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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The pleasure of early moring waffles

I awoke about 4 am thinking about homemade waffles with a side of bacon. Actually, I think I first thought about it the night before. The kind of waffles my dad would make me, whipped up really well, with extra butter in them, and on them. Some Saturdays, one must indulge in one's hankering. So as Martyn slept, I indulged, with Huck, Billy, and Big Tony, at my feet. I was up early enough to catch the rising of the sun, coming in over fog clothed forests above the farm. Sky was already up having her pre-breakfast grass hor d'oeuvre. The farm in early morning is special, especially on these fall days. One must savor them, so, with a belly full of waffles I set out to enjoy the morning, simply by doing my routine barn chores.

Mr. Pumpkin Head was once again sleeping with what he thinks are his
brothers. Like I explained in a previous post, Mr. Pumpkin Head does not understand he is actually just named after a pumpkin, he truly believes he is a pumpkin. Why ruin such a harmless belief. As I set out from the house, the barn cats met me at the center gate area, and porch cat posse follows close behind me. Some nose rubbing, some jostling ensues, but mostly the tails are raised high in greeting. We greet all the boys - rams and donkeys - and head to the barn. It is a strict order of giving hay out - set in stone. If I, God forbid, step out of line once and feed out of order, a symphony of displeased goats, sheep, horse and cats rings out. So, all within about 1 minute, I open the stall for Mr. T and his 3 ladies to go out, throw cat food out for cats, give Sky a flake of hay, let goats out, and two young ewes not being bred, carry out hay for Joe Pye Weed, Rosie and Daisy, throw hay precisely in the right spot for goats so they don't try to go over fence for Joe's hay, run hay over to donkeys and other rams. Clock work. Everyone is content.

By the time I was done cleaning out a stall or two, Sky was done with her flake of hay, and I took her to the corral for a light workout. A perfect morning. With all the waffles in me, it seemed ironic she was the one running in circles, but
someone has to keep heir figure around here. It is the last weekend for deer season, and as I walked back to the house, I was relieved to see Ethel and her twins. The last weekend and the first weekend of deer season are sort of the same, a lot of the imbeciles come out for one last try. Like the guy who stopped across the private property across from us about a mile, got out of his pickup, shot towards three private properties - all with horses, livestock, children and pets, shot his gun, then jumped in and sped off, dust flying. Yelling was heard right before and after the shot. I was walking with Sky at the time, the rams scattered nearby. One always sort of looks around to count toes, sheep and pets. But the look of the fog lifting over the oaks reminded me - imbeciles with guns are everywhere - better off here with all this to look at.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Country ride for the soul

Our neighboring farmer up the road has 6 Percherons that he employs for all his field work. He also does a lot of educational events where he takes his team to historical events and fairs to demonstrate how our ancestors worked a team. He takes people on overnight wagon rides, following the historical journeys or settlers. So, he thought it would be nice to gather neighboring farms and properties and invite us all on a 14-mile hay ride up to a local lodge on the mountain. The day was perfect. We rose just as the sun was rising to feed all the animals and get to the wagon for the 8AM departure. Frida and Betsy were the chosen Percherons to take us on our journey, and the weather could not have been more perfect. All sun, but crisp, glove and sweater weather. The temp decreased as we rose in elevation, but we were all prepared and it was just wonderful seeing the beauty of the leaves and forests, and hearing the clip-clop of the team. All the people on board were participating in the fighting of the near-by sub development mentioned in the previous post, and we actually drove by the property line at one point, noticing the survey stakes.

But it was a nice way to gather, and being with horses makes one remember, there are still wonderful things to surround oneself with, developers or no developers. They can't take that from a person.

After all the little children had departed, I sat up front with Joe who drove the wagon. We talked about the horses, and how all their tack worked. We both agreed, it's a much nicer view - that of a horse's rear and tail - than the tail lights of a car.

The nearby development possibility had me thinking of the land around us, how it might change. It made me think about how the arial view of the whole area will change over time, and already has, and how the birds and leaves see that before we do. That is where "If I Were a Leaf Falling" came from, a new little painting that is a love letter to the land.

