The Story of Huckleberry Farm

Painting Class

Posted by Deborah on August 31, 2013

On August 10th at about noon the first students arrived in my studio to spend the next two weekends exploring the painting experience.  Although a self-described “reluctant teacher” this spring after a few months of living with my new studio I realized I couldn’t keep this place to myself and offered a class entitled “A Somewhat Experimental Offering to Those of You Who Would Like to Journey into Image Development and Oil Technique Over a Two Weekend Period in a Beautiful Setting” .  I think because I’ve taken but two or three art classes in my life I find teaching art to be a mystery that only those who have been taught to teach it can fathom.   For me making art is a process of self-discovery and so in all the classes I’ve taught in the past, I have made that the central objective—to explore one’s personal point of view.  That leaves subject matter in the hands of each student and translation in the hands of the teacher.  Technique is merely a well-worn path one uses to find the perfect view.

Because of space limitations we could only accomodate six students, which turned out to be a good number—enough to spark discussion and provide diversity in experience but not so many that giving personal attention to everyone became difficult. 

On day one we concentrated on image conception and development.  “What do I want to paint”?  When we faced our blank canvases or panels the next day we were armed with ideas that had begun to be realized on paper. 

 

We did underpaintings, we got our sketches finalized.

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Some people went home with their barely begun surfaces, worked on them during the week or just looked at them.  Others left the colored panels behind and let their minds work without tools.  The following weekend each person followed through with their vision and even though no one “finished” a painting—everyone was well on their way to developing a work of art that truly represented her mind and heart.

Thank you dear brave people who came to my first class at Huckleberry Farm Studios.  You have given me courage to continue offering classes.  I’m working on developing different class contents which I can offer once a season.  My next class will likely be in the Winter and will depend on some more brave souls to come here to explore their personal points of view during the metallic dark of the Oregon Coast in February. 

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 This piece, begun as a demonstration in this class, will always have the influences of those who witnessed its development between it's layers.

 


Printmaking with Julia

Posted by Deborah on October 17, 2012

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On October 1st I began an intense two week immersion into intaglio printmaking with master printer Julia D’Amario at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, tucked into ancient Sitka forests on the southern side of Cascade Head.  Only 60 miles south of our home in Wheeler, it felt like a world apart.  I had promised myself complete concentration on the experience which would unfold and reveal this unknown and technically complicated medium to me.  Carl and I arrived with a few clothes, some simple food and little else to distract us from this pocket of time away from the details of our regular lives.  After four solid months of unceasing construction on the studio we welcomed the opportunity to disappear into more creative endeavors, and to take a break from the physical and mental demands that the planning and execution of the major restoration of the house has required. 

This opportunity for me came in the form of the Jordan Schnitzer Print Residency, an awarded resident program, endowed by Jordan Schnitzer and designed by Julia D’Amario and founder of Sitka, artist Frank Boyden. Its intention is to introduce the medium of etching to artists whose main medium is not printmaking.  Julia D’Amario is a master printer who worked for Pace Editions for twenty years with artists the likes of Jim Dine and Chuck Close.  Her knowledge, experience and technical sophistication is unmatched and I feel immensely fortunate to have been able to work under her tutelage.  Two artists each fall spend two weeks each with Julia in the Smith Print Studio.  There is no requirement to produce work, but as Julia says, everyone who she has worked with produces something they are pleased with.  This work is then editioned by Julia the week following the residency, and Sitka receives half the edition, the artist the other half.  Julia as archivist of the collection receives a printer’s proof and then Jordan Schnitzer, a major print collector and the Portland Art Museum also receive prints from the editions. 

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applying whiteground

The first week was punctuated by sleepless nights brought on by my sheer panic in the face of a copper plate with tools and materials I was unfamiliar with.  Julia eased me through all this and by the end of the middle of the second week we had finalized three etchings and I was well on my way to finishing the final plate. 

