Paper-Making on Appleton Farms: Q&A with Laurie Miles

 

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Artist Laurie Miles, topping onions at Appleton Farms in Ipswich, MA.

Laurie Miles is part of Kingston’s current exhibition, Our Voices. In addition to being an active Associate Member at our gallery, she is also in the midst of a Residency at Appleton Farms, Ipswich, MA. Miles, who lives on Boston’s North Shore, will work on the farm through the end of August. I recently talked with her to learn more about her time there.

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Laurie Miles, Phystostegia, clay, sand, fiber, recycled plant container, pigment, wax on panel, 15.25 x 18 inches, 2016. Currently on view in “Our Voices” at Kingston Gallery.

SDG: Laurie, your work in Our Voices is lovely. I especially like the pieces with graphic qualities, with black marks on dense, textured grounds that look almost like parts of an alphabet of the future. Are the works you’re making at Appleton Farms related in appearance to these works?

LM: Thank you. The graphic element will carry through the new work, but handmade paper will take center stage, creating lighter, more sculptural pieces.

SDG: What made you interested in this residency? How did it come about?  Do they typically have one resident per season at the farm? 

LM: I introduced myself to the farmers last fall, asking to collect garlic and leek stalks that they had no need for, other than compost, of course. I’ve always been drawn to farms, and a residency was not only a great way to collect organics, but it offered the chance to immerse myself into farming

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Dried paper swatches made from cabbage pulp.

routines, to satisfy my personal curiosity, and to inform my work in the studio. Appleton does not have a residency program, but they are seriously considering it now.

SDG: What have you been up to so far?

LM: My main project is Organic Papermaking. For the past four weeks (and weeks ahead), I collect and process farm and field material to create an inventory of pulp. The resulting work will be an expression of haute couture textiles, referencing my experience at Appleton Farms and our relationship to the land.

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Cabbage leaves after the harvest.

SDG: When you say haute couture textiles, will you be incorporating them into any wearables? 

LM: The work will not be wearable, but will reference fashion details–collars, necklines, fasteners, seams. It’s not uncommon for me to find inspiration from the runway.

SDG: Excellent. Tell us more about the materials that you harvest. 

LM: Materials and experience with the farm and farmers will be referred to in the work. To date, I’ve made pulp from cabbage leaves, broccoli leaves, grass, hay, onion, garlic, and leek stalks, swiss chard, phragmites, and cat tails. This week’s challenge will be extracting the pre-processed fiber from cow manure. Stay tuned.

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Cows ready to be milked.

Interacting with the farmers also influences what I make. Dairy farming starts with a scenic field of grass. It’s actually a varying recipe of Alfalfa, Timothy Grass, Reed Canary Grass and the weather. It makes up a cow’s diet and effects the flavor of the milk and cheese we consume. Most memorable—standing in a quiet  barn at 3:30 am waiting for the cows to shuffle in to choose a spot at one of the stalls. I didn’t know what was going on but they did.

Vegetable farming is a daily expression of teamwork, camaraderie, volume and repetition. It is a massive feat of time management and coordination. I think I gained their respect the day I spent 4 hours topping onions. It was a behind the scenes opportunity for me to get a large supply of resource material, while doing a job that freed a staff member up to do something else. I used the onion tops in my paper-making.

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Miles’ pulp beater. 

SDG: That is fascinating. It’s a veritable salad of materials. What else is special about the farm?

LM: In addition to the farmers, the event staff also work hard. They create opportunities for the public to learn about and celebrate the farm experience. They host farm dinners, cooking workshops, tours, and camp for kids. Just like everyone else, they love their job and never have enough time or money in the budget. I contributed a high energy day, making paper with 40 Farm Camp kids using recycled pulp.

 SDG: Wow, that’s a good number of kids. 
LM: Yes, and keeping them away from the hose (water is a key part of papermaking) during our recent heat wave was important. It was just another way to point out the value of conservation during our severe drought. It’s top of mind for all of us and effects everything, including our spirits.
SDG: Indeed, that makes sense. Anything else you’d like to add?

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Grass fields for hay.

LM: Every facet is connected. It’s a place where not much ever goes into the landfill.

Laurie Miles is a mixed media artist, coming to fine art after a career in print advertising—an industry saturated in design. She works closely with nature, both in and out of the studio, and has led several community art programs related to the environment. Miles received a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art. You can follow her on Instagram (@milezart).

From Hide to Skin: Michèle Fandel Bonner

Michèle Fandel Bonner, Hide III, 2014, clothing labels and cotton/linen backing fabric.
Michèle Fandel Bonner, Hide III, 2014, clothing labels and cotton/linen backing fabric.

Today is the final day to see Michèle Fandel Bonner’s show, Time and Materials, at Kingston’s Center Gallery. She takes upcycling to new levels, transforming her own hair into a sculpture that makes the gradual effects of time visible in one elegant tangle, and in her hands, 114 discarded t-shirts become a neat row of crocheted baskets. In her hands, discarded materials become new objects that glow with the attractive aura of “brand-new.” This ability translates into a source of hope, order, and self-reflection, interrupting the typical path of overflow that, uninterrupted, often ends in trash heaps. Indeed, Bonner pulls much of her source material from rejected clothing at the Lifebridge Homeless Shelter in Salem, MA.

Michèle Fandel Bonner, Empty Nesting Baskets, 2015, recycled t-shirts, 18.5 X 18.5 X 12 inches.
Michèle Fandel Bonner, Empty Nesting Baskets, 2015, recycled t-shirts, 18.5 X 18.5 X 12 inches.

The stand-out piece is in this exhibition is Hide III, part of a series of three overtly faux animal skins made from clothing labels on linen and cotton backing. Her Hides interrogate our drive to purchase new clothing before older items are worn out. She says the work “addresses how we use clothing to both hide and express ourselves.” This message hits home for me, as I own more than my fair share of J.Crew cardigans, and I don’t see that habit stopping anytime in the near future.

Bonner sources tags from clothes that are past even their thrift-shop days. The clothing is on its way to a fiber recycler to be shredded. To see the tags beautifully patchworked into a “trophy” in her Hide series is the closest I may ever come to understanding how hunters feel when they view animal trophies. It may feel harmless and even virtuous to “hunt down” sales at TJ Maxx, but Bonner wryly, and with virtuoso stitching, offers a reminder of the accumulating effects of compulsive consumption.

The conversation is ongoing, as indicated by a couple of recent blog posts. Denaye Benahona wrote about getting rid of her entire wardrobe on April 20 (she bought more, but much less and better clothes). I’ve recently shared another blog post by the brilliant Betsy Greer, but her April 24 article about Fashion Revolution Day is even more apt and a must-read on this subject. Marking the two-year anniversary of the Savar building collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 people and is considered the “deadliest garment factory accident in history (Wikipedia),” Greer’s article suggests that we mend clothing before discarding it and take note of all that our clothing labels signify.

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Yuken Teryua, Corner Forest, sourced from yukenteruyastudio.com

Yuken Teruya’s impossibly delicate sculptures from fast-food bags and cardboard toilet paper rolls offer an initial message of hope and regeneration. However, they also tell us that recycling isn’t enough. Despite their potential, not every used-up roll, empty Burger King bag, or discarded shirt will become works of art. There are just too many. We are beyond recycling. Our resulting feelings of bleakness and discomfort may be productive, as awareness and acknowledgement may lead us to stop repeating ourselves, to resist the urge to buy more, and to remember the impact of things we toss away.

-Shana Dumont Garr