From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Archive for the ‘dyeing’ Category

Natural Dyeing for Sukkah Project

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I’ve been invited to inhabit the Sukkah at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (San Francisco) on October 8th for one day of the holiday of Sukkot.  They invited six artists to each take a day to create an open studio or installation project inside the frame of the Sukkah.  I decided to take the opportunity to do a new Participatory Installation piece within that frame entitled Refuge of Leaves.


These are photos of the dyeing process for this new project.  These are the first three batches, using pomegranate dye, rhubarb dye and artichoke dye.  Each dye changes depending on if I scour the paper first, or if I add a mordant, or if I add iron.  I did every combination on four kinds of paper to get a wider variety.

As I’m going, I allow the paper to show some marks- wrinkles, the mark of the iron, irregularities, etc.  Showing their history, that they have been through something, a difficult process that may even damage them seemed like a perfect parallel to individuals seeking refuge, to people who had a story to tell.

About the Piece

Traditionally a Sukkah is a symbolic ritual space of refuge in the wilderness created for the holiday of Sukkot in the Jewish faith and tradition. “Refuge of Leaves” creates a Sukkah as a space for reflection where people from many backgrounds can reflect on and share their personal experiences of refuge from “wildernesses”, whether physical or metaphorical. As a Sukkah it symbolizes a liminal space of safety within the wilderness between worlds.

I followed traditional aspects of the Sukkah in using natural plant-based materials in the form of a variety of papers from different places and times, including papyrus as well as paper that could be put through a modern printer.  These are for participants to write responses to their choice of prompts on the subject of refuge.  I am hand-dyeing the papers with natural dyes to mimic the color range of plants one might build a traditional sukkah from. The dyeing processes also makes each piece of paper individual in color and texture, just like the people writing their responses.

The word “leaves” in the title functions in a number of ways.  The individual leaves of paper in a larger book, the plant leaves that form a traditional Sukkah, and the nature of a this kind of refuge as a temporary shelter (not a home) that eventually requires one to leave.  The structure is very literally a refuge made of leaves that each participant leaves behind.

As part of this project I will be there from 10AM until 4PM to discuss my work and facilitate the process.  Please join me.

Identity Tapestry to show in Switzerland

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vkz_ueber20unsFrom the first iterations of Identity Tapestry I’ve been wanting to create it both in a museum space and in another language.  I’m pleased to announce that this May I’ll be doing both!  Identity Tapestry will be up as part of the upcoming show “Identity” for four months starting this May at the Vögele Cultural Center in Pfäffikon (just outside Zurich).

I will be flying out for the install and I’m incredibly excited.  Any iteration demands a look at which statements to include or leave or if new ones ought to be added, especially in a new area or situation. In this case the language use should be especially interesting because there are essentially two languages at work there: High German and Swiss German.  One is the official language which is used for nearly all text, the other is the language of intimate conversations and the inside of one’s own head.  Apparently it is only recently that the Swiss-German language has appeared in text, and then mostly in text messages, and only to very intimate friends.  How I approach these languages and navigate translations will add new levels of complexity to the piece.  Thankfully the curatorial staff is wonderful and I have a local Zurich-raised person who is willing to consult with me on language as well.

Write Me for Art, installation at the Old Mint

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The envelope piece is…

Write Me for Art/Do you read me? (Disintermediation)

Mixed Media Participatory Installation: hand embroidery on cloth.

To create this piece I gave people (mostly strangers) around the country self-addressed stamped envelopes with personal questions inside and a description of the project, usually after a good conversation.

They were invited to write a short response in their own handwriting and send it back to me to become part of the project (also available to those following the artist online). The artist then hand embroidered every reply received by Jan 1, 2014, matching the color and handwriting as faithfully as possible.

The tablet piece on the table is…

Write Me for Art/ Do you read me? (digital mediation)

Mixed Media Participatory Installation: machine embroidery, print on fabric, acrylic, weights.

This piece includes text from the companion piece Write Me for Art/Do you read me? (Disintermediation), but also text taken by the artist from online social media.

*For those of you who are unable to handle these, if you did you would notice that the ones that are machine-embroidered were heavy (about the weight of a phone or tablet, a little heavier).  Those objects corresponded to the text from the first piece (Disintermediation).  The others were printed rather than embroidered, were light and the text was taken from online social media.

The piece in the background is Iteration #9 of Identity Tapestry.

Gala Night

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The Gala fundraiser opening for SFAI’s graduate thesis show. 

last participantThis photo is right when things were closing down.  I liked the stillness and being  able to clearly see all three pieces without the crowd.  It was a really great night.  I love  seeing people interact with the work!

My work for this show included Identity Tapestry (iteration#9)Write Me for Art/Do you read me? (Disintermediation), and Write Me for Art/ Do you read me? (digital mediation)

I poked my head out a little, but I haven’t seen the whole show yet.  I’m looking forward to a quiet viewing tomorrow.

Officially installed!

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install shotDone!  There is  more than this in the full installation (such as 40 more hand-embroidered messages), but this should give you an  idea.  Identity Tapestry is ready to go, the table is built, the tablets together and the envelopes hung.  All ready for visitors and participants.

Please join us at the Mint for the show this week! Details here:

Principal (SFAI’s MFA thesis exhibition)

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For those of you who joined me for Open Studios it  was wonderful, and an extra thank you to those of you who contributed to the beginning of a new participatory piece.  I hope you can all join me for my thesis show!