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marking proofs with their state

We spent eight hours of each weekday and a few hours of the weekend days in the studio, forgetting time. Julia did all the masterwork—laying down the asphaltum, biting the plates in the acid, applying aquatint, tearing paper, inking plates and pulling proofs and prints.

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Julia applying hardground

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wiping the plate

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printing

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pulling a proof

 I never got dirty other than scenting my hands and clothes with 3in1 oil as I learned the magic of burnishing. 

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At Julia's suggestion I came with no preconceived ideas about what sort of imagery I might attempt, allowing the new medium to guide me instead. The weather when we arrived at Sitka was glorious-clear, dry, windy and leaves were falling, chattering and blowing everywhere.  They, leaves, became a theme that entered each of the images I worked on. Julia helped me narrow down the repertoire of techniques that suited my hand and my vision and encouraged my own way of handling them by making it all seem effortless with her expert skills.

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"Foot Print"  12" x 16"  the first completed etching

Printmaking is truly a collaborative medium and the experience of working together with Julia to create something beautiful was a unique and inspiring experience for me.  It will have its effect on me for a very long time, if not forever.  

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Disorder and Order, Old and New

Posted by Deborah on June 28, 2012

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I am preoccupied with the contrasts of tame and wild, nature and mind, perception and reality and have been since my earliest explorations into image-making as a photographer.  My photographs focused on changing light and its insubstantial but atmospheric influence on our perceptions.  In many of my pastels I depicted subjects that contrasted our search for knowledge through language and thought with our connection to nature.  And the subjects of my paintings tend to examine wildness and our struggling relationship with it.  Ironically, for 25 years I lived in a fairly typical static suburban environment.  Little ever changed.  Lawns were cut when the grass grew imperceptibly higher than acceptable. The predominantly evergreen shrubbed landscapes never changed from season to season except perhaps for a brief flourish of exuberant bloom in spring or early summer. Streets were swept, concrete driveways power-washed, any untidiness or sign of aging done away with before it could bring into question the values of the neighborhood and its residents.  I looked outside my immediate environment for the questions and the answers to the subjects of my interest, and then felt like an outsider, an observer and recorder of these contrasts rather than a participant. 

Here, on this uncaged piece of land, once planted and managed by people, then left to its own tendencies for many years,  the contrasts that I believe to be important components of human understanding are palpable. Daily buffeting by the weather, seasonal changes in vegetation and animal life, the mental adaptations and necessary tasks that cycle with the heat and cold, wet and dry, light and darkness—all this is very immediate with little but a pane of glass or a roof of wood between myself and these elements. 

The house was primitive but hinted at a simple elegance beneath its crust of age and dirt.  We’ve changed its life a lot.   We now live in cozy comfort where once bushy-tailed wood rats ran freely through the walls, making their tinsel nests and hoarding odd rodent sized knick-knacks and treasures and cobwebs were the only decoration.  The dark and dank overgrowth on the land is slowly being cleared, revealing the sky and allowing the sun to warm places that haven’t seen the light for many years.  Recently the changes have accumulated to the point where we wake up some days and feel like we’re in a completely different place than we purchased two and a half years ago.  

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Wresting order from the wildness is delicate work.  It demands patience, thoughtfulness and awareness of the impact one is making.  The balance we strive for was tipped long ago on this piece of property.  As long as we live here we will continue to change the natural environment with consequences we cannot anticipate, no matter how good our intentions.  We’ll remove the ivy, the holly, the bamboo, the happily persistent noxious weeds as best we can.  At times it seems like a Sisyphean attempt, the strong nature of these invasives being far more powerful than us.  But ultimately our presence is all that it takes to alter this place from its natural course.  It is human nature to defy nature, either consciously or unconsciously.

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At the end of May we began building the studio, a place in which to create. We have to clear and demolish before we can design and reconstruct, so earth is moved, walls torn down and old foundations shattered.  

