Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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©Katherine Dunn.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Clearing the desk and owl droppings

The holiday distractions are over. I can think about what I did, accomplished, and want to yet accomplish. It is a hopeful time. I've come a long way since starting as a full time artist in '96, climbed out of the post 911 draught, re-invented myself a couple times along the way, moved many too many times, oh, got married in there and moved to a farm. Oh, raised some sheep...bought some goats and horses. It's a time to clean the painting table off that I happily pigify over the months. Time to create new promos - and as usual, I torment about what art director will respond to what, and I end up complicating my life by doing one for card/gift publishers,one for new general buyersand one for gallery intros. My little fairy promo of two years ago is one of my favorites. A tiny piece that folded up into a tiny envelope, describing how fairies are attracted to shiny red objects, especially shoes. It brought not a job, and it was so labor intensive I only mailed about 100. But it made me happy to look at and create. It's always the trick - keep marketing, don't get down when noone resonds - they might have liked it but have no idea how to use you as an artist - the story I get a lot. My style just isn't 'in' these days, I don't think it ever was, and I hope it never is. I hope I am just out there, get tot he right people, and those people respond to it and are emotionally charged by it and respect it.

So in between licking envelopes, I paint for myself right now - by looking at this initial rough of a new painting, you might think I am depressed. Oh, not so! I once heard my favorite guide Neil Young say that at some points in his life he publishes albums that have not been recieved as cutting edge or up to his caliber - and he said something like there are just times when as an artist you just don't want to share it all that inner stuff with the world, even though you have a lot on your mind and in your heart, so you put out something else that satifies you creatively, but isn't exposing your innards to the masses....I'm thinking that is what these things on my desk are about, and I have to work through them on my own before I talk about them even to myself...but I thought it was interesting to show that while I am working on these, I am excited to think about painting shoes for fun...

And today there are more owl droppings by the old barn - we've been graced by them, screech owls, but also very large ones and I have to look them up - It wasn't until I moved here that I learned from an area grade school teacher that you can cut open the droppings and see the tiny bones of what the owl ate whole. Fascinating to see. I am collecting some of the tiny bones and skulls. I don't know why, but they are just so miraculous, that tiny mouse has this elaborate little skelton just like us but it is teeny. Little femurs, little tibulas.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Goats that love me

I spent time with Stella d'Oro and Wild Iris today. I suggested they take a day off from their peace keeping mission to allow themselves the freedom of being goats, just to play and frolic. They agreed. So as I cleaned the barn, they ran up and down the driveways, and in and out of the two barns in wild patterns. It was nice to have the holiday rush over and just be alone with the barn and the goats - everyone was fed and happy, and the sun was out. It was only 30 minutes of my day, but it stayed with me all day. How much I love the goats, and they love me. Yes, they told me this, in fact, they tell me every Monday that they love me. I do not know how they always know it is Monday. But they do.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Limping Sheep +Emergency Drainage 101

The last two days produced all sorts of surprises. I used to wake up when it was just me and my old dog Louie, and I'd say, "Well, Louie, what will happen happen today, do you think?"... I was all set to paint all day. The day started with lots of rain. When I went to let the sheep out, Daisy, one of our experienced mother ewes, was limping badly, hardly able to put weight on her hind right leg/foot. I watched her for 20 minutes, checked the foot pad, and decided to let her go a 1/2 day and maybe she'd work it out if it was muscle oriented. I'm concerned though, as she is carrying what looks like at least twins - and maybe more, as she is much bigger this pregnancy than last time in which she had twins...She isn't due until Feb 12 at the earliest though.

