dahlia dye

If I were to pick my favorite flower it would be dahlias. I attempt to grow them in my shady yard, carefully planting the bulbs in my front garden, hoping that by late summer to early fall, these bright and substantial flowers will grow. This year I planted the dinner plate variety and waited.

And waited. Each year the trees continue to grow and flourish. Thank goodness! This is one of the reasons why I love my house and neighborhood, the old growth trees that make it look like a forest. As they continue to grow, the small patch of earth that is my front garden is increasingly overcome by shade . The dahlia’s did not produced as I hoped, nor did the tomatoes or cucumbers. Not a lot of fruit this year, but the herbs were plentiful.

Dahlia’s make a wonderful yellow to orange and I because I need a lot so I supplement at the farmers market and bought two gigantic bouquets. I admire there lovely design of perfectly stacked petals that create a thick ball color. I thought about enjoying the flowers, putting them in a vase but instead I greedily pulled of the heads and made a dye.

My favorite additive or mordant is alum these days. I carefully measured out the ‘rock alum’ I brought back from Peru. It alters the color from a subtle yellow to an electric, vibrant orange. Just perfect to capture the feathers of an oriole as I continue on my bird project.

hawk's ridge

I made a plan to visit Hawk’s Ridge in Duluth earlier this summer as I read about the fantastic view of migration as a variety of raptors and birds take advantage of the winds and descend from the Northern areas of Minnesota and Canada to warmer climates.

Our trip started out camping for a night at the Jay Cooke State Park. I’ve passed the sign hundreds of times heading up north, but this was my first visit, which is a beautiful spot. Hard wood forests are dramatically surrounded by mountains of slate and the St Louis river forges it’s way through the park. Arriving late in the evening we quickly set up our tent and made a fire. In the dark, we heard owls hooting, one of my favorite sounds.

The next morning started off drizzling. As it cleared, we hiked around and found masses of black capped chickadees in the white pines, hopping from limb to limb. Setting up the camp stove to make eggs and coffee the thunder started to roll. It’s amazing how quickly a storm can come up and how quickly we can strike camp. Our eggs we’re eaten in the car.

A beautiful drive along the river brought us to Duluth and the sky started to clear. We headed up through the U MD campus and to the ridge. Along the roadside, many we’re gathered with cameras and chairs to watch. The naturalists we’re amazing, sharing their knowledge and pointing out birds as the rose above the ridge. Lots of sharp shinned hawks, or as most call them sharpies. There we’re also Ospreys, Turkey Vultures and a few broad winged and red tail hawks.

Emily Donovan
black walnut spirits
black walnut dye

A recent call for art from a local distillery got me thinking. They ask for art that suggests harvest and that is what I am into right now, harvest and spirits. Not necessarily alcoholic but, the good kinds; spirits that mingle in your mind and make you remember. I have many memories of gathering black walnuts.

The fruit that ripens and falls in the autumn suggests my families history and special days when they are gathered. I read somewhere that making a dye bath should be a celebration with time and thought donated to the task. I wish I had a photograph of me and Gabriel’s hands the first time we crushed them together for dye. They were stained for days. And, a couple of years later when he found the squirrels cash of walnuts under the tree and we collected them, feeling a little guilty but, knowing that the squirrels would find more. My sweet boy, who is also studying art.

Black walnuts are also about my mother and my recently past uncle - the twins. Our family exhausted every use for these fruits. Traps and cooking- and now dyes plus more spirits. I want to make the ice cream they both enjoyed and maybe a cocktail? I looked it up and yes, there is a black walnut liquor. I am putting this on my list to make.

Smell is the most nostalgic of our senses and to me, black walnuts have the best smell on earth. Today I am adding the sight of two double breasted cormorants drying their wings in the breeze on the lake to my memories of collecting walnuts. It is Friday the 13th and a full moon. It’s an unusual occurrence, the two together and although the cormorants are usually easy to find their ominous shapes seem perfect for the date. The walnuts are plentiful and scattered all over. Some complete perfect green orbs and others are decimated as the squirrels make easy work of the hulls and retrieved the nut inside. I bring my collection home to make dye, some ice cream and spirits and think about how to capture this day.

