show, people asked
if my studio smelled and they
wondered how I
'stage' is a large
three bin composting
system behind our garage,
and my studio is on the opposite
end of the house, in the basement, with
only a computer and other art supplies, it turns
out that neither one actually smells
at all (or at least, not
of rotting food).
And I don't
really 'set up' my
either. I dump food and other
scraps into that plastic white bucket
that I purchased from K-mart a decade ago.
When it gets full, which is at least once a week,
I carry the 10 pounds of waste out to our
'active' compost bin. There, I dump
a bucket's worth of stuff onto
whatever was there
I stir it so that
it all gets mixed and
mingled. As you can see, the
bins are square, but the camera
creates a rectangular
I then crop
my image to create
'Compost Compositions' that
feel as close to the
'real deal' as I
in this drama, however. I
source most of my raw material
from Umpleby's Cafe & Bakery in Hanover,
NH, where each week I collect five
gallon buckets full of coffee
and other food
is set for new dramas
to unfold. Every time it's a mystery,
as the contents and light shift
with each season.
a wonderful mix of coffee,
fresh lemons, celery
and some old
how the fresh
and still warm coffee grinds,
generate steam. I also love how I don't
actually know what was in each bucket until
I stir the heaped mass of coffee
and vegetable scraps...
I doubt any
of these will become
official 'Compost Compositions'
as the lighting wasn't quite right today.
Stay tuned for more about
that in a later
can see, this
'behind the scenes'
view of my compost process
is not really behind anything other
than our garage. It's all out there. In the winter,
red squirrels come to feast; In the summer bees and
other bugs hover. For years I've referred to
my work as the 'real deal.' It may be
contained & framed but, like
me, what you see is
what you get..
(most of the time).
It seems absurd,
really, that a gal has to
take care of things at home
even when there are so many cool
things happening, at, say,
her first solo show.
does come to an end,
and snow does appear and the
temperatures do start to fall,
so one does have to
take care of
It's funny, though,
how the list evolves over
time. Just as one thing is finally
crossed off, another activity or two or
three gets added on, like mulch
on the garden and those
perennials that keep
though, how I
save my favorite activity
for last - - shredding leaves to
use in the compost in the spring when
things are wet and need a boost
of dry carbon. It's a
thing for me.
joins in the
fun, begging me
to throw him sticks while
I methodically mow the leaves
in the still, dry garage. Spread them out,
consolidate, spread again. Back and forth I help
break them down so they can more
efficiently integrate with all that
nitrogen in the melting,
It hit me,
though, as the
pile got smaller, that
this is another one of those
routines I do all the time that is,
on the one hand, just another item on
the endless list, but on the other hand, is an
integral part of a bigger climate action narrative, a
story in which I find joy in routines that feel
good unto themselves but are also
part of a larger creative
how I can
of a previous year's leaves
on the wall of a gallery and by doing
so inspire others to think differently about
leaves, carbon and our
climate action and
creativity converge to inspire
joy and new ways of being - - all the time.
my blog or following
me on Instagram, you'll know
that I was planning to include my altered
Cotillion Dress in my current
solo show at AVA
If you've been
to AVA to find the dress,
you'll know that it's
me how the creative
process works, and how hard
it can be to separate one thread from
another when they all feel
integral to each
evolved from last
year's curiosity about how
I could share Walt Whitman's poem
"This Compost" in a colorful and affordable
manner by embroidering it on old
things, like a pillowcase or
a cloth diaper from
I listened to numerous
podcasts about art, women,
the climate crisis, racial justice and
the idea of white fragility. Each voice I heard
inspired me to rethink my past and
my relationship to it. And then
I remembered the white
dress in the attic...
it all began
because I love the
colors of compost and so
started taking pictures of it all the
time...until, magically, I had
what they call a 'body
of work' worth
what you love most just
has to stay home. In this case, I am
grateful that I gave my work to the Exhibits
Director at AVA and let her decide. The dress, even
though it seemed essential to the show for
me, just didn't fit and would have
been a distraction.
I am grateful
to this beautiful piece
of silk and lace for inviting me
to explore my own identity as a creative
person, not just with a camera,
but in life. The dress, as
Pinch me. Is it true?
Is 5 year's worth of work
really assembled in a real art gallery
for others to see?
It must be,
showed up to celebrate
the launch, my
gathered again this
past Tuesday for a conversation
about Waste & Our Material World with
Marc Morgan, Director of the Lebanon, NH Solid
Waste Facility. I love how what began
as an isolated exploration of my
backyard compost has
connected me to
so many cool
who run Umpleby's Cafe &
Bakery in Hanover, NH - - I get all
my coffee grinds and other
large masses of cool
I meet at various events
who wonder at my composted
degrees and share their own stories about
celebrating the past while also
when a vision becomes
reality - - when showing up to
something seemingly mundane, like my
compost bin, could inspire not just
me, but also all those who
come in contact with
this work. Who
share the joy and
experience the wonder
that is our waste at my artist's
talk next Friday, November 1. It will be
at AVA Gallery at 5pm. Oh, and it's also my
birthday and I was thinking how great
it would be to share it with others
who care about all this
stuff. See you then
What is it
about corn husks,
besides their enticing shade of
light green, fanlike spread on the pile,
and their capacity to
For me, it is
much more than the
reassuring taste of what they contain.