When I returned to the house, I noticed Huck had a huge lump in his week old stiches from his recent neutering - so I got him into the vet right away and we drained it. He's fine. But as we drove home up our driveway, the rain had been heavy all day, maybe two days, and the road was really starting to wash out. I looked at the lavender field and was horrified to see many, maybe 200+plants sitting in 4 inches of water. My head was calculating how much gross profit we were possibly losing...We had done some emergency drainage on the lower part of the field in early October when we had a lot of rain. We were doing emergency drainage- in other words, me and Martyn hand digging drench systems in the worst parts of field - becasue we had not done our regular drainage this fall - we just didn't get it done due to time and other projects. We thought we were safe, as last winter we learned where the worst drainage issues were, ...but the heavy snows melting in the mountains, combined with 2+ inches of rain on saturated ground caused trouble. I immediately dropped verything in a panic and in my usual naiveté, troopered out to the field in a downpour to 'save the farm'...About two hours later, it was getting dark, Martyn came home and could not see the condition of the field. It rained all nite.

The next day, we went out together and worked 4 more hours in another downpours [but at least it was 50 degrees]. Martyn went in, he has a horrible bronchial cold, and I continued. I admit, I told a few things to God while I worked in the field. I believe in a higher power, and I refer to this entity as 'God" - as Joseph Campbell pointed out, the concept of a higher power is so overwhelming in human terms, that we had to come up with some name for it because it is indescribable, so I choose to call this power God. I swore at God, and used very bad words. I told God exactly what I thought about him and this weather. Then as it rained harder, and the rain had entered into my tall mucks,
I swore and said very bad things to the rain. I think I cried in there a couple times too. How pathetic. how many farmers cry in their fields? After 5 hours, my hands were hurting, so I went inside. Martyn had to help pull my jeans off, as they were so wet I couldn't get them off my body...I took a one hour nap, he went out and worked in the field again. By this time, it was one hour until dark. I went out and did another hour with him. It was encouraging that all the heavily flooded plants were now water free. I took this picture to remind ourselves we can still smile in upheavels...
As I left the field, the sky was clearing. Perhaps this is a good time to tell God and the rain I said those things under duress. And I'm sure they understand. My body hurts, but I am very satisfied when I look at the field. I hate to see plants suffer. We might have been o.k. had we not done the additional drainage yesterday, but I will do my best to be a farmer, even if I'm a bad farmer....

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Kneeling from within

I'd like to point out to the many talented artists and illustrators that email me and applaud me for being so prolific and energized and sort of sounding calm and content and elf like- I'm just as lost as anyone. I'm much better on paper, I just mused to someone today. I struggled again with that 16" painting, the poor thing, covered and scraped yet again.
Something is going on that has made me so restless. I did some yelling at the dogs just because they are 9 months old and being dogs. I felt terrible, I couldn't get settled. I took Huck to the mailbox, which out here takes 15 mintues, a nice diversion - the river is really running, a nice sound. Back in the studio, Huck kept sitting near by, even after getting yelled at for nothing, looking at me, as if to say, "I'll help, just tell me what to do" -it broke me up, so I sat on the floor with him and cried, all the while the pug stares at me with one eye.

So instead of working on the project at hand, I did these. One reason I kept painting over the other piece is I felt like I was getting too formula like with the kneeling pose of me/my woman. But maybe she needs to be kneeling. Perhaps she's kneeling because if she stands she'll fall over.

At a gallery show years ago, someonesaid,
'Your women are always sitting down, why?" . I answered, because that is a nice way to be." I ended up allowing myself to just scribble and draw and this is what I ended up with today. Pretty scary. The painting for the gallery will come out sooner or later..."Imagination is my best friend, gotta' look out for the greedy hand..." Neil Young.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Internal distractions lead to this

I labored all day over a 16" board working on a painting I had started weeks ago for one of the galleries. I ended up covering it over, for the third time, and finally resigned myself to the fact I am distracted internally lately, and need to stop and 'refill the well" so to speak. I am usually very prolific, and like to always be producing new things, as it somehow generates energy in the business as well as my life, and art. But sometimes, you just hit a wall, or you need to stop and switch mediums or something. I've been spending much of the month creating the online store, and other web things, that can really drain one's heart...I ended up sitting at the end of the day and doing this. Lately, I've just been really into these conte crayon sketches, in deep browns and umbers with only subtle color, and I want to do a whole series of all the animals on our farm. Huck has such a beautiful head, I don't think I did it justice, but I am pleased with this piece. I will make these into prints someday.

