Monday, June 4, 2012

Painting Trip around Southern Utah

I recently made what turned out to be a nine-day painting trip through southern Utah. I did my best to get a few of my painting friends from New Mexico to join me but with no luck, so I took off on my own. My plan was to begin at Boulder Mountain just west of Capitol Reef National Park, then on to Bluff Utah, Monument Valley, Page Arizona and Marble Canyon.  There are a few small natural lakes high up on Boulder Mountain just below the rimrock which I thought might make for good painting this time of year. By sunset on day one I drove within 3 miles of the trailhead to these lakes and made camp for the night. The next morning I drove on to the trailhead, grabbed camera and sketching gear and headed out for a one-mile hike. After what turned out to be a difficult hike trudging through snow drifts on the trail I finally arrived at the lake. Much to my surprise the lake was fully frozen over.

I expected part of the lake to be covered in ice but since this year's spring weather has been so warm, I thought it would be at least partly thawed.  I took a few pictures, rested a while, then headed back to the van and on to Capitol Reef.

This kind of painting trip, for me, is done without a set itinerary. The idea is to know you’ll be out from one to two weeks. If the weather turns bad or the paintings don't go well, you move on. If all goes well, you stay put and continue painting.

Arriving in Capitol Reef, I knew I would stay at least two nights but ended up staying three. The campground at Capitol Reef is first-come, first-serve, unlike most National Parks that require reservations, in some cases a year ahead. This policy makes it hard to take a spontaneous painting trip based on many things, including good weather. I like to jump in the van and go when the conditions look right. For me painting on location (plein air) is a bit like fishing, sometimes you get a keeper and sometimes you have to throw them back. The keepers I got from my three days in Capitol Reef can be seen below.

Morning Shadows Grand Wash, oil – 12x16 Painted on location

Gatekeeper of Grand Wash, oil – 14x11 Painted on location

After a few days of painting in Capital Reef the weather was beginning to close in and rain was threatening. I used the bad weather as a travel day and made my way to Bluff, Utah where I stayed at the Sand Island campground. Sand Island is where all the river runners spend the night getting ready to launch the next morning on a 10 day San Juan River float trip. I had no trouble getting a great little private campsite for two nights. The paintings completed from the Bluff, Utah area are below.

Casa del Eco Mesa near Bluff, oil - 14x18 Painted on location

Summer Sky over Bluff, wc – 22x22” Painted in the studio after returning home.

From Bluff I made my way south toward Monument Valley but not before stopping at the Gooseneck Overlook State Park. This is a location where you can see how the San Juan River twists and turns slowly making its way to the east end of Lake Mead.

Gooseneck overlook

Arriving in Monument Valley I was very surprised to learn that the Navajo tribe had closed the primitive campground. The only way to camp at Monument Valley now is to drive 5 miles west and stay at the Goulding's RV Park. Don't get me wrong, Goulding's is a very nice park but for more than 30 years I’ve been visiting Monument Valley and staying at the primitive campground overlooking the valley. I've heard it said before that the only constant in the world is change but this is one change I was not glad to see. Monument Valley now has a highfalutin’ hotel at the valley’s overlook and the rooms have to be reserved at least three or four months ahead at a cost of between $200 and $250 a night. It isn't going to be easy to make quick trips to Monument Valley and stay without making plans well ahead of time.

I drove down into Monument Valley, picked out a painting spot and got to work. Later I drove around, took a lot of pictures and waited for the sun to slowly set. As I pulled into Goulding's RV campground it was obvious the place was packed. As I suspected, not one RV space was available, however the clerk said there was one tent site left. My lucky day.  I said I'll take it. The next morning I got up early and made my way into the valley for the entire day. The paintings completed from my time in Monument Valley can be seen below.
Thunderbird Mesa, oil – 14x12” Painted on location

Edge of Rain-god Mesa, oil – 12x10” Painted on location

I don't know what these flowers were, but they were all over the valley.

The yuccas were in bloom everwhere you looked, great time of year to visit here.

Page, Arizona is not far from Monument Valley, perhaps only a couple of hours driving time. Even though the sun was setting I decided to drive on to Page where I spent the night in the Walmart parking lot. The next morning I did the small painting seen below of one of the many very unusual formations found in this area.

