Trashy Woman sends German trash to America: Is it Art?

In the US I am a proud member of an Artist Collective called Trashy Women. We are a collective of nine women artists who all have our own artistic specialties. There are painters, ceramicists, jewelers, sculptors, glass workers and some of us work in all these mediums. When we meet as a collective and show together, we make art out of found objects and trash. Some people called it upcycling which is a useful step up from recycling.

Meet the Trashy Women Artist Collective seen here at their opening at the Newark Arts Alliance From left to right: Sue, Caryn, Trebs, Donna, Dragonfly, Jamie, seated Maggie and not pictured Jo, and Mindy. Photo by Mary Lowenstein Anderson
Meet the Trashy Women Artist Collective seen here at their opening at the Newark Arts Alliance From left to right: Sue, Caryn, Trebs, Donna, Dragonfly, Jamie, seated Maggie and not pictured Jo, and Mindy. Photo by Mary Lowenstein Anderson
A good day at the beach. People ask me if I'm collecting rocks and I reply no, I'm collecting garbage to make art. Then they look at me funny and I say I'm picking up glass so the doggies don't hurt their feet. This makes them happy. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
A good day at the beach. People ask me if I’m collecting rocks and I reply no, I’m collecting garbage to make art. Then they look at me funny and I say I’m picking up glass so the doggies don’t hurt their feet. This makes them happy. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

In March the Trashy Women will be having a show at the Gibby Center for the Arts in Middletown, Delaware. I really wanted to participate in this show but I’m almost 4,000 miles away in Bremerhaven Germany this year. Bremerhaven has no shortage of garbage, but my tools and art supplies are in the States in my studio. So, what can I create for this show? I had collected a pile of beach glass from the Weser-Strandbad and some broken shards from the street but I wasn’t sure how I was going to put it together without my stained-glass supplies.

March 7-13 2019. If you're near Middletown, Delaware that day I hope you can make the show.
March 7-13 2019. If you’re near Middletown, Delaware that day I hope you can make the show.

I walked to the hardware store for inspiration and found some wire in the gardening section. I figured I could wrap the glass with the wire and create an image from there. An insane, time-consuming undertaking, but what are sabbaticals for if not for projects like this?

Let the madness begin. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Let the madness begin. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Creating the image. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Creating the image. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

I started with a piece of paper equaling the dimensions of the mailing box I picked up from the post office. I wasn’t taking any chances with shipping. Ha ha.

Then I drew an image on the paper and placed the glass on the image using colors and shapes that I felt were appropriate. Once the image was realized I proceeded to wrap each piece with wire and then connected the pieces together. Connecting the pieces was tricky, especially on the first window. I developed a method of “sewing” them together with the wire.

Sewing it together. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Sewing it together. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Ouch! Working with wire's dark side. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Ouch! Working with wire’s dark side. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

By the third one I was a pro. Like all things I make they are over engineered and extra strong. Probably much stronger than they need to be.

Andreas graciously models window #1. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Andreas graciously models window #1. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

I then had to figure out how to hang them. I didn’t see any chain around that I liked, so I used some left-over yarn from a scarf I knitted for my sister-in-law and double knitted some rope. In Diez I found key rings to hang them from hooks in the show.

The wave. This piece has sold. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
The wave. This piece has sold. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
The face finished. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
The face finished. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

So yeah, they’re weird and very different from what I would have created in my comfort zone at home. I’m happy with how they turned out and they’re very interesting in the sunlight. The wave has sold already from a social media posting and I’m hoping the other two find good homes at the show. After my painting show at Art Impressions Gallery in Bremerhaven on April 27th, I’m hoping to make more.

Dragonfly in the studio. Photo by Andreas Muenchow
Dragonfly in the studio. Photo by Andreas Muenchow
Ready to go. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Ready to go. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

Old in Art School a brief review

When I recently published a blog about my current artwork I searched WordPress out of curiosity to see what other women artists create and write. I came across Dr. Nell Painter and read that she had recently published a book titled Old in Art School. This caught my attention as I’ve considered returning to art school after 26 years to earn my MFA.