It has to do with their history, and the fact that corn
was originally a gift from the indigenous people who lived in
New England to my people, who showed up
500 years ago, unannounced and
unprepared. The results
were not pretty.
I am deeply
grateful for the gift
of corn then and now. Though
today it has a different purpose, perhaps,
inspiring a new point of view on the conversations
that gift started centuries ago. Who has the
right to what land and for what
purpose? And who is
going to care
It is an honor
that later today I will
be among friends new and old,
celebrating these Compost Compositions.
They are at once framed compositions of color, shape
and texture as well as narratives about what it
means to live in our world today - - the
beauty and the mess of it all. Some
days it feels more beautiful
I choose to see
the beauty of what is,
not just in the compost pile,
but in my life. Please come see the
show at AVA Gallery.
It's really cool.
And also, please
take a moment this weekend
to express gratitude for all those before
us who made our current
My first solo show opens in 11 days.
What is the story I want to tell?
Is it about the cool colors,
textures and shapes of my Compost Compositions?
Is it about the stories
those Compositions tell about
food, culture and the regenerative
power of waste?
there is more.
Behind these photographs
there is me, a woman in mid life
choosing to share her work
and, by default, her
story - -
A story that
begins with a beginners
mind - - a willingness to explore
not just content that most
ignore, but process
that is why last year I had
so much fun dismantling and composting
my Harvard and UVA Degrees.
Why not explore?
that is why I am OK
sharing my first attempt at decorating
a silk dress with embroidered
imagery of my own
that it is Show Time
the connections between these
In a world filled with fear,
I am no longer afraid to reframe my
relationship to garbage or
To learn more,
you'll have to come to
the show. The opening is October 11
at AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH. My Artist's Talk
is November 1 at 5pm, also at AVA Gallery.
Or, you can just keep reading this
blog. More will be
sticks into the Gulf
of Maine. It's 1.5 miles from
our family's house and is a destination
when it's high tide and the beach is covered.
What's the point, you ask? Besides the wild flowers
blowing in the breeze, the waves crashing on
the rocks, and the knowledge that next
year it will still be here, the point
is that today I saw multiple
I stood and
watched them play - -
gliding in the wind and resting
on the bay laurel. They made me happy - -
their telltale orange and black contrasting with the
green shrubs and the blue water beyond.
And they made me sad. Will
they survive or not?
What's the point?
I closed my eyes and imagined
what it would be like to be surrounded
by thousands of these delicate creatures at their
final destination in the mountains of Mexico and understood
that all I needed was that association and idea to invite a momentary
massive flurry of wings which, when I opened my eyes,
were everywhere and no where. At this
point in time, I'm happy to stay
right here. No plane travel
needed. Just me and
What's the point? Our imaginations.
Wherever you are,
consider how far you can go
by going nowhere. Look at something in
your yard or in your home and imagine a place far
away. Feel the air, hear the wind and see the
wonder. Then open your eyes again and
be grateful for your imagination.
It's a gift we often overlook.
This was my view a few
days ago while hanging the laundry.
It takes my breath away every
time I go onto our
in a great mood
because I had set the day aside
to work on a major embroidery project
I'm exploring this
kept getting in the way.
You know how it can be - managing the
compost, changing toilet-paper rolls, drinking water
to stay hydrated on a hot day, cleaning up
after the dog made a mistake...
and, of course, doing
I think I was
able to finish about
half a leaf between each
interruption. By the time I went
out to hang the laundry, I was feeling
really frustrated by how slow my progress was.
I'd been feeling bad about other things too. Like the fact
I hadn't written a blog post for more than a
month and that I hadn't finished
the next playbook
in my series.
But while standing
on the terrace and hearing the
baby birds and seeing a monarch butterfly
head toward the volunteer milkweed in the orchard
we planted, I remembered that not long ago,
none of this was here: no terrace, solar
panels, shrubs or perennials, and
no monarchs or baby birds
learning to sing.
I also remembered
how exciting it was to see
these peonies and iris bloom together
after we had transplanted them that first year
with the terrace garden - that
was 8 years ago.
I have to remind myself
that over time, lots of little actions
accumulate and become something larger
than themselves. A single stone becomes a terrace. A
single flower becomes a garden. A single
stitch in a small leaf becomes a
just have to consciously
remember how things really work,
which is why when I dumped the compost and
took yet another photograph, I remembered the power of
showing up and of big little things. 10 pounds of compost a week
adds up to 500 pounds a year -- a ton over four years.
That's a lot of food diverted from the landfill.
It's also a lot of photographs
So this week
I'm celebrating Big Little
Things. Like the fact that after creating
thousands of Compost Compositions, I finally have
two in a juried show this summer and I'll have a few dozen in
a solo show this fall - - All at AVA Gallery in Lebanon,
NH. Friends told me that if I kept showing
up for my work and for myself,
cool things would happen.