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We work at ground level, the old house hanging above us, propping up the beauties of old age with the strength of new concrete.  The work will be done in calculated phases so that we do not ask more of the integrity of this old structure than it can manage and hopefully by the end of the summer we’ll have a closed in basement ready for finishing.  This change to the house is elemental, and its character will grow. 

Carl and our friend Phil, and myself, are doing all the work, one day at a time. Meanwhile the grass keeps growing and this place lives its own life in many ways undisturbed by us and our dreams and realities.  The land and sky are perpetually creating and at times it seems silly to be building a place in which to create when there is so much of that happening around us without our efforts.  

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The Kingfisher

Posted by Deborah on April 25, 2012

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One of the most challenging puzzles of this property is its water system.  The deed came with a water right to Chevoit Creek, signed in 1934 by Dr. E.R. Huckleberry, the Tillamook county physician who built the house in 1922.  The original document, with its ink pen signature, is a precious commodity in a rural area especially one with the geological characteristics that our coastal area possesses.  Despite the heavy rain the soil around here is granular and slippery, holding the water like a sponge and wells are nigh impossible to drill.  There are few potable aquifers beneath this jelly-like substance to tap into.  Springs are a common source but if you don’t have one on your property, creek water is the next best thing.  The land is carved with creeks but many of them run dry around July or August.  You need a year-round creek to have a reliable water source and then you better hope that no one upstream is logging or building a development.   In the city we take water for granted.  It’s clean and it comes hot and cold reliably out of a tap.  There, we never think about it. 

When we bought this place the pvc pipe that ran a quarter of a mile up into the untrailed woods to the point of diversion in the creek, the specific position of our water right, had completely failed.  During our “inspection” of the property, in a hike fueled by idealistic enthusiasm, Carl and I and our real estate agent, Darcy, tramped up muddy elk trails and over fallen trees in search of the PVC pipe, hoping to spot its unnatural whiteness in the dim forest. 

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It turned up here and there, broken, buried, slid and then disappeared before we could find the end point.  We were soaked by the steady rain that fell, Carl was injured by inserting his foot into a hole, and slightly disoriented we found our way back by walking down the center of the creek.  Undaunted, that October, we purchased the house without it having running water.

By February of the next year and after much research Carl had designed a water system that pulled water from a spot in the creek 300 feet from the house.  It required a pump, housed in a small shelter on the edge of the bank above the creek, 200 feet of pex pipe and electrical wire in conduit to run underground from there to a pressure tank, housed in a 8’ x 12’ shed, and then another 100 feet of pex and electrical wire to connect to the house, also laid three feet underground.  Thus began a six month long quest to having water come out of the tap at the kitchen sink.   

While sighting the path of all that pipe we explored the property more intimately than we had before we purchased it and in the process we grudgingly discovered three significant dump sites buried beneath the blurring but ever increasing vegetation.  As the reality of their depressing existence slowly dawned on us we realized before we did anything else, we had to get rid of the depressions filled with historic debris.  It took us a while to accept that we had to hire an excavator to help us out, but through a bungled attempt at ditch digging (another story) we acquired the phone number of Norm Hartwell.  Norm soon became our savior. 

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When Norm came up to check out the potential job, he thought oh, maybe four hours, maybe a little longer and he could have the job done. 

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Four days later the dumps were cleared and masses of vegetation were hauled away. A backhoe is not a precise tool.  It was February, wet, dark and slippery. We were left with a lot of mud strewn with broken jars, rusted can lids and decaying batteries.

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Norm was heroic in his efforts to help us, but in moving the trash up the hill from its low spot (aren’t all dumps in a low spot?), a lot of small bits of junk slipped out of his grasp.  We will be finding shards of broken television tubes for years to come. Nonetheless, the overall effect was stupendously cleansing and a 27 cubic yard dumpster full of muddy garbage left the property. 

During this four day process our friends, Carol and Mike Riley visited for the first time.  Mike is a landscaper and poet.  As Norm rumbled over the land, and Mike scanned the property with his sensitive and knowledgeable eyes he suggested that while Norm was there he dig a pond just above the greater of the three dumps and carve a course to release the water from a sodden and trapped area around the big Black Walnut.  Clearly a winter creek was trying to make its way to the bay. 

