30 December 2010


Earlier this month I dreaded my hair. I thought about it for a long, long time. Since I lead a double-life (professional at a Catholic university and artist) I was of two minds about doing it.

I worried a bit about having what some would consider a drastic hairstyle.
I'd wanted to dread my hair for years.

I wondered about taking care of dreads.
I hate mussing with my hair (before I'd just twist it up into a knot on the back of my head and either wrap it with a jumbo hair-tie or stick some sticks through it).

I could not build my dreads on my own - that would take too much time and look too sloppy while they formed.

So I found a place that does dreadlocks and set up an appointment.

Before Dreads:

After Dreads:

So far I've only had one person say "Why did you do THAT?" Everyone else has really liked the dreads...

And it's gotten me back into knitting - I'm making hats and headbands for my dread-ness.

21 December 2010

Bamboo Mosaic

This one was done by one of my workshop participants. It was her first mosaic. 

Recent Work

I've been creating a new studio for the last couple weeks. I cleared out an unused bedroom (next to the glass/mosaic studio), covered the floor with 1/4" plywood for protection, and built a workbench.

 And started working on the medusa sculpture.

And dreadlocked my hair.

And shoveled A LOT of snow.

Thank goodness for generous neighbors with snow blowers!

10 November 2010

More Workshop Photographs

Some photos from days 3 & 4, where we finished up carving our foam armatures, covered them with mesh, learned how to mix and apply the initial layer of slurry and concrete, learned how to color concrete and apply it as a second layer, and learned how to make rebar & mesh armatures.

Sherri showing us how to mix a rich-mix concrete
(3 parts portland cement, 3 parts sand, 1 part PII polymer, 1/4 part water)

Coyote with the beginnings of meshing

Sherri showing us how to add internal support, posts/poles for totems and finials,
or soft copper tubing for fountain elements

Coyote Blue - there are several steps between Coyote with mesh and Coyote Blue including an overnight curing wrapped in plastic. I had cement-covered rubber gloves on for most of the steps and did not want to pick up the camera with them on or take the time to wash and remove them (Sherri - "it's real easy to take off cement-covered gloves, but real difficult to put them back on...")

Coyote wrapped up for another curing.

Karen Ami (director, Chicago Mosaic School) and Kiela (student) 
and Karen, this isn't the silliest photo I have of you... not by far.

Sherri demonstrating the use of a few of the tools we used (just a few of the demo photos - she demonstrated most all of the tools we needed to know how to use)

This was a wonderful workshop - life-changing in fact. I'll have photos of Coyote II soon. He's got a rebar armature covered with expanded metal mesh for the base.

All the photos I took

04 November 2010

Sherri Warner Hunter Workshop

Too tired to write much, but here are some images from the workshop I am at this week.
Later in the workshop the piece photographed below will be covered in concrete. Eventually it will be a mosaic.

Tools we are using:
Stationary hot wire - for cutting blocks into the outlines.

Hot hand tools - for refining the initial cuts.

I did not take a separate photo of the cold tools we use - two sizes of wire bristle brushes and a drywall (keyhole) saw. You can see them in some of the photos below - check out the photo of shaping the tail.

Making a model and starting the carving of the foam block:
Clay maquette (model) for foam-core sculpture.

Foam block initial cuts:

Shaping the tail.

Sherri demonstrating installing reinforcement rods to added on elements.

Ears and Tail with rods partially inserted.

Final shaping with cold tools (wire brushes, drywall handsaw).

Nearly there.

Ready for mesh and concrete - shown with clay maquette (scale model)

01 November 2010

Mosaic House Number Finished

Finished this mosaic tonight. Most of the work was finished last night. Tonight I just added the hanging hardware and cleaned up some of the overflow of thinset and grout.

Death of a long-ago friend

I just learned that a friend from years back died from a heart attack this past Friday. He wasn't even 50. It's very sad.

And even sadder, while I remember him - having been reminded of him through his death - I do not remember his face. And I know that, when I lived in the commune, I talked to this man nearly every day, at least for a few years. I probably cooked his breakfast on numerous occasions...

It's sad when we forget people who have been part of our lives, only to remember them - and then only in bits and pieces - when they die.

I've found that death affects me much more profoundly now - especially after my dad's death. Even the death of kittens can make me weepy. But I also feel the celebration/joy of someone's life so much more profoundly now too... It's a double-edged sword, and all-in-all I'm glad for it.

