Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Un-Rejected! Alaska here I come!

I've been wanting to write this post for a week, but I've almost been afraid to talk about it, because it's just such an amazing turn of events and rather daunting. But remember how I've been applying for years to get an artist residency in Denali National Park in Alaska and came tantalizingly close but ultimately was rejected? And remember how I discovered a new one this year in the Ford's Terror Wilderness in the Tongass National Forest near Juneau and was rejected from that one as well? You don't? Well what luck, there's links! But seriously, a few weeks after getting a rejection letter from Tongass, while on the Bioblitz, I got a phone call from the ranger in charge of the program saying she had transferred to Prince William Sound (just south of Anchorage) and wanted to start up another program there, and ASKED ME TO BE THEIR FIRST ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE! 
This residency is similar to the Tongass program  but will start out in Girdwood, AK (above) in August, where I and a Ranger from the National Forest Service will gear up for a 7-day tour of Prince William Sound, traveling by sea kayak and camping next to glaciers. The list of gear they sent me goes to 2-pages and includes wool sweaters, Xtratuf boots, waterproof pants, jacket, gloves and camera case. Did I mention it was kind of daunting? Did I mention I've only been in a kayak (and not the sea kind) a couple of times? Did I mention that I've only been camping twice in recent memory, and both times in the congenial society of the Bioblitz? Did I mention I just had knee surgery? Well, I certainly didn't bring any of that up in my application! But at least I'm grateful I've been hitting the gym pretty regular-like since January (one of those rare resolutions that stuck), and I'm going to take a sea-kayak lesson soon, and they do say "Extensive backcountry/kayaking experience is not necessary for this residency, just capability". I do think I will be capable of doing anything they tell me to, as long as they have the expertise, and you don't find much better expertise than the National Forest Service Rangers! I'll find out more about it when the ranger who will be in charge of me gets back from "the field" next week. I'll need to spend a few days in Anchorage too, so if anyone has recommendations on cheap but decent hotels I could use some!

In all my residencies I've really enjoyed interacting with the rangers and have respected their knowledge of the environments they work in and their efforts to preserve it, dealing with so many issues that the public isn't even aware of most of the time, but this is the first time I will actually spent the entire residency working so closely with them. I can't believe what a great opportunity this is!

Oh yeah, and I'm going to do some art too.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Back from Bioblitz 2011

Dateline June 10-11, Scituate, RI
I'm happy to report that the Rhode Island Natural History Survey Bioblitz 2011 Art Team  (or, as we affectionately call it - RINHSB2011AT) was a huge success. Thanks go out to Katy Dika from the RISD Nature Lab for bringing fabulous microscopes and art supplies for our fans to use. Young students Central Falls High School were inspired by watching artists Francis Topping and Katie Bertsche, natural science illustrators, and sat down with colored pencils to produce some impressive work themselves in the dry shelter of the tent. That's right, we woke up to the sound of rain hitting the tent again this year, but didn't, as they say, dampen the enthusiasm.
Students from Central Falls High School

We had a great and diverse group of about a dozen official Bioblitz artists, the aforementioned natural science illustrators, painters, printmakers, photographers and textile artists.The interaction with the naturalists was fantastic (they are so happy to share their extensive knowledge, and many naturalists are not too shabby in the art department themselves).

The first day was dry and gave all the opportunity to spread out, join teams and explore. Since I'm still in rehab for my sore knee, I headed a short distance to draw in the silent pine grove I had explored earlier. It was silent no longer though, the sounds of discovery rang out through the woods on every side. I started a pastel drawing of lichen (ashamed to say I don't know the species or genus) covered tree and was once again humbled in the face of nature.

The woods grew darker as the rainy front came in so I headed over to Science Central where they were serving a great al fresco meal. Specimens were trickling in: bugs were being pinned, buckets held little slimy things, feathers and mosses were arranged like still lives on the tables.

