A One-Iron Girl

OK, physician life doesn’t always allow that, but the single iron is my default setting.  A couple of months ago, I wrote about leaving my previous studio and beginning the building of a new space in our garage.  My focus has been on that process and I have set aside other responsibilities, such as writing blog posts.  You may (or may not) have noticed.

Ready for guests

This project has been much more time-consuming and complex than I had thought it would be.  (Isn’t that always the way?)  It has also been exhilarating, frustrating, immensely creative and budget-bending expensive.  We’re nearing completion of the construction phase and are now deciding what goes where, planning to work over the winter before making final decisions for storage and built-ins.  I am so ready to get back to work.

These images are of the upstairs part of the studio.  The downstairs will have walls this week and should be ready for venting the kiln next week.  I’ll be posting images of the downstairs space, the clay space, as it progresses.  And with any luck, I’ll be changing irons in the fire, from construction to creation, sometime very soon.

Endings and Beginnings

treat as I left for the last time.

I wonder how many endings we miss in our lives.  I read an article years ago written by a man who, in his youth, thought it would be a great idea to use excavation equipment as furniture.  He would have a large loft space and use the bucket of a front loader as a couch, the backhoe as a chair.  I imagined that they would be upholstered and could be moved around at will.  He obsessed about the idea and was committed to following through when he had the ability to do so.  Years later, he remembered out of the blue that he had long ago decided to use excavation equipment as furniture but at that point considered it a silly idea.  He didn’t remember ever making the decision not to do it.  He didn’t remember when the commitment ended.  A lot of things are like that.

Sometimes you can look back and recognize the moment when the ending happened.  After the fourth season of Dancing With the Stars, it’s over.  It doesn’t have the same excitement and after a couple of episodes of season five you decide not to watch anymore.  End.  You have always worn white shirts as your signature look and then one day, you pop on a blue sweater and you get complements all day.  A couple of weeks later, the white shirts go to Goodwill.  End.  It takes a while to get there, but you can see where the end began.

Downstairs of “new” studio at present.

And then sometimes the end walks up and smacks you in the face.  You turn the corner to go to your favorite coffee place and it is closed…for good.  End.  Your best friend moves to Madagascar.  End.  Your studio building is sold.  End.  But wait.  Maybe it’s not really an end.  You can go to another coffee shop.  You can stay in touch with your friend electronically and maybe even visit her.  And you find another studio.  In my case, you build another studio.

Soon to be dormer upstairs.

The garage at home is being transformed into a two story studio with the advantage of being a short walk from the back door in pajamas with a cup of coffee in hand.  Sometimes the end is a beginning.

The End Is Near

Sun.  Rain.  Rain.  Sun.  Sun.  Rain.  Sun.  Rain.  Rain.  RAIN.  Sun.  Weather is a big deal at Haystack.  Virtually all of the work is in studios so it’s not as if anything has to be called off because of rain,  but things don’t dry and moving between studios,  dining hall and cabins is dicey, both for getting wet and for uncertain footing.  But the variation adds to the serendipitous nature of the experience here.  You wake up in the morning and look out the window and there it is…weather. You go to the dining room for breakfast and there they are…pancakes.  You go to the studio and there you find something new to try.  As my brother-in-law, Web, says, “You never know, you know?”

Today is the last full day of work.  Tomorrow is clean-up, evaluations, a walk-through which is open to the public and an auction that benefits the scholarship fund and the studios.  It seems to arrive before anyone is ready for it.  The instructors this session have done a masterful job of timing the classes so that the arc of learning has been smooth and is ending at just the right time.  People will go home with finished work, samples and ideas from every studio.

The graphics studio is strewn with rich, inventive charcoal, graphite and ink drawings, enhanced with wax, shellac and spirit.  The textiles studio is dark with every surface covered with stitched samples, dyed fabric and paper, fab lab laser-cut wood pieces, yarn, lace and other pliable planes the students are using in the process of developing their own ways of working.  The class must be off somewhere on a jaunt.

The clay students are getting the last of their glazing done for the final firing tonight.  I don’t know how many firings they have had but it seems as if the past four or five days have been a continuous cycle of bisque firing, glaze, glaze firing, assess and repeat.  The clay class is perhaps the most unpredictable because the kiln gods have their own agenda.  There were many successes and lots of learning.