It is raining over the snow. To use a Minnesota term, ish.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Footprint memories

Today started out very cold for our parts - about 38 degrees. While we worked on one of the many fencing projects, the temp dropped, and blue sky turned very steel grey, lots of wind. By 2 pm we had a regular snowfall. I think we have about 1/2 " - being a Minnesota native, I would normally scoff, as the whole state goes into pandemonium when it snows here, often rightly so as there are few plows and usually snow means ice here. It dawned on me that the goats, who took shelter in their monkey house, had never seen snow, as they were born in March of '05. They looked out from their shelter as if to say "What in God's name has happened?" . They looked so cute in white on white. They had had a good day's work of cleaning more bamboo branches for us, so I brought them in early.

The positive part of being cold in the wind today as we worked, was I took refuge at one point under a 100 year old Doug Fir by the house. Standing under it, as the wind blew in and out of it's branches, and the huge canapy of probably 20 feet or more, felt so protective - it reminded me of how I loved the same feeling as a child when I'd hang out in the sumac trees on a windy day, all alone, feeling protected.The wind drove me under the Fir, otherwise I would have just kept working. So thank you wind.

The farm looked so nice in the snow. It has been some time since I've had very cold hands even with thick gloves, and it reminded me that I much prefer thaw ground year round, with a bit of chilliness in winter. But this afternoon, as I put all the sheep and other animals away in their respective barns, I had many pleasant memories - I had forgotten how much I love snow tracks. I spent about 20 minutes tracing the steps of a covey of quail on our road, and the little cat paws were every where. It was just nice, like an old friend you never forget but don't think of on a daily basis, and then seeing their face, it is like they never left, and of course they haven't. I guess that is me and snow...We were pals way back since I could crawl in it.

One of the Goats for Peace
t-shirts was sold to someone in a town in Texas I did not recognize. We had hopes it might be near Crawford...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Moon protects fawn,horse and woman

While doing my evening barn chores, I was very pleased to realize that when my horse, Sky, stands at her stall door and looks out at the right time, she sees the moon. This gave me pause. We both stood just for seconds totally still, together, woman and horse, looking at that moon. It was just a perfect time.

I really feel the moon is so powerful and symbolic on so many levels. It can guide oceans, it lites pathways for travellers and animals. On our farm, with a full moon, I can practically get all the way to the barn without a lite. It protects me that way, and the animals. It's a companion. It's a circle, an ever magnificant circle, never ending and always starting over again. It has crevices and valleys and scars from meteors. it is always there. It has seen so much more than any of us yet never stops showing up for it's partner earth. The sky sits behind it and sun bows out for it's nitely show. Stars gather around it. It is a part of many of my paintings,and holds the higher power in it for me, and all that that means.

I saw a young fawn tonite. They often appear as I am leaving the barn, often standing with the doe just yards away. As much as I cringe when they eat the fruit trees, their beauty and grace is hard not to be frozen by. I don't have to tell them they have safe haven here on Apifera Farm - two hunting seasons and they've sensed it. But the little face with big eyes in the moonlite tonight, I felt remorse - will he suffer soon. He has the moon, and woods, and the sheep barn too, for safety and comfort.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Beauty of Monkey Houses

Sunday was a very nice day. It was sunny, chilly, but nothing my new mucks couldn't handle. Our project for the day was to do more work on the new ram and goat stalls in the old barn.

After morning barn chores, I did smething I haven't allowed myself to do in a long time - I got a huge mug of coffee, I took my chair and sat it near the old barn in the sun where Martyn had already begun to work, I let the goats out to graze near me, and I sat. And sat, and sat and sat. For at least 30 minutes. It was glorious. I always say, there's nothing more satisfying than watching your man work while sipping coffee in the company of goats. And yes, I did eventually work, which I also love to do.

