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

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©Katherine Dunn.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Night swimming

I did two pieces after reading a story about a woman who disappears after swimming in the ocean under a full moon.

I love water, I love to swim. But not in the ocean, ever, never. Nor big lakes. My river I can handle as I can see the earth at my feet. I've always been drawn to the water, but my worst nightmare would be being in it at night, alone. I love the colors of these two pieces.

Now, I must run. I have to get to the feed store - it's worming weekend at the farm! The fall weather is coming, and there are many things to get done before the winter rains come.

Next week, stay tuned, as I have put Paco Giovanetti in charge of the giant pumpkin we are growing. Paco is so grumpy, but very good at guarding, so I thought he would be the best one to guard the magic pumpkin. I'm also hoping it will keep him from mounting little Lucia. Paco is the grumpiest donkey I know, and I'm not going to try to change that. But if he can take charge of a giant, magic pumpkin, perhaps it will help him to be less of a sourpuss. Sourpuss or not, he is loved.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New gallery work

I've been working on some new gallery pieces. Some are acrylic on heavy paper, and some I'm drawing with pastel and pencil, some acrylic, directly onto archival prints of my abstracts. These are online now, and for sale I might add.

I'm starting some new illustration portfolio pieces today. I've put so much energy into my illustration portfolio this past year, and with my new reps, I feel really good about the direction I'm going. Someone recently said to me, 'You never seem to be down about your work...'. Ah, well, so not true. I actually do get quite hurt, not for me, but for my work, when I see other illustrators getting juicy jobs. It's like my work is an actually being, and I want it to get noticed. It's probably how a mother must feel when she sends her 10 year old off to school on the first fall day of the semester - you want everyone you know to understand the qualities of that creature, and see how wonderful they are.

When I look through my online illustration portfolio, I really like it. When I look at work of other illustrators I admire, I feel inspired to do more, be better, learn, expand, try. But I can't lie, sometimes, I get really down, and I question why I'm not hired for a job when someone else is. I wonder if anyone is out there. August can be brutal on one's artistic ego. A lot of it is I took a brief hiatus in the last couple years from promoting my illustration so I could focus on the move and the farm and gallery work. It takes time to re-build, re-focus, and I feel my work is so much stronger than it was in 1996, or even 2005. I'm so lucky to have been picked up by Morgan Gaynin. And I get very cranky when I do see illustrators that are very busy complaining about it on their blogs - um, you know the Apifera code - 'no time for whining'.

I'm a grounded old gal. But when you work alone all day on your art, no matter how confidant, or happy you are, it can feel really frustrating when the phone's not ringing. I've been a full time freelancer since 1996, and I've learned to keep going through the slow times, and focus on the fact that this is what I want to do in life. I've never thought otherwise. I've also learned that when it is slow with 'real' jobs, there are things percolating job-and-art wise that I don't even know about.

Letters to Pino

We recieved this fenerous letter from someone and wanted to share it...

Dear Pino and Katherine:

Hello! My name is Delisa, I am 45 years old and I live in the small town of Ellabell in south east Georgia. I came across your delightful story in Somerset Life magazine. It is so beautiful and inspiring! I loved all the pictures and your website too.

My husband came home this evening after an especially difficult day at work and I read him your story. He laid back and listened with his eyes closed, his breathing relaxed and soon the tired lines around his mouth softened and gave way to a calm sweet smile.

I suffer from some health conditions that have left me with chronic pain. Some days I am able to get around better than others. Some days, I am able to walk, other days I must use a cane or wheelchair. I have a golden retriever named Barkley who is my dearest animal friend. We spend the days together and he is always there with his playful spirit, unconditional love and reassurance. Like you Pino, he has a happy and calming effect on everyone he meets!

Thank you for your endearing story. My husband and I felt so uplifted. It is hard to explain exactly, but it really touched us and made me feel more in tune with what I love and enjoy than I have in awhile. I will think of cherry pies and daisy painted hooves in the days to come with sparkly eyes and a smile. My heart will gently jump and I will find myself humming for no particular reason. I hope you two will have a wonderful week ahead.

