Category Archives: Opening the Process

Flock House – Omaha Project at Carver Bank

June 7, 2014 – First visit to Carver Bank to see the Pentagon Flock House

Turning north from Dodge to 24th street, skirting the eastern edge of the Creighton campus, entering an old and somewhat deserted part of town. Moving north, it begins to dawn on me that the environment is changing. The landscape was sleepy and residential, but now the street signs are eye-catching. Large, bright, celebratory. By the time I reached 24th and Lake I was in a jaw dropping zone of transformation. I imagined myself entering Brigadoon, and looking at another (unseen) sign, “Genius at Work.”

I turned into the (free) parking lot at Carver Bank. There was a 5 sided Flock House.  I reached for my camera, got out of the car into damp air following a hard rain, and started shooting.

Carver Bank FH 800 72

The raised planting beds had beets and tomatoes. A newly planted oak tree framed my shot. The environment framed the Flock House and drew me to enter the Carver Bank building. Amanda saw me through the widow and pointed me around to the front of the building. The former bank front, sandblasted, has a new surface with older words still visible.  Palimpsest. A sign that I recognized as part of my Flock House journey.

I entered a gallery. The art on the walls was colorful geometric painting on wood, cut into pieces and reassembled with electric energy. Carefully crafted, fitted like stone walls at Machu Picchu. A collection of collages drew me closer for study. Each collage, a curation of pattern and color. An imaginary world. My jaw now hung helplessly from its hinges.

Then J appeared, like a temple virgin, with quiet, warm welcome. She was holding her drawing of the Flock House at Carver Bank.

drawing - tight 800 72

She drew it with Amanda, the Curator of the Flock House Project at Bemis and Carver Bank, who sat in a warm wood-paneled library adjoining the gallery.

Who are these people in your drawing? “This is me” (green dress), and that’s Amanda (bright red hair).

Is that a fire? “Yes.  They are cooking marshmallows. They burned it. It is better that way.”

Later, I noticed that her drawing also included the raised garden beds with a plant.

Amanda joined us and we went outside, to the Flock House.

J and Amanda at FH-CB 800 72

It was beautiful to watch these two in this space. Playful and happy.

J and Amanda at FH-CB 2 800 72

J began to take photos with my camera. When we went inside I saw the artist’s studios where 3-D, life-sized roses formed a grid pattern on a board. Was this the work of one of the resident artists at Carver Bank?

Before leaving, I stepped into Big Mama’s Sandwich Shop, an extension of Carver Bank. I could not leave without tasting their famous sweet potato ice cream. I was wise to follow my intuition. Scrumptious.



Palimpsest II

May 29, 2014 – Meeting with Cassidy to explore ways to work with layers.

We met to explore ways to create visual layers with soft pastel, stencils and black walnut ink.

soft pastel stencil and ink

Cassidy selected colors from a box of half stick Sennelier pastels.  She began to work pastel into the paper. The dry media worked as a stain on the surface of the paper, and yet stayed transparent so that earlier marks were still visible. This seemed promising, especially when working over marks on white paper.  It opened the possibility to create soft color to replace the white background.  The effect might be to make it look like a plaster base, or an ancient wall.

palimpsest 1 800 72

We tried a thin styrofoam, often used with school children to make stamps by pressing in the background area of a stamp image. But the ink ran off the non-porous surface of the paper, leaving a blotchy image.

Instead, we began to cut stencils.

Cassidy cutting stencil 800 72

As Cassidy cut a stencil, she realized that she could use the cut out part of the stencil paper as negative space, and paint with the brush around the cut out. Then she realized she could fill in the image space with ink by holding down the stencil and brushing in the ink.

Cassidy inking stencil 800 72

As we began to imagine the possibilities, we considered using stamps and stencils to make geometric marks, and to cut organic forms based on the leaves of plants from the Flock house gardens. The contrast between organic forms and mathematical forms could represent nature in relationship to science.

As we looked at the experimental pages, we wondered if there was a better way to create the stencil.  The thickness of the styrofoam made it possible for the ink to leak under the cut out area.  Maybe we need different brushes to apply the ink.  Maybe we can try making stencils with contact paper, which would be easy to cut (spontaneous) and thinner.

We also want to combine the ink with oil pastel to take advantage of the resist nature of the oil pastel.

Plants growing from seeds

May 24, 2014 – Plastic light fixtures recycled as planters

transplated in sun

This winter The Flock House Project selected seeds from the Common Soil Seed Library at the Benson Branch of the Omaha Public Library to start for the Omaha Flock houses.

Common Soil strives to provide a space where local gardeners, farmers and library patrons can share open-pollinated seeds, as well as develop awareness and gain information about gardening and seed saving.

The Flock House exhibit at Bemis has a glass wall along one side.  This natural light is augmented with Grow Lights to start and grow seedlings.  Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, arugula, beets and okra are some of the plants that we transplanted into recycled containers as part of a food and water system.

