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


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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Yuken Teryua, Corner Forest, sourced from

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

Gleeful Dabblers or Masters? The Uneasy Place of Gender in Fine, Especially Fiber, Art

maue-legohouseanewindowAn article about Frida Kahlo made the rounds on social media this month, unearthed on the occasion of the exhibition Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo In Detroit that opened on March 15 at the Detroit Institute of Arts. We see the iconic Frida at an easel, facing her own, self-made visage, with the condescending title, “Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art.” The article reminds us that female artists have come a long way in being represented with credibility and respect. However, perhaps reading it nettles us beyond an incredulous grin because, really, women still have a long way to go. A brief look at the Guerrila Girls’ website reminds us of many ongoing disparities between how females and males are represented in the arts.

kahloA voice from the past can help us gain clarity about the present and possibly recognize assumptions we currently make about who makes art, and why. For example, fiber art is often associated with feminine domesticity, and therefore considered on a separate plane from drawings or paintings.

Joetta Maue meditates on how domestic life affects her professional artwork in the current Members Gallery exhibition on view through this Saturday, March 29. It spans multiple media, including photography, drawing, and an embroidered piece titled wash dry fold repeat. The work on fiber comments on how mothers experience moments of gratifying intimacy with their young children in an interrupted, multi-tasking manner. The piece also implies, by its existence, that the professions of mothers of young children are also folded into the mix. Are contemporary fathers also affected by the simultaneity of their burdens? More importantly, would we know that based on how their work is considered by museums and in the media?IMG_6599

When men make fiber art in particular, it is often presented as ironic, as though the art they make is somehow more “fine” and less “craft” than what a female artist would make. For more thoughts on this line of inquiry, here is a blog post by Betsy Greer, author of the book Craftivism, reacting to the implications of the exhibition “Man-Made: Contemporary Male Quilters” at the Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles. Greer suggests an end to the divide, i.e. gender vs. method or skills. In order to get there, we have to keep pushing at our assumptions, ask awkward questions, and wonder what arts write-up or exhibition title will shock us a few decades from now.

-Shana Dumont Garr

Practice-Driven Innovation: Julie Graham & Joetta Maue

One of my favorite superpowers of visual art is how it can make sense of the confusing, annoying, frightening, or oddball things we all encounter in life. In my formativegraham-chevron years as a student, Jeff Koons’ ceramic sculptures of pigs, puppies, and pop icons made my grandmother’s living room a setting I could no longer discredit as simply old-fashioned. Robert Rauschenberg’s flattened cardboard boxes and socks stuck onto canvases made even alleyway rubbish seem to have the potential for a new, stylish life. Whether driven by social critique, theory, or design, visual art contains worlds where content and imagery can follow a higher logic than they seem to in real time.

This March at Kingston Gallery, solo exhibitions by Julie Graham and Joetta Maue integrate familiar material, including their own art work, to push their respective practices in new directions and transform their chosen media. Graham’s work is in the Main and Center Galleries, and Maue’s work is in the Member’s Gallery. Although the two artists’ exhibitions have different subject matter and influences, the similarities are worthy of noting.

Julie Graham‘s exhibition, If it’s not one thing… shows photographs with her paintings for the firstFullSizeRender time. As an artist, her driving impulse is to seek and resolve the unexpected. Graham often incorporates found objects and materials that are associated with architecture, including spackle and plaster. The resulting surfaces are complex and reminiscent of remote places, eras, and moods. Her painting Chevron is hung on an adjacent wall from a square-format photograph Chevron: Redux. The photograph captures a detail of the paintingThe filtered, cropped image, seen apart from the painting, could be part of a road sign; the dried paint texture could be years of wear from exposure to weather. The close proximity to the painting and resulting change in scale form a drama between the two works, but each piece also thrives independently. They do not need each other, but one riffs on the other. Graham’s process references our post-digital world, where we often see artwork first online or via Instagram feeds.

Joette Maue begins with familiar, personal aspects of her domestic life to inspire her new body of IMG_6599work. Her embroidery, photographs, and drawings take in the disarray of parenthood: toys left in a jumble, laundry that is always in process but never done, and houseplants that may or may not have been sufficiently watered. Primarily working in fibers, Maue’s exhibition in transition… incorporates other media, featuring three large drawings and a grid of eight photographs arranged as four diptychs. Maue drew her own IMG_6601_2crocheted fibers by projecting and enlarging her subject to make still-life details of the threads. She makes something new by examining something else she made, as Graham does with her photographs hanging on a nearby wall. The drawings enabled Maue to change up her studio time and pace of production at a time when her personal life was recalibrating. The photographs are grounding and meditative views of domestic spaces that provide a setting for her textile piece, wash dry fold repeat, which echoes the rhythms of care that accompany motherhood.