Night in the Flint Hills

Night in the Flint Hills

Some years ago, my family gathered at a ranch in the Flint Hills to spend a weekend and to celebrate my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.  As a native Kansas from south central Kansas, I’ve always felt at home in open country and the Flint Hills are that and more, representing a spare and exceptional beauty that is unique to its place.

 

At night, when we walked outside to experience the Flint Hills night, we saw the stars like we’ve never seen them before and the wondrously speckled expanse of light that is the Milky Way.

 

That moment inspired several mosaics, among them Night in the Flint Hills, a new commission for the design firm Spellman Brady and Company in St. Louis, Missouri for a hospital in Onaga, Kansas. The Piece is 22″ x 22″.

Phoenix Underground Exhibit, Opening June 27, 2014

Animals

 

SteamedAnimals–mostly birds but other critters too–have taken up residence in my art for many years. I didn’t exactly invite them. Like squirrels drawn to my bird feeder, I don’t recall intending to focus on critters but they have been drawn into my art. And yet I did put up the feeder, and I did create these images, Stirand so of course I invited them. Birds, frogs, cats, cicadas, squirrels and other critters are with us in life and so too in my art. In Steamed (2011), a squirrel chatters noisily like so many colicky babies (or whistling teakettles), clamoring for attention. In Stir (2010), birds with human legs spring forth to dance or fly. And in Composition With Goose (2009), a calm cat and a very wound-up goose hold forth and argue.

 

Frog, My FriendBut more recently, in the past half-year or so, I’ve changed a little. I am thinking more intentionally about critters, my relationship to them, and the impact of human activity and climate change on them. I think of my pictures as a stage and the animals and people in them as characters playing a part. But instead of using birds or squirrels to tell stories that are really about people, the critters I’m drawing now are playing the part of themselves and are part of the story. In Frog, My Friend, for example, a frog, a casualty of the 600.deathwithchickenSouth Lawrence Trafficway, is carried off by “Death.” Or maybe the frog is our pet frog that died because we just couldn’t take care of him right. Either way, the frog in this story is a frog. In Run!, a Prairie Chicken plays its own part, too, on the run from Death due to habitat destruction and Kansas politics. In Passenger Pigeon: Abstract Memory, a cloud of extinct Passenger Pigeons becomes abstract and fades from memory. In Robin, Been and Gone, a robin is depicted along with several robin-silhouettes, symbolizing presence and absence, a reminder of what pesticides can do to birds. These are of course my images for my very human purposes, too. But I hope that by thinking more about the role of animals in my work, I can remind viewers that we have a relationship with animals, and that this relationship is fragile.

 

Robin, Been and GoneMaking work about the negative impact of humans on critters is a new direction in my art, the beginning of a
Never Coming Back
larger body of work. I was moved to think more about animals in the broadest sense of the word after reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction. Her book includes story after story of scientists worldwide documenting the process of animals becoming extinct because of human-caused global warming. Animals are leaving us now, and they are never coming back.

 


In my new work I am guided too by collaborating with my composer-friend Lynn Gumert, of Hightstown, NJ.  Lynn and I have talked on the phone and we have exchanged emails, images, and sound. We are working together on loosely-related themes in our work, themes that include the impact of climate change on weather, animals, and us.  Lynn is working on a series of related short saxophone quartet pieces, and eventually our work will be presented together.  Her first notes to me depicted a river. Building on her compositions I am also playing with images of saxophones and literally drawing their “sound,” as in River Song. In this piece, a Mourning Dove plays a saxophone-river. This, too, is another experiment in visual storytelling.

 

Please join Karen Matheis and me for our two-person show at the Phoenix Underground, opening Final Friday, June 27, 2014, 5 – 9 pm, from June 27 – July 23 at the Phoenix Underground (825 Massachusetts, Lawrence, KS). I’ll show these works and others too, and almost all of them include animals.

 

Thanks to all who helped with the Free State Brewery mosaic!

Nearly Spring is complete! It is a seven-foot mosaic mural installed on New Year’s Day at the Free State Brewery in downtown Lawrence, Kansas.  The mosaic was a wonderful project and I am writing to give thanks to all of the people who were in one way or another a part of its creation.

 

Foremost I want to thank Chuck Magerl, proprietor of the Free State Brewery. He was wonderfully supportive throughout this project. He invited me to discuss the possibility of creating a mosaic for a particular spot in the brewery. Our first meeting was in December of 2012 and, while I was hesitant to take on a large-scale mural and had never even used mortar before, I left the meeting excited about the possibility and hoped to get the job.