Sandstone Formation near Page, oil – 10x12” Painted on location

The weather forecast was for increasing clouds and fairly strong winds. Marble Canyon is only two hours or less drive from Page. If it was going to be cloudy and windy I didn't want to miss getting photos of the area around Marble Canyon and Vermilion Cliffs. Approaching Navajo Bridge which crosses the Colorado River I noticed two California condors soaring above. I've seen them here before and was not surprised but I always stop to get photographs. As I was parking, one of these huge birds landed on the opposite side of the bridge. With camera ready I approached, wondering how close I might be able to get before condor number 73 would fly away. I was surprised but very pleased when the bird did not fly away at all. In fact it let me stand six or seven feet away and take as many photos as I wanted.

Condor # 73

I may have to do some paintings of these odd looking creatures.

The weather continued to worsen and the light was not conducive to painting. This watercolor was completed in the studio after returning home.

After the Rain, wc – 22x22”

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Art Exhibit, Sue Cotter in SLC

Utah Arts & Museums opened the exhibit Redux: Five Fellowship Artists Revisited on Friday, February 17 at the Rio Gallery in Salt Lake City. The exhibit will continue until March 30, 2012. Rio Gallery is located at 300 S. Rio Grande Street in Salt Lake City. Hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm M-F. Admission is free.

For more than 25 years, Utah Arts & Museums has awarded two fellowships annually to outstanding professional artists to acknowledge their artistic excellence and encourage their careers. This exhibit takes a look back at some of those fellowship winners to showcase how this prestigious award has advanced their careers. The exhibit features five fellowship recipients: Sue Cotter (1992), James Charles (1995 and 2012), Jane Catlin (2000), Gary Barton (2001), and Madison Smith (2005).

Artist Statement 
I received a $5,000 Utah Arts Council Fellowship way back in 1992, two years after my move to Utah from Reno, Nevada. I had learned letterpress printing and bookmaking at the University of Nevada, Reno's Black Rock Press where I studied and worked as an assistant for two years. Leaving Reno and moving to Utah left me without access to all the printing equipment needed for my work. Bit by bit I found and purchased equipment as I could afford to, a printing press, paper cutter, small tools, but the Fellowship windfall allowed me to quickly complete my letterpress studio set-up. Suddenly I could buy much needed flat files and type cabinets, but most important, and most expensive of all, many fonts of new lead type in a range of faces and sizes. No more worn, nicked old used type with only two typeface options and never enough “h”s. It was a dream come true!

Today my studio occupies 1/3 of a home with two studios my partner, Spike Ress and I built ourselves in Parowan. It is the first home I have ever owned and represents a commitment to living in Utah that is now going on 22 years. Our location offers Spike access to the dramatic red-rock and canyon landscape he loves to paint and puts me close to the more subtle, vast Great Basin region that inspires my work.

I love setting type, putting ink on the press and seeing the magic of printing but in recent years we have been traveling extensively, sometimes away from home for months at a time. I have adapted to this vagabond life by doing more collage and assemblage work using the bits and pieces I collect wherever we go. I am still devoted to the book theme and storytelling but in less obvious forms. I will never give up my letterpress. New book ideas are forming in my head and in my sketchbooks all the time. Making art, in whatever form, is an essential part of my life.

The Artwork
Mexican Door Story-box series: While in San Miguel de Allende I discovered weekly book sales at San Miguel's biblioteca where an assortment of discards sold for 25¢ to $1. I purchased books with bright colored covers like the houses of the city. I was in love with the beautiful artistry and creativity of doors in Mexico. Using book covers as a base I recreated doors in miniature using Mexican bark paper, polymer clay, spackle, paint and beads. Each exterior façade hides an inner story. Open the box to see the tableau.

Sacred Hearts, 14x20x2''
In the state of Oaxaca we saw many churches built on top of  ancient sites of Zapoteca pyramid temples. The symbol of the bleeding or flaming heart has a prominent place in both religious cultures. I love the overlap of old and new so visible in Mexico.