We worked on the edge of an urban meadow where the Bemis Flock House will rest. First we removed the electric wires and tubes from the lighting fixtures.  Then we filled them with dirt, transplanted the smaller plants, and added water.  One larger container made from a plastic drum holds more soil for larger plants.

We set the planters out on a wood pile to harden off outdoors.


May 21, 2014. Meeting with Mary Mattingly and Alex Priest at Bemis Center for Contemporary Art to discuss how I might take part in the Flock house when it is open and ready.

I brought two paintings that came out of my work as Harvest Studio with the Living Loess Tour. I give free mini-art lessons to visitors that take a self-tour to destinations up the Old Lincoln Highway and Loess Hills Trail, starting in Crescent, Iowa.  I like to combine a demonstration with an opportunity for people to take part. I am still working this out, but the pieces I brought are examples of what I am working toward.  I made them during a tour day which lasts from 9 -3.  I hung kraft paper on the wall and worked with terra-cotta, black and brown tempera paint.

This first example is trying to represent a prairie by stamping with real prairie plants. I poured paint into a dish and dipped plants into the paint, then pressed them against the paper on the wall.  In some cases I just used stems. The idea was to repeatedly do this to build up a sense of prairie texture, not brush strokes or highly abstracted, alternating light and shadow.

Prairie plant stamp 800

The next time I tried this process I decided I would build up a background first, using geometric stamps.  The idea was to create a sense of texture that I could overlay with plant pressings. I brought large amaranth leaves, corn stalks and oats (left to right) to use for the overlay.

amaranth corn oats 800

Immediately, Alex used a word that was new to me.


|ˈpalimpˌsest |



Something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form:

A manuscript, typically of papyrus or parchment, that has been written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible.

I loved the idea of working with stamps, stencils and adding text and images to build layers. I love how it could be about the future while appearing to be something ancient.

I also wanted to develop the idea of Flock.  Maybe to create large layered sheets, and then cut them into postcards to mail with messages in a flock. Or cut them into selected triangles and hang them from screens to look like a flock of birds in flight.  To turn the Flock house into an exhibit that encased its own flock.

As we talked about these ideas, Alex envisioned the first layers could be made by visitors to the Flock House on public view in Bemis. New layers would be added when I moved into the Flock house for a short residency. To set up this beginning layer, we authored a prompt.

Think of something that used to be healthy, but now is toxic or perceived to be ruined. What could its contribution be? Write and draw your response.

I began to imagine an open-ended process at every stage.  Before the Flock house.  During the Flock house. And after? It would be dismantled and left ready for the next resident.  Or be packed up and transported to its new destination.


4 May 10 2014

What Kind of Flock House?

May 9 – 10, 2014, Bemis Center of Contemporary Arts

In Omaha we will build two Flock houses.  One will be in the vest pocket meadow across from the Bemis Center of Contemporary Arts.  The second will be at Carver Bank.

Mary shows slides of existing Flock houses, living structures moving around New York City. Floating structures. A Flock house on a barge. We break into groups and begin to Blue Sky, pouring out our visions for the Flock house. Our group tables are right next to the very Flock house first built at the port of New York.  Now, part of a growing Flock of houses, it migrated to Omaha, to a Bemis gallery where much of Mary’s stuff stands bundled by twine.  All her stuff, including her Apple computer, tied into a perfectly visible burden of modern life.  All the stuff we keep and store and move from place to place.  Mary balled it up and rolled it along the sidewalk to a van, and in the van to New York Harbor.

There is stuff – recycled material that Mary Mattingly and the Bemis staff and residents have located around the building, in the alley and about the city.  Wood flooring, plastic molded lighting, doors – there are many, many doors, and metal panels.  There is a workshop in the basement at Bemis and a fabrication/construction space across the street. I am excited to think we would build a structure, a Flock house, from recycled materials.  Stuff discovered piled here and there, awaiting a second life.

Flock houses, what are they?

They are self-sustaining.  They are portable, easy to break down and move to a new site. Not too heavy. Not boxy, but more organic in design. They should open up, be adjustable and connected to the outside. Planters and plants. They should catch rain and hold it  to water plants.  They need toilet facilities and waste treatment.  Energy from wind and sun. As we speak I am trying to imagine urban agriculture, urban cabins, urban exposed plumbing and energy generation.  A world part hippie, part Steam Punk, part technical genius.  An infrastructure supporting creative thinking and problem solving, art making, and generative community. An image by Janice Jong of Thekla jumps to mind  .

Thekla by Janice Jong Thekla –  Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

“What is the aim of a city under construction unless it is a city? Where is the plan you are following, the blueprint?”

“We will show it to you as soon as the working day is over; we cannot interrupt our work now,” they answer.

Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. “There is the blueprint,” they say.

At 3 am, Mary, sleepless, began making a model of a blue triangular structure.  Inspired. Reflecting triangles that kept surfacing in our first envisioning.  We see it and affirm, ours will be triangular.