"A good vacation is over when you begin to yearn for your work."
Every artist needs a vacation, a week or two disconnected from daily responsibilities. Most artists I know hold down two to three jobs in addition to their studiowork. Without the occassional recharge, you can burn out. I'm no exception, but it took everything I had to actually get in my car and go. I get so used to working, that I can feel a bit lost when I'm not.
My plan was to drive south with visits to Louisville, Asheville, Charleston, Savannah, Montgomery, and Nashville. It finally dawned on me that I was nuts to even attempt such an intineray, so I condensed it to just three cities. While flying would have allowed for more time in each place, I love an old fashioned driving vacation where you can pull off the road to investigate.
Much to my astonishment, the Blue Ridge Mountains are actually blue! I took the above photo as dusk was falling and I was entering North Carolina. WOW! Turquoise blue!
Driving through this region isn't for the faint of heart as the road leading into Asheville is very twisty turny. I hit it at night and felt I had entered a fairytale, you know, the kind where the kid gets lost in the forest only to be eaten by a witch. The lane is narrow and the hills close in on you. There aren't any street lamps (because you are driving through a national park) and with the cloud cover, there wasn't much in the way of moonlight. I figured the truckers knew the pass better than me, so I followed one into town.
Asheville is expensive, even by Chicago standards, so I booked a room through airbnb.com. I had a fabulous stay and highly recommend this form of travel. You pay to stay in a spare room at a person's home which gives you more of an insider's perspective on the town you are visiting. David made a map of his favorite places. I loved each of his suggestions, especially the French Broad Chocolates Lounge. If you make it there, get the Liquid Truffle. I of course made a pilgrimage to Earth Guild, a textile art supply store and one of my favorite sources for natural dye supplies.
My next stop was Alabama to visit family. My aunt is a true steel magnolia - gracious, warm, feminine, independent and razor sharp. She served on Montgomery's city council for 28 years. I loved going with her to the curb market where she knew each farmer by name. I had my first introduction to cream peas in a succotash at The Chop House Vintage Year. I loved the dish so much that I had to buy a pound of them at the market, as well as some rattlesnake beans, okra, tomatoes and a bushel of Clinton county's finest peaches (my peach ginger jam recipe will be in my next post).
I also ate my fair share of pimento cheese which I think is best on crackers, but is also nice with celery. My aunt's version is sublime. I asked her for her recipe which is and I quote -"Pimentoes, pecans, a little onion, shredded sharp cheddar, blend with mayo." She wasn't specific with the details. My version just doesn't taste the same though I'm getting closer by using Tucker's Pecans. These pecans are harvested within a year, so you never get that slightly rancid flavor you sometimes get with commercially packaged pecans at the grocery store.
You would think that all I did was eat my way through Alabama, but I also took excursions to the Montgomery Art Museum, the Shakespeare Garden, the Armory Learning Arts Center, as well toured the historic landmarks downtown, including the state capital and the church where Rev. Martin Luther King pastored.
I'm not the only crafty one in the family. Mary Reid is an expert smocker with her work having been published in magazines. Her current project is upholstering a king size headboard, so I also received a free tour of 2 out of 3 of the area's Walmarts in search of specific upholstery buttons. We also hunted down a "rolltide" t-shirt for my daughter. Alabamians take their college football very seriously and in the view of my aunt and cousins, there is only one team worth mentioning. My daughter is thrilled as she had requested the t-shirt.
The final leg of my tour was Nashville where I stayed with a friend and her family. Cheekwood has to be one of my favorite spots in the country. A former plantation, this gem is now a museum and botanical garden. Each summer they have a kid-friendly outdoor art exhibtion that. This year the theme is tree houses, each one inspired by a different book. I love this huge floating ball of yarn! My friend's daughter preferred the "Rainbow Fish" which is completely covered with used CD's for fish scales.
Among my many memories and momentoes is a box of Kentucky's famous bourban candy. Mom loved these and we always stopped to get some on our way to (and from!) Alabama. Follow the signs off Interstate 64 between Louisville and Lexington.
"Wanted: a needle swift enough to sew this poem into a blanket."
-- Charles Simic
My recent visit to Sifu Design Studio and Fine Yarns Store proves my theory that yarn stores reflect the personality of their owners. Opened by Lisa Whiting just 4 months ago, Sifu is making its presence felt in the Chicago area.
The shop is filled with both new and vintage yarns, contemporary and vintage patterns, buttons, threads, books and more.
