Tuesday, March 13, 2012

SAMA 2012 Lexington, KY

Mosaics installed at The Nest
Photo by Lin Schorr
Note: It took me three hours to write this, so don’t bother starting to read it unless you have a significant amount of time to spare! :)

Wow! What an exciting week! Where to start? Well, first let me tell you what I went through to get there. (Where? Oh yeah, Lexington, KY, the location of this year’s Society of American Mosaic Artists Conference where I was chosen to be the lead artist to create a mosaic triptych for the local non-profit The Nest.) So I’m sitting on the airplane in Los Angeles, waiting to take off, when they announce that they are unable to read the fuel gauge and have to measure the fuel manually. “It should only take 15 minutes or so.” I ended up sitting on that plane for almost 3 hours with many “It should only take 15 minutes more” assurances in between.

Me and my designs
Well of course I missed my connecting flight in Minneapolis. They told me if I wanted my luggage, I’d have to wait an hour so I left without it. I received vouchers for a hotel and meals. The Outback was next door to the hotel but it was already 9pm and my flight the next day was early, so I had a few M&Ms, took a shower, got back into my dirty clothes, and went to bed. (Here’s a lesson for an inexperienced traveler: always remember to bring your phone charger in your carryon bag. I had to be very judicial about my calls and texts by this time, and sent one multi-person text out to let those who needed to know I was arriving a day later.)

The next day (Tuesday), since the airline didn’t have a direct flight from Minneapolis to Lexington, I had to first go to Atlanta and then Lexington. I finally arrived about 12:30 pm. I was super stressed as I had wanted to have a good night’s sleep the night before and start setting up for the mosaic marathon that morning. (Did I mention I was the lead artist and responsible for everything going smoothly?!) Then I found out my luggage had gone on to Detroit because that was supposedly the fastest way of getting it to me. Huh? They would deliver it to my hotel around dinner time.

Tracing the designs with Lin.  Notice the dirty clothes?  Haha. 
Photo by Crystal Thomas
I called for a shuttle and waited on the bench outside. They said it would be about 20 minutes. About 40 minutes later a guy walks up to me and asks if I’m waiting for the shuttle. Apparently, he had parked elsewhere and was waiting for me to show up. That was pretty much the last straw. Tears pushed out of my eyes, I swear, I tried to stop them! Poor guy had no idea what to do with me.

When I arrived at the hotel, I took another shower, put my dirty clothes back on, and went downstairs to set up for the marathon. Fortunately, I had been super paranoid about my designs getting lost with my luggage, so I had put them in a long, cardboard tube and carried them with me throughout my travels (very awkward, by the way).

Carol, Lin and Susan getting a start.
With little sleep and food (do airline pretzels and peanuts count?), I was an emotional mess, but I had a job to do! All it took was seeing Lin and Dave and the waterworks started again. I had absolutely no control over my body! Stop it, I said. It answered, put me to bed. We weren’t listening to each other. Anyway, that occurred pretty much anytime I saw a friend and they hugged me hello.

So I got the room set up and the designs traced onto the boards with enormous help from my friends (xoxo). In fact, I think they did most of it! I just tried to keep my eyes open, although you do start running on adrenaline at some point, just to function. Dave brought me a sandwich and if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have eaten at all. My body shut down the first few days. It didn’t want to make any demands on me, knowing I was too busy to listen!

Cherie, Judy and Stefan
Dinner that night was a blur. When I got back to my room, my luggage still hadn’t arrived. I called to ask what was up and they said it had taken a detour to Los Angeles and they would get it to me by 11pm. When it arrived at 11:30, I took another shower, got into CLEAN clothes, thank you, and went to bed. However, my brain wouldn’t shut off until about 2am and getting up at 7 the next morning was brutal (still on California time!). We had one more design to trace since the thinset on it had been drying over night. Got that done while others started sticking smalti down on the other two panels. I can’t thank my friends enough for their help and presence on this first day. All experienced and super talented artists, they needed no direction, and I could just relax! They were with me the entire day and with the other SAMA members that came in throughout the day we made unbelievable progress on the mosaics. And I so appreciated the friends who brought me food, water and coffee all day, though I ate and drank very little of it. My pants began to droop.

Michael was there a lot!  He probably
did an entire panel himself, haha
We worked until midnight before we were kicked out. We started at 8 the next morning (Thursday) and worked until 12:30 am. My body continued to demand very little of me. About noon I asked somebody where the nearest restroom was. That’s when I realized I didn’t use it all day the previous day! There were fewer participants on Thursday than Wednesday, and I began getting stressed around dinnertime that we weren’t going to finish that evening. Linda (my amazing and fabulous assistant and friend) and I had decided we were going to close the marathon during that night’s salon so we could view the mosaics for sale and enjoy the excitement. We didn’t. We both took brief strolls to look at the mosaics then went back to work. (My mosaic sold to the wonderful Sharon who worked on the mosaics and also gave me much needed back and neck massages!) It was a valiant effort to finish the mosaics that night, but there was just too much more to do, so I resigned myself to the fact that we wouldn’t finish until the following day. 
Me and Sharon with my salon piece.
Friday morning started at 8 once again. The end is in sight!! We worked until around four, with much laughter. My friends who began the marathon with me, were there at the end, along with the many new friends I had made as well. Putting in the final piece was very emotional for me. Not just because of the responsibility I had and the exhaustion, but more so the incredible support I had from my dear friends who were there every step of the way with me, setting up, putting the mosaic together, bringing me meals, massaging me, cheering me on, making me laugh. I am so lucky to have such caring, generous friends.
Pieces all glued down!  Photo by Pam Goode

