For a few weeks earlier this year I was awarded the opportunity to be Artist-in-Residence at Homestead National Monument of America. This wonderful National Park commemorates the Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln. It is located in southeastern Nebraska (about an hour south of Lincoln) on the site of the first homestead awarded under the act. That 160 acres was homesteaded by Daniel Freeman and his family.
Homestead boasts the oldest restored tall grass prairie in the US – restoration began in 1939 and takes up 60 acres of the park. The scenery, even in early spring, is stunning. One of the things I enjoyed most was walking along the path and listening to the wind move through the tall grass. I also had the pleasure of spooking some white tailed deer one morning, I could just see their ears over the grass.
The bird life was in full spring mating mode – glorious, rambunctious and plentiful! We saw wood ducks, red-winged black birds, larks (the Nebraska State bird), red-bellied woodpeckers, blue birds and various raptors. Another great pleasure was the sound of coyotes after dark.
My time was spent drawing and creating a woodblock print of the log cabin on the grounds. The Palmer-Epard cabin is visually and historically inspiring. (By the way, I could find no connection in my family to the Palmer family who built this cabin.) I worked quickly on my drawing in order to have enough time to, in turn, cut the woodblock and then run a small edition of prints in order to have them on hand at my lecture, which was to be held at the end of my two week residency.
some scenes from Homestead National Monument
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Creating a drawing was about a ten hour process. Once I had the image where I wanted it I traced it, flipped the tracing over, and traced the back of it onto the block using carbon paper between. The image has to be flipped in order to print in the proper orientation. This step is not as necessary if it’s an abstract image, or something loose – but for a building or words, one generally does not want to print them backwards ~
Once the image was transferred to the wood block the process of cutting out what I want to remain white on the final print began – this process took approximately eight hours for the Homestead block. The next step was to make a print or two in order to decide if I wanted to cut more away… I usually do this step before I feel the cutting is final in order to see how the various components of the image are working together as a print, and to get a better visual on my cutting progress. I often want to cut more away, and that was indeed the case with the Homestead block. The rule of thumb however, is to always cut less than I think I want since I cannot go back!
I prefer to use oil-based ink even though it requires mineral spirits for cleaning up. The quality of print is much better in my opinion – yeilding finer lines without the ink ‘blocking up’ in the board cuts – and the wood grain tends to show through in a subtle but alluring way that I have not seen with water based inks.
thanks to Photopia for the photographs
After a few printing sessions – with more block cutting between – I started to get prints that more closely matched my vision for a final print of the Palmer-Epard cabin. Another session or two netted me a small edition of woodblock prints. One of the final prints was donated to Homestead National Monument of America, and several went to buyers. One of my goals with these residencies is to eventually create a large series of woodblock images of some of my favorite National Parks. This summer I will be working on a quartet of different prints of Zion National Park scenes. I recently received the good news that I have been awarded another residency for this autumn in Bighorn Canyon National Park in Montana. Stay tuned for more imagery!
The Beatrice Daily Sun published a nice article that helped to net a good audience for my public presentation at Homestead. Thanks to everyone who visited with me at Homestead, and to all the staff and volunteers who helped to make my stay a very pleasant one!