2017 Camper's Log: We Live a Magical Life

What follows are daily journal entries for the entire span of our activities at camp during our Summer Residencies in 2017, written by VCAC Co-Director, Amy Joy Hosterman. Enjoy!


July 18th, 2017

Good morning from the UP! I've got my coffee, lovely weather, wild flowers, and two new friends! Perfect start.

In the morning shade of the barn, a very happy patch of wild flowers

This little guy was chillin in the wild flowers with me. I think he wanted some of my coffee.

 Found this guy when I uncovered the stove in our outdoor kitchen.

Found this guy when I uncovered the stove in our outdoor kitchen.

Did pretty well for my first solo day of setting up camp! Survived discovering a nest of bald-faced hornets while setting up the composting outhouse, got everything unloaded from my filled-to-the-gills truck, set up the studio barn clay-working space, the A-frame cabin living space, and the food pantry. Saw a young buck, a giant summer-brown snowshoe hare, and snakes and squirrels and chipmunks, oh my! Made several to-do lists.

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July 19th, 2017

Today started with a visit from our master-builder, Mel Seeger, along with his wife Aileen and his mom, Kay, from Minnesota. Mel brought me a bucket of local white clay from Rockland! "Feldspar Flour" they call it. Mel and Aileen taught me about the local wildflowers, pointing out bird's foot trefoils that are beloved by cattle.

Mel and I discussed his plans for our new clay-processing shelter (tentatively named the Clay Cathedral), and for a small octagonally-shaped building, called a grillikota in Finnish, that can be a sauna, or just a good place for a "smoke-n-joke"!

Cameron and I cleared and mowed around the fire pit, chose and cleared the site for the new grillikota, and threw many sticks for his dog, Fergus. Cameron de-winterized the water hookups while I primed and painted black the water tank for our solar-heated shower.

I dug holes in the clay with the hand-auger, to install our Visitor Center signs out by the road (which will eventually say "Artist Camp" instead of "Forest Service"). 

Mary Carol refreshed us with iced tea and a delicious dinner made from her vegetable garden. Now it's time to light a fire in anticipation of my fellow staffer... Jordan arrives tonight!


July 20th, 2017

I didn't get many photos today; I was busy with day 3 of set up, finally with my staffer friends! Jordan arrived late last night to what was my first clear night with star-filled skies, and first crackling fire of the season!

This morning I was the first one up, and I heard and spotted the sandhill cranes flying their morning loop around the dewy fields. Melissa and her dog Rufus arrived today from Colorado, and she found a couple of amazing Yooper zines on her way through da UP! We will put them in the Bird's Nest Lounge upstairs in the Seeger Studio Barn, for everyone to enjoy. It was great to catch up with Jordan and Melissa!

I got the shower tank filled and did some maintenance to get it running smoothly. We made progress on the Visitor Center signs, and took a visual inventory of our building supplies. We mowed the grass in the Chow Hut and Great Hall dining pavilion, and set up the outdoor kitchen. 

Mel and Aileen stopped by and we discussed thatch roofing for the grillikota as Mel scoped out the nearby canary grass that could be used for it. Aileen is going to teach us to make cheese and yogurt from their goat's milk!

We set up the rest of the outhouses and outdoor privies, with some creative problem solving and a quick piecing-together of reclaimed materials to make the outdoor privies a little more private, while preserving their forest views.

We cooked our first dinner in the Chow Hut, planned our schedule for the arrival of the campers tomorrow, and made yet another to-do list. We are really rockin' it now!


July 21st, 2017

This morning we made friends with a snake as we checked in with Cameron, just before we left to visit Mel at the mill. We discussed our upcoming projects for our Sustainable Building workshop led by Melissa, that starts tomorrow! We hauled a trailer of lumber back to camp from Mel's with my ever-handy truck.

Jordan painted beautiful lettering, finishing the Visitor Center signs to direct the artists into camp, and we all put the finishing touches on our set-up of the kitchen and studio workspace. Jordan and I played our trombones to practice our camp calls for meals and gatherings.

Session One Campers arrived this afternoon! We have a really cool, chill group of artists and I'm excited to get to know them better. I can't wait to show them Mel's mill and all the projects he's working on, too. We had dinner and led a tour of the camp, then sat around a fire and began the discourse that always blossoms from this communal activity. So much fun planned for the days ahead!


July 22nd, 2017

Man oh man, what a full day! We brought the resident artists to tour Melv's one-man saw mill, where we got to see so many of his amazing projects up close. His finished grillikota (it's a sauna!) is the coolest thing ever, and we get to build one just like it at camp starting this week! We saw the Mac Truck mill in action, the Viking ship Mel built complete with an all-wood wagon for his wedding with Aileen, his new above-ground root cellar insulated with sawdust from the mill, and timber-frame garage in progress, among SO many other projects!

The Sustainable Building workshop made INCREDIBLE progress on our new Clay Cathedral (clay-drying shelter) at camp! We loaded up and hauled materials from the mill, and everyone worked super hard on it! We can start the roof tomorrow already! We worked on the specifics of the design for our new clay-drying system, which will use a wood-burning barrel stove and horizontal flue to heat and dry the clay from below.