 

The ideas for the mosaic grew out of several conversations with Chuck that meandered through broad topics, among them birds, water, and the Lawrence area’s landscape. These themes became core elements in the mosaic. Once we finished the design work I worked intensively on the mosaic for about five months. Chuck provided a place for me to work at the Free State’s eastside brewery, and also hosted an open house there so that friends and brewery patrons could see the mosaic’s development. Thousands-of-tiles-cut-from-ceramic-plates-and-adhered-to-panels later, I am grateful to Chuck for trusting me with the project and for his kindness, generosity, encouragement and help throughout the entire process.

 

A number of people greatly helped, too. Conrad Snider, a ceramic artist and friend in Newton, Kansas, provided extensive and detailed advice on everything from concrete board, mortar, and grout to how to build sturdy panels that would hold heavy tiles and yet be light enough to move and install.

 

Todd Pederson and Jim Lewis of Independent Woodcraft in Lawrence built panels for the mosaic that would fit exactly right in that stairwell spot. Todd and Jim also installed the finished panels with what struck me as remarkable ease.

 

Brit Kring of Kring’s Interiors in Lawrence contributed tiles for the mosaic and in his good-natured way, advice on mortar, grout, and how best to use them in a somewhat unorthodox application. Jana Flory of Krings Interiors also provided information and assistance.

 

When I first moved into my brewery-studio I felt like an interloper in this industrial setting. But the folks who run the brewery and the brewers and bottlers who work there were friendly and welcoming and soon I felt at home. They helped me in ways large and small with things like holding the door open while I hauled stuff in, raising my work tables onto blocks so that I could work standing up, tidying the place for the open house, designing and building a brace for the largest of my panels so that it would travel in the van safely, and on. So thank you Steve Bradt, Brad Scott, Eric McClelland, Lucas Hachmeister, Matt Luna,  TJ Campsey,  Rick Berger-Munson, Luke Otter, Patrick Raasch, Steve Rold and anyone else from the crew who might have assisted with the mosaic even without me knowing it.

 

600IMG_6053Carolyn Coleman, also of the Free State Brewing Company, made a lovely display about the forthcoming mosaic that was posted in the entryway of the downtown brewery.

 

Thanks to you friends for your conversations with me about the mosaic and for your support (especially Sara Stalling who got the first peek at my design ideas and Lokelani Braisted who sent all kinds of interesting mosaic process information my way), for your social media “likes,” comments, and encouragement, and for attending the mosaic process open house and making it a fun and successful event.

 

Thanks to Catherine Bolton, Nicholai Jost-Epp, Kathi and Randy Masten, Kristi Neufeld, Kamala Platt, Christy Dersch Schneider and David Schneider for giving me ceramic dishes, pottery, glass, porcelain shards and other special things to incorporate into the mosaic. In addition, Eric McClelland gave me a mussel shell and access to the Brewery’s hardware drawer for me to pick out a few small things to include, and TJ Campsey gave me a bottle with the Free State’s Prairie Falcon beer logo on it — so be sure to look for that little glass piece.

 

Lastly, I would like to thank my family. My parents, father-in-law, and brother never failed to ask me about how things were going on the mosaic and always expressed their excitement about it. And to my husband Chuck and son Nicholai, thanks for all your support and for picking up the slack especially after school, and for keeping me laughing during a few tough times — you two are the best.

 

For photos of the entire mosaic process, go to Free State Mosaic Process Pics on my Artist Facebook page

 
UPDATE: Please see Dave Loewenstein’s blog about the recent comings and goings of murals in Lawrence, KS, including murals by Stan Herd at the former Tellers Restaurant, KT Walsh at the Poehler Building, and me at the Free State Brewery.

Free State Brewery Mosaic

With my design-sketch as a guide in the background, I began the tiling process by placing colored tiles around the surface as a way to think about color combinations and placement.

After months of planning, the  large-scale mosaic that I am making for the Free State Brewery is in full swing! Follow my process in photos on my Facebook Artist Page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are my first tiles adhered to the Hardibacker board -- cattails gone to seed.


Opening at the Lincoln Art Center and other news

You are invited to an art opening in Lincoln, Kansas!

 

Cut, Scratch, Smash, Stack featuring the work of Hanna Eastin of Newton, KS, and Angie Pickman and me of Lawrence, KS, opens on Saturday, May 11, 5:30-7:30 pm at the Lincoln Art Center in Lincoln, KS, and runs through June 28, 2013.  (Lincoln, KS is 45-minutes northeast of Salina, KS.)

 

This exhibit is free and open to the public Tuesday through Friday noon to 4:00 p.m. and Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Lincoln Art Center, 126 E. Lincoln Ave, Lincoln, KS, 67455. For more information call 785-524-3241 or visit the Lincoln Art Center website for more information.

 

In other news, the new Lawrence Magazine is out and I have an illustration in it about catfish! Flatheads to be exact. Check it out — the story is about Thomas Burns, one of the regions greatest fisherman on the Kaw.  Lawrence Magazine is available free at many Lawrence businesses, the visitor’s center, and on-line.


