Wildflower Identification

From the Lovely and Amazing series, this limited edition book uses images, artifacts and writings from the archive of my great aunt, Ruth Wheeler. Ruth led a rich and varied life, passionate about both nature and teaching (she was a biologist with a teaching certificate). She had a big impact on how my views of the world were shaped. Creating my own works from that which she left me has brought me moments of joy and a bit of sadness too.

The general parameters of Wildflower Identification were partially set using the Ideation Deck (developed by Julie Chen and Barb Tetenbaum).

Cards I drew from the Ideation Deck were the starting point for this book.
Cards I drew from the Ideation Deck were the starting point for this book.

Based on Hedi Kyle’s Blizzard Book (so called because Hedi developed the folded paper structure when a blizzard in Philadelphia kept her studio bound for a day), Wildflower Identification has 14 envelope pages created from one long sheet of Batik paper (imported from India).

I chose to work with this structure for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is my wish to present material non-linearly, allowing pages be removed and re-arranged. The content of the pages peeks out from that which contains them, reminiscent of plants peeking out, enticing a closer look. More obscurely, I chose this structure because it was developed by Hedi Kyle. I’m convinced that Hedi and Ruth would have enjoyed one another’s company had they ever met. Both have been role models for me. I am inspired by their excitement, curiosity and passion about their worlds, their lifelong willingness to share, educate and support those of us fortunate enough to have spent time with them.

Alicia Bailey and Hedi Kyle
Here I am with Hedi Kyle in Philly, 2013

The contents of the envelopes are cards, photographs or seed specimens adapted from Ruth’s archive. The three photographs are of teenage girls out on a seed and plant gathering adventure (taken on November 13, 1948),  scanned, cropped and re-printed.

Original photo and reprints
Original photo and reprints

The cards duplicate Ruth’s handwriting and are taken from her many teaching files – these specific to teaching ‘her girls’ about plant identification and cultivation.

Tracing from original writings (right), finished cards (left).
Tracing from original writings (right), finished cards (left).

Each book also contains three laminated seed and flower collections

Alicia Bailey Wildflower Identification post 04

and an original page from Chester A. Reed’s Flower Guide published in 1916, also laminated.

Page ready for laminating. Each book has a different original page from the 1916 book.
Page ready for laminating. Each book has a different original page from the 1916 book.

These, along with a title card (colophon on reverse) make up the contents of the book.

Some of the joys of designing and creating this book include time spent going through Ruth’s collections of photographs and writings, teaching my studio assistant Stefanie how to fold the pages (this is now one of her favorite activities and she has her own project in development utilizing the Blizzard Book), working with a rich, purple Nigerian goat (from Harmatan), a luscious and tactilely rewarding material, and making pastepaper for the project while listening to Western Bird Calls.

I used pastepapers inspired by Lucinda Carr for the text cards.
I used pastepapers inspired by Lucinda Carr for the text cards.

Note: several years ago, Lucinda Carr (invited me to her studio for a day of pastepaper production. Lucinda was producing and selling some fabulous paste papers and I was eager to learn her work methods. We set up and when it was time to go to work she said “This is my secret for making great paste papers – I listen to bird call identification recordings while I work”.

As I’ve worked with these materials, I’ve had not unpleasant moments of wistful sadness (sentimental nostalgia?). Some of this is related to missing Ruth but there is something else this material stirs up I me.

I’ve developed quite an attachment, crushes of a sort, to these girls (a few of whom are pictured again and again, on other outdoor, educational adventures, in Ruth’s photo albums), my emotional response based solely on impressions of who they may have been, these girls who so appreciated nature, whose curiosity and willingness to explore was endlessly nurtured by Ruth. I feel envious sometimes that I wasn’t one of “Ruthie’s girls” – many of them remained lifelong friends of Ruth’s and went on to nurture other young women throughout their own lives.

This picture of Ruth was taken in 1981 (she was 82). She is with two of her former Camp Fire Girls
This picture of Ruth was taken in 1981 (she was 82). She is with two of her former Camp Fire Girls

As I ruminate on the adventures Ruth’s archives document I feel a yearning to connect to my younger, more able-bodied, less educated self. I long to experience once again lovely stretches of time when activities such as of going out, alone or with others, to identify wildflowers the only mission aside from eating a picnic lunch in a wooded grove, perhaps near a running stream.

An archive of process materials is housed at University of Denver, Penrose Library, Special Collections.

Process materials for Wildflower Identification
Process materials for Wildflower Identification

 

Click here to purchase online.