With Love,


"Did she say 'blackberries?'"

I will paint this morning and into the afternoon, but then I will take a break and gather the donkeys in the field. "Line up, quality control will now begin!"
Pino tests one berry for ripeness, then Lucia gives her opinion on tartness, and finally Paco rates texture. I follow up with overall sensuality of the berry.

Last year I gathered so many berries I made blackberry breads and cobblers through July. You know the berries are entering into their ripe stage when all the animals
come to the barn at night with red juice stained noses. The white headed Boer goats are the funniest, as they will climb up into the bramble, and end up with purple spots all over their bodies.

Feeding a blackberry to Pino is one of my many farm delights this month. He takes the berry, tucks it in his mouth, takes a tiny 'suck', then s...l...o...w..l..y chews, very carefully, very deliberately.He moves not one muscle of his body, but focuses solely on that one berry in his mouth. Would we all focus on each bite, how the world would slow a bit, how we would all take notice of so many more subtle nuances of nature's bounty.

The bounties of the vegetable garden are coming full force now. We are very fortunate to have space to grow food. Next week, our lamb meat will be ready for pickup. We increased our hanging weights [this is the weight of the actual carcass by 5-10 pounds this year. I'm so proud of our boys. And Mr. T, as his genes helped too. It will feed us through the year.. We will be eating our own land, so to speak.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The story of the Giant One

In which Billy Baker the one eyed pug shares a secret of his breed, knowing the audience is open to the many mysteries of the universe, or at least not judgmental.

As a young pup I knew my daily life was unique, as I could see much more like a fly. While I was often ridiculed by even the best of friends, I just got used to the stupid comments. People are much worse than the creatures with what they think are humorous pokes at my facial look. "Did you run into a wall?", they'd asked, in that baby talk voice they use on their own fledglings. I got so tired of it. At some point, I just couldn't stand it, and I took to passing gas, silently of course, if they told a joke about my face.

I lived just fine for many years with my over weight eyeballs, until one day, while living in the presence of the chocolate lab named after a pie, I was partaking in a good game of 'run around the tree really fast". As usual, I was slower, but since I am much smaller, was able to trip the big chocolate fellow up. This unfortunately caused him to fall, and I don't know if it was his toe, or a stick, or grass, that grazed my bald eyeball. But whatever it was, my eyeball fell ill, and did not improve. The Two Footers squeezed cool liquids and medicines into my aching orb, but one day later, my eyeball felt so heavy and so strange like it was swirling outside my head. When blood squirted out after one medicine was applied, the Two Footer rushed me into the Medicine Keeper in town.

They shot giant streams of light into my aching eyeball. I knew already what this meant. Our breed is forewarned even before we are born, in dreams and embryonic classes, on what life is often like with our bulging eyeballs. We know that there are many obstacles to our eyes. And we are raised to appreciate every day with out having something run into our eyeballs.

So by the tones of the Two Footer, and all the kisses I was getting, I knew my eyeball was moving onto the Great Place to live amongst stars and other magnificent orbs. This did not worry me. I knew my eyeball would be returning to where it originated, to the Giant One in the night sky. The Two Footers call it a moon, and they say it orchestrates tides of the ocean. The Giant One sends off little eyeballs to all the earthly mother pugs precisely at the time the mother pug gives birth. We pugs don't bother to tell the Two Footers that our eyeballs are born from their moon, because we know they would scoff at it. But I am sharing it here with you, in case you live with a pug, so you can be more respectful of 'full moon' nights. We pugs call it "Giant One Calling" night. For once a month, on the full moon, all pugs instinctively gravitate to the garden, or window seat, and sit amongst the loving shinings of the moon. And for those pugs who have lost an eye, they look up at pride to the night sky, knowing their eyeball is now with the Giant One. It will be nourished by starlight, and in time, it will return to another mother pug, and placed in a young pup to once again see earthly delights.