Our Independent Project artists hung out in the woods, explored the trails, and spent time in the Porcupine Palace, making art, spotting wildlife, and soaking up the wilderness.
We worked well into the late afternoon, then some went swimming at Steusser Lake, while I tested the solar-heated shower for the first time since painting the tank black. I couldn't be more pleased with the warm water results and refreshing afternoon rinse! 

After a deliciously satisfying meal cooked on our rock hearth by our Kitchen Manager, Linsey, we gathered in the Barn for an introductory slideshow show-n-tell of our artwork so we could get to know each other better. Everyone has such an appreciation for harmonious relationships with nature, process, and sustainability, as well as a passion for learning and collaboration.

Plans for tomorrow include a hike up the old Norwich Copper Mine trail, and starting a batch of Sahti, a traditional Finnish ale made with a hint of juniper!


July 23rd, 2017

We awoke to overcast skies and cool weather, with lingering fog and dewy grounds. After a warm and hearty breakfast, we went back to work on the Clay Cathedral. The weather was perfect for building, cool and calm. The roof is almost finished; tomorrow the steel will top it off! Then we will start on the Octonagon, the octagonal grillikota sauna!

After lunch we went with Mel to the Norwich Trail, north from Matchwood in the Ottawa National Forest, and hiked the interpretive trail around the historical Norwich Copper Mine. We saw remnants of the iron stamp mill where the miners crushed the rock to find the copper inside.

There was a cemetery, which goes on for acres, although most of it is obscured through the trees and undergrowth in the summer months. We spotted many interesting fungi and flowers, and enjoyed the foggy views of distant tree-filled hills from the bluffs we climbed. Sometimes the ground sounded hollow beneath my feet, and we imagined what this place must have looked like without trees in the days of copper mining when they cut them all down to use for buildings and fuel. Giant rocks covered in soft moss surrounded us the whole way, and we learned just as much about the history of the area from Mel as we did from the signs placed along the trail.

We returned to camp and refreshed ourselves, and then made great organizational progress in many areas of the camp before dinner. Andrew whipped up a delectable veggie stew with brown rice, and made tea from foraged nettle and wild ginger! Now we are savoring the clear, starry skies around a campfire, making s'mores and drinking tea with whiskey. Another beautiful day concludes in the best way I could imagine.


July 24th, 2017

I am literally falling asleep on my log trying to write this...
This morning was wet and chilly, so we made a huge batch of scrambled duck- and chicken-eggs with rosemary potatoes, and instead of slipping around on the wet steel roofing in the mist, the Building Workshop crew kicked keister on the Octonagon, aka the grillikota, aka the sauna! They leveled the ground for the foundation and placed the first ring of blocks.

Karina and Andrea worked on their independent painting, drawing, and photography projects, proving very resourceful when it came to making a light-box for tracing or finding quiet workspace at the Porcupine Palace in the woods. (A refurbished old hunting blind in the woods at camp, this was once just called The Palace, now renamed in honor of these little glue-addicted creatures.) 

Dick and Lynda Graham stopped by from across the road and drew us a map of the trails on their property, and listed the birds we might see there. Andrea is interested in birding while she's here.

We did some necessary maintenance on the composting outhouses and outdoor privies, Linsey made small but meaningful improvements in the Chow Hut, and Melissa and I added a shower curtain to the solar-shower grove for more optional privacy.

Mary Carol and Cameron led us down their favorite trail on the property (the "State Park Trail") for an informative nature walk, where they identified every plant we could wonder about. Many were edible or medicinal including chaga fungus, dew berries, service berries (named as such because they ripen in May, the same time of year when those who die here during winter are finally buried as the ground thaws), raspberries, blueberries, apples, mint, and hazelnuts. They also pointed out diamond willow, a beautiful wood for carving and making furniture, animal tracks, and geological landmarks. Another amazing day; business as usual in da UP!


July 25th, 2017

This morning the steam was mystically billowing off the rooftops when we emerged from our deep and much needed slumber. After breakfast the Building crew went to Mel's to work on the walls of the Octonagon at Matchwood West. Jordan and I spent the morning sorting through and organizing our stacks of sheet steel (which is all reclaimed from the big red barn across the road!), we laid out and cut to size all the pieces we will use for the roof of the Clay Cathedral.

After refueling with a hearty lunch made by Linsey, I went with Cameron to meet with Alan, the Ewen - Trout Creek School principal, to discuss our annual Ewen Arts Festival to happen there next weekend. He is really friendly, and he is a supporter of the arts; he brought back the previously-cut art program! At our public event, we will be raffling off a weaving by local artist Patsy Daniels, and donating the proceeds to the school's art program.

The residents went over to Dick's wood shop across the road, and he demonstrated his woodturning process. The artists got a chance to try out the lathe, and Dick gave me some wonderful fine sawdust for raku firing. Melissa and I went to Ewen Building Supply for some "uptown" lumber. Melissa is really good at hauling large materials on her tiny car!

