What is the role of the political in your work?
I am a painter, printmaker, and educator whose work engages with the environment and the human condition in an era of conscious disruption and change. Not unlike the naturalists and transcendentalists from the early 19th century, I combine writing, field research, and art making as a hands-on way of exploring the world.
My work is political in that I engage with public institutions and communities around issues of our communal concern like climate change, environmental concerns, food and sustainable farming, addiction, and the opiate epidemic. This work is exciting to me because I am exploring and sharing discovery and research in the field and with community. Through this research, I create books and images and lead workshops—additionally these experiences fuel and inspire my painting and drawing work in the studio.
I work with universities, conservation groups, healthcare and community organizations, land trusts, and research institutions. I also bring a public engagement and field study focus to my classroom.
Currently I am working on four public engagement projects, each with its own community focus. These projects give voice to places, people, and histories that are vital to the fabric of our communities.
Hiraeth: Talking about the Opiate Epidemic with Maine Communities is a project I began in 2017 with an exhibition of prints (cyanotype and collagraph) that use the unraveling of an Aran sweater as a metaphor for the genetic disease of addiction. Aran sweaters were knit with unique family patterns and were used to identify drowned sailors lost at sea. In Hiraeth, the family pattern also represents the genetic component of addiction—the unraveling of the sweater represents an undoing of the pattern.
Hiraeth opened as a month-long exhibition in conjunction with a community papermaking workshop I led in collaboration with the University of Maine at Machias and the Eastport Healthcare Center. The group created a paper pulp that was generated from each participant’s contributions of family photos, fabrics, and words of people affected by the disease of addiction. We made paper together from the pulp and shared stories and time together. The paper was later embossed with words from our gathering and each person received some of the group paper to take home.
The workshop was designed to facilitate community discussion regarding the epidemic, break isolation, and build community support for recovery. I have designed two other workshops in conjunction with the exhibition; one involves participants unraveling an Aran sweater and knitting of a new sweater during the exhibition. Another workshop will be participants dismantling porcelain casts of Aran sweaters. Pending funding, this exhibition and workshop are scheduled to travel in Spring of 2020 to other communities in Maine.
In the Native and Endangered Plants Project, I am working with James Kennedy, a naturalist at the Maine Audubon Society, to identify and document native plant species. In the style of 19th-century botanist Anna Atkins, I am using cyanotype to make images of the plants. The plants we choose are particularly vulnerable to extinction due to climate change. We are documenting throughout the four seasons in one year to track the various plants at different stages. This work will be exhibited at the Maine Audubon Society in May 2020.
The Farm Tools Project is a collaboration between me, archaeologist Sarah Loftus, and a variety of small farms in Maine. This project shines a light on the many different approaches to small sustainable farming in Maine and the hand tools those farmers use as connection to the legacy of labor and the cycle of creation. Collaborating with Maine farmers and workers at each farm, we’ve created cyanotype images and talked about farming philosophy, the land, and the future of farming. The prints will be on display at Maine Farmland Trust’s gallery in Belfast, January through March 2020. This project will culminate as a published book with our cyanotype images and text written by Sarah Loftus.
The Print Activism and the Environment Project will occur during the spring semester at the University of Maine in Farmington. I will be working with UMF students and Maine Huts & Trails in a class that focuses on the use of hand-made prints to support community and activist concerns. Students will meet with the Executive Director of MH&T to learn about the non-profit organization’s mission and offerings and to brainstorm how we can use the arts to facilitate environmental and community goals. In the classroom, we will study the history of print activism, hand-made prints and design for WPA posters, and historic propaganda prints. Students will use their design research as a guide to develop an edition of prints to advocate for public support and awareness of the offerings at Maine Huts & Trails. The class will also secure a venue to exhibit the work for the community. While working to support a local environmental non-profit, the students build attachment and affinity with their environment and community organizations and learn how the arts can be used to support an activist and community concern.
If the artist’s job is to reflect back to the world what it is and what it can become, then that act is a political act.
Image at top: Michel Droge, Asclepias Tuberosa, Butterfly Weed Cyanotype, 19 x 15 in., 2019