have to be to make it in the design world. She is always re-creating and re-inventing her studio and practice and pushing herself to take on bigger, more complex and ambitious projects. She is one of those people who you can always count on, and who inspires you to be better at what you do.

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MEGAN OFFNER | ASHIRA ISRAEL | LINDSAY BLACK, NEW YORK HEARTWOODS

Megan Offner (R), Ashira Israel (L) and Lindsay Black (C) of New York Heartwoods, wear the Colorant Reversible Denim Jacket,  High Waisted Denim pants and Fantasma Top in their workshop HQ in Accord, NY.

North American Black Walnuts (juglans nigra) have been used for centuries as a natural dye source. The leaves, bark and fruit can be extracted and used to color cloth. Walnut bark was used heavily during the Civil War in dyeing uniforms. Traces of Walnut-dyed garments have been found in the Temple of Pompeii as well as Viking settlements due to their abundance. The concentrated extracts of the hulls of the fruit served as our first writing inks. The heavy tannins make for a strong color source that conditions fibers during the dye process, acting as a softening agent while yielding yellow, orange and brown hues. 

Tell us a bit about New York Heartwoods and its origin story.
In the 2000's I was living in Brooklyn working in fashion/advertising set design where most things quickly ended up in a dumpster, and renovating houses with standard building materials that taxed my health. So I spent three years taking classes to try to figure out how to have a creative livelihood that produced little waste, was less toxic, and had a positive net benefit for both humans and the environment. The last of these courses focused on regenerative forest management practices and how to mill fallen trees to create sustainable wood products. This was a huge a-ha moment, finally finding a business model that checked all those boxes. Then everything started falling into place for it to happen. Two weeks later I met a sawyer who eventually trained me to us his portable bandsaw mill. Nine months later I started bartering to use his mill full-time as we got slammed by Hurricane Irene. Then came Sandy. We milled and sold thousands of board feet of lumber and slabs. Then the furniture requests started rolling in. I found people who were talented furniture makers to help me with the production. It became too challenging to continue doing everything ourselves so we ceased in-house milling and drying to focus on fabrication. Now, we often tap back into our roots to help people make things from their own trees - working through our clients' design needs, translating them into the lumber and slabs needed, overseeing the milling and drying processes to get the optimal results for us to build with, and fabricating the finished objects. It's so fun and rewarding for everyone involved, to return these pieces to where the trees grow to live on in a different way. And all the sawdust we create gets donated to a horse farm and the wood scraps to a local wood-fired bread maker, so giving back to the community helps us create very little waste. A unique part of our furniture company is that it was born out of, and always goes back to, how we want to work more than what we actually produce. And how we grow, in addition to what we make, is in every way a very organic and co-creative process.
How did you all cross paths?
Seven years ago, our head of production Ashira Israel, who had her own furniture company in Brooklyn and a house in Accord NY, was looking into how she might start producing her own lumber. In doing her research she found NYH, so instead of her starting from scratch she began buying our wood.  When the pandemic hit, her work in the city slowed so she came upstate to help me with our tidal wave of furniture projects from the influx of new people to the area. We balance each other's skill sets really well and we were both tired of doing everything ourselves for our own businesses, so we formally joined forces which has allowed us to take on larger and more rewarding projects.
Four and a half years ago a mutual friend introduced Lindsay Black and I when she moved up from Asheville, NC to work for another furniture company. She started coming in after hours to help me with random projects and was always incredibly steadfast, thorough and great to work with. After moving through a couple furniture studios where she lacked the support and community she was looking for, she saw an ad that we were hiring and joined our team. We're better for it. As females in this industry it's such a different experience to work solely as a team of women, and it has been incredibly nourishing for all of us.
What certain projects have come out of working together and this common mission?
Having a strong production team has allowed me to grow our focus on the whole-tree projects.  We just finished our largest one to date - all the restaurant tabletops, several stools and a coffee table for Little Cat, a lodge across from Catamount Resort where I scouted and gleaned 19 logs from trees removed for new ski slopes. We also just completed one of our favorite projects ever - a bed, two night stands, three stools, two large bookcases and a coffee table (all pieces from our collection) from a single New Rochelle yard tree. The wood was so weird and gorgeous, the client was over the moon with everything. It meant a lot for them to have a tree that they didn't want to take down continue to be a part of their home ecosystem.
Another favorite project was creating the huge custom wood elements for Camille Norment's exhibition at Dia Chelsea. Because the massive sizes and quantities of the lumber needed and the artist and gallery's desire for sustainable sourcing, we found the mills and pine logs cleared for the creation of the Ashokan Rail Trail and had them milled and dried to our specifications. Then hired a team (all women!) to help us surface, tool and finish them to hold acoustical elements for the installation. It was the largest scale project that we've taken on and having a great crew (and client) made it such a blast. The show is up through Jan 7th (definitely go check it out, it's AMAZING), then we're helping the gallery find homes for the lumber so the wood can continue to be used.
Any exciting plans for NY Heartwoods or new projects you are working on?
Ashira, who also has past lives in architecture and contracting, had land in Accord and recently built us an awesome energy efficient, solar powered, wood scrap-heated dream shop that truly reflects our care for the environment and thoughtful design. Ashira and Lindsay have backgrounds in teaching so we're excited to host woodworking classes here starting next year!
With their talents we recently added a couple new beautiful pieces to our collection, including the Crane Cabinet (originally made for a client with oak from their yard tree) and the Clove Bed.  I have six more whole tree projects that I'm in various stages of managing, and am looking to do more consulting for larger scale residential and commercial projects looking to sustainably optimize onsite forest resources (I just planted the seed for one in California, fingers crossed!) 
Anyone who would like to hear more, has furniture needs (with or without their own tree(s)), or would be interested in our upcoming classes can contact us through our website or via Instagram.