Then we were all off to Mel and Aileen's in Bergland, where Aileen taught us how to make juusto, a Finnish squeaky cheese, from their fresh goat's milk! Greg made a delectable dinner with noodles and juusto and beet greens from Mary Carol's garden.

After dinner, Melissa gave a slide lecture on sustainable building practices, followed by an informal group discussion of creative solutions for a more sustainable future.


July 26th, 2017

Today, work continued on the Octonagon over at Mel's Matchwood Mill. Mel's sons Darwin and Martin were in town from Minnesota! They helped build the walls of the of grillikota, and we showed them around camp. I showed them my raku kilns, and they gave us a design lesson in building a rocket furnace for our clay-drying setup.

Jordan and I uncovered Goldy, our big old "Baby Kiln" originally from the U of MN (the very kiln I used during my BFA program!), and started planning what we're going to make with the clay this year. Cameron and I brought Big Bertha, an old burner I found in a dumpster at an art center a couple years ago, to Kris at Settler's Co-op in Bruce Crossing (an employee-owned Finnish general store celebrating its 100th anniversary this year!), and in a jiffy he hooked me up with a new hose and valve! Now with a second burner around, and the beefcake of propane tanks, we can try to get Goldy going soon!

In the afternoon, Jordan and Karina got a worktable set up in the Porcupine Palace, and Greg turned a wood bowl over at Dick's wood shop. Andrea got some good wildlife photos, including a skunk sighting, over on the Graham's property trails.

Before dinner, the staff stopped at the South Branch Saloon for happy hour and Melissa recorded our commentary for her artistic research into defining place across the country through the local Bloody Marys. Stella the saloon-owner might have a hookup for beeswax for us to use for sealing painted artwork, and our new friend Rhonda wants to give us old doll-part clay slip-casting molds and ceramic glazes!

Karina and Andrew foraged and made a delicious nettle pasta for dinner, and afterwards we screen-printed VCAC t-shirts! Jordan designed this year's image and brought a prepped screen so we could all make our own prints.

The moon was amazing tonight, and I pulled out my telescope so we could see the craters! You'll have to take my word for its spectacular glow in the crisp detail of the scope, but here's an obligatory iPhone shot.


July 27th, 2017

Today was our last full day for Session One residents. We started with awesome made-to-order wild-blueberry and banana pancakes lovingly made by Andrew (he separated the egg whites and everything!). Melissa's pancake had banana slices in the shape of an M!

We continued work on the Octonagon, sifting dirt and clay to use for leveling the foundation, and Jordan and I helped Cameron level his giant propane tank, by filling holes with more dirt and clay, and re-setting cinderblocks. We finally used the 2-ton floor jack we've been keeping in the barn!

We packed up our lunch, and after Cameron gave us all a lesson in tying trucker's hitch knots to secure a canoe to the trailer I was hauling, we headed to our favorite beach on Lake Superior. To get to this magical secluded beach, we ferry each other down a short distance of river in a canoe. We played, swam, relaxed, picnicked, found cool rocks and natural drift wood wizard-staffs, and Jordan and Andrew made cyanotype solar-prints using the sunshine and found objects. We brought buckets and collected sand to use as our floor-base in the Octonagon. We stayed until sunset, ferried each other (and our buckets of sand) up the river again, and returned to camp for a late dinner in the barn. 

Jordan and Andrew and I stayed up late and practiced our trombones and guitar, learning "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and swooning over Judy Garland's voice in Wizard of Oz on the you-tubes, amplifying the tiny smartphone speaker through one of Jordan's handmade papier-mâché ear horns. We also discovered that whiskey goes well with lemon-aided iced tea.


July 28th, 2017

Today we said goodbye to our Session One residents. It's always sad when the session comes to a close, but it was exciting to look back on all the fun things we did this week!

We had a very full last day. We did a show-and-tell of everyone's work from their time here, where we go to see Andrea's drawings and soft-sculpture mushrooms, Karina's paintings, and Greg's wood-turned mug. Jordan and I performed our "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" trombone duet, which we had learned together with Andrew on the guitar late last night, and I ceremoniously lit my newly refurbished Big Bertha burner for the first time!

...And before everyone left, we raised the walls of the Octonagon! Then we took a group photo in our traditional human-pyramid formation, and Jordan and I played Taps as each resident departed. Andrew stayed with us, and he and Mel are going kayaking tomorrow!

In the afternoon we raised the ROOF of the Octonagon, played more music (this time learning "Rainbow Connection"), and then went to Logger's Alley for the Friday Fish Fry and some barefoot bowling!

Our new friend Rhonda also stopped by to see our camp, and she drew us a map to find Roger's Bar in Watersmeet, where we will meet her tomorrow morning to study the local Bloody Mary recipe, and then visit her boyfriend John's amazing historical lodge that used to be a mob-run bordello! John is an artist and is donating a ton of ceramics supplies to our camp clay program! Details of that AMAZING adventure to follow...


July 29th, 2017

Today Andrew and Mel went on a kayaking adventure, and no resident artists around today, the rest of us staff went to Watersmeet and had an amazing adventure with our new friends Rhonda and John!