Capilla de Artesanias, 10x18x2''
This door was on the street where we rented a casita for a month. We'd walk past it every day. It was one of my favorites for its color and primitive charm. We'd see people coming and going at all hours and could only guess it was headquarters for some sort of union of artisans. In this story-box I imagine what might have been behind that door.

Casa de Fortuna, 10x18x2''
This door speaks of much wealth and good fortune to the inhabitants of this home. The word Fortuna can mean luck, fate or fortune, all powerful concepts in Mexican culture.

Diego, mi amor, 10x18x2''
One year in San Miguel we saw an exhibit of some of Frida Kahlo's letters to Diego Rivera. These few letters had recently been found in a small, hand painted box hidden away in Frida's house. Frida's relationship with Diego was clearly tortured and conflicted. Seeing the actual letters and reading the translations was intriguing. That same year a friend who was looking at real estate in San Miguel was shown a rundown place near El Centro. When the agent opened the door she saw a small deer run across the courtyard into one of the rooms. She said it looked like the kind of deer Frida once kept as pets. The agent said it was a family pet though no one now lived in the house. This mystery, combined with seeing Frida's letters led to this piece.

 Altered Books
Again, the book sales at the library in San Miguel supplied old books to alter into artworks. I did a series of altered books themed on birds of Mexico.

Chupaflores, 9½x6¼x1'' closed
A pair of hummingbirds kiss above a nectar filled blossom. The birds are made of bark paper embellished with glass beads and metallic thread. The pop-up paper flower has filaments made of black feathers.

Un Amor de Mexico, 25x7x1½'' closed
This piece is my ode to Mexico. The bird-headed woman is often seen in my work. In this representation she is an Inca dove made of bark paper, beads, and synthetic sinew. Inside  is a handwritten excerpt from one of my Mexico travel journals and a niche filled with a jumble of small treasures.

I have been making rock-books for many years. I find rocks that are already cracked and splitting open into book covers. Often the shape of the rock suggests the theme for the book.

Las Calaveras  (The Skulls), 4x2x1'' closed
The shape of this rock said “skull” so this book just had to be about Day of the Dead, a Mexican tradition we experienced firsthand one year while in San Miguel the first week of November.

Spare Me the Heartstrings, 10x2x1½'' closed
A heart shaped rock-book with a humorous twist. It speaks for itself.

Rock-book in a Jar, 3x2½x2½'' closed
This little egg-shaped rock became a “field guide” to birds' eggs. The pages are made of paper wasp paper backed with handmade abaca paper. The eggs were painted in watercolor, cut out and glued on. The glass jar with its wonderful patina and rusty lid were found in a junk pile in Taos, New Mexico. A few small natural treasures are also included in the jar like a child's precious collection.

Gracias Hija de la Luna, 14x10½x4½''
The idea for this assemblage was inspired by jacaranda pods, abundant on the ground in Mexico in the springtime. The Mayan myth of The Daughter of the Moon is represented here with handmade paper flower petals and a tiny silver bird.

Up on the Roof in Mexico, 25x16x6''
left - doors closed, center - detail of book, right - book removed
From the rooftops we could see much of the colorful life going on all across the city. We spent a lot of time up there sipping coffee in the mornings and margaritas in the evenings. I collect a wide range of materials wherever we travel. This assemblage and book were constructed using wonderful “debris” from the streets.

Mexico Days, 16x15x3'' open
Mesquite wood diptych with book. The slab of wood was given to me by a friend Patricia Valencia who talked a Benedictine monk woodcarver out of it because she knew I'd like it. Since it came from the monastery property, I decided to make it an altar of sorts. This altar honors fond memories of Mexico Days.

Tangle of Language, 20x16x15½
The idea for this work grew from travels in several countries in Europe where we tried to quickly adapt to whatever language was spoken, often getting confused – bom dia, buenos dias, or buon giorno? Oui or Si? I have studied both French and Spanish. I am not good with either and often tangle them together. Nevertheless, I hope to continue traveling and learning.

Nuacht na Maidine (Irish; The Morning News), 20x16x3''
I arrived early morning in rain-soaked Ireland after leaving from Las Vegas, Nevada, flying all night. In a jet-lagged brain-fog two landscapes merged into a surreal vision.