--The End--

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cultural rooster help

Today I will carry a feather from Ward in my pocket. In the Vietnamese culture, during the Tet (New Year's) Festival, rooster feathers are used to sweep out evil and bring joy and peace.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Clearly thankful

When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.
Tecumseh, Native American

I have written about the day of slaughter before , and this year I will not write about any internal personal conflict I have with killing an animal to eat it. Let me be clear - it's a process to get to this stage of thinking when raising animals for food. Secondly, you have to walk in it for a time to really understand it well. And I just don't want to keep writing about it every year, as I've worked through it. Four years ago, I wasn't sure it did make sense. But now I know, for me, it just doesn't make sense not to raise our own meat. We buy our chicken and turkey from a free range grower, and only a few times a year buy pork. And while we eat vegetarian about 75% of the time, our particular bodies desire meat, and love it.

I have lived on the farm now 4 years and this is our third year of harvesting lamb. We have a local butcher come to our farm and do the actual slaughter. It is fast, humane and professional. The initial conflicts of my first two years have subsided. This is due to the fact that the more I live on the earth, the more I see animals interact in the barnyard and in the fields and forests and streams, and the more I understand and accept my place in the food chain. As a friend said, "Some creature's always eating something." Please don't write and scold me, telling me to become a vegetarian. I did that for some years, and I have nothing against you if you choose not to eat meat. After much thought over the years, I came to realize that if one is going to scold a human for killing a sheep for meat, they better start scolding the bird for eating the worm. Who is anyone to tell me that I am not in a food chain, albeit, I'm at the top of the food chain. I'm grateful for that. But after many years of my own individual experiences, I choose to eat meat, as does Martyn [who was also a vegetarian for many years.] But it is meat that is fed from the grasses we maintain, and the grasses are fed by the rain that fills our river. And the water from that river gives moisture to the sheep while they spend a days work eating the grass to fill their bellies. It is only fitting, and right, that they die here too, under our supervision and blessing.

I used to put the meat lambs away the night before slaughter and pretend it was like any other night. I'd say, "See you tomorrow" in a cheery tone like I do every night, hoping they would feel as if all was well, as it is every night. But that was really for me. They really didn't know what was coming the next day, but I did. But this year, I have turned some kind of corner. This season, every night I put the meat lambs, or "chosen ones" as we call them, into their night time stall, I said to them, "Good work today, thank you." I said that each nite. And tonight, on their last night, I will simply say, "Your job is almost done now, and you did everything very well. Thank you. You'll do just fine tomorrow." And they will. When the butcher leaves with the hanging carcases, he will give us the kidneys, liver and hearts of each animal. It's the clearest looking liver you'll ever see. I'll cook it in some garlic and onions and rosemary for dinner. Let me tell you, it is a very reverential moment for me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

For the animal lovers

I have new prints online now. These composites have proven to be popular, and one just went up to a veterinarian who specializes in dog/cat eye issues. I thought that was nice. Sorry for the huge garish © symbols [they are not in actual print], but due to the masses that don't quite understand that printing images without permission is...how shall I put this, stealing, I added extra here.

So, if you want some of the farm life on your wall, then the Farm Friends print is for you. Cat lover? Seek no more.. Bird fanciers might like this one. And those of you that combine combine cats and dogs in your life, this one is for you.

And of course, I had to do a donkey collage too.

Other site news: updated Original Art section at the store. Marked a few things down, getting ready for my annual fall/winter painting explosion. And, you can also visit the portfolio site and see paintings in the 'Painting" section that also can be purchased online.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Apron energy

I received this wonderful picture from one of Pino's supporters. Terry B. made a wonderful apron for our latest Pie Day and also purchased aprons from the apron gallery.

I can just feel the love and happiness in these three characters! And the aprons too!

With all the nutty stuff going on in the world, with all the complications of each of our daily lives, people smiling and donning aprons is a wonderful reprieve.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mystery no more

Yesterday it was over 100 degrees. And what was I doing? Around noon I was helping hold a sheep for my vet to take blood samples. Standing even in the shaded barn for 45 minutes nearly killed this Irish blooded lass. The vet left and I returned to the studio, where Martyn had rigged up an old air unit, delapitated but it works."Anything to keep my bride cool, " he said.

