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
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
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.
cotton object that rips
when I touch it. It's
just a t-shirt,
No. It's more.
It contains memories:
My first years of marriage;
Playing squash with my husband;
Being in my 20's and feeling
invincible; It's so much
more than just
near and far, I got
out a needle, some light
purple thread, and got to work.
I want to wear this fragile
cotton shirt again.
I love it. It's
in our throw-away
society, mending matters.
And because it's cool
the art of
also known as Sashiko
When I love
something, I care for it.
When I love someone, I care
for them. Love takes time and patience.
It can be messy and slow and it
is always imperfect. But
it's possible. We just
have to show up
have a sense of humor.
For 26 years, I have only seen
colors, shapes, & an artist's signature.
When I told my husband about this project,
he asked: "Oh, your dancer shirt?"...
"My what? No, the one with
cool colors and
It turns out I had never
actually paid as close attention to
this shirt I love as much as my husband had.
Sometimes I guess we just see what we see. What's
cool is that I didn't feel anything like a
dancer back in the 1990's, but
I definitely do today. It's
now more perfect
to my mother for
teaching me how to sew.
Happy Mother's Day
Spring at last.
I look at the tulips slowly
emerging from the soil and think:
And not just for the
mourning doves mating on our
terrace or the hosta lace appearing from
beneath the snow.
I'm actually going
to have my own show this
fall at AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH!
There they will be - four years of Compost
Compositions, priced, framed,
curated and composed.
I was unsure
when the exhibit director
suggested I show my work like
photographs are usually seen: printed
on paper, framed and behind glass. I had liked
the immediacy and simplicity of canvas.
But then I saw them framed and
understood. Wow, these
really are cool.
compost is my teacher,
reminding me to be aware of my
assumptions. For me, canvas was the point -
an invitation to literally 're-frame' my beliefs about
art and how things are 'supposed' to work.
More than just immediacy, canvas
seemed simpler, with fewer
materials and less
But then I
handled all the
cardboard and tape
and compared this to the
small packet needed to ship ten
times as many prints on paper that I
could then have framed by local artisans...
and my thinking changed about
the waste and I realized the
in the very idea
of a show
Is it good enough?
Am I good enough for all this?
Then I look at the work and experience
an uncontainable surge
I see that
the canvas is actually
too simple, too much like a poster
I could order from CVS. The paper, frames
and glass give this gorgeous garbage
a presence that it deserves
and I have earned.
Am I allowed
to say such things? Yes.
Because this work celebrates the
convergence of creativity and climate action
and in the process inspires joy and new ways of being
not just for me, but maybe for you as well. We
will only know, though, if it gets out
there...So get ready.
the light shine!
It's daylight savings time.
And maybe, just maybe, the snow
will melt by April and the
will be above
Green New Deal, Part 2,
I get real about our energy conservation
at home. And since we're talking
about light, I thought I'd
We have lots
of them - 67 in fact -
that are essential sources of
light and stunning ways to frame
views of our garden and Vermont. But
in terms of energy, even our 15
year old double-paned
Over the years,
we have slowly added
insulated and other shades to
help keep the house warm in winter
and cool in summer. Some are even color
coordinated, while others are thin,
cheap roll-ups. We even
have plastic in the
have a hodge-podge.
Of course, my favorites are the
ones I made when first married in 1992 and
the re-used ones from my grandmother's house that
I found in her attic when she died and then
hung in our living room a decade
ago - - just to try
I've been thinking
about the idea of 'window
dressing,' of giving a superficial, but
misleading impression. Most of the 1930's New
Deal murals I studied in college (see last week's blog
post, My Green New Deal, Part 1) were colorful
celebrations of the American Dream,
a dream that for millions of
people at that time
was a broken
I feel surrounded by
broken promises - - The dream
of a house, but no one tells you how much
money it takes to maintain it; The dream of filling the
house with things you need and love, but no advertisement
reveals the true cost and impact of those objects.
So now we have ten years to adapt to
the realities caused by our
Ok. That is way
too heavy and way too
guilt-ridden for my tastes. So
let's go back to light, color, texture
and the glorious convergence of creativity
and climate action. I love this time of year. It's still
cold and inside projects still beckon, like
making the curtains in my studio
warmer by sewing old linen
napkins onto them...
our family's Green New
Deal. We have a decade to make
the rest of our 67 windows as energy efficient
as they can be. To achieve that goal, we will take stock
of what needs to be done, prioritize and make a
plan. For now, though, I will continue to
appreciate this crazy mix of window
'dressings' that continue to
keep us warm and I will
keep noticing the
when you clean out your studio
and come upon a project that is more than 30 years old?
There are black and
white prints in carefully labeled files,
two scrapbooks with detailed annotations,
and two binders full of color slides.
what happens when that project
contains raw material that relates directly to one
of the hottest topics in Washington DC?
No, I'm not talking
about the impact or reality of an aging
population or racism
in our country.
I'm talking about
The Green New Deal and
all the controversy it is inspiring.
It turns out,
that in 1987, at the age of 21,
I traveled around the United States
on Amtrak, stayed with alumni from my college in twelve
different cities, and researched murals painted
during the Great Depression in Post
Offices and other public
The highlight was
visiting the small town of Farmersville, Texas,
photographing the mural in the post office and then, a few days
later, meeting the artist, Jerry Bywaters,
who created that work.