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 Norm did this and when he opened the channel and the water came rushing down through what was the dump area it was like healing a wound, swabbing it clean.   

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So what about the kingfisher?  A few months later I was in the kitchen which overlooks the south field, the black walnut and beneath it the small, dark pond dug by Norm.  I heard a kingfisher’s distinctive caw.  I hadn’t heard that call since my walks along the Tualatin River in the Willamette Valley.  I knew it well, but there was no reason for a kingfisher to come up our little valley.  We didn’t offer what kingfishers love-- fish and frogs.  I looked out the window to the black walnut and there, perched on one of its lacy lower branches overhanging the little pond was the Kingfisher.  He sat and then he swooped down to the water, dove in, rose out, landed on the branch he descended from, bobbed his head and gulped down a tidbit.  I had no inkling that when we started down the path to a water system we would make a place for kingfishers to dine. It’s a lesson in consequences. It turned out well but it’s something to remember.

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detail from "The Pond and the Kingfisher" --oil painting in Waterstone show, May 2012

 

 


Spring

Posted by Deborah on April 4, 2012

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Winter has held its ground.  Just yesterday there were still patches of snow lacing the mountain tops around the river valley.  It seems late in the year for that sort of alpine scenery but it is spring according to the calendar. When we meet people around town they say, “Well, you’ve made it through your first winter…”   It is a compliment and a kindred embrace in this coastal environment of storms and heavy rain that often drives people back to the valley after a time.  One finds that the day truly comes from the sky.  Sometimes the sky radiates sunshine, sometimes it makes clouds, often it pours rain and more regularly than one might imagine the wind hurtles at great velocity from the southwestern horizon transparent in the sky’s color.  So we watch the sky.

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The higher sun has moved above the Sitka forest to the south of our property and brought heat and light to that side of our house.  In the warmth lady bugs have infested our rafters and gathered around all our south facing windows, inside.  At first we felt like the recipients of abundant good luck.  At night they would sometimes drop from the sloped ceiling of our bedroom and crawl about on our pillows or walk across our cheeks. There was something intimate about their familiarity.

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Our welcoming attitude soon turned to patient tolerance and then to annoyance.  They are tough little creatures.  Apparently they don’t eat anything but instead wander aimlessly back and forth, up and down, like automatons on a pane of glass. Randomly they bump into one another, back up and then go on in different directions.  They huddle in large red colonies, looking like a shiny beaded handbag stuck in the corner of window. Sometimes they fall into the kitchen sink and swim doggedly for as long as they need to, stroking through soap bubbles until rescued and then they continue uninterrupted, pacing on whatever dry surface they land. We began vacuuming them up and releasing them outside from the vacuum bag.  Their numbers grew and grew until we were vacuuming several times a day to keep up with their migration into the house.  Finally we stopped releasing them and sadly the ones we vacuumed were quietly entombed in the bag.  It is one of the phenomenon of a sunny day at the coast.  Where they are when it rains is still a question.   

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Detail from "Days at Huckleberry Farm" for May exhibit at Waterstone Gallery

In the last week or so, we’ve brought out the tools of spring, which for us are shovels and posthole diggers.  One of the ironies of our move here has been the lack of a vegetable garden.  So much land, so little tilled soil.  We’re starting from scratch—an apt phrase as we scrape and tear away dense brambles and thick grasses to reach the soil.

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Our big garden needs a serious deer fence and we’ve started that construction, but we have space for a small kitchen garden at the east side of the house in which we hope to actually plant something this spring.  It needs a retaining wall and also a fence to keep the deer from browsing our plantings, but it’s of a manageable size so when the sun comes out we leave our indoor work to dig between rain showers. 

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It’s right outside the studio, a temptation I resist as the deadline for my show draws near and I have unfinished paintings calling for my attention. 

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