We met Rhonda at Roger's Bar in Watersmeet for a Bloody Mary, where Melissa made friends with the bartender's dog, who hopped up on the barstool next to her! Then Rhonda led us to her boyfriend John's house on Beatens Lake. It used to be a bordello, and was run by the mob! There are bullet holes in the wall, original woodworking and antique furniture, a wine cellar, and numbers on all the bedroom doors. Rhonda made an omelet bar and fed us all brunch, then she and John gave us a tour of the house, which is filled with wonderful art by John. He creates paintings and pottery that mirror each other!

Then they took us all out on their pontoon boat for a spectacular, breezy ride across the lake, to a small sandy beach where we refreshed in the clear water and looked for pretty rocks. We returned to their house and looked through John's ceramic studio supplies that he wants to donate to the VCAC. We returned to camp with a literal truck-load of clay slip-casting molds and low fire glazes! John also has an electric kiln that he is going to donate!

The local community here is overwhelmingly generous and supportive and I am so thankful and filled with joy for it! I am utterly awe-struck.


July 30th & 31st, 2017

Session Two: Symposium Residents have arrived! And my camp co-director Margaret Coleman is here with little Iggy! Last year at camp she was pregnant, and we made a clay cast of her belly that we will fire this year.

We gave the newcomers a tour of the camp, lessons in how to use the composting toilet system, and help them set up their campsites. Jeremy and Katie just started traveling the country in a camper-van, and they're trying out this new way of life here at camp!

Mari is here, our visiting artist from Finland! Art Shape Mammoth hosted her in Minneapolis last week for an exhibition of her work at Hair and Nails Gallery, and organized her stay at The Future artist residency while she was there to install and open her show. Now she will be making art with us at camp for this two-week symposium!

Our wonderful kitchen manager, Linsey, her amazing kitchen crew resident, Andrew, and our fabulous building workshop instructor, Melissa, all bridged the gap between sessions, so the new residents got to spend some time with them before they bid us farewell. Jordan and I played Taps again for each departing artist, and we were very sad to see them go. Linsey will be back toward the end of the session though!

Jordan worked with Mel to make and execute a recipe for Sahti, a traditional Finnish Ale, and later Andrew, Jeremy, Katie, and Mari helped throughout the day and into the night to get it going! They heated it on the stone hearth and made the mash, then filtered it, and added some boiled sugar to feed the yeast a little more. It got dark during this last process and the mosquitoes came out, but we fanned the Sahti-makers with towels to keep the skeeters away as they stirred and stirred.

We toured Mel's sawmill and helped catch boards as Mel milled the fresh logs. I learned the hard way, that male goats can in fact be very aggressive, even when they seem friendly...don't jump over the fence to unjam a board while Roman (the billy goat) is nearby!

Jeremy and Katie are photographers and cinematographers, and they are getting some amazing footage with aerial drones (including an incidental video-capture of my goat-attack) and stellar photography skills! They are traveling around working with arts- and environments-focused non-profits like ours, to help with promotional material! We are so lucky to have them with us!

We have one more artist-in-residence coming later in the week, as well as my other co-director Josh Hosterman! I am so excited for us all to be here. Josh and I live far away from Margaret these days, and camp is one of the rare times when we all get to spend time together, and make art together! This camp is a thrilling, evolving, interactive, participatory art piece, and we are sculpting it together, collaborating, with hard work and inspiration from friends new and old, near and far...


August 1st, 2017

Today was filled with such fun and great work!

To gain access to our good sculpting clay, we needed to drain the clay pit, which had turned into a frog pond over the last few years. We borrowed a submersible pump from a very generous local Yooper named Corey, and had great success draining the water with minimal effort. We then had a blast catching all the exposed frogs and tadpoles and relocating them to a permanent pond on the property! Jordan and I played our trombones to serenade the newly re-homed frogs. 

Katie and Jeremy filmed the frog-rescue process, and Jordan was the star of the first in a series of a campy how-to VCAC tutorial videos, wearing an orange dive suit and holding a beach ball.

We started processing some of the clay that we harvested last year. I smashed up the dry clay with my new beloved clay-smashing hammer, Jordan slaked clay in water, and Mari and Margaret took turns screening the clay and playing with Iggy.

Mel and Jordan are making more progress on the Octonagon, and Jordan started making a washboard for laundry, out of all reclaimed materials! In the afternoon, the session two residents went to Aileen and Mel's for a lesson in making Finnish squeaky cheese with goat's milk!

Mari has begun a series of sketches of the various buildings at camp, and has a new furry friend by the name of Happy!


August 2nd, 2017

Yesterday was Jeremy's Birthday, and I dare say it was absolutely magical! Katie, Jordan, and I snuck out to the woods and prepared surprises for him at both the Oak Tree Theater stage (an installation made by Lindsey French in 2015) and at the Porcupine Palace (refurbished by Cameron this year). 

We started the day with a warm breakfast including Aileen's Finnish squeaky cheese (leipajuusto) dipped in coffee (as Mari tells us the older generation in Finland does), and/or slathered with jam (made by Linsey). Both are delicious combinations! 