The New Deal
is about as good as it gets
when it comes to the convergence of
creativity and climate
were comprehensive, universal
and profoundly innovative. They impacted every
aspect of our country's infrastructure and re-inspired hope
for millions in the dream that once was
getting out of the
world I knew, was I able to see the
great promise of FDR's vision. At the same time,
I witnessed the reality that fifty years
later, that promise remained
elusive for many,
So here I am.
It's 8:30 on a Saturday night.
Calvin, the dog, is asleep at my feet and I am in
heaven, remembering a very long
Saturday night in the
I was changing
trains in Kansas City. The
Southwest Chief was six hours late.
There were no cell phones or laptop computers,
so we got to know each other in that pre-digital waiting-room
kind of way. We were more concerned for the
well-being of those involved in the
accident on the track, than
we were with being
provided hats for the kids. I got
out my camera and made friends. These places,
people and works of public art I was so
inspired by thirty-two years ago
are why I care so
When I say
that compost is like America,
I mean it. We are nothing without our diversity,
perseverance, and patience. We are also nothing without our audacity.
What the hell? Why not give it a try?
A Green New Deal might
be just be what
when I discover a project from
decades ago and my husband is out of town
and I'm feeling reflective?
A lot, I guess.
I love climbing tree limbs and ladders.
I love curves, lines and textures.
There is something reassuring about light on metal...
and the reality that even with three inches of insulation, some heat gets lost.
It's hard to believe
that there are imperfections
with these perfect symmetries and designs.
But there are. Energy can not be created nor destroyed,
but it can be transferred between objects,
along the way.
just the reality of
how things work and why, even
with a relatively upgraded heating system, this vent
on the north side of our living room
doesn't provide much
Isn't it beautiful
to see the unseen, to honor
what is functional and elegant? That's
what climate action at home
is all about for me.
Last week I saw
"Ansel Adams in Our Time,"
an exhibit at The Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
It was totally cool.
It is clear
that Adams witnessed
and understood a whole lot more
about the human condition than his reverent
landscapes had ever revealed to
me on their own.
this intimate portrait
of a Mexican boy, this stunning
close-up of a fern, and this panoramic
view of human development.
It gave me
the chills. Adams
understood our reciprocal
relationship with the natural world and
the fragility of our co-
There I was,
reflected in the glass,
paying attention to these imaginative
re-imagings of Ansel Adams's world. In Abelardo
Morell's exploration of the microcosmos and the macrocosmos
I saw the tenuous balance between individual
rights and collective responsibility
necessary in any
And I laughed
when I saw myself in Mitch
Epstein's "Altamont Pass Wind Farm."
So funny how we play games with
each other, with nature and
I loved Luis
Faglio's reflection about beach
restoration, how it celebrates the "hope
and the irony that we are able
to move sand."
to feel at home
in a large, meandering
exhibit in an even larger museum,
but the message of these works was close
to home. Yes, we can move sand. Yes,
lupine does grow after a fire.Yes,
we have the power to renew
not just ourselves, but the
planet as well.
How did I get here?
Why does it matter?
If you read my
post, "Why By Degrees"
you have some idea. But what's the
real story behind this blog and this site?
If you've known me for any length
of time, you've witnessed
A blog called
It sounded exotic. Ataraxy stands
for "serene calmness." I needed that. For
a bunch of ancient Greeks, Ataraxia was a lucid
state of robust equanimity. Heaven.
That's me. In the garden.
I wanted to share.
Then I found
Rufus and George.
Why not let them speak for me?
Our global problems are all about consumption
and our need for objects of all kinds. What insights could
a ruffled 50-year-old Steif Chimpanzee and a broken
china pug share about our relationship to all
our belongings, big and small?
So I briefly had a blog
called "Rufus &
a problem, though.
I had more to say than Rufus &
George understood, about how stuck we seemed,
caught between 20th century expectations and 21st century
realities. It hit me when I forgot to pull up instead of push down when
I peed. It's so confusing, changing a habit I'd had my entire life.
Flush the toilet. Push down. Until now, when everything
was a hybrid. So I created a blog, a business,
and a book, all called "Our
But I was stuck.
Why would anyone care?
Who was I behind the blog, book
and business? What was I trying to prove, and to
whom? So I got help. When my new business coach asked
me those same questions, I knew, in my heart, that I
was a photographer. When she asked me what I
loved, I knew -- compost and being outside
and noticing light and texture and
beauty. So I ignored all I had
been doing, got my
I kept exploring,
while taking small steps
forward. A web site. A business card.
A trip to New York City to photograph compost
& a few months later, have a 'pop-up' show where
I stood by my work and told people I was a
photographer and that I was into
compost, which kept inviting
me to go deeper, beyond
the soil, and into
I kept diving.
Saboteurs yacked on
my shoulder, but I kept going.
A visit to my sister in Idaho gave me time
to process. Compost, it seems, has the answers for me.
Pay attention. Be patient. Honor micro- dramas.
Allow for the mess and complexity
contained in any story, even
my own. Change "by
My work inspires joy and
new ways of being by celebrating this
magical convergence of creativity and climate action
that I experience every day. Who knew?
Welcome. This is going to be fun.
Maybe we'll meet in person
some day and you can
share your story
So that's how I got here.
It matters because you matter and your
story matters. Even if, like mine, your journey includes
false starts and stops and takes you this way
and that, it's relevant and of value.
Because, in a democracy,
we all matter.
Evelyn R. Swett celebrates
how creativity and climate action converge to inspire joy
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