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Artist in Residence: Monday, June 12

Up at 7:00 am, slept through phone alarm for 6:15 am, but I’m not on a schedule today! It’s a beautiful day. I slept well on my bunk bed mattress. For breakfast I had leftover coffee from Sunday with milk, orange juice, and oatmeal squares with 2 percent. I brought a camp stove, but in this heat, I’m just as happy with simpler, cold foods.

Today we have to sew and glue the twelve book blocks. The wind is calm right now, so after breakfast I will try doing that at the pavilion.

Now a little bit about me. To pay the bills, I run a small preschool. It’s a lot of work. You open at 6:30 a.m., and you’re not nearly finished with your day when they leave by 6 p.m. – you still need to clean the classrooms, plan and develop curriculum, pay bills, maintain the outdoor spaces, manage staff, plan and shop for their meals, and do paperwork required by the food program and DCFS. Their (usually sweet) voices are still ringing in my ears long after they leave.

Before I opened the school, I worked as a commercial artist downtown, but the digital revolution changed everything about our field. By then I had a family – this new career seemed like a much better fit than the long hours required for tight deadline jobs. But it also took me away from my art until, when my son was 11, I discovered the botanical art classes at Morton Arboretum.

I signed both my son and I up for pencil drawing. One of our family members bought one of his drawings of a garlic bulb. “Hey, what about mine?” I thought. Then I signed us up for colored pencil. He didn’t like that so much. Then when I said “Let’s take watercolor together!” he told me “Mom, this is your thing, not mine. Go take the class; I promise I won’t burn down the house.” So we arranged some evening playdates, and I finished their certificate, just to have one thing in my life that wasn’t about survival.

Well, it was about survival, in a way – spiritual, emotional, artistic survival. We all have that one piece of us that is just yourself, that still, small, voice that needs expression, whether it’s visual or utilitarian arts, science, music, drama, math, cooking, or any other thing that pulls you forward and engages you with life separate from your career or possibly even a part of it. Robert Henri, the famous early 20th century artist, once said “Art is the province of every human being. It’s not a single, separate thing, it’s simply a matter of doing something, anything, well.”

But even with a career that you love, you still need time to yourself. In Nature. Wendell Berry talked about “the Peace of Wild Things.” We all need this. As roads and buildings take over more and more of our green space, our spirits and those of the native plants and animals that were here before us, are forced into smaller and smaller spaces. We need large, wild, wide open spaces to remind us of who we truly are, to give us that quiet of our inner self, so that we can hear our creative Muse when it speaks to us.

The rolling hills of the Calumet region, formed by glaciers thousands of years ago, offer these wide open spaces. Driving in to Camp Bullfrog Lake, we passed industrial zones, then a cemetery, then suddenly we were surrounded by tall trees. Really tall trees, that have lived here for hundreds of years, some even before European settlers arrived. The height of the trees reminded me of when I was in Washington National Cathedral in D.C years ago. You feel so small, so insignificant. That’s not a bad thing, however – humility helps us find our proper place in nature, and with other human beings. Maybe if we all had more humility (Latin origin of the word: Humus – from the earth) we’d argue less, fight less, and find creative resolutions to our challenges that involve collaboration, not confrontation.

Today’s assignment is to sew the textblocks for some watercolor journals. There will be watercolor pencils, paper and handouts for participants, but it would be nice for them to see how a book is constructed, and maybe inspire them to make one, too! So far (5:20 p.m.) in pavilion one I’ve sewn 10 blocks, with ample time talking to campground guests about this work, plus admiring the Airstream that just arrived. For lunch I enjoyed a simple herb mix salad with Asiago cheese, craisins, Roma tomatoes and balsamic glaze. Yummy! Drinking lots of water, too. The camp store has ice, and everything you need to make your stay more comfortable. After dinner (pulled chicken salad with black beans and cucumbers) I need to get the last few blocks sewn and cased in so I have time to start sketching tomorrow!

Artist in Residence daily blog posts are written by Kathleen Garness. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Inset photos taken by Kathleen Garness.