Lovely and Amazing at University of Denver

I’m once again thrilled that the pieces I’ve created using from the archives of long-time Denver resident Ruth Wheeler will be on view in public spaces . . .

Lovely and Amazing is a series I began in 2006, is a tribute to Ruth Wheeler, beloved biology teacher, naturalist, youth advocate and feminist who lived and worked in north Denver for 70 years. Filled with curiosity, Ruth found the natural world a place of endless delight. She left behind a collection of biological specimens, notes and photographs which I have incorporated into a series of three-dimensional collages, boxes and book works. Wasp and Praying Mantis pictured below.

Nearly all the book works (and a few of the boxes) from the Lovely and Amazing series are on view at University of Denver’s library January 5 through March 29. The former Penrose Library, renamed Anderson Academic Commons after a complete remodel of the existing building, now houses curated exhibition areas throughout the three level structure. Thanks to the ongoing support of Special Collections librarian Kate Crow and Anderson Academic Commons exhibits curator Rebecca Macey, my work is on display on the main level, strategically located near the main entrance/coffee shop. The library’s generous open hours (24/7 during some weeks of the year) puts this at the top of the the list for Denverites and visitors looking to engage with interesting exhibits at odd hours.

On the top level of the library is the Gottesfeld Room where the bulk of their collection of artists’ books are stored in glass fronted cabinets. The room is open access during library hours but for hands on viewing of the books, visitors need to make an appointment with Special Collections, open from 9-5 Monday – Friday.

gottesfeld

Although I’m not a University of Denver “Pioneer” (i.e. alum), I am pleased beyond measure that Penrose Library Special Collections has taken on the role of designated repository of my work in the book arts field.

Alicia Bailey process materials

What this makes possible in terms of display are exhibits such as the 2013 exhibit in Special Collections in the lower level of the library featuring the process materials of one of my edition works, Burning Me Open, alongside process materials from a series of works by Laura Wait (whose book works are also collected by Penrose Library Special Collections, University of Denver).

The books from this series were also been exhibited at 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland in 2013.

Also on view at University of Denver are books of mine created in response to works in Lovely and Amazing, such as Mica (pictured below).

Lovely and Amazing at Niza Knoll Gallery

Alicia Bailey l a viewers with maglite 1
This year I have been able to exhibit this multi-faceted body of work in two stellar locations. In June/July 2014 the Lovely and Amazing books were displayed at 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland, Oregon and this fall the boxes and 3-D collages in the series will be exhibited at Niza Knoll gallery in Denver.

Lovely and Amazing, begun in 2006, is a tribute to Ruth Wheeler, beloved biology teacher, naturalist, youth advocate and feminist who lived and worked in north Denver for 70 years. Ruth found the natural world a place of endless delight. She left behind a collection of biological specimens, notes and photographs which I have incorporated into a series of three-dimensional collages, boxes and book works.

Alicia Bailey Lovely and Amazing in progress

Ruth was my great-aunt, and, because she raised my father, her role in our family life was much as a grandmother’s might be. She was educated, reverent, passionate and endlessly curious. Unlike anyone else I have ever known, Ruth was an important figure in my childhood. Visits to her house might include walking her ferret around the block on a leash, trying to coax the giant snapping turtles to do more than lie around in the big wash tub in the back yard or agitating the miniature alligators that lived in the basement utility sink.
Scan

My favorite visits were those that included feeding the snakes from the stock of white mice that Ruth raised for that purpose. There was a kinkajou living in the basement. He had a peculiar odor but I nonetheless loved creeping down to the basement at night to watch his nocturnal pacing, his protruding eyes luminous in the dark.

Born in 1899, Ruth lived, lucid, independent and strong, well into her 99th year. Although other family members moved in and out of that house over the years, it was always Ruth’s house in my mind. This rotating roster of inhabitants seemed always to perch around the edges of the real inhabitants of the house, Ruth’s collections of creatures. Not pets, these birds, mammals, reptiles were collected, cared for and eventually preserved.

Alicia Bailey Frog box in progress

During her final decade, I stayed with her on my visits to Denver. I spent afternoons recording her as she told and re-told tales of her life. Concerned about what would happen to her collections, Ruth started gifting me with a variety of biological specimens. As I boxed up her various collections (things such as insect specimens, snakeskin’s in old jelly jars, stuffed birds on sticks, owl pellets, taxidermied small rodents, fossils and preserved plants) she told me stories. She told me about the ornithologist who taught her a down and dirty method of preserving birds and other small creatures and about the day she was called home from school when one of her king bull snakes escaped its cage and was coiled in the bathtub, my great-grandmother trying to retrieve it with a spatula.

