John Michael Kohler Arts Center

Creature comforts.. gosh.. what day is it?

Can this be only the second blog entry I’ve written since I arrived in Sheboygan? Lemme see. Tommorrow’s my last day at the arts center, then I fly back to NC on Sunday. I’ll have a bit of down time with my family and then I head back to camp on Wednesday. I’ve written my campers two rounds of postcards. I hope it wasn’t overkill. One of them asked if I’d bring everyone something from Sheboygan but I likely will only bring myself. I can’t go lugging souvenirs in my backpack all the way back to camp. They’d get broken or stolen the moment I handed ‘em out.

So what’s on my mind today as the residency comes to a close? Nothing really. My brain is kind of mud.

Here’s what’s been going on. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center has a Connecting Communities program which exposes community members to many different art forms by inviting established artists to lead workshops in or related to their areas of expertise. Yvonne Montoya heads up this department. She plans years in advance for projects that will serve various charities or purposes in the Sheboygan area. In my case, since the center brought me on board before to make sock monsters, they asked if I’d come back for the Creature Comforts project. Yvonne asked me if I’d develop a stuffed toy pattern using socks to make tummy pillows. Patients of abdominal surgeries use tummy pillows to press against their incised areas when they need to stand up, sit up, sneeze, laugh, cough or wear a seat belt. Otherwise there’d be heaps of pain and maybe a ruptured suture. I’m guessing.

Each creature is different, in typical Stupid Creatures style, but the directions people followed were pretty much the same. I typically don’t follow patterns, and I only teach from patterns if people need some direction and suggestion. In the case of Creature Comforts, the primary reason I insisted people follow the pattern I made was to ensure that the resulting creatures were flat and pillow-ish. We tried to avoid tummy pillow creatures with a row of plush spines down its back, for example. They had to stay flat and basically featureless so that no patient with an abdominal incision would press a lumpy area painfully up against the tender spot. You know?

Anyway, here’s what the tummy pillow creatures look like.


Over the course of two weeks we’ve held workshops with the general community, STARS (a program for at-risk teenagers), Friendship House (a group home for more at risk teenagers), the Hmong Association, TLC (Together We Live with Cancer), a senior activity center, Safe Harbor (for victims of domestic abuse), and group of adults with special needs. Each of these workshops produced heaps of sock creature tummy pillows which the arts center will donate to local hospitals and clinics for their patients in recovery. Tomorrow Yvonne and I will staff a booth at a Hispanic convention, not just to represent Creature Comforts but to put the Arts Center out into Sheboygan’s Latino population. We’ll be at our booth stitching creatures and talking about the arts center. It should be cool. Maybe people will want to make a creature, but we don’t expect anyone’s gonna sit with us long enough to do that.

It’s been a great experience working with the arts center again. I really, really miss a studio artist’s life. But the workshops we hosted kind of confirmed my commitment to the kids I work with at camp. There are so many populations in need of help and support in every community. Right now it appears that service is my station rather than the typical self-service that comes with being an artist. The recognition, attention, fan letters, et cetera, are all great, but my skills can be used to help rather than to self glorify, and that’s what I’m doing now. I’m a camp counselor. Granted, there’s appeal to going home every day and blobbing on the sofa (I’ve enjoyed that tremendously throughout the residency!) once the day of work is done. Instead, I will live 24 hours a day with my campers until further notice. Anyway, lunch is over. I’ve got loads of photos to post and such.. I’ll get around to that soon.

Creature Comforts Day 2

So, don’t bother looking for a Day 1 entry. Here it is in a nutshell. I left camp, went to the air port, met my dad, he picked up my car, I flew to Milwaukee, I took a shuttle to Sheboygan, met my host, Yvonne, here at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, picked up my rental car with her, went to my guest house, bought groceries, did laundry, watched some TV, tried to eat junk food (but couldn’t stand it), and went to bed.

Today I woke up and discovered my month old Palm Pre was effed up. I can’t hear any phone conversations, music or video, nor can anyone on the phone hear me. The alert sounds work just fine. When I visited a Verizon store here in Sheboygan, the clerk beeped and booped around with my phone long enough to confirm that it was effed. Other things started going wrong with it. The touch screen feature became slow and unresponsive. The screen zoomed randomly and refused to scroll. When I backswiped in the music application, the phone started dialing my dad. It was ridiculous.

Long story short, I went to a corporate Verizon office and they are sending me a new phone. Trouble is, they are unable to dump the contacts from my current phone to the new one. I think that’s a tad ridiculous, personally . I might have to wait till I’m done with this residency to do that. I’ll go back to the store where the phone was purchased and get it taken care of.

So I’m in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a town I like a whole lot. The weather is much cooler here than in NC, and I’m excited to experience it. I visited with Yvonne, the coordinator of my residency here at the arts center, and I’m working on quite a few things right now. Here’s what we’re doing: We’re creating a sock monster kit to sell, and we’re teaching classes both here and around town on making sock monsters. We’re using one specific pattern, intending for the participants to donate the creatures they make as holiday gifts for sick and needy people. I think a photographer will document the whole thing. Not sure but I think that’s what I’ve heard. Wigwam socks has donated a thousand of its factory reject socks, so the art center’s marketing department will have to work in connections to the Stupid Creatures, Wigwam and the center itself.

Right now I’m in the empty, closed café at the center where I have an internet signal and relatively few disturbances. Someone will have to tell the security guy who keeps passing me that I’m here for work, not the free internet. Yvonne is upstairs with the center’s director working out my contract and putting finishing touches on my itinerary for this week and next.

I miss my camp kids and have already bought two postcards for them apiece. It’s expensive to stay in touch, but I want them to be sure I’m thinking about them while I’m away. Each one of my campers is incredible and I’m really lucky to be working with them, no matter how unruly or rude they become. When you love kids you just love ‘em. It’s sickening, but sometimes those kids need to be adored no matter how horrid they get. I got a huge group hug from ‘em one day. It was cool. I’d been pulled by our MC to cover another group while their chief was in meetings (my co-chief was also on, so I could be spared). When I returned like 4 hours later, each of my 9 guys ran at me and piled on top of me shouting CHIEF JOHN! It really, really hurt, now that I think back. I was kind of bruised up (like half a ton of teenager?). But it was awesome. Things like that make me want to work at camp forever. I really am lucky to have such a great group of guys. But now that I’m on vacation, I will try not to feel too guilty, I mean, I’m here to work after all.

Truly, I do enjoy sleeping indoors and relaxing for a bit. In fact, in many ways I feel downright indulgent (I tried to eat some potato chips. Tomato basil flavored. They nearly sickened me. Anybody want what’s left?). I’m thinking about my co-chief stuck in the woods by himself with my 9 guys. They’re an intense bunch. I will text my co-chief most days just to check in. I gave one of my guys the address of where I’m staying in case the campers wanted to write. Long shot, I know, but I wanted to be thorough. A departing parent would do no less whether it was for a business trip or out to dinner with Mom.

Photo on 2010-09-07 at 17.40 #2
I bought some sewing supplies since I’ll have down time to do a little art on my own. I’ve got some ideas for altering a few shirts and I look forward to tinkering with that. Mostly I look forward to catching up on some sleep. I don’t have to wake at every noise to make sure my kids aren’t sneaking around or running off. I’ll do my best to stay in bed and stay asleep while I’m here.

So tomorrow I meet with the center’s marketing group at 10 sharp, so I gotta run and finish the instructions for our kit. More soon as it develops!