I ventured out around 2 pm to do an errand, and again, felt like I was dying. I've written before about my history with the month of August. It is not my favorite month, not only because of the heat, but because I feel like a dead leaf. Just grind me up, give me to the worms, please, get it over with. Surely I'm worth more to the world as compost than an over heated human.

Back in the studio, I had much to do, and attempted it, quite well with my dandy air unit buzzing. It also saved the pug from cardiac rest. But then I was saved. Saved by an email. The email was only 3 words long: "I'm goin' in" and I knew exactly what it meant.I jumped up, changed into my special nymph outfit, gathered my towel, and got my body, now dewey and crisp all at the same time, down to our river front. My friend and savior Annie met me at our river front and we descended from our bank into our birth waters. In an instant, we ceased to be women, but had become the air-water creatures, most of our bodies under water, and only our faces sticking up for air. We are graced with this river front, and while the river is not 'ours', it feels like it. No cars from our road can see into it, and the shore line is secluded. And even more wonderful, we have about 40 feet that is deep enough to do laps.

We swam, we floated, we ate blackberries that were spewing over the bank. We found our spot where we could sit with our bodies in water, and just, breathe. We were being nibbled by the 1" baby cutthroat fish. Martyn has since explained they were eating the dead skin that was floating off our bodies. I had this moment in the water where I felt "of the river".

The heat stayed well into the evening, so I didn't do barn chores until 9pm. The moon was one day from being full. As I returned to the house, the sky, moon, and sun merged together into some kind of mystery, or moment. I was somehow lifted out of my body, only for seconds. Returning to the ground, I stood alone in silence and watched, but felt compelled to try to document the moment, or feeling. As I returned with a camera, the donkeys had appeared, right at the spot of my earth lifting. I took this picture not worrying about camera settings. Was it in my overheated head, an over creative imagination? I think not. Encircled in an energy orb of the moon, Pino is looking directly at me and reassuring me, "Yes, it did happen, I often leave the earth for seconds too."

Monday, August 11, 2008

One more sneaky look

I had to do a color spread for the book dummy of the new children's story. So, you had a sneak peek at Old Mouse in the entry below, and now I'll just say that Pino's ears play a prominent role in the story.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sneek peek

Some of you have asked me what's going on with the children's stories I've been writing and illustrating. Well, here's sneak peek at a rough spread from my latest story. I love this book. I actually think it is the best one to date, as it's very focused on one idea...It's a story about a little donkey named Pino who loves to paint, but his choice of subject matter isn't quite the norm, at least for some viewers. Pino's friend Old Mouse is a good source of wisdom for our friend Pino, and in the end, well...I guess you'll have to read it...not if, but when I find a publisher....

I find the mouse so endearing, and he has become a constant character for me in my stories.

Writing and illustrating this story, I couldn't wait to get up and work on it. I might just wet my pants if the...oh I mean, when the day comes that I get to really work on it for a publisher. Pino and I are practicing the power of visualizations, so I expect it to go something like this....Ring, Ring, Ring..."Hello, home of Pino Blangiforti...I'm sorry, Mr. Blangiforti is in the field, sunning right now, may I help you? A book deal? You want a 10 book series from Pino? Hmm, well, I will take it up with him as soon as he is in from his sunning...Thank you too, goodbye...pause, gulp, scream, PINOOOOOO! "

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I am starting a new series of personal pieces. These are coming to me as I go to sleep, or when I wake up, I lie in bed and think in sort of a mantra in my head, "What is it, what is it" and certain things come to me...slowly." It's hard to explain. I'm liking the illustration portfolio pieces because it is so clear what I am painting - and illustration is a nice balance to doing these personal paintings. It's a relief to try to paint a Madame Butterfly after sitting and wondering, 'Why is there something compelling me to have a tree trunk in this painting?"

Maybe answers aren't necessary.