Old in Art School by Nell Painter. I recommend.
Old in Art School by Nell Painter. I recommend.

I was hoping for some tips on applying to schools, managing graduate critiques and the general atmosphere and expectations of art graduate school from the perspective of someone older than 25. The book offered this and a truly interesting memoir about Dr. Nell Painter. The full story was unexpected and I’m happy that she spoke of her life experience during her studies, not just the art school happenings. I am sad to read that women are still thought of as somewhat second-rate artists who will probably not become “real artists.” I had enough of that sentiment during the completion of my BFA.

Pages bookmarked for future reference and so many new artists (to me) to look up. Old in Art School by Nell Painter.
Pages bookmarked for future reference and so many new artists (to me) to look up. Old in Art School by Nell Painter.

I recommend this book to women artists and anyone else who is considering a career change mid-life. Also, to anyone who enjoys a beautifully written memoir.

Nell Painter and I both had/have a German sabbatical year. We also hail from Newark. Painter lives in New Jersey and I’m usually in Delaware. I hope to meet Dr. Painter someday to talk about our paintings over coffee or a beer.

 

Mostly loving every minute

R/V Maria S. Merian headed from Greenland’s ice to Iceland’s green hills to Greenland’s ice again during our third week at sea.IMG_4561 (2)

South of Iceland Surtsey Island is visible in the distance. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

We sailed from west to east along southern Iceland to recover ocean moorings from a submarine ridge that separates eastern Iceland from the Faroe Islands. There were a lot of Icelandic fishing vessels in the area most of which left for port as the weather turned bad. Time passed strangely for me when breaking waves at 13 ft and gale force winds of 63 mph hit us. My cabin window is four or five stories above the sea and this sea was splashing up against my window as the ship crashed through the waves. Windshield wipers cleared the windows of salt water on the bridge one level above my cabin. It was intense.

I spent the day sleeping, drowsy from the seasick medicine. My cabin mate was awesome, he left his lab and checked on me throughout the day bringing little pieces of bread and reminding me to drink water. At one point I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom and I noticed that the water was flowing sideways from the tap. I almost called out to my cabin mate before I realized that the ship, the bathroom and myself were all in fact sideways. The seasick medicine makes me dopey too.

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The spray from the storm waves at the bow of the ship. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

Eventually the calm eye of the storm found us and even though the seas were still rough the sky brightened. When the fog lifted we saw the mountains of southern Iceland and the Vestmannaeyjar Islands. Cabin mate was excited that Surtsey, created by a violent volcanic eruption in 1963, and the biggest Island we could see, was two years younger than him. Puffins live there, but I saw none through my telephoto lens.

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Icelandic mountains and a glacier on the horizon. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

The rough seas soon returned as we headed back to Greenland now to the north of Iceland. I walked around the ship holding on to railings and stumbling from one side of the gangway to the other. To travel anywhere on the ship stairs are involved and depending on whether the ship is pitching, rolling or both gravity shifts a bit. You can time your steps to save energy, that is, climbing up the stairs is easier when the ship is moving down and gravity “feels” less strong. In the cabin I used elbows, shoulders and hips to hold open cabinets and doors while trying to get dressed. I also found myself sitting longer than usual at the dinner table, because the thought of trying to walk across the moving floor with a tray full of glasses and dishes seemed like a bad idea. It reminded me of the first time I was a waiter on a train. Knitting, sleeping and complaining were about all I got up to.

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Foosball (Kicker) and table tennis tournaments below deck. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

By Friday we were closer to the east coast of Greenland, a little further north this time. We encountered calmer seas, with a few icebergs. Scientists and crew were competing in Foosball (kicker) and ping pong tournaments below deck when they were not processing data from CTD stations, recovering moorings from the ocean, or running the engines of the ship. Foosball in high seas is pretty unpredictable.