We worked on the Clay Cathedral until lunch, getting about halfway done with the tin roofing. Then we all hiked out on the trails. Our first stop was at the installation in the aspen trees (made by Sarah Magida and Keelin Mayer in 2015) which has bleached white but is holding up well! Then we came to the Oak Tree Theater, where Jeremy was led to his decorated throne, adorned with his birthday crown (both efforts created by Katie), handed a sledge hammer, and celebrated with a "Happy Birthday" trombone duet (that Jordan and I came up with after everyone had gone to bed the night before), while Margaret and Mari lit sparklers!

We then had Jeremy ceremoniously smash a rotten stump that needed to be removed from the new trail with his sledge hammer (like a birthday piñata but with only ants inside).

Jeremy was surprised and entertained, but little did he know, there was more to come! We hiked onward to the Porcupine Palace, where we had freshly-picked wildflower bouquets and blueberries, and "uptown" cupcakes with candles whittled out of diamond willow and topped with beeswax (never mind that they didn't really work because the wood was so green). Here we sang the traditional Happy Birthday song, enjoyed our cupcakes, and took some fun photos.

We ran into Cameron clearing trails on our hike back, and got a lesson in the growth patterns of trees (such as how an arching tree happens when a fallen tree leans on the sapling as it grows). And now we have a natural arch we can use for architectural embellishment for the entrance to the Oak Tree Theater (the trail to which is now cleared thanks to Jeremy's birthday stump-sledging)!

After we returned to camp and Jeremy took a spin on his unicycle (and Jordan tried out his newly finished washboard on his laundry), we went to Steusser Lake for a quick evening swim. Jordan pointed out a patch of Ghost Plant flowers, and taught us that they are a myco-heterotrophic parasite, living on a fungus that gets nutrients from trees through a mycelial network, so they have no need for chlorophyll and therefore are not green. They are also called Indian Pipe. 

After a late dinner (Mari's first taco salad, and cake as light as air made by Margaret) we all turned in, full and happy. What an amazing day in this amazing place!!


August 3rd, 2017

It rained so hard all afternoon and all night, that the clay pit filled back up with water! Luckily we still have the borrowed pump to re-drain it!

The rain made for a slow day around camp, but we still made good progress! Jeremy and Mari and I set up the cafetorium at Ewen-Trout Creek School for our 4th annual Ewen Arts Festival. Mari will be doing a talk on art and culture in Finland and Iceland, and will be showing images of her current exhibition in Minneapolis at Hair and Nails gallery. Jeremy and Katie will show a short film as well as new aerial footage of the camp, and Jordan and I are learning Finnish songs on our trombones in so we can play along with Mel on his accordion! We will also be sponsoring a raffle to win a weaving by local artist Patsy Daniels, with all proceeds going to the school's newly revived art program. Jordan painted a beautiful sign for the raffle!

We had amazing pancakes (topped with peanut butter, fruit, and applesauce) for lunch, perfect for a rainy day. We took afternoon naps, practiced trombone, and worked in the Barn with the sounds of pouring rain on the tin roof.


August 4th, 2017

Today we were back in action with the sun again!

Jordan and Mel installed benches in the Octonagon. I finely-screened and processed a bunch of clay, so it's ready to use to make some art! Jeremy and Katie and Mari diligently worked on their presentations for the Art Festival tomorrow.

Jordan scored us some great windows for the Octonagon, donated by Alan at Ewen Building Supply! Margaret and Iggy and I visited with Dick and Lynda across the road.

Katie and I both used the washboard that Jordan made to do our laundry in the afternoon. None of us has ever used a washboard before. I found it to be a really rewarding experience, especially once I had clean clothes to wear!

Jeremy and I tried out a suggestion from Jordan, using jewelweed to relieve itchy bug bites, and it seems to work!

After dinner we lit a Swedish candle and had a smoke-n-jokin' good time in the Octonagon, though our log was still wet from the rain and kept going out. So we built up a campfire outside, stacked up some stumps on which to place the telescope, and gazed in awe at the moon. We made a game of taking iPhone photos through the telescope, which is harder than it may sound...Here is a cool shot with odd coloring from the slightly askew camera angle through the lenses. I sure love these people and this life!


August 5th, 2015

After the fog cleared this morning, Jordan and I worked on the roof of the Clay Cathedral, which now needs just the finishing touch of a cap on the ridge beam. We will soon have a swanky outdoor clay-processing studio setup!

This afternoon was our 4th annual Ewen Arts Festival! We held it at Ewen-Trout Creek High School this year, and focused on video presentations, including a talk on Nordic art and culture from our visiting artist Mari Mathlin from Finland, aerial footage of the VCAC camp that Jeremy has been working on here, and a short film that he and Katie helped film and direct. 

Mel played folk songs on his accordion, and Jordan and I played the Finnish National Anthem, "Maamme Laula" on our trombones. Jordan exhibited his handmade ear horns, and Mel actually used one of them to better-hear Mari's presentation! Mari showed some artist books and drawings, I set up a selection of local Yooper YumYum clay tests and sculpture, and we raffled off the beautiful weaving by local artist, Patsy Daniels, raising some money for the school's art program!