Testament of Beauty, 26x18x3''
This assemblage is about the beauty, magic and mystery I find in the western desert landscapes of the U.S. In spite of my wanderlust, this is where I feel most at home.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Our Alaska Trip, The Final Leg

The sun was setting on our long journey but before returning home we wanted to see more of the north Pacific coast. Neither of us had been there in many years. Spike hoped to do a few more paintings.

We traveled south on I-5 and soon experienced the worst 3 hours of the entire trip, Seattle-Tacoma area through Olympia in drenching rain, bumper to bumper stop-and-go traffic and the roughest stretch of road we'd seen yet- cracks, pot-holes, lumps and bumps. Not  recommended for anyone towing a trailer. We were so happy to escape that urban mess at last, we stopped for the night at the first rest-area we saw.

Following the recommendation of another vintage Airstream traveler, Polly Pulver, we headed for Cape Disappointment on the mouth of the Columbia River where Lewis & Clark first reached the Pacific on their long expedition. This is at the very southwest corner of the state of Washington. We could see Oregon across the river. The Cape Disappointment lighthouse and Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center are part of the Cape Disappointment State Park where we stayed for two nights.

The Cape Disappointment campground was very large and well managed. We registered with a ranger sitting at a computer who assigned us a spot with water and electric for $27. Though not entirely full, the campground was busy. It was clamming season and the clam-diggers were out in force. It wasn't easy to smell fresh-dug clams cooking in campsites all around us while we opened yet another can of chili for dinner.

The Fish Cleaning Table, part of a public art project by Maya Lin called The Confluence Project. Maya Lin is the artist best known for designing the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. With the Confluence Project she is creating site-specific, permanent installations at seven locations along the historic 450 mile Columbia River Basin. Of those we saw at Cape Disappointment, we found the Fish Cleaning Table most interesting and effective since it not only refers to the historic importance of the Chinook people in this region, but is also being put to practical use by present day residents for cleaning the day's catch. Formed out of columnar basalt, you can see in this photo the top is inscribed with the Chinook emergence story. The structure includes a deep sink with running water.

We crossed the bridge into Astoria, Oregon. The north Oregon coast is dramatic with rocks and mist. We found another really nice campground at Nehalem Bay State Park.  Here we paid $20 for water and electric in a spacious and very empty campground. Empty of humans, that is. We had white-tail deer visitors who were curious enough to come within three feet of us as we sat in the sun while a large herd of elk grazed nearby.

We took advantage of a sunny day to explore up and down the coast, looking at crashing waves, big rocks, cliff sides and lighthouses.

It was time to head eastward towards home. We cut across the state of Oregon, aiming for the SE corner where we intended to enter northern Nevada via route 140. This was not to be. Near dusk we encountered a snow storm that worsened until the roads were slick with snow. We passed up our turn off and crept into Lakeview, Oregon where, with much relief, we found an open RV park. Safely parked and hooked to electricity, we were prepared to sit out the storm as long as it took.

With luck, the next morning was clear. We continued south, cutting through the corner of California into Nevada. We decided to go as far south as possible to avoid high mountain passes. The forecast was for snow all over the northern part of the state.

The coldest night of the entire 10 week trip was our last night on the road spent boondocking at a rest stop in Luning, Nevada. It was 17 degrees when we got up. We quickly made coffee and got back on the road towards home in time to see this a beautiful November sunrise looking west across the desert at the snow covered  Wassuk Range.

We arrived home November 4th. It snowed the night before. We had one clear, sunny day to unload and winterize before a storm arrived November 6th and left 8” of fresh snow. Nevertheless, we were glad to be home.

For travelers thinking of a trip to Alaska with your trailer

This is what we found: road conditions are fine if you take it easy and drive smart. After winter’s wear and tear, road repairs take place in the warmer months. By autumn there were still patches of gravel to beware of as well as areas with dreadful frost-heaves (especially in the Yukon along the boundary of  Kluane National Park.)  We learned to watch for small, red warning flags along the roadside marking pot-holes or other road damage. With trailer in tow you sometimes had to slow down to 35–40 mph. Don’t be in a hurry and stay alert for wildlife.  