We took some celebratory photos and then moved the mosaics downstairs to dry. No sooner had we put them away (and I was just about to go to the restroom!) when we were suddenly ushered into the storm shelter. I had been in my own little cocoon, hadn’t been outside in three days, and was unaware of any tornado warnings, so was completely caught off guard. It was pretty exciting, although I was concerned about how long we would have to stay there! It ended up being only about 20 minutes. It was kinda fun, I have to admit, though I was very happy to leave and use the restroom! A local later told me it was the first tornado they had had there since the 70’s. 
Waiting it out in the storm shelter
That night was the MAI reception, a juried exhibition of international mosaic art. My friend, Lin Schorr, won Best in Show with her mosaic, In Her Shoes. It was beautiful when I saw it in a photo, but in person, I cannot adequately tell you how utterly wonderful it is, in technique, subject, and the emotional connection I felt to it. So very well deserved and I’m so proud of Lin! Afterwards, we did a photo shoot of the eleven of us who wore our Converse shoes in honor of Lin and her accomplishment. I couldn’t be a part of a more supportive and wonderful group of friends! 

Lin Schorr, Best in Show, In Her Shoes
Photo by Crystal Thomas
Saturday, my first morning of sleeping in! And my first real breakfast, eggs benedict, yum! (I’d lost about 5 pounds by then, so needed a little fattening up.) I visited the vendor marketplace, including the vendor Laticrete, who was sponsoring the marathon and providing the grout. I had never used their products before and had chosen a grout color that looked different (wrong) in person than it had online, so I was on a quest of picking a new color. The problem, however, was that they only had white cementious grout on them. The representative, Matt, was so very kind in making many phone calls to try and find a place that carried the color I wanted.

Converse shoes in honor of Lin
Photo by Crystal Thomas

Eventually, since it couldn’t be found, I decided to go with an epoxy grout, which I had never used before and had heard horror stories about. But once again, a friend pulled through for me and saved the day. Kelley, who I call the epoxy grouter extraordinaire, stepped up and came to my rescue! She not only taught us how to use it, but almost single handedly grouted the three panels herself in just two hours. The rest of us helped, but seriously, we mostly stood around and watched her in awe. By this time, not only were my pants slipping down, but so were my underwear. Too much information? Sorry. Tami kept coming over and yanking my pants back up.

Kelley and Linda
After the mosaics dried a couple of hours, we loaded them up and moved them to the final reception area where they could be seen by everyone. That was particularly satisfying as they were finally completed, and those who worked on them (and those who didn’t!) could see the final result. It really was quite something to see my designs created in mosaic by so many hands, and to know that I had played a large part in it, it was a proud moment. And at the same time, what an incredible group effort, what a fabulous community we have. I’m so lucky to be a part of it.

Third panel done
Done!  The design, which I titled Ready to Fly, is of goldfinches surrounding a nest of baby birds in the branches of Kentucky’s state tree, the tulip poplar, while one of the birds is flying away.  The design is meant to symbolize the families in crisis who come to The Nest for support and guidance.  Using the resources and encouragement The Nest provides, the families develop the skills and habits needed for a healthier lifestyle.  When they feel confident and self-sufficient, they are ready to fly.

Dave and Crystal in Mammoth Cave
Next was the raffle, but before that, some acknowledgments of volunteers. I dreaded having my name called because I was still quite emotional (as well as very tired!) Fortunately, I didn’t have to say anything because I would’ve been bawling much more than I already was. But the highlight for me (and I wish I had a photo of it) was my fabulous group of friends on their feet, yelling and cheering me on. :) 

On Sunday morning, after breakfast, I went spelunking at Mammoth Cave National Park with Crystal and Dave. It was a two hour drive and it felt so good to get out of the hotel for awhile! The caves were pretty cool and I didn’t get claustrophobic like I thought I would. I had a great time driving back, singing oldies with Dave and Crystal at the top of our lungs!

Lin and I with "Guardian"
Sunday night dinner out, incredibly yummy tortellini, and then some time in my hotel room with my girlfriends for one last night. I bought this amazing mosaic from Lin. How lucky am I?!

Monday was installation day! Lin and Dave and Stefan and Jeannot were still in town, so they came, too. It was great having my friends there! Lin took a ton of photos (which I’m so glad she did, since my camera didn’t do nearly as nice a job) and Stefan and Dave helped install the mosaics. I was nervous that morning because I had heard that a TV crew would be there, but fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) they weren’t. However, a photographer from Tops Magazine was there and I will post that article later when it comes out. The mosaics were installed at The Nest, a women and children’s center in Lexington. It was exciting to see them hanging there, knowing that visitors would get to enjoy all of the work that so many put into it. I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to say somewhere around 100 members participated. 
Tops Magazine photographing our fabulous installation team!

After saying good bye to my friends and having one last dinner in Lexington with Jeffrey from The Nest, it was time to go home. Only one panic moment traveling home when I was twice sent to the wrong gate at LAX with only minutes to spare before takeoff, but I made it and got home tired and happy. Nothing like sleeping in your own bed and being with the family you missed!  I have a huge amount of gratitude for my friends who helped me, encouraged and supported me throughout this experience. No words of thanks can be sufficient, but just know I appreciate and adore each and every one of you!
Some of the many friends who supported me

I'm so lucky to have such amazing friends!