Alicia Bailey Snake Box detail

Later, when readying her house for sale, I retrieved and stored many of the letters, photographs, family heirlooms she, along with other family members, had left behind. Seven years passed before I began incorporating these objects into my own studio work. I relish the days I spend in the studio working on this project, thinking of Ruth with a smile.

Testudines – a Lovely and Amazing box

Alicia Bailey testidunes WIP 003
Testudines is the order of reptile more commonly known as turtles, tortoises and terrapins. In addition to it being a great word (I have a fondness for multi-syllabic words with hard consonants in the middle), it is representative of a creature I was fascinated by as a child Alicia and turtle. I love this picture of me watching a snapping turtle in my aunt’s back yard.

 

Turtles appear in my dreams often; I rejoice when they do as I then wake refreshed and excited to face the day. 

Testudines are some of the most ancient reptiles alive. The ones my aunt kept in the back yard for a time were most likely snapping turtles, big, slow and a little big scary because of the hissing sound they made. They seemed to spend more time napping then snapping and feeding them was not nearly as exciting as feeding the snakes was.

 

I’ve been working on an assemblage with specimens from Ruth’s archives – Testudines Box. This box assemblage is the 3rd I’ve made using hardwood boxes that measure 12x6x7, two of the four corners curved rather than square.The two previous are Lepideptura Box and Bird Box.

L&A Lepideptura boxL&A Bird Box

To combat what I call ‘analysis paralysis’ when working with such a wealth of materials, I tend to develop a set of parameters for each series. For these boxes the parameters are:

 

1) specimen(s) from Ruth’s collection

2) photograph(s) of the lovely and amazing young women Ruth photographed

3) magnifying lens(es)

4) reproduction(s) of Ruth’s handwriting from her journals or teaching lessons

5) reproduction(s) of published materials used in her teaching

 

Testudines Box includes the shell of a Red Slider turtle along with the skull and jawbone of another Red Slider (this placed in a wooden box and magnified).

Alicia Bailey testidunes WIP 001
These artifacts are arranged in front of a color scan reproduction of the same turtle shell overlaid with mica.
Alicia Bailey testidunes WIP 002The interior box walls are lined with a repetition of an Emily Dickinson poem written out by Ruth in her journal, the exterior walls with instructions for digging out a laying of turtle eggs from one of Ruth’s many nature education books, an encyclopedia entry and images of turtle anatomy from various published nature studies.

Rocky Mountain Creeper

rocky-mtn-creeper-front

Today I learn that the song of the Creeper is weak, colorless and sibilant. That  it consists of 4-8 notes, generally beginning with a long high-pitched note, followed by two short lower-pitched ones. The remaining notes vary somewhat, but are often a repitition of the first notes.

Creeper 

A common call note is a long, high-pitched “shreeeeee” with a rolling r-sound throughout. The bird also calls a rather faint ‘tsit’ over and over. These latter notes maya be heard at any season.

 

I also learn that the bird is easily identified by its habit have creeping continually up the rough bark of a tree in a spiral, then flying to the base of another tree to begin again.

 

I read nesting notes written by a W. C. Bradbury in 1918 (thanks to the folks at internetarchive.org) describing a foray in Gilpin County while on a White-tailed Ptarmigan and Brown-Capped Rosy Finch nest seeking mission. Their trip had the happy result of taking the first set of eggs of the Rocky Mountain Creeper taken in Colorado.

 

Armed with the vision of a small brown bird diving at the base of tree trunks, I begin to build an environment for the Creeper on a stick I have in my collection. I decide on a small shadow box.
 

WIP.LandA.Creeper_Box3

 

I can’t decide which side of my creeper I want all to see, a mirror box helps resolve that questions.

WIP.LandA.Creeper_Box1


 

I am charmed by Bradbury’s 1918 anecdote so decide to include it in the box.


WIP.LandA.Creeper_Box5

 

 

Conveying the feeling of lightness that birds so well express, is one thing I strive for.

WIP.LandA.Creeper_Box6

 

 

Here we go – all assembled, but hard to photograph with so many layers of reflective surfaces. 