UPDATE: We had a lovely crowd and a great opening at the Lincoln Art Center! Here’s a photo of the installation. My work hangs on the wall with Hanna Eastin’s sculpture in the foreground. (Angie Pickman’s cut paper art is on the opposite wall):

 

 

 

 

Tea With Robin

I’ve just completed the second in a series of two mosaics for my sister-in-law.  A relative of hers had given her an antique children’s tea set to give to her daughter — my niece.  But in a freak accident my sister-in-law dropped the dishes and they broke into lots of more info

little pieces. So she commissioned me to use the pieces in two mosaics. The process was loads of fun, and I enjoyed the chance to work with these special little dishes — the shards that are patterned with flowers and designs. (Scroll down my Mosaics page to see the other one in the series called Blue Moon.)

To the Stars Through Difficulties

I am excited that a mosaic of mine will be on the cover of the forthcoming book To the Stars Through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices.  The book will be available sometime in December, so stay tuned!

 

This collection of 150 poems, each one written as part of a collaborative whole, was edited by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Kansas Poet Laureate 2009-13.

 

To the Stars Through Difficulties takes the form of a renga, a collaborative poem in which each participant writes in response to the one or two parts of the poem that came before. Each portion of the poem has been highlighted throughout the year (2012) on the blog 150 Kansas Poems.


(To the Stars Through Difficulties was edited by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg; cover design by Leah Sewell; cover art by Lora Jost; interior design by Denise Low-Weso, Kansas Poet Laureate 2007-2009; poems by 150 writers who have a unique relationship to Kansas — its landscape and culture.)

 

Exhibit opening Oct. 26, Final Friday, at Do’s Deluxe

Detail of

The Deer of Mesa Verde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please join me for an exhibit opening reception!

I’ve been working hard since I wrote my last blog entry called Beginnings, about the early stages of my creative process and about several new pieces that I was just getting started on. And now that work is complete! I would love for you to see it, the endings, the finished work, and more than just the “details” that I’m showing here, at my exhibit at Do’s Deluxe:

 

Better Angels, a Deer, and a Boat
Collages, mosaics and scratchboard by Lora Jost
Opening Reception on “Final Friday,” October 26, 2012, 6 – 8 pm
At Do’s Deluxe, 416 E. 9th St., Lawrence, KS
Runs Oct. 23 – Nov. 23, 2012,  T-F 11 am -6 pm; Sat 10 am -1 pm

(also see Better angels, a deer, and a boat)

 

Detail of Microburst

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Process detail of Blue Moon

 

 

Beginnings

I wish I had a new art piece to post every day or even every week.  But making art is not an instant process. So instead of showing pictures of new work, in this blog I’ll tell you about my current work as it is unfolding right now in my studio.

 

Here is the start of a new piece: plywood. I just painted a sealer on it. Beginnings are hard, even just that much. I like to avoid beginnings. Instead I make lists, do errands, clean my studio, surf the web. But the drudgery and uncertainty I like to avoid in the beginning is no less a part of the creative process. So I begin. Choreographer Twyla Tharp writes, “If you’re at a dead end, take a deep breath, stamp your foot, and shout “Begin!”

 

I have a vision of what this piece will be in my mind, and I selected some green cloth from my trove to cover the wood. I envision this piece as a collage with a light green background, a landscape that is barren and shiny with textures made of cloth and gold thread. Small painted silhouettes of mule deer dot the scene, some hiding behind shrubs. The deer are painted and lacquered, black and white, positive and negative, present and absent.  I won’t be able to fully translate these ideas into a tangible form.  There is an airiness and movement to the piece in my mind that I’ll never achieve in a collage. I enjoy what my college design professor called this kind of beginning, this intention that would inevitably turn into something else: a point of departure.

 

While the image in my mind feels like the beginning of the piece, my mind started working on it long before I ever thought of making it.  So where did this idea — these appearing and disappearing mule deer — come from?  The deer came from Mesa Verde National Park, where my family and I camped for two days this summer.  We were excited to see deer off to the side of the camp road on our first day there.  Later we saw deer a couple of times more, clusters of three or six.  On our second day there I stayed at our campsite for most of the day.  I sat quietly and sketched.  A buck wandered through our tent’s back yard. He didn’t see me at first.  When he did, he froze.  And when I turned to leave, he left too.  Later I opened my mind and my peripheral vision to the whole scene, the whole campground, as I wandered through it towards the camp store looking for a cup of tea. I noticed that there were deer all over the grounds.  When I became aware of the whole, I felt the slow churning of the place; mule deer wandering everywhere, some in the open and others hiding, slow motion, looking, watching.