Another storm was on the horizon with high winds. I packed away all loose things laying around the cabin, showered while I still could without being thrown around, and ate a bit more in case the storm made me seasick. I also spent my time on deck taking pictures.

Saturday arrived, but the storm did not. The waves picked up, but the winds did not. Traveling north across Denmark Strait to Greenland, I noticed the temperatures were dropping. Ice formed on deck and we were forbidden to go outside. The mountains of Greenland seemed close and became clear, sea ice appeared, and more icebergs drifted south as we moved north. The week and August ended with an unusual, beautiful sunset behind layers of fog and mountains.

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Sunset behind fog and mountains on Greenland’s eastern coast. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

So much beauty in the world

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The R/V Maria S. Merian creates gentle waves on calm, sunny day in Scoresby Sound. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

Land ho. Greenland. We glimpse mountains that peek through low-lying fog with clouds above as the ship slowly approaches the coast. Scoresby Sound is one of the largest and longest fjord systems in the world. My telephoto lens is working overtime to focus closer on the snow and glacier covered peaks. Before entering the Sound, we took measurements at the mouth by way of moorings and CTD stations. Only then our journey into Scoresby Sound began. We determined how much warm water enters the Sound and how it travels to reach the melting glaciers that produce the many icebergs we saw.

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Greenland barely visible through the fog as we approach the mouth of the sound from the Demark Strait. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

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My favorite iceberg of the many I saw. I really like the bright blue ice intersecting the white. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

At first, we could see a few icebergs in the distance. I took photos of every one that passed. I would try to go back to my cabin to process photos and another even more interesting iceberg would appear just outside the porthole of my cabin. The mountains along the Sound appeared wild and unspoiled. Some peaks were covered by snow, some were not, some had waterfalls, others were dry. It is August after all, the height of summer with 20 hours of sunlight. My favorite feature, besides the distinct layers of sediment, were the many small and steep glaciers that had found their way to the Sound and the paths they create by carving the mountains. The passage of time is easily read here.

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A tidewater glacier making its way around an obstacle shaping the landscape. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

I’m intrigued by the changing colors of the ocean from almost black to bright blue. The color morphs each day and even during the day as we change our location and clouds filter the light. About 200 miles into Scoresby Sound we entered into the Nordvest Fjord. One day the water was still, almost glassy. The ocean reflected mountains and icebergs alike which created an image of peace, tranquility, and awe. The next moment winds picked up, creating waves that smashed into icebergs. Another day the water looked a deep turquoise and later changed with the sun to a bright turquoise I have not seen before. Pictures taken this day look like we were in the Tropics instead of the Arctic.

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A bright day aboard the ship in the Nordvest Fjord with a turquoise sea. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

Despite the distracting, dramatic landscape serious work was to be done. Mapping the rugged seafloor, Ellen’s instrument revealed a new science to me. She discovered that many of the islands in front of us were in the wrong place on the maps we had. I learnt a new word, “bathymetry” for this science that Ellen Werner of the University of Munich explains in daily meetings. I always look forward to her segment and watch her slowly evolving maps with new discoveries. Also, in our nightly meetings the scientists give short talks about their current work at home, because not all students work on Greenland Oceanography. They even let me give a talk about my artwork. No graphs or charts in my power point, folks.

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Ellen Werner discusses newly mapped bottom topography near the Denmark Strait. We call the Sea Hill, Ellen’s Hill. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

My seasickness retreated and I feel more surefooted on the ship. I am conquering my fear of heights as I get more comfortable standing closer to the ship’s railings when taking photos. Calmer seas also allowed me to paint again:

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Watercolor and colored pencil of an iceberg in the Scoresby Sound. 24cm x 17 cm by Dragonfly Leathrum

 

Written by Dragonfly Leathrum 8/28/18

 

 

Rollin’ on the waves with my scientist homies

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Sort of ready for the safety drill.  Photo by Andreas Muenchow

