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).

Only the Essentials: A Studio Visit with Mary Bucci McCoy

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Untitled (for now), 2015, acrylic and micaceous iron oxide on panel, 10.5 x 8.5 inches.

Mary Bucci McCoy spent this past February as a resident at the Vermont Studio Center, and I recently caught up with her to hear about how the month went. The residency provides a largely open schedule, with optional visiting artist presentations, studio visits, and open studio participation. Other than that, residents have the all-clear to devote themselves to their work.

Mary Bucci McCoy's studio at the Vermont Studio Center

Mary Bucci McCoy’s studio at the Vermont Studio Center.

We had a strong group of paintings to discuss, as McCoy made progress on an ongoing series of works on panel and experimented with other grounds. She builds each panel herself, then sands them several times to create a porcelain-like surface.

A thick stack of canvas swatches stood on a work table during my visit, making McCoy’s interest in the details evident. The wide range of samples made both of us realize, in the course of our conversation, how painters and viewers alike may become complacent about the potential influence of surfaces. We remember many paintings for the colors, the quality and composition of the marks, but not always for the relationship between the marks and their grounds. McCoy tried many of the fabrics over the course of her residency. Each sample offered different grains and shades of “neutral,” where it became apparent that some beige colors are not so neutral in comparison to others. The results are striking, particularly Pull, made with acrylic and iridescent acrylic on linen. Its background shows the color of the linen through a transparent acrylic medium.

Pull, 2015, acrylic and iridescent acrylic on linen, 12.5 x 10 x 1.25 inches

Pull, 2015, acrylic and iridescent acrylic on linen, 12.5 x 10 x 1.25 inches

It may come as no surprise, considering her balanced attention to all materials involved, that McCoy sculpted before she painted. Trained as a ceramic artist, her studio is presently adjacent to the studio of her husband, David McCoy, who also works in ceramics. Her background, therefore, informs her present work. Her intuitive, process-based method creates imagery that viewers may identify as recognizable objects, although that is not her intention. I asked McCoy about frosted windows after observing the image at the heading of this blog post, and she said it may have been subconscious on her part, as February in Vermont certainly has its share of frost. She agreed that her surroundings find their way into her work, but not in an overt way.

The paint is liquiform when she begins to work on a piece. She selects each paint with care. “Color is like a space for me,” she says. Working flat, the compositions come about as the liquid paint gradually dries. The drying ushers in surprises, such as spindly threads of ochre rising up from areas of thick, lavender paint. McCoy’s acceptance of the unexpected is similar to putting an object into the kiln. During the firing period, blended glazes may shift in colors, and cracks may form where the clay seemed firm. She comes upon compositions through the process of manipulation and acceptance of the materials having their own say in the outcome of the finished piece. Accretion and the unescapable effects of gravity become themes of her current work.

Untitled (for now), 2015, acrylic and micaceous iron oxide on panel, 10.5 x 8.5 inches.

Untitled (for now), 2015, acrylic and micaceous iron oxide on panel, 10.5 x 8.5 inches.

The full-bodied materiality of the surfaces and the paints and McCoy’s focus and close relationship with the materials are essential parts of the character of each finished piece. Her efforts bring about singular imagery with luxurious finishes. Texture holds equal influence to shape and color, establishing intimacy between the art and the viewer. McCoy’s keen focus while making is at the heart of her work’s meaning. Her small-scale paintings cultivate, or perhaps invite, the rewards of paying attention.

Mary Bucci McCoy is represented by Gray Contemporary in Houston, TX and CG2 Gallery in Nashville, TN. Her next exhibition is at Kingston Gallery’s member space from April 29 to May 31, 2015. 

-Shana Dumont Garr