drawing interlude

Richard Prince
Louise Despont
Ellen Gallagher
Fuyuko Matsui



pattern recognition

The Sitka Library

At the risk of repeating myself (especially for those who have been reading here for a while), I just returned from a two-week print-making residency at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. I have been planning to summarize the experience here, though I’m finding that it’s difficult to sum it up in a blog-appropriate way. Let me try anyway.

Consider this installment to be: Part One: The Setting (next… Part Two: The Work)

Sitka is tucked into the deep, dark (and often dripping) pines of the Oregon Coast. While outside, you can always hear the surf. Perhaps because the shape of the rocks at this particular location- cove-like, punctuated by an arch- the deep crash of the waves often sounds so low that you can feel it almost more than hearing it. But you can’t just stroll down to the beach. Sitka is situated on the Salmon River estuary, where salt and fresh water take turns pushing and pulling depending on the tides. The ocean proper can be seen from the banks of the estuary, past a long sandy spit, but it’s only accessible by boat, because the other direction is a steep cliff– Cascade Head— a basalt wall that hails from ancient volcanic activity that flowed from what is now Idaho. It took me a while to get this geography, but if my words are confusing, the map at the link above, or this clearer photo helps.

Looking down on the sand spit and cove from Cascade Head Trail
Grass at the riverbank-- showing evidence of the constant waterlevel changes

The nature of my particular residency, a two-week intensive with a printmaker, made the time very focused and necessarily goal-driven (the Jordan Schnitzer residency is designed to produce print editions that are shared between the artist and Sitka/Schnitzer). And because I used my weekend-in-between (which would have offered looser free time) to rendezvous in Portland with my sons, my time for hiking and wandering was limited to early morning, lunchtime, or pre-dinner. Still, without even really trying, I saw pelicans and seals, jellies, slugs and prehistoric-looking millipedes, a snake and two deer, a herd of elk, Steller’s jays and red-tailed hawks… I ate salmon freshly caught by founder of Sitka, Frank Boyden, chewed on seabeans that grow along the brackish rocks of the estuary, and heated my residence with a woodstove that I learned to use the night I arrived. How could you not think about ecology in a setting like that?

I was not chosen for this residency based on my ecological interest, but I felt very much at home in this historical hotbed of science and art, especially as the new residents (who, with less of a specific collaborative agenda, were arriving to stay for three months) began to arrive the second week. The residents included people like Susan D’Amato, who takes daily walks and makes daily drawings in response. Her goal is to make 5000, and she’s up to 1000. Or Kurt Fausch, whose studies of streams as central to the larger ecology have been recently made into a film that is bringing public attention to issues that affect us all.

I brought an old sketchbook with me, and happened upon this quote that I wrote down a few years ago; it was an appropriate tone-setter for my time at Sitka:

Art and science are very different, but they both spring from cultivated perceptual sensitivity. They both rest on a base of acute pattern recognition. At the simplest level, artists and scientists alike make it possible for people to appreciate patterns which they were either unable to distinguish or which they had learned to ignore in order to cope with the complexity of their daily lives.” Frank Oppenheimer

Coming next: The Work.