The Background: Where it Started
Antique objects with stories untold. The thrill of opening a drawer in an abandoned house that hasn’t been touched in a hundred years. The creativity that comes with combining ideas, words, and objects in novel ways to create new stories with old materials.
These are the things that inspired me to create the installation: The Space Between Two Bridges, while participating as an artist in residence at Instar Lodge. A combination of antique objects, book forms, matte medium image transfers, and typewritten text, this installation tells the story of ornithologist Margaret Morse Nice (born 1883) all while conveying a sense of curiosity and mystery about the past.
My focus at the residency began with the idea of creating an alternative biography of Margaret Morse Nice that would be based both on facts from her life as well as my own creative interpretations. It was her story, as a female scientist during a time when the field was primarily male dominated, that carried me through the residency. However, it was her book series, Studios in the Life History of the Song Sparrow, that first inspired me. Years ago I randomly pulled it off the shelf in a dusty library and the detailed charts and graphs, filled with data about hundreds of individual birds’ lives, immediately caught my attention.
Now, six years later, thanks to the opportunity to spend a month at Instar Lodge, I was finally able to dedicate the time and energy needed to this project. Throughout the month I witnessed my project shift, grow, and change as I dove deeper into both Nice’s autobiography, as well as into simply playing with materials without overthinking it.
I begun, just as the birds do, with collecting a large amount of material. I surrounded myself with photocopies of charts, text, and images from Nice’s books, a plethora of small antique sewing objects and furniture, fabric, papers, and of course, my typewriter. I wanted to create an installation that looked almost as if it could have been her office. At first glance you would see a file drawer or a piece of furniture, but open looking closer the drawers would be filled with pieces of a bird’s nest, text, and image transfers from her books.
At first I thought large, creating two installation pieces involving an antique sewing machine and a file drawer. I experimented with quilt forms, watercolors, and other pieces, creating an environment using fabric, nest materials, and embroidery. However, as I kept working I found myself focusing smaller and smaller, finding the most interest in creating tiny one-of-a-kind artist books using antique objects with Nice’s text and charts imposed onto them. I loved getting into the creative flow of choosing strange objects, deciding what part of Nice’s story it could tell, and figuring out technically how to turn objects like a bobbin or a tape measure into a book.
The result is 12 completely unique artist books (and many more in progress). Each one consists of an an antique object imbued with charts, images, and phrases from Nice’s writing, which taken out of context create a whole new story. The books, in addition to the larger pieces in progress, have allowed me to make more progress on this project in four weeks than I have in the past year.
Continuing to Weave the Nest
The most valuable part of my residency at Instar has been simply giving my work the space to evolve naturally. If I were making this on my regular studio schedule I never would have had the time and freedom to simply let it become something new, without pressure. Now I have a new body of work that is the culmination of both brand new inspirations and ideas and themes that have been bubbling up for years. I look forward to incorporating sound, diving into research on local scientists and naturalists of the 19th century, and finding even more interesting objects that are begging to be made into books! I am so grateful to have had the time, space, and inspiration provided by Instar and can’t wait to see what comes next in this series.
This series explores the push and pull between ornithologist Margaret Morse Nice’s passion for research, and the demands of being a wife and mother in the early 1900s. These themes come to the forefront in this installation as traditional feminine items, such as a sewing machine, are overtaken by charts, words, and text from Nice’s books. In The Meaning of the Nest, the pieces of a sparrow’s nest interwoven with Nice’s words are spilling out of a drawer, unable to be contained. In the small book Measuring Hours, a quote from her autobiography describing her relentless dedication to research is transposed over and over on a tape measurer. Her love of studying and recording data is subtly emerging throughout these everyday items. These phrases and charts, when taken out of context and combined with curious old objects, create a whole new story saturated with mystery. The combination of Nice’s writings, image transfers of her charts and maps, and antique items with my own drawings and creative interpretations results in an unconventional and whimsical biography of a female scientist who fundamentally shifted the field of ornithology with her work.
A deep connection to nature and a curiosity to learn is what drives Hudson Valley artist Katie Grove. Her perceptive drawings, etchings, and mixed-media sculptures reflect her interest in combining art and the scientific study of nature. From detailed drawings of the hundreds of pieces in a bird’s nest to whimsical biographies of female naturalists of the 19th century, her work has a strong sense of storytelling. She draws on her backgrounds in printmaking, watercolor, and textile techniques including quilting, plant dyes, book arts and basketry to create a wide range of work. Grove has a BFA in Printmaking from SUNY New Paltz and currently resides in Rosendale, NY. She regularly exhibits her artwork regionally and teaches workshops on art techniques using natural materials. She is a recipient of the Ora B Schneider Regional Artist Residency at Women’s Studio Workshop and has been awarded a 2017 Residency at Instar Lodge. No matter which medium she explores, her work always reflects an awe and appreciation of the natural world and tells a story about our relationship with it.