Photos by Ron Kochanowski

Pleiades was deinstalled today in the rain.  It was sobering carrying the sodden sails off the field. In an installation that involved a community of helpers, this day was a solo act. With the mast and boom out of the sails a limp mixture of wool and wetness lay in my arms.

 The sails started their journey at Thistlebloom farm two months ago in beautiful fall foliage, and ended last night in North Amherst at Swartz Family Farm, dancing with the community in the light of Erika Zecos' Shedding Light installation. They witnessed migrating geese, two full moons, snow, rain, sleet and hail. The sisters have  transitioned from a tightly felted fleet to a wonderfully weathered, lacy and frayed with character flock. Each sail exhibits it's own personality in how it handles weather.  My husband and I have spent many an evening under their spell looking up at the Pleiades constellation directly above. Friends have come from far away to witness their transition in the weather. They are the gift that keeps on giving as I have been privileged to meet a talented community of artists in the valley.

 Many thanks to Ron Kochanowski for sharing his photos of the special evening of Shedding light.







Shedding Light

Saturday night Erika Zekos turned the lights on in the far shed of Swartz Family Farm for the relighting of Shedding Light.  Joe and Sarah Swartz hosted a reception in their decorated and warm Blue Barn with free ice cream and coffee from local businesses. The community came out in droves. Sarah thinks she counted at least three hundred people visiting within the first two hours.


The light from the shed created such a festive and reverential atmosphere that reached out to the sails. For me the most important part of this evening was the conversations I had with viewers in the field as they looked at the light and sails on a wintery night.  There were so many wonderful questions and insights. It is my favorite part of public art.


Please visit photographer Ron Kochanowski  's beautiful images of Saturday night. It was quite an event.

The sisters are sailing today and Saturday

For the last two days of the installation Pleiades will have calm weather. On Saturday there will be hayrides taking viewers down to Shedding Light and Pleiades, free coffee and ice cream and a reception for Shedding Light in the blue barn at the Swartz Family Farm.

If anyone has taken images of Pleiades I would love to see them.  Please contact me through the website.  Thank you!

Photo by Jeff Derose

Gusty high winds predicted for the next few days

Photo by Jeff Derose

 So the sails are down for the next few days until the gusts pass through the valley. As the installation is in it's final week I want to thank the artistic community that has fed me throughout this installation and performance of sailing and sheep farming. Starting with the people I bounced construction ideas off of, back in the days of Pleiades' conception, Tim Holcomb, Miles Herter, and Tim Eliasson, to students coming over to felt with me and help install, Casay Yamazaki-Heineman, Colten McCormick, Olivia Holcomb, Nick Teensma, Eliza Fishman .  Christine White who owns New England felting supply, where you can get lost in the colors and texture of wool, was a valuable resource when my large sails were not fulling (finishing of the felting process).  Thanks to the farmers who donated their wool and to Jody at Tregelly's Fiber Farm for sharing her love of all animals wooly and hairy. Thank you to Nicki Robb and Elyce and German Perico for heir help during installation, As well as, artists and friends Bryan Gill, Megan O'Brien, Ted OllierHolly LyntonSarah BlissJeff Derose, James Young and Stephen Kiernan for their support and encouragement.

A hearty thank you to farmers Heather Lee Colson of Thistlebloom Farm and Sarah and Joe Swartz of Swartz Family Farm for their gracious use of farm fields.  Each farm has it's own personality and color ranges that the sails interacted with.

Terry Rooney deserves all the praise that has come her way for a wonderful Biennial exhibition. Not only did she launch the inaugural year for the Amherst show, but Terry continued throughout the show to provide tours to school groups, and interested parties throughout the months.

And then there is my honorable first mate and crew. Andrew and Charlie and Margot, my family, has helped me lift sails that are too heavy for me, think of new mast designs, and encouraged me at every turn.  Thank you my dears.



High Winds Predicted



The sails are under a tarp for this Wednesday's storm.  Last week when the sails where on the ground the rain froze the sails in all sorts of fun shapes. The ice however makes the felt fragile as the wind playfully billows out the sails. So, we are taking precautions and covering them now. With these careful procedures the sails have far outlasted what I predicted would happen.  Wool is resilient, and the felt is strong.



