Thursday, January 16, 2020

Early morning in the studio


Most mornings I wake up naturally between 4:30 and 5. I make myself a cup of tea, do my physical therapy exercises for my hips, and then climb the stairs to the studio to work on a painting or write a letter. Some mornings I am struck anew just how much I love being able to do these things, in this space.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Galley before and after

I’ve been meaning to write a nice, long post a couple times in the past few days, but it is the last week of the semester and I find myself distracted and harried. Still, I am behind on my updates about my progress—and there has been progress—so I thought I’d just do a quick picture show. My grades were submitted last night, commencement ceremonies will be behind me after Saturday, and then, for a while at least, I can sit down and think straight.

In the meantime, here are some before and after shots of the galley:

The galley as it came.

There was a spare tire on the back that would fold down, but you had to step around it to use the galley, so I removed that feature. I'll carry a flat kit in the car that should be sufficient to air up the tire long enough to get me to a place that can fix the flat, should one occur.

I added a fold down counter and a pull out stove, added storage below the long counter, and painted the doors. The counter on the right will serve as both a sink for washing  hands and a typewriter/work table. I'll do a separate post on the sink when I finish it.

I turned the empty space that was originally under the long counter into a storage cabinet. I think this was originally meant to be for a refrigerator or ice chest, but I never could find anything that would fit in such a shallow space.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

On deliberate distraction

This weekend I am applying spar urethane to the cabinet work I’ve been doing in the galley. I have been dreading the job because finishing is my least favorite part of woodworking. I hate wearing a respirator, hate the stickiness of the materials, hate dealing with clean up, hate putting on a layer of varnish, then sanding it down, then another layer, then more sanding, and so on, and so on, and so on. It is important to do it right, but I always end up rushing just to get it over with, and the results are not satisfactory. It has felt like I am rushing this project in general (and consequently making more mistakes than I should), and I would rather slow down and do it well. After all, I don’t have to go out to the field for the Proboscidea project until next summer, and while it is true that I still have many tasks ahead of me (not least of which is adding solar power to The Maggie Mee), there is still plenty of time.

So I decided to slow it down this week by finding some deliberate, productive distractions. If anything can take away from the compulsive need to work on a big project, surely it is to throw other, smaller projects into the mix. Accordingly, among other things that I have worked on this past week or so, I have finally finished this painting of the Proboscidea louisianica that a neighbor found and transplanted for me this summer while I was laid up from surgery:



I also went looking for a typewriter I could use to document this project, and found this one, a 1948 Royal Quiet DeLuxe, in a junk shop masquerading as an antique store. It was in terrible, terrible condition—covered in rust, dust, spilled coffee, and seventy years of tobacco tar. All the keys were sticking, and two wouldn’t budge even a bit, and I was not at all sure I could get it up and running again. It was daunting to think about. Still, the price was right, and I do love a good project. It took a lot of patience, elbow grease, and helpful advice from antique typewriters aficionados on Facebook, but it is now a dream machine. Here are the before and after photos:



Finally, I have been looking for a project for an upcoming exhibition on heirloom plants, and on a hunch, I texted one of my tennis partners, whose husband is a cotton researcher, and followed several threads to this, the wild ancestor of modern day cotton, Gossypiodes kirkii:


As it turns out, the evolution of spinnable cotton is more fascinating than I knew, and this plant, one of the few specimens in the world, exists in a greenhouse right here in the 806, where it is tended by a loving team of workers. I’ll do a separate post on it at a later date, but I am really, really thrilled to be working on this. It feels important, you know?

In the meantime, finding all these productive distractions has enabled me to be much more deliberate in Maggie’s cabinet work, and I have spent the afternoon wearing a respirator, applying finish, and listening the sandhill cranes as they fly overhead. It is a good day.





Friday, November 22, 2019

Wild cotton

My friends, you are looking at my winter botanical project, Gossypiodes kirkii, the progenitor species of modern cotton:

 I am so excited about this project, I can hardly sleep at night. More to come...

Saturday, November 9, 2019

A quick update on the galley progress (and a bit of news about the title)

The weather was chilly and rainy all week, but the morning broke bright and clear today. So after some Saturday morning pecan pancakes, I took advantage of the warmth and sunshine and headed outside to work on the Maggie Mee.