Surround your animals with prayer flags

We are fighting a sub-development up the road, thanks to the sad passing of Measure 37 two years ago. Having come from Minnesota, land of beautiful farm lands and small river towns eaten up by developers, I was pleased when I moved here in 2002 that Oregon set such a good example for land use. Two years later I was shocked and saddened by the passing of Measure 37, an amendment so poorly explained to the voting public, so pushed by a small, wealthy group of opportunists, that it divided Oregon, and still does. I knew it's passing was a road that Oregon would not be able to do a U-turn on. We felt when we moved to Yamhill [at that time, the Measure 37 had not even come up for voting] we were somewhat safe for about 20 years from any hint of large executive type McMansions , or worst yet, sub-developments. Sadly, we are now faced with a forested 50-acre parcel being turned into 12 small lots. This is 1/4 mile up our road. Traffic from the development would go up our road, traffic that would include the usual number of cars, and off-road vehicles the the 'average' family building a 5,000 SF home costing over $700,000 usually require for their chosen lifestyle. A sub-development is completely out of place for this rural/agricultural area, and all we can do is voice our opinions and see it through. I have written 3 letters, we've taken part, as have other neighboring farms and properties, in the local county process. I won't go into details on this specific case, but visit 1000 Friends of Oregon to read about the impact of this Measure 37, and learn about land use issues. And on a national level, this update site is invaluable.

So as I worked in the studio the other day listening to a new Greg Brown CD, the words "feels like the wind, and trees and stars are on trial", caused me to pause and write them down.

The farm felt different. I feel unsettled because of what will happen in the area. It is, I guess, becoming what they said it would, another Napa. It took me over 40 years to find a farm, live a dream, and the dream never had a sub-development in the middle of it. Two nearby properties of long time residents have now sold their places, not wanting to deal with it all. I don't blame them. On the upside, their places sold for very good amounts, and our property's equity will profit down the road.

So, I turn to things that give me joy, and comfort. Pino Blangiforti's face is like a stuffed animal. When you see it, you want to hold it, and squeeze it, cry into if you are feeling blue. He was very patient with me when I sat with him in a pile of hay, and shed some tears into his neck. I came in and drew this portrait of him, and I decided to add little prayer flags for him, and all the animals, and our farm. For we all need prayers these days - all living things - even the wind, the trees and the stars.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

If I were a bird

If I were a bird this is how the farm would look today. One of three new abstracts just completed.

It's grey out, it's comforting. I turned the fireplace on in the studio for the first time yesterday. I worked all day in the studio, then we did a burn outside and had a glass of wine while sitting on the bench watching the fire. The donkeys sat nearby, enjoying it, it appeared.

This morning, I worked with Sky Flower for a change. She was sleepy, but attentive. I asked her if she was feeling blue, her eyes shut as I rubbed her forehead.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


One must notice the yellow in the trees and hills today, seen everywhere against the silver and grey sky. It's jolting. As were the red roses at the nearby nursery's test gardens - all the red roses lined up in rows in the middle of farm fields with the coastal range and grey skies as a backdrop.

I take the time to notice, not stop and notice. I never stop. I have realized, at the age of 48, I am more intense in what needs to get done, what needs to be said, than I ever was. And perhaps less afraid to do it, or say it. Less afraid to be part of a group of anything that I need to feel likes me. One moves to a farm but life really doesn't 'slow down', it just gets played out differently. Where my head and heart are, that is where the intensity and speed are, farm or no farm. I might die tomorrow, there are things to do, now. Life happens in the middle of all that. Donkeys get walked, kind words are expressed, transitions are realized. TV is watched. Pies are baked. People come and go. Trees fall over. And young girls evolve and grow into middle aged women.

And so, perhaps that is why, this painting came out of me yesterday. A red headed woman sitting, arms crossed, mute - not trying to stick out, but how could she not with her black rubber boots and her intense yellow dress against the grey background in which she find herself sitting in front of.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Donkey ears, and the boys are ready

I went out the studio door this morning to a beautiful fall day - crisp, sun, fall color, air, no human noise makers, just the distant
rumbling of Joe Pye Weed letting me know it was time for some breakfast. The donkeys were laying down, facing each other soaking up the sun. If you have never seen a mini donkey laying down, legs all curled in, eyes half shut, well, you must put it on your ' list of things to see in my lifetime'. The sun on their bodies must have been too hard to give up, as they usually greet me at the fence line, but today, the sun beat out my affections.

