Inking up!

Inking up!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Inspiration, Imagination, & Isolation

Grandma Alice and Grandpa William. Grandpa died before I was born.

I feel so lucky to have had such a wonderful maternal grandmother, Alice Blankenship. She was always a part of our lives and when she died it was a huge loss. From a young age I can remember my grandmother giving me plants to grow. Her house was full of plants. It was also full of an unimaginable number of dishes - more than would fit in the cupboards! Her kitchen counters were covered with clean, stacked dishes. Grandma was one of those depression era survivors who saved every newspaper and article of clothing and broken chair, because you just never knew! It sounds messy, but I remember her house as being very clean. She lived in the desert in a rickety house at the bottom of Bear Mountain - a perfect fairy tale grandma house.

My cousin and brother with the famous blue pickup in front of our house.

We called Grandma Alice "Granny-in-the-blue-pickup." Yep. That was her name. It was so she would not be confused with our cousin's other Grandma. How this all started, I have no idea, but that's who she was. She had a big old blue truck with a push starter on the floor and a long bent shifter and round gear knob reminding me of a one legged spider. The passenger door flew open when turning corners, so us kids had to sit in the middle, or the driver's arm had to bang across our waists to hold the door closed during the turn. Life was exciting at Grandma's!

Grandma visiting. I am in the red blouse sitting with my cousins who would be going to live with our Grandma in a few years.

In particular I remember a lemon tree growing in a milk carton I brought back from her house in Black Springs, Nevada to plant in our front yard. I was about eight years old. It died after a few months. I probably over watered it. I treasured every single thing my Grandma gave me, so it was distressing that she would keep giving me plants, and they would keep dying. Around the age of 12 Grandma gave me a Christmas cactus. It lived, but didn't bloom. Everything else kept dying. The fall of my 15th year we visited Granny-in-the-blue-pick-up (now driving a blue station wagon) in the hospital. She had breast cancer and had already had a mastectomy a few years before. When Grandma and I were alone she told me I had to take all her house plants home. This astonished me. It meant she was dying and it meant she trusted me to care for them. I couldn't take it all in. I said no, but Grandma said yes. A few months later my Grandma died and my mom went without us to the funeral. I was disappointed to miss the funeral, but the up side was Mom came home with the entire car packed with Grandma's plants for me! If we had been in the car there wouldn't have been room. Somehow Mom got these plants through all the agricultural check points. It was some kind of miracle. The Christmas cactus also bloomed that winter for the first time.
This is how the love and caring of plants grew in me, through my Grandma. Since her death, plants have been a part of my life in a very conscious way. One summer about 10 years ago one of my nieces was visiting. I was showing her all my favorite Seattle places. One of them being the arboretum at Volunteer Park. When I asked my niece if she enjoyed the outing she said yes, it was okay, but she didn't worship plants like I did. This statement shocked me. It was the first time I saw this aspect of myself through someone else's eyes. Of course my passion isn't going to be everyone else's passion, but these were plants and flowers! And I wouldn't say I worship them, though I could see how it would look like that to a young person.

Plants have been a powerful connection to my grandmother. I believe she somehow gifted to me the ability to care for them without killing them. By the time I graduated highschool I had 115 houseplants in my bedroom alone. I had herbs growing outside in the yard, and I was beginning to dabble in plant medicines. I had taken horticulture in high school and decided I wanted to be a botanical illustrator when I grew up. I didn't become a botanical illustrator in the usual sense, but as a book artist, plants have been my primary inspiration.

The 'May Day' of May Day Press comes from getting my first printing press on May Day. Already I was making paper things and had a business name of May Day - because May Day is my birthday! It has always been a favorite holiday celebrated with May poles and baskets (plants and flowers). I had actually decided to change business names with the introduction of printing into my work - but getting my press on May Day seemed a sign I should keep the name.
Here I am on my fourth birthday with my May Pole cake my mother made me very year until I played with the plastic decorations to death, ruining them for future cakes..

And on my 28th birthday with friends in the rain, still making May Poles and May Baskets.

The first thing I felt I had to do was make a book dedicated to my Grandmother. This book is called "Book: A Cherokee Primer." My Grandmother is Cherokee from her father's side and I wanted to honor my Grandmother and our lineage which I feel infused so much of the ways of my Grandmother. "Book" is about the creation of the written Cherokee language by Sequoyah with images titled in both English and Cherokee. Alisa Golden was kind enough to feature this book in her publication "Unique Handmade Books" published by Sterling 2001.

Initially I thought my letterpress work would be more about printing poetry chapbooks, but somehow I just kept creating things to honor people, like my fabulous English teacher Vince Wixon and his poetry. Then there was another Cherokee book, a creation myth. Then the books about plants, seeds, and flowers begin to spill forth. The studio became the place to take my passion and honoring of the green world and create. The botanical artist in me came to be!
"The Science & Spirit of Leaves" - Cherokee plant medicine wheel (above). A photo of the flip side of this book was published in "500 Handmade Books" 2008 Lark Books.
And of course I had to make a hand painted, hand cut, origami, letterpress printed May Basket for my May Day Press 10th anniversary in 2002!

Of course I couldn't do this if I didn't stay skin to skin with the plants. The plants have taken me marvelous places. About 7 years ago they took me into sacred geometry, and from there into the constellations of stars and the orbits of the planets. How this happens I am not sure, I just keep delving into plants through time spent in nature, books, and sharing with other people. Studying sacred geometry has been a deepening that has begun to infuse my studio work, much as plants always have. So you will see more of that in my work. Plus, the plants continue to be my teachers, and who knows what will come next!

"Venus" a broadside about the mythologies of Venus and how they relate to the physicalness and geometry of the planet in relation to Earth.

So now you all know why I make the things I do, have the garden/plant subscription, and appear to worship plants. This is all to tell you I will be going on a retreat into nature, into the woods for 8 days and 7 nights. I will be on a limited fast. This will be my last post till after I return. This is not my average camping trip (no chocolate, camera, bathing, or socializing). This is a time of quiet meditation and retreat from the consensual world. It is a time to be away from the habits, needs, and noises of my daily life and just be in the woods with the plants, the sun and rain, and I hope, the stars. We'll see what I can make of it.


  1. Beutifully done and very moving.

  2. Hmmm, I left a comment here ("Ah ha!", ie, I found the 'comment' link), but it doesn't seem to have made it. Let me try again.