30 April 2009

Back to the Aldens

One of four blocks for a John Alden portrait

Today I had a nice long time in the studio and was able to carve all of the blocks for my 4-color portrait of John Alden. I'll be carving 4 blocks for the Priscilla portrait next, as both prints will use the same ink colors and will be printed at the same time. These are smallish prints, a little under 5" x 6".

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, depicting these two has been challenging since there's not much information to go on. This is further complicated by the fact that in 1858 poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, himself an Alden descendant, wrote a hugely popular narrative poem called The Courtship of Miles Standish about the early days of Plymouth Colony. There's an ongoing debate about whether or not the poem is fact or fiction, but it colors Americans' perceptions of John and Priscilla.

Here are the known facts. John was not a Puritan himself, rather he was hired at the age of 22 to act as the ship's cooper (barrel maker) and given the option to return to England or stay in New Plymouth. In 1623 John and Priscilla were married.

William Bradford gives this description of John Alden, which has influenced my print:
"John Alden was hired for a cooper, at South-Hampton, wher the ship victuled; and being a hopfull yong man, was much desired, but left to his own liking to go or stay when he came here; but he stayed and maryed here."

It's that part about "being a hopeful young man, was much desired" that caught my attention. Taking that line and running with it, I've inferred that John Alden had charisma, sex appeal, like his descendant Marilyn Monroe. My theory is that John Alden was a hunk, so that's my direction, and probably the title of this print: John Alden was a hunk.

26 April 2009

Workshop With Matt Brown

Matt teaching

I just spent the last three days assisting woodblock printmaker Matt Brown in a moku hanga workshop at Snow Farm -- the very workshop I took four years ago that got me launched into my moku hanga delirium. It was great to see Matt again and to watch him teach from this side of the four years that have passed since he first taught me. It was a wonderful group of students, too. It's always marvelous to watch a group of people who have never done moku hanga before go through the steps and come away with amazingly accomplished prints, all very unique. Here are the photos I took of the weekend.

Paul on carving day

Andrew taking some time with youngsters from a group that was visiting Snow Farm

Busy at the printing stations

Seascape by EB

Two different prints by Evelyn

Andrew's print (can you tell he's a woodworker?)

Evan's print, with and without keyblock

Karen's frisbee-loving dog print

Kate's deer of many colors

Print by Paul, also a woodworker.

One of Peggy's variations

22 April 2009

Dorothy May Final



Japanese woodblock (moku hanga)
Paper size: 22" x 9.5" (55.9 x 24 cm)
Image size: 20" x 8" (50.8 x 20.3 cm)
7 shina plywood blocks
15 hand-rubbed impressions
Paper: Echizen Kozo
Edition: 30

As is true about most women of the colonial period, we know very little about Dorothy May Bradford. Born in Cambridge England in about 1597, she married 23-year-old William Bradford when she was 16 and moved with him to Leiden, Holland. They had a son John a few years later, a son who they left behind when they boarded the Mayflower for America in 1620.

The Mayflower anchored off Provincetown Harbor on November 11, and several expeditions of men set out to seek a place to build their Colony. William Bradford never wrote about Dorothy's death, but Cotton Mather noted that while William was away on one of these explorations, on 7 December 1620, Dorothy accidentally fell off the Mayflower into the freezing waters of Provincetown Harbor and drowned.

Some historians have speculated that Dorothy committed suicide. We will never know, but we do know that she had many reasons to despair -- she was separated from her infant son, winter was upon them, they were confined to the ship even though land was tantalizingly near, there was a constant fear of the unknown including the Indian presence, and the passengers were beginning to get sick and die. Perhaps all of this became too frightening to bear.

This print is dedicated to the memory of Dorothy May Bradford, 1597-1620.

20 April 2009

A Poem for Dorothy

How the carving looks through my magnifying glasses

See the little repair on the ascender of the word at the bottom right? Superglue!

I mentioned a few posts ago that I've been auditing a Smith College course this semester called "Material Culture of New England." The class takes place in Historic Deerfield, a museum and historic village, and most of the objects we study are from the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts and Vermont. In one of our readings we encountered a poem written by Lucy Terry Prince who was the first known African American poet. What struck me about the poem, and I think this is true of all early American poetry, is that it has such a strong meter and rhyme. Nothing wrong with meter and rhyme, but the poem is about a horrible battle in Deerfield, so the sing-song rhythm and rhyme seem totally out of synch with the gravity of the topic.

One night as I was falling asleep during the planning stages of the Dorothy May print a little poem popped into my head and I've decided to include it in the piece. The poem, in a style similar to Lucy Prince's poem, is this:
On a bright sunny day
while her husband was away
Bradford's wife Dorothy May
slipped overboard into the bay
and drowned.
I considered omitting the text, but because this is not a story that most people are familiar with I decided it was an important thing to include.

19 April 2009

Murky Waters


I did several more stages of printing this weekend, basically covering the image of Dorothy May with enough ink to make her look like she was sinking into murky water but not so much ink as to obliterate her form. It was a tough balance and it also felt very emotionally intense to do it. I felt grief welling up as I worked. I felt so sorry for her and for all of the people who were on the ship, moored in the harbor staring out at a strange barren land, waiting for Bradford's scouting mission to return with news of what lay before them. It was cold, it was bleak and they must have felt so helpless and terrified when they realized that Dorothy had gone overboard. I could feel all of this as I worked.