31 October 2010

The ACLU and You

I received the following by email this morning...
"Christmas card idea

What a clever idea!
Yes, Christmas cards. This is coming early so that you can get ready to include an important address to your list..

Want to have some fun this CHRISTMAS? Send the ACLU a CHRISTMAS CARD this year.

As they are working so very hard to get rid of the CHRISTMAS part of this holiday, we should all send them a nice, CHRISTIAN card to brighten up their dark, sad, little world..

Make sure it says "Merry Christmas" on it.

Here's the address, just don't be rude or crude. (It's not the Christian way, you know.)
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York , NY 10004

Two tons of Christmas cards would freeze their operations because they wouldn't know if any were regular mail containing contributions. So spend 44 cents and tell the ACLU to leave Christmas alone. Also tell them that there is no such thing as a " Holiday Tree". . . It's always been called a CHRISTMAS TREE!

And pass this on to your email lists. We really want to communicate with the ACLU! They really DESERVE us!!

For those of you who aren't aware of them, the ACLU, (the American Civil Liberties Union) is the one suing the U.S. Government to take God, Christmas or anything Christian away from us. They represent the atheists and others in this war. Help put Christ back in Christmas!"
Actually, for those who are uninformed - the ACLU is concerned with protecting the rights of the Individual from the encroachment of the State.

Do I like and support every cause that the ACLU takes up? Absolutely not. Do I think that we need the ACLU? Absolutely.

Without an organization guarding our constitutional rights we would soon become more powerless than we already are.

Some of the battles they fight for us:
Illegal wiretapping and spying on U.S. citizens - what if the government decided you were a suspect? Would you want to be spied upon, have cameras and microphones all over your house (your bathroom, your bedroom)?
Torture - do you think it's alright to torture people? If you do I think you've lost your soul.

Illegal internments - do you approve of locking people up without any proof they should be? without a fair trial? Think about it. What if your neighbors told the government you were a terrorist? What if you had to prove you weren't, instead of the government proving you were? How do you prove a negative? They could simply say, "well we haven't found the evidence yet, but we're keeping you locked up until we do."
Preventing government from having a say in religious worship - and you who claim Christian should realize that they also fight for you, they keep the government out of your churches, and only stipulate that your church needs to stay out of government. Would you want the government telling your priests and pastors what they could talk about?

I also feel the need to point out that decorating evergreen trees and bringing greenery into the home at or around the winter solstice did not originate with Christians and Christmas. It's a tradition much more ancient than that. In fact, the early Christian church prohibited the decoration of trees and bringing evergreen bough into the home.

And, my dear emailer, I AM one of the "atheists and others" that the ACLU represents, and so are YOU.

28 October 2010

Mosaic House Number

I'm going to wait until I get back from Sherri Warner Hunter's 5-day Sculptural Forms workshop at the Chicago Mosaic School to continue on Mme Dusa. Sherri's workshop is about making concrete forms for mosaics and I think I want to give Mme Dusa shoulders and cleavage. Doing that will also stabilize her.

In the meanwhile I've been working on a commissioned house number (sorry about the image quality - I just took a quick snapshot of the mosaic):

It measures 30" across the bottom and is 15" tall. I've got a bit more work to do filling in around the numbers and then I can grout it and seal the grout. At this rate I should be able to finish it and get it delivered before I go to Chicago.

22 October 2010

Are You Curious? Part Two

Here's the partially assembled sculpture of m'dusa.

I need to make about 8 more tendrils - she's a bit bald in back. Once I have the tendrils in the exact places they should go I'll fill in the gaps between each tendril and her scalp.

I also need to put a counter-weight in the base to make her more stand up more securely.

I bought several small sheets of pastel (peach, pink, orange, purple, green, blue-gray) stained glass for her flesh. I'm using the breakage from Sugar Tree Glass (local glassblowers) for the tendrils.

And Emerald's paintings are actually hanging quite straight on the wall behind m'dusa...

10 October 2010

Are you curious?

It's a new mosaic project - I bet you guessed that...

Thinking again about appropriation

I feel sort of guilty that I haven't been posting lately - I haven't been doing much writing at all other than for work or some of the websites I've been working on. This is a practice run at doing some writing that is more thoughtful than most of what I've been writing lately - the thoughtful part is at the end, the rest is setting the scene...

The latest website to be finished (if a website is EVER finished) is Beelandia.com, Abelisto's website. There's at least three more websites in the works, mostly waiting on people to decide if they like them or not... only one of them is a paying job though.