Seasickness comes and goes. I was hoping to be okay after five days in, and most of the time I am, but I’m still reliant on the seasick pills. There is nothing in my adult life that can describe what this feels like, but there are two experiences from my childhood that match it well. The first is riding backwards in the way back seat of a full-size station wagon in West Virginia. West Virginia is full of roads with sharp turns in the mountains where the road will also “drop” you for a second if you drive too fast over a rise. The second is swinging on a swing. The particular swing I’m thinking of was connected to my babysitter’s swing set. It was two benches connected to each other by a metal frame that you could pile a lot of kids on. We would pretend that we were either pirates at sea or for more drama, escaping the pirates. Of course, there were always alligators, sharks or both underneath, so you couldn’t just jump off when the swing got too high and the poles started to pull out of the ground.

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Rock and roll childhood

This is what being on the ship feels like to me only besides swinging from side to side the ship can swing in any direction, sometimes all directions so you feel a bit stirred up. Imagine that you’re swinging high on this swing but there is nothing to hold on to. Now imagine that you are doing this taking a shower, carrying a tray of food, reading, typing or doing anything that you need to do in a day. I thought that it would be a nice motion for sleeping, and sometimes it is. When it’s not, like last night, it reminds me of the scene in the early surfer movies where a girl would be thrown up in the air on a blanket on the beach, caught falling and then thrown up again. Okay, I didn’t mean to write thrown up, but you get the picture. The movement of the ship never stops. You can’t get out of the car, jump off the swing or ask the hunky surfers to please, for Christ sake, put you down. This morning was a rough one, I saw spray at my window over four stories above the ocean and the ship is moving quite a lot. This very green Dragonfly stayed in bed hoping that sleep, dreams and a seasickness pill might make it better, it did. Knitting, staring at the horizon when it’s visible and peppermint tea help as well.

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View from the galley porthole.

Not everything about the ship being in constant motion is bad as I discovered watching a Star Wars movie the other night. The ship was rocking in the same motion as the land speeders racing through the forest. It was really cool. People pay money to have this experience in theatres. I’m going to watch the Phantom Menace tonight for the pod race, unless it makes me sick.

A lucky artist at sea

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Dragonfly Leathrum on the main deck of the R/V Maria S. Merian in Scoresby Sound, Greenland. Photo by Simon Wett UHH

I am neither scientist nor sailor but an American artist living in Bremerhaven, Germany looking at Greenland beyond the rails of R/V Maria S. Merian. How I got here is another story, but my purpose is to convey work at sea to a broader audience with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation. Dr. Torsten Kanzow of the Alfred-Wegener-Institute is leading scientists from Germany, England, Greece, India, and the USA in their various projects. We are all collecting ocean data in the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland and in Scoresby Sound in Greenland. Even though I have been seasick on and off this first week of four, observing students, technicians, engineers, and crew working together is an eye-opening adventure.

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The Maria S. Merian docked in Reykjavik Harbor. Photo by Dr. Andreas Muenchow UDEL

The research vessel R/V Maria S. Merian is all work all the time. Different groups fill every minute of twenty-four-hour work days. They collect and process data, prepare instruments for year-long deployments into the ocean, and recover instruments placed in the water in prior years. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I document what is happening from an artist’s perspective using photographs, drawings, paintings, and blogs. My first assignment was to photograph all members of the science party so a large poster could be made to help everyone get to know each other. Two days later I was seasick and missed a good photo opportunity when scientists, technicians and crew recovered a first mooring from the Denmark Strait. Dr. Andreas Muenchow from the University of Delaware covered for me and probably took better photos because as a seasoned sailing scientist he is more comfortable with deck operations.

The next day we saw an iceberg: My First Iceberg! Little did I know there were thousands of icebergs just beyond my horizon that I will write about next week.