After dinner I gave a talk and slideshow to the artists and other interested folks on the Artist In Residence Program in the National Parks and my experiences with it. (I have great news about a new residency for my next blog post!!)  I posted the photos from the slideshow on Flikr and you can see them here without all my gabbing.

Then it was on to more exploration. As darkness fell we were treated to an incredible display of fireflies in all directions. I headed off through a long field with flashing lights dancing over the grass to find the bat team. I could dimly make out a rim of trees on the horizon so headed that way. Someone must have heard my footsteps because a flashlight shone out for a second. I headed towards it. As I got closer I heard voices so I called out "Are you the Bat People?" Sure enough, I had found them. We sat on fallen logs chatting while waiting to check the traps, which looked like volley-ball nets, but deeper and finer. Bats can sense the nets with their radar but often are careless or on the chase so do get caught. But not tonight. We brought in the traps and headed back with a detour to see the Moth People, who had much better luck with their spotlit white sheets.

By this time my knee was achy so I headed for the tent but before I could settle in I heard of a chance to join an owl walk. Too bad the owls didn't hear the invite, although our ipod was hooting in their lingo. Owls were heard earlier though, so we know they were in the area.

Kathy Hodge gives a presentation on the National Park Artist in Residence Program. Photo/Mary Grady

We finally turned in, falling asleep to the voices of the untiring naturalists still bringing specimens back to Science Central, which is where I spent the the next day resting my knee. But that's not to say I missed anything, there were all sorts of fascinating things to look at through the microscopes, things that we pass every time we are in any area with a minimal amount of nature.  Bees that shimmered like Christmas trees, lichen and moss like fairy tale worlds. In the other tent moths were being pinned in neat rows, crawfish and salamanders trying to crawl out of trays, and beetles and spiders were lining up for inspection. A student was carefully guarding a little white footed mouse huddling in the corner of a live trap, waiting for the Mammal Guy to come in from the field to document it before setting it free.

Fiber artist Ann Lilley works with children in making prints from natural textures. Photo/Mary Grady.

Frances Topping works from specimens. Photo/Mary Grady.
Meanwhile, the art team was painting and printing the pastoral view from the tent and from gathered specimens, and all were learning from each other till the whistle went off at 3pm to signal the end of Bioblitz 2011. Even though I ended up with soaked camping equipment, sleep deprivation, an aching knee, no artwork to speak of, and what looked like the remnants of a turkey massacre in the back of my truck I had only one thought. Wait'll next year!

RINHS Facebook page

Bioblitz Art Team Facebook Page

My photos from Bioblitz

Mary Grady's (Art Team Leader Emeritus) photos 

Mary Grady's story on ECO RI

A video of the event from

Bioblitz 2010 on Block Island 

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Funny, in my two weeks of unexpected time off work with my knee surgery I somehow didn't have the urge to blog much. Was it the lack of coffee shop sitting? The possibility of doing things in three dimensions? Maybe, but I think the real reason was that I didn't find the need to toss out my little messages-in-a-bottle from my upholstered island of a cubicle. I was rowing my own humble boat, bad knee and all... Now I'm back, all too soon, and am scribbling another message by the light of buzzing fluorescents. 

The horseshoe crabs have finished their debauch, leaving the casualties belly up on the shore. I brought a recently expired one back to my house, but not before putting it in the water for a bit and pulling on its legs to make sure it was really dead. I set it up on a low table in my backyard (a dead horseshoe crab is not something that you want indoors) and started a drawing of it. A storm was coming up so I left it to finish the next day but when I went out to finish it, it was gone. After a short search I found it under a bush, legs eaten off. According to google, both raccoons and fox eat horseshoe crabs, and we have both. My husband was kind enough to fetch another one for me, but the drawing never really amounted to much. Hopefully the studying of HC anatomy will help when one inevitably appears in a painting.

It was only at the end of my leave that I could stand for a decent amount of time, but I did manage to finish this painting. It's called Supermoon. Tomorrow I'm off for my second Bioblitz, this time I'm in charge of the art team. Should be interesting (and hopefully not as rainy as last year!)

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