Monday, October 18, 2010

Week 21: Wonder Wander

Journal of Possibilities by Gail Rieke, made from cards and recycled bits of paper

It's been a bee hive of activity at Maison Conti this week. Gail Rieke, collage-assemblage artist and journal maker extraordinaire was in residence, giving her workshop: Wonder Wander, a Journal of Possibilities

I met Gail several years ago at The San Francisco Center for the Book. Not only did I find her extremely talented and creative, but warm and friendly as well. I started dreaming about how to entice her to France. It took us a couple of years and many emails winging back and forth across oceans to organize and finally realize our plan to present one of her journal making courses here in Montmirail. 

It was a lively and intimate week. There were four participants: 

Nathalie, from Belgium, in her professional life is a doctor. She is in every other available waking hour a committed journal maker. She considers her journaling essential to her well being. She brought her daughter Margot and husband Fabricio along with her to the workshop.

Paula, from England, has just completed her Masters degree in fine book making. She is a very talented assemblage and book works artist, paper maker and seamstress. Be sure to visit her website (linked to her name.) She brought her husband Peter, who is a naturalist.

Janine lives and works in Singapore, although she was born in South Africa. She was at Maison Conti in January for a printmaking workshop. She travels to France frequently for her job as a publisher. She had not done much book making before this week.

Babette is a novelist from Houston, Texas. She was in France doing research for her next book about concentration camps in France during WWII. Who knew there had been any? She had never done any bookmaking at all before and considers herself a word person. She brought her husband Hale.

Margot was a wonderful addition to the week. This was her first big adventure, as she was born in June! She allowed her mother lots of time for work and very rarely cried. She has been sleeping twelve hours a night since the second week of her life. I've never even heard of that! Fabricio took her on walks and entertained her all day while mom was busy.

I had a slightly insane idea before the week began that I might be able to participate in the workshop. However with nine guests and three meals a day to provide, cooking and clean-up became the primary activities. I must say, however, that Rick was a huge help in getting food on the table. 

Lunch is my favorite meal to put together, and I only make it when we host a workshop here.

The wandering part of the workshop involved daily strolls around the village and countryside. The weather was cooperative, staying bright and sunny the entire time. Rick led the first walk and was surprised to discover that the goal wasn't exercise so much as observation. He turned around and discovered that all his charges were lost in various contemplations. They collected leaves and scraps of paper, seeds, interesting stones and any other bits and pieces which they incorporated into their journals. They took rubbings, photographs and sketched. Rick had to adjust to a different pace than his usual full speed ahead.

Once back in the studio the mementos were incorporated into the journal in various ways. The book which Gail proposed is a very flexible form. It allows for pages to go in and out without rebinding. There are pockets and envelopes to stash various treasures. Papers can be of different sizes, shapes and weights. The more variety, the better.
One of Gail's beautiful travel journals

 Janine brought lovely Asian papers to use in her journal

A half page with a quote tucked into a bottom pocket which obscures part of a page of found seed pods

 Paula's title page created by layering handmade papers and held in place with a button

 Maps and sketches are incorporated into the journal

Work went on in the studio for three days, punctuated by our walks and meals. People always tend to become bonded during the time we're together, adding to the pleasure of the adventure. We had many good talks, travel stories and jokes.

I took the group on what was known as "the rust walk." We photographed one another from either side of the street down by the boulangerie. Zack amazed and impressed me when he was able to find a most beautiful piece of very thin rusted metal, which he took back home to mount on his "rust wall." He knows how to see these items that I have probably walked right past day after day. In his studio in New Mexico he is patiently creating an entire wall of various found rusted pieces. I can only imagine how gorgeous that must be!

Gail loves reflections and often incorporates them into her work. This is one she pointed out to us. We all snapped away. It does make a beautiful abstract design.

Some of my favorite patterns are created by fallen leaves and bits of forest detritus.

The husbands joined us for meals, which were very convivial. During the workshop they took walks, read or did writing of their own. Peter took several tours of the village and met many of the locals, as he is a very friendly and warm character. He also identified many of our local birds for me. I love our wildlife but frankly don't have much knowledge about it, so I particularly enjoyed having some bird wisdom imparted to me. 

Peter pointed out a couple of juvenile morning doves. They were sitting in the tree outside the house. I would not have known that they were young ones, but once I did, I was able to understand a poignant drama that was unfolding before my eyes. The two young birds were born earlier in the season in the wisteria vine which climbs up our front wall. We heard and saw the family nesting there during warm months. Now the parents have gone on, leaving the two children by themselves. The two flew back and forth between the tree and wisteria for several days waiting for their parent's return. They walked along the rain gutters peering into our house in hopes of getting a glimpse of mom and dad. In the end, of course, they will have to fly off and fend for themselves.

The workshop ended too soon and all the participants left for the four corners. I was able to take away a lot of wonderful ideas and inspirations which will last through the coming cold months. I have lots of ideas cooking on the back burner. Thank you Gail!


  1. What a great post! Thank-you for sharing so much of what must have been a great workshop. It would be wonderful to have the chance to learn from Gail Rieke. Her website is a delight!

  2. Wow, I really want to do this workshop!

  3. Someday...someday...someday! So envious of the bonding and the great artistic ideas that most likely were flying around that workshop! Thanks for introducing us to your lovely guests. Enjoy the rest of your week.

    Janet xox

  4. I too hope one day to join you at a workshop taught at your lovely inn. I know my husband would love this type of vacation. We went on a motor coach tour this year to the Canadian Rockies and met so many lovely people. Traveling is the best!!