the fantastic family beerhorst


remodel as a prequel, as a sequel, as a snapshot

I was like an angel in the architecture, hovering above this scene and snapping photos as the Lincoln Log cabin in Zack’s Fort Branch show was methodically and enthusiastically disassembled, discussed, and remade by Zack and the two boys. It is now a shelter which contains a tupperware container of “trail mix” (peanuts, raisins and chocolate chips), a Nalgene bottle of water, a wool blanket (Solly’s idea– so that it would be soft) and a Foxfire book. The first two were practical elements– sustenance during the building process– modern survival whether trapped in a gallery or at a state park campsite. The book is a classic and potent collection of earth-survival knowledge gathered from the Appalachian mountains in the 1960s.

As I hung back, trying to be unseen by any onlookers outside the windows, and trying my darndest not to be the Mom, interjecting my approval or “helpful ideas,” I had time to really contemplate the process that Zack has crafted with these play-work scenarios. I listened to him struggle to give the boys agency and authorship, so that they could actually be the architects of this new construction. But he also had to lend his wisdom and knowledge of structure and function and design. It’s very important to us that these projects be fun and non-taxing on the kids, and so he also had to be a cheerleader… explaining the possibilities, shifting approach several times. The photo above shows a brainstorming session, where they were invited to draw pictures (a favorite past-time) and make plans (also a big part of their natural play). By the end, there were definitely times when Sol (3 going on 4) was lolling on his back and singing nonsense, but Ez (5) was largely captivated for the two hour session. In a further expression of our family’s reality, my Mom meanwhile circled Capitol Hill with our youngest in a stroller, stopping at coffee shops for snacks and Cal Anderson park for playground distraction.

I was proud. And also really tired from the strain of the endurance of perching in a barn owl spot and silently documenting a process with which I was intellectually and emotionally entangled. Because it really was and is a microcosm of our experiences as parents. What does freedom look like, and where does guidance start and stop? And an endless host of related questions… about work and play and learning and individuality and teamwork and collaboration, etcetera…

If you want to stop by and see the finished product, the show is up until September 18th (extended past original dates) at Vermillion.


^We are Good Helpers video still 2008^

The over-sized Lincoln Logs in Zack’s show that beg to be played with? Tomorrow (Saturday the 28th) Zack and the two older boys will be crashing the party and reconfiguring the structure inside of Vermillion. They are super excited, of course. They haven’t really played inside a gallery since the Crawlspace residency, where we all camped out and made things.

Remodel: a work/play study & a prequel to Kindergarten
Saturday August 28th from 2-4pmI am pleased to announce an event/remix inside the exhibit this coming Saturday from 2-4pm. Model Home (a sculptural installation fashioned out of life-sized Lincoln Logs) will be remade through the minds of my 2 oldest sons Ezra (5) and Solomon (3.5). We will be on-site constructing the installation with additional supplies from 2-4pm. The gallery won’t be open, but we wil be ‘on display’ and spectators are free to come and study us through the large front window. Feel free to peer in this coming Saturday or stop by to see the results through Sept. 4th.

how do we do it?

(above: a full family collaborative drawing)

A common question that I am asked is how I/we (me and my husband Zack, also an artist) do this– this combination of teaching, art-making and parenting three small boys. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, especially in terms of what we don’t do. I know that might seem reductive, but it’s a way of actually answering the question. The short answer is that we don’t have 9-to-5 jobs. A great bulk of our work happens after 7:30pm (when our kids go to sleep), and during the day we engage a ceaseless shuffle between the two of us with shifting teaching schedules that are designed to avoid overlaps. We move fluidly (or clumsily) depending on who has a big project on the line, and one of us is always more heavily employed on the child care side at any moment. And in that vein, any parent of young kids knows that the entire day is work. That’s just all there is to it. It often takes the guise of play, and it’s often an enjoyable type of work, but it’s a relentless job. I get claustrophobic, irritable and tired, but then I also get washed over by gratitude and amazement. The other indispensable component is generous family members who have convinced us that they enjoy taking the boys off our hands every now and then. They are angelic.

Here’s old favorite Rock’n’Roll mama Kristin Hersh talking about her version of juggling (I didn’t know she had four boys until I saw this!)

feasting and foraging

(photo via Miss Manitach)

There are countless indepth blogs about food, in every direction, of course, but my life has been intersecting with food in new ways lately, so I thought I’d slip a post in.  The trouble is, the more I think about food, the more there is to think about.