I hennaed my hair last week (or actually, Abelisto did) using body-art quality henna. I mixed it up using lemon juice instead of water, per the instructions that came with it. It was much, much easier to wash out than the other henna. It did stain my forehead and ears a bit, but that faded in a couple days. Next time I'll have to be more careful about cleaning it off my skin.

The henna turned my hair a bit carroty-orange at first. The instructions said not to panic, but instead to give it a few days and see how it darkened. Wow. Now it is a really rich auburn. The gray hairs, which usually are quite coppery with henna I've previously used, are very mellow and not at all what I expected after I first washed out this henna. All-in-all a vast improvement.

I'm thinking about doing henna tattoos. I've had them done on my hands before - at arts & crafts festivals. I like the way they look, and the graceful way they fade out (I love my permanent tattoo too - just so you know).

Here's the thing... I love the look of the traditional henna tattoos, but I don't want to do traditional ones on people. Or I should say, I don't want to do the traditional ones unless it is part of the person's heritage/culture.

I cannot help but think of it as an appropriation, the exoticization of a culture that has always made me a bit uneasy.  Okay, here's the issue, when I think about the idea of inspiration and the artist’s practice it seems to me that there can be sort of a reverse colonization that often happens – a backdraft of appropriation of styles and artforms, which often ends up getting rolled up into the outsider's identity – a disrespectful fascination with a culture that leads to exoticizing the “other,” trivializing and reducing individuals within those cultures to caricatures (google "Native American Princess art images" and you'll see what I mean... how many of those paintings, sculptures, drawings were done by white housewife artists? Harsh, I know, but I cannot help it).

We assume we are welcome within groups just because we like them, because we want to be like them, wear clothes like them, talk like them or eat their food...

How often is respect for the material or nonmaterial objects of a culture – often manifested as a lust to own them – mistaken by those lusting for the object as a respect for the creators of the objects? Our engineered identities are made up from so many influences, so many “I love that!” feelings, that for the most part, it seems to me that authenticity may be a chimera.

It's not exactly rational, I know. It's not like henna tattoos are part of my own culture. However, there is some historical evidence that some sort of tattooing was part of a great many ancient and not-so-ancient cultures - including most if not all of the European mishmash that I descend from. And I do think that the desire to embellish our bodies in some way is a part of every culture. 

So what it comes down to is that I'd love to do the henna tattoos with designs of my own making.

21 September 2010

Thoughts on the Death of a Friend

It seems to me, after these past 10 days, that the death of a dear one makes us feel like we are ourselves lost.

Tragic, unexpected, untimely death is much harder to deal with. It is a surreal experience - in some ways - both physically and mentally intense, wretchedly transcendent in regard to the anguish we feel…

For days we have walked around with a kicked-in-the-stomach feeling, breathing deep was difficult, looking in each other’s eyes was nearly impossible. The patterns of our daily life have a new gap in them and our connections with the world are fewer and more tenuous.

I have felt both terribly empty and terribly full, and both are made of pain.

14 September 2010


A great friend is gone and today, or tomorrow they are turning off the machines that are keeping his body alive. A new experience for me and one I would greatly have preferred not to experience.

Let me tell you about Chad.

Chad was a great artist. Not your typical artist working with brushes on canvas or sculpting something beautiful... at least not in the way you normally think of painting and sculpting. Chad's artistry was done with ink and needles, his canvas was skin, his sculptures were our human bodies. Chad was a tattoo artist. A brilliant one.

Sometimes gifted people can be blinded by their own magnificence. Not Chad. He nurtured people he saw as destined to shine brighter than himself with a true enthusiasm and a pure passion to see them succeed. He collaborated where others in his position might have chosen to compete. He demanded excellence of himself, and his collaborators - and celebrated those rare moments of artistic transcendence with boundless joy.

Chad believed in people. He weighed them with a generous heart, and found few lacking. Those who were fortunate enough to be counted as a friend knew unstinting love and bountiful support.

We are all walking wounded today,
Hollow, achy, empty inside,
Wandering the land of disbelief and despair,
Our friend is gone, he has died.

His friends are grieving

See Chad's work

10 August 2010

Wayne's Sushi & Karaoke Bar

My Las Vegas vacation is just about over. We've been here about a week. We've done some fun things and spent some great family time.

Tonight's wonderful surprise was Wayne's Sushi and Karaoke Bar. I cannot tell you how great it was. Total Food Orgasm. Period.