But I do sense there are many things out there lately, that are there for me. Thins helping me in invisible ways. One person recently commented that all my recent work has a veil of sadness and it 'must be about your father's death."...Ummm, well, not really. While I do think of my father many times of each day, they are tiny seconds, of memories of him that come at odd times - his death is not anything I am trying to figure out. I think my work has always had a tinge of sadness though, I do see that. But I just feel that's because I am very aware how fast it goes by, or that it will go by. While my father's passing has highlighted many things, it is perhaps the realization that life is here now. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a normal family with love and consistent guidance. While we certainly had our family dynamics, we are basically a grounded group with a maintainable amount of quirks. To my knowledge, we're not bothering anybody.

I'm pretty sure there is somebody out there though.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

New work

I had fun doing this. I struggled a bit to get the colors right, but I liked it in the end. It's sort of sad how Disney really dummied down so many old fable/stories. In an older version of the real story, the puppet actually throws the cricket across a wall and kills it. Yikes. I guess killing a cricket though has consequences, and helped the little puppet to get his act together so he became a real boy in the end.

Magic moment with Boone

In which no picture could be taken, as the rider and horse were busy just experiencing life....

Boone and I were coming up the long gravel drive from a ride in a nearby friend's arena. Our driveway winds around corners and runs along the lavender fields, and on the other side, the goat/ram pasture. We came up almost to the top of the 1/2 mile road, and there were the two fawns that have been living in our pastures. They were only 20 feet from us. Boone is bomb proof, and unscathed by wildlife. He pricked his ears forward and we kept walking, figuring the fawns would go away from us into the ram pasture. But as they saw us, one fawn perked his ears up and rushed towards us, in a happy romp. I think Boone's chestnut color made them see their possible mother. We haven't seen them with their mother lately, and they are very young to be weaned already, I think.

Selfishly, I'd like to think they were running to both me and Boone. "Hello!" said Boone with his posture. "We come from the low flats!" say the fawns. "We were told the one with strawberry blond braids and the man with hoe allow part timers." "That's right," says the horse back. "But leave my hay to me."

It was the look on that fawns face. It seemed so glad to see us. I still haven't seen the doe, but have seen the twins in the lavender fields.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Goodbye, again...

In which the reader is reminded that creatures and nature have their own paths, and it doesn't always include us humans...

I have resisted writing this entry, as I thought that by not writing it, perhaps the truth can be avoided. But after 7 days, I have to face facts that the tiniest member of Apifera is not going to return. Sweet Pea was of the first litter, born to Mama and one of five. She was a runt, and the most feral of the bunch. She was also the most aggressive hunter.

She must have weighed no more that 5# her whole life, which only numbered four years. She remained independent, but in the past year, began to relax, and tender up to me. Every morning when I would walk to the barn for feedings, she would be the first at the gate, and would roll on her back. I'd pick her up in one hand, and say the same thing, every morning...."Good Morning, Sweet Pea....who's the smallest one on the farm?"...Squeek, she'd jump down and run to the hay barn. Sometimes at night feedings I'd say, "Sweet Pea, did you get any smaller?"

I always assumed she would not last that long, as she was so small. Four years is a good life for a semi feral. And she had a barn and a tribe. She never suffered through having her own litter, and heaven knows those kittens would have killed her. So she did okay.

But I was saddened when I realized she hadn't been at breakfast for two days. I'd been busy doctoring Phinias, and Ward, and sort of didn't notice. But the energy had shifted, and I knew it was a bad sign on day three. Still one hopes. You torment - or my imagination does - about what happened. Did she suffer? I suspect it might have been raccoons that she tangled with - we heard a big fight the other night and she might have run into mother at the wrong time.

This morning I thought, well, if I write a blog entry on her, won't I feel silly when she shows up tomorrow? But my written words don't have that magic in them. For the past week, I have asked neighbors to be on the lookout. And I asked Pino, "Have you seen her, Pino? Surely you know where she is." But this isn't "Wind in the Willows". Moles and otters and rats don't rush into the woods at night to find lost animals, and succeed. It's just a real place, a real farm, and things die.

Death just keeps coming in waves, just like birth and life. You have to catch the high wave, keep your balance, don't look down too much. Eat as well as you are able. And don't worry to much about the cracks in the ceiling.

So we all say, "Hail, Sweet Pea! The tiniest member of our farm!"