University of Washington

As I’ve been walking through the University of Washington campus this week researching for a story in my collection that’s set, in part, here in Seattle in the 1930s, it’s occurred to me that my father’s father was a student at the University of Washington not much after that.

My father’s father, who died a few years ago, wasn’t one to share much about his past.  But he came to school here at the University of Washington as a newly orphaned teenager.  He played the flute and the piccolo and diligently studied science.  In just a few years his life would take an entirely new arc: he’d join the army, study medicine, go oversees, settle east.

In subject and content the stories in my collection have nothing to do with my family.  Yet the idea for the first story sparked from a letter my mother’s father wrote home from wartime Hawaii.  By coincidence, through the winding intricacies of research, the last story in my collection has led me to Seattle.  Somehow, twelve years and 3,000 miles later, this book that started with the letters of one grandfather has now brought me to the other.

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the common S E N S E, Seattle

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During my research visits to the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, I swung into the galleries to see the current  museum-wide installation by Ann Hamilton.  This new work pulls together a number of threads.  Among them, Hamilton explores how the sensation of touch plays out across a range of ideas and experiences.  Influenced by the University (where’s she’s currently artist-in-residence) and its natural history collections, Hamilton pays close attention to animals and their furs.

In several galleries, she hung reams of newsprintted animal images, which exhibit viewers are invited to peel down as keepsakes.  The display calls to mind the older chambers of wonders model, where art and natural collections co-existed.

In the museum’s basement, Hamilton approached this same theme from a different lens, creating linen-walled cubes, each containing furs in glass cases.  Handwritten manila cards tied to each cube echo specimen cards, and more potently, morgues.

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A second major thread Hamilton explores here is the longtime tradition of the common book.  Aware of the way this exhibit draws together and links ideas, Hamilton creates a meta experience of idea collecting within her installation.  Exhibit visitors collect not only collect the newsprint animals from the gallery walls, but also quotes on touch that are placed throughout the exhibit.

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Amid all that collecting, Hamilton asks her viewers to contribute to the exhibit as well by leaving an ethereal photograph of themselves to be added to the installation.  “An exhibition is a form of exchange, and like a conversation it is organic,” Hamilton writes.  “It is changed by each person who enters and whose acts of taking and giving become the life of the project.”

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Hamilton is lyrical and astute in her written descriptions of this project.  And there’s a lot of interpretive text in this exhibit, a lot of conceptual frameworks to work though.  The choice to include extensive signage may have to do with the exhibit’s home at a university art museum where the work is meant to be engaged with repeatedly over a longer timeframe — and to become a part of a larger pedagogical discourse.

At times, though, I wish she had offered less explanation of the rich concepts she’s explored.  I would have liked to let these disparate threads coallese more organically, to allow the exhibit to work through inference more.  The work is strong enough for Hamilton to trust in its experiential rhythm.

You also get the sense, though, of an artist exploring an assortment of new elements in her work and inviting us into the recesses of creative process.  The sense that she’s gathering together ideas that are still more divergent than synthesized — and that this experimentation ought not cohere too soon.

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Henry Art Gallery, Seattle

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One of the first stops on my research trip this weekend was the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington in Seattle.  The gallery is home to a handful of resources I’ve wanted to access as I write my story collection.

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It also turns out to be a pretty dynamic structure.  I like the way the domes and arches of the older building juxtapose against its modern glass cylinder and trail of pyramids.

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Reflection

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Every day I walk by the Persian carpet store down the street from my apartment.  A few months ago, I caught the reflection of the buildings in the rug store window.  It looks almost as though the Mt. Vernon row houses are a design emerging from the pattern in the carpet.

Of course, as a textile enthusiast, I am always going to be attracted to to the designs and textures of carpets — and I particularly like this one.  I also love to the architecture of these old, nineteenth century Mt. Vernon row houses, with their brickwork and arcs and ornate entrances.

So I am drawn this layering of pattern and texture.  The resonance of organic and geometric shapes and warm color in both the cityscape and the Persian carpet, the way they interplay.

The image feels right just now: this resonance, this layering of place.  Back in the fall I mentioned that I received the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance’s Ruby Grant.  This winter I’ll use part of that grant to take a research trip for the last two stories in my collection.

That means that I’ll be away from my much-loved neighborhood for a little while, as I complete this book which spans from Baltimore to Japan to Hawaii to Seattle.  This story collection that layers refractions of place as its characters move across a shifting globe in the wake of war, and transport their complex webs of belonging.

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These photographs of Dulkarian’s Persian Rug Co. are part of an interest in Baltimore windows that seems to have taken hold this past year in my photography (see here).  In the coming weeks, I’ll write about my research travel, but I’ll also continue to post a series of these Baltimore windows.

In that way, I can layer place here in my studio space just as in my story collection.  I look forward to taking you all along on the journey!

Blossoming / Ruby

When I moved into my new apartment almost a year ago, a dear friend mailed me a molten lava hibiscus so that my book (a collection of short fiction set in World War II Hawaii) would have a presence in my new space.

Earlier this month, I got some good news.  The Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance has awarded my project a Ruby Grant — funds that will make all the difference as I finish the manuscript.  This support couldn’t have come at a better time.  And to prove it my hibiscus plant blossomed for the first time — three massive dessert-plate blossoms — the week the news arrived.

There will be some exciting book progress to share in the months ahead.  In the meanwhile, you can learn more about the manuscript in the Ruby Grant announcement.