The jewelry/metals studio is alive with pounding and sanding and scraping, along with the conversations of people who have gotten to know and trust each other.  I am always amazed by how jewelery makers work with bits and pieces all over their desk that go together to create small worlds of delight.  Tomorrow at the walk-through, all of those fragments will make sense in their final forms.

Even the instructors get into the last-minute flurry of activity.  Mark Sfirri, the instructor in the wood studio, is showing Larry Thomas, the drawing instructor how to work with some calligraphic script that he had routed onto wood in the fab lab.

Such is the spirit of Haystack.  It is a big idea that affects people’s lives in small ways.  But those small effects can add up to a life changing experience.  I know that this happens in many places, all of the time, but it’s almost guaranteed here.  I am in awe of the kind of intelligence, respect, generosity and effort that is evident here in the students, the instructors and the staff.  The world isn’t totally lost after all.

Beyond Halfway

IMG_1339As is appropriate for the weekend,  I slacked off, and beginning with the lobster picnic on Friday night down on the rocks by the ocean.  It’s a time for relaxation and good food and often the first foray into eating a lobster that many will have.  There were even s’mores after dinner.

Saturday was a combination of work and off-campus adventures.  There is a lot to see in this coastal area of Maine and those of us who live here forget that, if you come from another part of the country, this may be your only chance to see Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park and the many tool, antique and book sellers around the area.  The weather was beautiful which added to the lure off-island.

IMG_1343On Sunday came the deluge.  Parts of the road washed out and the potholes grew.  It was an amazing rainfall.  Most people stayed on campus and dug in in the studios.  I zipped out to see Dow Studio Gallery, Turtle Gallery and Wendy Murayama’s show at the Center for Community Programs at the Haystack winter offices in Deer Isle.  All were worth braving the elements.


After dinner was the traditional faculty boat ride with Old Quarry Ocean Adventures.  Cold, wet, overcast and pretty swell.  We saw seals and eagles and osprey and a lighthouse.  No sunset, but we did have good stories from Captain Bill.

And then comes Monday.  Back to business.  In the drawing class, most are beginning to gain traction in their self-directed project pulled from the many assignments and directed explorations from last week.  The time between now and the end of the week becomes precious to everyone.  The second week has a different dynamic than the first, a bit more serious.  Only a bit.

IMG_1350www.dowstudiodeerisle.com, www.turtlegallery.com, www.haystack-mtn.org, www.oldquarry.com

Weekend, Not Weak End

Fridays are the same everywhere, it seems.  The sense of completion and release, the end of the week and the beginning of the weekend, all rolled into one 24-hour period.  Actually it really lasts from about three in the afternoon until who knows when in the evening.

Here at Haystack it often is the time when students are cut loose to follow their own paths in a project for the second week.  There is a process of review and consolidation, of adding the new information and skills to the practice brought with them that propels them forward in some fashion.  The weekend is wide open with no instruction, no requirements.

In Tim McCreight’s metals class, students have been learning many skills, each explained and demonstrated with clarity.  After each small assignment meant to reinforce the particular skill or skills, they gather around the table with their results and compare, assess and profit from everyone’s successes, problems andsolutions.   Yesterday they surprised Tim with an “assignment”, making a knife from materials around them in two minutes or less.  Totally goofy.  They insisted on an end-of-day critique (on Friday, no less) and Tim was reluctant but acquiesced.  Laughs all around and the perfect ending to a concentrated week was had by all.

Try. Fail. Learn. Repeat.


We’re passing the middle of the first week.  There is always a shift at this point.  Things get, if not serious, at least less playful.  A lot of information has been presented, received and applied and the possibilities are (or seem) endless.  So many directions to go in, so many choices to make.

Today, small failures are more likely to occur.  In the first three days in most studios, with small assignments, instructors introduced skills and materials.  If you didn’t understand something, you asked a question and received an answer.  If you were learning to file a piece of steel, you kept at it until your hands knew what to do.  No failure in that.  If the piece of wood that you were carving cracked, you started on another one.  No failure.


Now, with the general skills in hand, the students are more likely to be going in individual directions, using the skills each in his or her own way.  Now the sense of failure is more likely.  Of course, it’s only a personal, interior failure and not really a failure at all.  It’s a frustration, certainly, not to be able to realize the idea in your head with the skills and materials in your hands.  But it’s not a failure.  I will not be so corny as to say that it’s not a failure, it’s an opportunity, though it is, but I will say that it is a part of the process.


