Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Black was the forest: thick with beech it stood,
Horrid with fern, and intricate with thorn;
Few paths of human feet or tracks of beasts, were worn.

Virgil  Aeneid  Book IX (translation: John Dryden)


In the Herbarium there is a box that contains some of my fern and leaf fossils.  Most were purchased at the  annual Gem and Mineralogical Fair, a couple were gifts and a few very special ones were found on a hunt with Carl Mehling and Fiona Brady at one of the preeminent fossil sites -  Mazon Creek in Illinois.   


This vintage teaching aid was given to me by Ron Povlich.  The company that produced it has been in business for over 150 years selling scientific equipment to schools.  It is more amusing than beautiful but has a real charm in its old fashioned and sort of innocent presentation.


One of Detroit's treasures is Pewabic Pottery which was founded in 1903 by Mary Chase Perry Stratton.  It has survived through dedicated, hard work and despite the problems of its somewhat difficult location in Detroit.  It continues to produce tiles, pottery and artifacts for buildings with its Arts and Crafts ethic of production.  Now privately operated,  Pewabic Pottery offers classes, mounts shows in their gallery space and maintains a museum that exhibits examples of early work produced there.  The fern tile in my collection was purchased in their shop and given to me as a present by our son Barrett.


My cousin Carol's  husband Lee was a preparator for the Milwaukee Public Museum.  He was a man so very filled with talent, energy and interests that it was hard for him to be doing one thing while knowing he was missing something interesting happening elsewhere.  He designed holiday cards every year and produced them with the help of his wife.  This one was really labor intensive and certainly worth the effort.  Each card had a flattened, dried fern that fit the dimensions of the hand cut and folded paper with its perfectly cut parchment liner.  The ferns were spattered with a bit of "snow" and a hand written poem appeared on the back in white ink. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012


A case made of wood, or other matter, to hold anything.
It is distinguished from a chest, as the less from the greater.

Samuel Johnson, A dictionary of the English Language (1755)

When I was very young I went to summer day camp at a beautiful place behind the School for the Deaf and Blind in Flint, Michigan.  I have not seen the area since then but it lingers in my memory as having a valley with a meadow filled with butterflies.  I loved my adventures there and remember clearly gathering flowers and leaves and making reverse images by putting them on a sheet of paper and then spattering paint  over them using a toothbrush and a screen stretched over a wooden frame.  When the plant was lifted off the paper there was a lovely white silhouette where it had been.

Inspired by Megan Parry, who makes wonderful, complex compositions by applying a similar technique, (she uses cans of spray acrylic rather than a toothbrush and screen)  I made images of the ferns from my garden.  Using a flattened fern one can achieve quite a true idea of the structure of the plant.

I also made more mysterious versions of ferns by not flattening them and using a piece of translucent paper.  The result is not as accurate structurally because the paint gets under the object where it lifts off the paper.  It makes the fern seem much softer and more vulnerable.  In the box of ferns the two types of images are kept together.  In some cases there is hardly any difference in the look and in others they don't resemble one another at all.

A label giving the Latin and the common name is attached to the back of the more structured version.

The box that contains the images of the ferns is cardboard - something found in a store, sprayed with a product that  should deascidify it, then painted and decorated using the same method as the images in the box.  There are 19  sets of ferns using sprayed acrylic and 2 images that are cyanotypes.

Four examples of double fern images.

Friday, June 8, 2012


PTERIDOMANIA - the mania for ferns

In 1998 I decided to quit shopping for presents and started making books for my family and friends for the holidays.  Since then I have made an annual book using the same size (6"x6") and format but always looking for interesting variations.  In 2005 the subject was ferns.

The images for this book were created with cyanotypes, a process discovered at the very beginning of photography.  Objects are placed on photosensitive paper and exposed to sunlight for a couple of minutes.  The paper is then rinsed in water and where it was exposed it turns a rich blue while the protected area remains a very pale blue-white.  Each fern book in the edition of 100 contains one original cyanotype.  The rest of the images were photocopied in black and white from other original prints made at the same time.  The ferns came from our garden.

In the series, each book has an envelope which usually relates strongly to the cover of the book.
The border frame for Ferns was photocopied and the central image was done with a stencil.

End sheets have uniformly been translucent vellum.  
Here the ferns let you peek through to a poem written for the book by Alison Rogers.  Alison, whose work I admire greatly, lives in New York and has been included in other books published by my small press, Chicken in a Snowstorm.

A larger volume containing cyanotypes of ferns, now stored in the Herbarium, was inspired by the overage of prints that I made for the smaller, large edition Fern book.  This book is 9" x 7", contains 21 images and employs a coptic stitch binding.  The end sheets are tissue flecked with metallic bits and the text is simply a description of the cyanotype technique and a list of the plates.  There are 5 copies of this book.  Each one would be considered unique as each image is an original print.

Pictured are representative pages from the book:

Tatting Fern

Sensitive Fern

Ghost fern

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Like the very old and very wise of our own race, they [ferns] seem to have outgrown haste and impatience...

Hal Borland, Twelve Moons of the Year

In ancient days our neighborhood was probably a beach.  When they dug the ditch for an expressway half a mile north of us you could look deep into the hole as it approached the center of the earth and see only sand.  Despite this, ferns have been happy to live in our yard.  It is a very contrary gesture on their part and one that has given me great pleasure.

Well before there was any thought of assembling a Room of Curiosities we had a dining room where I removed the carpet and stenciled the floor using images of ferns from the garden: Maidenhair, Christmas, Royal and Japanese Painted ferns.  They always have seemed to me the most beautiful and graceful forms in the kingdom of plants.  We walk on them everyday as I long for the woods while we live in the city.  Now the floor also acts as the base for a room devoted to the wonders of nature.