Thursday, May 15 Sunday, May 18, 2014
The Old Mint
88 5th Street at Mission
San Francisco, CA,
PUBLIC VIEWING HOURSThursday, May 15–Sunday, May 18
11 am–6 pm

Visitors are invited to meander through clandestine bank vaults and decadent ballrooms to uncover site-specific and multi-dimensional displays of work.

7–9 pm
A-FP01-First Level[11]Here is your map to my work!  There will be two stories full of incredible art.  I will be showing Write Me for Art (for those of you who have been following that piece) and a new iteration of Identity Tapestry.  If you are in the Bay Area and have wanted to try that piece out, now is  your  chance!
Write me for Art has become two integrated pieces which I will install together.  It came from the many people who sent me replies in the mail to personal questions, all of which I have embroidered and included.March_Mary_01

Identity Tapestry at SVC

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All in all that was a pretty wonderful experience.  The college was so glad to have Identity Tapestry there and so welcoming to me.   I had the help of a whole team of students to help me install, as well as staff.  Both were wonderful.  It is a great thing to be invited somewhere, to be welcomed into a community and have your work celebrated and made part of that community.

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This will be the first start-to-finish commissioned permanent installation I’ve made.  “Dream Blanket” did get purchased for Sage Colleges and there is another piece in limbo as to whether it stays where it was done, but this one was made to be part of this community and it feels great.

The results were so different from previous iterations!  I expected things like “I love being in nature” being very full in this group- they are in Vermont after all,  but other things were surprising.  I’m attributing the large number of people who have seen someone dying to the nursing program, but I don’ think that’s the whole picture and it was wrenching to see.

There was a lot more strength of love in this one- “I have loved deeply” was mobbed and there was at least one iteration where it was much more empty.  There was also a sense of perseverance that came out to me, of growing beyond the past perhaps that reached across many statements.  A love of learning and a quest for personal betterment was all over the piece.  It came out in people being ashamed of their pasts, but proud in the moment, of many of the “I try” statements being so full, and many of the jaded ones being more empty.  An openness, eagerness… but also a pretty seasoned group.  I’m pleased to see the community expressed in the piece.

During both my artist’s talk and the Opening I was taken by the change that came over people.  While there were many people already excited about Identity Tapestry, there were a number of people who might have been reluctantly brought over by a spouse or teacher or friend and I got to watch those faces open up and take on interest and eagerness.

In some ways I think I’m still a teacher at heart- witnessing those “aha moments” are what we live for.   As an artist it’s that “aha moment” plus that moment of reaching someone- of seeing the artwork get right through their walls and connect with something more tender, of making them examine their thoughts and feelings, definitions and assumptions, to feel something intense and unexpected.  That’s what it’s all about.

IMG_3233 I had many excellent conversations with a whole range of people; students, faculty, staff, visitors and board members.  I already have new feedback and ideas for the projects I’m working on, and one conversation resurrected hopes of doing something I’ve been wanting to do for a while now- an interactive home installation that takes place over years.

Other possibilities are opening up.  More and more I think that soon I’ll be able to create in some large and spectacular spaces.  There are so many projects sketched in my mind waiting for the right situation and location to flesh them out and give them life.


* If you haven’t seen the piece, this video from previous iterations gives a better sense of the interaction,  motion and growth.


Written by Mary Corey March

September 17, 2013 at 8:35 pm


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redsMore dyeing today for Identity Tapestry.

I love working with dyes- in some ways it feels like oil painting- layers of color changing each other, relating each color to the others.  Over-dyeing (dyeing one color on top of another) gives you so much depth and variation in each color.  Love it.

Now I have to balance everything out, fill in the spectrum.  For this one I’m going a little heavy on the greens and blues (I always do a bit because we see more shades of green than any other color and because blues are the most common favorite color.  In this case I feel like it will fit the setting of Vermont.  I also want to be sure not to neglect browns for this one in particular.

After this I spend IMG_3035a lot of time attaching the yarn to the rocks and then (with some help) winding the yarn around each rock.  Time consuming, but important to the piece.

Written by Mary Corey March

August 21, 2013 at 10:33 am

kitty in process

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kittyToday’s dyeing for the next Identity Tapestry.  50-some blues and greens so far today.

Because kitties LOVE to “help”.

For the cat-allergic: I shooed her away pretty quickly and she only sat on the two skeins, but I just had to get the picture.

Written by Mary Corey March

August 17, 2013 at 2:15 am

Iteration #8- skeins

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IMG_2995This is what the first stage of dyeing for the participatory installation Identity Tapestry looks like.  Yesterday I spent the entire day taking store-bought skeins of yarn (like the ones on the bottom) and winding them into new skeins of the correct length (varied, but related to the size of the piece).  So if the one I bought was 150 yards, it might become 7-10 little skeins.

I did 144 yesterday.  I have 100-160ish to go.  I have to space out these things by a day or two so that RSI (Repeated Stress Injury) doesn’t take my hands and shoulders.  Yarn geeks- yes I use a Swift- 2 if I can, but still…

Today:  Sculpting the basket-form.

Because I’m dying over many existing colors the result is a great variety and depth of colors in the yarn.  Since I want each skein to be recognizably different, this helps (as do the different thickness and textures of the yarn).

I usually dye in two waves so that I can look at the complete spectrum and fill in the holes in the second round.

This Iteration of Identity Tapestry will be a permanent installation at Southern Vermont College, opening for participation on September 15th.

Written by Mary Corey March

August 16, 2013 at 12:07 am