A friend of mine recently asked me "what happened to your happy art?" I took that to mean, "I don't like your scary/unhappy art" and I was sort of amused by it. But this weekend I felt that way a little bit myself. This feels like new territory for me to be exploring in my work, and it's probably new territory I'm exploring in myself as well.

The photo above is the accumulation of around 10 or 11 impressions. I still have one more block to print -- some text.

16 April 2009

More Dorothy May Printing

Added two more layers today - a sort of dingy purple to add more shape to Dorothy's clothing and body:


and a blue-gray for her hair.


Tomorrow I plan to muddy up the water. Here's a raft of Dorothy Mays:


15 April 2009

Fleshing Out Dorothy May


I want to give Dorothy May some substance, make her look real, so I added a couple of layers to her form today. More to come.

Sometimes I use blank areas from old blocks when I can find them. The second impression I did this afternoon was carved on my old zero and one block from the Great Wall print:


09 April 2009

Where This Is Going


Not much to say, just that with the addition of today's impression you can now see where this is all headed. I'm trying not to let this become too Edward Gorey...

W is for Winnie embedded in ice. Edward Gorey

08 April 2009

It Worked!


This morning I printed the Mayflower block using the setup I showed you in the previous post and it worked like a charm. It was a fussy process, as I had to wipe ink off the mask after every impression and I also needed to use a wooden spoon along with the baren in order to get a firm print along the edges of the acetate mask. I wanted a sort of ghostly impression with the boat almost a part of the water, so I'm happy with how it came out.

Here's a shot of the block inked and the mask in place:


06 April 2009

Registration Puzzle

One of the satisfying things about this print is that it gives me the opportunity to use a Mayflower block that I carved facing the wrong way back in December. Figuring out how to integrate that small 8" x 10" Mayflower block with this 8" x 20" print was an interesting challenge that I worked on tonight.

I want the boat to run off the side of the print area, like this:


My kento (registration) marks are at the opposite end of this long print, so I need to somehow extend this block so that the corner kento can be marked 20 inches away. I also need the boat block to be turned at the same angle as the top of the blue ocean area, and I'll need to use a mask to block any ink from bleeding out from around the print area. I decided to try rigging up something with some foam board that I had left over from framing last month.

First I put the Mayblower block on top of the ocean block that I printed yesterday to help me visualize the situation:


I figured that I could use a piece of clear acetate to both be the mask and to transfer all the essential information to the foam board. I cut some acetate to a size larger than the image (I think it was about 11" x 24") and placed it on my sketch (hanshita) being sure to line it up exactly with the registration marks on my sketch. Then I traced the outline of the ship location plus the lines where I would later cut the opening for the mask:


Next I laid the acetate on the foam core, lightly taped it down, marked the spots for the registration marks, and placed the Mayflower block into position. I then traced the outline of the block edges onto the foam board:


I cut the foam board so that the block would fit snugly against it:


And used some tape to make a kento. Tomorrow (I hope) I'll try printing and see if this system works!


05 April 2009

On a Bright Sunny Day


Today was a bright sunny New England spring day. In my imagination the day that Dorothy May Bradford drowned was a bright sunny New England winter day. Here are the first two color impressions for my Dorothy May print. It's another long tall one -- I seem to like that format.

Tomorrow I need to dig in to some commercial illustration work, but I'm hoping to carve the next block tomorrow night and maybe get the next layer printed on Tuesday.

01 April 2009

Dorothy May Jumps In


For several weeks now I've been working on sketches for a pair of portraits of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins Alden. I think I've got John where I want him, but I'm finding sketching Priscilla pretty daunting. Nineteenth and 20th century depictions of Priscilla show a pretty and demure young woman but I just can't think of her that way. No woman who would get on a rickety old ship with her family and head for an unknown wilderness where everything would have to be built from scratch could possibly have been demure. And she probably wouldn't have remained pretty for very long, either.

What this struggle to depict Priscilla has revealed to me is how inaccessible the lives of the women of Plimoth Colony are to a 21st century inquiry. I haven't found any verbal descriptions of Priscilla from her contemporaries. All I have is my imagination, and a simple imagining of myself in her position evokes such a feeling of terror I can barely imagine how she could have slept at night.

Enter Dorothy May Bradford. Her husband William Bradford never wrote about the circumstances of her death, but a generation later the Puritan historian Cotton Mather wrote that one day as the Mayflower lay moored in Provincetown Harbor and William was away on a scouting mission, Dorothy accidentally slipped over the side of the ship and drowned. Given that the ship was moored, that there was no mention of a storm, and that the waters were shallow, some have speculated that Dorothy committed suicide.

There is absolutely no proof that Dorothy committed suicide, but there's also no proof that she didn't and I'm inclined to think that it's entirely plausible under those dire circumstances. At any rate, given the paucity of factual information about the Pilgrim women I'm going to have to make most of it up. So Dorothy May Bradford has jumped into my artistic imagination and the next print will be for her.