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TANYA HIMEJI ROMERO, WOODLAND PANTRY

Tanya Himeji Romero of Woodland Pantry, wears Colorant Corfu Dress in the Hudson Valley, NY.

Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) is a type of fungus that grows on the bark of Birch trees in colder climates. It has been used as an herbal medicine for centuries, often ground up and taken as a tincture, tea or capsule supplement to boost immunity and antioxidants. Its inner orange core produces a mycopigment (natural dyes originating from fungi and lichens) that creates vivid yellows, golds and oranges when extracted.

Tell us a bit about Woodland Pantry and its origin story.  
When I first moved to the Catskills in the Spring of 2012, my now husband and I’s dating consisted of us spending time in the wilderness, getting to know plants and mushrooms on the 50 acres of land we care-took. We often trailed off solo to follow our own curiosities only to present each other with special fungal and botanical specimens, which had moved us. It was a magical, beautiful and very sweet time in our lives. 
We developed a deep reverence for the abundance that grew around us; our minds continuously blown by the plethora of foods and potent medicines growing all around us. It was an incredibly eye opening and empowering set of realizations. We spent countless days and nights dreaming about creating work for ourselves that helped us and others connect more deeply with nature. We felt passionate about bridging this relation so others could be filled with the inspiration, hope and wonder we were cultivating within ourselves as we lived more intimately and with deeper care for the flora and fauna around us. Woodland Pantry began as an exploratory forest farm on family land. Our intention and desire was to explore ways to work with and thus live in a mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationship with nature.
 
How has the operation evolved since its start?  
Woodland Pantry began as a modest intention to farm the family land and eventually make beautiful products out of what we grew and wildcrafted. Over the years it evolved and became so much more. While my husband’s work particularly deepened in forest stewardship through regenerative management, I took on Woodland Pantry as an outlet for storytelling - serving as a conduit  on behalf of my plant ambassadors whom I saw as representatives of the realms of conservation, plant medicine, wild food and emotional companionship. I wove my various passions and skill sets together. Now I communicate my good fight and my deep desire to help others create safety, connection, wonder, purpose and greater fulfillment in their own lives by honoring ourselves and our intuition as our greatest teacher.  
From plant walks to botanical product development and creative direction in the wellness space, I create food as medicine experiences through catering and private events. I create spaces, ways, things and dialogues. These are my means of sharing my heart with others.  My mediums of expression, informed by the intersection of my heritage and wisdom paths, allow me to extend a sensual experience of healing and self-accountability. 
This past Fall, I inaugurated my own food studio in Kingston NY to put into practice all I’ve learned these nearly 2 decades since I left the nest. Come Spring, I will onboard my first employees. Within this food studio method/lab we will practice ways and develop methods to work symbiotically. Our collaborative process intends to be as therapeutic as the product we come together to create. I understand now that Woodland Pantry is especially about energy and space holding- a space holding the deepest consideration for our shared and co-created well-being.  It’s a humbling but exciting chapter as I, more intimately than ever, open up my work to others. But to be at the helm of an endeavor that seeks to cultivate presence, care, respect and purpose in aligning with that which we love, is the honor of my lifetime and calls to my spirit and heart.