After the festival, Mel and Cameron tasted Mel's first experiment in making Sahti, a traditional Finnish ale, to mixed reviews. We burned a successful Swedish candle in the Octonagon while we ate amazing Finnish porridge that Mari brought to share. We talked about inspirations for future projects, and admired the moon's increasing intensity and stark shadows, as it gets closer to full each night...


August 6th, 2017

For the morning after our presentations at the high school, we decided to sleep in a little and go to Char's Diner for brunch. I was the first one up, and I spent some time making the next week's chore chart. We all take turns with the various daily chores here, working together to keep camp running smoothly. I made the charts color-coded for each person, and enjoyed my coffee before giving the wake-up call.

When I was sounding the trombone wake-up call from the center of camp (near the Octonagon where Jordan and I had left our trombones the night before), I thought I heard an unusually prominent echo... Then halfway through "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," Jordan emerged from the Octonagon playing along on his trombone! That was a lovely surprise with which to start my day, and it's that kind of fun and camaraderie that makes this time and place so magical. 

After brunch at Char's, we unloaded and sorted the truckload of slip-casting molds and ceramic glazes that John and Rhonda gave us last week. We found many exciting shapes, and some doll parts! Maragaret and Jordan and I are going to put together an exhibit using only clay sculpture made from these molds and hand-processed Yooper YumYum clay. While we were sorting through the molds, John and Rhonda showed up, and they brought two small electric test kilns and two comfy chairs to donate to the camp! The chairs will go in our Bird's Nest Lounge, upstairs in the barn.  We gave them the camp tour and history, and learned some local history from them as well. They are such generous, joyful, friendly people!

Today I re-drained the clay pit since our torrential rains the other day had filled it right back up, and in the process I found the ugliest, cutest aquatic bug I have ever seen! With some research it seems to be the larva of a water beetle (of which there are many here) and in this stage it predates on other aquatic bugs. The Colemans called it the T-Rex of aquatic bugs. We ran around and showed everyone, then released it into a different, undrained pond.

In the afternoon, Jeremy, Katie and I dug and pried stumps and tree roots out of the ground from underneath the Clay Cathedral, using Cameron's Polasky tool (a fireman's axe) , which is very satisfying. The next step is to refine the grade of the ground in preparation for spreading gravel and setting up our barrel stove clay-drying system. There we also found a cool-looking green pine beetle.

Mel stopped by with a flower that is supposed to have opioid effects when made into tea and consumed. We have not tested it yet...

 


Monday, August 7th

The days have been flying by, and we've been doing so many things and having so much fun!

Jordan and I started pouring clay into the slip-casting molds donated by John and Rhonda. Jeremy and Katie have been making some great video work, both serious and hilarious, documenting life at camp, Mari's experience as a visiting international artist, and campy how-to tutorials - I got to star in the "how to do laundry" video, which is more fun than just doing the actual laundry! We've been taking turns in the orange "staffer" dive suit...

Joshua and Athena arrived today! Athena flew from NY and drove from the airport in Duluth, MN, and picked up Josh who flew from CO, at the airport in Ironwood, MI. Coming together from such distant places, with perfect timing! They arrived just in time for dinner, and Jordan and I welcomed them to camp with our trombone duet of "Pure Imagination" as soon as they walked up. It's so great to have Josh back here with us finally! We all had dinner and then gave Athena the quick camp tour before mosquito-hour started. We will show her around more of the camp tomorrow!


Tuesday, August 8th

Josh sprung into action today, tilling up clay to use for leveling the grade under the Clay Cathedral, and Jordan started designing a door for the Octonagon. I kept working on clay pieces, testing different additives to best suit the slip-casting process. Paper-pulp in the clay slip works pretty well, if it's not too thick! Jeremy and Katie filmed an interview with Margaret and Mari, talking about Mari's experiences with our Cross-Cultural exchange program.

After working for the morning, we went to Lake Superior! It's my dad's birthday, and Jordan and I brought our trombones to the beach to play our rendition of "Happy Birthday" over the phone for him, from the shore. Jordan and Mari and I made some more cyanotype solar-prints, and Jeremy and Katie flew the drone and took video and photographs. Josh lit a fire on the beach and ran around in his underwear. 

Then, though the ominous, approaching storm was truly beautiful to watch, we had to cut our afternoon a little short. Some of us were rained on while collecting last-minute buckets of sand for the floor of the Octonagon, but we got most of us, with all of our electronics and musical instruments, ferried back in our canoe to the safety of our cars, before the storm really hit. 

We stopped at Irish Hollow Cemetery in Rockland on the way back to camp, and marveled at the gorgeous green ground coverings and old fallen tombstones with iron gates swallowed up by growing trees. 

Athena has been taking day trips around the area to photograph old houses, cemeteries, and abandoned train cars. We all gave short slide presentations and discussed our work in the barn after dinner, and we keep learning more about each other. 