There's something about building 3-D that is so satisfying. The things I build are always works in progress, never planned out - we call them "Monkey Houses". When I was in kindergarten, I built [back when we actually were allowed to use small saws and hammers and such] a monkey house. I was obsessed with getting a monkey, probably because I loved Cheetah on the Tarzan movies. I was sure that if I built one, I would get one. There was no doubt in my mind. I worked very hard on my monkey cage. It was supposed to be a box with wooden slats for the bars. It ended up being about 5 inches deep, obtuse, but it all stuck together some how. I had no concerns that it wasn't exactly the way I had originally envisioned it, I just knew it would work for a monkey. My kindergartnen teacher, who lived in the property above ours back then, told my mother, "Are you planning on buying her a monkey?" and they both laughed when she relayed that each day I would arrive at kindergarten ready to work on my monkey cage, positive my parents would get me one. The cage ended up being a temporary home for a duckling [that my kindergarten teacher gave me, as a matter of fact] and then became a home for a wild bunny baby I found.

I'm so glad I can still feel that - that I get an idea to build something, and I just do it, with no doubts it will be just fine, and lovely and perfect in its own way...We have many of my monkey houses all around the property. Perhaps the biggest and best I've ever done is the small goat shelter I made last spring. It took me days...It looks pretty bad, but the goats just love it, they run through and around it, and it does protect them from sun and rain, just as I intended. "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night."...Edgar Allen Poe said that.

Fortunately, Martyn is a skilled craftsman/handyman/jack of all trades. I think we are a good team that way - he makes sure the thing's standing, I add the ambiance.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Mucks make me HAPPY

One of the things I love about being in my late 40's is I can take great pride in pictures like this one and not care what I look like. I just can see I'm happy, all warm in my tundra coat, and new mucks that I treated myself to because my regular garden Wellies just don't keep my feet warm and I was just fed up. And this picture captures my love of my new Mucks. But I did wake up this morning with some worry, as we're going to have to replace Martyn's pick-up. It was inevitable at 200,000+ miles. But just when I felt like we're creeping out of a hole...so I sat in bed and felt all crappy, and scared, thinking things like, "If we never sell any of the lavender, ever, and just continue to pump money into this place, and my art goes belly up, or Martyn loses a leg, or I get sick, or...." Fortunately, this only lasted about 3 minutes, because I hate whiners, and I am not a whiner. And, more importantly, the dogs all started crying at once to start their day and that just blew me into reality. I think the hardest thing about being self-employed is you always have to be out looking for the next gig. Throw in starting a lavender/sheep farm and money gets ...sort of, well, used up fast. But in 10 years, I've always had things come my way that needed to come my way, not always what I envisioned and not always on my timeline- but the universe is so much more helpful and smarter than I am at these matters. So when I do get fearful like this morning, I do always come back to that inner belief system.

Besides, we went and bought beams for our old 100 year old barn we are re-doing, and I get all giddy when we do stuff like that. The old barn was just one of the things I felt drawn to here. It was an old dairy, and I just feel it needs to be restored to it's place of honor. We had a lavender sale last summer and the woman whose parents lived here came to see the place, and she was so pleased we were starting to fix the place up, as it had fallen into disrepair. That made me so happy and proud. And I just really love the time Martyn and I spend working on the property together- which is mostly every weekend at this point - it just feels right. And I get to see the animals walking all around, and the goats are walking freely around eating, horses can be heard all around us, deer come by - it's a hippie girl's dream.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Little Orange did a big boy thing