What are your favorites things to forage?  
I love to forage the late Winter/ early Spring greens that grace us once the snow melts. I’m so heartened to witness the return of my flora friends after so many months without them- new green melts me. They are also essential nourishment, offering themselves at such a pivotal time of year to support us in reawakening ourselves and our constitutions after a sleepier and slower season.    Throughout the year, I passionately harvest every possible edible flower, often drying them so as to be able to bring magic and that special touch to my food and medicinal preparations in months to come. I particularly like to forage plants that grow generously around us. I have a special relationship with invasive plants. Not simply problematic, I consider them instead, ‘over-abundant and under-utilized’. They are abundant resources to be put to use. It’s a real bonus when you come into a generous harvest of an opportunistic/invasive plant and when you can take as much as possible because it’s the responsible and beneficial thing to do!    
Who inspires you?  
People who are authentically themselves inspire me. Truly and deeply. It takes courage to not follow the norm and to unapologetically be oneself and those whom brave this self-loving pursuit earnestly move me. It’s taken me 35 years to finally really really feel comfortable in my own skin and it took me years to forge a loving relationship with myself.  I’m so thankful for all the beautiful creatures I’ve met throughout my life that earnestly let their truest selves show and shine and whom live comfortably in that, honoring that. Their acceptance and unconditional love for themselves gave me the example, the inspiration and the reflection to ever brave my own deepest and most sincere expression of self.   
What are some current books you’re reading?
I am always reading many books at once as I am often holding so many threads in my curiosity and mind. Woodland Pantry is the synthesis and weaving of all these threads.  
Broadening my horizons, wisdom and holding me accountable presently are these books: Eating on the Wild Side - Jo Robinson //Understanding Trauma and Dissociation - Lynn Mary Karjala// Creativity, Inc - Ed Catmull  
Lastly, am doing some assisted re-reading/ listening to: Belonging, Remembering Ourselves Home - Toko-pa Turner // The Alchemist - Paulo Coehlo
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SARAH TROGDON, GOLDIE'S NATURAL BEAUTY

Sarah Trogdon of Goldie's, Wears COLORANT X LARA HODULICK Palms Dress in her garden & studio located in Rockaway Beach, NY.

Fustic (maclura tinctoria) is a hardy Neotropic tree that yields a textile dye that produces vibrant golds, yellows and greens. It was predominately used during WWI to create the color "Khaki" for military uniforms as well as construction of furniture pieces and objects. Fustic leaves are harvested to feed silk worms in their pre-cocoon stage and bear small fruits resembling mulberries, which is why it is often referred to as "Dyer's Mulberry".

How did Goldie's originate?
Well, the name "Goldie's" was one I suggested for a friend's biz idea for an organic fast food joint that never came to be, so when I started making soap the name was already there. It was a nickname given to me by my elementary school music teacher, who was this great local jazz musician in my small hometown in North Carolina. His classroom was under the stairs behind the auditorium and he was an inspirational figure to me (so creative, positive and fun!). I also share a birthday with Goldie Hawn, another tough sweetheart :).

What does a typical day look like for you?