We had no problem with availability of gas as long as we paid attention to the gas gauge and distance between towns. The Milepost guide is extremely helpful with information on availability of services but not always correct (as editions are updated yearly, use the most recent edition.)  Carry extra gas and top-off at ½ a tank or less. Since we live and travel a lot in the southwest, great distance between gas stations was not a new concept for us.

Gas is very expensive in Canada (as is booze!) prices are somewhat lower in Alaska but food prices are high everywhere up north, especially in more remote areas. We resigned ourselves to paying $7 for a gallon of milk or $5 for a bag of tortilla chips. A favorite staple became giant Idaho baking potatoes, at close to 1lb each, they were a meal in themselves. We never see those here in southern Utah.

Many public and private campgrounds close up for the season mid to late September. This made finding campsites difficult as we continued to travel in October. Again, the Milepost guide was very helpful to locate not only campgrounds but also roadside pull-outs and rest areas. We also relied on local visitor centers for camping and dump station information. We grabbed all the helpful, free tourist literature we could. Some of these publications can be acquired on-line ahead of time. Pre-planning is helpful but winging it is fun too.

Driving the Alaska Highway, as well as all the other routes we traveled is no longer the rugged, daring adventure it once was, but it’s a wonderful adventure nonetheless.

Summing it Up                                

Total days of trip: 69
Miles covered:  10,832
Fuel cost:  $3,691.79 (for an average price of $4.24 per gal)
Gallons bought: 558.89
Liters bought: 1181.84 (÷ 3.7854 = 312.21 gal )
Total fuel: 871.1 gal  (with an average of 12.4 MPG)
Gasoline used in generator: 6 gal 
Hours of generator use: 51:25

Total camping fees: $844.92  (an average of $12.43 per night)
Privately owned RV parks: 19 nights
National, State, Provincial, Territorial or Municipal park campgrounds: 23 nights
Paid campgrounds (including RV parks): 35 nights
Free campgrounds: 9 nights
Free roadside boondocking: 10 nights
“Courtesy parking” at friends' homes: 12 (11 nights at the Bear's in North Pole, AK)
Inside a home sleeping in a king-sized bed: 2 nights

Number of states, provinces or territories crossed: 11
Utah, Idaho, Montana, Alberta Canada, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California. Nevada

International border crossings, passport required: 6
Number of times we ran out of gas: 2
     1st in Idaho the first day driving
     2nd in Faibanks 10' from gas pump, put gas in from can, pulled forward & filled the tank, LOL!
Chips in the windshield: 1 (in Yukon Territory)
Repairs, patches and improvements on Moonshadow: 11
Oil changes: 2
Credit cards used: 3
Credit cards compromised: 1 (in Alberta, Canada)
Number of books read: 7.5
Paintings done: 12
Photos taken: 2,171 (thank goodness for digital!)

Airstream sightings: 66

Alaska scored the most with 14, Washington second with 10, in use 25, in storage 41.

Wildlife Sightings                                     

Mammals: black bears, brown bears (grizzlies), caribou, rock sheep, Dall sheep, bison, moose, muskox, elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, mink, red fox, muskrats, steller sea lion, harbor seals, sea otters, red squirrels, coyotes.

Birds: bald eagles, gray jays, black-capped chickadees, varied thrush, sandhill cranes, harlequin ducks, trumpeter swans, brant geese, red-breasted mergansers, common mergansers, common loons, Barrow's golden-eyes, spruce grouse, spotted owl, American pipits, nuthatches, winter wren, and many others less significant or unidentified.

Fish: coho salman (silver), chum salmon (calico or dog)

Mosquitoes: NONE! We were there in September & October.

Best things we bought along the way: clip-on LED lights, strap wrench, Peterson's First Guide to Forests, Alaska Wildlife Notebook

Best things we took with us: Big Heat electric space heater, 12 volt fan, Italiano stove-top espresso pot, The Milepost Alaska Travel Planner.

Things we wished we had brought: more underwear and warm socks, bathing suits for the hot springs, 5-in-one screwdriver, more DVD movies to watch, a device to hang clothes to dry in front of the Panel-ray heater (will have to invent something if it doesn't already exist.)

Things we brought that we didn't need: dress-up clothes, pop-up shade canopy.