I have to add this for my own sake. Little Orange, the runt of one of the recent cat litters, made it into the 'Big Barn"
as we call it. He and his litter mates are about 3 months old and have been living on the front porch since about 3 weeks old where they sleep and eat. They are domesticated, and two [including Little Fig, a real beauty of a calico who I hated to see go, but when you have 20 cats...she lives with the mail woman now and is well cared for] found other homes. Little Orange was special from the get go. He reminds me of a Poindexter, the little nerd that other kids would have made fun of, if he were a boy I am sure he would have thick glasses and freckles and look something like Simon Birch. He is still 1/2 the size of even the female. Anway, the other kittens have taken to following me to the big barn where the adult cats all live and eat, along with the horses and goats. But Little Orange would just stay behind, always waiting on the deck with a hurt look, and always running to greet me when I got back, as then it was his dinner. This has gone on for weeks, and about every three days, he ventured a little closer to the barn. Tonite, I looked down while feeding, and who was sneaking in, and he had this expression of "I can wear big boy pants now!" He only lasted about 1 minute, stimulation overload, but he did it. These are the simple moments I relish.

I'm Alive

I was listening to that Annie Lennox song I've always loved - "Bless this head,bless this hair, bless me to the dirt in my fingernails yea, bless this day, bless this night, give me something good make me feel alright - I'm alive" ...I'm alive! It was 25 years ago John Lennon was shot at 40. He would have been 65 if still here. I wish he was still around, we need more like him. He wouldn't have kept silent these past few years, I don't think. They played a 1971 interview of him on Dick Cavett this morning and he was saying that sometimes he wished he didn't have the type of mind/head that made him need/want to perform. That he sometimes wished /yearned to just go fishing and play a little guitar at nite for himself. I get that.

I'm always thinking/seeing things, like energy orbs of color and stuff. I'm never able to verbalize it, so never try. The other day when I was working in the field at a higher point in our property, I was looking at all the different fence lines from all the cross fencing we've done and others have done over 100 years, and I thought if you took all the barns/buildings/houses out of the property and looked down there would be a fence pattern of line, and I should try to paint that. So like Lennon thought, sometimes it would be relieving to just notice that fence line, but not have a real need/desire/"must do" to paint it. But then I wouldn't be an artist, and there is nothing else I can think to want to be - and if I were something else, I wouldn't know it anyway, as I'd be someone else...hmmm

The fog of the lst week has lifted -It's impossible not to paint it, the fog, and I credit it with taking my paintings to another level. It has spirit, that fog. It's like a clan, where ever you go in the fog, there it is, one huge evolving entity. Yet, after days of it, the sun is so welcome, and adds a new perspective on things. I haven't painted for a week. I needed a break. Sometimes I'm not painting because I'm putting it off by being so busy just doing the business stuff, or farm stuff, and if I just sit down and just be with it at my desk, I can start painting again, and it's great, I get results. And sometimes you sit down because you feel you need/"should" paint, and you struggle and nothing of merit comes out, nothing you want to pursue, and that is when I just sit back and rest it, the painter in me. As my artist compadré said once recently, "I'm not a faucet".

Monday, December 05, 2005

His Royal Ramness

My relationship with Joe Pye Weed is evolving. I think we are entering his terrible teen years, or worse, his 20's where he will say/do/act in anyway to show his angst as if he is the first being to ever have angst.