Someone Like You and Education of Girls

WIP-Someone-Like-You-5WIP-Someone-Like-You-6
I’ve been working on these two books simultaneously. They are part of the Lovely and Amazing series of works inspired by and created from an archive I inherited from Ruth Wheeler, who was my great-aunt. Both completed in 2010, they have been exhibited at Bookopolis in Asheville, NC and in at Vivo Contemporary in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The covers were begun in a workshop held at my studio in 2008, taught by Boston artist Peter Madden. That workshop was held only a few days after my mother died; Peter’s mother had died only weeks before. We both decided to go ahead with the workshop but I confess here that I remember little of the workshop, the creation of these wood panels or what my intention was. I think I was just working to be working. Shelved for a time, I then created some triptych wall pieces that ultimately I deemed unsuccessful when nearly complete. Once again, shelved for a time. I mention all this because it addresses one of my theories about an ingredient in mixed media construction that I believe adds to their richness in an essential albeit non-visual way. The best I can do to explain this is that a construction made from ‘store bought’ materials (i.e. materials without a previous, rich history), even though in composition, arrangement and general selection of objects may exactly mimic, for example, a Joseph Cornell construction, it cannot speak in the same way, isn’t imbued with the richness that history gives to objects.
WIP-Someone-Like-You-1

These panels, although constructed from newly milled pieces of birch plywood, have a short history but in that time have been altered and handled repeatedly. Many of the objects now embedded in or attached to their surfaces come from an old archive. The process of shelving and continuing work at a later date adds to these final pieces in way impossible to achieve otherwise.

Both books are coptic bound with rigid pages but they were constructed differently from one another.

The first I completed is Someone Like You. This book takes as its title a handwritten poem transcribed in Ruth’s journal:

Someone like you makes the heart seem the lighter Someone like you makes the day’s work worthwhile Someone like you makes the sunshine the brighter Someone like you makes a sigh half a smile

 

IMG_1719_0033

This text appears split in two on the inner front and back covers in a scan of Ruth’s original handwriting and is then repeated on individual pages throughout the book.


The pages are each made of a layering of photographs (scanned and reproduced via inkjet) taken by Ruth on her camping and picnicking outings with her Camp Fire Girl troops over a span of many years. Also included are pages from her teaching notebooks detailing nature games, pages from her biology notebooks with sketches of specimens and plates from her nature books.

Each page is constructed by treating the front and back as separate pages that are hinged with book cloth around a thin metal rod. So, although the pages are rigid, they can be stitched without the cord intruding on the page surface as the metal rod holds the thread in place, as the fold in a signature book would do.

WIP-Someone-Like-You-7

These pages are rather inelegantly bound with linen cords, the front and back covers have round recessed areas that for a title label (front cover) and image (back cover) with brass pins holding the labels in place. In order to prevent the weight of the book resting on these pins when the book is lying flat, I also added pins and brass beads to each corner. These double as a mechanical means to hold the larger mica pieces on the cover.

The covers were drilled halfway through outside to inside after the mica is in place, those holes met with secondary holes drilled in from the spine edge. This allows the thick cord to wrap around the outside of the cover but not be inside of the cover. The book closes without the additional bulk the cord would create on the inside.
WIP-Someone-Like-You-1


Education of Girls takes its title from a teaching pamphlet Ruth used. As the junior high biology teacher, Ruth’s job included teaching sex education and this pamphlet was from a multi-piece set of she used.

WIP-Education-of-Girls-10 In addition to scans and print outs from her teaching notebooks, the pages include small bones/feathers/seeds/plants and film positives recessed into the pages and scans of artifacts too bulky to be included in the book (such as taxidermied songbirds).
WIP-Education-of-Girls-5

The pages of this book were constructed with a museum board core, the text and images built up on each side. The thickness of the rigid pages meant I could embed the objects mentioned above and could use the more intrusive rigid page binding technique as described in Keith Smith’s book Sewing Single Sheets. This technique also doesn’t require each page be of uniform thickness.


So on two of the pages strips of film positive were sewn into the pages in a way that makes the positives visible from both sides. Those pages were then wrapped with handprinted book cloth on the edges to both protect the positives, hold the protective layer and add enough material to the pages to hold the intrusive coptic thread in place.
The text is primarily transcriptions for audio recordings I made of conversations I had with Ruth during her 97th year about some of her teaching accomplishments and adventures. Also included are pages from the original Education of Girls pamphlet, and a photograph of Ruth’s mother and aunt, with whom she travelled to Columbia College in 1928 so Ruth could take a summer course in sex education.

 

Both the front and back covers have mica recessed over paper artifacts. This recessing of the mica meant I could avoid having pins protrude from the covers. Each cover also has a hold drilled entirely through it. These cavities hold artifacts (one shell each front and back) suspended between layers of mica.

I wanted Education of Girls to be more elegant than Someone Like You so I bound it with much thinner cord, 4-ply waxed cord.
In this case I did wrap the cord through to the inside, which makes the cover hold tighter to the text block and not be quite so floppy.

WIP-Education-of-Girls-8