Time and Weather

The sheep are sailing today

 Pleiades is entering its eighth week of sailing meadows and fields in the Pioneer Valley, exposed to rain, gusty winds, heavy frosts, hail and even snow. Two full moons have cast their lunar glow on the land sails. Pleiades will be up for two more weeks, until December 12th.

moonrise over Pleiades

Putting an installation up in the fall has it's advantages and disadvantages. As a plus, the viewer experiences the wool with the beautiful changing colors of the season, hear geese on their annual migration as they fly over the sails, witness heavy dew and frost on the wool in the cold mornings.  Now, in "stick" season, the grey tones of the bare trees, November field and weathered barn provide a subtle backdrop for the natural shades of the wool. However, fall is also the time of year to herald in winter and temperature changes bring strong, gusty north winds and rain. It is of this that keeps me busy interacting and responding to the installation's natural changes.


 In my work I employ the interaction of physical elements on different materials. Using the sun to melt and sculpt, rain to weather and rust, ice to expand, even insects and animals to leave their mark. Pleiades is the first time that I have put work out in the elements and planned to  repair what time and weather has started. This has allowed me to get to know my materials even more than when I was felting the sails. One of the land sails has already lost it's interior felt and two more are close to losing theirs. I never know what I am going to find when I head to the field each day.

Electra (sail named after one of the seven sister stars) has lost most of her wool


Most of the repairs have been sewing, felting, exchanging bent masts, replacing new posts, mending a back. Wind, that playful element that upset the wool as I felted the sails into shape,  has proven to be the mastermind behind the changes in the installation; bending masts, stretching material and creating holes as the strong gusts usher in winter.

German helping me repair felt in the field after a storm


Wind also has been my assistant animating these triangular sheep as they dance in the field and create the weathered tufts of wool that stretch out beyond the luff of the sail.

Baaa, the sails are reefed this afternoon

High winds this afternoon will bring the sails down, but they will be back up on Sunday if the winds pass.  This image was taken last night in an almost full moon.
Directions to Swartz Family Farm: Winter Farmers Market Today
To see Pleiades go north on 116 pass the UMass exit. After traffic light you will see the sails on your right.  Pass the sails and pull off road by the guard rail.  there is room to park, or drive to the field.  Please feel free to walk around at any time of day or night.

To get to the farmers market open 10-2, enter from Pine Street



Pleiades is fully rigged today

The Seven Sisters have gone for a frosty morning sail

Material Choices:

One of the most common questions I get about my work is "Can I touch?". Nothing pleases me more, because it means the viewer is engaged in the textures and natural colors of the sculpture. And the answer is YES! Please touch these wooly sails, walk among them, breath in their wet animal smell in the dewey mornings, watch the frost melt off as the sun warms them, watch the wind activate the sails in the lightest of breezes, as they look like they are breathing. In the afternoon high wind watch them dance in unison, and as the evening winds slow, experience the sails settling into the evening. Tonight I will be watching the sails glow in an almost full moon.

My material choice of raw wool collected from local farms started out as purely selfish.  Wool is heavenly to work with, forgiving in nature as I learned different felting techniques. The tufts, curls and colors of different sheep breeds provides the shadow and contrast as the sun filters through the sails. It is a material that is not manufactured, cleaned or stripped of it's original form. This is important as I contemplate the human use of animals as commodity. The pink sweaters I wear are unrecognizable from  wool that comes off the sheep.  The chicken legs for dinner look nothing like  chickens at the farms I visit. It is of these things that I thought of as lanolin from wool covered my hands as I felted Pleiades.

The sails will be going back up today after school, when my help can come to the field.

Here is an excerpt from a recent interview:

G.P. What is your intention for this installation?N.M. Well, when I started, as I start any project, it is all about the material and my relationship with it.  In this case I just got lost in the process of collecting the wool from farms, talking with the farmers, being with the sheep, helping the shearers.  Then back in the studio as I work with wool and play around with it, ideas form and shapes start to come together. After I have made the material, then a whole new intention enters in and that is the relationship of the material with the environment and landscape of New England. Even after that I start to consider my intention for the viewer.  Where do I want the viewer in relation to the installation, where are they viewing? This is when the thesis of the work starts to gel. I realize I want to get them to enter in to the landscape, feel the texture, tastes and smells of real life, not the virtual world that we spend most of our time in. Then comes my surprise! The piece itself has intentions for me that I never even considered. Light, wind, and weather taught me performance, patience, persistence and a new understanding of ephemeral.