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Iceberg in the Denmark Strait. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

We sailed back and forth across the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland to map a massive plume of dense water cascading cold Arctic water down the sloping bottom into the Atlantic Ocean. The ship stops every hour or so to lower a metal frame called a CTD that has many sensors and bottles strapped to it. This measures temperature, salinity, velocity, and oxygen levels. The scientists and crew also deployed and recovered moorings which measure similar things. The moorings are weighted down at the bottom with old train wheels. A nice bit of upcycling. All scientists meet every evening after dinner to compare new data and ideas that were collected and processed during the prior day and night. They organize all this in graphs and charts. It is fascinating to see the information visually. As a lucky artist I receive somewhat unexpectedly an advanced tutorial in physical oceanography without taking a single class in mathematics or physics.

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Mooring deployments in the Denmark Strait August 2018 from aboard R/V Maria S. Merian. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

It was a good first week even though my sea sickness pills are all gone. The scientists, mostly students, are extremely bright, nice, and working hard at their stations. The weather has been fair during the week. We enjoyed some unexpected sunshine and we huddled through a few cold and foggy days. I photographed sunsets, moon rises, whales, dolphins, and many of the different sensors, scientists, and science work. Calmer seas here and there allowed me to complete two paintings of Iceland as well.

“You may find yourself in another part of the world.”

I never dreamed that I would be sailing off Greenland starring at an iceberg. To quote the Talking Heads, “This is once in a lifetime.”IMG_2380 (2)

First iceberg sighting.

Traveling is never easy in Germany for us Americans abroad: Andreas and I left Bremerhaven, Germany for Reykjavik, Iceland, but upon arrival at the station we learned that our train had been cancelled. Stress, panic, can we catch another train to catch our plane to catch the ship? Or would we be, “Letting the days go by” incognito in Bremerhaven? Have a month offline to ourselves to work on other projects and maybe show some of Andreas’ old iceberg photos at the end of the month? It didn’t sound like a bad plan.

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Bremerhaven train station. Andreas took this shot to prove to the conductor that our train was cancelled.

Alas, our replacement, slow, and very local train delivered us in the nick of time to Hamburg airport although much later than we hoped. This put us at the end of an hour-long check-in line for Iceland Air. No quick kiosks here. We queued up behind two giant backpacks which were hiding two German Physics students from Berlin. Here we met a laidback, cynical Canadian Professor who studies birds somewhere in California. The hour-long chatting about Iceland, ships, politics, and philosophies of life and traveling was the highlight of our travels. We all made it to Iceland with no time or sweat to spare. This is our second experience with Iceland Air in a month: we know how to work their video on the headrest, we have their introductory video, and we have their Iceland advertisements memorized. Yet, both Andreas and I forgot headphones and we had to read lips watching in-flight movies.

Three hours later we landed in Keflavik, Iceland where the captain announced that he was dropping us off at the front door and that we had to watch our step. He wasn’t kidding. In Iceland they let you off the plane parking on the tarmac and everyone walks to buses ferrying you to the terminal. In contrast, we were blown by the welcomed cold wind towards the terminal. [It was unseasonably hot in Germany.] A taxi was waiting for us, because the ship’s agent had arranged this transport to the ship docked in Reykjavik.

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The Harbor where the ship was docked in Reykjavik. Top: Photo from the ship. Bottom Watercolor and colored pencil.

The forty-minute taxi ride included background music of Joy Division on the radio and a landscape of rocks. Iceland is like no other landscape I’ve seen. I kept pointing out the window exclaiming, “Ooh look at this and did you see that?” We saw a lot and I mean A-LOT-OF-ROCKS. We saw rock sculptures, rock gardens, random rocks, rocks to divide parking lots … We also saw a sign for Dunkin’ Donuts, cold people on bicycles, beautiful mountains in the distance, and empty plains with more rocks.

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Rocks! Watercolor and colored pencil of the landscape near Keflavik. 6.5”x9.5”

Iceland, wow. Where am I? David Byrne to the rescue:

“How did I get here?”

“This is not my beautiful house.”

“How do I work this?”

“Under the water, carry the water

Remove the water from the bottom of the ocean,” and measure the salinity and oxygen levels, please.

 

Written by: Dragonfly Leathrum       August 18, 2018