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Emily Donovan
It’s oh so quiet
Photo: Minette Layne

Photo: Minette Layne

Migration is in full swing as the birds leave Minnesota. I noticed it recently when the lake path was suddenly absence of chatter and noise. The red wing black birds have left. These guys seem are the most vocal or noticeable around the lake where they set up for the season and one of the most abundant bird species in the midwest. When they arrive and leave is noticed. Earlier this summer, my mother reported that they diving at her head. Territorial, they protect their nests when we walk too lose. I noticed several posts online that mention blackbirds assertive nature and now, the absence of their call.

This sudden ‘quieting’ reminds me of a Bjork song. I started humming it when I noticed it, as it became oh, so quiet. If you know the song, she sings ”it’s oh so quiet…shh…shh. it’s oh so still…shh…shh…You're all alone…shh shh….And so peaceful until….shh… shh…” Then, she hits you with horns “Bam!…your falling in love!” She whispers softly and then it’s loud brass; a big change.

Although the loud chatter of the blackbirds is gone, new migratory flocks of birds have arrived and replace the tunes. It feels immediate and sudden because summer is coming to an end, and these birds announce a change of season and winter is approaching. But, I am falling in love. There are new sounds and sightings, especially now that I am actively following the miraculous event of migration. I feel more in tune with these creatures, the change in seasons and the special place where I live.

So, onto fall. It is my favorite time of year and something else I love. It’s a return to routine and plants reach the peak- it’s a time of harvest. The mornings are crisp and my husband, who tells me its the best time of year (mainly because his birthday is in October) also reminds me about that great smell of leaves once they begin to gather on the ground. Sight, smell and sound. Fall is all about the senses.

Maybe the sensory delights are evident because it is going to get dark, really dark…and cold. I see the daylight hours creep away and night will take over during the winter for over half of the day.

I love the first and last snow fall. Like the Bjork song, winter is a hard jolt when it arrives But, you have to enjoy the change and admire how well nature and art work together to make a rich and beautiful season.

Here’s a live migration animation that shows the departure and high activity throughout the United States, from dusk till dawn:

http://birdcast.info/live-migration-maps/

The skies are full and so is my heart!

Emily Donovan
coopers hawk

It is my new friend - a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. I hear it daily, often in the late afternoon as its high pitched cries are heard across the treetops, soaring to the next destination. The coloring is so beautiful, with subtle blue grays and browns with wonderful patterns. I think about the natural dyes I want to use to recreate these beasts in art. Raptors, I realize are out hunting other birds and rodents. The smaller and vulnerable species that are within the hawks vision are susceptible, but do I love to watch them.. Clever, adept and perfectly built to live, eat and survive. They are nature’s engineering at it’s best.

Emily Donovan
harvest
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Plants are in full bloom right now and now is the time to harvest! This weekend I made 6 different dyes from materials I harvested near my house and in Redwing, Minnesota. Stephanie, the director of The Anderson Center invited me to collect plant material from the land they own that surrounds their facility. 320 acres runs in between highway 61 and the Canon River. The low land is abundant with sumac, goldenrod and stinging nettles like I have never seen before. These nettles are over six feet tall. I didn’t even recognize them enough to watch out and as I climbed through dry creek beds they encroached on all of the clear paths.

My arms and legs are still aching from the stings and not to mention that 8,000 mosquito bites that chewed through my layered clothing and the massive amount of deet I reapplied multiple times. Foraging is hard work.