To be able to fail, regroup, try again and succeed is essential to learning and it is essential to the creative process.  Having the time to cycle through this series again and again is one of the things that Haystack encourages and supports so beautifully.  Now I just have to be there to convince folks that failure is a good thing, not always an easy task.

Practice, Practice, Practice

It was a soft, drizzly day,  making the rocks and boardwalks slick, the moss green and the sky a white that extended beyond the horizon to obscure the islands.  It was good for work, building on the beginnings of yesterday.  No one braved the volleyball court (which is actually the lower parking lot) and people generally scuttled between buildings, not lingering for chats or views of the landscape.

The blacksmithing shop is the place to be on a cold day, of course.  All the forges were firing and folks were swinging those hammers, working on getting the rhythm right, relaxing the arm, letting the body support the movement, the basic physical aspects of blacksmithing which are learned only through practice.  You could see the difference in the confidence and relative ease of movement in just one day.

Sunshine Cobb demonstrated pinch and coil construction in clay.  Her ability to control the form and the thickness of the walls is amazing.  Again, practice comes into play.  Her hands know what to do and how to move with the correct amount of pressure and direction.  In the clay studio, too, you could tell that in just one day, the students’ hands were learning and the forms that they made today were more assured.  They were not like Sunshine’s, of course, but all they need is practice.

The Simple Life


Today was the first full day of classes.  Six studios were humming with the eager beginnings of something new.  Actually,  some studios were banging, clanking or buzzing.  That would be metals, blacksmithing and wood.  Clay, textiles and drawing had a much quieter presence.  All, however, were intense and focused.

Here’s the lineup.  Blacksmithing with Mike Rossi is for beginners and for intermediate students who want to brush up on their skills.  Clay with Sunshine Cobb is handbuilding and surface development.  Drawing with Larry Thomas is for all skill levels.  Embroidery with Rachel Meginnes has beginners and people from various disciplines in it.  Metals with Tim McCreight is exploring very simple ways of making tools for metalwork.  Wood with Mark Sfirri is starting with making spoons and going on from there.  All of the classes seem to emphasize the use of the hands and materials to create something in the most elemental way.  I like that.  The processes allow for the individual to influence the outcome.


These simple copper dividers were made by the students in the metals class in a couple of hours, starting with a short piece of round stock.  In the process, the students learned forging, filing, riveting and drilling.  They had the same instructions to make a very simple form and yet they each have an individual character.  When there is little interference between hand and material, the individual comes through.

Beginning Again

Today is the first day of the first class session of the next chapter in Haystack’s history.  Seventy people arrived, ready for something to happen to them.  It’s an odd state of mind one has when anticipating and then participating in a class situation as an adult.  So many of the misgivings and expectations of childhood come back, the excitement of the possibilities and the fears of embarrassment.

Cars were unpacked, names checked off lists, introductions made, dinner consumed, all with the eagerness and slight sense of displacement of being in a strange place.  Now the campus is dark, except for the studios where the participants are meeting their instructors and classmates for the first time.  They are trying to explain in two minutes or less, one by one, who they are and where they’re from and what they want from this experience.  They will know so much more in two weeks, about their classmates and about themselves.  It’s pretty wonderful.

An Embarrassment of Riches…Again

IMG_1272Have you ever had too many great things to do in close succession?  It always makes me a little grumpy,  which is pretty darn silly.  An opening in a beautiful gallery in a beautiful town; then work in the gardens at home that are flourishing maybe a little too much; and to top it off, a stay at Haystack for two weeks.  I have to be careful not to let each impinge upon the pleasure of the others.  Bad problem, right?

I drove to Haystack on a spectacular summer-in-Maine day today.  Not too hot, not too cold, not IMG_1274too dry, not too humid.  Green as can be with blossoms everywhere.  Totally Disney, minus the singing bluebirds and the helpful mice.  Because our previous director, Stuart Kestenbaum, has left the post and the new director, Paul Sacaridiz, will not take up the position until September, the summer sessions of two weeks each are being led by trustees and former trustees.  I’m the session leader beginning tomorrow.

The truth is that the staff know exactly what to do.  They have it covered.  I’m basically here to make announcements, as far as I can tell, but I’m happy to do it.  I’m staying in the director’s cabin at the far end of the campus and feel quite special.  I’ll write every day or two to fill you in on what is going on.  You can read about who is teaching during Session 1 at www.haystack-mtn.org.  Welcome to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.