A week or so ago, I was treated to not one, but two extravagant dinners that certainly jumped the usual pattern of our lives.  At this point, because of budget and pragmatics, we rarely splurge on amazing meals out– something that both Zack and I have a confessed weakness for.  (If you’ve ever taken small children to restaurants, or arranged babysitters for bedtime, you know the drawbacks begin to outweigh the benefits.)  Instead, Zack has been making the lion’s share of our dinners at home (and they’re fantastic…more on this in a minute).  So when Joey Veltkamp invited me to be an artist at the second New Guard dinner, I was pleased as punch (how pleased is Punch?) to say yes, and to take food-lover Zack along on the day after his birthday.  The entire event was so magical– a candle-fire lit room above bustling Pike street, lots of wine and great conversation with people who began the night as strangers, a stunning array of dishes rolled out by Eliot Guthrie family style, and the crooning of Kate Tucker.  The very next night held another birthday gift for Zack; my parents took us to a dinner inspired by the wines of local boutique winery William Church, designed by culinary arts faculty and students at Lake Washington Technical College, where my mom is an administrator and teacher.  The atmosphere was more pedestrian than the New Guard, but the tears shining in the corners of students’ eyes as they were given a standing ovation for the meal were priceless.  Having the winemakers in attendance, and providing introductions for each wine, was a great treat as well.

Every culture seems to know that celebration works best with food.  But what of the every day?  As we sat down to dinner the other night, my oldest son told us he just wanted to smell the piece of pizza that had just been set in front of him.  Zack had made pizza dough out of a no-knead sourdough bread recipe, and topped it with potatoes, greens, carmelized onions and cheese, and it was, truly, a beautiful fragrance and sight.  We talked about how cool food is– that it’s a treat for your sense of taste, but also your senses of smell and sight and touch.  To top it all, eating can be a profoundly social act, a real love gift, which is something we experience almost every day from Zack’s hands.  Left to my own devices, even though I’m a devoted appreciator of food, I can slip into a more pragmatic habit, thawing frozen edamame and chomping leftover peanut butter and jelly crusts just to get some protein in and get on with the day.

Another side of things that is revolutionizing my idea of food is the benefit of local ingredients.  It’s one of those topics that is an obvious “ought to” when you think about the transportation of food from all over the earth in terms of carbon footprint.  But there are so many “ought to”s in our lives that we can’t keep up with them.  This summer, we signed up for a weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) share, and just totally got spoiled by beautiful, fresh local vegetables fruits and herbs.  My guilty conscience has turned into a strong preference for food that is seasonal and freshly picked.  It’s no accident that we have to eat living things to keep living– a constant shift of life source from one creature to another.  Even vegans take in the life of plants to support their own lives.  And the closer we can get to the healthy living thing, the better.  We have a few boxes of greens planted outside our back door, and I love taking a leaf right off of a plant and eating it.  I swear its goodness is mainlined to my system.  Talk about local.  And then there’s Zack’s new obsession with foraging… but I’m already long-winded on a topic that others are far more eloquently covering.

(I’ve realized lately, with some sheepishness, that I’m not a purist… on almost anything, actually… but I love when logic and wisdom intersect with a life lived, and I’m always in pursuit of that type of inspiration.  I guess I’m much better at acting out of convictions that are rooted in actualities than cerebral suggestions or guilt-induced resolutions for right-living.)

extreme tension that breaks into laughter

(Louise Bourgeois)

The response is never nonchalant when I tell people I have three boys under five years old.  It might be a sympathetic sigh, a knowing grin, a shocked cringe or a mocking chuckle.  “You have your hands full,” can be said in a host of tones, and I think I’ve heard them all.  It can even be accusatory… a ”how-could-you-let-this-happen?” lurking behind the spoken phrase.  More positive versions marvel at the work that we are able to do in this time (both my husband and I are working artists).  The truth is that we live in a constant struggle against complete chaos, and we’re always working.  Always.  Working.  It’s a piecemeal, half-distracted sort of work, unless we pay someone in order to allow us to focus, or organize each other into longer stints of solo child care.  The other side of the coin is that we’re always playing.  Always.  Playing.  Since that’s the work demanded of you as a mother or father, and also the best part of the work of being an artist.

Today I read that one of my enduring favorite artists, Louise Bourgeois, also had/has three sons (image above found here).  I was pretty excited until I also discovered that she didn’t really start producing as an artist until after she’d raised them.  I’ve always loved that she has stayed fresh and active for so so long, though, so she remains a role model.  And I think there’s something to be said of the emotional complexity that comes from raising kids– not superior, of course, but different.  I tend to run out of time and energy before material.  It pours out of the cracks.  I cup my hands to grab a little before it disappears.  In reality, this means grabbing a pencil or the corner of this blog, in between the Sisyphus-like exertion of dishes and laundry, board games, playgrounds and toilet disasters.

One of the only and best releases of the tension that we live under is laughter.  If I forget to laugh, I’m in bad shape.  So are my sons, of course.  Luckily, they are often catalysts, and remind me to lighten up.  So the tension shivers apart as we get a glimpse at exactly how absurd this set of jobs can be…

(The shape of this space, this blog, is often under my own scrutiny for how public and private intersect, how my professional life and domestic life converge and diverge.  One lodestar that I use to determine content is whether it would be useful to anyone else.  In addition to just getting some news out about shows and whatnot, it has long served me, and hopefully others, as a place to think out loud about the joys and challenges of the balancing act that is my life.  So I think about other parents and other artists, how I’ve totally been buoyed by reading about someone else’s experience along the way.  Hopefully it can meet someone else in this way.)