They were right.
the simple climate
action of composting would
lead me to become a photographer?
Who knew that photographing that compost
could lead to learning about embroidery and the craft
of remaking old clothes? Who knew that the
act of remaking old things would
inspire new ways of thinking
and new ways
the Big Little Things
in your day or your week?
Remember: When you show up for
yourself and those you love,
cool things can
Messages for the Future @ AVA Gallery
AVA's 2019 Summer Juried Exhibition
July 12 - August 21
Monday Morning's Activities (not listed above):
Writing & mailing post cards to daughter and mother-in-law;
Emptying the dehumidifier in my basement studio;
Packing up some college supplies for a friend, who happens to be passing through, to take down to DC so that we won't have so much to manage in August when our son goes to college there;
Managing a broken nail that I got while packing those supplies;
Receiving a packet of pachysandra from a neighbor with whom I had just spoken during my morning walk - - She mentioned she had more pachysandra than she needed; I mentioned I could use some. I thought the plan was for me to go over and harvest it. What a gift!
And it all happened between 9am and 1pm.
I wore these
boots from November
to May this year. Finally, a few weeks
ago, they went into the storage box, from which my
summer sandals and other cooler shoes emerged. Time for the
seasonal assessment. If I haven't worn something for
a year or if it doesn't work anymore,
it goes in the spring give
think, with 26 pairs
of work boots, athletic shoes,
dress shoes and casual shoes, I'd have
enough. But I don't. My athletic shoes are worn out
and I've never really found the 'just right' pair
of casual sneakers...and with this
trip to London, it became
clear that I needed
I'm focused on shoes
and clothes with a story. If they
haven't been well worn by another before
me, I want to know that the materials
used are ethically sourced, the
stitches made with care,
and the resources
there I was, in Kentish
Town, London, at The Third Estate,
on whose racks and shelves are clothes, shoes,
bags and socks made with love. Each
brand, it seems, has its own
story to tell.
So I had some fun.
Light or dark Ethletic Fair Trade Vegan Sustainable Trainers?
Breathable and light
"BreLite Collection" shoes
whose soles come from recycled
tires and uppers are handspun cotton.
They truly are the lightest shoes
ever - - only 250 grams!
A perfect travel
up with dark, cute,
comfy and filled with love.
They make me feel like I'm flying.
Maybe that's why The Third
Estate has a bird on
what I'm learning
about this thing called
"Slow Fashion." It's not about
how fast something is made, it's about the
stories embedded in each fiber and in the transaction
itself. Angela, who helped me, wanted me to
feel good. She knew about each
shoe company and
Most shopping expeditions
leave me exhausted, but after I left yesterday,
I found myself in an unexpected area, ready to explore.
Who knew that by going to The Third Estate,
I would also experience this
colorful and nuanced
part of town?
seemed so quiet and
peaceful, but then I followed
the curve of and light on this living building...
curious as I tend to be, about the
relationship between the
...and I found
myself in an entirely
unexpected place, where the
buildings were alive in
a different kind
So I guess
shoes really are a
thing for me. Comfortable
feet matter but so does my actual
footprint. I think it's cool
when I can care
for slow fashion,
meandering explorations, and
the simple joy of taking
time to care.
dresses out for a dance
and I played dress-up.
Our mother took
they hung in my
attic for over a decade...
until it was time to
let them live
went to our
local theater company
and others went to goodwill.
A few stayed behind
well, they just
I resist those colors,
textures and the spirit of my
Not exactly me.
I'm a mender
(see last week's blog
post), not a maker or re-maker, but
maybe there was a costume designer with
the imagination I needed to help
re-create these in my
Rebecca Sewart, owner of
Pins & Needles Garment Company. She
saw the potential and, probably with her upcoming
work with Joseph and the Amazing Techni-Color
Dream Coat in mind, started with the
dress. The entire process
gift to have an
person who loves fiber
come to my house and lovingly
transform a complicated fabric into the
coolest pair of 'retro' trousers
a gal could own.
approve, because I feel
her spirit when I wear her re-imagined
evening gowns, which now contain Rebecca's energy
as well. Stay tuned for our next shared
creation...It seems that
My sister is the incredible maker, Sarah Swett, who plays with fiber and is currently enamored with making her own clothes. My mother is Shiela Swett, who loves to take photographs of nature out her back door. I learned about Rebecca from the owners of The Pink Alligator, a consignment store in Lebanon and Hanover, NH. Rebecca is now creating costumes for a production of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat for a theater company in Massachusetts.
Final thought: I have to assume that those who made my grandmother's clothes and the fabric from which they came earned a living wage, since they were either hand made or couture, but I don't know for sure since working conditions varied fifty years ago. In today's world of fast fashion, though, I am trying hard to use the fabrics I have and keep things as local as possible. This project brings me complete joy because it honors my grandmother's standard of owning well-made clothes that last and my standard of embracing the ethic of slow, sustainable fashion. And in the process, I have clothes that make me feel powerful and beautiful, but which I never would have bought off any rack in any store. Thank you, Gram.
Evelyn R. Swett celebrates
how creativity and climate action converge to inspire joy
and new ways of being.
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