Coffee, reading, a little prayer/meditation and then I organize my day. I start work by 7 or 8. I get my daughter set with what she’s doing and feed my animals. I try to always take a swim break at some point in the summer. I love working in my yard and cooking. In the Fall, Winter, and Spring I am homeschooling my daughter, so some days, work starts there. It’s certainly a dance! I have two super gals that help me at Goldie's, and am almost always involved in some sort of collab project that keeps me connected to others and art. I love mowing the lawn in my swimsuit and doing creative things like drawing, painting, and music with my super magic daughter Georgia. I like to make fires.

How was your journey from the beginning to present evolved for Goldie's?

The business was born out of my D.I.Y. nature (I come from a line of clock-makers, cake bakers, gardeners, and woodworkers) and interest/respect for herbal medicine. When I first started making soap and herbal products, my studio was my kitchen and my storage was a closet in the hall in our apartment in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. I was waiting tables for many years at Roberta's pizza in Bushwick and dating my boss, so I got away with bringing a little vintage suitcase to work with me, selling soap to tables from the suitcase. Basically the rest is history! I owe a lot of my growth exposure to the Wythe Hotel for being one of the first big hotels to go green and local. I designed their amenities in 2011!

What are some of your most favorite plants to grow in your garden?
Celosia / Amaranth because I loooove the colors and it reminds me of a dear friend. TOMATOES! Peppers, I like spice! I grow lavender, calendula, skullcap, and chamomile for my own personal, calming medicine stash. Bee balm, yarrow, peppermint, nasturtiums (remind me of my sis), echinacea, rosemary, thyme, anise hyssop (another bestie and my fave mouthwash) Eggplants, because beach roses. Oregano, I dry and add to salt. Sunflowers.
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JEAN BRENNAN, ARTIST

Jean Brennan, Artist, Wears Colorant Hand Painted Jumpsuit in silk charmeuse, brush painted with crushed Cochineal & Fustic natural dyes.

Orsallia, a natural red purple dye, is an extraction from the lichen Umbilicaria which was worn by nobility in Roman times to display wealth, power and status. Women were forbidden to take part in the creation of this dye and ordinary citizens were forbidden to wear it. Ancient recipes include ocean water and urine in the dye process and it was often used in place of the Murex mollusk, a sea shellfish, a source of a similar royal hue but not as easily collected.

What is your favorite color?

Blue.

Describe a typical day of your studio practice.
My day to day varies, from teaching to writing grants to messing around in the studio. Projects often begin with walks and writing, coupled with research about a plant or a place. In my response to site, I’m often weaving in scientific research, historical references, pop culture. Sometimes the relationships with scientists or collaborators, human or non-human, become central to the work. 

Who are you currently inspired by? An eclectic group of women: Amy Franceschini from Future Farmers, Agnes Denes, Helen Mirra, Donna Haraway, Joan Jonas, Rebecca Horn.

Describe ‘Performing vowels in the note of blue’ & the process in how the project came together. 

While visiting Michigan one summer, I was struck by the endless miles of reforestation, a mesmerizing repetition of red pines flying past the car window. Eventually, I found a location maintained by the University of Michigan Biostation, with little undergrowth save a patchy carpet of spring ferns. I staged a few photos and the seed for 'Performing vowels in the note of blue' was planted. That Fall, I located a similar site in my home state of New York.

'Performing vowels' is a score of non discursive communication filmed with(in) a grove of red pines in the Catskills. Planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps during FDR's New Deal, this century-old stand possesses the uncanny quality of a single species plantation gone wild. Standing among the trees, five women (a,e,i,o,u) perform the vowels through the use of semaphore flags- a signaling system that augments the body to communicate over the distances of land and sea. The movements, like language and the forest, slip between structure and improvisation. In this 8 minute video, looped in a gallery setting, I imagine a form of communication in which the forest plays a role in how we transmit ideas—a ritual of call and response whereby the patterns of movement and non-verbal sound form the phrases of language.

The original action was inspired by research on how trees 'talk' and asks if there are example of human communication that come closer to the way non-humans, such as plants and animals, communicate. That's how I arrived at the idea of using semaphore flags. But in the making of Performing Vowels, all kinds of other meaning began to unfold. For instance, vowels are the breath of language- in a sense they are atmospheric. Vowels are a speech sound that is made with no obstruction of the vocal tract, frictionless and continuant, they are open-throated. The color blue corresponds to the throat chakra and to truth. In Judaism, vowels are associated with god; in Japan, with the mother.

