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.
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
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.
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.
Evelyn R. Swett celebrates
how creativity and climate action converge to inspire joy
and new ways of being.
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