What we ate:
Jellyfish, Bean sprout salad, Edamame, spicy Cucumber salad.

Wayne's Special Sushi Rolls:
Lost Wages - California roll wrapped with smoked salmon, topped withSum Young Gai sauce, baked and topped with tobiko and bonito flakes and eel sauce.
Mikey Mikey - Soft shelled crab, shrimp tempura and spicy tuna roll topped with spicy crab.
What Brah, Beef? - Shrimp tempura and asparagus, topped with beef tenderloin and ginger pepper sauce.
Snap Crackle Pop - Shrimp tempura and asparagus topped with baked tilapia and ginger pepper sauce.
Itsy Bitsy Spider - Soft shelled crab, crab mix, gobo, cucumber, sprouts, and massago. Served with ponzu and Sum Young Gai sauce.
Dragon Ass - California roll topped with eel and massago and eel sauce.
Brian & Marsha, Marsha, Marsha - Shrimp tempura, spicy crab, cream cheese and cucumber topped withspice crab, tuna, avocado and eel sauce.
And my very most favorite:
Mango A Go Go Hand Roll - Spicy crab with mango, served in soy paper.

The food was absolutely amazing. Fresh. Made right in front of us.

It's a tiny, small place - very intimate - owned/operated by Wayne and Heidi. We were sitting at the sushi bar and the food was prepared less than two feet from us. They have a few tables too, but if you go, be sure to sit at the bar. Wayne and Heidi have fantastic stories - tales to amaze and entertain, brash and silly, teasing and enticing. It's better than any dinner theater I've ever been to. The constantly running banter between Wayne, Heidi and all of us was such great fun. They make you feel like a welcome guest in their home, a long-time friend, not a customer.

If you're ever in Vegas, you've got to go to Wayne's.

Wayne and Heidi, we'll see you in December! We want to hear you sing next time.

07 August 2010

06 July 2010

Radio Interview

My interview on KQAL played today. The editor did a good job taking nearly 2 hours of material and coming up with a good 25 minutes or so.
Produced by Terese Tenseth for KQAL fm Winona MN, made possible by the MN Arts and Cultural
Heritage Fund.

29 June 2010

Sheba Mosaic

I have finished the Sheba mosaic. I decided not to trim the edge tesserae, but instead to let them hang out over the frame.

Next I have a house number mosaic to do. Once that's done I'm starting the large three dimensional piece.

28 June 2010

Swarm Captured

Click the photo and take a look at this slideshow of Abelisto & me capturing a swarm (with the help of Joyce and Paul).

What a rush!

23 June 2010

It's time to get back to the mosaics

I've not been doing much work on the mosaic this month. I needed to redesign my website montagaelmay.com  and apply the design elements to this blog. It still surprises me some when I come back to the blog and see the new design - I sort of forget that I did the update already.

I also just now - like 10 minutes ago - uploaded the newly redesigned Winona Arts Center website - winonaarts.org. Hopefully I've found all the issues with it. I'm using JotForms for the forms as an experiment. I've beefed up the member-artist pages and added a gallery feature. Hopefully more member who are artists will take advantage of this benefit.

Now I get to do the proofreading and the fretting... I know there's got to be some overlooked placeholder text in there somewhere... or some links on some child page. 

02 June 2010

Sheba Mosaic Progress

I haven't posted about the mosaic in a while. Earlier this week I finished the face and the hair, trimmed off the excess mesh and glued the work onto a Wedi board.

I've been testing colors for the clothing and the background.

When I test colors I lay out the tesserae in a roughed-in manner. I try out combinations and andamento (flow of the tesserae) in a very loose way which helps me visualize how it might look. This was my final test for the garment colors for the Sheba mosaic:

You can see a roughed-in arrangement of color and andamento. Once I find an arrangement that seems to work for me I let it sit for a few days - checking it now and then to see if it still appeals to me. If it does, I start working with the colors and layout and then see what I think (I have been known to pull out large sections of a mosaic if I'm not perfectly satisfied with it...)

Tonight I started on the garment section of the mosaic. Didn't get too far - tonight was Skype night with the Las Vegas contingent of the family. Promised Aluna that I'd post a photo of tonight's progress on the mosaic after we disconnected, so here it is:

Only the blue/green tesserae along the right shoulder (left side of the mosaic as you are looking at it) are glued down so far. Hopefully I'll get more done tomorrow night. I don't think I have any mosaic students coming to the open studio so I'll be able to work on this instead of teaching.