Click to view Performing vowels in the note of blue

Favorite trails to Hike?
Fishkill Ridge, east of Mount Beacon; Mohonk Preserve in the Catskills; and, Mt. Lafayette in the White Mountains.

Describe the process in how you conceived Intergalactic Naval Gazing?

It began with walking, plant identification, and dye research at the Haystack Artist Residency on Deer Isle, Maine (May 2018). Later that summer, on a hike in the Catskills I came across a large rocky outcrop covered with the Umbilicate mammulata lichen, known as rock tripe. In Latin, umbilicate refers to the naval, while mammulata, means small breast. I was drawn to the bodily references, as well as the deep purple dye it yields, called orsallia. A storm had detached and blown lichen bits all over the ground so I was able to gather a good amount. I chopped these up into smaller pieces and placed them in mason jars. The jars, marked either Y.O.U. (your own urine) or A.M. (ammonia method), sat in a window by my dresser. Each morning and evening, I gave the jars a hearty shake - for 4 months. 

All lichen are symbiosis of algae and fungi, an unexpected marriage of producer and de-composer. Using my own bodily fluids, and cohabiting with these jars as they transformed, was a way to enter into this synergy. The dye was ultimately displayed in flame-work glass vessels fabricated by Dan Spitzer from Malfatti Glass according to sketches I made while looking at medical renditions of internal organs. I wrote the essay, Intergalactic Naval Gazing, as an ode to the lichen I foraged.

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LIZ SPENCER, NATURAL DYER

Liz Spencer, The Dogwood Dyer, prepares an indigo vat in her studio in Brooklyn, NY.

Indigo has been harvested for thousands of years for its rare and natural blue. The leaves of the plant are first fermented then boiled to a reduction that creates a “white bath”. When material is submerged then lifted in the air, it first appears to be a bright yellow then magically turns blue as it oxidizes. Unlike other dyes in which color intensity can be somewhat controlled by soaking time, Indigo differs in that it must be re-dipped repeatedly to achieve deep tones.

What is your favorite color?
This is a tough one…considering that my work demands an appreciation for and understanding of many colors, but I love the aqua blue that results from fresh leaf indigo dyeing on silk. It’s like a Carribean light teal blue or a southwest turquoise stone. I’ve never been able to achieve this color with any other process or plant, so it’s very special!

Where did your love for natural dyeing begin?
I began by collaborating with a community garden called Cordwainers Garden in London at an allotment next to my Grad School (The London College of Fashion) in Hackney, East London. Space to garden, as in many urban areas, is little to be had there and as a result, very much cherished, so I was lucky to have ample space to explore the process of exclusively growing dye plants. As a natural dyer that actually grows my own plants for dyeing, I am able to see the process from seed to cloth and this holistic approach keeps my research hungry mind and creative spirit continually fulfilled. Gardening and harvesting is immensely gratifying, and distinctly different from dyeing with only imported powdered extracts. This full life cycle aspect of my introduction to natural dyes has generally keep me coming back to the practice.

What’s your favorite scent?
Jasmine, Magnolia, and Gardenia are all favorites of mine


Where do you love / want to travel?
I grew up moving around the US quite a bit (The Carolinas, New England, The Pacific Northwest) , and have lived and traveled a good deal in Western Europe. Outside of a trip to Japan and Honduras, I haven’t seen much of Asia or Central and South America, where some of the richest and most complex natural dye traditions have developed.  I would love to spend a year in India, especially Jaipur.

Tell us a funny story about your childhood.
I’ve heard this one many times from my parents…
In first grade my parents were called in for a teacher conference concerning my behavior in class. My teacher was having trouble keeping me from distracting my peers from their work. She wanted to see if they could help by reminding me the importance of letting my desk mates finish their work before engaging them in conversation. When they sat me down to discuss my overly gregarious behavior, I defended myself by saying that “talking is my hobby!”. Fast forward 25 years,  now I am an educator at The New School and I teach workshops independently, and I think that my eagerness to talk to those around me serves me and others well. 
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