Was it worth it? Definitely. Once I arrived home, I went straight to work. Here are colors from:

goldenrod- a delicious yellow

goldenrod- a delicious yellow

sumac berries - soft, rosy pink

sumac berries - soft, rosy pink

boneset- subtle beige

boneset- subtle beige

sumac leaves + iron and cochineal + tansy

sumac leaves + iron and cochineal + tansy

dye baths at the studio

dye baths at the studio

Emily Donovan
on green, part two

So far, the only plant material that I’ve found to consistently make a good green is chill’ka. Chill’ka is a sticky plant that grows all over the mountain side in the Sacred Valley of Peru. By adding different minerals you can change its hue. In Peru, the mineral is called Colpe. Each one has a different result. So far, I have not found a source that is similar here- or a plant that I can order to grow in my house in Minnesota. I searched extensively after my return. Luckily- I have good friends sending me some. I eagerly await a box from Peru with two dried kilos of the material. I am curious to see how it hold up when dry and how I will use it. Like many dye materials, it feel so precious as I only have so much. Below is chill’ka results:

Another way to make green is by overdyeing. It is basic color theory, blue + yellow make green. So, to create green, I need to make two different dye baths. Tansy is just starting to bloom which makes a terrific yellow. It is an evasive plant that I usually harvest from the train tracks near my house. The smell of tansy like many dye materials is distinct. It’s slightly citric and earthy at the same time. Here are my results with over dyeing tansy and indigo to create green:

Emily Donovan
in the thicket

I am learning new terms in bird identification and ornithology, the words are many of my favorites as in a thicket you can find both an alder tree and also, a giant variety of birds. A thicket is probably the best place to experience nature as its often impassable and those how thrive and live there are left to their own, without trouble or intervention.

I also like the word gregarious as a description of behavior, plant growth and of course, to describe our personality.

To books that I have recently started, The Genius of Birds and Migratory Patterns and several interesting articles have supplied me with a plethora of words that share this fun natural associations that animals, plants and humans share in the realms of personality.

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/01/science/looking-for-personality-in-animals-of-all-people.html

We are all living things- which in the whole picture means, we are all involved in the earths growth and development. Biologist, Jane Goodall put it best as she spoke about her studies. “We’re not, after all separate from the animal kingdom, we are part of it.” Thanks, lady! This is something to remember.

Emily Donovan
On green, part one
Paris Green: The Trendy Color That Killed Many in Victorian Society - Town and Country - March 3, 2018

Paris Green: The Trendy Color That Killed Many in Victorian Society - Town and Country - March 3, 2018

The color green has been a tough one. If you look around during the bloom of spring and summer seasons, EVERYTHING is green; the ground cover and moss, grass, leaves, plants, and algae. It is everywere. In my pursuits of natural colors, green has been the hardest color for me to achieve.

Recently my sister sent me an article about Paris Green. https://www.townandcountry.ph/people/heritage/paris-green-history

The article describes the colors popularity as is was introduced into textiles, fashion and home decor once chemists were able to achieve it. The toxic makeup of Paris Green was known to cause much discomfort and even death to those who enjoyed it, due to the arsenic used to make the color.

I find myself in the same boat. The hue is magical and I am not really putting myself in danger in my pursuit of the perfect natural green, but I will say that I am somewhat obsessed with the color. And then - I found the green heron and also painted my bathroom green. It’s bright- my bathroom, like the color of Kermit the frog. Non-toxic now- but pales in comparison to the emerald tones of the green heron.

Green Heron - image from Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Simon Best

Green Heron - image from Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Simon Best

I’ve always loved the archaic shape and coloring of the Great Blue Heron. I discovered the Green Heron from various birding social media sites, the bird continually popping up with sightings throughout the Twin Cities. On the Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Birds of North America’s website there is "scarcely a stream, swamp, or shoreline where it may not be found, whether fresh or salt". I have not had such luck, yet. Here’s what I love about this bird:

Color- The green heron’s feathers are a wonderful display of rich browns, yellows, oranges and deep green.

Stance- This guy is a stought and stocky bird that has an thick and powerful neck that is quite surprising when extended. The heron will lurk along shorelines and also perches on trees.

It’s smarts- The Green Heron is unusual because it uses tools to capture its food. It drops sticks or lures to catch fish and small prey like frogs or lizards.

I watch for sightings online on ebird and often rush to the areas where people have found them. But, the times in the woods, swamps and in nature have been inspirational and in the meantime, I work on making green.

Emily Donovan