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Wednesday, August 9th

Jordan is working on his beautiful door for the Octonagon, using the windows donated by Alan at Ewen Building Supply, and Josh finished the roof peak on the Clay Cathedral today, with the sheet steel we reclaimed from the big red barn across the road! He came up with a very clever bucket and weight system to hoist himself and his tools onto the roof, and then I also helped him a bit when I was available.

Jordan and Margaret and I are making Yooper YumYum clay pieces from our local hand-processed clay. I'm using a linoleum-cut relief block to make VCAC tiles as gifts for all our supporters. John and Rhonda have stopped over several times to donate more unbelievable ceramics equipment for us, including a large electric kiln and a potters wheel! I can't wait to try out the kiln, as the electric kiln we have is not worth any more of my time trying to fix it. I'm going to gut it and turn it into an outdoor propane kiln, sheltered by our new Clay Cathedral!

We've been eating great food, making wonderful progress, and creating amazing memories. Margaret has been cooking us delicious dinners every night, like her specialty, Red Flannel Hash, with beets, sweet potatoes, and blue cheese...

Linsey will be back at camp late tonight, sneaking in while we are all asleep! We're planning an extra early morning tomorrow to attempt a filming in the morning dawn light, if it isn't raining...


August 10th, 2017

Linsey indeed returned late last night while we were all sound asleep, and it was indeed raining this morning, so we had to put off our dawn filming. Once it cleared up, Jeremy, Katie, Athena, and Margaret went to Bond Falls to gaze upon the beautiful waterfall on the Ontonagon River. 

Linsey and I worked throughout the morning to set up our clay-drying rack system in the Clay Cathedral, building a new and improved hot-coal-making fire pit using some overlooked "junk" that was magically perfect and just laying around! I think its part of an old oven hood? Josh was tilling up a mound of clay, so we used that to raise and level the fire pit area.

Then I helped get Mari set up to make recycled paper. We ripped up egg cartons, toilet paper, brown bags, and somebody's art theory thesis Athena had on hand. We let it sit in a bucket of water to soften before blending it into pulp.

Jordan worked on the Octonagon door, and finished installing it just as it started to rain again!

After lunch, Josh started a fire and tended it, while Jordan and Linsey and I worked on clay pieces, rotating finished work through the drying process on racks over hot coals. We hung out here late into the night, poking the fire and talking about our goals for the future.


August 11th, 2017

This morning, Jeremy and Katie filmed Josh and Margaret and I for a short "What is Art Shape Mammoth?" video, describing our non-profit and what we do. Then we worked on finishing and drying more clay pieces.

In the afternoon, Jordan led the residents through screen printing their own VCAC t-shirts! Mel hung out and played accordion for us. 

Mel had Mari sign the Octonagon with his inky pen, and she chose a spot under the bench to write "Mari was here" in English, Finnish, and Icelandic! Mel seemed pleased as punch. Mari is going to put him in touch with Finnish and Estonian carpenters to talk about grillikota building and thatch roofing techniques.

This evening we had our local-supporter appreciation grill-out! Athena fired up the grill, Mel played accordion, Jordan and I played some trombone, and we showed our friends around the camp and all the projects we're working on. We gave out some VCAC t-shirts to our supporters as well. We are truly fortunate to have found this wonderful community of such generous people, in this wilderness paradise!

After dinner, Mari turned a wood bowl with Dick at his wood shop across the road, and then began preparing the paper pulp to pull sheets of paper. Josh constructed a mold and deckle for paper-making (using scrap screen I scored from the Rocky Mountain High Flyers Guild's Burning Man sculpture project in Loveland, Colorado), and we all pulled sheets of handmade paper! We colored it with beet juice for some red/brown, and used our screen-printing rinse water for some sparkly blue! I love when we can reuse things for the next creative project! Jordan embossed a sheet with bird's foot trefoil flowers, and I ended up with a beetle and a strand of pink hair in one of my sheets...


August 12th, 2017

Today our Symposium was officially concluded. After our traditional human-pyramid group photo with everyone after breakfast, we said our farewells, and Jordan and I perched on tree stumps and played Taps on our trombones as Margaret and Mari left camp, on their way to Minneapolis to deinstall Mari's exhibition at Hair & Nails Gallery, before Mari heads home to Iceland. We sent Mari with a pack of (still damp) handmade paper that she made with us late last night, which turned out great! 

Jeremy, Katie, and Athena went out for the morning to explore and photograph, adventuring around old towns and bushwhacking through tall grass with their cameras.

Athena departed this afternoon, to the sad-to-see-you-go sound of Taps on our trombones. She let us know that on her drive home through the UP, she was photographing at an abandoned house, and was then given a full tour and history of the property by the very welcoming owner who came upon her there!

Jeremy and Katie stayed around to spend time with us and complete their work, and they are helping us finish up our many projects! Joshua and Jordan started shingling the Octonagon, with a hand here and there from the rest of us. I kept working on finishing clay pieces to fire, and in the afternoon we drove around Ewen a bit to take in the sights of the old school and neighborhoods rarely visited by us during our busy time here. 