Lisa is an established designer with several of her patterns having recently been published in Vogue Knitting.
She brings her aesthetic to every aspect of her shop. Mixed media these days tends to imply work on paper, but with Lisa it's the blending of knitting with embroidery, beading with crocheting, wire with buttons. Anything and everything can go into the mix. Don't you just love her rings!
She's recently received certification as an eco-friendly shop with her various green measures, including a small outdoor basket of thrums for the birds to use in their nest building. No bit goes left unused!
As a designer and artist, she supports others by featuring their work in her shop. I LOVE these embroidered "patches." I'm thinking that a small collection of them would look fab in my kitchen.
I went to the Garfield Park Conservatory for one more peek of the Niki
in the Garden exhibit before it closed. It was dark, around 7pm. The
Master Gardeners annual award meeting was being held in one of the
banquet rooms. By day the sculptures sparkled, but at night they
became mythical, mystical figures holding guard. Huge ferns, palms and
other lush plants towered overhead as robust Nulas danced in the
Sweet Pea was relieved. In years past I would drag her to these meetings. When you aren't married, your family lives in another city, friends are busy, and a babysitter costs $10 an hour, one has little choice but to occasionally bore the heck out their kid. But last night, well last night I think she missed something special.
She missed the magic of the exhibition as it twinkled in the twilight and she missed live opera. Yes, we gardeners are a creative lot. One of the newest members is an opera singer with the Lyric Opera. He had a friend from the Met in New York join him in a series of songs based on plants, gardening and Nature herself. If you happen to remember a posting from a few months back, then you know I love opera. My first taste of it is what set me on the path I have chosen. So imagine- live opera AND Niki de Sainte Phalle's work in one place. Now add a gardening friend who brings you rare heirloom apples and bags full of different flowers for the dye pot.....I was on happy overload.
"She was what we used to call a suicide blonde - dyed by her own hand." -- Saul Bellow
The weekend was beautiful with rain in the evening and bright sunshine during the day. I had expected my dye plot at the local community garden to be a wreck after a month of neglect, but instead it was lush and ripe for harvesting. Cosmos, marigolds, tansy, yarrow, and black eyed susans, everything was in bloom.
Kirsten Ackre (pictured below) is the resident green goddess of Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse and Community Gardens. Did you know that a solution of one tablespoon of unsulphered molasses to one quart of water makes an instant organic fertilizer for plants? Mix a bottle and spritz directly on the leaves in the cool of the morning. The leaves will immediately begin to absorb the micro-nutrients. I guess everyone including plants love a little dessert.
My mad weeding binge was in preparation of our harvest festival held this past Saturday. There were a dozen or so activities for adults and children. I gave a natural dye demonstration. I hadn't tried dyeing with orange cosmos, so I was curious to see the results. With a cream of tartar mordant I had a lovely light peach. Sorry, no picture. I was too busy being excited that I forgot.
When I dye with marigolds, I usually use the flower heads, but as I needed to chop back several plants, I added the stems and leaves to the pot. With a cream of tartar mordant I received an mellow yellow. My goal this fall is to dye enough yarn to make a few gifts for friends and a sweater for myself - tendinitis of the elbows bending.
Yesterday evening was beautiful. The temperature so cool that I had small goose bumps along my arms. Perfect weather for dyeing yarn outdoors.
I had cosmos, marigold, tansy and amaranthus fresh from the garden.
The dye pots were set on portable burners. What a lovely site! My dye garden is part of a community garden next to Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse. Many of the flowers came courtesy of my friend Vera, but the tansy was ready to be cultivated. This is a flower best cooked outside as the aroma of tansy is very strong and can quickly overwhelm a kitchen. Peppermint is the same. While teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I boiled down 5 large plastic bags of fresh peppermint. The smell of the menthol was too strong and complaints came in from other classrooms. Ooops! Lesson learned.
While we waited for the dye to simmer, other garden volunteers helped me wind the yarn into skeins. We ended up waiting a long time. My burners were broken! It was disappointing as I couldn't get the water to a boil which I need to begin breaking down the flowers, especially the tansy as its flower heads are quite tough.
But all is not a loss. I left the pots to cool and will reheat them tomorrow over new burners. I want the dye ready for next Wednesday's event at the greenhouse. The children will love seeing the transformation of flowers into dye. I guess this means I'm a kid at heart. I still find the transformation to be magic, not science.