 

A week later back in Lawrence I put a bit of that experience into my Sketchbook Project sketchbook.  I remembered my family and the other campers at Mesa Verde watching the deer and photographing them, and the deer watching us back. Earlier this summer I also saw a deer that struck me, a lone deer running through my Lawrence neighborhood, confused. I made a collage about that experience, too.  But unlike the deer in Lawrence, in Mesa Verde the campers  were in the deer’s neighborhood and not the other way around. Or that’s how it seemed.

 

I have other pieces in the works in my studio that are at various stages of completion. One is a mosaic that lies on a table, ready to grout. I like taking pictures of my mosaics just after I’ve completed tiling them and just before grouting, with bits of broken dishes all around and my trusty red-handled tile nipper to the side.  It is a familiar scene and I like the way the shards fall, a chance arrangement like wind shaping sand dunes.

 

 

 

And there’s more.  Here’s another page from my Sketchbook Project sketchbook. I have been pasting newspaper clippings into my book as the news unfolds, with stories that strike me as significant in some way. Along with the clippings, I am creating relationships between spreads by drawing pictures of a paper boat in each, from different angles and perspectives. Drawing over the news becomes a response to it. This two-page spread includes a clipping about the mass shooting that occurred in Colorado this summer.   I drew the boat at around midnight one night when I couldn’t sleep.  The shooting in Colorado was horrifying and senseless.  And yet to make sense of it I had to think about guns. Why must we have them?  And so many? And yet so many think we must.  [A second horrific shooting occurred this summer in Wisconsin a couple of weeks later.]

 

Here is another piece in progress.  This is a background that I made to accompany my planned foreground, a wind chime caught in a violent gust.  And yet the background doesn’t seem quite right for the foreground, nor does my plan for how to make the chime seem right anymore. So I don’t know what I’ll do to make it right.  But I like the idea of it; a beautiful object transformed by the weather into something that is clanking like a warning bell. It accords with  themes I’m exploring for my upcoming exhibit at Do’s Deluxe.

 

 

 

More projects: My sister-in-law mailed a set of broken dishes to me; toy dishes sent from a relative to her for my niece, which crashed to the floor in a freak accident.  Could I make a mosaic with them?  I have some ideas and sketchbook scribbles.  And what else? I’ll make an illustration for a book of limericks for my college alma mater come November, focus on mosaics come spring, and soon teach a class on “field sketching” at the Lawrence Arts Center if I get enough enrollment.

 

What else? The mule deer piece is currently in idea form and I’ll soon start putting the pieces together to turn that idea into a collage.  But I also have a work in progress that is on the verge of being an idea, another scratchboard piece in a small series about our “better angels.” I don’t know what the next piece will look like yet, but I have been visited by those angels in my sketchbook, so I suspect that a more tangible idea is soon to follow. But what comes before something is even almost an idea? Maybe experiences? I have experiences in the hopper too from the summer, captured in photos and journal-writing. There had been fires at Mesa Verde, and I was struck by the other-worldliness of the burned landscape against the sky. All of the barren landscapes that we drove through this summer, in Arizona, Utah and Wyoming, were hauntingly beautiful.  We saw other fires too, active ones exacerbated by the drought, and the drought exacerbated by global warming.

 

There was a little bird at Mesa Verde that made quite an impression. It hopped around looking for bugs, shuffling the leaves with such gusto that it made quite a racket.  At first I thought there was one bird doing this but I realized that it was a kind of bird and there were many. But I never saw more than one at a time. The bird had a dark head and tail feathers, tan on its sides, a white belly and speckled back.  What was it — that earnest little bird?

 

 

 

Having new experiences, like seeing different  birds or unfamiliar landscapes, makes creative work seem possible. Spending too much time in my studio makes me feel dull. And bored. And lonely. Getting out helps. But when travel isn’t possible (and it isn’t much of the time), I read. I just finished reading a book called Biggest Elvis.  My brother recommended it. When I asked him what it was about he said, “It’s complicated.” The book is about three Elvis impersonators in the Philippines who work at a club where bar girls service in every way imaginable, servicemen affiliated with a nearby US Naval base.  I took Biggest Elvis on vacation and it was good company because it provided images of beauty and desolation at the same time I was experiencing a similar contrast of beauty and desolation through the car window. The book raised moral questions about the characters it portrayed.  But in the end they were almost too complex to judge.  And that’s what struck me the most about this book. Biggest Elvis was about US imperialism, too, but again the portrayals were not simplistic.

 

I’m throwing Biggest Elvis out there as an example of one of many small but notable experiences to draw on in my work.  I don’t know if I’ll ever draw on it in any kind of direct or meaningful way.  But as Corita Kent and Jan Steward put it in their book Learning by Heart, “Everything  is a source.”