Yesterday was about 70 degrees, but windy. It reminded me of when I was little, and I loved to go into the many sumac groves we had on our property in Minnesota. I was protected from the wind, but could hear it. The barn is like that. I had my new canvas on the wall ready to start it, and did prep it, but the weather was too perfect. I took a sketch book and a chair and went out and sat with the donkeys. I have a long list of animals to paint, and it takes time to soak in the characteristics of a being, for me anyway, before I can paint them. There are always certain attributes to an animal that catch my eye and heart - and I want to capture them in spirit. I don't consider myself a good draftsperson, but I do feel when I am ready, and have filled up my well properly, I can capture something's essence, even if crudely drawn. I am not a 'take the sketch book out and sketch something' person. I guess it works for me to just be with something over time, and eventually I can capture it - in my style anyway. I'm not quite there with the donkeys. But it was enjoyable to sit with them, and soak up the weather as much as possible before the winter rain comes. I've been running 100 miles a minute, we both have, and taking time to sit and sketch, and just watch them in a sitting position was a luxury. The ears on these beings are so special, and their eyes have a very unique glance, like a being that has had many travels, many lives, and knows what came before them.

Most of the flock is wormed now, and this weekend we will rearrange ewes to be with either Joe Pye or Mr. T [who buy the way is "Turtleweed' because he chortles and that reminds me of a turtle for some reason]. The boys are READY for some female companionship. You shepherds know what I mean. And the ewes have been restless at times as well.

I'm looking forward in a way to the gentle winter rains. I paint much more proactively in winter through May. I have many feelings to get out. But I am not worried about timing. My well only has so much energy in it, and I think I've earned the right to slow down a bit. Is 100 paintings or more a year too little or too many? Many experts out there no doubt have answers. But I am merging into myself, in my own time, and the things that occupy on the farm may take time and energy, but they also fed me and keep my days full of wonderful activities and encounters. Life is juicy.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Market lore, and the donkey gets a gig

We had another another fun day at the Farmer's Market in McMinnville. We lucked out with absolutely perfect fall weather, not to mention we had a prime spot this time. Being right next to the cheese booth had its perks too. We had an increase in sales from last week, I think because we made some slight changes to our booth, and we had a better location. Martyn made me a display rack for my greeting cards, which sold well. He took an old levlor door from the barn and we painted it, and voila, instant 6' card holder. Many nice encounters with customers, many seemed excited about our Open Farm Day events for next year, so our mailing list is growing. Perhaps the best thing about a market for the farmer is just getting recognition with local customers, and allowing them to see our personalities and product. I think it takes time for customers to trust you, and know you. If you are genuine, and genuinely believe and love your product and life, it comes through. If you are a copy cat, or don't seem enthused about your life and product, that too comes through.

I'm learning a lot about displays. I've had quite a bit of experience with it over the years, and understand a lot about how the customer thinks, but I have learned even more in the last two markets. I will be constantly learning, I know. I came home with many new ideas about better ways to display and how to make the customer 'get' the product quickly.

Our sculpture pumpkins were a hit, [except to the 4 year old, who declared, "I don't like them"] as were the art cards. But my favorite thing was that many children, and adults, liked my ragdolls. One little girl picked one up and squeezed it for the lavender scent, and just held it tightly, smiling. That just made my day. Another young girl of about 10, who did art herself, just loved our booth and all the lavender and art. She stayed in there for the longest time, just being so enthusiastic about everything, and inspired about the art. She wondered if she could sell her art there someday, and I encouraged her to get a booth and keep making art.

We are also making contacts for our lamb meat sales. It is making the transition to raising some of the sheep for harvesting easier for me. Knowing we are raising a quality product, and raising the animals with care, love and compassion from start to finish, is a satisfying thing. It makes sense to me more and more. A rich land such as America, we could feed all our people if the consumer demanded it.

We ended the day with what might become a tradition. Trading some of our product for some of Oakhill Organics vegetables. I like eating food from people I like, after all, their fingers touch the land and the food, so if I like their energy, it certainly ends up in their vegetables. Who wants to eat vegetables grown by a grumpy farmer? We are hooked on their shallots right now, and tonight I think I will make a stew from some of their produce. It is chilly for the first time, and a glass of red wine with a stew sounds perfect.