I made good progress on the fold down work counter and pull out stove shelf. It took quite a bit of tweaking to get the stove shelf to work the way I wanted it to, but I am satisfied with it now. Last Sunday I worked too long and got tired and careless, and ended up tripping over something in the shop and taking a hard fall on the concrete floor. So today I quit while I was ahead. Tomorrow we are supposed to have another beautiful fall day, so I’ll pick up where I left off this afternoon and work on the storage cabinet that will go beneath the stove. In the meantime, this is what it looks like so far:




In other news, after a five week adventure, I finally have a title to the trailer. Someday soon I will write up what it was like trying to build a bonded title (the original was lost) so that I could register The Maggie and become the legal owner. I am sure that someone might find a list of all the steps I had to go through useful if they ever have to do the same. For now, though, I am just too tired of the whole story to think about it. Suffice it to say that it was epic, like the labors of Hercules, full of sea monsters, and Gorgons, and swimming frantically through the rapids in a driving storm, only to have a wave sweep you away just as you thought you had finally reached shore. Or something like that.


Saturday, October 26, 2019

If it is Saturday, it must be time to work on the Maggie Mee

A chilly fall morning, but it promises to warm up to 75° F later today. I am building countertops for the galley, one which will fold out to form a place to prep food, and the other to slide out for the stove. Both of these will allow me to cook without bending awkwardly at the hips—something that should be more comfortable for my lower back.

This morning I am cut rounded corners on the countertops (mainly to minimize the pain if I run into them) using the bandsaw, and now I am dry-fitting to see which arrangment I prefer. (I think I prefer the stove on the right; it suits my left-handeness better.)

Later today, after it warms up, I’ll laminate the countertops. Tomorrow I’ll put an additinal coat of spar polyurethane on the undersides (they already have two coats). I’ve ordered aluminum trim for the edges, which should give it all a nice retro-diner look.

Here is the “before” of the galley:



And here is what I am working on today:



Friday, October 25, 2019

Why is this blog called "The Voyage of The Margaret Mee?"

A couple of months ago I got it into my head that I needed a teardrop camper to do some botanical art field work. I have a big project I am going to start next year in the Trans Pecos of Texas, and plan to spend several weeks down there. Camping would be the cheapest way to do that, but I have done a lot of tent camping in my life, and I am here to tell you that I am finished with that chapter. I am tired of sleeping on the ground, tired of tent poles collapsing in my face during storms, tired of trying to pull on my pants while lying down, tired of never being able to find things in the dark. Tired of it all. Plus, I am 62 years old and not as bendy as I used to be.

So I was casting about for solutions and posted a query on my Facebook feed about teardrops. Almost immediately a neighbor replied that she and her family were thinking of selling theirs. Now, these days a teardrop can run you around $10,000-$20,000, and they can also come with all kinds of amenities, like teevees, and air conditioners, and built-in stoves and refrigerators, and even showers. I couldn't afford to spend that amount, and I didn't really need any of those luxuries--I was just looking for a way to avoid sleeping on the ground. This teardrop, as it turned out when I went to look at it, had none of those things; it was a 2007 model, and basically just a bed on wheels, with electricity. Best of all, the price my neighbors hinted at was about what I could expect to pay if I stayed in a hotel during my field work. If I bought the camper, however, I would still have it at the end of my project, ready for other field excursions. Or, even if I never took it out to the field again, I could sell it and recoup my cost.

Plus, people who have known me a long time know I love a good project, and looking the camper over, I could see all kinds of possibilities to refurbish and customize her.

Well, I am old enough to recognize karma when I see it, so we made a deal and she was mine (well, sort of mine--there is a little problem with a lost title, but that is a post for another day).

Right away I named her "The Margaret Mee," after the famed and intrepid botanical artist who did so much for the Amazon. The same people who know I love a good project also know that I am not intrepid in the least little bit. But maybe by naming the teardrop camper after her, some of Margaret Mee's bravery will rub off on me. We shall see.

Anyway, it feels like the beginning of an adventure--the project and the fixing up of the old teardrop, both--and I invite you to follow along.