We had a lovely dinner of colorful veggies and hearth-grilled brats, and drank the Sahti Finnish Ale that we started brewing two weeks ago. This batch is pretty good!

We stayed up to watch the amazing Perseid meteor shower, which was an incredible show, with clear skies, a warm fire, and delicious s'mores. The magic really never ceases here.


August 13th - 15th, 2017

During our last couple days at camp after the Symposium concluded, the fun continued as we finished up projects, got to see a porcupine up close, and celebrated Linsey's birthday!

We fired our clay work in our new electric kiln donated by Rhonda and John, which worked great! Thanks to Linsey and Katie for helping me glaze a ton of VCAC tiles, which will be gifts for our supporters this year. We also fired Margaret's belly bowl, a paper-clay cast of her pregnant belly which we made last year before Iggy was born, and a mini-grillikota for Mel (like our Octonagon, which he designed and led us through building, but this one is a traditional hexagon), complete with a working hinged door! Our mini-version has a "thatched" roof, like Mel talks about doing in the future, as he plans to build many more grillikotas.

For Linsey's night-before-birthday surprise, we started by lighting a Swedish candle in the Octonagon (which is now fully shingled and ready for winter, thanks to Josh and Jordan!) to sit around and relax after dinner. Then Jordan and I went to "check the kiln," and returned with, you guessed it, our trombones! As we played our original "Happy Birthday" harmony duet, Josh, Jeremy, and Katie adorned Linsey with a birthday crown made from twisted willow and purple wildflowers with a flower bouquet to match, and lit sparklers off of the Swedish candle (all of which were previously hidden under the benches in the Octonagon). During our song, Jordan and I also lit the sparklers that we had taped to the ends of our trombone slides for an extra sparkly effect! We then preceded to make the fanciest s'mores in the universe, thanks to Linsey and her always-abundant basket of goodies.

I woke Linsey on her actual birthday with another round of the birthday song, and during the daylight hours, Josh gave her the most functional tattoo I've ever seen - a mini ruler on her thumb for making perfectly spaced sewing stitches! Josh used a simple (but very professional) stick-and-poke set up that he made at his tattoo shop in Colorado.

Cameron caught another porcupine trying to eat the plywood out of The Porcupine Palace. (Once just called The Palace, now renamed in honor of these little glue-addicted creatures.) No harm comes to these porcupine, as Cameron safely relocates them away from the Palace. We collected a few quills that had fallen off the porcupine, to hopefully use as sewing needles!

Jeremy filmed Jordan and I doing a morning wake-up call with our trombones at sunrise, both wearing the orange dive suit...There's only one suit, so we had to do quick-changes before the sun rose too far in between takes, and later Jeremy and Katie will edit the video so Jordan and I appear to be together!

Jordan left for his next adventure as an intern at Franconia Sculpture Park, and so I played the Taps for him solo, and for Linsey, Katie, and Jeremy as they each departed from camp.

We packed and wrapped everything up for winter, and then Josh and I spent one more night in the A-frame before having coffee with Cameron and Mary Carol in the morning and heading for home ourselves. 

I can hardly wait to come back. Jordan and I will be back in spring to learn some Yooper gardening and grounds maintenance while we dig some more clay! 


August 14th, 2017

Our hearts ache for the sudden loss of our furry friend, Fergus. He loved jumping in the water, chewing sticks down to splinters, and even fetching rocks, if he could get away with it. He somehow always knew not to go after a porcupine when he saw one, but would bark to protect his human friends from their spiky spines. His tail was a hearty whip, always wagging. 
He was a loyal and comforting companion, and we loved having him as a friend around camp, following us joyfully down the trails. 
Our deepest sympathy and love goes out to you, Mary Carol and Cameron Coleman, who were his best friends. Your passion for life and compassion for creatures of all kinds is not lost on any of us. We love you.


August 16th, 2017

Camp is all packed up, and we are on the road toward home.

Every year this experience gets more amazing, and I am SO grateful for the people who make it happen! Our incredible staff who pour their souls and time and hard work into this project, the visiting artists with their openness and inspiring new perspectives who quickly become friends, the Colemans and the Seegers who welcome us to this magical place and not only support our dreams, but literally help us build them into reality, and our amazingly generous supporters, both back home and here in the UP community, in the Heart of the Ottawa! I love you all so much!

I will miss the immensity of the skies here with the layered textures of fluffy white clouds on the vibrant blue ether, the deep blankets of bright stars and the guiding light of the moon, and the pinks and reds and purples of the sun sets and rises.
I will miss the cyclical chorus of wildlife sounds that ebb and flow from the forest, the rain beating on tin rooftops, the sounds of activity around camp, and the music that echoes across acres.
I will miss the expansive forest with its endless shades of green, the rainbow of wildflowers, and the sandy shores and glistening waters of Lake Superior. 
I will miss the smells of freshly milled pine, smoky campfires, and fresh morning dew. 
But most of all, my friends, I will miss you!

See you next year! I can hardly wait...

Love, Amy Joy Hosterman