The experts say that with a ram -'don't touch him at all, don't interact with him, leave him be' but upon his arrival here at 3 months, I chose to try the opposite. It didn't make sense to me to have an animal around that, if he did get out, wasn't acclimated to my touch. So I always groomed him, petted him, talked to him, picked him up and held him up on his two hind legs,etc. He even came to me, and nuzzled me. His first breeding last year he remained a total gentleman. I never took for granted he was a ram, but never felt afraid of him. This season, a bigger bolder Joe Pye has emerged. We are redefining our boundaries so to speak, and Joe's boundary is pretty much anywhere past the gate where his ladies are. He has now taken to coming at me from 10 feet with much grace and zip - fortunately the only damage so far has been a brusied arm and hurt heart - 'my little Joe, he's gone and started hating me'. Of course, this is ridiculous, he hates nothing. He is simply, a ram. The most exciting encounter happened last week when I decided to venture up into his Holy Ramness's pasture. I needed to retrieve some wooden fence posts, and figured I'd get in and out fast, I after all had 'control' over Joe, or always had. The pasture is pretty much all hill and within about 10 minutes Joe ran over to check out my arrival into his lair. I did all my usual tricks to get away from him, ear tweeking, circling him, nose tapping, then nose beating - but I found myself in a real pickle. I was stuck on a hill, and Mr. Pye Weed had acres to back up all he wanted. For those of you who have never been with a ram, the sight of him putting his head down and backing up means "Prepare thyself, human, I am going to come at you and the thick skull bone I have to defend myself from others and ram into your human bones creating bruises, breaks, and if I'm on target, a total knockdown." I knew the only thing to do was stand my ground, and pull out of his way seconds before he got to me. Putting a hand down only causes damage to hands and fingers - a lesson I had already learned. This predicament went on for about 20 minutes, all the time, I screamed 'JOEEEEEEEEEEEEE' as loud as I could while he charged me - futile, but I was pissed. Martyn was in his office in the house, and I kept thinking, 'he must hear me out here' . I thought of jumping the fence, but figured he'd nail me there too, running was out of the question. Finally, I got smart and took my jacket off and threw it on his head which caused him to run off without knowing were he was going - and fortunately it was opposite of me so I could run off myself. Martyn later said, "Gee, you could have been dead for hours and I never would have know" - thanks honey. It was a stupid thing to do, go into a ram's pasture with his ewes and expect him to idylically graze at a distance.

At the beginning of each day, Joe Pye is the first farm animal I greet and care for, and the last at nite to get tucked into his stall. He has a huge energy, and I get cranky when people suggest he is 'getting mean" - He's a ram, with testicles the size of grapefruits who can 'service' 40 ewes on his own, that's a lot of hormones to walk around with. I get satisfaction looking at the lambs and ewes he has helped create, and know I help him by caring for him as well as I can. Many think it is foolish to impose our human emotional thoughts/feelings onto animals [what's that word?], but I have a relationship with this beast, and he with me in his own ramness way.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Goats for Peace

I am starting what I hope will soon become a small movement across the states, if not world.It is the Goats for Peace movement. And everyone can help by going to the link and buying buttons and shirts or whatever you want and proudly displaying them, and spreading the word of peace.

Here on the farm, when a new animal is brought into the fold, a whole new hierarchy must be established. Different breeds, different sizes and colors and smells and sounds - they all somehow get worked out in a couple days to create a diverse but peaceable kingdom we call Apifera Farm. It is inspiring. The goats more than any others here seem to understand and promote a philosophy of peace. They start the day greeting 21 barn cats with gentle nose sniffs, they live side by side with 1500# horses, tolerate the nagging of new puppies and even find a way to play with a ram twice their size who has one thing in mind. They do all of this with humor, and playfullness.

I see peace signs re-emerging and more people speaking up again after the last 4 years of fear by a government that wanted us to believe anything just because they said it was true. Some people might think my Goats for Peace movement is a joke, taking a complex issue of world peace and simplifying it. They laughed at John Lennon's bed peace project too, and it was a simple idea. That was part of the point. It is simple. Peace in itself is simple. Goats get that. Why not learn from them. If someone wants to scoff at us, we can take it.

I want people to start sending me pictures of where they are wearing their Goats for Peace buttons and shirts, or where they see them. It's a wave, and we can start it. From a small farm in Oregon, we can send a peaceful message around the world. I'm writing the President, and the congress, some rock stars - I've got the energy. You'll see. It'll grow.

Every morning, when I go the barn, I greet everyone and they all greet me. I use to say to the goats "Good morning, ladies"; now I say "Good morning, Peacekeepers". Such gentle beasts. If only some of our leaders had goats, or were goats.