And just when I thought the day couldn't get better, I got a donkey gig for Pino Blangiforti who has been invited to be part of the McMinnville Halloween Parade. He insists on going as an apple, which are his absolute favorite thing in the world, but I keep telling him he has to go as a donkey.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Stopping for that hot dog

I listened intently to a 2 hour interview with John Prine yesterday [as Billy the pug slept], who I have followed and loved since the early '70's. He said that he is one of the most non-committed song writers he knows and that if he is in the middle of writing a song and someone offers him a hot dog, he'll drop that song to take the hot dog.

I am 'supposed" to be painting. Instead, I am doing all sorts of important things, but painting. So, is this ok? I am also playing the 'artist-kicking" game. It is a game I see all artists play, even really well known ones. Here's how you play. Become a full time artist and make your sole income on art. Sell the art over the years, gain a following. Feel good, make more art. Sell more of the art. Feel even better. On the very first day you do not sell anything, or even get an email or inquiry, say to yourself, "Well, let's see, the fact that no one bought even $5 of art today means that I am done as an artist, and perhaps, even, my art is done, it is no longer something anyone wants to buy. " This will then allow you to NOT want to make art, and the more art you don't make, the more you repeat the above statement, over and over.

Eventually, if you hang in there as an artist for a long time, you will learn to play this game at times, but then kick yourself in the butt and get on with it, and eventually, something does sell, or better yet, you make a great piece of art and just appreciate it for what it is. But it is very easy to fall into a hole of self defeating thoughts when sales are not coming in. I've been doing this 10+ years. Somehow, I always am presented with what I need the most at a given time, it is a fact that I calmly hang onto and remind myself of in lean times.

The hardest part of mixing art with commerce, I feel, is the constant nagging in one's head of - 'what can I do to increase sales, why did that sell and not this one, how do I get more people to the site"....on and on....If I were rich, would I paint in this same rhythm I am in now? Or would I cease all together to care about producing, and simply make a few respectable canvases a year and be content? I don't know. I know I would always be busy, never resting, and creating 'something', like monkey houses, or bad knitting, or pickles.

I also know that making a living on art is a grind. But not the life itself. My daily moments and my life are NOT a grind. I am very lucky. I love being outside, being able to breathe and be surrounded by animals and nature. The grind comes in the constant nagging fact that one MUST make money to live, even if living as simply as we do. The grind is where's the next job, where's the next sale, when, where, how, why not faster, what am I doing wrong? Everyone faces the same feeling of 'grind', no matter the income level, I assume - The surgeon in the ER, the CEO's, the lawyers, the guy that bravely lays tar on the highway, and the millions that loyally go to a little cubicle with their little pencil holders.

I guess, what I mean is, making money to sustain oneself, usually involves a grind in some way. But one's life, if one chooses consciously, does not have to be a grind.

I was interested that the architect Frank Gehry, in the recent PBS documentary on his work, stated that the one thing he always wanted to be was a painter - but that he had never tried. He said that the thought of a flat, blank space terrified him. He also said that each time he started a new project, he would have moments of wondering if this was it, if this was the project he would not be able to find a solution for, that he would 'lose it' and this would be the end of his career as he knew it. That gave me comfort - to know he had those thoughts even at his stage. I look at architects, such as my own father, and am so in awe of their ability to clearly see and think spatially in 3 dimensions. It is a gift, and I will never have it. Physicists and engineers too - very admirable.

I am in some sort of stage where the 'creating' I am doing more of, at this particular moment, is not on a 2D piece of material. Rather it is a of little creations that are bringing me fulfillment, even though they might be considered silly or wasting my true talent by some. I did a wonderful canvas 2 weeks ago, and have another blank piece on the wall. I will do it - I am just slowing down maybe. Today I wanted to make my pumpkin sculptures. Last night I made my donkey doll. They will not sell, and if they did, not for much. But the muse took me there.

I guess, it's like this. Right now, today, if I was working on a painting and someone offered me a hot dog, I'd stop to take that hot dog.