Things we wish we'd had more time for:  museums, visiting with friends - new and old, walking & hiking, painting, reading, eating crab & smoked salmon, and the list goes on...

If you have any specific questions we haven’t addressed here, please leave a comment below and we will do our best to give an answer.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Moonshadow Meets Island Girl

Back in 2010 as we began restoration on Moonshadow, our 1955 Airstream Overlander, we spent many hours researching on-line at the Air Forums and Airstream blogs by others who have done restorations, some experts and some amateurs like us. We became familiar with certain bloggers through reading posts and communicating on-line. Over time we've met a few in person and hope to meet more.

As plans for our Alaska trip developed we routed our return through Washington state in order to visit friends in the area and to meet one of these Airstream bloggers, Steve, whose work on his 22 ft. Caravanner, Island Girl, is inspirational, as is his story of over 20 years living on a 31 ft. sailboat with wife Pam. From 1996 to 2004 Steve and Pam circumnavigated the globe, wandering the world, having great adventures until Pam began to show signs of Alzheimer's disease. She did not want to give up their sailing life so they stayed on the boat but headed homeward. They continued to live on the boat at a marina in Blaine, Washington. Steve became Pam's full time caregiver. To keep himself busy he bought a 1957 Airstream Caravanner and dove into the restoration.

To learn more about Steve's project go to:
Steve’s Blog  -  My 57 Airstream Caravanner
Steve’s Air Forums thread  -  First She Had to Take a Ride on a Boat

In August of 2011 Steve, Pam and cat, Brissy, gave up their beloved boat to move into Island Girl as Airstream full-timers. It was at the RV park where they now live that we met them in the last week of October.

Steve recommended Birch Bay State Park as a good, nearby campground. We arrived around 2:00 PM. It was one of those seaside parks so thick with trees you can't see the water. We paid $21 for a space with no hook-ups. Though electricity and water were available we didn't feel we needed it for one night's stay. Leaving a folding chair to mark our site as taken, we headed for town, trailer in tow. We wanted Moonshadow to meet Island Girl.

Island Girl was easy to spot as the only Airstream surrounded by
big-box SOBs (Some Other Brand)

Island Girl and Moonshadow, side by side. Don't they look great together?

Steve turned out to be the nicest guy. Of course, talking Airstream is a source of great pleasure for him during a difficult stage of his life. The day of our visit a home care helper was there to care for Pam, giving Steve some free time.

Brissy, the exotic cat from Brisbane, Australia, adopted while Steve and Pam were on their world travels. Until now, Brissy had only ever known life on the boat. Now she adapts to the Airstream and terra firma.

After over 20 years on a sailboat, Steve said he still feels a need to be anchored.

Steve gave us the tour, inside and out. Here you can see the beautiful job he did with bamboo flooring, rebuilt cabinets and other interior details of his own design.

Steve told us that in 1957 Airstream started using molded plastic on the front interior, which he didn't care for. In order to get that vintage, 13 panel look, Steve covered the plastic with wood veneer to create a beautiful finish much like the interior of a boat. To further the boat theme, notice the green running light on the ceiling. Steve replaced  both the red and green running lights on his boat, keeping the orginals as tokens of good memories. He made creative use of them by mounting both on the ceiling of Island Girl above his and Pam's comfy recliners.

The next morning we returned for a round of espresso, a bit more visiting, photo ops and goodbyes. In the chill of a light drizzle, Steve greeted us in short sleeves and bare feet. We were bundled up in fleece coats, scarves and hats. Steve laughed at us and said in Washington if the temperature is above 45 degrees, it feels like summer.

If you are a coffee lover, Steve makes the best cappuccinos ever.
We sipped our coffee in the cozy warmth of Island Girl
while Brissy went in and out, in and out.

Saying goodbye...parting is such sweet sorrow. We hope one day Steve will hoist the anchor and visit Utah to see us and make use of our “courtesy parking.”

A montage video and tribute to our new friends, Steve, Pam, Brissy & Island Girl.
Click arrow in center to play video.
Thanks for a wonderful visit.

Our next post will wrap up the last leg of our trip and conclude with answers to the questions some followers have asked about details of travel to Alaska in an Airstream.